The New World of Books

Magic-of-Books-8I love reading.  I think I love it almost as much as writing!  The digital revolution has released millions of books to the public which otherwise would have been stuck in a drawer somewhere.  It’s given us such gems as The Martian, and broken down barriers with mainstream erotica, as in Fifty Shades of Grey (which I still couldn’t finish).  It’s also made it hard to find all the little fishes in this massive ocean of little fish.  Without a miracle – or some brilliant marketing and a whole butt-load of good luck – even the best books are still lost to the readers.

Some of this has to do with the barrier between reader and author, I think.  We find books on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and other social media sites.  We can “talk to” the author.  We read their comments, get a feel for their personality, and start to humanize them.  Then we read the piece of crap they are so very proud of…. and can’t bring ourselves to leave a bad review.

I’ve done it.  I’ve lamented for days over whether I should leave the 1 star review I thought the book deserved, a 3 star with kindly phrased suggestions to give the author hope, or a standard “I don’t have the guts to be honest” 5 star review.  No longer are we just reviewing the product, but also the person who made it – and all of us know that.

But it doesn’t matter.  If we pander to overly sensitive feelings and ill prepared authors, the new wave of books will just decrease in quality.  The gate-keepers are gone.  It’s up to us, the readers, to control quality.  The best tool we have for this are the reviews.  I say this as both a reader and an author.

I keep waiting for my first 1 star review.  Somewhere, someone will hate my work.

I get 5 star reviews that point out glaring mistakes I’ve made.  Yes, I’m embarrassed, but only because I let that make it to “print” and not because the mistake makes me a bad person.

I squeal in delight over the 4 star reviews.  The more critique is mixed with the praise, the happier I am.  This is how the readers teach me.  This is how I learn.  THIS, the honest review, is how I become a better author.  I want to become the best.

See, I realize that the best promotions I can get are those little reviews.  The number beside my book’s listing that says (9 reviews) or (17 reviews) or (342 reviews) …  Those are what subconsciously drive readers to check out my blurb.  It gives them justification to learn more and hopefully be drawn in.  Book blogs are no longer the ultimate marketing tool.  There’s so many that, like books, each of them is lost in the sea of fish.  The internet, and most social media sites are flooded with promotions pages that toss your book out to wallow in its death throws with others who have already succumbed.  Only authors visit those sites.  Readers tend to find their books other ways.

When I stop and think about it, I realize I’m no different.  When I want a book, I shop on my twitter feed.  I prefer listings from the authors, not a book spam service.  I find books in the Amazon store, by clicking on little thumbnails or searching for phrases.  I find books because a friend said it was awesome, and I should read it.  I don’t get newsletters, I don’t spend hours trying to wade through some cheaply made book listing site (why, when Amazon does the same thing!).  I find books the same way I always have, just online instead of in the library.  I shop.  I’m pulled in by a good cover.  I stay for a good blurb.  I give up fast due to bad writing.

And now, as of today, I will no longer be leaving sympathetic reviews.  I don’t have to be mean to be honest, but I will continue to read, and I will say what I think.  Ask me to review your book at your own risk.  I do not promise to give it a wonderful rating.  I promise to help the readers wade through the deep waters of literature in our amazing digital rennaissance of reading.

When Science Fiction isn’t

 

5327836749_4a97cdd488_bFacial recognition.  Automated social media.  Global position tracking.  Satelite monitoring.  Consumer data analysis.  Handheld scanners.  Does this sound like science fiction?

It’s all available today.  There’s no need to wonder about when this stuff will come to pass.  It’s here.  Now.  Today.  Facebook tags our faces for us.  Our phones have buddy locators.  Drones survey just about everything.  Signal detectors, handheld scanners, and communications devices are all common apps on our phones.  We text, video call, and have synthetic voices speak for us, all without batting an eye.  We are living in the future.

From genetic modification to network data carriers, the things of books happen all around us, yet so many people aren’t even aware that it’s not only possible but something they are USING right now.  This is science fiction… yet it’s not.

I’m wallowing in a series about gamers, hacktivists, geeks, and social expectations.  It’s all set in the modern day.  All of the tech is out there, and cheap.  I’m not talking about google glass or anything.  I’m talking about the free apps you can download in seconds.  Here’s the problem…

What the hell genre am I writing?

I took a modern drama plot, wrapped it up in the story arc style commonly seen in romances, and filled it with amazing science that sucks the reader right in.  Unlike most video game books, where the story is about how games are taking over our lives, this one goes the other way.  People with real life issues trying to hide away in a virtual escape.  People who want to be forgotten, and find “their own type” as pixels in their games.  People who come together, from all walks of life, because they share a hobby.  Whether it’s motocross, rock music, or horseback riding, this concept isn’t unique.  Sadly, I’m having trouble finding any books about gamers where the game isn’t either a sentient being or a plot device created by the villain.  Ready, Player One is an example of what I mean.

And so, I’m stressing myself out (if you can’t tell by the recent theme lately) about getting it right.  I want to put the book where people will find it.  I want to shelve it so people have a chance at enjoying what they read.  Sadly, I have no clue where that is.  It’s not literary.  This story is total genre.  It’s not really suspense.  It’s contemporary drama… but that shelf doesn’t fit.

*sigh*  I’m gonna be bald by the time I figure this out!

The Genre

photo-1429032021766-c6a53949594fReaders tend to find books by genre.  This leads to certain expectations.  Romances have beautiful women and bare-chested men.  Fantasy has horses and swords.  Horror is dark and mysterious, thrillers have blood, and urban fantasy has some chick wielding magic or outdated weapons.  We expect this.  We think nothing of it, until the cover is for the wrong genre.

Imagine a military suspense with some bare-chested man and nothing else.  How about a romance with a blood-splattered cover?  Yeah, you see what I mean.

So, what about those crossovers?  Not only is cover art hard to figure out, but so is finding the right home.  From review sites to which shelf to use, it’s maddening for the author and publishing company.  And here’s where the problem lies.  I do this… a lot.

One More Day is probably my easiest book to categorize.  When We Were Kings and When We Were Dancing aren’t that much worse.  One romance and two low fantasy novels.  Now, the novels I have in the works?  Oh my!

Challenge Accepted is a story of a girl-gamer trying to break into the professional scene while fighting the sexism she sees in the industry.  It has traits of romance, drama, contemporary fiction, and a touch of thriller (but just a touch).  It’s not more of any one than the others, though.  This is NOT a true romance.  There’s a happy for now ending, a love story that moves through it (and is very much not traditional) and a few other standards, but that’s more like a heavy subplot, and not the main story line.  Rather, it’s about Riley Andrews, and her struggles to stop sabotaging her place in life, while still succeeding.  It’s a coming of age story, for a very headstrong woman who’s had more crap thrown at her than anyone deserves.  It’s inspirational, based on the idea of getting knocked down seven times and standing up either.  It’s not really romance, but it sure as hell isn’t literary.  There’s way too much cussing… and video games.

The next book, BloodLust, is about an indigenous species of humanoids in a world where humans have lived for more than three thousand years.  There’s specism (because they aren’t a race), discrimination, military, fantasy, and on and on.  It has a romantic story arc (or two) but those aren’t the story.  It has magic – that is all science based.  It reads more like fantasy than science fiction, but in reality, it’s more science fiction than fantasy.  Thankfully, there’s a category for this.

And then I look at the rest of my backlist.  Oh. My. God.  Seems I never stopped to worry about genre before.  I’m having a momentary panic about how to classify these books so my audience can find them.  That’s all that matters.  No one cares about why I chose to write the way I did, they just want a good story that they can find to enjoy.  Talk about some serious pressure for an indie author!

 

Promoting a book

12486228674_5663b9e7f6_bAs I have mentioned before, the trick to becoming a successful author is getting discovered.  It isn’t about writing a good book, having a great cover, or any of those other things.  If you have the best book in the world, but no one knows about it, then you still can’t get success.

And so, I’m going to be experimenting.  I will be tracking my results from a few promotions sites.  I’m going to keep this in the reasonable price (i.e. $50 USD or less, on average) just to see if there’s anything that works better than advertising with Amazon directly.

My book for this experiment is When We Were Kings, which has had moderate success.  Unfortunately, my other book tends to vary widely, so it would be impossible to know if One More Day sales are due to a whim or promotions.

Rather than wondering, wishing, or wasting my money repeatedly, I’m hitting this head on, with a scientific method.  Should be a little interesting!

Believe in your own work

Book Covers Shadows LeftAll too often, I see amazing indie authors floundering in the sea of kindle books.  They have something worth reading, but no one knows about it for one simple reason – the author hasn’t pushed.

Then, I turn around and see countless pieces of crap, books I can’t make it halfway through before wishing I could throw them against the wall (but don’t want to ruin my tablet to get that gratification).  WHY?  Why do people pay for such crap and convince the authors to pump out more?  Normally, sex.  Often, it’s a simple case of marketing.

You see, the readers can’t FIND your book if they don’t know to look for it.  They can’t fall in love with it, tell their friends, complain about how they wish it HAD ended, and all of that.  The entire reading experience hinges on one thing: they have to be able to read the book.

With over 4 million books on kindle at this time (and growing fast), becoming an indie author is easy.  Everyone out there talks about how to do it, how much crap is filling the lists, and how to spend hard earned money to make it.  No one talks about the most important thing.  Love your OWN book.

And if you don’t?

Then fix that shit!  Sorry, but if you don’t even love your own book, then why the hell do you have it out there?  If you want to get rich, play the lottery.  The odds are probably better than becoming a kindle millionaire.  If you want to be an AUTHOR, then do your work, write a damned good book that YOU want to read over and over, and then be proud of that book enough to tell the entire world you wrote it.  Let your mother read that sex scene (pretty sure she knows sex happens, since um… you).  Let your brother see how you portrayed his teen years (because really, that’s how we create villlains).  Let your best friend know about this secret and embarrassing addiciton you have been hiding.  Share the work, listen to feedback, and beg your readers to be harsh – because without real criticism, our work ends up as more crap to add to that pile.

Leyli Tristan posesYes, right now I don’t want to even THINK about gladiators.  I just finished up book 2 of the Wolf of Oberhame series, and it’s out of my hands.  I don’t need to talk to them, listen to them, or be involved in their political crap again until the book comes out…. then I’ll read it just as voraciously as my fans.  I write these books because I want to read them.  I write them because I want to see characters like this, worlds like this, and can’t find anyone else doing it.  I write it because I love these stories enough to read them until the cover falls off (or my screen cracks, as the case may be).

And my fans seem to agree, because they keep asking for more.