Readers: What authors really want from you

Photo courtesy Angela Brown, friend and author

Photo courtesy Angela Brown, friend and author

Readers, what do authors want from you? Ha, that’s an open-ended question isn’t it?

I bet you answered “to buy all your books.” Yes, that’s true. Most of us desire to make a living from our writing, not so much to be stinking rich but enough that we can make writing our full-time career. That’s a win for readers too, since we can write more books.

You may also have said “to write awesome 5-star reviews.” Yes, please. I’ve spoken about reviews before, and we all know that lots of good reviews sell more books.

By now,  you’re thinking more like an author and might offer “to promote your books and tell all our friends.” Ding. Ten points! Word of mouth is much more powerful than even reviews. Reviews are the opinion of strangers. When you recommend a book in person, that endorsement carries significant weight because you (presumably) know what your friends like to read. How often do you not read a book when your BFF tells you “OMG, you just have to read this. I stayed up all night to finish it!” Authors dream of readers becoming such passionate advocates of our books.

Taking these three points as a given, what authors really want from readers is feedback and comments. Note that this doesn’t mean flattery and singing our praises because our latest book is “a complete masterpiece”. It means honest, down-to-earth and personal contact. You see, most writers don’t write to be rich or famous, we write because we want people to enjoy our stories. Hearing from readers is the high point of our days. A good review is nice, as is a post on Facebook or a tweet about liking one of our books. Even better is a personal message, a comment on our web sites or an email. Obviously I can’t speak for all authors here, since some don’t like to approached in such an intimate form as an email, but many of us love it. Even just a few words means a lot to us. That you went out of your way to comment or email is not something we take for granted.

Maybe you just want to say you enjoyed our book. Maybe it resonated with you in some way, reminded you of someone or that you found the theme or symbology meaningful. Perhaps there was something you didn’t like. Personally, I like to hear that too. Perhaps you wanted more mystery, more romance, or you just want to hear more about a particular character. All feedback is great. As authors we spend months or years creating something and then we throw it into the world for others to enjoy. The worst thing for us is to hear crickets. Did we move you, make you laugh, make you cry? Did you fall in love with a character, or hate a villain so much that you cheered when he got defeated?

Historically, authors have cultivated an aloofness I think; someone we readers fawned over at conventions or book signings. Or maybe it was just too difficult to engage with an author in the days before the internet or social media. Most authors I know today, love chatting with readers. Remember that all authors are readers too, and we love talking about books, yes, even – shock – other people’s books!

You have a chance to shape our future books too. Writing is fast becoming a collaborative effort in that if we know what types of books, settings, characters, or situations you prefer, we can tailor our future work. Tell us which of our books you liked best, and why. I’d like to know if more readers are interested in a sequel to Ocean of Dust than Necromancer, or vice versa. I like to think that’s a win for readers too. Many authors are collaborative in this way. It’s fun.

So, dear reader, there is a solid reason that we display our email address (or a contact form) on our web sites, and have social media profiles – to make it easy for you to contact us. Please do! Don’t be shy.



Orbis: My charity of choice

orbisCharities are a very personal thing. Each of us chooses to donate for a variety of reasons. Often we assist an organization that affects us or our families, typically someone close that suffers from an ailment or perhaps died from it. Many people gravitate to such medical charities, or perhaps to humanitarian efforts around the globe, such as Red Cross or  Médecins Sans Frontières. Animal charities are always popular, be it WWF or the ASPCA. I could list classifications of charities for pages and pages, but we all understand the value of assisting or donating to one or more – we all feel the need to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

Like many folks, I donate to several, but today I wanted to bring light to my favorite charity. I find many folks have never heard of Orbis, not that I blame them. I certainly could name few of the tens of thousands of charities world wide, with so many folk giving up their time and money selflessly to help others.

Orbis international, formed in the 1970’s, works to restore sight and prevent blindness within 3rd world countries. Their devoted doctors do this not only through countless surgeries but also by providing hands-on-training and public health information to the countries they frequent. Furthermore, they advocate for improved facilities and technology. Since 1982 they’ve carried out programs in 92 countries, enhancing the skills of  over 300,000 eye care professionals and treating over 23 million patients.

They operate their own aircraft, a completely refitted DC10 airliner called the Flying Eye Hospital. Check it out. It is flown by a rotation of airline pilots that offer their piloting skills for free, flying the FEH to anywhere it is needed, allowing the eye specialists to work in the hi-tech labs and operating room on board.

I’ve been donating to Orbis for decades. Eyecare has always been close to my heart, having had myopia all my life, and now presbyopia in old age. I use a computer screen for my day job and for my writing and I treasure my eyesight accordingly. LASIK helped for 10-15 years but it fades as a person ages. Thankfully I have no sinister issues with my eyes but it moved me to hear of countless millions of people in poorer countries, particularly children, who have cataracts or other eye diseases threatening blindness.

Thank you eye care professionals and pilots at Orbis, as well as the support staff that keeps the organization working. Sight is a marvelous gift that you bestow upon your patients.




What annoys me as a reader

As a writer, I’m fairly forgiving of books that I read; fully appreciative of the long hours, sweat, anguish, mood swings and sheer number of hours required to write a book. I hope that few readers take books for granted. Writing is hard work and takes a lot of time. Knowing this, if I spot flaws in a book, I am lenient and always willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt.

That said, here are my top 7 peeves as a reader:

  • Plot believability: Readers are smart. They will spot those huge holes in your plot. They will scream at the page “Why would she do that?” or “All he had to do was…”. The classic example of this is demonstrated in Hollywood B-movies where everyone in a haunted house splits up, or the girl walks into the dark cellar by herself without a light. If you can’t make your plot work without making the reader groan, then go and rework the plot. Deus ex Machina is the term that comes to mind here.
  • No info dumps please: Don’t be a lazy author. Please take the time to dribble your backstory and setting details as the book progresses. Work those details in naturally. Let the reader discover them bit by bit at a moment that fits the scene. Don’t vomit all that information at me in a ten page description. I don’t need to know the full history of every character the instant you introduce them. It’s far more interesting to learn about how he/she nearly drowned as a kid, at the point in the book where the adult character has to take a boat somewhere. Now you have tension and emotion. Similarly, just because you did weeks of research on horses, or armor, or the pine forests of Canada, that does not entitle you to info dump all that research: “Lumber mills in Canada began in 1721, when…” Yawn!
  • Don’t slack off in the middle: Most books I read, slump in the middle. Great start, big bang of an ending but yawn-yawn in the middle. Don’t stop the momentum. Don’t pad the middle. Go back and cut the slow stuff and make the middle more exciting. You can’t coast until the climactic ending. Put in more twists and turns, reveals, plot twists, etc. Make it fun.
  • Give me a neat ending: Don’t concentrate so much on the big bang ending that you come to an abrupt “The End”, leaving the reader wondering what happened to that poor guy left in the cell in Chapter 4, or the missing magical goat, or did those two minor characters hook up in the end? There should be an aftermath at the end to wind things down and tidy up some loose ends. You don’t have to answer every single thing, but resolve the major issues. This dovetails with “Deliver on your promise” (below). If you are writing a series then you clearly have more leeway to leave things unanswered. That said, as a reader, I like every book in a series to have a good clean ending just in case I don’t read the next book.
  • Cut the mundane: Every scene should advance the plot, or reveal character or setting. If not – chop it. Some authors put in mundanity for the sake of realism, but no, I don’t want to read about that uneventful ride through three kingdoms to get to the capital city, if nothing relevant happens. Don’t have two characters head-to-head in dialogue about the weather because “that’s what real people would do”. Don’t describe Mary putting on her makeup, having breakfast, getting into and starting her car unless it reveals something about her character. Just start with her racing out of the driveway, late for an important engagement.
  • Deliver on your promise: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” – Anton Chekhov. Don’t trick the reader by introducing the promise of an action or dramatic scene, and then it never happens. Of course red herrings are allowed, and plot twists occur, but they must make sense. If you don’t want the rifle to go off, then fine, but explain why not. (It’s a fake, it isn’t loaded, in the heat of the fight, the old man can’t reach it, etc.) There was a Hollywood movie (that I won’t name) that had a man chased by a stalker throughout the entire movie, finally going man to man at the end in the classic fight. Then, at the last minute, a cop rushes in and shoots the stalker. No! Don’t cheat me of the hero besting the stalker. If the cop is a valid part of the plot, then that’s ok, but foreshadow that, don’t just have the cop come out of nowhere.
  • Show don’t tell: This is one of the commonest author fails. So much so that every single writer has done it, and some continue to, to a greater or lesser degree. Give the reader something dramatic to read. “Mary was sad”. Ok, but such a lost opportunity. “Mary’s shoulders drooped, and she blinked back tears, chewing her lip to prevent it from trembling.” A little flowery, but you get the point.

I see these errors time and again in books that otherwise are fantastic reads. What are your pet peeves, dear reader?



Just Do it

I trust everyone had a super Holiday time, and we still have New Years to come? I’ve been sick since Christmas Eve and have achieved very little except wallow in self-pity. Tamara says that men make the worst patients. I won’t disagree. It has given me plenty of time to catch up on TV (including my yearly ritual of watching the Everest series), and more importantly, to think.

This is the time when we all make resolutions for the coming year. We dream big and hope we can actually pursue those dreams through the end of January let alone the whole year. Most of us fail. I applaud those of you that succeed. After studying goal motivation theory for even an hour, it is easy to see what makes a good resolution. We usually succeed when it is something we genuinely desire, rather than something we feel obligated to do. This is why diet and exercise resolutions rarely work. If we had really wanted to get in shape or lose 50 lbs we wouldn’t need to wait until the New Year to resolve to do it next year. My last year’s resolution to write more was easy – I was super excited to do that and it required very little motivation.

Sometimes though, we do have a genuine desire but procrastinate. That’s me, I’ve been a big procrastinator all my life (but I’ll fix that next year :)). There are many causes of this condition and a common one is fear, the fear of trying and failing or falling short. It is easier not to try at all. One single resource almost cured my tendency to procrastinate: Feel the Fear and do it anyway. A great read. I caught myself bowing out of several things during 2013 due to fear, most of them things that I really had wanted to do, such as an author speaking engagement. I lost opportunities at work too (though others might not have noticed as keenly as I). Clearly it is time to refresh my “cure”.

I’m not picking a resolution for 2014, I’m picking a mantra. I intend to post it at my desk and in my home office and assert it to myself whenever fear or procrastination sets in. Theoretically I can achieve a dozen resolutions with this simple mantra:

Just do it!


What are your resolutions or mantras for 2014?



Do you review books?

KindleLet’s talk about book reviews. Do you review books?

Many people don’t. Some folks have grown up in a culture where professional critics review books or movies, usually in newspapers and magazines. It’s easy to forget that social media gives us all the power to influence others by writing a review. Other people just don’t feel comfortable writing a review online. They don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, don’t know what to say, or just flat out can’t be bothered.

There is some debate about the validity of online book reviews. Recent years have revealed cheating, where specific authors have gamed the system by paying for good reviews. These cases are (hopefully) isolated and we shouldn’t discount reviews because of them. Other readers disregard the first dozen 5-star reviews of a book, assuming they are written by family and friends. This “front-loading” effect has less of a bias as more reviews are left. It’s unlikely that all 100 of those reviews were written by friends and family. I’m sure every reader has a gut-feeling for how many reviews make a valid sample: 20, 50, 100?

Another debate: Is someone more or likely to review a book  if they absolutely love it or hate it? Hard to say. One could argue that naysayers are more eager to get their opinions online, as can be seen by “trolls” and “flame wars” if you follow any topical thread on social media; but I’m not sure this effect carries across into book reviews. I would argue that there are many more 5-star or 4-star (overall) book reviews than 1 or 2 star, or maybe those bad books just disappear into obscurity? There are too many factors at work to tell. Better books get more visibility on Amazon, in the form of sitting higher on the Top 100 and Top 10 lists or being recommended to people who read similar books. This suggests that better books tend to rise to the top, pushing bad books out. What about all those books in the middle with an average of 3-stars?

I’m more more likely to review a good book, both to reward the author and to encourage other readers who might enjoy it. I have given 3-star reviews, but if the book is terrible then I rarely review it unless I can be constructive. That’s me. If most people are like me, then yes, reviews are biased.

Do you judge a book by reviews? Most “experts” talk about the “gun”. This takes the form of a lot of 5 and 4 star reviews (the barrel), and a tapering number of 3, 2 and 1 (the gun handle). This is what you would expect of a good book. A lot of good reviews, a reasonable amount of so-so and just a few haters. You’d probably read that book. What if 90% of the reviews were 3-stars. Clearly the book doesn’t stand out, but neither does it suck. In that circumstance you probably want to actually read individual reviews. Many people have commented that even bad reviews do not stop them buying a book, as long as those readers explained what they didn’t like. Maybe you don’t care about the same things. “Lots of typos but a great story“: Would you read it? “Great action, not enough romance“: All depends on what you enjoy, right?

See how you can leave a bad review and it not be devastating? I always encourage people to leave a review, preferably on the major players like Amazon, iBooks, GoodReads, etc. Or all of them! Not only can you help other readers decide if the book is for them, but authors REALLY appreciate reviews. They do help the recommendation engines like Amazon and give our books more visibility. We’re not Stephen King; we need more readers. It needn’t take long either. At the very minimum, please give books a star-rating. That’s anonymous and very easy now that most ebook readers will prompt you at the end of the book. It takes 2 seconds.

I don’t know what to write“: Fair enough. Keep it simple. You don’t have to be a New York Times reviewer and get all pithy or artsy. Just say what you liked. Say who would enjoy the book. Example:

Loved the characters and how they outwitted the bad guy. The twists and turns kept me turning the pages. Read this if you love spy thrillers.

Simple. Effective. Here’s another:

I rooted for Helen all through the book. So glad she found the right guy in the end. Super book. I wish there hadn’t been so much swearing and F-words though.

That’s fair, and warns easily-offended readers not to waste their money. Authors won’t hate you for saying that. Better for the reader not to waste their time and money and maybe pick up another book by the same author, than to read it, get upset and leave a bad review.

Of course if you want to wax lyrical for several paragraphs and go into detail, then great. Authors and prospective readers will love you for that. Sometimes it’s good manners to warn up front if you are going to give out spoilers. You should be reviewing the book, not giving the whole plot away and ruining other’s enjoyment.

So… do you review books? Do you pay attention to reviews? Let me know in the comments.



Don’t drive like an ass!

freewayIf you didn’t know, I’m a dilettante student of urban planning and transportation efficiency. Forgive me, but sometimes I like to rant about gross inefficiencies I see in the urban transport sphere. This is one such post. :)

I’m sorry Americans (especially Californians), but there is a reason many interstates are either at a standstill, or have 6 lanes in each direction, or both of these factors – it’s because Americans have almost zero lane discipline. Yes, you! If you travel the highways of Europe then you’ll understand. Many 3-lane European highways can carry the same capacity as a 6-lane freeway in the US. There are 3 primary reasons:

1.   Traffic on your average US freeway does not stay right, despite signs of encouragement. If you want to go faster than the car in front, pull out, overtake and, assuming you are are now ahead of the slower traffic, then pull back in. Why? Because it keeps lanes open for faster traffic to pass. If the slowest two lanes are moving at 55 mph, everyone else who wants to 65 mph or higher can easily pass. This allows everyone to get to the destination at the speed they prefer. If you tend to pull onto a freeway, move right over into the fastest lane and stay there, you are holding up traffic that wants to travel faster. You may feel like you can pick a lane but you are just being selfish. Why should you care? Because tomorrow you might be the person that wants to go faster but can’t pass the traffic doing 60 mph in every lane. This is a case of “be a team player and everyone wins”. Don’t be selfish! I’m not suggesting  you pull back in after every car, forcing yourself to change lanes every twenty seconds, nor am I suggesting you stay in the slow lane where traffic is entering and exiting; just that you be sensible about it. Always think: Can I travel at the speed I want in the next slowest lane for at least a few minutes? If so, do everyone behind you a favour and pull over.

2.   This follows right on from #1. If every lane is traveling at a slower speed than most of the cars behind, then people are going to attempt to weave through traffic. This is dangerous for everyone. Passing on the inside is dangerous. Don’t make freeways any more lethal than they have to be. In Germany for example, inside-passing is illegal on many highways (as are many forms of distraction like eating and drinking, but that’s another post). This makes the road safer. If it’s safer, everyone can go faster. This is why they have some of the highest speed limits but also the safest roads. Win-win!

3.   This animal is the  most annoying perpetrator of #1, the self-righteous ass who believes it is his prerogative to do 55 mph in any lane, even the fast lane. He won’t pull over and may even slow down if you try to harass him from behind. What an ass! He could be single-handedly reducing the efficiency of the entire highway system for miles. He’s also raising the blood pressure of people behind him, making them more agressive and unpredictable. Why do you do that? I’ve never understood that mentality. It’s far better to graciously pull over and let the faster car pass, and if it makes you feel better, not only do you not have someone riding your rear-end, but that person is far less likely to cut you off in retaliation when he does get past, probably inconveniencing some other innocent driver on the way. Further more, let the faster car zoom ahead – you just might find him at the side of the road getting a ticket. Isn’t that more satisfying than him beeping and flashing his lights behind you?

Be gracious too. If someone wants to move into your lane ahead of you, for Pete’s sake let them, don’t speed up to fill the gap. That’s being an ass! One more car in front of you won’t make much difference, and he might just be transitioning your lane on the way to another, such as the HOV lanes or an exit ramp. Don’t you hate it when people do that? Then don’t do it to others! Usually the person entering the freeway legally has the right of way, as long as they are merging at the speed of traffic, so let them in before they run out of entry ramp and cut someone off, because it might be you.

Come on, people. We’re all trying to get somewhere, so play nice and everyone gets to their destination faster and more relaxed. It’s stunningly simple, I don’t understand why it isn’t part of new driver education.

Do you disagree? Do you like being an ass? What’s your pet peeve on the freeway. Comment below…




Are self-publishing and ebooks destroying our bookstore heritage?

BarnesNobleThere has been considerable press for years about what effect self-publishing and ebooks are having on our literary culture, be it bookstores and libraries or even literary masterpieces themselves. I’m sure you’ve all heard the rhetoric that allowing “normal” folk to publish whatever they want with no agent or publisher to act as a gatekeeper for quality, will result in a deluge of crap flooding the markets. On the face if it, it’s a valid concern; no one wants to wade through junk to find a gem of entertainment, any form of entertainment.

Ebooks and self-publishing hit mainstream consciousness about 5 years ago, give or take. Ask yourself: Do you find yourself buying dross time and again and being unable to find anything decent to read? I would hazard to guess that this is NOT your situation, or indeed anyone’s. Survey after survey have shown that the single most important factor influencing whether you buy a book is word of mouth. Did your family and friends enthuse about it? Have you read dozens or hundreds of reviews recommending it? There are far too many books in the world for you to just pick one up on spec, with no reader feedback, and decide to try it. How often do you do that?


This, of course, makes it much harder for we, the new authors, to make our mark. We represent that last scenario: an author you’ve never heard of with little to recommend us. But even as an author struggling to reach a wider audience, I argue that this is ok. Really. Respect is earned. With every book I write, first a couple of hundred, then thousands of readers will try me out, like what they read and review my books favorably, and – hopefully – tell all their friends. It’s an apprenticeship system. Sure, some debut authors break out big, but for every one of them, there are likely 10,000 of us slowly building our reputation. It forms a self-filtering system to keep out all the crap that doomsayers are so concerned about. If I write crap then who will buy my next book? Who will recommend it? It’s literary Darwinism.

Over the last year or two, Scott Turow has dished out considerable damnation of self-publishing and ebooks, claiming they are destroying our literary heritage. Turow, for those unfamiliar, is the President of the Author’s Guild. I won’t even try to debunk his fanciful naysaying here, suffice to say that numerous writers more eloquent than myself have done so: Barry Eisler, David Gaughran, Joe Konrath, Forbes magazine. It does seem as if, far from representing all authors, large and small, as you’d expect the head of the Author’s Guild to do, he is simply trying to preserve the old way of life for the elite bestsellers paid substantial sums by publishing companies.

No, I’m not going to trash publishers, agents, nor traditionally published authors. I just happen to believe, like a growing number of authors, that self-publishing and ebooks simply ADD to our literary heritage. Having already debunked the “more-is-crap” myth above, then having more books, more authors, more ideas in more formats can only be a good thing for everyone. A very good thing. This is what freedoms are all about: seek an agent and a contract with a large publisher, or do it yourself. Is one better than the other? No. Is one easier than the other? No.

A couple of weeks ago, James Patterson, yes THE James Patterson, took out a full page ad on the rear of the NYT Review, in which he stated ,in no uncertain terms, that self-publishing and ebooks are destroying bookstores, libraries and the very concept of classic literature! Wow. The sky is falling! He went on to suggest that the government bail out the publishing industry like it did the auto industry. **Speechless**. Patterson is a damn fine author, but I just lost respect for him. Here’s his defense of that ad in Salon.

Didn’t we hear similar arguments when music moved to MP3′s and iTunes? Wasn’t that supposed to destroy our rich culture of music and fill it with crap, destroying the industry? And, yeah, it did. No wait, no it didn’t. Music today is vibrant with an eclectic mix of major bands, solo artists, garage bands and Indies, and the consumer is sucking up content and reveling in the choice. Sure, we no longer see gargantuan music stores like Tower and Virgin but does that really matter?  OK, one can probably prove that ebooks are leading to the closure of big-chain bookstores, and we can argue that bookstores are different than music stores, because there is that culture of wandering around, touching books, drinking coffee and reading in easy chairs. But there is absolutely no reason we can’t enjoy that today if companies would simply embrace change and adapt. What’s wrong with wandering into Barnes & Noble with your ereader, sinking into a chair, downloading samples of books to try, while sipping your latte? As for boutique, used bookstores, they will likely remain for decades to come, in the same way that vinyl music stores do. Some bands are even releasing new material on vinyl for the discerning audiophile. I’m sure there will always be a demand for gorgeously produced books, maybe first or special editions and omnibuses. Those little mom and pop bookstores are likely to survive longer than the big chains, and that’s a good thing. In my experience, the little stores are run by bibliophiles for the love of books, whereas chains are run for pure profit.

Amazon always seems to be the scapegoat for claims that ebooks are destroying paper books and bookstores. Ask yourself just why this “demon of literary destruction” called Amazon became so popular? Could it be that their prices were more reasonable, their selection greater, and the fact that most people probably don’t want to traipse down to their bookstore – they want to download their book right now, while they are reading in bed or in the garden? If people didn’t want Amazon’s services, it wouldn’t be the giant it is today, as simple as that. It is part of the human condition to lament “the good old days”, but that doesn’t always gel with our actual actions. Amazon moves with the times too – it embraced ebooks and then self-publishing, and, again, these things have become so rabidly popular among authors and readers because that is what people want.

I’d love to hear what you think? Are self-publishing and ebooks destroying our literary heritage? Is it all going to end in tears and a sea of dross, or a new era of choice and fresh talent?



The St. Patrick’s Day Green-Eyed Monster

StPatrickHappy St. Patrick’s Day everybody!

We just got back from a visit to our local winery, Orfila. OK, not the typical beer-swilling venue you’d expect for today, but after wine tasting we had a great picnic with bread and cheese, and yes, I had a great Irish Stout to wash it all down.

I didn’t have anything Irish to write about today (what with being an English/Norwegian Viking and all), but let’s talk about green. Consider the Great Green-Eyed Monster!

So much of our western culture is unfortunately based upon jealousy. Think about it – mass marketing is basically the art of convincing us that our lives are incomplete without ‘x’ or ‘y’, and that we should be the first in our hood/block/street to have these things, outdoing our neighbours. It’s an instant gratification society. We want things now, and then we want to flaunt them. In turn, we all secretly wish that those we flaunt them to will be a teensy bit jealous. Look at my new sportscar / 60″ TV / computer / RV / House / Boat. Consider that flaunting is of no value other than to make someone else jealous, and to feel inferior to us.

Material objects are not the only things that we get jealous about. We can become envious of someone’s position, either in society or corporate life. Why do they have seemingly endless success and we do not? But is that really how we want to measure success? Are we jealous of someone with more children, or who take exciting vacations, or people that retire early, or have the lifestyle we dream about? I’ll grant that a certain amount of envy and competition spurs us forward, gives us something to aim for, provides role models; but we all know that the Green-Eyed Monster is not that gracious. He breeds resentment.

I want to focus on a particular form of jealousy that we writers are highly susceptible to, more so in the new age of Indie Publishing. Almost every writer I know has suffered an attack of the GEM, often on a regular basis. You’ll find a lot of posts about it. We all know it is flawed thinking, but sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Look at her, her first book took off like a meteor and landed her on the bestseller list. My first book was better but my sales are languishing.
  • Why does he have so many followers on Facebook and Twitter, and authors and readers alike visit his blog in droves?
  • How does he write so fast? How on Earth can he write two good books a year, and it takes me 3 years to write one.
  • Why are her characters so deep and full of emotion? I’ll never be able to write like that.
  • How does he sell so many books with so little marketing, when I spend 3 hours a day marketing and just can’t gain an audience?
  • What did she do to get 300 reviews on Amazon? I’ve had to fight to get a dozen in the same time period.
  • How does he write such clever plots? Mine seem overly simplistic.

Last month, I had just such a bout of jealousy when it seemed that everyone around me were churning out books – good books – and yet I’m such a slow writer. How would I ever carve a niche for myself among such prolific authors? I sat and analyzed my feelings, and realized that I wasn’t really threatened by those writers so much as simply languishing in self doubt. I was revisiting my regular feelings of inferiority as a new author. So I set out on a fact-finding mission and determined that all the folks I felt inferior to were more experienced writers than I, had been doing it longer, often did not have a full time job as I did, and that while writing fast was a skill they had developed, they were perhaps deficient on other skills, skills that perhaps I had, but had taken for granted. I then found many more examples of writers in the same boat as I, with jobs, and only on their first book. Their audience numbers and sales very closely mirrored my own. I guess it wasn’t just me after all. Luck also plays a major part in this game. You never know when word of mouth, a particular marketing campaign, review, or giveaway might launch your book to another level. We all advance in our craft at differing rates. The market changes every year too, so its just one big scary unknown out there.

I forced myself to focus on the other side of the GEM, the other side of jealousy: Use other writers as role models, celebrate their successes, use them to inspire me. This is much easier when most writers are incredibly humble, and will be the first to admit that they don’t know the reason for their success, other than that they just kept writing the best books they could. And I am inspired by other writers, for if they can do it, then one day, if I work hard and listen well, then I can too. We aren’t competitors, we are peers, always eager to help each other.

Will I succumb to a visit by the GEM again? For certain – it is human nature, but I know that is me that I should work on, it is my subconscious that is the enemy, not those other writers.




10 things to be thankful for

smileyI know it’s not Thanksgiving, but today I want to give thanks for some things. I have two lists:


  1. My darling wife: She is a wonderful friend, mate and companion in life. We don’t have everything in common (and nor should we) but we share the same opinions on the things that matter most to us, like family, house, work, travel, our pets. We have never argued for more than a few moments. We communicate openly about things that trouble us, whether each other or the world around us. I believe there is nothing we cannot go through together. Thank you, Tamara, for supporting everything that I do, even my crazier ideas. I shall always reciprocate.
  2. Family: Though my father passed on years ago, my mother and sister are my best friends. Being half the world away doesn’t prevent us from having a lot of fun.
  3. Health: I do not have perfect health, but my condition has been stable for almost twenty years, and I cannot complain about the few bumps now and then. Getting old sucks, heh, but I am determined to suffer the aches and pains, failing eyes, etc., with grace. Many in this world do not have the health I have, so who am I to complain.
  4. Freedom: As numerous as the problems with the US government and economy are, (and indeed in most of the world these days), I am thankful to live in a land where I can say what I like (within reason), think what I like, and largely act as I like, without restriction of movement. I think all of us take this for granted. Certainly laws are becoming more restrictive and some are downright unconstitutional, but I am not in jail, not a slave, and not subject to police/army searches and curfews.
  5. Food and Water: Another gift we take for granted. I can eat what I want, when I want, with no more effort than a drive to the grocery store. I do not have to walk 4 hours each way across a desert to get warm, dirty water and a bowl of rice. I never go hungry, quite the opposite, and am shedding pounds as I write this. I have hot food, cold food, pure water from a tap in my house. I am happy to donate food and time to collections of food for the needy.
  6. Power: I have seemingly endless power available to me 99.999% of the time. I can take hot showers, cook my food, watch TV, write on this computer, light my house in the evening. I do not squander power, but am very thankful for the amenities and comforts it affords.
  7. Friends: I prefer quality over quantity and have shared some wonderful, fun times with my friends, in real life and around the world online. They are there for me, and I for them. When my day is down, they cheer me up.
  8. The World: This world, indeed the universe, is an astonishingly wonderful place. Something special, no matter how tiny, happens every minute, and I wish I could savour every single event. Our world is rich in animals, plants, terrain, people and cultures. How spectacular it is that the world and its people are not uniform and dull. Just stepping out of the house, whether into nature or into the city, is an adventure, and we are lucky to have that.
  9. Interesting Times: I adore living in such interesting times. I’m sure that all times are to those that live them, but as a geek, the accelerating pace of science and technology is tremendously exciting. I have seen so many incredible inventions in my life. What more will I live to see? Our migration into space? Endless power? Saving the world from ourselves? Curing disease and hunger? Warp drive? Teleportation? Bring it on!
  10. Life itself: Very easy to take for granted. My parents nurtured me into an adult and I have every reason to hope for a long lifespan. To where we go after our death is between you and your chosen religion, but I for one am excited to continue my journeys and adventures after this life. Perhaps I will have learned sufficient in this life to assist others with theirs.


Since this is ostensibly a writing blog, let’s have a quick look at 10 things to be thankful for in my budding writing career:

  1. Creativity: I have no shortage of ideas and am thankful that I have always possessed an inquiring and imaginative mind. I hope my readers get to share and enjoy some of my wildest ideas, worlds and characters.
  2. Freedom of Publication: So many people have embraced the new opportunities to become an author. I do not have statistics, but I swear there are thousands more authors on the shelves of the bookstores than there were in my youth. And when we step away from Traditional Publishing into Indie publishing, my word what an explosion! Never before in the history of man has it been so easy for creative writers to bring their work before readers in a worldwide marketplace. Do all these books have merit? Perhaps not, but I trust the reader to find what they enjoy.
  3. Readers: I am thankful for those very readers, especially as a new author. I do not take it lightly that complete strangers trust me to deliver entertainment, and buy my book in a world with so much choice. I hope I have not let anyone down, and bless you all for sharing my writing journey. The best is still to come!
  4. Reviewers: Thank you to the review bloggers who, with no financial reward from the author, give up their time to read (which they would do anyway, I’m sure) but more importantly, write lengthy reviews and help promote new authors. That’s got to be a tough job. Thank you also to every reader that takes time out of their day to write a few words or even just rank books online. This helps both the author and fellow readers.
  5. Ebook Publishers: Certainly the publishers are in it for the money, but I still give thanks for the recent and sophisticated tools that these companies build to make it easier for Indie authors to get our books onto the market. In just a few hours, a couple of days at most, we can have well-formatted books on multiple formats around the world. We shouldn’t take that for granted. Not everyone is an HTML-savvy coder. Even though I am, obviously I’d rather be writing my next book. Thank you Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo, and others.
  6. Authors: I have met so many wonderful people willing to give free and lengthy advice, tips and knowledge. It is wonderful that we do not think of each other as competitors.
  7. Honest Critiques: I love it! Thank you to friends, critique partners, beta readers and everyone who has read my work in a rough state and taken the time to tell me what works and what doesn’t. My writing is better because of all of you.
  8. Time: All authors want more time to write, but I thank my workplace for not making me work long hours, and my wife (again!) for allowing me quiet time to write. I’m not a fast writer, so I need time, and my mind boggles to think of how moms can write books while running the household and looking after small kids. Wow.
  9. Promoters: Thanks to my family, friends, fellow authors and anyone who has helped promote my first book; with a particular shout out to Kellie Sheridan and my buddies at Untethered Realms. It’s a tough market to get noticed in, and I am truly grateful for your generous promotion and putting your own name and reputation behind my book.
  10. I can write: Ooh, this one sounds a little egotistical, doesn’t it? My writing journey has only just begun and I have much, much to learn, but I can write a good enough story with enough craft that people are enjoying my first book. Can I do better? Absolutely, but I am proud of my debut book. I think it is definitely decent enough for consumption. May readers be free to tell me otherwise. :) But I give thanks that, given the hundreds of ideas that I want to capture into stories, that I have the capability to do so.



Life is an adventure, enjoy the journey

Stress. Uncertainty. I lay awake until 3am last night, my brain refusing to shut down. It had a lot to think about:

  • Project at work not going according to plan, with a deadline looming
  • My mother’s health
  • A possible relocation to another State and selling the house
  • How to get 6 cats across country
  • How to get my book in front of more readers
  • Is the ambitious plot for my second book going to work

Attempting to calm my overactive brain and put these worries into perspective, I discovered two very important revelations, that I think many of us overlook in the rush of our daily lives:

  1. I have a house, a wonderful wife, adorable cats, food on the table, and a good job. I’m not starving in the Sudan, fighting for every grain of rice, witnessing human rights violations every day. I have reasonable health, a great family, good friends and some of the highest freedoms on Earth. I’m not in a 3rd-world jail, homeless, alone in the world, or at death’s door. I have a ton to be thankful for, and I am.
  2.  Life should be an adventure. Life is precious, and shorter than we would like. Instead of spending it worrying and stressing, we should be enjoying it, getting everything out of it for ourselves and those around us. We never know what tomorrow will bring: it might be smooth, it might be rough, but it IS an adventure.

No longer will I stress the list above, instead I shall embrace it. That work project is a fantastic challenge. That relocation is a chance to get out of a rut, to see fresh things and meet new people. I must trust my creative mind to come up with ways to market my book. Being a writer is a long-tail game, and I’ve only just begun. I WILL make my new book the best it can be. Patience and perseverance. None of us is an expert out of the gate.

A previous post: How stressed are you about your writing?

Carpe Diem.

Are you stressing? Are you failing to see life for the adventure it is? Please share.


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