Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Overuse Of Commas, or why it's important to be honest in reviews.

This is a response to Andrew Leon's review of an indie novel (which you can find here) and PT Dilloway's response to that review, which you can find here.

There was so much potential in this well written but totally discombobulated book. Several different and interesting story lines ended up going nowhere. The characters spent most of each chapter agonizing and internalizing over whether they had behaved correctly to situations or if they should have behaved differently, or how other people perceived their actions. I learned to just skim over the internalizing pages and then try to pick up on the thread of the story. On top of that, the plot(s) kept jumping timelines which confused me. Sort of a Robert Altman film without the benefit of visuals. I would give this a 1 star but I appreciate that is was well written and without gore, raunchy sex, or gutter language.

That is a review of my book Up So Down.

You, too, can own the book whose only
redeeming quality is that there
isn't a lot of raunchy sex!
Click here to buy it.
Up So Down is a book I'm really very proud of.  I spent a long time writing it -- I started it, actually, about when my twins were born in 2006, and I didn't publish it until 2012, after it had made it almost to publication by a traditional publisher, and after I had serialized it on a blog and made some major revisions to it.  After all that, which is an almost unprecedented level of work for me on a book, I published it, and then two years after it first came out, I got that review.

That was not my only negative review, even for that book.  PT Dilloway commented that there were 'missing pieces,' (although he gave it five stars and was generally positive) and Andrew Leon gave it four stars but commented that while the story was fine, the book suffered from some editing problems:

Mostly, it's nothing all that serious, an overuse of commas that most people won't notice, but there are some spots where there are wrong words or names and a couple of those spots did make me have to go back to figure out who was talking at a given a moment

I am thinking about those reviews -- the seriously bad one, and the ones that liked my book but found problems with it -- because those two authors, Dilloway and Leon, are right now in the middle of a debate (some would say fight) about the propriety of giving a negative review to an indie author's book.

The brouhaha is superficially about Andrew's review of Sandra Ulbrich Almazan's Lyon's Legacywhich you can read here, but it seems to me it is more actually about what kind of authors indie authors are, and how they should be treated.

Average rating on Amazon:
4.5 of 5 stars.
Click here to buy it and
make up your own
mind about the book, which
has its merits.
I had read Lyon's Legacy a while back and gave it five stars and a very good review.  When I saw Andrew's review, and when Andrew and I discussed his reaction to the book off the record, I was honest with him, and, finally, with myself -- if not with my review.  The book, I admitted, wasn't really worth 5 stars.  I had inflated the grade a bit because I liked Sandra and wanted to support her and felt, at the time, like I shouldn't give even a little negativity to a fellow indie author. Especially in retrospect, I felt the book was more of a three-star book: an interesting story, functionally well-written, but not a compelling must read that a five-star rating would merit.  I admitted to Andrew that if I reviewed it now, with my new thinking about reviews and indie authors, I would have probably given it 3 stars, and thus I wouldn't have posted a review at all.

That's my own compromise with ethics and reviewing and supporting indie authors: I won't post a negative review of an indie author.  I used to take that stance and find something positive to say about the indie book, no matter what, and never point out flaws.  Now, I take that stance and either post an honest review of a good book, or I won't review it at all.

(PS If I've read your book and haven't posted a review, that doesn't mean I didn't like it. I rarely post reviews, period, and there are great books that I haven't gotten around to posting reviews of because I really don't like to review books.)
I didn't go back and change Sandra's review or ranking, mostly out of laziness.  Instead, I read Andrew's review, and then I read the vituperative comments and back-and-forth debate about whether or not an indie author should give a bad review to another indie author.

Should one indie author give a bad review to another?

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Final Thought

If you followed this site, you've probably noticed no one has posted in months.  Yeah, we at Indie Writers Monthly have all gone our separate ways, so first the magazine and then the blog were no more.  Well, they still technically exist, but they're just relics of another time.

I wanted to close my run on the blog with a final thought based on something happened recently.  What happened is one former IWM author gave another former IWM's book one-star.  He made sure to do this on Goodreads, and on Amazon (two stars there but still), and on his blog.  You know, in case anyone he knew might have missed that he really didn't like that book.  I've read the book and if I were in a bad mood I'd at worst give it three stars.  For me one star (or two) means more than "I didn't enjoy it" or "I didn't get it."  It means the book is so wretched that I would throw it in a fire if I could.  Did this book deserve that?  No.

But that's not the real point.  The real point, the thing I take umbrage to, is one indie author trashing another's book.  Not even some random author, but one he knew and had worked with on this blog and magazine for over a year.  That's just lowdown BS in my book.

His defense is "I'm just being honest."  And going on about "ethics" and "integrity" and so on and so forth like he's some great paragon of virtue.  You know what's a virtue to me:  loyalty.  I don't sell out my friends and I hope they won't sell me out in kind.

Can I tell you something you might not have realized?  Selling books is fucking hard.  It's hard for midlist authors with big publishers.  It's harder for those with small presses and it's harder still for those who are indie published.  When you indie publish you've got a whole mountain of obstacles to climb.  It's a real battle to get any kind of positive recognition.

That's why you need friends.  Or if not friends, then at least allies.  If you want any chance in Hell of being successful, you need help.  You need people to help you spread the gospel so maybe a few people will take note of it amongst the millions, nay billions of other books out there in "the Cloud."

When other people ask me to help them, I do it.  I don't hem and haw about doing a cover reveal because I haven't read the book in question.  I don't whine about "honesty" and "integrity."  I do it because I'd want them to help me should I ask for it.  I can't expect them to go to bat for me when I won't do it for them.  It's a two-way street.  There have been times when I've asked for help and people have come through for me.  Like say when someone made me an awesome book cover and didn't charge me.

Or when publisher of said book just dumped it out there without warning and I needed to throw together a spontaneous blog tour.  People let me announce my book on their blog and I don't think it compromised their "integrity" one iota.  And hey, if they ever ask me to spotlight something, my blog is theirs.  No questions asked.  No pissing and moaning about "ethics."  It's what you do.

Because maybe this guy doesn't get it, but we're a community here.  You can't build a community by throwing rocks at someone else just to make yourself feel more important.  But hey, isn't that what you're doing?  That's why I'm not using his name.  He'll know who he is and he won't be ashamed, though he should be for what he did.  As I said, there are so many obstacles we have to overcome in this business that we don't need allies turning on us too.

People on his side will say they respect his choice, freedom of speech, blah blah blah.  Here's my response:  you didn't like the book?  Why say anything at all?  Was there anyone chomping at the bit to read your opinion?  Did anyone solicit you for your review of said book?  I'm pretty sure that answer to that is no.  If you don't like the book and it violates your precious "ethics" to be merciful, then just do what your mom always said:  If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Am I advocating no one ever post any bad reviews of anything, ever?  No.  You want to give the latest James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks book 1-star, please do.  They have legions of fans.  Their books have thousands of reviews.  Just last week I gave 1-star to a book being published by Amazon.  And you know what, it won't fucking matter!  That book has hundreds of reviews already; mine is just crying out in the wilderness.  There's no harm to it.  There is harm when you do that to a book that has only a few reviews or no reviews.  Then your opinion can actually do some damage.

I complain all the time about people who frivolously give a book 1 or 2 stars.  They simply don't understand that for indie authors word-of-mouth is important.  Especially someone in my situation who needs all the sales I can get so I don't end up living under a fucking bridge with the other 18,000 or so homeless in Detroit.  I don't need your venom or your "integrity;" if you're not going to help then at least just stay out of my way.

Of course it wasn't my book that was trashed--yet.  I'm sure the person in question is even now sharpening his knives because I changed an overly generous 5-star review of his book to 1-star to let him have a taste of his own medicine.  He'll probably go give one or more of my books 1-star, all the while trying to crow about what a paragon of virtue he is.  LOL.

But anyway, the point is that as indie authors we're all in the same boat.  When rowing a boat everyone has to pull in the same direction or you're going nowhere.

Anyway, those are my thoughts, not yours.  It was fun writing on the blog and magazine for the last year and change.  The best moment was when I wrote about "Authors Anonymous" and the writer of the movie actually chimed in.  That was quite a shock.

You'll note I've turned reader comments off for this post.  I don't want to start a flame war in the comments.  Anything the guilty party wants to say he can do so in his own post.

Farewell.  Oh, and buy my books!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Writing Thoughts From "The Gambler"

A movie called "The Gambler" isn't the first place you'd look for serious writing discussion, but it does feature that.  Marky Mark Wahlberg's character Jim in the film is a self-destructive gambler who also happens to be a published novelist and teacher of "modern novels."

The first time they show Jim in the classroom, he gets into a discussion of Shakespeare and genius.  One student challenges him about Shakespeare being a fake and he claims all those accusations about Shakespeare's "real" identity are just jealousy because genius is a rare, fluke thing.

The idea is that no one can create greatness; it just happens.  You could have Stephen King and JK Rowling make a baby and it might turn out to be a plumber instead of a writer.  Conversely you might have a plumber and a housewife produce the greatest writer of all time.

I have to agree that you can't really produce greatness through genetics.  Even if you pulled a Dr. Mindbender from the old GI JOE show and took DNA from history's greatest writers, you still probably wouldn't get the greatest writer of all time.

Besides an elemental spark of genius that is required, a lot of a writer's real DNA comes through experience.  There aren't many plumbers who could go knock out something the caliber of Shakespeare without some training first.  One needs to hone one's craft.  But with some guidance, maybe a plumber could take his life experiences and make one hell of a fine book.

Another issue Jim brings up is about the writing world in general.  A student asks if he would write another book and he says he wouldn't because he doesn't want to be a midlist author writing books for other midlist authors whose work he has reviewed. 

For the most part this seems like defeatist talk.  My first book didn't sell all that great so I'm just going to take my ball and go home.  Of course the $17,000 he made from the book is more than a schlub like me would make in my lifetime.  At the same time, some big-time authors probably make that much in five minutes.

But this is also part of the reason I haven't written literary fiction in almost six years.  If I ever thought about it, a voice in my head said, "Why bother?  Hardly anyone will read it.  It won't make hardly any money."  So I get what he's saying, that if you don't have a niche audience, it's not really worth it.

The way he puts it is, "If you don't have the genius--don't bother."  I would disagree with that.  A lot of successful writers aren't geniuses.  I mean do you think Danielle Steele or James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks is a genius?  I don't, but then people like crap.  And many geniuses are unappreciated in their day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Draft2Digital: So Far, So Good

On my blog recently, Cindy Borgne mentioned a site called Draft2Digital that is like Smashwords in allowing you to publish to multiple platforms.  I didn't look into it at first, but then necessity forced my hand.

To put it simply (and crudely) Smashwords was being a bunch of dickholes.  I mentioned on my blog I had put my entire Transformed gender swap series into one collection so I could publish it on non-Amazon platforms for extra money.  I even sold like 6 copies on the Smashwords site, which was pretty awesome.

This was while the book was "in review" for their precious "Premium Catalog," ie platforms beyond Smashwords.  Once they were done reviewing it, the trouble began.  Basically they gave me a list of demands, which were kind of stupid.
  •  Put everything in "Normal" format because something was "corrupted."
  • The title it was listed as was "Transformed Collection (Gender Swap Erotica)" so the parenthetical part should be on the cover
  • There can't be any kids, period, or they can't sell the book.
Putting everything in normal made all the titles left justified and I was too lazy to go through and change them all.  But I guess it solved whatever stupid problem their "Meatgrinder" had with it.  The other two were what drove me away.

Look, I get that you don't want kids having sex with adults or anything, but really you can't have any kids AT ALL in the book?  That's just ridiculous.  Parents do still have sex.  I'm sure this is just a paranoid overreaction because someone was publishing pedophilia or something.  But let's face it, the fucking book is 500,000 words; I'm not going back through the whole thing to take out any kids just because of your paranoia.

And the other one was just patently stupid.  The reason people put stuff in the title in parentheses is to let people know what kind of book it is or what series it is to make that more visible.  But I'm not going to put it on the fucking cover.  How stupid would that look?  Sure I could just delete it, but why should I?  Only a total moron would think that stuff was part of the actual title.

So that was when I checked out Draft2Digital.  The whole experience (so far) has been about a thousand times better than Smashwords.  First off, the site is a lot quicker.  Publishing to Smashwords took like half an hour, but this went a lot faster.  I didn't have to wait in a "queue" for fifteen minutes.  And the interface was much more streamlined so I didn't have a bunch of scrolling.

Then of course I didn't have to wait days for them to "review" it, followed by rejecting it for stupid shit.  It was whiz-bang, pretty much the next day it was on the other sites like Apple's bookstore, Kobo, and even B&N!  Though for some reason the cover didn't import to B&N.  Which is weird since I used the same image as when I published it through B&N's Nook Press.

I downloaded a sample of the Mobi file (Kindle format) and it looked just as good as the Smashwords version.  The only strange thing is that after a scene break (which I designate with a ***) they don't indent the paragraph.  I guess that's a stylistic choice on their part.  I haven't looked at the ePub file since I don't have a Nook, but I hope it's not too bad.

Obviously it was nice that they didn't want me to put parenthetical stuff on the cover or delete all the kids in the book.  The only drawback is they don't give you quite as much money as Smashwords, like 60% instead of about 70%, but then Smashwords was wanting to give me 0% for the book, so take what I can get, right?

It is pretty early, but so far it has been smooth sailing.  Smashwords has lost themselves a customer.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Kindle Unlimited: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

I have to thank Nigel Mitchell for this link to a story about authors complaining about Kindle Unlimited.  Kindle Unlimited is the program that allows users to pay $9.99 to get as many books from Amazon's Kindle Select Program as they want.  Basically it's Netflix for books.  There are already services like Oyster that do the same thing, though I looked at Oyster and its selection kind of sucks.

Anyway, I've already gone on record as saying Kindle Unlimited has been awesome for me.  It has just about doubled the money I get every month.  Sure I might not end up getting as much per book with Unlimited, but would the people who get it through Unlimited actually buy the book otherwise?  Or would they buy it and then "return" it since Amazon's system is so pathetic about returns? 

In reading the article, I think the people who are complaining are those who are having success beyond Amazon.  If you're considering whether or not to enroll in Kindle Unlimited that's what you need to consider.  If you've have good success with other sellers like Smashwords, B&N, or Kobo then you don't want to use Kindle Unlimited because you have to take your book off sale from anywhere except Amazon for three months at least.

If you're like me and 95% of your sales are coming from Amazon, then Kindle Unlimited makes sense.  With it I can double my revenue stream and people who might be on the fence about spending $2.99 for a 50-page book or considering doing something shady might not if they think they're getting it "free" with Kindle Unlimited.

As for whether Kindle Unlimited will change the world of bookselling and so forth, it's really too early to tell.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Confusing World of Amazon's Content Guidelines

Last Tuesday I was supposed to release Transformed Into a Cougar Too (Transformed #20) on Amazon.  But they rejected it for "offensive content."  What is offensive content?  Only Amazon knows and they ain't saying.

On December 7, 2014, at 4:03 PM, Kindle Direct Publishing  wrote:


We’re contacting you regarding the following book:

Transformed Into a Cougar Too (Transformed #20) by Filler, Eric (AUTHOR)

During our review process, we found that this content is in violation of our
content guidelines. As a result, we cannot offer this book for sale. If we
identify additional submissions with similar content that violates our
guidelines, we may terminate your account or you may lose access to optional KDP services.

To learn more about our content guidelines, please visit our Kindle Direct
Publishing Help page at:

Best regards,

Kindle Direct Publishing

Here's how the page it links to describes offensive content:
Offensive Content
What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect. 

Gee, that's really helpful.  So basically it could be anything.

I asked what specifically the problem was and got this long-winded yet unhelpful reply:

On December 8, 2014, at 1:03 PM, Kindle Direct Publishing  wrote:


We're contacting you regarding the following title:

Transformed Into a Cougar Too (Transformed #20), ID: 5539262

We’ve confirmed that your book(s) contains content that is in violation of our content guidelines and we will not be offering this title for sale in the Kindle Store. As stated in our guidelines, we reserve the right to determine what we consider to be appropriate, which includes cover images and content within the book.

If you wish to re-publish your book(s) with content that meets our guidelines, it will need to be submitted as an entirely new ASIN and go through our standard review process. Previous customer reviews, tags, and sales rank information are not transferable because the title will essentially be a different product.

Our content guidelines are published on the Kindle Direct Publishing website.

We appreciate your understanding.

Best Regards,

Dakota K.
Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.
Connect with KDP and other Authors and Publishers:
Follow us on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/AmazonKDP

Earth's most customer-centric company?  LOL.  We've confirmed there's offensive content and you can resubmit it...but we won't say what the offensive content was.  So how do I know what to change to resubmit?

I'm pretty sure when directors send movies to the MPAA, they actually tell you what content causes it to get the rating it gets.  I don't think they say, "There was offensive content that's probably what you think it was."  Because really that's not very useful to anyone.

So I tried twice more to get someone to explain to me what was wrong and got these useless responses:

On December 9, 2014, at 3:32 PM, Kindle Direct Publishing  wrote:


Publisher feedback is important to us as we strive to improve our services and programs for our publishers.  However, as we have previously stated, your book will not be made available in the Kindle Store at this time.

Best Regards,

Sophie L.
Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.
Connect with KDP and other Authors and Publishers:
Follow us on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/AmazonKDP


As stated in our content guidelines, we reserve the right to determine what
content we consider to be appropriate. This content includes both the cover art image and the content within the book.

We’re unable to elaborate further on specific details regarding our content

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing

Best Regards,

Frederik M
Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.
Connect with KDP and other Authors and Publishers:
Follow us on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/AmazonKDP

Wow, that's really Customer-Centric of you.  Basically I don't think anyone there knows, at least after the first drone who flags the book.  So after that all they do is shield themselves with bureaucratic double-talk and form responses.  At the very least they could better define what offensive content is.  Their definition is so vague that it's useless.

I did resubmit the book.  I think some drone had a problem with a cigarette on the cover, sort of like how the MPAA gives movies an R-rating now if they have a cigarette.  I mean when I submitted it with a new cover they accepted it.  It just would have been nice if they'd said that at the start.  That and didn't lock the book down so I couldn't just replace the cover.


Anyway, the gist of this is that if some Amazon drone flags your book, you're pretty much on your own to figure out how to fix it.  For such a "Customer-Centric Company" they really need to be more helpful to authors.