Show Don’t Tell

Show Don’t Tell

Pam Uphoff

 

We’ve had requests for a blog along the lines of “But how do we do it?” So I’ll take first whack at it.

Short version? You take a short boring bit that gets you past the messy details and into the part you want to write—and you go back and put in the messy details, especially those emotions you didn’t want to slather all over your beautiful clean manuscript.

I’m not good at explaining, but I can try to demonstrate, first draft to final publication.

So here’s wizard, doing some experimental magical genetic engineering.
Telling—he’s passing it off like practically nothing happened:

“No kidding. Now stop trying to divert me from these longevity genes. You aren’t going to experiment on your own dogs, are you?” Q looked at him suspiciously.

“Yep. I did Lion already. Four hours and he’s fine.” He winced at her glare. “I’m standing by, in case he needs to be switched back, and I have wine.”

Showing—make it hurt:

Xen studied the old dog carefully, found the same gene complexes, and very gently started changing them, one at a time. With pauses in between to check the dog for signs that he had done something Really Bad to his cellular metabolism. When he was done, the old dog didn’t seem any different. Lion heaved himself to his feet and walked stiffly out to circle the sheep. Walked partway back, staggering a bit.

Xen sat up in alarm and trotted out to meet him. The old dog laid down, his head drooped.

“Lion?” Xen sank his awareness into the dog. Wish I could see like a witch . . . He’s very low on energy.

He looked into the bubble he called his backpack. A change of clothes, food, water and the Wine of the Gods.

He pulled out the food, coaxed Lion to eat . . . with minimal success.

He scooped the dog up and traveled to Lady Gisele’s garden. Tried to keep his voice steady. “My first patient seems to be dying. He’s low on energy.”

“Humph. Let’s see.” The old crone reached out to stroke the dog. “Indeed.” She reached over to her shelves and plucked off a bottle.

“That’s maple syrup.”

“Yes, dear, and good source of sugar, to get his gylcogen levels up. Let’s see if he can swallow it . . . Hmm, well, a bit of tubing . . . ”

She plucked plastic tubing from nowhere, and wormed it down Lion’s throat.

“There’s a funnel behind you, third shelf, the small one . . . thank you.”

He go the funnel into the tube and poured a teaspoon of maple syrup into it.

“Now, let’s see what’s happening on the cellular level . . . Oh dear.”

Xen was following her vision as far as he could. Chromosomes writhing about, under attack by his ribozymes, ripping into the right genes and then building up the new ones, grabbing the chemicals needed . . . whether the rest of the cell could spare them or not. Whether the cell needed that gene—old or new version, right then.

Cells were dying, fast. Lots of them.

Everything they tried made it worse.

They couldn’t save him.

Xen spent the rest of the day out on the hills with the sheep and the horses.

Cradling his old dog.

Blackie and Silky crawled up to him, crying.

Quicksilver showed up in the mid-afternoon. Just sat down silently.

“So . . . I was over confident.”

“What were you trying to do?”

He hauled out his spells and let her look them over. “The longevity genes.”

“An essential transformation? Xen . . . that is brilliant work.”

Xen shook his head. “It just tore into the genes and started changing them. It was too fast, too much all at once . . . or maybe those genes are multipurposed to something in basal cell metabolism, that can’t be interrupted.”

She sighed. “I’m better at physics. This stuff . . . I can do it, using other peoples spells. I don’t grasp the significance of possible genetic changes, of how to invent them.”

“I wasn’t really inventing new genes. I was changing the genes at eight specific sites to slightly different genes. Known genes, ones that will work fine.”

“In humans. Maybe not in dogs?”

“The Hell Hounds have some of them. Lion had one copy each of three of them. I just tried to give him the other five, and double pairs. He . . . ran out of glycogen, and the changes were messing up the cell chemistry. Even getting sugar into him didn’t help, and when I tried to stop the process . . . well, the chromosomes started falling apart.” He pet the cold stiff form in his lap. “I killed him.”

 

Or how about some cross-dimensional scientific cooperation?

A perfectly adequate mention:

“So, your first scientific expedition from another polity – and it had to be them.” Xen grinned across the table at his sister.

She grinned cheerfully back. “And an interesting trio the Arbolians are. Both the men are natural wizards, with enough training to shield their natures from me, if they hadn’t gone and shook hands. The girl has no power genes but a fair collection of the rest. They all seem very smart, and very much what they claim to be, otherwise. One astronomer, one photographic specialist, one guy to keep everything working. In any case, they’re parked up on that hill busy all night and sleeping all day.”

And then showing:

I am an ambassador. They dare not kill me.

Hadley Greene forced himself to walk calmly and steadily across the plaza. Why must they make everything so large? So far away? We should acquire one of those vehicles. One of those limos. A large black one, worthy of my status. Or white for my purity.

They had always said the power had been too weak in him—they had not allowed him to go on to the more advanced training of the priesthood. Thirty years later, the rejection still burned. Especially now, in his maturity, when he understood that his only lack had been money for bribes or political influence on his maternal family’s side.

And now, so poorly trained, I must walk alone into that vipers’ nest of feral gods. I dare not even bring an aide, who could be influenced, ordered to murder me in my sleep some night in the future.

It wasn’t the sun overhead that was making him sweat.

He didn’t allow himself to stop at the road, nor the base of the steps. By the time he reached the top, the double doors were open, and two men . . . no. Two gods. Unchained, uncontrolled, unmastered . . .

I could take one, for my own. The priests would bow before me. Weak? Ha!
He eyed the two gods. The young one. I want him. He swallowed saliva. But not now. No, I’ll have to find him alone, off his guard. Asleep would be best.

He stopped a cautious distance away, stood straight and tall, and raised his chin. “I am Hadley Greene, Ambassador for Arbolia. I require your assistance for a scientific expedition.”

The young one nodded. “I’m sure that we will be delighted to assist you. May I introduce Dr. Quail Quicksilver? She is in charge of Science and Exploration.” He stepped back and gestured invitingly as a young woman stepped forward.

Abomination! A female with power! But that glow is unmistakable. Except, there is no sexual attraction. Of course, abnormal genes. That would explain it. It’s not a True Female. I could take it, transform it into the God of Women. No. The God of Sex.

He was so deep into plots that he nearly forgot to be afraid as he stepped into the den of the deadly wild gods.

***

“. . . proper scientific study of these dimensions. So we expect your cooperation.” The Arbolian ambassador was watching her with a hungry expression. Sweating.

Q kept her expression politely neutral.

Lust or terror? How can one tell with a hideous perv like this?

And why did the first request for scientific project have to come from them?
The man is a mage of some sort, possibly one of their priests.

I should get a genetic sample for Mother. She talked about these people . . . I thought she was exaggerating.

“I appreciate your interest in science, Ambassador. This looks like a very interesting project. We will support it, and assist as necessary. Have your project people contact me about what they will need.” She stood and extended a hand.

He recoiled . . . stared at her hungrily. “They will contact you.” He turned and walked out.

Crap.

She glanced suddenly at the corner of the office. A light warp unraveled.

“So, your first scientific expedition from another polity—and it had to be them.” Xen grinned.

She shook her head. “Being over protective, Big Bro?”

“Yeah. I didn’t like the way he salivated when he looked at me and Inso.” He walked to the doorway and grinned back at her. “But he did seem to find you sexy.”

He ducked away from a threatened fireball, and she grabbed a tissue and swabbed the edge of her desk. Maybe Mother can sort out his DNA. She dropped the tissue in a bag and sealed it. I do like plastic. It’s going to be a bigger import category than electronics.

***

“We need to do a first survey from several wildly different worlds, and analyze the results.” Lord Marius Menchuro of Arbolia was an astronomer. A serious young man, with none of the ambassador’s hunger. He’d shaken her hand without hesitation, as had his assistants.

Trace and Trill Breesdon were brother and sister. Trill was a photographic expert, Trace an expert at keeping everything working.

“Everything” being a twenty-four inch reflecting telescope mounted on a horse drawn wagon, and a huge camera for taking long exposure photographs, and the photographic lab, in addition to a great deal of camping equipment.

Damn. Now this is interesting. Studying the planets, moons and asteroids for changes from world to world.

“Indeed. Let me introduce you to the maze. I think we have everything—every place—you’ll need for this first survey already easily available.”

 

Another example This time from my eccentric time traveler:

First draft:

When we landed, I started laying out the plans for two space fighters. Then I had to break for a bit to calm down the accountant and sign some late tax papers and so forth. Good grief. I hired him to not bother me. He calmed down eventually. Until I told him it was going to happen regularly.

Final Draft:

Then I had to calm down Natalie and Aura and sign some late tax papers and so forth. Good grief. I’d hired them to not bother me. They calmed down eventually. Until I told them it was going to happen regularly.

“We’ll be away regularly, and come back every September, probably, to recuperate. Just file the taxes.”

“What kind of bloody resort are you?”

“A private one.”

“Your income is from selling rare metals?”

“We like to mine, but it is a bit dangerous. So we needed a nice tranquil spa to come home to.”

Aura crossed her arms, looking a great deal less like a fluffy-head than usual. “We looked all over for you. What is that weird machine in the practically hidden warehouse?”

“A very large three dee printer. Very advanced. Don’t touch it.”

“And the practically hidden airplane hanger?”

“It’s for the airplane. Vertical takeoff and landing, so don’t ask me why I don’t have an airstrip.”

They glowered at me.

I tried again. “Umm, couldn’t find a good batcave?”

Double glare.

So much for popular entertainment . . . But they’d never believe the truth.

“Time Travelers?”

Natalie growled. “Sign here and here. Write a check for this amount. Mail it, dammit. Today.”

“Space Aliens?”

“And here’s my bill.”

“How about I give you signature authority . . . ”

“No! Doing your paperwork is scary enough! God forbid anyone would think I was a part of your amazingly weird . . . group.”

Go through your manuscript, and hunt down those quick little unemotional spots . . . and tell the whole thing. Bleed on the paper. Or laugh. Just don’t let it lay there, neutral and boring.

 

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Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Pacing

Kate got caught up by real life and asked me to post this for her. This is the second in her “Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide” posts. You can find the first one here. — Amanda

This chapter is the first of several covering various aspects of plotting and characterization technique from the extreme pantser’s perspective. The thing to remember here, is that this is stuff that matters, and if you as an extreme pantser don’t ‘get’ it free, you’re going to have to work a lot harder than a plotter would to get there – but not necessarily work in the same way.

One of the more interesting things I’ve found as I’ve developed as a writer is that I typically have a vague, not terribly clear feel for the techniques, but I’m not applying them with any sense or consistency because I don’t understand what the heck it is I’m trying to do, much less what my subconscious is throwing at me. Those unfortunate enough to have read some of my early stuff know what I mean here. You can see the shape I’m after but it’s kind of like a small child trying to color inside the lines.

I still color like that, but at least I’ve got better at writing.

So, pacing. This is what makes a story feel fast or slow. Unless you’re planning on writing literary fiction, you’re going to want a variety in your pacing – enough fast sections to drag your readers along with you, and enough slower ones that they have time to breathe. SF and Fantasy, particularly recently, tends to want to start fast, then have something of a slowdown before a series of increasingly sharper accelerations until the climax of the piece. Most – but not all – authors will give a chapter or three of wrapup after that at a nice, gentle pace. Sarah refers to this as the post-climax cigarette.

Pace is partly influenced by vocabulary: short, sharp verbs with minimal assistance from adverbs, action verbs in the sense that someone (preferably your protagonist) is acting… these tend to signal ‘fast’ to readers. Polysyllabic with lots of descriptive usually signals ‘slow’. We as readers are remarkably sensitive to these – to the extent that a particularly fast-paced scene in someone else’s book is quite capable of having me breathing heavily and feeling as though I just outran a bear.

So… read what you can about pacing, but also read fiction with known pace. L.K. Hamilton’s first three books are close to perfect examples of fast-paced. Terry Pratchett’s pacing is generally more leisurely, but again, pitch-perfect.

What tends to happen is that after immersing yourself in well-paced books, the extreme pantser builds a feel for pacing that manifests as “Something needs to happen soon” or “My character needs a break” – also, “Slowing things down here will increase tension” has been known to occur. In my case, rarely quite that explicit, but I do still operate at this level.

I know this sounds very vague and almost – horrors! – frou-frou, but it does seem to work this way at least for me. I’ve had to learn to trust in the pants, not least because the bloody things know more about how this works than I do (As a side note, this is one of the reasons why I’m bloody dangerous when I’m over-tired. It’s not just the narcolepsy, although that doesn’t help. It’s that all the ‘this is not socially acceptable’ filters stop working – which leads to unacceptable truths being aired out, often loudly).

 

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Fantasy in the City

We’ll start with the classic Urban Fantasy structure, mostly because I’d never noticed it, until Illona Andrews told me that Darkship Thieves followed it (it does.)

Now before we get too deep in, there’s a ton of Urban Fantasy that doesn’t fit this.  For one not all Urban Fantasy has females as the main character.  Both Dresden and Monster Hunter International are urban fantasies, after all, as are my own shifters series.

But the thing is that if you look at those, they kind of fit too.  MHI more easily than Dresden, but Dresden too, if you take the attractive scary opposite sex being as not being his main love interest (which is usually female.)

The thing is, as I explained in the comments before, that this is not a template to write by — though people sell things like “An urban fantasy template” but more a thing to look at when deciding what categories to put your novel for sale under.

First, let’s get something out of the way which I think I said at the beginning, but have since not mentioned and some of you might have lost sight of: structure is NOT what determines genre.  Genre is a combination of structure and other elements.  Even if your fantasy has a mystery structure (Dresden partakes a lot of the noir-mystery structure.  On structure alone it’s an hybrid between that and urban fantasy.)

And Darkship Thieves is STILL a space opera, despite having an urban fantasy structure.

So, before you go doing anything stupid, the essential elements of urban fantasy are: a city, and FANTASY.  I.e. some part if not all of the setup for the world must involve magic, (often) shape shifters or (very often) vampires.  Sure, now I think about it, you could get away with having some mysterious aliens in place of the magic creatures but be careful not to explain them too closely, because that puts you in science fiction realm.  (Well, to the readers of shifters, no, probably not, but that’s because I didn’t get to that till book 3.)

So it starts with: the city/area/world are in danger.  There is a supernatural menace coming for them.  And there is one chosen to stand against them.

The chosen part is very important, as is, at least in the beginning, the fact the chosen might not have any clue she is (most urban fantasies have female protagonists, so for the sake of convenience, I’ll use the female pronoun throughout.  Be aware it can also be male.)

Often the first thing the chosen knows about her special nature is that all these things are coming out of the woodwork to attack her.

After a while she figures out what’s going on, often with the help of the love interest/male counterpart.

This man is often somewhat odd himself and might be supernatural/have special powers.  On first meeting, she’s often scared of him, and sees only his scary qualities, though she might/probably will come to realize throughout the book/series that they have more in common than not.

Remember when I said it’s very important that the main character have special powers and be the chosen?

Often the first few books are “training” and discovering of/revealing of those powers, often while she fights her way up a hierarchy of baddies.  Every time a bad thing is defeated, we find that it was just a front for the truly big bad.

Long running series eventually pit their character against some vast, shadowy evil that plans to swallow the whole world/destroy mankind.

The first book often entails the main character discovering the full extent of her specialness/that she’s not quite human and accept her mission to defend others.  In that way the first book is often a “coming of age” novel for the main character.

Urban fantasy also has a certain feel to it.  Some people don’t consider urban fantasy proper unless it takes place in a large city, but this can be got around as Larry Correia did by shuttling the heroes around.

However, often urban fantasy shares the noir feel of “Through the mean streets the hero walks alone.”  Even if the hero is a she and the mean streets involve fangs.

Again, I’m sure I’m leaving a hundred things out, so feel free to ask questions.

Next week heroic fantasy.

 

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The delusions continue

Traditional publishers, especially the Big 5, have been dragging their heels, not to mention kicking and screaming in protest, from the moment the first e-book appeared on the scenes. For years, however, they knew they had nothing to really worry about when it came to the new format. After all, even though it was cheaper to produce and easier to distribute, there was no way for authors to leverage the platform on their own. Traditional publishers were not only the gatekeepers, but they were the sole guards of the industry. If they didn’t like your book for whatever reason, your only hope was to publish through a vanity press and that was a death sentence to any professional career as a writer you might have wanted.

They laughed at Jim Baen when he started offering e-book versions of the traditionally published books released by Baen. They told him the format was a fad and would die away.

They shook their heads and smiled when Fictionwise and Smashwords started giving authors a very small foothold into the market. There was no way anyone would take e-books seriously. After all, who wanted to read a book on their computer.Paper was king and would never, ever fall.

Then along came Amazon. Approximately 9 years ago, Amazon did something no one expected. They opened up a platform that allowed authors to publish their books as e-books and sell them directly through the Amazon store.  More importantly, Amazon created the Kindle e-book reader. Now reading the new format became easy. Better yet, readers could put dozens, no hundreds of books on their devices and carry them with them wherever they went. They could buy books directly from Amazon and the books would be delivered to their devices, making trips to bookstores unnecessary.

We all know what happened next. The Big 5 (then the Big 6) colluded with Apple and others to price fix the cost of their e-books in an attempt to harm Amazon. The Justice Department and the courts were not amused. In the aftermath, the publishers have contracted with the various stores to set the price for their e-books and discounts are only applied with their approval. Once that went into effect, e-book prices for titles from the Big 5 increased and sales decreased.

And the delusion that e-books would not be major players in the publishing landscape set in. They point to the “re-invigoration” of the print market as a reason to believe e-books aren’t in as much demand as they once were. Of course, they forget to talk about how that re-invigoration happened. All you have to do is look at the pricing of books from the Big 5 to know they are doing everything they can to cannibalize the digital market in order to prop up their beloved print books.

Origin: A Novel by Dan Brown came out earlier this month. The hardcover version sells on Amazon for $17.96. The Kindle version sells for $14.99.

Haunted by James Patterson sells in hardcover for $16.38. Paperback is listed at $14.39 and Kindle is listed at $14.99.

The Shining by Stephen King has been out for years. The Kindle version sells for $8.99 while the mass market paperback version sells for $5.43.

Secrets in Death by J. D. Robb sells for the exact same price for the paperback and e-book versions.The price? $14.99.

These are just a few examples. All you have to do is go over to Amazon and you can find hundreds, if not thousands, more. So is it any surprise readers aren’t buying as many e-books from traditional publishers who continue to overprice their e-books? Instead of stroking their egos and congratulating themselves on stopping the trend, publishers should be paying closer attention to the overall sales of all forms of books by ALL authors and publishers. They should be paying attention to the information being complied by Author Earnings. They should look at the best sellers lists from Amazon — which, whether they like it or not, is the gorilla in the book selling market — and see how many of those titles come from indies and small press authors.

There is a reason readers are reaching out to indies to find their reading material. It goes to price, yes, but it also goes to the fact that indies are offering stories that traditional publishing is not.

Oh, but the delusions continue along that line as well.

Publishers, Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle said, have a key role to play as curators of content. “Publishers stand for quality and perfect each product before it makes it to the market.” Of course, he doesn’t explain what he means by quality or the rest of it. If he is talking technical quality, I’d like to discuss with him the formatting issues, poor product quality (as in spines breaking much too easily, for example) and misspellings or other issues that should be caught by proofing that I find with traditionally published books. Sure, you can find those issues with indie published books but, when you are touting yourselves as the purveyors of quality, you should be able to stand behind that claim.

But we all know what he means, don’t we? Publishers are the gatekeepers of rightthink. If you aren’t presenting them with the fad of the day along with the proper tickler list of social issues, etc., they aren’t going to care about what the story happens to be. They have forgotten that readers of fiction want to be entertained. Sure, you can have a message in your fiction but the fiction had better be compelling and entertaining first and foremost or the reader isn’t going to keep buying your product.

But it gets better.

Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy claims that nothing “went wrong” with e-books. It seems she believes people have gotten tired of reading on their screens. Again, a complete disconnect from reality. People don’t want to pay as much — or more — for an e-book as they will for a print copy. But the laugh out loud moment comes further down in the article when Reidy says she firmly believes “a new version of the book based on digital delivery will come eventually, though she does not know what it might look like.”

Blink.

Blink. Blink.

Hmm, wouldn’t that be an e-book? The bells and whistles might be a bit different, but it if walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, isn’t it a duck?

And what about her argument that e-book sales have leveled off because we are tired of reading on our screens?

It constantly amazes me the way these folks continue to tie themselves into knots trying to explain how e-books are bad, or are a passing fad or a way for writers not good enough for traditional publishing to get their works into the hands of readers. All I know is that the real numbers, the numbers that look at more than the Big 5 titles, tell a different tale. As a reader, I know I find myself picking up more and more books from indie authors because they are writing stories I want to read and they are doing it at prices that allow me to read two or three or more books for the price of a single Big 5 title. When is the point going to come where an accountant who isn’t afraid of rocking the boat says they can actually sell more — and make more money — if they lower their prices to something reasonable?

Since I’m talking about reasonable pricing and I’m an indie author, I’m going to take a moment to tout my latest. The special edition of Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) is now available in both print and e-book editions. (Hopefully, they will link the two editions shortly.) This new edition contains approximately 20k words of next material. It is only available through Amazon.

The original edition has been released on KoboPlayster, Tolino (link not yet available) and Inktera. It will soon be available on iTunes, B&N and Overdrive.

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Unintended Consequences

Like collateral damage unintended consequences often totally eclipse what you meant to do.  And, sure as death, there always are unintended consequences.

With the always 20:20 hindsight one often looks at a series of actions and wonders how in hell ANYONE including Blind Pew didn’t see it coming a mile off. Look at Hollywood’s latest meltdown and the fallout that has to have on the Democratic party – who eagerly accepted the celebrity support, endorsements and funding. Let’s see: lets think. Famous people, not known for brains or morality, with a long history of the casting-couch and negotiable virtue being often reported on… what could possibly go wrong?

Yes. It is obvious.

Now. But obviously it wasn’t.

Unintended consequences too are an error which many new writers (yes, me too, long ago) make.

Oh it’s not that our writing has such consequences. It’s that it doesn’t. Things actually go according to plan. Exactly what the characters expect happens. The hero is well capable and trained and physically able to deal with the obstacles. The action is fast-paced and the story clever.

And boring.

The problem however doesn’t stop there. Yes, you can, as the writer, make the plans go horribly awry, and the characters have to deal with that on the fly. That’s an improvement. The thing is, your character plunging into disaster they didn’t expect, is wasting half the potential for tension in the story.  Your character should not expect it, or not that specific thing, which he would then plan for — but your reader should. And to make it worse to write… your character can’t be a total nitwit, not seeing the obvious (unless your hero is a fool. That works sometimes.) There has to be a reason he doesn’t see something plainly obvious as a consequence to the reader.

A large part of this is just: ‘how is it written.’ I’m no master, but this is an example of how I did this –

This is factual, bald version. There’s no hint that it didn’t majorly go to plan, and nor is obvious to the reader, throughout, that unexpected consequences flow from this:

On Saturday I fetched a water-tank I’d bought from a friend. That required that I borrow a more powerful truck, and, from another friend a heavy tandem trailer.  The trailer tow hitch was lower than the truck’s tow ball, and it was too heavy to move let alone lift. I tried various things and eventually found a jack and got the trailer on.  I drove to the friend, we cut a hole in his fence, rolled the tank out, and because it wouldn’t fit on its side put it on top of the trailer and tied it down. On the way out to my little farm it did slip sideways, but I got it there, and offloaded it with the Terex and put it where it belonged.    

About as dull as the average working day.  But I write to about my life out here to entertain, so I tried to make the FB and blog posts about this more entertaining — by letting the reader know 1) that it did NOT go according to plan 2) That the reader could foresee that it wouldn’t – and waited with amusement for the disasters. I’ll give the entire story here, and then make some commentary on WHY I did certain things. I’m NOT a master, or the best – but you can learn from my methods and mistakes. You can help me to learn from them.

This is slightly expanded version of the tank moving saga that I posted on FB, as it was put up on Flinders Family Freer

Are you all sitting foursquare cumftibold? Right, then I’ll begin. So, once upon a time – a recent time – I bought my mate Bill ‘s spare water tank. A win for me, and a win for him I hope… with just one small, trifling detail in the way. Like, it’s in his back yard, and I want it out at the new block. Oh. And Bill has built a carport since the tank went in. Needless to say, the tank doesn’t fit past it. Only just doesn’t fit by an inch and a half.

But never fear! We are bold, resourceful or at least pig-headedly stupid (pick the latter, trust me). It came upon a morning clear that I had arranged to borrow the beast of bashan (AKA the huge heavy twin-axle trailer) and from yet another friend, Peter – a 4×4 Hilux to tow it. Because, in the way things in my life, the trailer’s home is on the other side of a flooded road, and anyway my blue slug (ute) would just die if I asked it to tow the beast.

I drove into a swamp the color of stout, faithfully following the marker poles that said ‘there is a road under here somewhere. It must have been true because I got out the other side. My plan was to get there good and early because the loading the tank might take a while. And the plan went well – until of course it didn’t. I reversed with great care and frequent getting out, because 1)it’s not my ute, or my trailer, 2)the beast is so heavy I literally cannot budge it. I lined up perfectly and went to hook the beast up.

The Hilux’s tow hitch is an inch an half higher than the trailer’s jockey wheel will lift it. The jockey wheel is of a frail and retiring nature totally unsuited to the beast – it can hold the beast, but not raise it. The beast weighs tons. I – among my myriad other faults, am not large or very heavy. No way I can lift it. What to do? Give up would be sensible option.

But this is me. I look for the jack in the truck. Can’t find it.

I search my absent friend’s new shed. No jack. I do find a crowbar. And a round rock. Ha! Archimedes! “give me a long enough lever and somewhere to stand and I will move the world.” I have a crowbar. But, as I soon establish, it’s not long enough. Aha! But have a pipe that will fit on the end…

Look, will someone tell that dead Greek that 1)the lever has to stay on top of the fulcrum or you will fall on your butt (trust me on this. I have the bruises to prove it.) and… 2) even if this does not happen – you are at one end of the lever 5 yards from the tow hitch, quite unable to do anything about it.

Now, let me explain the evil nature of Jockey wheels. They have a mind of their own and a passionate fear of ramps. Trust me on this. You don’t even have to prove it with a snatch strap and building a ramp. It just is, the way Mount Everest is

It turns out that the Hilux’s jack is hidden under the back seat, in a covered inset under the carpet, as I found out after 2 hours of sweat, and increasingly more bizarre plans. Fiendishly clever these Auto designers. I’d like to pack a parachute for them, in the same way they hide essential bits, before assisting them and the essential parachute into a little 5000 foot test of gravity.

With the beast attached, we brave the flooded road again. It’s blacker and bubbling ominously. Some of the sticks seem to have fallen over… The ute goes in… and the beast hits it, and for that heartstopping moment we slow suddenly and… nothing happens. Well nothing bad anyway. We go forward and not sideways. After that little moment of terror that was nothing, we go to Bill’s place without further drama. I know. Disappointing for you, great for me.

Did you know that many access problems can be solved by cutting down your neighbor’s fence with a chainsaw? A sort of de-fence.(Do not try this unless you have a nice kind neighbor who has agreed to this. Or you may need the chainsaw for self-defence… )

The tank rolls quite well. So the crushed people in its wake tell me… nah – not quite. I discovered the fins on the top made reasonable brakes. So after a few minor, really irrelevant epics with gates and trees, we get it onto the roadside…

To discover it won’t fit on its side on the beast – a matter of about one and half inches (as with the tow-hitch…)

Now we have a tank on the roadside that probably won’t go back. Once again, I’m stuck.

Hmmm.

But with some extra man-power it will go… on top. We tip it and shove and haul. Frankie says ‘I think it would be better the other way around. This is not happening. With careful alignment and four of us shoving… it gets only overlapping the mudguards – about an inch and a half (and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I tie it down. Now, this is a round object with a smooth bottom, but there are lifting holes on the strengthening fins on top. We use a lot of rope…

This is Flinders, just after the shops close on a Saturday – ergo, most graveyards are livelier. Not a car or person to be seen.

I trundle slowly and cautiously toward the block, along the back road, where I see precisely one vehicle, and get off the road and let them pass.

And then there is just last mile to the block along the ‘main’ North-South road – which can be oh, 2-3 cars an hour on a normal day. I turn the corner onto it…

And the tank decides this is such fun it’ll do that too, and slides sideways.

Now, the ropes stop it sliding right off, and beast is so big and heavy it is not affected. But instead of being in the middle – the tank is now inside the mudguard one one side and has got about an inch and half spare from the edge of the trailer. It now protrudes generously into the road on the other.

The ropes are now super-tight, as it sort of swiveled to do this. It took us four people to move it on and I can’t budge it. The beast is still level. It thinks the tank is light. I’m close to my destination and machinery. Oh yeah, and my mobile phone says ‘to recharge your credit’.

So… I drive on cautiously, ready to get off the the road. if there’s a car – maybe I can ask for some help. And about a hundred yards from my place there is one, and I do. It’s a police car (and the two local coppers would help. They’re country coppers. This is not Africa). But we live on an island where everyone waves. So they see me wave… and give me a wave back, and drive on. Ah well. I’m close.

I haul through my gate and into the paddock and walk off to fetch the liddle tenk AKA T.rex the Terex – which I borrowed for this exercise. I’ve driven T.Rex a long way before this, at least 10 feet (or maybe an inch and half, it just felt longer). It’s a joystick drive – and I have to reverse it out of my tractor shed, going meep meep like a cross between a banshee and a chicken. I didn’t hit anything important that can’t be replaced (not really, but it came close). Some very nervous driving followed given the sort of day I’d had… I can’t afford to replace the tank and certainly can’t afford to replace the T.rex. I lifted the jawed bucket and ever so slowly sidled up to the tank on the beast.

Liddle tenk meets liddle tenk. It was love at first sighttank meets tank

and this is the charming wedding picture. Just after the knot had been tied.

That was another little adventure which involved pulling up on the T.Rex’s jaws (motor running to keep the hydraulics running, and a great deal of balance on a slippery sloping surface, now well lubricated with spare sand from the T.Rex’s bucket, with nothing much to hold onto. Rock-climbing has been a lot more useful than anyone could have guessed.

There is no next picture, on account of the fact I was inside the T. Rex’s safety cage, and… um, I might still be there. On account of when the tank gently swung off, it did so without any drama. Only it was also almost flush with the cage – like maybe an inch and a half gap. I’ve gotten too fat, mostly between the ears, to fit out. Like Pooh Bear I’ll be out as soon as I slim down.

OK I did figure it out before I got hungry, reversed and put the tank down, and re-rigged the ropes.

And lo, things actually proceeded according to plan, even though I expected them not to. This was a reasonable expectation because I couldn’t see past the tank, so I kept having to put it down and have a look.

Still, I got there. The tank is in place, on the bench that Mark cut for it, next to where the house will be.

I was on Ambo call last night and I am very grateful no one needed us, because I slept the sleep of the tired little monkey.

But an inch and a half… sometimes it really feels a lot longer… or shorter.

Which most people seem to have found quite funny – because they could see me walking toward the open manhole, (and see the banana skin) They expected me to fall in the hole… and not to slip on the banana skin. They could see the possible consequences. I (as the ‘hero’) could not. I was doing a lot of other little things too some of which I’ll talk about in BOLD – (you can skip re-reading the bits that aren’t bold. They’re there for context).

Are you all sitting foursquare cumftibold? Right, then I’ll begin. So, once upon a time – a recent time – I bought my mate Bill ‘s spare water tank.

I’m telling the reader that this is funny, shaggy dog tale. Oh and throwing in Music buff reference to say the same thing – which doesn’t detract from the story if you don’t get it, but delights those who do. I do this a lot. It’s fun for me, fun for those who get it, and doesn’t hurt the story for those who don’t. I cannot say how important that latter detail is,

A win for me, and a win for him I hope… with just one small, trifling detail in the way. Like, it’s in his back yard, and I want it out at the new block. Oh. And Bill has built a carport since the tank went in. Needless to say, the tank doesn’t fit past it. Only just doesn’t fit by an inch and a half.

This is an intentional double entendre, which I intentionally repeat, to mislead 🙂 No reason for it, just another tweak to amuse readers with minds like mine. Once again, it doesn’t distract from the story, but like Chekov’s shotgun, if it is in the first paragraph, expect it to be used.

But never fear! We are bold, resourceful or at least pig-headedly stupid (pick the latter, trust me). It came upon a morning clear that I had arranged to borrow the beast of bashan (AKA the huge heavy twin-axle trailer)

It’s a big cow of a thing. Those who get it will smile.

and from yet another friend, Peter – a 4×4 Hilux to tow it. Because, in the way things in my life, the trailer’s home is on the other side of a flooded road, and anyway my blue slug (ute) would just die if I asked it to tow the beast.

I drove into a swamp the color of stout, faithfully following the marker poles that said ‘there is a road under here somewhere. It must have been true because I got out the other side. My plan was to get there good and early because the loading the tank might take a while.

And here I am telling you the LOADING won’t be the problem.

And the plan went well – until of course it didn’t. I reversed with great care and frequent getting out, because 1)it’s not my ute, or my trailer, 2)the beast is so heavy I literally cannot budge it. I lined up perfectly and went to hook the beast up.

Ah. The cunning plan

The Hilux’s tow hitch is an inch an half higher than the trailer’s jockey wheel will lift it. The jockey wheel is of a frail and retiring nature totally unsuited to the beast – it can hold the beast, but not raise it. The beast weighs tons. I – among my myriad other faults, am not large or very heavy. No way I can lift it. What to do? Give up would be sensible option.

Ah. The unintended consequence of borrowing a vehicle AND a trailer. Obvious.

But this is me. I look for the jack in the truck. Can’t find it.

I search my absent friend’s new shed. No jack. I do find a crowbar. And a round rock. Ha! Archimedes! “give me a long enough lever and somewhere to stand and I will move the world.” I have a crowbar. But, as I soon establish, it’s not long enough. Aha! But have a pipe that will fit on the end…

The cunning plan. You’d never expect anything to go wrong.

Look, will someone tell that dead Greek that 1)the lever has to stay on top of the fulcrum or you will fall on your butt (trust me on this. I have the bruises to prove it.) and… 2) even if this does not happen – you are at one end of the lever 5 yards from the tow hitch, quite unable to do anything about it.

The unintended but very obvious consequence

Now, let me explain the evil nature of Jockey wheels. They have a mind of their own and a passionate fear of ramps. Trust me on this. You don’t even have to prove it with a snatch strap and building a ramp. It just is, the way Mount Everest is.

What I am not doing is filling in the long, tedious explanation of how I built the ramp with rocks and a plank, or how the wheel was sideways on. I’m leaving this to reader’s imagination. I’ve just given them the framework. Anyone who has dealt with a jockey wheel will know how they misbehave. Their imagining will be more graphic than the reality.  Anyway, the joke is getting old. Time to move on.

It turns out that the Hilux’s jack is hidden under the back seat, in a covered inset under the carpet, as I found out after 2 hours of sweat, and increasingly more bizarre plans. Fiendishly clever these Auto designers. I’d like to pack a parachute for them, in the same way they hide essential bits, before assisting them and the essential parachute into a little 5000 foot test of gravity.

With the beast attached, we brave the flooded road again. It’s blacker and bubbling ominously. Some of the sticks seem to have fallen over…

Once again I am setting the reader up. They expect disaster. I’m with intent keeping them off balance, because if something always goes wrong –

The ute goes in… and the beast hits it, and for that heartstopping moment we slow suddenly and… nothing happens. Well nothing bad anyway. We go forward and not sideways. After that little moment of terror that was nothing, we go to Bill’s place without further drama. I know. Disappointing for you, great for me.

Did you know that many access problems can be solved by cutting down your neighbor’s fence with a chainsaw? A sort of de-fence.(Do not try this unless you have a nice kind neighbor who has agreed to this. Or you may need the chainsaw for self-defence… )

The tank rolls quite well. So the crushed people in its wake tell me… nah – not quite. I discovered the fins on the top made reasonable brakes. So after a few minor, really irrelevant epics with gates and trees, we get it onto the roadside…

It was an epic. The reader knows it was… That’s what the understatement means. Actually it wasn’t. But we’re entertaining.

To discover it won’t fit on its side on the beast – a matter of about one and half inches (as with the tow-hitch…)

Now we have a tank on the roadside that probably won’t go back. Once again, I’m stuck.

Hmmm.

But with some extra man-power it will go… on top. We tip it and shove and haul. Frankie says ‘I think it would be better the other way around. This is not happening. With careful alignment and four of us shoving… it gets only overlapping the mudguards – about an inch and a half (and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I tie it down. Now, this is a round object with a smooth bottom, but there are lifting holes on the strengthening fins on top. We use a lot of rope…

The reader KNOWS by now that when I start explaining how it could move, and how we tied it down that there are unexpected consequences waiting for me.

This is Flinders, just after the shops close on a Saturday – ergo, most graveyards are livelier. Not a car or person to be seen.

I trundle slowly and cautiously toward the block, along the back road, where I see precisely one vehicle, and get off the road and let them pass.

And then there is just last mile to the block along the ‘main’ North-South road – which can be oh, 2-3 cars an hour on a normal day. I turn the corner onto it…

And the tank decides this is such fun it’ll do that too, and slides sideways.

You’ve been WAITING for that, haven’t you?

Now, the ropes stop it sliding right off, and beast is so big and heavy it is not affected. But instead of being in the middle – the tank is now inside the mudguard one one side and has got about an inch and half spare from the edge of the trailer. It now protrudes generously into the road on the other.

The ropes are now super-tight, as it sort of swiveled to do this. It took us four people to move it on and I can’t budge it. The beast is still level. It thinks the tank is light. I’m close to my destination and machinery. Oh yeah, and my mobile phone says ‘to recharge your credit -‘.

So… I drive on cautiously, ready to get off the the road. if there’s a car – maybe I can ask for some help.

The cunning plan. What could go wrong?

And about a hundred yards from my place there is one, and I do. It’s a police car

That could go wrong

(and the two local coppers would help. They’re country coppers. This is not Africa). But we live on an island where everyone waves. So they see me wave… and give me a wave back, and drive on.

And it does, but not in the way that the reader expected. But they feel they should have. It’s plausible.

Ah well. I’m close.

I haul through my gate and into the paddock and walk off to fetch the liddle tenk AKA T.rex the Terex – which I borrowed for this exercise. I’ve driven T.Rex a long way before this, at least 10 feet (or maybe an inch and half, it just felt longer). It’s a joystick drive – and I have to reverse it out of my tractor shed, going meep meep like a cross between a banshee and a chicken. I didn’t hit anything important that can’t be replaced (not really, but it came close). Some very nervous driving followed given the sort of day I’d had… I can’t afford to replace the tank and certainly can’t afford to replace the T.rex. I lifted the jawed bucket and ever so slowly sidled up to the tank on the beast.

Liddle tenk meets liddle tenk. It was love at first sight

and this is the charming wedding picture. Just after the knot had been tied.

the cunning plan. What could go wrong?

That was another little adventure which involved pulling up on the T.Rex’s jaws (motor running to keep the hydraulics running, and a great deal of balance on a slippery sloping surface, now well lubricated with spare sand from the T.Rex’s bucket, with nothing much to hold onto. Rock-climbing has been a lot more useful than anyone could have guessed.

There is no next picture, on account of the fact I was inside the T. Rex’s safety cage, and… um, I might still be there. On account of when the tank gently swung off, it did so without any drama. Only it was also almost flush with the cage – like maybe an inch and a half gap.

That.

I’ve gotten too fat, mostly between the ears, to fit out. Like Pooh Bear I’ll be out as soon as I slim down.

OK I did figure it out before I got hungry, reversed and put the tank down, and re-rigged the ropes.

And lo, things actually proceeded according to plan, even though I expected them not to. This was a reasonable expectation because I couldn’t see past the tank, so I kept having to put it down and have a look.

Still, I got there. The tank is in place, on the bench that Mark cut for it, next to where the house will be.

I was on Ambo call last night and I am very grateful no one needed us, because I slept the sleep of the tired little monkey.

But an inch and a half… sometimes it really feels a lot longer… or shorter.

Tell that to your partner.

And I hope this was some use to you all.

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Blurb Clinic

Okay, a bunch of you requested blurb clinics. And I was innocently sipping my coffee when I looked up and saw a swarm of fingers pointed at me, including one from Sarah as she rapidly ran away. I get it, I get it. The other people on this group blog write actual, y’know, books, and then try to write a blurb once a book. I write blurbs, and only every now and then try to write a book. So, blurb clinic!

To start with, I’m going to repost the text from the last blurb clinic, with three added notes:

1. Readers like characters with agency. This means the characters go places and do things, they don’t just have life happen while they’re there. Blurbs must reflect this agency – they must show your character going and doing and plotting. The shorthand for this is “Don’t use passive voice”, because nothing kills agency faster (and adds length) than putting the action verb on something other than the character. But it’s not solely grammar. “Bob had survived the war, and was hiding on the sidelines as conspiracies rose in the court to entangle him” is very passive. “After surviving the war, Bob is hiding out as a mere florist in the court’s staff. But when he uncovers a new conspiracy…” that has agency.

2. The first person introduced is assumed to be the hero. “In the house of Rlyeh, Cthulu lies dreaming until Captain Carter disturbs him while searching for lost treasure!” If the readers don’t know Cthulu, that makes Cthulu sound like the protagonist, and possibly hero. “After finding lost civilizations on six continents, Captain Carter is close to solving his biggest mystery yet: the location of the lost temple of R’lyeh! But dread Cthulu lies inside, dreaming…” Makes Captain Carter the protagonist.

3. Lead with your protagonist. No matter how interesting your world, people won’t care until you give them a person to care about. This is one of the essential paradoxes of science fiction and fantasy: people are attracted to the genre for the setting, but they stay and come back for the characters.
“After two hundred years at war, the Empire of Man has come to a stalemate with the Scourge. Each side is deadlocked, seeking some advantage, and sending teams to scour dead worlds in search of lost tech left behind by the forerunners. Blah blah setup setup infodump….” is not how to start a blurb.

instead, try “Captain James Carter of the Go Lightly is scouring the ruins of dead races in search of any lost technology that could turn the tide of interstellar war. When he contracts the virus that killed an entire race, Command orders him to become a suicide bio-bomber! Will one man’s search for survival put all humanity’s star systems at risk?”

Links to prior blurb clinics:

https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/22/blurbs-ad-copy-and-cover-copy/
https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/01/10/blurbs-short-and-sweet/

Blurbs, Ad Copy, and Cover Copy: A blast from the past and present-day Blurb Clinic

First, let’s establish terms, because they’ve gotten muddled. “Blurb” used to mean a pull quote on the cover of a book. “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread! –Famous Author in Same Genre.” Pull quotes are a journalistic device of lifting selective quotations out of an interview, article, or review, and highlighting them to make the article or item being reviewed sound really juicy.

Now, “blurb” has become a term for the Ad Copy, or Cover Copy, which means the one to three paragraphs of “What’s it about?” on the back of the book, on the website under description, and right next to the cover thumbnail on promotional emails.

Sarah tackled this subject, under https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/18/going-indie-for-dummies-but-what-is-it-about/. And then she tackled me, and said I had to explain how I do the voodoo that I do so well.

Now, I personally feel that’s about like asking all y’all “how do you write stories?” There are a lot of guidelines, but no hard and fast rules beyond it must be truthful about the contents, and hook the reader’s attention.

Interestingly enough, those of you who have written poetry will be at an advantage here, because you’re familiar with making every syllable, much less every word, count.

Like haiku, there are length constraints. Some promotional emails are very specific about the character limit (letters and spaces) you may use. Other places, like Amazon, will let you ramble on and on, but they cut the “above the fold” that browsers see to only 3-4 lines.

I recommend that you try to keep your blurb to the promotional length, so that you don’t have to come up with a new one for every promotion you want to run. Functionally, this means you’ll want to keep it within 300 characters. This will also force you to write long, then cut it down to something short enough to be exciting, picking and choosing each word for best effect.

Now, what words do you write?
First, We’re going to go to the heart, the core of your story, and break it down.

1.) A Character
2.) wants something
3.) But something opposes them.
4.) The stakes if they fail are: —-

Note: This should all be information the reader will have by Chapter 3.

But, you say, I have three people, and this one wants this, and that one wants that, and this other wants… Yes, true, most stories have more than the protagonist and the antagonist. However, unless you’re doing an epic fantasy, there’s one (or at most two) central protagonists whose actions and choices drive the plot. As Harlan Ellison says: Who does the story hurt? That’s who it’s about.

Epic fantasy breaks this guideline, because it generally has three to five separate viewpoints and storylines, not necessarily going on at the same point in history. Thus, you’ll end up doing a one-sentence-per-storyline to keep it in the limit.

Returning to that list, sometimes you’ll also add:

5.) What is the first plot twist?

And, especially for SF/F stories:

6.) What are the 3-5 most important unique names involved? Use 3 of them.

(This is because people tend to tune out after 3-5 unfamiliar terms. So, if you start with “Xaarath Fthagn of Marakis Prime is a gleeple of the Tuurathi”… you’ve already lost a chunk of readers.)

Finally, the best piece of advice: when you think you have a good piece of ad copy, try reading it out loud, and then saying it like you’re answering the question “What’s it about?” at a party.

You’ll probably find yourself hesitating before words, dropping them, changing phrases, possibly even skipping and combining entire sentences. This is normal and good. Write down the spoken version, and it’ll be smoother on the reading as well as the delivery.

Now, on to examples. Riffing on Sarah’s post, these are all Cinderella variants. I warn you, they’re going to be rather rough, because composing a blurb usually takes me two to three days, and I need to get this done by Saturday night for the post to go up.

Fantasy:

Ella’s sheltered world died with her father, leaving her a refugee on her step-mother’s estates. Now exiled to kitchen servitude to hide the reminder of the unpopular and doomed marriage alliance, she must dodge her increasingly paranoid sisters and parlay old ties with the Fae to win back her rightful place in the palace. Unfortunately, every gift from the Fae comes with a cost, and midnight is coming all too soon…

Science Fiction:

It’s just a temp job, right?

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella and her shipmates must cater to the increasingly bizarre demands of the galactic upper class, while seeking a new captain, contracts, and alien allies to find a way back to the stars!

Romance – Science Fiction

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella must move among the galactic upper class while avoiding being fined . Getting back to the stars never seemed so far away, until a favor given freely to the local aliens is repayed in the oddest way. In the middle of a ball, Ella’s won not just the prince’s assistance, but his heart.

With freedom in her grasp, she must choose between the stars, or love…

Thriller:

Time is ticking away…

Caught between a malevolent murderer and an enigmatic conspiracy, Ella must find out who killed her father. All signs point toward something happening at the palace ball, and the prince may be the author of the conspiracies – or it’s next victim!

A few notes – if you’re going to have more than four lines of test, break it up into multiple paragraphs. When viewed on a small screen (kindle fire, iPad, phone…), even a normal-looking paragraph becomes a wall-o-text.

Taglines- sure, knock yourself out.

I’m at work today, but I’ll be checking in. What are your blurbs?

(And if you want to read something pretty nifty, Holly Chism has modern gods working together to stop Loki after he lost the last of his sanity! https://www.amazon.com/Godshead-Holly-Chism-ebook/dp/B00AGI1AGY/ )

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, PROMOTION, Uncategorized, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Reviews and Maturity

So this post is the result, as so many of my posts are, of a few conversations I’ve had recently about writing, and life. I’m constantly learning, but at this point, also trying to share what I’ve learned with others who ask me about stuff. Like whether they should ‘un-publish’- a book that was their first, and they now feel is immature and not a reflection of them as a writer now. I pointed out in response that I leave my first novel up, despite it getting not-so-great reviews, because it’s a reflection of where I started versus where I am now. No, readers probably don’t pay attention to dates published, in most cases (I know I do if I am trying to blitz-read an author, because it lets me read series from the beginning if they have been so inconsiderate as to not mark books with series identifiers. Pet peeve: number your series books, people!). I know I have fans who were interested to read it and see my growth as an author, because they took the time to reach out and tell me that. I leave it up for them, and because with some two dozen titles on Amazon, I know it falls to the bottom and only a reader who was working through my whole body of work would find it. Along with some of the other oddballs I’ve written.

And along with that is the other conversation I had on facebook about one-star reviews and whether they are always bad. They are not. I had a prominent reviewer give my latest novella, Snow in Her Eyes, a one-star review, and it led to more sales than that story might have seen elsewhere. Because he was very articulate about what his problem was with the story.

I only work for myself; there is no one who tells me I have to review certain books. I only read what I want to read; that’s why, if you look at my reviews, you will find that the vast majority award 4 or 5 stars. I have been chastised for this in the past; some people have accused me of pandering to authors, others have told me I was an easy grader.

Well, bite me.

If that is the case, why am I reviewing a book that I gave one star?

Part of is is because of the limitations of the Amazon rating system. If you look at what the ratings mean:
1 star: I hated it.
2 stars: I didn’t like it.
3 stars: It was okay. (Amazon says this is a negative review, which makes no sense to me.)
4 stars: I liked it.
5 stars: I loved it.

You will notice that those ratings say nothing whatsoever about the artistry of the writing; the internal consistency of the story; plot development; originality; NOTHING at all about what I think really makes a book worth reading. It is an utterly subjective rating system, and I suppose the only kind that makes sense in the mass-market approach Amazon takes with the book reading public.

Now, that only explains the rating system, and not why I reviewed a book I gave 1 star to, and why I gave it one star.

Briefly:
1. I gave it one star, because in the first paragraph, the author kills off a baby girl. No women, no kids; one star.
2. I reviewed it because the author is Cedar Sanderson, and she is one of my favorite writers, and one of my favorite people as well. I couldn’t NOT review it without my favoritism toward her and her work utterly destroying any credibility I have as a reviewer.

Read the rest at Papa Pat Rambles (and stay for the wonderful essays and quirky reviews!)

A one-star review – especially when it is balanced with other high reviews – can actually be a selling point. It’s only when you see an imbalance of one, two, and even three-star reviews that it’s obvious there’s a problem with that book. And sometimes even ‘a problem book’ can be enjoyed by readers. I ran across a case recently where a friend I trust had reviewed a book, the author found the review, leaped like a gazelle to the absolutely wrong conclusions, and I was highly amused. I also decided that I would not read that author’s books. Not because he’d had a hissy fit over the negative review, but because I saw enough of a theme in the reviews of his books to know my friend was right, and I would not enjoy those books. I have to say the ‘sex scenes written by Victor Appleton II after a few stag films’ nearly made me snort my coffee onto the monitor!

I’ve come to a point where I trust the reviews on Amazon. Sometimes it’s not what they say that is important, it’s how they say it. Like the book with 104 reviews… until you clicked on ‘verified purchasers’ and suddenly it had five, and of the others the majority of them mentioned they had received a review copy in return for their review. I have nothing against review copies. But I do think that if the book does not generate the bulk of it’s reviews from people who read it after buying (this book was not in the KU program) then there is a problem with it (and reading the blurb and ‘look inside’ not to mention the ghastly cover, cemented that impression).

As an author I know I have to show maturity in how I handle my reviews, both the positive and the negative. Mostly, mine make me happy. But even the ones that make me shake my head – like the reviewer who commented on Pixie Noir that it had no emotion and she thought it must have been written by a man – don’t bother me much. Because losing your mind over a review and shrieking about it in public like the above author who gazelled off into the distance calling that there were lions attacking him… yeah, no. That’s not good publicity, dude. Not only did you lead to one of your fans making the connection to my friend and linking to his facebook page in your comment thread (and I screenshot that and let my friend know to brace for incoming) but you lead to me deciding firmly that I would not read your books, nor promote them. Guess what? unprofessional behaviour just pisses people off. I have a very short list of ‘will not buy, will not promote’ but that author is one of those. And I know I’m not alone in that reaction to author behaviours.

 

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