Need Your Help and Opinion

The image below is a possible cover for my new e-book to be published on Amazon. Original title was Head on a Grave, thus the cemetery setting. It is a murder mystery set in 1928 with more than one murder. I would like to know your thoughts about the cover. Because of the brightness, is it wrong for a mystery? Or should there be something more sinister? I like the idea of the not so perfect lettering, but that is only one opinion. So if you like it or not I would appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.

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Amazon’s Bots Causing Writers Nightmares

I applaud Amazon for developing algorithms and bots that seek out and destroy paid book reviews. Any type of review, book or otherwise, should not come from a paid hack. Nor, on the flip side, should Amazon allow reviews from those who always give bad reviews to everything they choose to write about. It is their idea of fun. They are the human equivalent of bots. The software digital bots have an excuse, the humans one are evil.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, far from it, and these problems will be ongoing.

A few years ago I had a 4-star review for one of my e-books that disappeared. Amazon told me they did not know why. As it dropped my average review from 3.5 to 3 that did not help my cause. Luckily I had saved it through copy and paste and can use it on this site.

I follow Anne R. Allen’s blog about some recent problems regarding Amazon’s bots deleting reviews that are random, done for no reason. This hurts both Amazon and writers.

I quote from her blog: ” UPDATE, 4/24/18: Yesterday the Washington Post ran an article on Amazon’s fake review problem, which made it sound pretty severe, and shows why the Zon is cracking down so hard.

But today industry watchdog David Gaughran offered some enlightening information that refutes some of the data in the WaPo article.

It seems that Amazon is using some very dodgy data from an outfit called ReviewMeta to flag “fake” reviews. Two “proofs” of wrongdoing, according to ReviewMeta are: 1) reviewers who mention the name of the book 2) reviewers who review more than one book in a series. Their algorithm flags those as fake reviews.

So if you’ve had your reviews removed, or your account has been deleted, it may have happened because you broke these “rules” which have no relevance to book reviewing.

This may be why the robots are getting things so very, very wrong.”

Digital technology is not fool proof. As you can see from the quote Big Brother Bots can go rogue, or maybe they are not that smart. So if you are a writer and have books, e-books, or sell anything on Amazon, monitor your reviews. Know how many reviews there are, who wrote them, what the rating was. And you might want to keep track the old fashioned way, paper and pen. You never know.

The following e-book has a 3.5 rating based on 3 reviews and is not the e-book with the missing review I mentioned. If you chose to buy this e-book please do NOT review the book. The bots may think we know each other. I can’t afford to lose reviews. Thanks for reading.

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John Calvin and His Book that Bombed

John Calvin (1509-1564) is best known as a religious reformer. He, like Luther and many others, broke from the Catholic Church when the Church become too corrupted with rampant scandals.

But I am not religious and I am here to talk about his first book,  Commentary on Lucius Anneas Seneca’s Two Books on Clemency, and not religious historyHe was 23 at the time and like any scholar with ambition eager to make his name known. He had to pay for the publication himself and like any author sat back to see what happened.

Nothing happened. As in zero book sales. Now you might look at the title and wonder why anyone would buy the book in the first place. But it was an age of ideas and change and literate people and other scholars relished argument, debate, and ideas. Except the Inquisition party-poopers of course. Besides there was no Stephen King books. Fiction? What was that?

Timing is everything and Calvin’s timing was off. His book was not to condemn the catholic Church, but an inoffensive argument, not a bad one to be sure, but not one the public was eager for. They had been, but now were very anti-pope and wanted an attack not something conciliatory and mild.

I mention this because other works of Calvin did sell and he made quite a name for himself with books, sermons, and letters. So if you write and self-publish, or write e-Books for the digital age, or even are a first time published writer, do not get discouraged if the book does not sell.

There are a few million book titles on Amazon. And with considerable competition growing daily it is easy to get the blues, become despondent and eat a freezer of ice cream and a semi of maple-leaf crème cookies. Yum!

Loonies in Hollywood sells better than my other books and it is my second e-Book. So write your second book, then your third. The future is bleak only when you give up.

Here are my five books at Amazon

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One Simple Paragraph . . .but

I recently read A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar. She is a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master. It was originally published in 1960 and I would describe the book as literary, noir mystery.

The story is about a married woman named Daisy who hires a private detective/ bail bondsman to reclaim a lost day in her life. It has to do with her believing there is another person in her grave.

Of course she is alive; she knows that. But there is a reason for her belief. It is a nice hook to draw you into a story with some great twists and turns among believable characters.

There is a piece of writing, one paragraph that I loved that I want to share. It has to do with her trying to convince the detective, who thinks the woman is a bit off her rocker. The following is the paragraph:

“I didn’t lose the day. It’s not lost. It’s still around someplace, here or there, wherever used days and old years go. They don’t simply vanish into nothing. They’re still available— hiding, yes, but not lost.”

We all have memories both pleasant and not so pleasant. But there are also lost days, days that if you live long enough, increase to the point where they far exceed what we do remember. But are there hidden within those lost days, if they were found, something pleasant that its recovery would be a wonderful memory, like a treasure hunter discovering Captain Kid’s treasure?

Of course the flip side is that there might be in those lost days something you may not want to discover. There are people surrounding Daisy that try to tell her some things are better lost, not found.

So I reread the paragraph. There is something wistful and naïve about her thinking. We as readers may stop and wonder about are lost days, that they can be recovered and wouldn’t that be nice. But then again . . .

It is one paragraph, well written, that lies within a well written story. The paragraph, like the story makes you think. That is good writing.

Whether my e-novels on Amazon make you think or simply entertain you can decide.
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The truth about e-book misspellings with Amazon

If you read customer reviews on Amazon about an e-book, then like me, you have run across reviews where people complain about bad grammar and misspellings. It gives me pause, and I hesitate to hit the click button. I read samples from one star through four or five stars to get a balance. Some reviews never mention any problems.

What is alarming is that recently I read about misspellings in e-books from two well known and best selling authors. How did this happen?

Some time ago I mentioned that I had a good review of one my e-books, but the reviewer complained about misspellings. I checked through my copy, even going as far as going to my formatter and doing a second spell check, found nothing, and resubmitted to Amazon. I also checked with Amazon before doing this, telling about the problem. They checked and this was there response:

I checked and confirmed that there were 4 potential typo errors found by our spellcheck tool, but no grammatical or other errors were found.

Here are the ones:

booklegger: location 1425
jimjam: location 28
melo: location 2343
xxxxxx: location 2709

I understand that the above mentioned errors may actually be contextually accurate so no action would be required to correct them which is why the tool also gives the option to ignore them. As we were unable to locate any other errors, we suggest checking with the customer who posted the review, to confirm what errors they were able to view on their end. You can leave a comment on their review for your title asking them to check with our Kindle customer support. It’s possible the issue is with their device or reading app that some spacing or other formatting errors may appear. (italics mine)

We’ll be happy to help them out. Rest assured, we’ve not received any complaints regarding the content of the eBook from any customers that we could confirm were present. We would’ve certainly notified you of the same since we strive to maintain very high standards for content published through our platform.

I don’t know if there is a problem with your Kindle, though if you have not experienced this problem on other books, I guess we chalk it up to digital gremlins. It just might be something unexplainable. (italics mine).”

The four exceptions Amazon found were intended. 

Amazon suggested problem with the readers app, then later said it was digital gremlins. Another possibility encountered by another writer was the discovery that Word was undoing corrections in his manuscript. he would correct, and later in rereading that mistake had returned. this has also happened to me, the why this happens is unknown. maybe the digital gremlin. It is also true that some writers can’t spell, have poor grammar, and thus you encounter a bad experience.

But, when it happens to authors like Lisa Alther, Dean Koontz, Ann Rynd, among others, it might be attributed to sloppy work by the publisher, or those gremlins. We live in a new digital age and I am sure there are bugs to be worked out. We assume it is the writers fault, but it could be the unexplainable-as yet- undoing of corrections that Word does, the apps, the formats, the platforms, Russian hackers, or Bigfoot.

And bad things happen to regular books. Back in 1851 Moby Dick did not sell and received bad reviews. It was discovered that the last few pages were missing and that made the end confusing.  And just last night I was reading a book on medical mysteries and found this, “The man who let Napoleon sleep in was his chief medical officer Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, and as he was the dominant medical figure in an otherwise oppressive military bravura of Waterloo. We ought to digress slightly and take a closer look at this remarkable man and his background.” There should be a comma after Waterloo as the second sentence should be a clause to finish ‘as he was’ so there will always be mistakes, whether hard copy or digital copy.

          Why do writers write? Because it isn’t there.-Thomas Berger

My e-books

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Why I Celebrate Being An Indie Writer

Most writers want an agent, a three-book publishing deal, an author tour, speaking engagements, and everything in between and surrounding the dream. Few achieve it.

Assuming you get a deal, how long does it all take. I found this in a blog from Steve Laube at his agency:

“What is average?

In my experience:

From idea to book proposal to your literary agent: 1-3 months
From agent to editor and book contract offer: 2-5 months
From contract offer to first paycheck: 2-3 months
From contract to delivery of manuscript to editor: 3-9 months (sometimes longer)
(From delivery of manuscript to editor actually working on it: 2-5 months)
From editor to publication: 9-12 months

Total time from idea to print: approximately 2 years

Your mileage may vary.”

I have read similar timelines from other agents, though the two year window is more often for non-fiction, and fiction maybe a year, a year and a half. The bottom line is that is a long time, but as an Indie author, I can write and proofread and when ready I can click on the publish button on Amazon and my e-Book is ready.

Agents seem to be trained to say no. Which is a main reason best sellers so often are rejected over and over, but persistence finally found a publisher. Stephen King getting rejected with his first novel. Yes. Everyone gets rejected.

I am used to rejection. The army rejected me for flat feet. That meant I was not going to Viet Nam. Some rejections you can live with and say thank you. Others, like getting turned down for a date by that cute blonde, brunette, and the redhead is another matter. And when you pet rejects you have problems.

I can live with rejection, but I want my stories in the marketplace, I want to connect with readers sooner rather than later. Being part of the Indie Cyber world provides me more interaction and more control. I can set the price, I can control the advertising. In fact I can control everything from beginning to end.

This month Amazon is celebrating Indie authors. They have a landing page where you can explore Indie writers, so give it a try. There are many good Indie writers.

As for me, here are my indie e-books. At the top of the page you can click on titles to read more about them as well as review quotes.

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Amazon’s marketing analytics for writers must change

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I previously posted a blog about my ad campaign for “Loonies in the Dugout,” selling for .99 by the way. The campaign was approved, then soon after it began Amazon stopped it because of low relevance. To be honest how does one get ‘low relevance’ on the third day. I assumed the problem was that there were no categories in the marketing campaign listings for my e-book that is ‘sports fiction/satire’ so I  used literary fiction, the closest I could get. In my second attempt, after learning the campaign was stopped, I added sports/outdoors. The campaign was approved for the second time.

I had bid .70 cost per click, and I was getting .60. That seems good, but maybe I’m wrong. In the information I received from Amazon, it was estimated that my campaign, May 13 through June 8 would generate only five sales. They stopped the campaign on the third day and I had sold seven books, two more than projected, and I still had 22 days to go. Yet the email said customers were not engaging with the ad. Huh? Seven sales in less than three days, more than they said I would get.

They also suggested I increase my bid as it could be getting beat by other ads that were bidding higher for better placement. Sorry, I’m not taking the bait. I like my book, I want people to read it. That was why I lowered the price and created the ad campaign. But I will not increase my bid when it started so well.

In my original email to Amazon I said they should consider adding ‘sports fiction’ and ‘satire’ in their marketing campaign listings for targeting. They answered that they appreciate the feedback and would consider it at a future date. In their second email to me after telling them I had sold 7 books in first three days, out doing their projections, I received the following, “I’ll take your concern as feature request and communicate the same to our business team for consideration as we plan future improvements. I’m unable to promise a timeframe at this time, however, we are still evolving and feedback like yours motivate us to dive deep and unearth ways and means which helps us in making publishing on KDP a happy experience.  Please be sure to check our forums periodically for updates.”

Nothing against the forums, I have used them, but it takes a lot of ambling around to find the specifics you seek and the answers are not always helpful, nor are they necessarily correct. Why doesn’t Amazon just post something on the appropriate marketing page, saying ‘new and improved.’

I do like Amazon. I have made many purchases with them and I am sure they have enjoyed my money. I will take them at their word, that they are evolving and are seeking ways to improve (making more money), that they will ‘dive deep and unearth ways to improve,’ but I will also continue to check in to see if and when they change their methodology. They clearly need a better understanding of low relevance. Consider that they say they compare ‘like’ ads for effectiveness, but also say they don’t have specific numbers. If you compare things you learn something, yet they imply otherwise.

I will try again with other titles this summer, hoping my relevance improves.

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Three reasons to advertise your book on Amazon

I avoided advertising my books because I wanted to build a library and now that I have five e-books on Amazon I thought it was time. I also delayed because being frugal (cheap), I was leery of diving into that pool. Add to that I am not a business person, nor a social media butterfly, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I am lazy. But it is good to research extensively before diving into the pool. So here is why I chose Amazon.

Reason number one to advertise with Amazon: As someone said if you do nothing, then nothing will happen. So if you want to achieve something you must do something. If it fails, you learn something and move forward. Since my books are on Amazon I researched their marketing program. It was easy to set up a campaign. You set a budget, say $100. The good thing is you are not charged up front. You are charged when someone clicks your ad to read about the book. The charge comes from what you bid-and this I do not understand at all. I was never good in math. The bad news is that there is always the chance that during the length of the campaign, nobody will buy your book and you are out $100. That is not a bad thing though as I will share on reason two. The poor result could be that the brief description of your book, the hook, the logline, the pitch, did not register with those who clicked. What you write in the ad must sell interest to click. I plan on adding a campaign with all my books, staggering them. The reason you will read about in reason three.

Reason two to advertise with Amazon: I mentioned the possibility that you could end up losing $100 if nobody bought your book. Yes that hurts. But consider this. You can read in your dashboard how many clicks you are getting. I had 48 clicks within a couple of days. The cost was just over $3. If you extend the number of clicks you can get for $100 then you have a lot of people who are now familiar with your name and that is part of building awareness. The more people who see your name, the better chance they will buy a book in the future. To build your brand ( I hate this word) you build name recognition. Consider it part of long term strategy. The only thing that happens overnight is dawn. Everything else takes time.

That brings me to reason three as to why I am staggering my add campaign with my books on Amazon. It not only has to do with getting my name out there by clicks and sales, but because I  have different audiences. I have two collection of short stories, both of which fall into the supernatural and horror category. Three other books are part of a series, though each can be read as a stand alone e-novel. The first is a satire on fame and celebrity based on a true story with the 1911 New York Giants baseball team. So that is baseball fiction. The two main characters I created I then used in two murder mysteries, with a third on the way. So I can not advertise just one book, as I have different audiences to reach.

But is Amazon the only place to advertise? No. But I had to start someplace. I will try Facebook in April and may tinker here and there with other avenues. Previously I had dipped into the water by trying Awesome Gang newsletter. They say they have over 4,000 subscribers I believe, but don’t quote me on that. It cost $10 to be in their newsletter for one day. Cheap, I like it. No sales though. But as I said I was dipping my toes in the water. There are many of these newsletters and some authors have had sales. But I would urge you to fully research these sites as many will not deliver what you want. Also, based on what I have read from other authors, be cautious of anyone promoting your book on Twitter. Writers are told not to use adverbs like ‘very’ so I will not write that you should be very cautious.

I will keep you updated.

What indie writers need to edit other than their stories

An occupational hazard of writers is not being able to see the forest through the trees, though when you think about it how could you see the forest if you are stuck among trees. If you are standing on a plateau you can see both and that brings me to my point.

It is not about editing your story or novel. Writers spend a lot of time revising, proofreading, and fixing up. But there is one thing e-writers like myself sometimes forget. In my case my brain is slow, as I said in my headline, slower than a slug on salt. It is if I am standing among the trees, tall evergreens reaching high into the sky, but can not see the obvious.

The obvious is that no matter what app you use, Amazon for instance, a writer needs to periodically check his book descriptions. Your book description is your advertisement, your hook to lure the reader to your wonderful, colorful, engaging book. I have revised mine a number of times. I do not know how many times I have changed them. In the beginning the logline was descriptive, but from the plateau looking at the forest, not very interesting. It is more fun to be among the trees, unless there are snakes of course.

I have condensed, clarified, and tried to make the descriptions, which can be seen above, more attractive, more enticing. I don’t know if I am done or not. I thought I was done before, a few times. But every time I review them I see where I can make them better. It goes back to what many writers say, that before revising and proofreading story, let in sit for six months-too long for me-I ignore my story for three months-before looking at the story with fresh eyes.

But the same is true for a writers loglines, descriptions, and any type of wordage used to promote and advertise. They are a work in progress. If sales are not going well, then revise your ‘what is this book about’ loglines, descriptions, and so forth. Take another approach another angle. Nothing is written in stone except the Ten Commandments and no revisions need be done there, though many people pay no attention to them. Maybe they need a better logline.

Who wins, Amazon Rain Forest or Amazon.com

The Amazon Rain Forest was created about 55 million years ago. This is an estimate, as Amazon.com, founded in 1994 and will be only 22 this year, was not selling calendars that many years ago, and as Einstein said, “Time is relative.” But clearly the Rain Forest is older. But older is not necessarily better.

The Rain Forest covers 2,700,000 square miles, or about the size of an Amzon.com warehouse. Humans began inhabiting the Rain Forest approximately 11,200 years ago-but again, there are no calendars to date this. Humans do not inhabit Amazon.com, it is a digital search engine inhabited by algorithms, pixels, and Reptilians from the home planet of Jeff Bezos. 

The Rain Forest has predators, many deadly, like the black caiman, jaguar (not the car), cougars, poison dart frogs (not all frogs kissed turn into princes), vampire bats (belavladisto lagosium), piranha and electric eels for swimmers, and of course the anaconda. Amazon.com also has predators. They are called trolls and these creatures with willful and malice fore thought and intention, write bad reviews, primarily of authors. These trolls are mean spirited bullies with poor self image, suffering from penis envy (they have none), and are jealous of anyone who can write a sentence, which these trolls-if you come across one of their reviews, clearly can not. Some have lizard-like skin and sit in a dank, dark room with cranked up music from artists nobody has heard of, a plate of stale maple bars sitting by the laptop as they attack anyone and everyone on any Internet venue.

But enough about my friends and relatives. The point is which is better, the Rain Forest or the Dot Com. Or perhaps, which is more important to the well being of humanity. The Rain Forest is needed for the vast amount of oxygen (or whatever it is that is good for us) the forest releases into the air. Plants, in case you have not heard, provide a livable atmosphere in which humans-that would be you and me-or you and I-live. If the Rain Forest, which has lost thousands of square miles due to deforestation, goes the way of the Dodo bird, then so will we because global warming will increase dramatically.

On the other hand Amazon.com provides everything you need or want in the entire global economy, and do so at low prices, better than Walmart, better than anything anywhere.

For instance if you click on “Loonies in the Dugout” above you will see this wonderful e-book for only 99 cents on Amazon. The Rain Forest will not sell this book, only Dot Com.

Okay, the Rain Forest wins, but don’t let that stop you from going to Amazon.com

Thanks for reading.

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