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REVIEWS AGAIN

October 21, 2020

            I could’ve called this Reviews Revisited. After all, I’ve broached this subject multiple times here at Fred Central. However, Revisited doesn’t quite cover it. Again, is a better word because reviews are the lifeblood of an authors marketing world, as explained below.

            Amazon has now made it even harder. Somehow the software geniuses at the site have now decided, in their ultimate wisdom, to start cutting “irrelevant” reviews. While you may see an author has 20 reviews, only five of them may actually show for reading.

            What?

            Now, to top that off, apparently, you can rate a book with just the star rating and no narrative. While I welcome a five star rating, it would be nice to know why they liked the book. The same if they’re allowed to post a one star rating.

            No idea what that’s all about but they seem to be either cutting down on space, or their new algorithms have been randomly cutting what their filters consider either offensive, irregular, or somehow incestuous material. I’m purely guessing here.

            So, with some editing, I want to emphasize, once again, how important reviews are to the author and go over some do’s, don’ts, and some preaching to the choir.

INTRO

            When it comes to marketing your book, one of the most difficult things to obtain are independent reviews. When you’re a total unknown, one of those brass rings you have to grab for are independent reviews. I’m not talking about “paid” ha ha “independent” reviews. I’m talking about legitimate and honest independent reviews by people you don’t know who actually read the book and either like it, think it sucks, or somewhere in-between.

            The whole point is to get independent feedback from the real world. You want that feedback, hopefully good, of course, to help sell your book. After all, “word of mouth” is one of the best ways to sell something.

PAID REVIEWS

            To me, there’s something inherently dishonest about paid reviews. Okay, the “reviewers” can go ahead and say they’re a business and they have to eat. On the other hand, you’re paying them for a supposedly “unbiased” review of your book.

            Ahem.

            Have you ever actually looked at one of those paid reviews?

            I have and it wasn’t pretty.

            Does the phrase boiler plate ring a bell?

            A couple of them, who I won’t name, were so boiler plate, they almost mimicked a certain blatant paid reviewer I used to rail about on Amazon, one I warned you about that was an obvious fake reviewer. This “lady” if she really existed, used to take the back cover blurb, use that as her review and give the book either four or five stars. That was her review. She had like 100K reviews on Amazon, and every one of them was exactly the same format. They were all on books I wasn’t particularly happy with, by the way.

            Back to the paid review sites. You go to their submission pages and they’re full of warnings and “no guarantees.” This is all the usual bla bla bla stuff about how you could be throwing your money away, could lose your book in the slush pile and may never see your review. Or, if you did, it may be up to a year before it ever shows. Also, there would be no guarantee of a good review.

            Ahem…once again, go right to the boiler plate. I looked and looked and of all the boiler plates, there might be a single sentence attached to the standard boiler plate that varied to tell the truth about the book. Those single sentences didn’t vary much. So, if the book really sucked, I guess it never made publication and was culled. Those are the ones that got “lost” in the shuffle, or never made the “no guarantee” cut.

            Only the good reviews or at least the better ones made the cut.

            Now, you may ask, what was the boiler plate the review was based on? I can’t give you the exact words without giving the web sites away, but they were all customized to each genre, let’s just say that. If it was fantasy, it was about the beasts and wizardry. If it was western, it was about the boots and cows and so forth. If it was romance, it was about the whatever romance is about. Every review on each genre page was the same except for one sentence that actually applied to the book!

            So much for paid reviews.

NON-PAID REVIEWS – INDEPENDENT

            These are the gold, especially to the new and struggling writers. Unfortunately, to the new and struggling writer, these non-paid review sites can be just as struggling and unknown as you are, and their viewership can be a few to non-existent.

            However, you’re more than likely to get a more specific and honest review. The good with the bad?

            Obtaining a meatier review on a web site that nobody sees doesn’t get much promotion potential does it?

            Well…it depends.

            Who says that review has to sit there in obscurity?

            What about you?

            There’s always your own publicity machine, however small and limited you might be, starting out the gate. If you’re any kind of marketer, whether you get out there in the trenches, or do everything from a computer, you should at least have a few sources. How about a web site, Facebook page, forums for your genre? All of these present an avenue to trumpet your new review.

            How about Twitter as well?

            All of these are potential sources to repeat that review, provide a link to it, spread the word. Not only are you helping yourself, but you’re drawing more traffic to that web site. Maybe, just maybe that’ll draw more of an audience to that site and multiply exposure to both of you. The reviewer’s site gets bigger, more prominent, your review becomes more important in the big picture.

            Ever think of that?

            How about adding that review to a list of reviews for a publicity sheet?

            One day, you may want to accumulate all these independent reviews into a consolidated package, maybe to be used for a re-print of the book.

RETAILER REVIEWS

            We mustn’t forget the retailer reviews like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Goodreads etc. Of course, you can’t copy them directly, but maybe quote lines. I did a bad review of a monster movie and the produces took one line from my review and used it out of context to tout their movie. I saw that and went what??? If they can get away with it, why not you?

            Whether all of your reviews are good or bad, copping the best lines from your reviews may be a thing to do. It may be a bit shady, but you can also go the high road and just pick the best of the best of the best. Keep it true and use it to your best advantage.

GETTING BLOOD OUT OF A TURNIP

            The hard fact is the 99% of your readers never do a review. That’s a huge hurtle to get over. No matter how much you beg and cajole your readers, most never will review your book. You may have decent sales, but that doesn’t mean it will reflect in reviews. Besides Amazon spending restrictions, there’s the fact that some people are just readers and not writers. Then there’s the effort to actually write the review.

            It all sums up to authors getting desperate and some giving in to the temptation to pay for reviews. As stated above, not a good idea.

            The only real solution is in the numbers, which is in itself a damned if you do, damned if you don’t thing. Reviews help sell books, but if you don’t get reviews, you don’t sell books.

            All I can say is outside of paying for reviews, do whatever it takes to get them legitimately and unpaid, wherever possible. The more the better.

            Happy writing!

BOOK MARKETING SITES

October 14, 2020

            A potential way to market your book, once it’s published, is through so-called book marketing sites. There are a bunch of them.

            I’ve done it before with mixed results.

            Before you take the plunge, there are some things you need to consider.

WHY DO IT?

            You’re either a self-published author or with a small press. Numbers aren’t exactly setting the world on fire. Another issue that isn’t hepling is a lack of reviews. More on that later.

            While you’ve maybe done a lot, or maybe little with your own marketing on social media or word of mouth, things just aren’t happening.

            So, you want to add a bit of boost to your sales.

            Hence, one solution is book marketing sites.

WHAT DO BOOK MARKETING SITES DO?

            When I say book marketing sites, I’m specifically talking about sites that readers subscribe to. These sites feature e-books, usually Kindle, or maybe even Nook books that readers can buy with one click. These sites encourage the author to offer (but usually don’t force) their books at steep discounts.

            The whole idea is to expose the book to a wide audience. The larger the web site, the larger the audience. However, the larger the audience, usually, the larger the fee.

QUALIFICATIONS

            This can be the sticking point for a lot of self-publishing and independent authors.

            It can be a damned if you do, damned if you don’t type scenario.

            Many of the sites require a minimal number of reviews to qualify. In other words, if your book is right off the press, forget it. If your book doesn’t have enough reviews to qualify forget it.

            Another qualification is quality. This one I agree with. If it’s self-published, a crappy cover, poor editing, poor quality with see it turned down. These sites don’t want to sully their reputation with crappy books. Then again, some of them will probably sell anything for the fee. I’m just saying.

THOUGHTS TO CONSIDER – MY EXPERIENCES SO FAR

            This goes back to why do it?

            You want to generate sales, right?

            You want to get more reviews, okay?

            Let’s take the first one.

            Depending on the site and their fee, there are certain things to consider. First off, don’t believe the hype on their web page! The first thing you will see is all these success stories, whether true or not.

            Do the math. I took the plunge and things didn’t quite add up. For instance, I spent $25 on one site. Fine and dandy. I dropped the price of my book down to $.99 to sell more books. I think I sold 8 books. After the publisher’s take, I made a couple of dollars (small press). I generated zero reviews.

            I did it once again, same price, sold I think ten books for a little more money. Almost enough for a Starbucks. I still generated zero reviews.

            Not exactly like the booming sales expectations of the endorsements touted on the web page!

            On the other hand, I also maybe got a few fans for the next book. I did sell a few, however I still got no reviews on that one either.

            What did it do to my Amazon sales ranking?

            It skyrocketed for a couple of days, then slowly plunged once again.

            It wasn’t enough to take me into an elite category, but at least the number changed for a while.

            In the end, was it worth it?

            To me it was. Sure, math-wise, I lost money, but sales wise, I may have converted a few more people. Time will tell.

            As of yesterday, as you read this, I’ll have tried another site with a different book. I won’t know any significant results for a while, but we’ll see if it results in anything different.

            As of today, the day before I post this (Monday), my book sold at the normal list (Kindle) price. I maybe sold a couple as my sales ranking leaped up into the thousands. Sure, it never set the world on fire and of course, I didn’t make my money back. Then again, just maybe I made a few more fans, especially considering this particular book is the first in the series and is going to be just prior to the launch of the second one. Finally, I gained a review! Yes, lo and behold, out of all of that, regardless of the math, I gained one new review. A five star one at that. The problem is that while the number is there, the review isn’t. That’s an issue for another article.

SUMMARY

            Book marketing sites, at least the ones I’ve run across so far, deal exclusively in e-books. They all have a high readership, which exposes you to a large number of people who may or may not have an interest in your book. The sites all push for pricing your book from cheap to free, but you can still charge what you want, sometimes at a slightly higher fee.

            The math almost always doesn’t add up, but once in a while, some lucky bastard strikes gold, at least according to their own marketing data. I cannot seem to find any reliable reviews on the marketing sites themselves.

            The qualifications vary from site to site. The fees vary from free to almost a thousand dollars. You heard me right…a thousand dollars.

            Keep in mind that regardless whether you are on a budget or not, marketing is going to cost something. If you want to sell your book, you have to do it somehow. This is one avenue, especially now with COVID going on and no personal book signings on the table.

            So, folks, another option on the table.

            Happy writing!

CHARACTERIZATION

October 7, 2020

            I’ve been reading a lot of icky bug (horror) lately. Unfortunately for me, a lot of it tends to be literary writing, which I cannot stand.

            What do I mean by literary writing?

            Endless characterization and description. In a way, I’m including description in this piece on characterization.

BEGINNINGS – TASTE

            While I’m a huge fan of icky bug, I’m no fan of literary writing. I once read a very thick novel by a well-known but shall remain nameless icky bug author and I was so mesmerized by the lack of action, I could barely get through that draggy tome.

            This was the great so and so?

            You’ve got to be kidding!

            Then after suffering through all that, several reviewers had the audacity to complain that they never got to know the main characters!

            You’ve got to be kidding!

            There was almost no action at all because this top-of-the-line author rambled on-and-on-and-on about the characters, endlessly going through trivial feelings and hopes and dreams and bla bla bla. I wanted to give up reading after suffering through that.

            So, in a nutshell, and I don’t apologize for the cliché, I hated the book.

GETTING TO KNOW THE CHARACTERS

            For those of you that have been reading my blog a long time, you have read my infamous quote from old cowboy actor Jack Elam. He once said that he was sick of all these movies that went into the heads of the bad guys and their feelings. “Maybe they just wanted the money.”

            That’s kind of how I feel about things. I don’t like to waste a lot of time characterizing. I don’t like to spend a lot of real estate building up an entire world for a character while letting the action, the entire plot, come to a screeching halt. To me, I want the story to progress.

            Why take five chapters to say something you can say in a paragraph?

            Come on now!

            I’d much rather leak out bits and pieces for the reader to put together as the action progresses rather than bring everything to a screeching halt while the reader has to slog through another flashback, or a sideline while I explain why the character does or doesn’t like something.

            Geez, give me a break.

EXAMPLES

            I’ve just read two examples of icky bug recently while I was on vacation. Both should’ve been quick reads. However, they were excruciating.

            Why?

            Characterization.

            The plots were fairly simple.

            The characters were not.

            Each chapter would start with something happening. However, right as the action started, the author brought it to a screeching halt as the characterization started. Then for ten or more pages, he or she would then go off into la la land, describing the characters history, feelings, hopes, dreams or whatever, then at the end of the chapter, finally get back into the action.

            Then in the next chapter, start doing the next thing.

            Sometimes, the author wouldn’t even do that, but go right into the characterization before starting the action.

            I was practically yelling “come on!” so often, my wife was wondering what was going on.

            The reviews were mixed on both of these books. Some loved it, while others slammed the authors for never getting to the point.

            I won’t specifically mention them because I don’t want to slam other writers and authors specifically. Let’s just say that they were not the huge writer mentioned in that other section above and leave it at that.

BACK TO TASTE

            There is a big literary crowd out there.

            There are some that are midway, so they could enjoy both.

            However, there is a huge crowd of readers that like to get to the point.

            For me, I get to know the characters just fine with a few sentences and a random paragraph mixed in with the action. I don’t need page upon page, chapter upon chapter to get information I don’t want while the plot stews on the back burner.

            I’m not alone.

SUMMARY

            I’m a strong advocate for tight and right. Characterization does not have to be half the book. It can be done in small doses, so the author doesn’t lose sight of why they’re writing the book in the first place. Story and plot. If the story is about the character, fine. Don’t make it out to be a thriller or a mystery or something with action. Make it a character study and make it plain to the reader. If it’s a thriller, MAKE it a thriller that moves (or whatever category it is).

            Characterization should be an enhancement to the story, not a hindrance.

            Happy writing!

RANDOM CAPITALIZATION

September 30, 2020

            There’s nothing more annoying (well there are LOTs of things) than random capitalization. This is the sure sign of an amateur writer.

WHAT’S RANDOM CAPITALIZATION?

            What’s random capitalization?

            It’s the Capitalization of random words that have no business being Capitalized. In other words, they’re usually, but not always certain nouns that the author capitalizes for reasons unknown, or maybe to emphasize the word, or because the author just feels it should be capitalized. Maybe they think because it’s the title of someone, it needs to be capitalized.

            The fact is that this is simply not true. The only time a word needs to be capitalized is when it’s used in reference to a proper name and certain titles.

WHEN TO CAPITALIZE A WORD

            You capitalize a word when it’s used as a proper title or name.

            I once was the editor of the Observer’s Challenge. I would get input from amateur astronomers from around the country and then clean up their grammar. Quite often, they would capitalize the cardinal directions. For instance, “The star GSC409+2129 sat East of NGC2409.”

            Nope, no ceegar.

            It should say “The star GSC409+2129 sat east of NGC2409.”

            Now, if the east was part of a proper name, that would be different.

            “We took a trip to the south of France.”

            Capitalize?

            Nope, because it isn’t a proper name. It’s describing a cardinal direction within France.

            “We took a trip to Southeast Asia.”

            That’s a proper name because it describes and named region. That named region includes several countries, mind you, but it’s a region.

            “We’re heading up north.”

            Nope. It’s not describing a named region.

            We’re taking a vacation to South America.

            In that case, it’s a named continent.

            Now, let’s take another example.

            God/gods.

            When it’s used to describe a proper name, it’s capitalized. When it’s describing beings, not necessarily.

            God, as in the being, is capitalized.

            “I’ve always had faith in God.”

            In this case, you’re talking specifically about the being.

            “There is no god I care about.”

            In this case, you’re not specifically calling out a particular god by name or affiliation. Therefore, no capitalization.

            How about public figures?

            I knew the mayor of Detroit.

            No capitalization because you’re just describing a political position.

            My mother went out with Mayor Dodderidge when they were younger.

            In this case, it’s a title.

            Brand names.

            Brand names can be more tricky since sometimes brand names can be confused with the objects.

            For instance, crayon is a wax colored stick for kids to draw colors on paper.

            A Crayola is a brand of crayon which does the same thing.

            Then there’s Fred’s English way of saying it, “kuller kranz.” That’s not capitalized either!

ANNOYING CAPITALIZATION

            You can tell a rank Amateur because for some reason, they Capitalize random words for no apparent Reason. I’ve edited countless Manuscripts and have, for the Life of me, never figured out why the authors capitalized What seemed like every other word. Once in A while, they blame the software, but I have Yet to run across Software that does that.

SUMMARY

            I’ve given only a few brief examples, but there are plenty more. The Chicago Manual Of Style gives plenty more. Also, if you’re published, your editor will have certain standards they go by. Follow them.

            Happy writing!

ADVERBS

September 15, 2020

            Last week I was going to address this subject, but something else came up. Now it’s time.

MOST COMMON CUTS

            Keep in mind that I’ve been writing for decades now. That doesn’t mean I write perfect. Far from it. However, I do have a bit of proficiency after all these years. In fact, my at least initial proficiency is one reason I took up this passion to begin with.

            That being said, I still have to edit my work, whether it’s these weekly blogs, my book manuscripts, or even my impromptu Facebook posts.

            Very little gets by me without some kind of editing.

            Outside of typos, what are the most common cuts I make?

            Adverbs.

WHAT’S AN ADVERB?

            Rather than specifically define an adverb, per se, let me give you a red flag.

            “ly”

            Yup, that’s it.

            Any word that ends in an “ly” is probably an adverb. There are a few exceptions. In fact, I just used an adverb right there! In this case, I feel it’s justified.

            Speaking of justified, how about the word just?

            While just is an adjective, it’s well overused and can be cut most of the time.

            However, back on track. When you see an “ad” as in “add” “verb”, it’s an enhanced verb. One way of looking at it. It’s an emphasized verb that quite often doesn’t add anything to the sentence.

EXAMPLES

            There’s nothing like good examples.

            It was a really big mountain.

            Really is unnecessary. While the mountain was obviously huge, really emphasizes it and initially sounds reasonable enough. However, in writing narrative, it only adds fluff.

            It was a big mountain.

            Simple.

            Or even better.

            The massive peak stood before him.

            More active.

            The street was completely devoid of movement.

            Nope.

            The street was devoid of movement.

            Better.

            Nothing moved on the street.

            I could go on and on.

DO A WORD SEARCH

            In your manuscript, do a word search for just (see I used just for effect) “ly” and see what comes up. You may be shocked.

            This isn’t an effort to sanitize your manuscript of every adverb, especially in dialogue. People don’t speak like narrative. That’s a whole different set of rules.

            On the other hand, be careful using adverbs in dialogue as well. Consider speech patterns and realistic ways people talk.

SUMMARY

            Sometimes you’ve probably been told to do word searches for was, has been, to be etc. This time it’s “ly” words.

            Next time, it may be another word.

            I’ll surprise you!

            Maybe…

            Happy writing!

WHEN YOU HAVE A BLOG AND NOTHING TO WRITE ABOUT

September 9, 2020

            Over the past few months, I’ve run across situations where not only have friends been needing advice about starting author platforms and blogs, but there have been forum questions about deadlines and things to do with creativity.

            Say you DO have a recurring blog, whether daily, weekly, monthly or even annual, what happens when you reach the point when you have nothing to talk about? I very much wanted to add the adverb absolutely, but knew I’d cut it on second blush. THAT was going to be my original article for this week, by the way. However, when inspiration hits, you have to go with it.

MY SITUATION

            You would think that after three-hundred plus articles since 2012, I’d have, by now, run out of things to talk about since my platform is writing. Then again, just take a gander at the page count of the Chicago Manual of Style. It doesn’t include half the stuff I talk about (like this article) and I haven’t even included a quarter of the stuff the manual talks about.

            I don’t think I have anything to worry about in that regard.

            On the other hand, that doesn’t mean I always have a stack of articles lined up, ready to publish. Quite often, I write these on the fly, Sunday morning, when the inspiration hits. Sometimes they come out of thin air, on-the-spot. Sometimes, I’ve been brewing them in my head from something that inspired me during the week. Sometimes it’s something that inspired me for a while, and I just got around to bringing it up. Like now.

DEADLINES

            For some, deadlines are a motivator. For me, they’re an inspiration killer.

            To me, Sunday morning isn’t a motivator, it’s just my time to write. If I know I’m not going to be around my computer Sunday morning due to other circumstances, I may write ahead. There have been occasions when I haven’t been able to, and my blog articles have been late. I’ve always had something to write about.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

            This is the meat of the matter.

            What about you?

            This is YOUR issue.

            You’ve decided on a subject for your blog. Say (from a recent friend), history of a certain time period.

            You’ve been doing this for a while. You think you’ve exhausted that time period. Maybe you’ve been doing it so long you could write an entire thick textbook on the subject.

            What to do now?

            Or…

            What if you’re just starting out, maybe even picked a subject, but don’t know which way to go?

            First, if you’ve done it all, then maybe you should concentrate on articles on HOW to do the research itself, rather than the results. Instead of giving stories of what you found, relay to your audience HOW you found it.

            On the other hand, if what you do is explain HOW you do your research, instead give results.

            If you already do both, then it’s time to vary the subject matter a little and veer off the time period.

            Now, say you’ve been doing this a long time, like me, for almost a decade. What about recycling some old stuff with a fresh update? What are the chances many of your new fans have actually taken the time to go back and read all of your past articles? I’d say for the most part, slim to none!

            Recycling old articles with an update is a great way to give yourself not only breathing room, but a chance to resurrect subjects that may be currently relevant. I do it, especially given current events on the forums I frequent. I’ve found that I’ve covered so much, it keeps coming up again and again for fresh newbies.

IT ALL DEPENDS

            The best blogs are about something informative because the subject matter is not only researchable, but it comes from knowledge or expertise you have. If you don’t have that expertise and learn as you go, it has to be a continual learning experience and you really have to be on your toes.

            If it’s a creative blog, such as a serial story, it’s all up to you to create the next installment. Your readers depend on you to come up with the next brilliant chapter. If you already have the story planned out, whether plotted, or just A and B, as long as you don’t lose your motivation, you should always have something to write about until you finish the story. This is only dangerous when you get that dreaded writer’s block, or life gets in the way. That’s the other thing that happens to everyone else and causes nothing to write about.

ANTICIPATION

            Life can throw surprises at all of us. If you have a regular blog and your readers expect an article at a certain time, it behooves you to keep that self-imposed deadline. That means that to the best of your ability, when you know something is coming up, you should build up a stock of articles to cover that period of absence, or period of your normal writing time.

            I’ve always hated the word deadline, and I don’t consider my weekly blog and Facebook posts as deadlines, per se. They’re regular posting periods for me, but I could just as easily post whenever I want to. Out of habit and to keep my followers on a regular schedule, I post the same times each week. You can call that self-imposed deadlines all you want. Since I enjoy what I do, I prefer to call them regular habits rather than deadlines.

            So, in my regular habits, I sometimes anticipate when I won’t be available to write. If so, it throws my usual inspiration off. If I had something to write about already in mind, I go ahead and write it all then. If not, I may have a bit of this articles title, in “nothing to write about” for a few split seconds.

            Then things will hit me.

            I can recycle a myriad of old articles.

            I can visit the forums and see what’s up that may inspire me.

            I can just ponder a bit until something hits.

            In a word, something always pops up.

            I get creative.

            For you, if you have to anticipate, vary your normal habits until you come up with something maybe off the usual path to write about. It may be short or long compared to your usual blog. It may break your own rules a bit. However, it may inspire you in a way you never knew existed within your brain before.

            You may surprise yourself.

            Happy writing!

ISSUES WITH MY FIRST NOVEL

September 2, 2020

            One reason I’ve never tackled my very first novel before, and a big reason I used to tell every it would never “see the light of day” was “severalfold.” Hey, there’s a new word for you.

            As I initially said when I resurrected it a few weeks ago, the STORY wasn’t as bad as I first thought. Since it established the pattern I’ve used from day one, that was never the issue. I established A and B in my head before I ever sat down at the computer on Enable OA, which was the primitive software at the time, and just started typing.

            While it kept me mostly on a linear track, I’m sure I’ll find a few side issues to deal with along the way. I still had some of those to deal with in edits of both The Greenhouse and Lusitania Gold. While I only did a skim of The Cave, I still haven’t caught up to those yet.

            What I have found are other basic issues in the writing I need to deal with. Most are annoying but minor. However, one is a biggie.

POINT OF VIEW

            I’m a real stickler for third-person limited point of view. I can’t stand first-person, I can’t stand present-tense, and I can’t stand head-hopping. Don’t even get me started on second-person!

            This all didn’t come out of thin air, it came with time and over sixty years of reading, writing and drawing conclusions from what works, what works best, and what’s just damn annoying. I’ve talked repeatedly about point of view here at Fred Central, so you should know how I feel by now.

            Given that, what did I find?

            The first chapter was okay. It was written in a single point of view. The prose required some tweaking of structure here and there, then it was time to move on.

            However, chapter two where the main characters come in?

            Ruhr oh! Houston, we have a problem.

            There was NO point of view! It was a total head-hopping extravaganza! Just like…well…never mind. I don’t want to slam that other author who, by the way, still manages to put out at least a book a year.

            Anyway, it was nothing but head-hopping with no central character. It made me think of the back-cover blurb and how I’d have no way of pointing out who the story was about. A team? No central character? Not gonna fly.

            I had to read for a while before I figured one guy was the most dominant of the bunch. Turns out, he was the main character after all. Now it’s a matter of turning every chapter and scene into his point of view and ridding all the thoughts and POVs from everyone else, unless they have a major scene. There is room for other characters. The POV switches to the bad guy too. The book is designed for multiple POVs, I just have to control how many. There can’t be a hundred!

DIALOGUE TAGS

            This is another area where I really offended my much more refined sensibilities. The tags made me cringe…a lot!

            Given that this was only chapter two where I noticed how bad it was, I’m going to have my work cut out for me.

PASSIVITY AND TELLING

            It goes without saying that any new writer is going to tell rather than show. Plus they’re going to use a lot of passive phrases. I was no exception.

            For this run, to be honest, I’m more concerned with fixing the big stuff. When I catch the major things, I’ll fix them. It’ll probably take a second round to find most of the tell and some more of the passivity. There’s enough of it that I’m not going to catch it all in one sweep.

OFFENSIVE PHRASES

            Given the era in which I wrote it, and the market in which I want to sell, I glimpsed numerous “colorful metaphors” and other offensive words that are not politically correct in today’s cancel culture climate. I need to fix those. No need to even repeat them now. Some of them are things I probably would’ve changed anyway if I’d decided to work this thing earlier. After all, this was my first attempt and I was influenced by the books I was reading and the environment around me, which wasn’t necessarily a reflection of who I was. I knew there were rough edges to be smoothed out when and if I were ever to do something with this very rough draft. Second blush stuff where I go, “Nope, dumb idea.”

TECHNICAL DETAILS

            Right on the very first page, I referenced a place that doesn’t actually exist thirty years later. Thanks to Google Maps, and then Wikipedia, I checked it out and discovered it not only doesn’t exist anymore, but it’s not even in the correct location for where the heroes are going to go. I was relying on a very old satellite map at the time and it apparently wasn’t very accurate. I’m sure as I delve deeper into the story, I’ll find other nasty surprises along the way.

STILL AN ADVENTURE

            Since I shelved this one right after I wrote it, it’s going to be an adventure to resurrect The Cave. I’ve never read it to a writer’s group, had anyone critique it, except some unknown friend who edited it for me. Unfortunately, I cannot recall who did that long-ago edit. I cannot even recall what they thought of the overall story. Now I wish I knew so I could thank them!

SUMMARY

            When you have something this old, it’s fascinating to see how much you’ve progressed. Rather than being embarrassed, I find it fitting that I can see a real progression from day one. That means I have and am still learning.

            I can’t wait to relive this adventure!

            Happy writing!

HOW DO YOU AVOID OFFENDING ANYONE IN YOUR STORY?

August 26, 2020

            I thought about titling this article different things to do with race, but this goes beyond just that. While race IS at the forefront of many conversations right now, there’s…to use a tired but true old cliché… more ways to skin a cat. Now I’ve probably offended cats or PETA people.

            In today’s cancel culture, one can become offended over just about anything.

            While that sounds almost facetious, in fact, it’s quite true, especially when it comes to social media. In the context of a book, where there’s more time for an explanation and context to go with it, it’s not as much of an issue, but that ugly premise is still there.

            Let’s look deeper.

THE 400LB GORILLA

            Race is by far the easiest way to offend someone.

            As an author, no matter how well intended, when you add in diverse characters to your story, since you have not lived those characters lives, you’re bound to write something untrue or unrealistic that’s likely to offend someone. The more insulated and unread you are toward these diverse people, the worse and more unrealistic the faux pax is going to be.

            TV doesn’t always count.

            Quite often, script writers throw in unrealistic dimensions to racial characters all for the sake of drama. They often skirt the borderline of what’s acceptable, consciously or unconsciously creating stereotypes for minorities or even majority races. On the other hand, sometimes these portrayals can be quite accurate, especially now as the entertainment industry is slowly forging ahead with diversity.

            Books can be a great source of realism, if the right books are consulted.

            By far, the best source is the people themselves.

            If you want to write a race you are not, talk to them and feel them out for their experiences. That will help you build a more realistic character.

            Just today, as I edit this, someone on one of the forums asked the question about describing someone’s skin using food, such as “olive skin.” What about “mahogany skin?” Skin the color of coffee, or skin the color of whatever? Is that an insult? I’m sure it is to someone. When you think of white people, they aren’t white either. Very few people except those that are albino even come close to actually being white, and they’re more pink than white, usually. So, how do you describe the color of someone’s skin, hair, other features without insulting them?

            A good question.

OCCUPATIONS

            This is something people don’t often think about and once again, media is quite often the source of numerous stereotypes. Of another more common source is the “I heard,” or the “I just assume” bunch. This is where real research is necessary.

            If you portray a plumber as the typical butt crack money grubbing guy who won’t even listen to what you have to say, you have a problem.

            Are all lawyers the same stereotype? Do all doctors automatically ignore women? Do all bankers ignore the little guy? Do construction workers all leer at women?

            Not only are those stereotypes, but they’re also clichés and can offend as easily as ignore the reality.

RELIGIONS

            Another 400lb gorilla in the room is religion. Quite often, religious people are portrayed as stereotypes. While one can’t deny that these stereotypical people DO exist, constantly badgering the reader with these people in every story gets kind of old.

            When you’re NOT of said religion, of course, you should observe some real people of that religion. However, you should also talk to some of those people. Do some reading. You might be surprised.

DISABLED PEOPLE

            Not every disabled person is completely helpless.

            Not every disabled person is a saint.

            Not every disabled person is a jerk.

            If you don’t know someone that’s disabled, it would behoove you to seek them out and observe. You’ll find them just like everyone else.

LITTLE PEOPLE

            This is an often overlooked area. One of my personal heroes from way back, Billy Barty, stared the organization Little People of America back in 1957 (I think). Little people are quite often dragged into stereotypes. It’s only been recently that we’ve seen them gain acceptance in major roles, such as Peter Dinklage.

POLITICAL OPPOSITES

            This is another one that gets people riled, especially right now in an increasingly polarized time.

            All conservatives are whacky right wing religious gun nuts.

            All liberals are dirty liberal weenies who secretly want a communist state.

            To some, there’s no in-between.

            The reality is far different.

            In the world of political thrillers, this gets to be a touchy subject because the bad guys usually have to lean one way or the other, or sometimes in a completely different extreme. The reader is then going to accuse the author of slanting one way or the other automatically, because of who the author made the bad guy. In this case, one automatically offends the other side even if it was just done for a good story.

            You can’t win either way unless you come up with some bizarre third party? Some people will still twist it around so you lose, no matter what!

            While this has to do with plot, it doesn’t necessarily include the individual characters. The individual characters can be portrayed as normal people and all the offense is with the plot. Maybe that mitigates things to some extent, maybe not.

WHAT’S THIS ALL MEAN?

            The fact is, in today’s cancel culture, there are going to be people trolling for this stuff. In a way, they’re out looking, spoiling for a fight. Inevitably, they’re going to find something no matter what you do, if you’re unlucky enough to be targeted. Fortunately, most of that is saved for the immediacy of social media and not books. After all, who wants to take time out of their day of outrage to read a book, rather than Tweets?

            Of course, I’m being facetious.

            On the other hand, as an author, I want to grab the largest and most diverse audience I can. I want to be the most inclusive I can. The last thing I want to do is offend anyone, intentionally or unintentionally.

            On the other hand, have I intentionally played to stereotypes? Sure, deliberately to make a bad guy bad, or to make a point. It’s not done with malice.

            I know that as my own race, I cannot realistically write a main character for another race. The best I can do is portray that diversity in my secondary and minor characters to the best of my ability.

            How do I do that?

            I’ve been on this planet a long time. I’ve had my ups and downs, seen a lot and learned a lot.

            I lived in both Spain and Turkey and have been exposed to some widely diverse cultures. I also grew up in a melting pot in Southern California. Not only that, I spent almost my entire adult life in Guv’mint service, and I’ve continually observed racial and cultural diversity as a matter of course and normalcy.

            I try to bring that to my writing.

            How?

            It’s very simple. When portraying people of different races and cultures I’ve learned a huge lesson that more isolated people may not realize.

            No matter who or what you are, people are still people.

            We all share the same basic DNA. We all share the same planet. We all share the same basic human experiences. We all breathe the same air.

            Outside of a few minor cosmetic and cultural differences, we’re still basically the same.

            There’s no avoiding it. We’re all human.

SUMMARY

            While you want your characters to be colorful and diverse and dynamic, do NOT forget that they are still people. Don’t get trapped into the world of stereotypes. That, my friends, is the quickest way to offend someone.

            Do NOT forget that basically, we’re all the same.

            Happy writing!

A CAUTIONARY TALE

August 19, 2020

Most people like to express their views. It’s a natural tendency. Why not? With the advent of social media, it’s even more prevalent than the old water cooler, or coffee shop, or bench in the park.

The thing about social media is that it’s completely unfiltered, not face-to-face, and somewhat anonymous. Plus, what one posts is not always reliable.

Given that, when one decides they want to become an author, their social media may come to haunt them. Notice I didn’t say come BACK to haunt them.

Why?

Because, quite often, authors never develop a separate media platform from their personal lives. Hence, when they speak their mind about sex, religion or politics, guess what?

            I’ve probably talked about this multiple times here on Fred Central, but I’m not even going to go back and look up the specific articles. I’d love if YOU did, but hey, this isn’t about that. This is a cautionary tale for you.

I HAVE A FELLOW AUTHOR FRIEND(S)…

            I have a fellow author friend (actually more than one, but I’m keeping it singular for simplicity) who published a book. It’s a great book. It should be a best-seller. However…

            My friend has very strong political beliefs and is not afraid to express them on his/her personal Facebook page.

            That’s fine and dandy.

            The issue is that this person also uses that same Facebook page as their author page.

            As soon as the book launched, this author got a one-star review, a very nasty one, that had nothing to do with the book. It was all about the person’s political views. While most who read reviews might disregard this review, on the other hand, if they read it and agree with the reviewer, they may never read the book, or anything else the author ever writes.

            I’ve seen this happen over and over again. I’ve been inspired to write this article, for once, not by the usual forum threads on Facebook, but because of the increasingly polarizing political views of Facebook friends and fellow authors.

            It just struck me as something that anyone with marketing savvy, of which I admit I’m no expert, would want to think about.

            I may not be the best at marketing, but I’m also not a complete dummy. I know how not to shoot myself in the foot.

TWO WORLDS

            You have to keep in mind that as an author, you live in two worlds. There’s your author world and your personal world.

            You need to separate them unless you are a political writer.

            I’ve said over and over again that as a reader, I cannot stand someone preaching to me in their writing, or being overtly political, even if I agree with them.

            When I read, I read to escape. Subtle is okay, but overt pisses me off.

            Sometimes I think I can tell an authors’ political stand by their writing. Quite often I can’t, and when I see something personal from them, I’m just as often surprised. This is good, because that means their writing has nothing to do with their personal biases.

            On the other hand, if I can tell from the first page how they lean, I’m just as likely to put the book down, or never pick it up in the first place.

            You need two worlds. An author world and a personal world.

OR…

            If you are bound and determined to use your personal Facebook page as your author page, it’s best to keep yourself neutral. Stay away from sex, religion and politics unless you want to alienate half if not more of your audience.

            IT’S CALLED MARKETING, DUMMY!

            The whole point of writing a book and getting it published is to sell it, right?

            If you want to sell it, you need customers.

            If you want customers, you need to sell said book from a neutral front. You need to attract an audience.

            It’s just like going to the supermarket and buying cereal (my bias is cereal right now because I’m about to eat breakfast as I write this).

            Do you name your cereal Catholic cereal? Is it cereal just for Baptists? Is it for women only? Is it cereal for Trump supporting conservatives? Is it cereal for liberals only?

            Doesn’t sound very commercially viable does it?

            If you’re trying to sell a fantasy, western, murder mystery, thriller, romance, why pigeon hole it by marketing it through a web presence full of political, sexual or religious posts that polarize so many different people?

PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL LIFE SEPARATE

            Just like at work, at least for many of us, we have to keep our personal lives separate from our professional life.

            Of course, you don’t have to. You can do anything you want.

            However, of you expect, or care about selling books, it behooves you to set up a separate media platform whether a Facebook page or a completely different web site. Direct your fans and readers there. Limit your personal friends to those who agree with you!

HOW I DO IT

            I’m a hybrid.

            First off, during one of the last visits to my dad before he passed away, he told me some profound things. One was that he told me for the first time ever, some things about World War Two that he’d never told me before. I was shocked. It took forty-plus years for him to reveal these shocking details.

            Second, he gave me a bit of advice. Something that has stuck with me. It wasn’t the first time he told me this, but it was the first time I actually listened. He said that if I wanted to keep friends, never discuss sex, religion and politics.

            That piece of advice has always stuck with me, so I pretty much keep my feelings close to the vest. While I do discuss that stuff occasionally with close friends, I keep it rational and never post publicly.

            I have occasionally slipped and posted something on Facebook that might be considered political by some, but it’s always done as sarcasm, or humor, or once in a while, just plain frustration. Never to start anything.

            Hell, nobody’s perfect.

            To my point, besides keeping my personal page as neutral as possible, I also have two Facebook pages, one for each genre that I currently have published. If I start another genre, I’ll start another Facebook page. Besides that, I also have this, my web site. While my web site also contains other stuff like my personal astronomy and woodworking pages, it’s mainly for writing and books.

            Nothing political, about religion, or sex. I keep it neutral.

            You, as a reader, can feel safe coming to any of my sites knowing you’re not going to get badgered to death about something controversial. You’ll get a break from the torrent of politics and whatever on regular social media.

SUMMARY

            While some of my friends have let their voices be heard, many of them have ultimately paid the price in sales. That’s their call.

            As a new writer and author, I strongly suggest you separate your personal from professional life and be very picky who you let into your personal world.

            It’ll pay off in the long run.

            Happy writing!

SELF EDITING

August 12, 2020

            I talk about editing quite a bit here at Fred Central. Most recently I did this past May with my article Forest Through The Trees Two. THAT article was a repeat from 2012. There are many more.

            There’s a good reason I bring this subject to the forefront. It’s a major part of what we do as writers. Writing the story is only the first step. Writing chapters, scenes, paragraphs, sentences…these all have to be perfected before they can see the light of day (publication). The last thing we want to do is embarrass ourselves, alienate our audience, come off as amateurs (well those of us that care).

            The other day, a question came up from another do-it-yourself author.

            “What if I can’t afford an editor? What are the chances of doing all the editing myself?”

            Something to that effect.

            Needless to say, but I will anyway, most of the responses told this person it just doesn’t work that well, if at all. Without a second set of eyes, no matter how good you think you are, you can’t see the forest through the trees (or words to that effect).

            Here we go again.

THERE’S SAVING MONEY AND THEN THERE’S CHEAP

            The market is flooded with self-published books. Most of them are easy to spot from the cover alone. The artwork is cheesy and atrocious. That’s a red flag. Given the author somehow has an artistic flare, and slips one out that gets through the cracks, what about what’s inside?

            I’ve had the unfortunate experience of purchasing questionable self-published icky bug stories, since that’s usually all I’ll buy sight unseen (except I DO check the “what’s inside” sample on Amazon for third person, past-tense).

            After reading a few chapters, it becomes readily apparent that the author self-edited their masterpiece. Not only is the spelling syntax and punctuation out there, but the point of view is usually out of control. Then there are often plot threads that go nowhere, plenty of things that don’t make sense, and many times a conclusion that’s stupid or left hanging with no satisfaction. Oh, and let’s not forget excess backstory. Why is it people insist on so much backstory. Why not just start the story with the backstory and work forward?

            Sometimes some of these things are found in EDITED stories, but not as rampant. When you go cheap and have no second set of eyes, you’re blind to your own work. What you see on the page isn’t necessarily what you actually wrote.

THE UGLY TRUTH

            The ugly truth is that you can only cut so many corners. A big selling point is the cover, but some people are not all that concerned with the cover.

            A catchy title is key for some, but that can be fudged to some extent.

            What will kill you is between the front and back cover.

            If the text is crap, you’ll gain no audience, or at the least, severely impede your potential audience. Sure, I’ve seen some horribly written EDITED stories be huge hits because they touched on hot-button topics. They’re rare, but not unheard of.

            Most of the time though, the MAJORITY of the time, I emphasize, your story will have to grow, slowly pick up an audience on the merits of your writing. That means your message must be clear. For it to be clear, it needs to be properly and well edited.

            YOU CANNOT DO THAT ALL BY YOURSELF.

IF YOU’RE GOING TO CUT CORNERS, DON’T DO IT WITH EDITING!

            I cannot emphasize enough how bad an idea it is to self-edit an entire book.

            You only see what you INTENDED, not what you WROTE!

            Your mind fills in the blanks, regardless of what you wrote. It takes a SECOND SET OF EYES, maybe more to catch the things you cannot see.

            Sure, editors cost, but it’s worth it to find a good one. That’s one of the best investments you can make.

BETA READERS

            Initially, if you want to go on the cheap, you can at least start with beta readers. Unless you live in a cave somewhere, or are a hermit, find a few beta readers willing to go through your manuscript and give it a run-through. Let them give you honest feedback on what might be fixed. That can give you insight on major and even minor issues to fix before you seek out an editor.

WRITERS CRITIQUE GROUP

            If you’re in an area with a writers critique group, join and if they’re a good positive group, read your stuff to them and get feedback. This type of group can be invaluable.

LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR

            If part of the reason you don’t want to get edited is not only to save money, but because you can’t take the criticism, or are “too shy,” or whatever, leave your ego at the door. Just think of how reviewers are going to tear your precious “best book in the universe” apart when you get it posted to the world?

SUMMARY

            In my case, I pitched and queried and was persistent. I used a little of everything and finally, after a long time, since I refused to self-publish, I landed a traditional publisher with a small press. I never paid a dime for editing. I had beta readers, read most of my entire manuscripts to my writer’s group, and self-edited. Through my self-editing, I discovered what I’m blind to, and always will be. I know my limits. You should too.

            Happy writing!