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March 19, 2019

It’s been going on for a while, but recently reared its ugly head. I have a friend in the Netherlands who read Gods Of The Blue Mountains and wanted to review the book on Amazon.

The only problem?

He hasn’t bought $50 worth of merchandise over the past year so he doesn’t qualify to do reviews.

Are you kidding me?

Apparently not. As it turns out, he isn’t the only one.

I’ve heard this story before, and what it boils down to is this: We, as independent, or self-published, or any other authors, are losing out on a LOT of reviews because of this policy.


Let’s face it. Amazon are the big boys on the block. Whether you like it or not, because of Amazon, virtually all of the book chain stores except one or two, Barnes & Noble and maybe Hastings (if they still exist), have folded up shop. Amazon has basically killed the competition just like Wal-Mart did with a lot of the mom and pop stores in the past. On-line is killing brick and mortar stores by the dozens and a lot of that can be traced back to Amazon.

Is it solely their fault?

Of course not.

It takes PEOPLE to make it happen.

Who are those people?

You and I, of course!

We’re not blameless, after all. If not for the convenience of shopping on line, Amazon wouldn’t have a business at all. Regardless of any ruthless or heartless business practices they utilize (oh, big surprise given capitalism at its best), they would have no business at all if it weren’t for PEOPLE giving it to them.

When it comes to books, while the brick and mortar stores virtually strangled themselves with bad decisions right from the beginning, we, as the public, certainly didn’t help matters. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

So, now it comes down to: how do we, as authors, deal with the 400lb gorilla in the room?


To any author, reviews are important, if not critical in marketing your work. Both good and bad reviews give people a picture of what you write. The good ones can promote your work, while the bad ones can either be dismissed as trolls or honest critiques of your flaws and quirks that some may consider deal-killers, or just things they really don’t care about. As for the trolls, most people are intelligent enough to see right through them and ignore that stuff. MOST PEOPLE. You can’t always help the ones that don’t, but that goes with the territory.

People are still going to like what they like, read what they read, despite whatever reviews say. However, the more reviews you get, the more retailers and stats favor you and the more prominent your book shows up on sites and in ads. Also, it may affect how you qualify for certain marketing deals with web sites. This can be huge.


Now, given that many of us get ripped off on Amazon because of this obscure $50 rule, let’s first look on why they have it.

Amazon is a business. Seeing as how they’re a business, they’re there to make money. By restricting reviews to $50 or more a year, they’re not only encouraging people to use their service more, they’re also using that as a tool to help discourage fake reviews. Fake reviews has been a long time issue and Amazon has used this review limit, along with several other tools to combat it. Given that it seems to outsiders the company uses bots instead of humans for a lot of their business, filtering out fake reviews with a purchase limit seems like a rather mundane and up front way to do it compared to some of their sneakier methods. I have anecdotal evidence that those seeking redress when they have issues have gone through a nightmare trying to get hold of an actual human, when dealing with the company over their more obscure rules.

In the meantime, there are those of us schlubs out there with either self-published books, or like me, books from small presses. We sell far less than those from the big six. That means that our audience is cut from a smaller pie. That, in turn, boils down to less chance these readers are heavy Amazon users.

Guess what? Even if we sell say, 100 books, how many of those people are also heavy Amazon users? Even if every reader agreed to do a review, which is highly unlikely to begin with, the chances that even twenty of them are qualified to do a review on Amazon is almost slim to none.

Guess what? You sell a hundred books and get five reviews! You ain’t exactly killing it, according to Amazon. Guess where your ranking is going, even if your stats are up there? Maybe, you’ll get featured and grab a few more sales, maybe not, based on your reviews.

I’ve heard it told that you can go to Goodreads, which is supposedly run by Amazon. On Goodreads, you don’t have to abide by the $50 rule. However, how many readers actually use Goodreads? How many have actually heard of it?

There are virtually hundreds of other book sites out there, most, the casual reader has never heard of, either. If you get reviewed on any of them, there’s a very good chance nobody will ever know. In fact, YOU’LL probably never know!


My friend in the Netherlands discovered a little trick that, so far, has worked.

Though he wasn’t able to post a review due to the $50 rule, what he did was go to one of my five-star reviews and post a comment to that review. In that comment, he posted his review instead. He agreed with the five star review and gave me some great words. He was compelled to figure that all out, he liked the book so much!

It’s not a countable review, but at least he put through the effort and the words are out there.


Reviews affect your marketing.

If you want to sell your e-book for instance, many of the sites that do book blasts, such as Book Bub require you to have so many reviews before they’ll even consider you qualified for their service. Granted, this is a pay-to-play service, but it’s a marketing service some people use. There are dozens of others, and virtually ALL of them require a minimal number of reviews before they’ll “let you pay” to use their service. Even the free ones usually require a certain number of reviews to participate.

That puts you over a barrel, especially when either you’re first starting out, or not getting reviews, despite sales.

It sucks.


You have to do what you have to do. While I wish Amazon didn’t have that rule, and I cringe at the thought of how many reviews I’ve lost out on from all three of my published books, so far, I have to concede Amazon is only doing what a business does, regardless of what one might think of it. That doesn’t do us any favors, but we have to figure other ways to get around it.

If other avenues were more popular, maybe this issue would be moot. Unfortunately, when Amazon is almost the ONLY kid on the block, when it comes to book sales, especially worldwide, there isn’t much we can do about it at this point.

I’ve heard from one person that this $50 rule doesn’t really exist. However, the overwhelming consensus is that it does. You’ll certainly not get any help or answers from Amazon directly.

Would love to hear your feedback on this.

Happy writing!



March 13, 2019

Technical accuracy is a question that’s come up often in conversations with other writers. Most recently, my friend David brought it up, and I want to thank him for the inspiration to write this article. Along with his questions plus a recent thread on one of the forums I follow, I found it a great inspiration.

There were several points David brought up about technical accuracy, but the one I especially want to address was the glaring difference between movies and books.


To use a well-worn cliché, why isn’t the goose always good for the gander?


This has been the key, burning question a lot of writers ask. Some assume, while others question. Movies and TV are so often bad at accuracy that it’s taken for granted they’re going to be inaccurate. At least to most people. That’s a big caveat.

There ARE some people that, unfortunately, believe what they see, hook line and sinker, to quote another well-worn cliché.

As PT Barnum used to say, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

Even visual media that uses the standard “based on true events” or “inspired by true events” qualification starts with that old tongue-in-cheek qualifier “based” or “inspired.” That gives the creators free license to veer from actual facts for “dramatic purposes.”

In other words, what it means to you, the consumer is: don’t believe what you see and hear coming out of your screen.

The solution?

Read about it, research for yourself. Find out the truth, if you so desire.

Uh oh! What did I just say?



When it comes to reading versus the visual arts, there’s a certain inherent truthfulness expected, even from fiction.

Yes, that’s what I said.

Even from fiction.

While we’re not writing history books when we write fiction, what we’re doing is suspending believability. We’re taking reality and altering it a bit to make it believable.

That means we’re taking the real world and altering it a little bit to make it a good story.

The thing is, we’re also taking on the inherent task that what we use from the real world has a certain expectation of reality in it.

In other words, when someone reads about real stuff within our fiction, there’s the assumption that it’s been researched and is accurate. It’s an aftereffect of non-fiction.

While it’s a somewhat distortion of reality, story-wise, the setting is reality-based.

Visual media gets its reality on the visual aspect, not on the story itself. The producers and writers ignore reality in the story and rely on visual to create what reality they have. Their reality is less real because all they’re concerned with is getting people in their seats. It’s a more immediate medium. Books need to draw people in because it’s more of an intellectual pursuit. People are smarter, take their time to read, and tend to be more educated. They’re more likely to spot egregious and even small errors in detail that would go unnoticed in visual media. Besides, once again, we go back to creative license with visual media.


For those of you that write fantasy, where everything is based on your own made-up world, it’s a matter of you following your own rules.

If a reader is going to take the time to sit down and read your book, they’re also more than likely to have a memory. That means if you create a rule, you’d better stick with it. This is something I’ve stressed over and over again in world-building. It’s fine to create something technically improbable in the real world. However, if you do, you’d better stick with it or sharp readers, readers with memories, are going to remember it, and you’re going to lose credibility. This is the same as not doing your research.

The same goes for any kind of fantasy that uses real-world things such as swordplay or weapons. If you use them, either do the research on real-world use, or find a way to negate the real-world effects and stick with it, so you don’t get called on it.

In the movies when the hero shoots a six-shooter thirty times at the bad guy, people don’t usually call the producers on it because what’s the point? Nobody’s going to care except a few people on reviews. If others love the movie, it’ll just go down to a few Negative Nellies. However, if you have a sword fight in your fantasy and nobody gets tired (unless some form of magick negates this), you’re going to get called on it by a lot more people and you’re going to get slammed for credibility. Your reviews are going to more than likely plummet no matter how good the story is. Just look at your Amazon numbers and wonder why your big star rating is sitting at three instead of four or five.

Reader ratings mean a lot more than watcher ratings.


Technical accuracy in your writing is key to getting and keeping an audience.

You can only do your best.

For what you miss, you can always put the standard “Any errors are the fault of the author” statement on your thank you page. Some do, some don’t. Nobody’s perfect. Just try to ensure that you don’t have a LOT of errors and they’re not egregious.

Happy writing!


March 6, 2019

In our continuing series on world building, you cannot forget about “relijjin.” Yup, that often uncomfortable subject that quite often gets people riled up, fired up, on their toes and ready to rumble. There are many ways to use belief systems that color your world. We’ll discuss that now.


There’s no rule book that says you have to use religion in any book you write. It’s purely a matter of taste and whether the story calls for it. It can be a matter of plot or just color. If neither calls for it, don’t add it “juss cuz.” There has to be a reason. On the other hand, if you’re creating a world, such as in fantasy, it adds more realism and color to have real-world cultural thingies like religion, just as there are different languages.


This plays into regions as much as the characters you utilize in the story. If you’re in South America, Catholicism is going to play into local religion. If you’re in the Middle East, Islam is going to be hard to avoid.

Here in the You Ess And A, it can be a mixed bag of beliefs and you can go with one of hundreds of beliefs based on region, or any grab bag you want.

On the other hand, you can mention no religion at all if you choose. It doesn’t HAVE to be part of your world.

I must mention that by religion, this could also include atheism and agnostic and non-religious beliefs, because after all, they are beliefs – philosophies of life. If they somehow play a key role in the story, use them.


In world building for fantasy and science fiction, religion and belief systems are hard to ignore when creating your world. They’re integral parts of almost any society. With that comes the complexity of rules, prejudices, rituals, icons, and all the trappings. How far you want to go with it is up to you.

Does said religion dominate the story?

Does it only play a minor role?

Does this religion affect the plot?

Is this religion just color?


This is where things get dicey.

It’s one thing to add real-world authenticity to your story, regardless of genre. It’s quite another to add an agenda. If it’s simply reflecting your observations of the world, fine.

On the other hand, if you have an agenda, watch out.

If you’re out to preach, you could alienate a lot of readers.

You have to step carefully when you add in a religion and start doing stuff with it that comes off not only as preachy, but promoting a specific agenda.

If you slip a bit of philosophy in and not shove it down the reader’s throat, that’s one thing.

If you bludgeon them over the head with it, jerk them out of the story with blatant preaching or bashing, you’ve not only violated their trust, but alienated them as future readers.

What you now have done is made yourself a pariah.


Religion can be used to great effect to color your world. It can also be avoided if so desired. Either way, if used correctly, it’s a tool to help your world come to life. Used incorrectly, it can ruin a good thing.

Choose wisely, Grasshopper!

Happy writing!


February 27, 2019

I’ve alluded to languages in several other articles here at Fred Central, so I wanted to get that out right up front. In this one, since we’re specifically on a roll with world building, languages is an important part of that effort and should be addressed on its own. Recently, fellow blogger Richie Billing brought it up as well. Lately, we’ve been following similar paths with world building, and he specializes in fantasy, where my usual output is more in general terms. I’ve been concentrating on world building, with an emphasis on fantasy because of several Facebook threads I’m a member of. You can check out his wonderful articles at

Whenever you create a world, whether real life or made up, people speak to each other. They communicate in some fashion or tuther.

How they do that is important.


With real world fiction, it’s pretty simple. If your story takes place in Spain, some of your characters are going to speak Spanish. Therefore, you need to sprinkle certain phrases and idioms specific to the regions in your story to give it authenticity. If the story takes place in Russia, same thing.

If you have characters from such and such a place, they may say an occasional word or phrase in their native tongue.


This is a case where we can mix both genres together. Since they take place in alien/fantasy worlds, whatever languages exist are purely up to you, the author’s imagination. You can use any words, phrases, names for said languages you want. The alphabets, symbols, context, virtually anything is entirely up to you.

The only caveat is that, like with any other form of world building, you have to follow your own rules!


When it comes to languages, research only applies to real-world languages. For instance, if you’re going to use a Castilian Spanish speaker from central Spain, they might pronounce the word for the number five “cinco” as “thinko” if they’re of the older generation. This is something the younger generation of Spaniards doesn’t necessarily adhere to anymore. THAT is what you need to think about when you utilize a non-native tongue, especially when you’re site-specific in your story. Otherwise, you have to keep your choices vague.

That’s only one example, but illustrates my point. When you cite a foreign language in your story, you have to keep in mind regional dialects versus Berlitz, Rosetta Stone, or just looking it up on the net in a generic translation dictionary.

You may never be called on it, but…

In completely made up languages, this is, of course, never a problem. However, you have to establish your own rules and make sure to follow them. There are some readers out there who actually keep track! I’m not kidding. If you pronounce “lool,” or use it one way in chapter 1, then a different way in chapter 10, they’re going to call you on it.


Now, the critical part.

It’s one thing to create and utilize these furrin’ tongues.

It’s quite another to make them palatable to the reader.

There’s nothing more annoying that to try to slog through sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, page after page of Cho’’trak’ga’ga’bleadet’ta’quoi’ga’a’a’agdta’aaaa’fa’da’.

Get it?

It’s okay to throw in the occasional foreign word or phrase, an off-kilter pronunciation, an accented phrase.

On the other hand…


It’s annoying to try and read not only a slew of unpronounceable words and phrases, but using that tired and true trick of putting them in italics.

Sorry folks, but that italic trick doesn’t work. It’s annoying.

The point is, you need to create the impression of the language, not actually write it!

There can be many languages in your world. There can be many words and unique rules and pronunciations.


Sprinkle them in very small doses. Create the illusion that they’re there, don’t actually saturate the text with them.

The text should be English (or whatever native language you’re writing in), not foreign gobblety-gook (and English might be that foreign gobblety-gook).

You get my point, right?

Whatever main language the book is written in, THAT should be the dominant language, NOT the foreign languages, whether made up or real-world.


Languages are an important part of world building. They align with culture, races and regions. They should be represented, but should not dominate and get in the way of the writing or the story. They should not jar the reader out of the story.

Happy writing!


February 20, 2019

Okay, as part of my world-building series, I cannot leave out the uh…rather uncomfortable one, at least for some of us. That’s the physical world. First, I have to give you a little bit of background.

I’ve been into astronomy, or rather telescopes, telescope making and looking “up” for over fifty years. I’ve had at one time, a deep fascination with the mystery and the wonder of outer space and what might be going on above our breathable air.

Telescopes was the only way I could reach out and touch that outer everything physically, by reaching out to the time machines of photons travelling toward earth, and seeing them in an eyepiece. Why did some of that stuff happen and what formed it? At first I wanted to know until I actually got into the science part of it. Then what I discovered about real astronomy, the stuff you think you know about the subject, was just a glorified math class in high school or college. It involved not only (to me) incomprehensible math, but the very subject of our article today, physics.

I can tell you, if I didn’t have such a deep passion for the mechanics of telescopes and the visual beauty of just “looking up,” all that math and physics would’ve just sucked the life right out of my interest in “astrominny.”

To this day, I don’t really prefer to be called an amateur astronomer. I like to think of myself as a visual observer who happens to use a telescope. However, for simplicity’s sake, and so as not to pick at straws, I just leave it as an amateur astronomer. Why complicate things?

It all boils down to physics. The physics of astronomy in that case. However, the physics of your world is something that doesn’t have to be bogged down in math.


In real-world fiction, your physical world is already built for you. The rules are already there. All you have to do is follow them. That means your research should be focused on getting the weather right, making sure you know your guns, using any astronomical phenomena correctly, any other physical things that any normal person would know.

Pretty simple.


With science fiction, when you actually build a world, by the confines of the genre, you have to comply with certain scientific theories. In other words, you can’t just break every rule of physics without completely losing credibility. You have to be a lot more careful when you do something that’s scientifically impossible. Now, if it’s something that’s theoretically possible but hasn’t been proven true yet, that’s one thing. When it’s something that’s been theoretically thought of as false, but someone is still trying to make it work, go ahead and stretch.

However, when you go so far as to do something that has been clearly proven impossible, or something that nobody has ever thought of and is clearly not possible, think hard before you use it. You may still be able to get away with it, but at the same time, your book may be ridiculed, or it may be re-categorized as fantasy. If so, it might not be accepted in that genre because it really isn’t. Things to consider.


Fantasy is where your physical world is what you make it. This is the one case where you make up your own rules. If it always rains up instead of down, if salt is hot and pepper is salty, if water isn’t wet, those are your physical rules. You’re free to do just about anything you want, even if it doesn’t make physical sense in reality.


It HAS to make sense within your world. It cannot just be nonsense. It cannot be there just for shock value, or “color” to jar the reader. It has to have a reason.

The key is that whatever super-fantastic physical rules you make up for your world, you need to stick with them and make sure that physical these effects parlay into other effects that correspond.

If water travels uphill, make sure you have lakes on the top of mountains, not in the valleys.


One of the fun things about creating a world is that you may or may not research. Some love the idea of research, while others loathe it.

If you want to throw some realism into your fantasy world, such as when it comes to medieval weapons, research real sword and axe and halberd fighting through an Age Of Chivalry group. If you want it to rain acid, maybe reach out to a volcanologist.

When it comes to real-world or science fiction writing, you have to research or keep the details so vague as to not get yourself in trouble. It’s almost inevitable you’ll have to do some.


World building can be a fun experience. Whether you map it all out, or like me, do it on the fly, there’s a sense of accomplishment knowing you created something unique and all your own.

Happy writing!


February 13, 2019

In the second part of this geography lesson, I’m going to talk about the inhabitant side of the geography angle. Like I alluded to in the previous article on geography, it’s taught less and less in schools, to the point that most younger people nowadays don’t even know what it is…or that it has two parts.

I that last article, I talked about physical geography, or the landscape of your world. In this one, I’m going to talk about the inhabitants, or the people and critters (icky bugs), monsters of your world.


It goes without saying if you’re writing a real-world story, you need to get your facts straight. If your novel takes place in Spain, for instance, and it’s up north near the French border, you can’t discount the Basque population. If it takes place in Eastern Turkey, you can’t discount the Kurds.

You also have to consider languages spoken throughout these places. Just considering here in the You Ess And A, or how about good ole’ Canada and Quebec? You can’t ignore French Canadian and the French speaking population up there.

Right here in the Southwest, there’s a heavy Spanish speaking populace which could come into play in your story.


A fantasy story is a completely made up world. There are certain tropes that one does NOT have to comply with. Many readers expect a certain amount of them, but who says you have to use any, or all of them?

There should be regions within your world where there are populations of “whatevers.” They can be a certain creature or creatures, they can be a mix. They can be anything you want. How you decide and what you base them on is up to you, they just have to make some kind of geographic sense.


Most fantasy and science fiction has fantastical and alien icky bugs (monsters/creatures/beings). What’s your source?

Many use the standard Tolkein/D&D tropes and sources and tweak them to make them their own.

We have elves, dragons, dwarfs, vampires, zombies, faeries, and usually, but not always humans, and just about anything out of the D&D monster manuals. You can take real-world animals and alter them to make them your own. Many take inspiration from the D&D manuals and tweak some of those monsters into their own versions not only to make them their own, but also so as not to violate copywrite.

Others have never read or seen those old manuals and just make stuff up on the fly.


Now, you’ve created your critters as you go along if you’re a pantser, or if you’re an outliner, you created your stock of beasts beforehand (and maybe added a few along the way).

Now, you’ll need to create rules of geography and rules of physics for these creatures.

Where can they exist, and what regions are they restricted to? What kind of climate can they tolerate? Where do they thrive and what areas do they avoid? What kills them and what makes them stronger? Where do they hide out, what kind of burrows or hovels do they live in?

Your heroes are, of course, going to run into these beasts, whether friend or foe, along the way, so you need to set up the time, place and conditions for them.

This, of course, not only goes for icky bugs (a loose term), but for civilizations as well.

You then can’t just have a desert bug show up in the snow, right? That’s breaking your own rules (as an extreme example). If you do, you have to have a big reason for it, a logical one that affects the plot.


Even if you have certain monsters and real-world creatures mixed in to your fantasy world, they have to make some kind of sense. If they don’t, you either have to dump them or find a way to explain them to the reader so they make sense.

You can’t just create something illogical, even in a fantasy world. You have to give it some kind of logic, even if you’re making the rules. Those rules have to make some kind of sense to justify what you’re doing.

Sometimes, you may make a rule based on something you know for a fact from the real world. It may be something others may not think is real. In one of my recent readings to my writer’s group, I ran across this situation with one of the critiquers. He thought what I was doing did not make sense. When I explained, he still did not believe it until several other people chimed in because they knew exactly what I was talking about. It made sense to them because they’d experienced the same thing. As long as you can back it up with reality, you can use it, but it had better be reality and not just rumor.

Creating your own world and your own rules is fine as long as they make sense.


World building can be a lot of fun, whether you do it on the fly, or map it all out ahead of time.

Geography, both physical and inhabitant is an important part of it.

Happy writing!


February 6, 2019

When you’re creating your world, as part of world building, you have to consider the geography. I’m not even sure if they teach that subject in school anymore. If it doesn’t apply to apps, well…never mind. If figured I’d have to ask my grandson if he even knows what geography is. Maybe they still do teach it.

In this article, I’m referring to the physical geography, not the human (or inhabitant) geography.

Since I originally wrote this a few weeks ago, I did an unofficial poll and added in this paragraph. My grandson knew basically what geography was, but hardly through school – mostly through his mom and us. As for other people, of course, the older ones were taught in school. My kids had some, but the younger kids nowadays, the millennials, so to speak, depending on where they go to school, are a mixed bag. Since Las Vegas is a melting pot, I got all kinds of weird answers and cannot pin down a particular region where they consistently teach geography, per se, in any particular school. So, the consensus I got was that it’s fading to be virtually non-existent, except a mild matter of interest because it’s not being taught to test. It’s not a universal requirement.


For real-world fiction, it’s relatively easy to get the geography correct. It’s basically already written for you. All you have to do is a bit of research of the area where the book takes place, and you’re done.

The worst thing you can do as a writer is get the geography wrong! If your story takes place in Las Vegas and your characters have a chase scene through a tropical jungle, well…you have a huge credibility problem! That’s a drastic example, but, it illustrates my point. I used to get a kick out of the TV show CSI. They’d have scenes clearly taken down in Ellay (Los Angeles) or more likely, Santa Clarita, California, where the climate and geography are far from what it’s like in Las Vegas, even with the restrictive camera angles they used.

A more subtle error is naming the wrong river in a state or country. This can lose a lot of points with your readers.


In fantasy, this is where you almost have a free reign to set up your own rules of geography.

Are you going to follow the rules of science and physics from the real world?


Are you going to create your own rules and devise geography that’s completely whack compared to what you’d find in the real world?


Will your fantasy world be somewhere in-between?

Fantasy worlds are often a mix of fantastical elements with blends of science fiction. The science being alien worlds combined. That means throwing in a few twists that might be possible, just not on Earth.


Sometimes I’ve seen the “Is this possible” questions on the forums, when it comes to geography. To tell the truth, I’m just glad these younger people are actually paying attention to a subject that’s getting less and less attention in school. I also wonder how many young people (or even older ones who never paid attention, or just forgot) even know what the word means. So, in a nutshell, I appreciate the question being asked. These people ARE doing the research, whether on line or by any other means.

Transition zones from desert to swamp, forest to tundra, whatever to whatever, are all geographic zones to consider in building your world. Right here on Earth, with a little searching, you can find all kinds of geographic extremes. There are many sources for this including, of all things, National Geographic, Google, and of course, on line forums.

If you want to stray from reality-based geography, just make it up on the fly. Why not? Just remember that it’s your world and if you’re going to create a rule, per se, stick with it or your readers will notice and call bull on you.


Geography is a fascinating subject and is something that’s right under our feet. It makes our world a living, breathing part of our story. Use it wisely, Grasshopper!

Happy writing!