Category Archives: General

How do you deal with bad reviews?

I find myself on tenterhooks, waiting for the first review to go up for Quest in Time: A Beginning. I have also just finished reading a book by another independent author, and have to write a review for that. So, book reviews are up there at the moment, vying for attention, along with, how do I pay the rent this month? Are we going to get another dog? And, where is my coffee?

Firstly, it is impossible to overstress how important reviews are for the indie author. We are unknowns. We do not have the backing and publicity machines associated with the big publishing houses. Our books do not get sent FOC to newspapers and other organisations for critic. WH Smiths do not have our books on the shelves or huge cardboard cut-outs of our front covers in the window. A press release for us is a write-up in the local paper, if we are lucky. Therefore, reviews of our books on Amazon, Goodreads and social media are the only way potential readers can get an idea of whether or not to part with their hard earned cash for our works.

So far I have been lucky; Bubble of Time hasn’t had any particularly bad reviews. The worst has been a two star review which was critical of the Devonian accent of several of my main characters. Otherwise, they have all had something nice to say and mostly been five star reviews. Therefore, it could be said, that I have not had to deal with a bad review. However, it doesn’t stop me worrying that the first review for QIT:AB will rip it to pieces, and will put off other people from buying it. I know my books won’t appeal to everyone; even the great STP had his critics and dissenters. But the first review…

I know the book I have to write a review for has had some shocking reviews. I don’t understand why. Perhaps they were expecting something else? True, the book is hardly a JRRT work, but it is an interesting fantasy story that has been told well. Yes, it is simplistic, but why does that matter? Surely the enjoyment is in the story itself and not in deciphering some huge political back-story or some complicated, multi-generational character angst? And since it is the second in a trilogy, why, when they have trashed the first volume, have they even bothered to read the second book, only to trash that one as well?

I do not pretend to understand the human psyche, and therefore, to me, a bad review is something I’ll take on the chin. As long as the majority of reviews are five star, I won’t worry too much about the odd bad one. I know my work will not appeal to everyone, no author ever does. But the first review…

So, please, please, PLEASE post a review.

Ride Safe

Rick

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Has Your Trope Been Overdone? by Jaq D Hawkins

Long before I became a Fantasy writer, I was a long time Fantasy reader. I started reading Fantasy at the age of twelve, back in the days when Fantasy was a distinctive genre and readers knew what to expect of it… before the Romance and YA invasion that started in 2010 changed all that… but I digress.

The point I’m working towards is that as I read book descriptions to vet the gems from the dross in today’s open publishing market, I continually come across tropes that are being done to death so that I glaze over within a few words of the description. One phrase that is certain to send me to the next interesting looking book cover is “Fifteen-year-old [name]…

The writer has already lost me. The thing is, I’m not adverse to a young protagonist, or even a child character. I’ve written some myself in Demoniac Dance where a whole group of children are primary characters and Namah, the lead character, is far too young to submit herself to a forced marriage not long after she has her first woman’s blood.

The reason that particular phrase sends me running is that it is invariably the portent of a certain kind of story; one where a young person, usually a girl, will go through a prescribed script of growing up challenges and come out strong and happy, having accomplished great things. The stories tend to be very similar as well as one dimensional, effectively slight variations on a common theme.

These stories have their market, but if you look at their sales rank on Amazon, you might notice that the glut of these stories has spread sales very thin for most of them. A ranking with seven figures indicates a book that sells no more than a few copies.

There are other tropes that have become boring in their commonality; the romantic vampire or werewolf character, the damaged woman who survives through inner strength, the zombie apocalypse, the military outcast who saves the universe. There are more.

If this is the kind of story a writer wants to write, then they should certainly write it. However, if they are thinking of putting it up for sale, it is worth being realistic with expectations. Of course your story will be better than all those others with a similar idea, but that’s beside the point. The question is, are you writing it because you will get enjoyment from writing that particular story, or do you have an ambition to write stories that will sell?

If you write for your own enjoyment, I recommend uploading to Wattpad where readers can comment and encourage the budding writer. If you want to write for profit, I suggest studying the publishing market. A few hours of perusing sales figures on Amazon and similar stories to the one you want to write could save you many more hours of wasted creativity that will only add one more clone to an overdone trope.

Of course there is always the possibility of finding a new angle to a particular type of story. The last thing I would want to do is to discourage anyone from writing anything, but study your market. If several book descriptions sound similar to yours, find a unique angle and most importantly, put some extra effort into writing your description so that it doesn’t sound like all of the others. Avoid that phrase, ‘Fifteen-year-old..’ and another turn-off, ‘Follow [name] as he/she/they…’ unless you’re writing children’s books.

If you really must write yet another coming of age story, find a way to be original. Let the transition happen in original ways and shoot down the clichés that all the other stories have done over and over again. We are constantly told that there are no original stories. It’s an opinion that I don’t quite share. At the very least, show the reader that you can tell the story in an original way. Shine with original content and you won’t be wasting all the effort it takes to write a book by ending up among the slush pile of the seven digit sales rank.

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Why do I set my books in Lyonnesse?

Yes, it’s another one of the questions that comes up in the author interviews, “why did you chose the setting that you did for the book?” or some such. “Why there? And what was the reason behind it?”
In my case it is simple, because my Lyonnesse is the world I would very much like to inhabit. It is a place where life is simpler and where magic and mystery still exist, and on the whole people are kinder to one another. Money isn’t the be all and end all and life is respected and held sacred. Not just the people, but everything that lives there, animal, plant and fungus. Things aren’t done quickly because it saves a few pennies (or cents). Things are done properly with love and attention.
I have been criticised as being anti-establishment and anti-capitalist. Not true, well not in the conventional sense anyway. Probably because I make a big thing out of everyone bartering in Lyonnesse. I fully understand that money is the ultimate, and in some ways, logical tool for bartering with. However I do object to the way it is used in our society. It is used to coerce the poor into unfulfilling and mind-numbing jobs, whilst the gap between rich and poor grows ever larger. The mathematics is simple, if everyone gets a 10% pay rise then the man at the bottom earning ten thousand a year get an extra thousand to take home. However, boardroom man earning one hundred thousand gets an extra ten thousand a year, the equivalent of an extra man doing the work at the bottom. I could go on and I know that this is simplistic but it is still true.
Also, because boardroom man is keen to meet targets and because labour and wages are the single greatest expenditure for most companies, if a few seconds can be shaved off of the time it take to do something, so much the better. As a result everything becomes just good enough at best, and pride in the work you do goes out the window. Take roads for example. Yes, alright, I have a bugbear about roads, but they make a good example. Years ago councils used to have their own road building/maintenance departments to look after the roads. And for the most part they did a good job and took pride in their work. They had to because their foreman of works would come along during and after the job to make sure it was being done properly.
Then, in an effort to save a few pennies, it was decreed that all works commissioned by councils had to go out to tender, and council work gangs were laid off. Many of the recently laid off workers organised themselves into small companies, often with the same managers they had had before. They still did a good job of repairing the roads and the council saved a little money because the small company didn’t have to support tiers of management and could therefore do it cheaper. The councils still had to pay someone to inspect the work after, but all was well, and the men still had pride in their work.
Enter big business. Why? Because the contracts for road repairs are very lucrative and there is money to be made. So many of the small business either had to reduce their prices to compete for the tenders or they were bought out by bigger firms. Since the costs of the materials used were fixed the only way to reduce the price was to do the job quick and therefore with less care. This reduced the number of companies vying for the tenders, seen as a good thing because it generates competition. The councils are still happy because they are still saving money, and they can save even more money by nor replacing their inspectors as they retire or leave because they are confident that a good job will be done because it was last year. The workers aren’t as happy because they no longer have the time to do the job to the standard they are used to.
Years pass as they have a habit of doing. All the small companies that were started when the work first went out to tender have now either gone out of business or been bought out by big business. This reduces the number of companies bidding for the tenders. The council is still under pressure to save money and goes for the lowest bid. (Yes, I’m not going to say anything about the backhanders that go on to get contracts.) The big companies have to save money, somewhere because they have the tiers of management to support that the small companies didn’t. But that’s ok because the old work gangs are getting to retirement age and are fed-up with the half arsed job they were doing. Instead of having the expense of hiring and paying wages, all new recruits are taken on as self-employed subcontractors. This not only saves the expense of employing staff but also means they don’t have to pay them if there is no work for them to do. The workers are only happy in the fact that they have a job and are earning a wage. The council still haven’t hired any more inspectors because they can’t afford it. Big business realises this and starts cutting corner in the work they do. This saves them even more money.
A short time later big business is happy because they are making lots of money. There is no one left in the gangs who knows how to repair the roads properly because they have all gone. Instead, the workers have to work to a tick box minimum standard and do it as quickly as possible using the least amount of materials as possible. They have no job satisfaction because not only are they self-employed and have no rights in the company and no say, but also they know they are doing a half arsed and how much the management is getting paid.
In the end the workers have no job satisfaction, council is paying more for the job that it would if it was doing the work itself, and the roads are in a terrible state because they have been poorly maintained and work is no longer inspected.
Big business is happy because there is an endless supply of work repairing roads that they didn’t repair properly before, and they are still getting paid for it.
Alright, alright, this is highly simplistic, but it is still true, and not just for roads, for everything that was subcontracted out and put to tender. Everything is now done to a tick box minimum standard. Excellence and pride in a job well done have become too expensive because there is no profit in it. Communism does not work because there is always someone who wants a larger slice of the pie. However, capitalism can only exist where there is a poorly paid underclass.
As usual please feel free to comment or rant at my rantings.

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Gumbee News

A bit of news about our members today.

First up, congratulations to our very own Jim Webster who has a new book out – yes everyone, if you want to post information about your new books up here under ‘News’ tag, you can! I will get some pages for the Gumbee back catalogue I promise. Oh dear, where was I? Ah yes. Books.

Jim’s new book, The Flames of the City can be found on Amazon here for UK readers and here for US readers.

On a rather more boring note, the peerless A.F.E. Smith has interviewed me, M. T. McGuire, in the Barren Island Books spot on her blog. It’s a bit like that radio 4 show with the records only with books, phnark. So, if you want to have a look at that, you’ll find it here.

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Gumbee Author Interviewed

If a fellow gumbee gets some bandwidth elsewhere it seems only fair to mention it. So, here is a link to Jim Webster’s latest guest post at A.F.E. Smith’s blog on her renowned Barren Island Books column. You can read Jim’s musings here.

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