For those in the reviewing, blogging, or writing business the name Kathleen Hale has achieved a special kind of infamy lately. This is not where I weigh in on her, her actions, or her antagonist. Yes, I read about the antics and I can say that, as a writer, there’s nothing more infuriating than a bad review without substance or justification. Some people are dicks, plain and simple, and get off on making other people miserable. Yet if nobody ever posted their thoughts when something failed to blow their skirt up, how would I find opinions on products I’m interested in buying?
Set the buying aside, how about producing? I write books, and without feedback I have only my editor and my personal opinion on how my finished product turns out. Every book is a learning experience in how to get better at what I do, from grammar to content to writing style. My editors, beta readers, and fans are invaluable to me. I love hearing what worked and what didn’t. And if that means reading about it in a review, then that’s what I’ll do. Even a bad review. As Rocky Balboa said, “It ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can be hit and keep going.”
That’s life, my friends. And a minor jab I took yesterday was from a great blogger / reviewer by the name of Angus Day. He read Voidhawk, my first published novel. I cringe whenever somebody tells me they read it – that was written five or six years ago and I’ve improved so much since then! But people continue to love it. In fact, I had another email a few days ago from a man who read Voidhawk and stated that based on that book alone he would buy and read anything with my name on it. How cool is that?
But back to Angus. His review was positive. 3 out of 5 stars, and I believe he stated the middle of the road rating came from typos and grammatical problems in the book. Since he reached out to me directly in a message I was happy to talk to him about it and learn more about his concerns. That’s the kind of feedback that I strive for. Something to make me better. I address many of the issues raised and re-submitted Voidhawk to Amazon last night with the corrections. That’s the awesome thing about the age of the ebook – I can turn things around that fast.
So thank you, Angus, both for your kind words and for your critique. It was well deserved. As for my readers or potential readers, go try out Voidhawk, it’s free on Amazon and in spite of my cringing I will say that every time I revisit that first novel I’m caught up in just how entertaining it is. And it’s got six sequels, with a seventh burning away in the back of my head and waiting in line to be turned into a living thing.
I was doing something earlier today that involved writing down information on some of my books and checking for reviews and ratings. I was curious on how many I had on a few books because I’m considering some advertising that requires minimum numbers of reviews and ratings on the books being listed. To that end, I’m also hoping to ramp up some reviews rather quickly on my next new release, Guardian.
And since I mentioned it, if you’re a fan of the Lost Girls series and want a pre-release copy of Guardian in exchange for a review being posted on Amazon’s US site when it launches, let me know. I’ll happily hook you up. This, however, is not the reason for my blog post.
So back to this morning when I was checking reviews on my Wanted series. Accidentally I happened to glance at a couple. Really, it was an accident – I didn’t mean to and I didn’t read the entire thing. But what I fixated on was someone bashing the book for the open minded attitude the characters had about sexuality at the end. Really. A novel that has practically nothing to do with sexual orientation gets picked on because a couple of characters in it happen to be confused about their own orientation and / or sexuality. Seriously, WTF?
It made me think though. Not about gay rights, straight rights, or any of that stuff. As far as I’m concerned people can do whatever the hell they want as long as they stay off my lawn when they’re doing it. Want to marry someone of the same sex? Good luck! Seems like half or more marriages don’t fare well these days, regardless of the plumbing (mine is doing awesome, by the way).
What it made me think about was whether a lot of the characters in my books are too open minded. Am I driving away readers because I have a subconscious agenda I’m not aware of? I think the world would be a lot better off if we stopped worrying about who was screwing who and what sort of positions and / or assistance they needed to do it. Just the same that I think we should stop worrying about which flavor of religion our neighbors follow (and they give us the same respect).
But have I pushed people away by hinting or mentioning these things in my books? Maybe. I have one series (The Lost Girls) where the main character starts out as the kind of lesbian you have nightmares about (except she’s short and cute, but she’ll still rip your nuts off if you look at her funny). Her sexuality is integral to the story, but it’s not something that I preached or flaunted in the books. Come to think about it, I’ve probably had less flack about that series than some of my others.
In my Vitalis books, particularly the second one (Resurrection), I’ve got two gay characters that almost get hot and steamy before disaster strikes. I put them in there to prove a point, I admit. I wanted to show that yes, homosexuality is one flavor of humanity and it happens in the future just like it happens now. In short, it’s not a big deal. But I had some very upset readers because of that scene. I say shame on them, not me, but I’m biased.
What’s my point? That this is a damn shame. What’s worse is that I’ll probably try to tone down any such relationships or details like that in future books to avoid pushing readers away. I’m not happy about it on one hand, but on the other hand it helps to teach me a lesson about focusing on the story and making sure I show the characters more than I show any subtle and unknown quirks I may have about convincing people to stop being judgmental dicks. Otherwise they might wield their power of judgment against me!
Some days the art of balancing freedom of speech and creativity with the need to sell books and make a buck is harder than others. I suppose if I can get the Westboro Baptist Church to picket my funeral when I die, at least I’ll have that going for me.
I signed up a few years ago on Kindle Boards – a message board for kindle book owners, readers, and writers. To be fair, I tried it out a little and didn’t see much use for it. So I went away and didn’t come back. Recently I ran across some information about some successful authors not so different from me (save that they’ve gotten much more success) and they mentioned the KBoards Writer’s Cafe as they place to be. I figured I’d log back in and try it out.
My first surprise was that I remembered my user name and password! I mean come on, we’ve all done that where we forgot one or the other (or both). That was an unexpected bonus, but it was only the beginning of my foray. I dove deeper and found the Writer’s Cafe and then started reading up on stuff.
There’s whining – any message board will have its share, I managed to skim over that without slowing down though. I read some good tips and suggestions and a lot of things I’ve already figured out or are doing. I even tried offering some insight to other writers and would-be writers trying to get things rolling.
Then I found some threads talking about income. Apparently it’s not just a superstition to talk about what you make there (unless it’s nothing), but it can spawn such animosity that other writers will find your books and intentionally leave bad reviews and down rate them to spite you. Seriously? WTF! I shouldn’t be surprised considering what I endured in 2012 that snuffed my rise to the top with my science fiction series, Vitalis, but I had hoped it had been largely dealt with my Amazon and by people growing up. Silly me.
It really bothers me that people would do that. Competition I understand. I didn’t invent the word but I have certainly added value to it over the years. I compete with others and with myself. In business, in lifting weights, in writing code, in playing games, and in damn near everything I do. But it’s not spiteful do or die competition. It’s friendly and it’s designed to bring out the best in myself, not the worst. That’s what happens when you can’t beat somebody by providing a better product or effort – you resort to undermining their attempts to succeed. That demon inside of us whispers things when we get frustrated and angry. It suggests ways to win that we shouldn’t consider. Yet some of us still do, it seems. Shame on these people for trying to ruin somebody else’s hard work because they couldn’t produce something better. If this sounds like something you’ve done or will do, then you are a dick.
In spite of that, there is a utility that a few brave souls (including myself, since I feel I have nothing to hide) have used to chart book sales and annual revenue. I’m nowhere near the top. I am, however, surprisingly higher than most. It’s a matter of hard work. H.M. Ward, Joe Konrath, and Hugh Howey have me beat (and so do a lot of other people), but I’m still over halfway to a hundred thousand books sold. Not too shabby by my approximation.
In closing I offer these simple words: work harder and smarter. Improve yourself and learn to be better and do better. All of us, even the best, can always stand to be better. I set records in 2009 for powerlifting but that didn’t mean I should stop trying to improve my technique and my strength. I had sci-fi stories (yes, plural) in the top 10 of the sci-fi Amazon charts in 2012, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t be a better writer. Oh, and then there’s the easy one: Don’t be a dick.
“You” refers to all of my readers out there. Me is, well, it’s me. I know, you’re reading “me” and thinking it’s me, but it’s not, it’s me. I’m glad we straightened that out.
While you’re confused and spinning around wondering if you’re talking to yourself, here’s the gist of what today’s blog is about. Pre-emptive reading. I finished up book 3 in my Order of the Dragon fantasy series (Sands of Betrayal) a few days ago and it’s in my editors hands. That’s not good enough for me. I want to deliver the best experience possible. That means I need a little help. That’s where you come in.
I’m looking for a handful of beta readers that don’t mind having a crack at a raw manuscript in rough draft form. Here’s the kicker though, I’m not looking for much in return other than your thoughts on it and what did / didn’t work. Suggestions for ways to make it better are welcome and encouraged also!
I’m not asking you to buy the book when it comes out. I’m not asking you to write a review. I’m not asking you to do any editing at all. I’m just asking for people willing to read it and share their thoughts on the book (grammatical and typographical issues aside). The one and only stipulation is that anybody interested needs to be able to get it done inside of 5 – 10 days.
Now then, if you’d like to buy a copy when it’s finished and / or leave a glowing review I’d be nothing short of giddy as a school girl. In a manly beer chest thumping sort of way, that is. But if that isn’t your thing that’s cool too. All you have to do is leave a comment with your email or email me directly at email@example.com. Nothing to it! I’ll email out the pdf of the completed rough draft asap and you can enjoy it to your heart’s content. Or if you’d like it in another format I’m sure I can arrange that too.
Stay tuned to the blog too, I’ve have a hectic week but things are settling down a little (I hope!), so I can get some of the blog posts that have been piling up in my head out on this thing soon. I plan to share some characters and snippets from Vitalis: Genesis, my current project, a bit of a teaser on a joint project I’ve undertaken, and some random thoughts designed to amuse, upset, and possibly irritate a few people.
To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.
With a title like that, this blog has to be pretty cool, right? Well, I leave that to the reader to decide, but here’s a spoiler: the weapons I’m referring to are words.
I just did something I try not to do very often. I read my reviews. Not the reviews I’ve written, but rather the reviews people have written on my books. The last 4 were 5 stars, then a 3 star, then numerous other 4 and 5 star reviews. Pretty darn cool, I have to say!
But that’s dangerous too. I’ve figured out a lot of things as a writer with over 20 books published. I’ve learned how to write through adversity and slumps. I’ve figured out what makes the books interesting for me and the readers. I’ve learned the value of good editing. And according to a lot of my reviews, I’ve written some great books and have made some lifelong fans. It would be easy for me to think I’ve peaked and I don’t need to learn anymore. FAR FROM IT!
There’s so many things I want to try and learn that the list is limitless – and that’s just with writing! I haven’t even touched on hang gliding or scuba diving. Reading reviews that praise books like Bound, Bounty, and The Lost Girls leaves me a very warm and fuzzy feeling. Yet it doesn’t teach me anything. Oh sure, it tells me I made some people happy and that’s a great thing. I’m here to entertain, after all, but I want to know what I can do better. The writer that can’t improve his craft has not yet been invented. I certainly appreciate the reviews though, and I hope to earn many more yet to come.
So this blog post is to share some great reviews on the books linked above. It’s also to remind myself and any of my peers paying attention that no matter how good it gets or how great we may feel, we should never take success for granted. Reviews, for example, don’t put food on the table. Working hard and always striving to write the next book a little better than the last one, on the other hand, can help pay the rent.
To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.
I’ve been monitoring the reviews coming in on my books pretty heavily lately. Well, by heavily I mean I check sometime in the morning every day – if I remember. So maybe not so heavily, but the fact that I’ve been keeping an eye on reviews is a chance for me. The question is why? After all, there’s virtually nothing I can do about them except in rare exceptions.
Amazon has a good system in that it prevents authors from having any impact on the general public’s opinion of a product. As a consumer, I approve of that. But as a provider of content / products, it can be frustrating. I have a few reviews that are irrelevant. A friend of mine has one review that is intentionally spiteful and borderline libelous against her and her family. Yet we can’t do anything about them. On the other hand, I had one reader who copied and pasted the same review and applied it to multiple books, even indicating he hadn’t read all of the books in the review. I did get Amazon to remove those reviews.
So the answer is to write books that everybody likes. Or buy reviews. I’m not in the habit of buying, so that leaves me with needing to write books that are likely to be well received. Since I’ve been monitoring incoming reviews lately, I seem to be doing a pretty good job of it.
But having said that, I was still momentarily stunned the other day when I saw a 1 star review come in for The Lost Girls. I read the brief review and felt a flash of irritation. It said something to the fact that, “I downloaded the book and found it had strong homosexual subplots. I deleted it immediately.”
I have to ask, why was this person so stunned by it? The book is included in a category with the word, “Lesbian” in it. It’s not erotica, but the main character is a hardcore man-hating lesbian. She mellows over time but she’s got a lot of issues she has to work through. And yes, she likes girls. There’s nothing misleading about it, so why did this person feel the need to light a torch and post a 1 star review?
After the brief moment of annoyance passed (it was surprisingly brief, I think that means I’m growing up finally), I let it go. Everybody has a right to their opinion. Unfortunate for me that my book was hit with it, but the review clearly indicated the readers problem and explains that they didn’t read the book. Aside from dragging the ranking down ever so slightly, it does nothing to discourage people who are interested in that type of book from reading it. Clearly it was a case of not being able to please everybody.
Likewise, I’ve received a couple of reviews on this book that I believe were written by men asserting that I had no idea how to write a female character. Conversely, I’ve had more reviews from women that applauded my depiction of the female characters and said I touched them very much because it brought back memories and emotions they’ve dealt with themselves. To the women out there that felt that way – contacted me, I thank you very much! To the men who claim I’d make a terrible female lead – Pthbththtbtbbbt!
Um, hang on. I’m not saying I want to be a female lead. I – aw, crap, you get the idea.
I reasoned a long time ago that I wouldn’t want everybody to like my books. If they did, there’d be no controversy and no reason for people to buy them. Looking back, I don’t fault that line of thinking but I think I’d rather have universally liked books. Then everybody would still by them because they like them. Maybe they wouldn’t generate as much passionate conversation, but I’d be okay with that. Conversation doesn’t put food on the table or electricity in the power lines, after all.
The other unfortunate part is that I can’t write generic crap that everybody is guaranteed to like. My characters are quirky and troubled. They’re often super-heroes in disguise – but I feel that way about every one of us, real or imagined. We’re all the main characters of our own story and we all do amazing things at time, even if we’re the only one around to see it. And we all have faults that we’d like to overcome – or that others wished we would overcome.
I’m disappointed that this person did not read The Lost Girls. I have a suspicion that if they had they might have found that the main character’s sexual orientation didn’t really matter. It’s a story about stopping cruelty and her own path to find acceptance and forgiveness. Those are topics that should be near and dear to all of us. As with just about everything I write the genre and the action is just a backdrop to a more important story, the story of a character (or characters) growing and healing.
So yes, I think my books could please the many, but they won’t. We have too many ideals and morals that prevent us from looking beyond the surface. There are great stories out there, whether they belong to me or somebody, but they require a person to suspend their disbelief and allow themselves to honestly ask the question, “What if?” That’s why I love science fiction and fantasy, they challenge me to be open minded and to wonder at just what possibilities are out there.
To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.
I’ve been quiet lately. Too quiet, perhaps. After a flurry of blogging a few weeks back I dropped off the face of the earth it seemed. All is well, I just got busy. I had to write a host of blog posts for an upcoming promotion I’m doing for my Vitalis book, plus I’m finalizing the sequel to Vitalis (Vitalis: Resurrection) for release in a couple of weeks. I’m also going out of my way to coerce people into writing reviews for Vitalis and other books of mine. Between all that and a labor day weekend long road trip kept me pretty incommunicado.
But wait, there’s more! I’ve been hard at work on Child of Fate, my new fantasy novel. This is going to be a long one and it’s a lot of fun. Hopefully I’m past the halfway point by now but I keep coming up with more things to add into it that I can’t resist! That’s great news for readers because I have hundreds of ideas for things to do down the road as well, which will lead to many sequels. What can I say, I lead a very active fantasy life. ;-)
A high level sample of what’s going on right now involves the hero and his friends trapped in a large complex of caves. They’re trapped between several clans of goblins intent on killing them and a small army of trolls and ogres that have been sent to find and butcher them. They’ve managed to escape immediate danger, but only at great sacrifice. And the main character, a farm boy turned warrior before his prime, just opened a door and was greeted by something large, green, and toothy. And Mr. Toothy just invited them into his home…what can go wrong? Did I mention the goblin in the corner named, “Bonky?”
Admit it, you’re a little curious now… hang in there, I promise to finish it as soon as I can! I’m still shooting for an October release on it, although it may be late October at this rate.
To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.