FAQ: “How do you get reviews?”

There is a ratio going around that you’ll get on average one unsolicited review for every thousand books you sell. At this moment of writing, I have 115 reviews on GoodReads and 75+ reviews on Amazon. And I can assure you that I haven’t sold a 1000 books per review, more like 30-50 books. And none of these reviews is bought*.

I did a few giveaways on GoodReads that netted me some reviews, but most of my reviews are from two things:

  • I give away ARCs, which are Advance Review Copies. That means that I send reviewers my books before they are published, so they can post a review when the book is published.
  • I ‘request’ reviews from my readers by posting this message at the end of each book:

Thank you for reading the Amsterdam Assassin Series. 
For an independent author, gaining exposure relies on readers spreading the word, so if you have the time and inclination, please consider leaving a short review wherever you can.

Most readers won’t consider leaving a review, because they are not used to voicing their opinion, or because they don’t see the importance, or just because no one asks them for their opinion. That’s why the message at the end of the book is so powerful – I just remind them gently that I would appreciate if they’d tell others about this book they enjoyed, so others can enjoy the books too. And I’m serious about reminding them gently – don’t push readers into feeling obligated to review your books. And be grateful for every review, whether it’s 20 or 200 words long.


 

*Customer reviews now outnumber professional reviews, but that has also made for some underhanded practices – just as you can buy Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers, you can also buy reviews, especially through websites like Fiverr.com which trades in fake reviews that are posted through multiple accounts.

Other loathsome review practices are the ‘quid pro quo’ review circles, where authors buy each other’s books and give each other glowing reviews, and authors creating ‘sock puppet’ accounts to write their own reviews and upvote themselves (and/or downvote their competition. Most of these fake reviews are easy to spot, since they are as formulaic as the books they promote, but it’s still profitable since many readers equate having a lot of reviews with ‘a quality book’.


KATLA FAQ: Why does Katla ride a Vespa motor scooter?

Although riding a beat-up old Vespa sounds incongruous for an assassin like Katla, her choice of urban transportation is deliberate.

Vespa1

Vespas of the Amsterdam Vespa Club parked on the Nieuwmarkt.

Vespas have been designed with the urban commuter in mind, and specifically the commuters of Europe’s most congested cities. While you won’t see many scooters in American cities, with their wide roads that seemed to be made for automobiles, most European inner cities were built when people either walked or rode horses, with a few carriages for the wealthy. Amsterdam is no exception, driving a car in the inner city requires patience and nerves of steel. The canals of the city were not just to enhance the city’s beauty, but they serve as waterways. In the old days, ships would unload their cargo in the harbour into smaller vessels that would transport the goods by water to the warehouses.

Amsterdam roads are narrow with steep bridges and high kerbs and/or metal posts everywhere, making any kind of four-wheeled transport daunting. Even locals avoid driving through Amsterdam, preferring public transport, bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles. Which makes Katla’s choice for a Vespa motor scooter a lot more practical than you’d think.

Vespas are pretty much invisible in Amsterdam, because they are ubiquitous. The older vintage Vespas are rare, and the modern sleek Vespas are numerous but their value makes them prone to theft. It’s mainly the P/PX 150/200 Vespas and their little moped brother, the PK50, that are everywhere. And when they are dented and primer-spotted, like Katla’s, they become unwanted and invisible, while still providing fast urban transport.

Katla rides other motorcycles as well. Other vehicles she uses on the job are Yamaha XT350 motorcycles, which might seem as underpowered as her Vespa, but their motocross heritage makes them excellent transport in a city filled with potholes and speed bumps, while light enough to use as a trial bike and climb stairs and pedestrian bridges. In the hands of an experience rider like Katla, they are the fastest transport through the city. Still, they have a few drawbacks. For one, they’re noisier and more obtrusive than a Vespa, and their aggressive appearance makes riding pedestrian areas and bicycle paths less acceptable.

Katla being a tinkerer, her Vespa also has a souped-up engine and better brakes and suspension, as well as a cut-off switch in the glove box, but its dented silver body makes it unattractive and unobtrusive, whether it’s parked in the rundown sections of the city like Osdorp or Geuzenveld, or the posh areas like Zuid or Museumbuurt. The simple two-stroke engines makes the older Vespas easy to maintain and repair and the bulbous covers over the engine keep the noise down.

Many Vespa riders enjoy individualising their scooters with an assortment of aftermarket additions, but Katla keeps her Vespa unadorned to avoid making it stand it out. She also has a score of domestic and foreign license plates to make her Vespa difficult to track. Another advantage of the Vespa’s friendly appearance that riding the Italian scooter on Amsterdam’s bicycle paths draws less attention. Most people won’t be able to discern between the P150/200 motor scooter and the PK50 moped version, which is almost the same size.

Another advantage of the Vespa is the manoeuvrability: the extremely short wheelbase of the Vespa allows the scooter to make U-turns on even the smallest roads, plus with the weight packed mainly on the rear most riders can lift the front wheel and turn the Vespa on a dime.

Of course the Vespa has disadvantages, like radius and stability.

The tiny fuel tank under the saddle hold seven litres of fuel, with two litres being the reserve. However, even souped-up Vespas will do fifty-six miles per gallon or twenty four kilometers per litre, so you can ride a cool hundred-and-fifty kilometers before you need to visit the gas station. And in European cities, a filling station is rarely more than five kilometers away. If you want to extend your radius, there are auxiliary tanks that will double your radius, or you can carry extra fuel in a jerry can, although I haven’t seen anyone to that even in the mountains of Italy.

Stability is another factor. With the weight mainly on the rear, hard braking on a Vespa can be an adventure. Add to that the mediocre suspension and the short wheelbase and you’ll understand that you won’t want to take a Vespa up to higher than factory speeds without some modifications. And even with quality tyres, better suspension and a souped up engine, the Vespa will never be as stable as an ordinary motorcycle.

Even so, for an assassin who wants urban transport that will be invisible everywhere and pass effortlessly through the most congested cities in the world, the scooter is second to none.


KATLA FAQ: Why does Katla prefer sharp implements over firearms?

I received some questions concerning Katla’s preference or inclination toward using sharp implements over firearms. Many readers cite firearms as better killing tools than sharp implements, but there are several reasons why Katla dislikes using firearms as killing tools.
One of these reasons is legal. The Dutch have strict gun control laws, maybe even the most severe in Europe. In the Netherlands, only law enforcement officers and army personnel are allowed to bear small firearms. Some occupations, like game warden, allow a restricted use of occupational firearms, like hunting rifles. That doesn’t mean that civilians aren’t allowed to use firearms, but their use is restricted to recreational or sports, and they are only allowed to transport the guns in a locked case, with the bullets separated from the gun.
Same goes for other weapons, like martial arts practice weapons, that have to be transported in closed bags. Transport of a Japanese sword, for instance, is only allowed if the sageo (cord) secures the blade in the saya (scabbard) and the sheathed sword is carried in one or more bags, to prevent the bearer from quickly drawing the sword. A bokken, or wooden sword, has to be carried in a bag as well. About the only ‘clubs’ that can be carried without the need for concealment, are field hockey sticks. And canes, of course.
Since there have been knife skirmishes where people became seriously hurt, the police will hold ‘preventive searches’ at mobile checkpoints, most often around subway stations, where everyone is scanned with a metal detector and has to empty their pockets. These checkpoints are prevalent at certain areas, mainly around Leidseplein, Rembrandtplein/Thorbeckeplein, Nieuwmarkt, Dam, where the mayor has put a law in effect that restricts possession of anything that can be used as a weapon, not just guns and knives, but also screwdrivers, chisels, chains, hammers, and other tools. Also, regular pocket knives, like the Victorinox ‘Swiss Army’ knife are also prohibited.
So, while getting caught with a firearm is a felony and will get you arrested straight away, possession of a sharp implement will often only result in a fine and seizure of the forbidden implement.
For someone skilled in handling blades, there is no real necessity to carry a machete or kukri blade. Several arteries that are fatal when severed are close enough to the skin to be reached by a blade no longer than the width of a hand. Especially the arteries in the crotch, armpit and neck are vulnerable to a knife attack.
Katla’s assignment often take her up close and personal with her targets. As many professionals will acknowledge, killing someone at arms length is the most difficult and dangerous way to end someone’s life, but it’s also extremely reliable. Any projectile weapon will be less accurate than a handheld blade in the assassin business.
I know that’s a controversial stance to take, and many owners and users of projectile weapons will rally the merits of their weapons, but professional assassins prefer a knife, a garotte or even a rumal* to a gun if they have to kill in close quarters.
Combat/warfare weapons are for the battlefield, not the assassination game. Guns are suitable for shooting your way out of a room full of enemies and an AK-47 is awesome when clearing a building of enemy combatants, but professional assassins are often stealth killers and even a suppressed Ruger Mark II .22 semi-automatic pistol** will make more noise than a well-placed spike dagger.
That’s not to say that projectile weapons are unreliable or inaccurate—any sniper adhering to the ‘one shot, one kill’ principle will protest any such claim—but there are too many people surviving bullet wounds to validate my assertion.
But, what about all the people who survive knife wounds? Of course there are plenty of people who get into altercations with someone wielding a knife and survive the encounter. However, in 99% of these cases, the knife wielder was not out to kill, whereas most people who fire a gun aim to kill. And fail.
Amateurs often favour large caliber handguns that ‘can blow your head straight off’, but there’s a reason why police officers don’t carry Desert Eagles. Heavy and unwieldy guns with absurd recoil don’t make the best guns to kill people. Although they might impress a flock of zombies…
Feel free to comment with your own experience as an assassin to negate my argument…

*Rumal, a silk cord with a coin tied to one end, used by the Thuggee cult of India to whip the cord around a neck and strangle someone.
**Do you want to kill someone silently with a gun? Forget about large calibers. Assassins favour the Ruger Mark II .22 semi-automatic for two reasons: a) the long thin barrel doesn’t need much modification to fit in an ordinary soda bottle that will catch the noise gaseous cloud that follows the bullet out of the barrel, and b), a .22 bullet will have enough penetrative force to get into a skull, but not enough to exit. Which means that the soda bottle will muffle the shot, and the ‘weak’ bullet will careen inside the skull, shredding the brain tissue like whipping a cheesecake with a flogger.


KATLA FAQ: Why I chose an assassin for my protagonist…

Why I write what I write is very simple in essence. I write what I write because no-one else writes it. And I want to read what I write. I wanted to read a story about a female freelance assassin, someone who enjoys her job without being a freak, pervert or weirdo. Someone whose view of the world is bleak enough to do the job without remorse, but not so bleak as to make her bitter. With a heart cold enough to make dispassionate decisions, but still warm enough to trust and love someone who accepts her for who she is.

In stories, whether books or movies, hired killers, in any shape or form, are mostly perverted weirdos, as if killing in exchange for money debases someone more than killing for God and Country. A soldier can justify his actions, as he is ordered by his superiors to kill ‘the enemy’. A mercenary can be ethical, following certain ideals in joining an army that fights for what he thinks is right. But a freelance assassin is a realist, someone who accepts the responsibility of taking a life without justification, for there can be no justification for the taking of a life. Reasons, sure. There are always plenty of reasons to kill another human being, but rarely a justifiable reason. But then, isn’t justification just another illusion? Is there justice in this world? Are the evildoers punished and the righteous rewarded? Anyone who takes a good look around them knows better.

Katla is a realist, pur sang. She knows there are more reasons to kill other people than people to do the job. Do the job properly, that is. There are always ambitious punks who can be hired to kill for a nickel. As Creaux says in Reprobate: “The world is overrun by amateurs, but bereft of professionals.” If you have carefully built a company and your business partner is driving your company into the ground, and you know you cannot buy him out or talk sense into him, maybe it’s time to get a professional to do the job.

Katla is an expert in disguising homicide, which makes her a particular breed of assassin. Most professional killers want to remain detached from their targets, needing the distance to separate themselves from the act. Dispatch the target with the minimum amount of fuss. Use a suppressed semi-automatic Ruger .22 Mark II and shoot a dumdum into the base of the skull, with just enough power to enter, but not to exit the cranium, so the bullet will bounce around the dome of bone and shred the brains. Just a trickle of blood, maybe bulging eyes from the pressure in the head, caused by the gases that exited the barrel pressed against the entry wound. Clean and easy. Except that such a kill would send up a red flag at any law enforcement office. Warning: Professional At Work. Same goes with any kind of skilful applied violence. Whether you garrotte someone or bomb his car, if you cannot disguise the homicide, there will be an investigation. And since your client most likely stands to benefit from the death of your target, any criminal investigation is to be avoided. Unless the investigation clears your client, or rules the demise of your target accidental or self-induced.

Katla has the mind of a hunter and trapper. Not the kind of hunter who runs around the woods drunk with a bright orange vest to avoid getting shot by his equally drunk buddies who will use an elephant gun to shoot a squirrel. Katla studies her targets like a dedicated hunter tracks his prey, like a trapper finds the places to position his snare. Stalking her target and constructing the perfect strategy towards the demise is as much an intellectual endeavour as a physical challenge, demanding both acumen and stamina. To become the perfect assassin requires a study both of human nature and human biology, its inherent flaws and how to put them to full advantage. With that pursuit of excellence taken into account, Katla’s fascination with her job make her choice of occupation not only understandable but even admirable, to an extent.

My own life has had its moments of violence, enough to make me realise that violence lurks in pretty much everyone, although the veneer of civility may have more substance on some people than others. To the outside world, Katla seems more than composed, she has an almost Zen-like attitude towards life, but it’s rooted less spirituality than reality. Katla knows how fragile life is and how easily destroyed, which makes her appreciate her own life and that of her loved ones. Fate is fickle and the wrong circumstances or timing can extinguish any life prematurely, so celebrate the life you have today and don’t live in the future life you might never receive. To be aware of the present is the greatest gift.