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’.


In Pocket now on GoodReads and Amazon.

In PocketIn Pocket by Martyn V. Halm

As the author, of course I cannot rate or review my own work. What I can do is give you, the potential reader, some background information about In Pocket.

About twenty years ago, when I was working on what was to become Reprobate: A Katla Novel, I had a half-finished story on a busker who lived in a delivery van and pretended to be blind in order to rake in more money. As such, Wolfgang was the only one who saw a murder by assassin Katla Sieltjes, who promptly started hunting him down to shut him up.

The story didn’t work and I wrote a new story with Katla as the protagonist, who breaks her rule of never leaving a witness alive when blind busker Bram Merleyn enters her crime scene. Readers of the Amsterdam Assassin Series know what happened after that, so I’m not going to rehash that story.

In the meantime, Wolfgang was still living in his van with his pet rat Gabriel, but he changed from busker to pickpocket, and acquired a heroin addiction (being one of my characters can be very taxing).

I often write on several projects at the same time, and I kept adding to the story of Wolfgang the pickpocket until it reached critical mass, all the pieces fell together, and In Pocket almost wrote itself.

In Pocket is a stand-alone novel, but it has some connections with the Amsterdam Assassin Series beyond the same locations – if you read carefully, you will find cameos from characters that also appear in the series.

I make free e-book review copies available to readers who want to review In Pocket on GoodReads and retailer sites. To get your hands on a free review copy, send an email to katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘review copy In Pocket’ in the subject line.

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In Pocket cover by Farah Evers


REVIEW: How Do You Deal With Negative Reviews?

Can You ‘Deal’ With Negative Reviews?

I don’t ‘deal’ with negative reviews, since there’s nothing to deal with. A negative review is the opinion of a reader, intended to express their feelings about your work to other readers (not, I repeat, not to you, the author, because that is what ‘feedback’ is for). By the way, I make a distinction between a negative review (where the reviewer criticizes the book) and a bad review (where the reviewer criticizes the author).

I read all the reviews I can find. Not because I like to flagellate myself, but I’m interested in the opinions of my readers, even if they don’t contact me directly. Sometimes you can glean information that might help you avoid a scathing review in the future. File that nugget and go on your way.

The one thing you should never, ever do, is try to convince the reviewer that they are erroneous in their opinion. That has about 0.001% of actually succeeding.

You write a book, but you publish a product. If the product is good, then the ratio of negative to positive reviews will be low. If it sucks, the majority of your reviews will suck. You control the product, not the opinion. If you cannot live with the negative reviews, pull the product.

Personally, I don’t want to give a negative reviewer extra power by becoming upset. Reviews are like the weather, you don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s more useful to carry an umbrella than to become angry at the sky for the rain.

There is no book that receives 100% positive reviews. And that is good. Because a book that pleases everyone is probably not worth reading.

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OPINION: The Need for Champions

If you ask authors to list what they dread the most it’s having to sell themselves and their books. Apparently, self-promotion remains one of the most daunting tasks of the whole process, especially for self-publishing authors and trade-published midlist authors.

Even though most people understand the creative accomplishment of writing a book, authors who toil for months and sometimes years to craft a novel are often reticent about spreading the word that their work is available. Not because they don’t want to, but because they are afraid of the backlash of self-promotion.

When we were children, we’d stand up and proudly show the drawing we made or the castle we built and bask unselfconsciously in the admiration and adulation of our parents and teachers.

But when we grow older, many of us are discouraged to speak of our accomplishments. There’s an element of crassness and arrogance associated with self-promotion. We are expected to be humble and wait for people to ask what we do, and when we speak about our novels, we are encouraged to do so with humility and self-deprecation, so people know that we’re not arrogantly thumping our chests over our accomplishments.

How can you tell people that you’ve written and published a novel or even a series without embarrassment?

With the proliferation of self-publishing through Amazon the current offering in reading material is astoundingly high in volume and ironically low in quality. A recent census revealed that 80% of the people living in the U.S. want to write a book. Sadly, not everyone who wants to do something truly excels at their endeavours, so there are a lot of books flooding the market that are not really worth a reader’s attention.

Many readers are turned off by the glut of badly written self-published books that beg their attention. As a result, readers will not listen to authors promoting their books, but they will turn to other ways of deciding what books to read.

One of the most influential factors in choosing a novel to read is when books come recommended. Preferably by friends, because recommendations carry more weight if delivered by someone trusted for their good judgment.

Many readers are unaware of how important recommendations are, especially for beginning authors who rely on the word-to-mouth to build their readership.

Although this counts doubly for self-published authors–who don’t have a publicist or a publisher to coordinate their marketing efforts–even trade-published midlist authors are pretty much left to their own devices.

So how can readers help their favourite authors?

Be their Champion.

If you meet someone who might enjoy the same books you enjoy, tell them about your favourite authors. Write about the books you read on GoodReads. Leave reviews on retailer websites. Like your favourite author on Facebook. Pin their covers on Pinterest. Follow their blogs. Apply for Advanced Reader Copies of their books. Start or join a fan club.

What do you think? Please comment, and let me know I’m not just talking to the void. If you have ideas to increase word-of-mouth, don’t hesitate to share!


Stopped Reading REVIEW: The Killing League by Dani Amore

The Killing LeagueThe Killing League by Dani Amore

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, I managed to get to 29% of the Kindle version of The Killing League until the lack of verisimilitude deflated my suspense of disbelief.

I had high expectations of this book, due to the enticing blurb, but the story failed to deliver. The characters were described to provide a visual image, but I got no sense of their internal emotions beyond what Ms. Amore told me they were feeling. The writing is not unskilled, and some of the descriptions were quite visceral, but when someone fires a gun in a forest and:

The smell of cordite hung in the air around them.

That’s a huge red flag that someone doesn’t know what they’re writing about. Cordite hasn’t been used firearm ammunition since second World War and the triple-based gunpowder that replaced might have a acidic metallic smell that might be picked up by extremely sensitive noses, but only if someone fires boxes of ammunition in a closed space, like a small room or a badly ventilated shooting range. In the open air? No chance that a smell will hang around after firing one round.

Of course, Ms. Amore is probably not the only writer who mistakenly uses cordite with post-WWII ammunition, but there was more to The Killing League that failed to engage me.

The lack of characterization was grating. None of the characters was even faintly interesting. Not the serial killers, who seemed derivative and unoriginal, nor the protagonists Mack and Nicole, who are both bland and superficial.

The pace was sluggish because the writer felt compelled to fill whole scenes with descriptions or explanations that were not necessary for any mildly intelligent reader to figure out for themselves. Dialogue was often pedestrian and interspersed with dragging descriptions:

“Hey Boss!” Antony Toffol, her sous chef, called out as she started inventory on the wine selections.
“Yeah,” she said. He stood with the door to the kitchen open. Nicole smelled the olive oil, garlic, onion, rosemary, shallots, paprika and black pepper that were being used in various incarnations.
“Someone dropped off a card for you,” he said. “It was under the door when I opened up — it’s over on the receptionist table.”
“Okay, thanks,” she said.

I don’t like to ‘force’ myself to read. There are so many books still to be read, that I couldn’t justify wasting my time on this one. Sorry, Ms. Amore, but the second star is merely because the formatting and editing seemed professional. The story itself didn’t rate more than 1 star for me.

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Stopped Reading REVIEW: YA martial arts story.

Girl Fights BackGirl Fights Back by Jacques Antoine
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

As a martial artist, I was interested in this series after reading the premise. Jacques Antoine failed to deliver, however. Apart from various formatting/editing errors, I was mostly irritated by the lack of emotional depth due to the consistent ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’ and the random ‘head-hopping’.

The protagonist is a 17-year old girl who undergoes a dramatic transformation after a series of traumatic incidents. I read about 30% of the book, but the story failed to engage me. The martial arts scenes were well-written but too long. After each traumatic event, we are told how Emily feels, but despite the insistence of the author that Emily understands the devastating effects of what happens to her, they don’t affect her.

My suspension of disbelief was finally shattered when Emily changes her appearance by dressing in her step-mother’s dresses, cutting her hair and applying make-up when she goes back to school after the most important person in her life dies and her whole identity turns out to be a deliberate lie.

Wait, what? She’s 17, her whole world is turned upside down, people get killed and the killers might be after her and she goes back to school? Not just that, but she changes her appearance from unnoticeable to extremely noticeable? And suddenly everybody wants to be her friend? And she laughs and jokes with them less than a day after getting chased by killers and watching her father die?

While we’re repeatedly told about the emotional roller coaster the characters seem to experience, they behave and talk as if they have Asperger’s Syndrome. Not a single scene shows any emotional affect.

I understand how the author probably created a kick-ass teenage heroine that other teenage girls could empathize with, but in my opinion that would require a heroine who would also feel doubt and fear and anger and sadness. Emily Kane comes across as an autistic martial arts genius.

If that floats your boat, this book might be something you enjoy, if you can also get past the formatting/editing issues and the ‘head-hopping’, but Emily Kane failed to engage me.

1/5 stars.

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Reblogged: We interrupt this story to bring you this Info-dump: Blogger Insights


OPINION: Writing a series is lazy writing to cash in on gullible people!

Recently, a discussion on GoodReads was started by a reader who loved stand-alone books, but every book he was offered seemed to be part of a series. The thread quickly turned ‘anti-series’ with complaints about sequels being less good than the first novel, stories become repetitive, single volume books being enlarged to fill several volumes to make more money from gullible readers, writers becoming too lazy to invent new characters, and so on.

As I write a suspense fiction series, I want to address these issues in this blog article.

When I wrote Reprobate, I had some excellent ideas for additional plot lines that would explore other sides of the freelance assassin protagonist, so I decided to develop the Amsterdam Assassin Series as a series of stand-alone novels and short stories that have the same characters but enjoying one book does not rely on having read the other books/stories. No cliffhangers beyond readers want to know what will happen next in the lives of the protagonists.

As to the concerns addressed in the GoodReads thread:

“Can’t you put just everything in one book?”

No. The books are all over 100K and all have a different theme. The first book, Reprobate, deals with the protagonist breaking her own rules and the consequences. The second book, Peccadillo, has criminals trying a hostile takeover of her legitimate business, unaware that they’re dealing with an assassin. In the third book, Rogue, Katla comes to the attention of global intelligence communities when she kills the wrong target. I’m currently working on the fourth novel, Ghosting, which will show yet another side of the character.

“The first book is mostly good, but the rest is repetitive crap.”

Most reviewers agree that the second book is superior to the first book. I just published the third novel. Feedback from the beta-readers convince me that Rogue is both different from Peccadillo and Reprobate, but just as interesting and entertaining. Just because some people force themselves to turn a stand-alone book into a series doesn’t mean every series writer succumbs to this laziness.

“You write a series to cash in.”

If I wanted to cash in, I’d write short novels in a hot genre, not suspense fiction about a freelance assassin in Amsterdam. And as I sell somewhere around 30-60 books per month, I’m not ‘cashing in’. If I listened to ‘market experts’ I would abandon the series due to the meagre sales. However, I do have fans who want to know what happens to the protagonists and are eager for future books (check my reviews), so I just ignore the sales and keep on writing what I love to write.

“Series are just fluff/sugar coated candy/throwaway books.”

My series is pretty dark, which is quite normal for a suspense fiction series with a freelance assassin protagonist. I’ve been praised for the brief instances of wit that lighten the mood and ground the story in reality. In keeping with the need for verisimilitude, the events in the books have real moral/ethical/physical consequences and I received feedback from fans on how scenes made them reconsider the reader’s own attitudes.

“You’re just too lazy to invent new characters.”

Writing a series is actually more difficult than writing stand-alone novels, mostly because you need to satisfy both the new readers and the readers who read the other books, which requires a fine balance of putting in just enough back story to please both. Meanwhile, I dedicated myself to writing about characters who might never ‘hit it big’ with fans. Writing stand-alones with new characters doesn’t require any referencing to published stories.

Also, the series does feature new characters. Granted, they may be antagonists, but if the antagonists don’t measure up, the protagonist will fall kind of flat. I go by the principle that any character I create should be able to hold their own as protagonist of their own stories, so they have to be fully developed, not just sounding boards for the main characters.

Still I understand how readers don’t want to read series and prefer stand-alone books. In that case, Reprobate would work as a great stand-alone novel because it has all the characters, but all the plot lines are resolved in the end and you don’t need to read the other books.

Except if you want to know what the future holds in store for Katla and Bram…


Almost Stopped Reading REVIEW: Severance Kill

Severance KillSeverance Kill by Tim Stevens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This almost turned into another ‘stopped reading’ review, except that I wanted to know what happened to Martin Calvary, the protagonist. So I ignored my many reasons to delete this book from my Kindle and struggled through the formatting errors that cropped up in the last quarter of the book.

Should I have? Perhaps not, but I was curious to see if Stevens had a twist at the end that would be worth it. There was something that should’ve been a twist, except that it didn’t surprise me in the slightest. Maybe less discerning readers will be surprised by the ending, I don’t know.

So, the formatting errors… I actually contacted the author and he wrote me a very nice PM telling me that he had a giveaway through Bookbub with some 30,000 downloads, with all the Kindle versions containing the formatting errors, but not the ePubs. I can understand that through some mistake an older file containing proofreading notes and formatting errors ends up in an e-book.

So, if you have one of these screwed up Severance Kill e-books, maybe you can get a new corrected file through Manage my Kindle. Or you can just ignore the typos, missing quotes and strike-through sentences. And overlook the awkward prose when a sick woman running up the steps is ‘ignoring the complaints from her unaccustomed knees’ and operatives being ‘linked up telephonically’.

However, I pointed out that there were many more mistakes unrelated to the formatting issue. Mr. Stevens didn’t show any interest in my feedback, so I’ll just put them in my review.

On the whole, the book was well-written. I had some trouble with the start of the book, where Calvary is getting his ass kicked out of a fourth-floor apartment, manages to keep from falling to his death, and gets back into the apartment to finish the target. The target, who first puts up a fight and almost finishes Calvary, suddenly retreats into his apartment, where the target suddenly changes into a weakling.

Calvary crouches in front of the sitting target, lays a hand on either side of the man’s face and kills him with a crack… So what did Calvary do? Break his neck? Let’s just say, don’t believe the action movies you’ve seen about how easy it is to break someone’s neck. The author is a doctor with the National Health Service, so he might be hesitant to give an exact blow-by-blow on how to break someone’s neck, but to break someone’s neck while crouched in front of him and holding his ears is quite a challenge.

After that, Calvary gets blackmailed into doing a last job in Prague, where he reminisces about his past kills. And I almost put the book down.

Why?

Because Calvary reminisces about electrocuting a target in his bathtub. By throwing a battery-operated transistor radio into the bath. The death of the target is horrifying. “Crackles and screams, churning mix of water and blood and effluent, like a shark’s attack” and the victim dies with a rictus of agony and a hand clawing the air.

Impressive, if it wasn’t that a battery-operated transistor radio tossed in a bathtub will not have a sufficiently high charge to electrocute a human being. I could start a whole explanation about the milliamps used by transistor radio and how many transistor radios would have to be submerged in your bath to tickle your heart into the high frequency fatal fluttering of a heart attack, but even then the victim will not flail about like they are chewing on a high voltage wire.

And while I can understand someone emptying their bowels when they are electrocuted, how exactly does all that blood get in the water? And what makes the water churn? Not the two 9V batteries in the transistor radio, I can tell you.

If killing someone by tossing a battery-operated transistor radio into their baths would work, lots of disgruntled housewives would be buying battery-operated transistor radios…

With my bullshit radar now on full alert I read on.

Calvary relieves someone of his semi-automatic pistol and thumbs the safety before he slips it in his pocket. When he takes the pistol from his pocket a few pages later and hands it to someone, the pistol turns out to be a Glock 17. And Glocks have not safety to be thumbed. The safety of the Glock is a small ‘second trigger’ inside the trigger.

Moments later Calvary takes ‘the Browning’ because ‘the Browning has to be cocked before every shot and the Glock chambered a new round automatically, making it easier for a novice to use’. The Browning, like the Glock, is a semi-automatic pistol. You might have to pull the slide to chamber the first round, but after that the blowback action of the slide will chamber a new round from the spring-loaded magazine in the grip.

The last part of the story featured strike through sentences, misspelled words like ’trial’ for ‘trail’, omitted words like ‘[character name] phone went’, double words like ‘ahead he fancied saw the car park’ [maybe so you can choose which verb you think is most appropriate?] and quotes missing so you have to guess what is narrative and what is dialogue. Sometimes the Third Person Limited perspective featured intrusions of First Person, often right in the middle of action scenes, ‘one of her feet catching him on the cheekbone. It wasn’t enough to put me off. Calvary began to crawl…’ and so on.

All that could be overlooked if the characters didn’t start doing improbable things, like Calvary on the run renting a car with cash but expressing no worries about having to show his driving license because ‘he [protagonist] doubted [antagonists] would be monitoring every car rental place in the city’.

Really?

Their spy craft must be worse than mine, because—despite not being a professional spy—I would definitely monitor every means of (public) transport in a hundred mile radius if I were looking for a spy on the run.

But then, Calvary could be right about the antagonists lack of tracking skills. The scene shifts to the antagonists who are fretting because one of their operatives has been incommunicado for almost a day. Finally the leader has a brilliant idea and goes to the communications officer, where the leader asks an underling ‘can you get a GPS trace on [missing operative’s] phone?’ The comm officer, who has been twiddling her thumbs apparently, answers affirmatively and set to work.
Again: seriously? These antagonists are supposed to be veteran’ intelligence’ officers, and they wait for hours before they decide to put a trace on their missing team member?

With my suspension of disbelief blown beyond repair I finished the book.

Wasted potential. 2/5 stars. Only recommended if your suspension of disbelief is made out of sturdier material than mine…

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Stopped Reading REVIEW: Thriller

The Cleaner (John Milton #2)The Cleaner by Mark Dawson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I rarely stop reading books, especially if they have a good premise and an awesome cover. Dawson’s grammar is pretty good too, and the formatting is fine.

So why did I stop reading?

Well, I ran into a wall of needless exposition 10% into the Kindle e-book.

The story was gearing up pretty good, protagonist gets second thoughts about his job, doesn’t shoot a young witness, gets dressed down by his superior and quits.

All is well up to this point, but then, when the protagonist has gone, his superior pulls out the protagonist’s human resources file and starts going over what should be familiar knowledge to the superior, resulting in several pages delving into the protagonist’s back story with all the charm of reading someone’s job application resume.

Why? Why ruin the pace with this clunky exposition?

I see this often happen in mediocre books and shows, where the author/director assumes the audience are morons who have to be spoon-fed information they cannot glean from the protagonist’s actions. And the fact is that the audience (readers/viewers) are way more intelligent than they get credit for.

I’m sorry to give this book a 1-star rating, but I can’t abide lazy writing. I don’t need a protagonist’s resume, I need them to be interesting. I don’t want to run into a wall of exposition that drags down the pace to a standstill, I want to read what’s going to happen next. John Milton sounded interesting until I got too much information in the worst way possible.

Too bad. Great cover, great premise, good formatting, lazy writing.

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