OK, fine, just one more rave review of “Home”

Here you go:

Home (the portal series, book 3 ) is an alternative history adventure book. A masterpiece, Richard Bowler’s work on this is spectacular. In this epic coming of age sequel to TERRA, earthborn Larry Barnes discovers his ability to move through the multiverse via a portal of his own creation. A powerful and dangerous ability, Larry seeks the council of a priest named Affron, who has the same ability but when Larry discovers affron has disappeared from TERRA, he risks following him to Elysium leaving his friend pasta behind.

Let’s put aside some of the reviewer’s tiny mistakes, like getting my name wrong and allowing the character name “Palta” to be autocorrected to “pasta”, and focus on her uncanny perspicacity and critical judgment. Reviews don’t get any more perceptive than this.

Free ebooks in return for reviews: Some results

It’s becoming harder to get customer reviews for books nowadays.  That’s probably related to the general downturn in the ebook market.  Here I mentioned a program, run by my epublisher, to give away ebooks in return for honest reviews.  Once you sign up, you start getting a weekly eZine containing a list of books you can download for free.  Download a book, read it, and leave a review.

This model seems to be OK with Amazon, which has cracked down on some aspects of the customer review racket.  It appears to be a requirement to state that you got the book for free in return for an honest review.

Anyway, the approach is working for my novel Where All the Ladders Start.  Most reviews are pretty terse, like this one:

I received this book for an honest review. I loved this book. The plot and characters were amazing.

Well, what more do you need to say?  But wait!  It turns out that Laura Furuta has more to say!  Namely:

When I first started reading this story I was not really sure what to expect. I read the description and was thinking it was just another mystery book. I was wrong! This is a story about a P. I. who works in an America that has been changed. Not only that, also there are forces at work that are determined to see he fails with his latest case. I really enjoyed the story from the first chapter to the very ending page. It has the right combination of mystery and plot to keep you guessing. The characters also really shine as well. The main characters are very well written and even some of the secondary ones you will remember and love. This is one book that I recommend if you love mysteries. It will keep you guessing. I received a copy of this book from eBook Discovery in exchange for an honest review.

Even better!  Now all I need is a few more sales . . .

Here’s the cover, in case you forgot what the thing looks like:

Ladders cover final jpeg

A nice review of “The Portal”

Here’s a nice review someone just posted on Amazon for my novel The Portal:

The story is riveting from beginning to end. Two preteens far from home but in fact not far but in a parallel universe is a fascinating concept all by itself. Throw in the time travel, dangerous situations, an array of interesting characters to interact with, and the emotions evoked as they experience privations and loss, and this becomes a captivating story you don’t want to put down until the very end. Recommended for teens and adults.

I couldn’t have said it better myself!  I’ll probably post more of these when I get closer to publishing its somewhat long-awaited sequel.

A nice review for “The Portal”

On Amazon:

The book is primarily written for the pre-teen or early teenager, I believe anyway, but I really enjoyed it. The characters pre teens in their world, were transferred to another world, in a different time, to a war torn New England where New Portugal and New Canada were going to attack New England. The boy’s, in conversation with army officers, gave ideas to the Army of New England for weapons that could change the outcome of the war. I haven’t enjoyed a simple, nonsexual, non-cussing book in a long time such as this book is. I recommend this to any boy, I’m not sure about girls since there aren’t many girl characters in it. There is a message in it about family, even families who might have issues and personality problems; about loneliness and familial love; about goodness and evil; about prayer in time of despair. It is not a God book, but it has a spiritual bent, especially when the war starts. For the most part, the main characters are all honorable, even those characters who might seem to be dishonorable, especially those who have come in contact with our two hero’s, in both worlds.

I can’t recommend this book enough.

That sounds about right!

I just hope the reader doesn’t try out some of my other novels, which fall pretty clearly in the “cussing” category, as several annoyed commenters have pointed out.

Bad advice for writers; also not funny

At first I thought this article on Bad Advice for Writers was pretty funny:

Advice #4: Correct negative reviews

There are only two types of reviews: the positive kind, and the kind where the reviewer didn’t understand the book. A bad review of your book is actually a cry for help!

Whenever you see a negative review that makes you say to yourself, “I should reach out to this person, perhaps in a borderline illegal fashion,” by all means do so. Find out where they live if you want! Show up on their doorstep and offer to politely explain how they simply failed to understand your novel. Make it clear that this is something they need to resolve within themselves and not a reflection on your work, and also that there’s no need whatsoever to call the police, so please put down the phone and stop crying.

Interaction is what reviewers are really looking for from you, the writer. Words like “awful” and “incomprehensible” and “this may have been written by a very dumb parrot” are really their way of saying, “I have failed to fully grasp your clear brilliance and would like for you to explain it to me”. So get out there and interact!

Then I read this, and I stopped laughing:

In an update to the fabulously written Goodreads review of Brittain’s awful self-published opus, a reviewer going by the pen name of Paige Rolland describes how Brittain stalked her Facebook page, discovered where she worked and traveled all the way to Scotland where he violently hit her over the head with a full bottle of wine, causing her to be hospitalized.

The reviewer describes the attack:

I was in the cereal aisle, bending down to get something from the bottom self. When I stood up, something hit me on the head. Hard. At first, I thought that maybe I’d hit my head off the shelf, and as everything started to spin and go black, I wondered how the hell I could be so stupid as to hit my head so hard. My vision was black, and my hearing was muffled, but I was very much conscious – I did not pass out (and this is important ’cause of my pride). I turned and put my hands out to lower myself to the floor gently, which is something my mother has always taught me to do should I think I’m going to pass out. It prevents further injury. As I lowered myself, I heard the tinkle of a bottle on the floor and I thought that something had fallen on me (even thought there is definitely no wine in the cereal aisle).

This is inconceivably awful.

And then there’s this weird story.

Who are these annoying little people who are reviewing my book on Amazon?

Advice-columnist Margo Howard is distressed that she received bad reviews of her recent memoir from real, ordinary people on Amazon.  The reviews were written by Amazon’s Vine community, and Ms. Howard didn’t like them one bit, finding them “inaccurate, insulting, and demonstrably written by dim bulbs.”  She finds the very idea of being reviewed by these folks distressing:

I can see the valuemaybefor man-on-the-street reviews of cold cream and pots and pans, but books?!

(I love the interrobang.)  And:

Books, of course, can be and are reviewed pre-publicationbut by reviewers who are attached to magazines or newspapers. “Book Reviewer” is considered a profession, and reviews are done by other writers. Good sense would seem to militate against any group of people unschooled in creative and critical reviewing coming up with a worthwhile review. The Vine people, who deal mostly with products for the home and the body, seem inappropriate bellwethers regarding products for the mind, if you will.

Luckily, Jennifer Weiner is around to offer some sensible words in response:

Howard frets that the Amazon attack hurt her book’s chances. There’s no way to tell if that’s true, but I’d give readers the benefit of the doubt. My guess is that they can sniff out a review that’s the result of baseless jealousy or an unfounded agenda, the same way they’ve learned to dismiss five-star fan-girling from an author’s BFFs, colleagues, or mom.

If the Amazon reviewers slammed Howard’s work without reading it, that’s a problem, and Amazon should address it. If they panned Howard’s book because they didn’t like it, that’s reality, and Howard need to figure out how to live with it, and to come to terms with publishing in 2014. Everyone is a critic. Everyone’s got a soapbox. And the worst fate for a writer isn’t being attacked … it’s being ignored.

Here, by the way, is a review that just popped up on Barnes & Noble about my novel The Distance Beacons:

Wow, Violet! This was great! Thanks so much for recommending it to me! (Haha, sorry for the typo) Your style is absolutely wonderful! Please keep going, and l will keep reading! <p> Thanks again for reading mine, Ring &infin

Huh?  Actually, there seems to be a random conversation going on between a couple of people, carried out via reviews of my novel.  Luckily, all their reviews are 5-stars.  At least I’m not being ignored.  I think.


My favorite customer review so far

A satisfied Amazon customer writes about The Portal:

Product was sent on time and as expected. Thank you.

You may say that there’s some mix-up here: the satisfied Amazon customer actually thought she was reviewing something entirely different — a printer cartridge or a dog collar or a box of trash bags.  I prefer to think that she likes my novels so much that, when she discovered that the The Portal was “as expected,” she was moved to give it five stars and express her deepest gratitude.

That’s perfectly plausible, right?

Not all my Nook reviews are drivel

After this post, I thought I should mention that Nook readers generally have very nice things to say about Dover Beach.  Here’s the current “most helpful” review:

The most satisfying read in a long time. This was my first book by Mr. Bowker, but it won’t be my last. Unpretentious, well written fun. Effortlessly realized characters who inhabit an engaging, imaginative story. You don’t have to be a fan of the noir detective genre to enjoy this book, but for those who are, it will be a real treat.

So there.  That was a five-star review.  Here’s a nice four-star review:

A post-apocalyptic Boston and its first private eye? Sure, why not? Quite good character development and plot, great atmosphere. I dare to say it could move to the big screen very well. There was nice exposition of the “whats” of this future, but never explained much about the whys and hows of the apocalypse – just enough – I was satisfied. I would hardly call Dover Beach a science fiction novel, though. I could hardly put it down, and plan to buy more after this Free Friday treat. Enjoy!

Of course, ya gotta love reviewers who say they plan to buy more of your stuff.  That, of course, is the point of making a book free.  This seems to be working, at least on Barnes & Noble.  Dover Beach‘s sequel, The Distance Beacons, currently has a very nice sales rank of 819, which, oddly, is higher than Dover Beach‘s rank.  This is working out way better than on Amazon, where Dover Beach is still free, but The Distance Beacons has a rather dreary sales rank of 176,736.  Too bad.  But here’s a nice review of Dover Beach from an Amazon reader to compensate:

Richard Bowker presents an awesome look at the role of a P.I. in a post-apocalyptic world. My first reaction was what on Earth would the remains of society need a Private Investigator for—it’s unlikely a P.I. would be hired to checkout phony insurance claims when there ain’t no more insurance companies. Richard builds a compelling plot with polished nuances sparkling for the reader. The plight of the survivors in Boston is rather frightful. The contrast between the shattered United States and merry old England is striking. He provides a nicely developed depth to his cast of players, and with all things considered, their surroundings are believable. I liked how he addresses real world money issues and there isn’t a P.I. with a pocket full of cash—but a meal at a London McDonalds is affordable. Richard did a marvelous job of resolving all the dangling loose ends—including a few dangling parts the reader doesn’t suspect are dangling—so to speak.

I like the way he calls me “Richard.”  Like we’re friends.  And we are!

Thoughts on sales ranking; also, a bad review and a good sunflower

After getting as high as about #46 on the Nook bestseller list, Senator is starting to fade like the Tampa Bay Rays.  Its sudden rise in the rankings got me thinking about how they are calculated. A brief tour of the Internet convinced me that this is a rat-hole from which one may never return.  The algorithms are proprietary and probably change periodically, so it’s all guesswork.

Since I’m dealing with a publisher rather than publishing my books myself, I don’t see the daily sales figures on Amazon and B&N, so there is no easy way for me to see how the ranking tracks these sales numbers.  But lots of self-published writers apparently have nothing better to do, and they are more than happy to opine about who the rankings are calculated.

The consensus, if you care, is that the ranking represents something like a 30-day moving average, with more recent sales weighted more heavily than sales earlier in the cycle. There is probably some residual effect from sales prior to the 30-day period, so a book that sells five copies a year will have a higher ranking than a book that sells one copy. I have no idea if this is anything like the truth, but it seems plausible to me.  And how many sales does a particular ranking represent?  This looks like a reasonable guess.  Of course, that’s for Amazon.  Barnes & Noble would presumably be something like 20% of that.

Anyway, the sales on Barnes & Noble have started to get Senator some reviews there.  Here is a remarkably bad one that I enjoyed (sort of).  It’s by our friend Anonymous and is titled “Awful”:

Was there a good guy anywhere in this mess? However samples at end were even worse and can now avoid all in future mom

What’s impressive about this is that the writer feels obliged to trash the samples as well as the novel.  Also, what’s up with the word “mom” at the end?  Is the writer trying to insinuate that “Anonymous” is actually my mother?  That’s harsh.

To make myself feel better, here’s a photo of some sunflowers from my garden:



Also, the Red Sox just beat the Yankees for the third time in a row, so there’s that.

Did I really read that book?

A while back I read The Good Soldier.  As I did, I kept having the feeling that I had read it already.  But this was never more than an occasional niggling at the back of my mind — a scene, a character would seem vaguely familiar, but then for long stretches the feeling would disappear.

Maybe I did read The Good Soldier, and its memory simply disintegrated in my brain over the years.  I didn’t like it this time around, and it’s unlikely to have made much of an impression on me in high school or college, when I was vacuuming up novels daily.  But it’s also possible that I didn’t in fact read it — that the scenes and characters just reminded me of something else, also now lost.  Beats me.  Memory, modern science tells us, is fragile and unreliable.  We don’t know what we think we know.  (This recent Radiolab podcast tells the story of a woman who confidently identifies the man who had brutally raped her, only to find out years later that she had been mistaken.)

All of this is by way of an introduction to the following lovely review of The Distance Beacons from a very perceptive reader named D. Jensen:

What I can’t believe is that no one else has reviewed this book. Perhaps it is because this is the second (and hopefully not the last) that Bowker has offered us.
It has been a long, long time since I read this book, but I do remember it as a better than “a good ‘un”.

Walter Sands, the only P.I. in a post-apocalyptic (no longer United) States is asked to search for a rebel organization that is threatening to assassinate the President when she comes to Boston to campaign in favor of the New England states to rejoin the union.
Along with his friends and roommates, Walter uncovers much more than he or his employer expect.

Another great read from Bowker. I think that I like it that he never really describes the nuclear war that created this future mish-mash country. It was what it was and now the survivors are just trying to rebuild their lives and perhaps a country that may or may not resemble the earlier version. There is no sweeping view of this time; there is just the observations of the people “on the ground” so to speak. Bowker knows how to keep the characters relevant and relate-able and how to build the tension in the story to keep the reader turning pages–or flipping screens.

Worth the time where so many are not.

It’s all so very true!  Except for the part where he (she?) says “It’s been a long, long time since I read this book.”  As I may have mentioned here, The Distance Beacons was written a while ago (with a different title), but it ended up in a carton in my basement after Bantam declined to print a sequel to Dover Beach.  No more than half a dozen people read it back then, and it’s only the e-book revolution that has allowed it to see the light of day now.  D. Jensen is having a Good Soldier moment.

Unless, you know, my memory is playing tricks on me.