Professionalism is for suckers…

This last Friday marked my sixth anniversary in publishing. Things started off slow and I struggled, in fact I still struggle. Many indie authors do. We struggle to find the artists for our covers, the editors for our manuscripts and the best practices for marketing. There are certainly others far more adept than I am at all of these things. The one thing that I have learned over the years is that there are no rules. What works for one project or for one author will not necessarily work for all authors or projects.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to find artists that I respect and offer a great deal of professionalism. Every cover I’ve assembled wouldn’t be what it is without a great artist. Every map I’ve had commissioned wouldn’t have turned out as amazing if I hadn’t found the artists who put my ideas into action.

 

Editors haven’t always been as easy to track down and going from a rough draft to a draft ready for editing wasn’t always as smooth as it is now.

 

Marketing still largely eludes me. I’ve built up my “author platform” on twitter, facebook and reddit…but I still often feel cheap and tawdry every time that I promote my work. So I try things, like blog tours, interviews, ad spots, anything and everything as I search for the “right answer” that very likely does not exist. There are months that pass that I simply rely on a twitter or facebook post a week, perhaps a blog approaches me to give an interview or discuss my books or journey. Once in a while though, I try old fashioned marketing; I pay someone to put my book on their website and see what kinds of results I get.

 

Before I continue, I should point out that none of this is the fault of Fiverr. Actually, I love that website. I’ve had a couple of promos made for podcasts I’ve had over the years, I found some editors that I still use through their website. Hell, I even found my cartographer (map maker) using Fiverr. As we all should know by now; marketing is an art form. It’s highly subjective and the same thing doesn’t work every time. So when looking for someone to market something for you anywhere, you should be aware that you’re buying their access to an audience…and not a result.

 

Obviously I wouldn’t be writing this if I’d had an excellent experience. To be honest, the only marketing campaign I purchased that had a result beyond my expectations was when I purchased an ad spot on the Keith & The Girl podcast. I find that I get the best results when I have an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit. It might not work for everyone and there’s certainly a risk of being trolled or mocked…but I’m happy to take the good with the bad and for the most part Reddit has been a lot of fun. However, back to the problem at hand.

 

Fiverr has many folks offering “gigs”, as I mentioned before; some of these are home runs and some of them are empty promises. Fiverr does their best to weed out the liars and cheats, but they couldn’t possibly nail down all of them without a staff of thousands. Fiverr has truly become a marketplace for people to find those willing to contract out their time, skill and audience to new customers. That being said, here was this months adventure;

 

I run a traditional, indie publishing company. We have a blog where we like to showcase authors and their books, especially if you are up and coming. You can be an author of any genre. We will interview you for our blog, which is ranked NUMBER ONE for out TOP keyword search (over three million searches monthly!), and showcase your book as well. The interview will stay up permanently on our site and be in the author spotlight section of our blog. It is great advertising and exposure for your book and as an author, as we have been publishing books now for seven years and have had 8 best sellers. You might ask then, why are we on fiverr with this gig? The answer is simple: We like to work with authors who value themselves and their work enough to market their vision in a savvy business place like fiverr. Let us help you find some new people who will appreciate your literary vision!

 

That was the ad and it sounded like something I was willing to give a shot. $25 included a “gig extra” that would have my book cover up on the website for 90 days. Assuming three million searches monthly, that’s great value. Of course, I assumed that three million was an exaggeration…but I wouldn’t know how right I was until I purchased the gig.

 

Now, I wouldn’t never fault another writer for taking the chance that I took and I would never judge one who found this gentleman’s service to be everything it was promised to be.

 

However. I was less than impressed when I was sent the website.

 

Ok, first impression? It looks like a BBS message board.
But who the hell am I to judge? My website is built on a wordpress blog platform, I don’t hide the fact that I’m a woefully sub-par website creator. I’m not alone thankfully and wordpress has made it easy to at least look moderately professional. But I also don’t claim to generate three million hits a month. The seller also claimed that it’s a top search on google.

 

Alright, I typed in “Sakura Publishing” on google. Top three results? A facebook fanpage, librarything post, and an absolutewrite.com forum post (it wasn’t too complimentary  in which the “owner” shows up to defend his publishing firm and is taken to task by the forum regulars).

Alright…so “top” search result might mean top 10, right? Fair enough.

#4 – Smashwords profile.

#5 – Twitter handle.

#6 – Yelp profile with no reviews.

#7 – bookbuzzr.com profile.

#8 – publishersarchive.com profile.

#9 – Linked In profile.

#10 – biblio.com bookstore profile.

Ok, why am I being so mean?

 

Well.

 

Even though I didn’t get any results at all from the Fiverr gig I purchased, that didn’t really shock me. I wasn’t purchasing a result. The odds that out of nine million hits (remember, the claim was three million a month) during my ad’s scheduled run that not a single person clicked on the book are fairly remote. Regardless, I was purchasing an audience and the audience might have thought my book sucked, my personality turned them off (by far the most likely), they didn’t like the image, or they didn’t like the interview.

 

Actually, let’s talk about that word for a moment; “interview”.

 

When you read the word “interview” and romanticise it in your head, you might imagine something like Barbara Walters sitting down with a prolific writer and getting down to what makes them tick. At the very least you expect a question sheet from the interviewer with questions that they might ask. If it’s a blog, then you might get a list of questions that you then write your answers to. I’ve done that before. No problem. I like to write. In the case of this gig, the “interview” portion I “misunderstood” from the gig was that I would provide both the answers AND the questions. Now, where I come from that’s not an interview…but like I said; I love to write. So I found a few blog tour question primers I had from previous marketing excursions, picked my favourite questions and then provided some answers.

 

I wish I was kidding.

 

Now, after one month…like most writers…I became insecure and thought: Hey…maybe it’s me?

 

So I tweeted a book cover.

 

361 impressions, 11 total engagements, etc….on twitter. Results in my sales? 241 ebooks, 5 print books and 5,132 pages read.

 

Is it possible that coincidentally all of his site hits blasted my book sales on the same day as my tweet? Sure. But frankly, I’d learned a lesson and I was moving on to my usual marketing gimmicks and started posting to my twitter and facebook feeds more regularity until my sales went back to where they were before this little experiment.

 

I left a review of the Fiverr gig in the most honest way possible. I gave five stars out of five for communication, because even though I’d “misunderstood” what an interview was, he did at least communicate right away. I left four stars for “was this gig as described” because who knows? Maybe he does get three million hits a month. I mean…when I google my name, the first result is my website and it damn sure doesn’t generate three million hits a month. In fact, when I used an Alexa search…the publishing company mother-ship website gets less than 100 hits a month. The blog website for us lowly authors who demean ourselves to use his services to reach “three million” people, doesn’t even ping on Alexa.

 

Anyway, I didn’t want a refund. I was willing to leave my huge $25 on the table because I’d been stupid and wandered away from what works for me. Lesson learned.

 

That was, of course, until last night. What follows is the completely unedited chain of events for your enjoyment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He “bro’d” me…I couldn’t stop laughing for a solid minute. But, up until that point…he’d actually delivered on the “gig” promises…up until the point where he pulled the ad with sixty days left. He thanked me for my $25, which I thought was polite…even though it passive aggressively said “you get nothing”…the fun continues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexa is wrong though…you know…the industry standard. I’m on Fiverr though, so I must be doing horribly…I cringed a little because is he on Fiverr to “take advantage” of rubes like me then? I didn’t even know what to take away from that. He’s absolutely right though, only two reviews for my latest book is pretty sad. I’m not quite sure what to make of the “bought” reviews other than perhaps he’s used Fiverr for Amazon reviews, which is against Amazon policy and they’ll pull your book if they suspect reviews have been purchased…but that’s supposition.

Anyway, he did not contact Fiverr support by the way. I had to. No offer of a refund or even a partial one for time not used on the ad. But no spoilers! Keep reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah! Finally the mention of a refund. Now we’re getting somewhere.

 

But he did lie. He stated that his blog gets three million hits a month. He also lied in that he didn’t want to interview anyone, he wanted others to interview themselves and he’d post it. We might be “peers” in the way that both myself and Tom Clancy fancy ourselves writers…but clearly one of us is a more adept communicator than the other.

 

Again though, all a seller on Fiverr has to do is click “cancel gig” and the refund is issued. All of this back and forth and name calling is just frosting…delicious frosting that I get to have for free. I feel all warm and tingly inside. We continue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be clear, he never represented anyone except the poor desperate folks he cajoled into believing that he is indeed a “traditional, indie publisher”…whatever that is. Sakura Publishing’s website is down, but after a little Amazon searching most of their books are nutrition based. It’s been around since 2011. In 2015 they stopped charging writers to publish their own books and that was their most prolific publishing year. Although, since that was really their only publishing year, I can only conclude that the new business model (likely triggered by the forum post earlier) wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Now he’s on Fiverr. Lucky for me.

 

He…by the way…is Derek Vasconi and he’s written a book called “Kai” which is a Japanese horror story. There’s a litany of indie prizes he’s won, I’ve seen them all before and they’re purchased reviews, in fact of the twelve reviews of his book there are only three that were made by verified purchasers. I’m sure the rest just got donated review copies, like I said before; I would never fault someone for trying to make things happen. However, one really shouldn’t drag out the judgmental pendulum until one is aware that it swings both ways.

 

The moral of this story boys and girls is simply this; While you are out trying to make your writing dream a reality, you will be taken advantage of at some point AND it’s okay to fight back.

 

Don’t be the road…be the boot.

 

Documentary Review – Inequality For All

I find myself more and more watching documentaries of all kinds. Sometimes, they’re even on serious topics…though rarely are they done with a total serious approach.Income-Inequality-Graph-from-Robert-Reichs-New-Film

Let me clarify for a moment.

There has always and will always be social, political and financial inequality. It’s a fact of human nature that we haven’t evolved out of…hopefully that will change in time, but as much optimism as I can muster is that in reality, we just aren’t ready to truly have equality. For some odd reason, deep down in the core of our DNA, we all still have a need to feel superior. Even so, I can’t sit through documentaries or lectures when I feel like the person(s) delivering them don’t feel passion for what they are talking about. That passion invariably leads to humor, or at least irony (which I tend to find humor in anyway).

With that long-winded preamble out of the way…

Inequality For All is a fantastic documentary. First of all, Robert Reich is entertaining, informative and well versed in the topic of income inequality. Secondly, his self-deprecating humor about his height puts everyone at ease…even when the topic of conversation is about to take a sharp polarizing turn. Thirdly, and this is the most important, there is a healthy mix of both oral and visual references to illustrate his point.

At no time did I feel like I was being talked down to – even though admittedly I know next to no facts about the income gap – on the contrary, I felt very much like I was back in one of my favourate teachers classrooms being taught something incredibly dry and boring in an upbeat and jovial way. Like most people, I tend to retain information better when I’m awake as opposed to bored into a zombie-like state.

This topic has always been highly contentious and will likely always be so. Everyone dreams of making millions, living in a big house…the lifestyle of the rich and famous. The reality that we all eventually face is that the dream is out of reach for the VAST majority of the population and yet we all still defend a tax system that effectively punishes us for not making an eight-figure salary. We all know this, we all know how absurd and self-destructive it is and yet we all dream that one day we’ll be the 1% who will pay a pittance of taxes and it’s an alarming belief system. Robert Reich did an excellent job of illustrating this and frankly, if the message got through to even one person…it was worth it.

If the income inequality issue has confounded you, or if you feel like you’re being led down a path that is against your own self-interest…you owe it to yourself to at least watch this documentary and hopefully take something away from it.

Movie Review – Guardians of the Galaxy

guardian-of-the-galaxy-poster1Once again I find myself being a horrible fan. I was into comic books for most of my school life, but it was something I left behind when I graduated. Not because of some pathetic urge to grow up, but because I moved on to novels. Frankly, I got tired of the formulaic garbage that was being released about fifteen years ago.

Happily, since then some rather incredible comics have been released. One of those is Guardians of the Galaxy, which straddles the edge between scifi and fantasy nicely. Super powers fall under the umbrella of fantasy, just in case you’re objecting to the genre classification.

Now, I’ll be honest, when Marvel announced that Guardians was going to be their next project…I scratched my head in confusion. I know who Ironman is, I know who Wolverine is, Captain America…etc. These are characters I’m more than passingly familiar with as my collection of Wolverine comics will attest.

Guardians seemed like a niche comic to me despite the crossovers with more established titles like X-Men and The Avengers.

I had zero desire to get acquainted with them as a result.

I mean no offence; it’s just that when comic books make it to movie they rarely stick to the comic book storylines or precepts. Despite Hugh Jackman being awesome, a six foot tall Logan being called runt by a 6’3” tall Sabertooth would be odd…even if it is a staple of their feud.

So with that and other examples in mind, I wanted to see Guardians without any preconceptions. While a comic book fan that’s woefully behind on current events, I fought the urge to read up on the Guardians before seeing this movie.

Ironically, this both served and punished me. From all reports, Guardians is very close to the comic book. Possibly closer than other Marvel movies have been. Still, the decision was made and I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy with an open mind.

I should go off on a tangent here just a bit. I’ve never been a big fan of 3D movies. I’ve found most of them to be gimmicky at best. Most of the time, it seems like 3D was added as an afterthought to drive up ticket prices and have me look like a Big Bang Theory rejected cast-mate for a couple of hours.

I was happily surprised to see that even if 3D was added as an afterthought – it largely depends on which rage-a-holic blog/newspaper you’re reading by the way, I couldn’t find a definitive answer that some knuckle-dragging killjoy didn’t tear apart – it was done superbly. As a human being, my eyes are designed to perceive depth and I really only get to enjoy that part of my human existence outside…literally outside. It’s that place that has sunburns and insects. The 3D here was done to perfection.

That being said, let’s get off this tangent roller coaster and back to the review.

I love pithy dialogue in every medium. It often misses more than it hits, mainly because people are just trying too hard to be sarcastic and it comes off as anger fueled cruelty. I don’t think there was a scene in this movie that didn’t have a sarcastic one-liner that made me chuckle. Judging by my fellow movie goers and a couple of buddies, I wasn’t alone. There were backstory filling lulls that served to build tension before the next action scene, some byplay between the characters to show their evolution into a group dynamic and of course what Hollywood movie would exist without some sexual tension between a tree and a raccoon.

I’m kidding. Chill out.

There were some moments, for those who watch movies too closely to really enjoy them, like the leader of the Chitauri getting his neck snapped by Ronan, The Tesseract as the container for the blue infinity stone and of course…Howard the Duck.

No spoilers. You have to look for him yourself. He has a couple scenes and that’s all I’ll reveal.

I will, at this point, say that as a new Whovian I did enjoy seeing Karen Gillian in the cast.

Now, the movie itself was very enjoyable. All of the elements that make me thoroughly enjoy a film were present. Believable characters, each with their own reasons driving their actions. There was a solid plot that made sense for this universe. The dialogue was amazing and the acting very well done.

It felt like someone loved this project from the conception to delivery and that very much came across to me.

That it’s a success is the cherry on top.

Movie Review – Delivery Man

I watch quite a few movDelivery-Man-UK-Quad-Posteries, I’m always on the lookout for something unique and entertaining. Despite Vince Vaughn having a long history of delivering both unique and entertaining movies, I rarely enjoy them this much. This movie was based off of a novel called “Starbuck”.

The premise here is that the protagonist has “donated” sperm 693 times (which resulted in 533 pregnancies) and made over $24,000 in the process under the pseudonym “Starbuck”. Oddly enough, this isn’t a plot hole, donations (despite the definition of the word) tend to result in monetary reward…which was more baffling than the plot hole I thought I’d stumbled upon but has absolutely nothing to do with this review. It’s just something I found odd.

 

Back to the review.

I absolutely loved the premise. It’s so ridiculous that you just can’t help but smile every time someone throws out the number of donations, the resulting children or the children who stepped forward to meet their father. David (Vince Vaughn) is a lovable loser who sold sperm as a scam, yet ends up coming face to face with the prospect of actual fatherhood with his on and off girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders). When presented with the petitioners who want him to come forward, or the sperm clinic to release David’s name, his best friend and lawyer Brett (Chris Pratt) presents him with an envelop with a profile for each of the children who have stepped forward.

Obviously, this movie wouldn’t be very amusing if the children were young. Each of them appear to be in their early to mid-twenties and like most young adults, each of them are finding their way. David sets off first, innocently enough, to help each of them out. But after a dozen or so, he happens upon a sort of support group for “Starbuck’s Kids”.

The way the author gets around the legality of “Starbucks” was one of those side jokes I enjoyed.

This support group exposes David to his many children and also begins to sow the seeds of his change. He ends up at a “family reunion” of sorts playing the part of the adoptive father of a physically handicaps “Starbuck Kid”, and it forever changes his perceptions of himself, his role in their lives and his role with his girl friend and their unborn child.

You can expect some tear-jerking moments of course, along with some ironic and dark humor. Ultimately though, I really felt like the movie delivered on a lot of levels. I’m glad that I stumbled across it, but slightly irritated that I wasn’t aware of it at all until I did.

The acting was fantastic, especially Vince Vaughn (David), Cobie Smulders (Emma), Chris Pratt (Brett) and Britt Robertson (Kristen). The cinematography was top notch, which is saying a lot because there were (as you would imagine) quite a lot of extras and wide angle shots.

Overall I thought it was a fantastic movie with a great story and solid acting…even if Chris Pratt’s fake gut was brutally obvious. A minor annoyance that didn’t distract at all from enjoying the movie.

Book Review – Book of Sith & The Jedi Path

Before I begin, I’m a horrible Star Wars fan.

By that I mean, I rarely read the books and even more rarely do I read the comics. I enjoyed the latest series, I’ve played most of the video games and I have to admit; I liked all of the movies…yes, even Jar Jar.

If you’re still reading, I’m going to assume that you are either doing so red faced or you are guilty of the same “sins” that I am. So, in an effort to alienate the rest of you…I don’t have a preference for Jedi or Sith. Evil always seems to be more interesting these days, especially well written evil that you can empathize with, but I can’t find myself honestly able to sympathize with their motives…even the historian characters.

A few years ago, at the urging of a friend of mine, I read the Darth Bane books and then we got into an argument. I’m sure some of you have had similar conversations, though my friends and I seem to be comfortable enough with one another to get into full on arguments. This argument was like all Star Wars arguments, wholly ridiculous. My stance was that Zannah took over Bane’s body at the end of the last book and he disagreed. So much so that we sat there reading each other “proof” of our stance for hours.

This is what makes Star Wars such an all-encompassing joy to fans of all kinds. When a great writer gets a chance to play in that universe, they tend to create interesting subtleties that keep us on the edge of our seats. They are also held strictly to canon when necessary and given a lot of free reign when it isn’t, which in a universe as vast in both time and space as Star Wars is, this is great news for anyone who loves the franchise.

This takes us to the meat of this article.

It’s fairly common for me to browse through the library and my local bookstore looking for new and interesting things to read. With so many voices available to me, I always tend to find something that is at the very least intriguing…even if it doesn’t live up to the blurb.

So during my latest browse through the library, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Book of the Sith by Daniel Wallace. Now, while Mr. Wallace tends to write encyclopedia style books, I was honestly drawn in by the look of the book and the unique page styles for each Lord or Darth that “wrote” their perceptions of the Dark Side.sith

It’s a simple and undeniable fact that we do judge books by the cover. Publishers know this and make special effort to create covers that look good and are appealing. Without one, readers likely won’t pick it up to look inside.

The Book of the Sith is no exception to this. Published February 10th, 2012, the book is monochromatic, but it’s the leather bound look of the cover that drew my eye. Big bold letters spelling “Sith” didn’t hurt either. After picking it up though, I was in for a real treat.

The premise here goes like this; Darth Sidious gathered together the texts that were of the greatest influence in his training and rise to power. He’s even gone so far as to make notes in the margins. My grandmother used to do something similar with her Bible, so it amused me on that level. I tend to hold books in an odd sort of reverence and refuse to even dog-ear a page…but that’s a story for another time.

The book itself though, has also been marked by Luke Skywalker, who stumbled upon it some years after all of the Emperors clones had (supposedly) been destroyed. He has also made notes in the margins, as have others who were mostly Sith. Their observations of the Dark Side along with the author of each text made for a compelling and interesting read.

So much so that I borrojediwed The Jedi Path next. This book was also written by Daniel Wallace, though it was published January 1st, 2010.

The premise of this book was slightly different, yet also struck of a “how-to” for aspiring Jedi. Of course, the Code is included, however it was designed as more of a “hand-me-down” reference from master to student beginning with Yoda…who has made notes in the margins.

Thane, Dooku, Qui Gon Jin, Obi Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano and Luke Skywalker have made notes throughout the text as well. I will say at this point that there were some mistakes in the version that I read that I hope were addressed with later versions. Ahsoka’s name was written under Anakin’s words twice. I noticed mostly because Ahsoka made reference to his notes both times.

Otherwise, this was a very interesting read. Most of this I knew as a fan of the movies and video games, however to have it all placed into a simulated leather bound book with rough edges was a very nice touch. Each commenter had a distinct voice that suited their character, complete with sarcasm and wit.

I should add that both texts had Yoda’s unique grammatical pattern as well, which was an amusing touch.

Each book, I hesitate to call it a novel since it’s not a story so much as a manual or reference, was originally released as a part of a package.

The Sith book came in a holocron with a scrap of a Sith burial shroud, a map of the Great Galactic War, a red lightsaber crystal, Palpatine’s political strategies, an Empire propaganda poster, a Nightsister talisman and a note from Luke Skywalker.

The Jedi book came in a case that when opened would reveal the book, a map, a coin, a Jedi Aces patch and a Padawan braid (little creepy there…lol).

The books themselves were released on their own about a year later, so if you don’t want the package and have more patience than I do, you can wait.

Like most people, when I find something that really appeals to me, I tend to go all in. After reading both books I went online and purchased the “vault” editions, as of this writing they are still on the way…I didn’t have the patience to wait to write about this. I also ordered The Bounty Hunter Code package (published October 29th, 2013) which is called “From the Files of Boba Fett”.

The Bounty Hunter book comes in a metal notebook that flips open along the short edge to reveal the book, a Kamino saberdart, Fett’s Captain’s license and arms permit, Slave 1’s operating license, a Han Solo wanted poster and an inventory slip from the Rebel Alliance who discovered and seized Fett’s property.

All in all, I was very impressed with the Sith and Jedi books and I’m really looking forward to opening the packages when they arrive and exploring the bounty hunter collection as well. If you’re into Star Wars at all, you owe it to yourself to at least check the books out. They are very interesting, well done and well researched. The material used is high quality and left me feeling like I was actually reading a hand-me-down book from a master. They may not be incredibly long, but there’s a lot of information for a general audience and further research into the concepts and history that interests you the most.