It’s open season on Grant Scotland!

Or sort of. What I mean is I’m kicking off my holiday season promotions today. In the coming weeks there’s going to be some fun stuff going on, including some giveaways, some takeaways and maybe a few embarrassing photos – so don’t miss out! Go ahead and sign yourself up on my mailing list! That will automatically enter you for the fun stuff. Next week I’ll announce the first contest and the prizes, but for THIS week you can get Spy for a Dead Empire on a Kindle Countdown Deal! That means you can get it for $0.99 today through Wednesday, but then the price goes up to $1.99 until next Monday, when it goes back to the full $3.99 price.

 

cover_image_final

“This book is book one, natural one, take it easy.”

 

I had hoped to start the giveaways this week, but a snag in my supply chain has delayed the arrival of my treasure trove of precious loot. I didn’t want to tell you what I’ll be giving away without also including some enticing photos. No! Instead, I shall increase the antici… -pation, by telling that it’s something good – something very, very good.

 

RIP, Don Pardo. Nobody made prizes sound as life-changingly awesome as you did.

RIP, Don Pardo. Nobody made prizes sound as life-changingly awesome as you did.

 

That’s all for now! I’m off to supply dozens of Patriots fans with car loads of delicious, piping hot pizza pies! I’m like the Santa Claus of Italian food delivery, except not at all anything like that.

Tip your driver! Review a book! Dress warmly!

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Selling the real McCoy

I used to hate meeting new people. Throughout my teen years and into most of my twenties I was so scared of first impressions that I tried not to make any at all. This had the effect of creating the very negative opinion in people’s minds that I was an aloof snob who thought he was better than everybody. This was true, of course, but they had no way of knowing that at the time.

I’m kidding. It wasn’t true. I was firmly convinced everyone was smarter, funnier and more attractive than me, so I stayed shy. I expect most people, especially other writers, feel that way at one time or another while growing up, but I carried it with me for longer than I should have. This isn’t to say I didn’t make friends. I did. By being in the same classroom as others and then later in the same workplace, it became easy to talk to people about the the things we had in common – namely school or work. Eventually, when I’d become satisfied that someone wasn’t actively trying to avoid my company, a friendship might develop.

So, if you’re having trouble in that area yourself, that’s a good blueprint to work from. Later on, when you feel more comfortable with your prospective friend, you can show her your collection of locust husks and amateur hentai drawn with menstrual blood and mucus. ProTip: Be sure to have a waste basket, bottled water and a clean towel nearby, just in case.

 

"Just lift the lid carefully and try not to breathe in too fast."

“Just lift the lid carefully and try not to breathe in too fast.”

 

It wasn’t until I became a computer game designer that I started to embrace meeting new people. I was a little bit older, and with age comes a certain amount of “who gives a fuck” in regards to first impressions, but also because I had gained an enormous amount of self-confidence. Why? Isn’t it obvious? Did you misread what I wrote at the beginning of the paragraph? I was a computer game designer! I had the coolest job on the planet! Of course everyone wanted to meet me! In fact, I was pretty sure most of them wanted to be me!

Even though none of that was true, it didn’t matter. I believed that it was true, at least to some extent, so it gave me enormous self-confidence. I still suffered from my own peculiar brand of first impression jitters, namely that for an hour or two after meeting someone new I obsessively went over every word I said to them in my head, almost panic-stricken with fear that I came off as a jerk, doofus, douchebag, milktoast or somehow gay. Seriously, I still do this. I can now laugh at it while I mentally torture myself, but it still happens. Anyway, although that remains a small issue to this day, I was no longer, nor am I currently, encumbered with paralyzing shyness.

But the real reason was not that I thought I was so much cooler than the average middle class white guy, but that I had built something that I could talk to anyone about. I had a product to sell. Sounds greasy, I know, but bear with me. You see, I no longer had to sell myself to people based solely on such ephemeral things like my looks, brains or common lifestyle circumstances like work or school. No, I had a product that I built and was proud of and even wanted to sell you! The company I worked for, Mad Doc Software, sent me places to talk up the games we were making from time to time. I wasn’t terrible at it, but I’m certainly no salesman. No, what’s important here is that I went from a shy kid not wanting to risk meeting anyone to being a man who wanted to shake your hand and tell you all about this great game I got right here.

 

"MADE A COMPUTER GAME. IT DIDN'T SUCK."

“MADE A COMPUTER GAME. IT DIDN’T SUCK.”

 

And that’s still with me. My career in computer games may be over, but I’ve got a product I’m even more proud and excited to tell you about. The Grant Scotland series is fun, smart, snarky and its approach to fantasy is down to earth without being too dark and gritty. But how to tell everyone about it? When I was a computer game designer, I could go to game conventions and expos and find a ready audience of willing listeners. But now? Finding my audience has certainly proven far trickier. There are several reasons for this and all of them are legitimate and mostly beyond my control, but I’m not interested in throwing up my hands, saying “oh well, I tried, but you see of course how the whole world is against me” and admitting defeat.

I just recently had a brainstorming session with my marketing team – namely, my brother and his good-for-nothing, boozy friend (just kidding, Brad). We started talking about all sorts of ways to get the Grant Scotland brand out there. Some were good, some were ridiculous and some were just out of the question. The point where I draw the line is outright bribing people for Amazon reviews. The point came up that in order to be successful, you have to be willing to be a little unethical. I agreed that this was probably true, but there are limits. For instance, I would never give money to someone in exchange for a review. However, I would be willing to enter a fan who gave me a review (good or bad) into a contest for some free stuff.

See the difference there? I know. It’s subtle, but to me it’s important. Sure, there’s an ethical gray area I am more than willing to walk around in and make myself at home. That doesn’t mean I’d ever be willing to go full Trump and completely abandon my moral compass in some useless struggle to achieve success at any cost.

 

"Loser."

“Loser.”

 

One day I’ll stop punishing myself with that guy, but… IT IS NOT THIS DAY!

By the way, they never suggested I do any such thing. We just talked about it. We also talked about getting so drunk we’d get thrown out of the place we were eating. “Local author and associates cited for disturbing the peace” was a marketing strategy we toyed around with for a while. Hey, worked for Peter O’Toole, right? We decided to shelve that plan for the time being. Maybe plan ahead next time. Get some young and hungry local reporter to be on scene.

Anyway, the point is that I’m trying to be true to myself and at the same time sell you a great product. I’m a mediocre salesman at best, I know, but with a little time I’ll win you over. The product, after all, will do most of the work. 😉

Stay tuned! I’ve got a great holiday treat coming up soon. You won’t want to miss it!

So long! Be well! Review a book! Tip your driver!

 

 

Reviews are everything, reviews are nothing

Amazon book reviews (and to a lesser extent Goodreads reviews and to an even lesser extent – is that possible? How many extents are there? How far does an extent go? Can an extent get an extension? More importantly, will I ever find my way out of this parenthetical? – wait… where was I? Oh yes… and to an even lesserer extenterer all other sites that allow reviews) are critical to an author’s success. They help or sometimes dictate if a 3rd party website will promote a book. They influence how seriously Amazon regards your book and if they will recommend it to their customers using an algorithm that is as full of mystery and magic as an average day at Hogwarts.

 

Pictured: Jeff Bezos, shortly after entering his mysterious school for gifted youngsters.

Pictured: Jeff Bezos, shortly after entering his mysterious school for gifted youngsters.

 

But do reviews actually mean anything? Bear with me for a sec here. If you’re an Amazon customer, do you write reviews for everything you buy? Of course not. I mean, obviously you wrote a scathing critique of that combination toaster/blender you bought, warning all the other unwary customers away from the product’s false claims of serving up a complete breakfast in minutes. Failed to mention how everything somehow tastes like a toast slurry, didn’t they?

But what about all the products you liked? Well, maybe you wrote one glowing review of that complete DVD box set of The Waltons you bought for yourself a while back. Sure, you wrote it after binge-watching all nine seasons, eyes bleary from three bottles of red wine and tear-filled from the regret evoked by painful reminders of the sunshine of youth now eclipsed and the glory of bygone days, but you meant every word! And you wouldn’t take back one single syllable. Well, except that mention of your first girlfriend and how you hoped she was happy and living the life you always knew she deserved. You went back and edited that out anyway. Don’t worry, I’m sure no one saw. Well, no one who cared anyway.

 

Don't you judge me, internet. Don't you dare judge me.

Don’t you judge me, internet. Don’t you dare judge me.

 

But besides that one special product near and dear to your heart, do you write reviews for anything else? I’m betting not. That latest pack of underwear sure was delivered on time and hugs your butt cheeks exactly as described, but you just can’t be motivated to take the time to pen a nice note stating that with your name attached and everything. No, for most products we buy on Amazon we blissfully neglect leaving reviews. Why? Because we have lives full of about a thousand things that demand our attention. How could writing a review no one will probably ever read even attempt to make it into the top 10 on your to-do list? I mean, I deliberately shifted gears on my life a couple of years ago to limit the amount of things going on in it so I could concentrate on writing and even I can’t be bothered to review my latest purchase of athletic socks and spanx!

I made up one of those purchases. I’m not telling you which one.

So, if we know this about ourselves, why then do we trust reviews so much? Why do we bother looking at them at all when we know all the 5-star reviews are absurdly slanted (if not outright bought) and all the 1-star reviews are from customers who either should never have bought the thing in the first place or are just angry that it isn’t everything they ever wanted? Why do we place such a great emphasis on weighing this critical feedback, which often is neither critical nor feedback?

The answer, of course, is that it’s all we have. Amazon and all the other e-tailers have no independent reviewers. There is only the feedback left from the seething mass of humanity. In a way this is good, but in another it’s bad. It’s good, because no one entity can be bribed or otherwise influenced to leave good or bad reviews. It’s bad because most people either don’t leave reviews or leave sloppy and clearly biased ones. With a situation like this it’s tempting to just ignore reviews altogether, but even though you are loathe to leave them yourself, you know you need them.

 

WAT DO?

WAT DO?

 

Well, I know it’s going to sound like I’m telling you that one plus one equals a George Foreman Grill, but you need to write more reviews. Yes. You do. And me, too. (Well, I can’t really do it for books for reasons that should be obvious, but I can do it for other stuff.) I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. We have too many meaningless reviews so we need more? Yes. But what we need are meaningful reviews.

No! No, don’t run away! Wait! Let me explain!

I’m not talking about full page critical analysis stuff. No one reads that bullshit anyway. No! I’m talking about 2, 3 and 4 star reviews where you leave twitter-sized feedback. One thing you liked, one thing you didn’t and would you purchase more. That’s it! From one sentence to a maximum of three! That’s all! Easy-peezy.

But will it work, you ask? Well, you tell me. When you look at reviews do you read the essay-length ones? Do you read the 5-stars? The 1-stars? I strongly doubt you read the long reviews. You might read bite-sized 5 and 1 stars, but if you decide to purchase the item,  do you realistically think your review of it will line up with either spectrum? Of course not.

Listen, here’s what I do. I read the 1-stars to see if they’re for real. If they sound legit, I’ll move on, regardless of how many 5-stars there are. Most 5-stars are bought. Everyone knows that. BUT – if the 1-star reviews sound fishy or complain about crap I don’t care about? I cut to the “most helpful” review and read a few other 3 stars. “Most helpful” reviews are usually 3-stars. Know why? Because most things are good and bad. But they might be good with things you care about and bad concerning things of which you couldn’t give one soft stool.

It’s a shock, I know. I’ll give you a moment with it.

Actually, we’re about out of time, so go ahead and hit the showers. I might revisit this topic later, but for now just try to make a little extra time in your schedule to do some on-line reviews. It’s democracy in action, after all. Did I mention that? No? Well, I’m mentioning it.

Until next time, everyone! Don’t forget to tip your driver and don’t forget to review your purchase!

 

 

Self-Pubbed Authors Beware! The Shill is Coming!

I’ve written already about how I am largely OK with on-line companies that charge fees to help an author self-publish. They are up front about what services they provide and how much they’ll cost. It is a matter of debate about how ethical it is that they charge money for things the author can do for free him or herself, but that is a matter of opinion. There are things people can and can’t do. Most people who know about cars, for instance, will roll their eyes at all the places that charge $30 for an oil change. This kind of thing is not unheard of, you see.

However, it has just come to my attention that there is a new threat to the self-published author’s bank account. The Shill. Now, a shill is someone who is objectively awful, in my opinion, unless the shill openly discloses who they are being paid to shill for, but that hardly ever happens, at least not in any obvious way. The example that brought this to my attention was a webinar co-hosted by the newest star on the self-published author stage: Mark Dawson.

 

I'm starting to suspect I won't be taken seriously as an author until I get black-rimmed glasses...

I’m starting to suspect I won’t be taken seriously as an author until I get black-rimmed glasses…

 

Now, Mark Dawson’s story, if it is even mostly true, is one that all of us slaving away in the self-publishing trenches hope desperately to tell one day ourselves. I won’t go into it here, but you can check it out in this Forbes article. Suffice it to say that Mark stayed at his job while he wrote, stayed realistic with his expectations and patiently built his audience using tried and true techniques easily available to everyone until he reached a critical mass of backlist titles and ready customers and WHAMMO – he could make enough money to quit his day job and write full time.

Sounds great, right? Certainly sounds good to me. And the thing is, I DO believe that he is successful and I believe in how he did it… mostly.

You see, there’s a couple of things about him that don’t add up. Pardon me while I put on my trench coat and fedora. Now, let’s hit the bricks and start checking on this guy’s story. Wait. Better have a belt of whiskey first. It’s November, after all. If it isn’t cold, it’s raining. And if it isn’t raining, it’s dark. And if it isn’t dark, it soon will be. So where does that leave us? Bottom’s up, that’s where. SHLURP! Allright, let’s go. The truth is waiting out there, but it won’t wait for long. It’s like a classy dame sitting alone in a corner booth of a posh nightclub… OK. I’ll stop.

 

"And you won't start that up again until I tell you!"

“And you won’t start that up again until I tell you!”

 

I recently had the opportunity through an email invitation to attend a webinar hosted by FreeBooksy and Mark Dawson on how using Facebook Ads can help you gain a bigger and more focused audience. It was free and I didn’t have to install anything I didn’t already have (just some Citrix client updates) so I decided it just might possibly be worth my time. I did a quick check on Mark Dawson and didn’t see any Snopes articles or scam alerts out on him. I had used Free/Bargain Booksy before and although I was less than impressed with them, they seemed more or less on the level. Even if it turned out to be some sort of sales pitch for Facebook, Dawson and/or Booksy, I still might be able to learn a thing or two. This is my business after all. I have to keep researching this stuff, even if my intuition tells me this one won’t be yielding any useful information. As Richard Dreyfuss says in Let It Ride, “You never know.”

 

"And even when you know, you still don't know!"

“And even when you know, you still don’t know!”

 

So, the webinar started on time and opened smoother than any webinar I had ever attended. I guess that was the first clue. The second clue was when the Booksy spokesperson asked where everyone was from and instructed us to type our answers “in that field over there where you can type.” Before even a second passed she was reading off people’s names and locations, even though nothing had appeared in the chat box. Note to the Booksy people: That’s what that is. It’s a chat box. I typed my location in and saw my text appear, followed by exactly one other fellow.

We never heard our names or locations mentioned. I suppose that was clue number two.

So, the webinar lasted around an hour, although I left it before it officially closed. I have to confess I was disappointed, although not surprised, that this turned out to be an infomercial. Cleverly disguised, but still just an infomercial. It quickly became obvious that it was all pre-recorded and not live at all. And what was it an infomercial for, you ask? Why Mark Dawson’s exciting on-line course in self-publishing using Facebook Ads!

Que the trombone that is sad.

And Mark? Did he appear to be all that he claimed? Wellllll… Mark repeatedly used the phrase “why do X (where X=some common self-pubber marketing chore), when, if you’re like me, what you really want to be doing is writing?” and then he’d go on and on about his course and how he’ll dedicate two weeks of his time to helping each enrolled student. That’s two weeks… each.

Although he specifically mentions that he quit his job to write full time, somehow he is now more interested in helping other writers market on Facebook… full time? Obviously, if he has the time to do that he is not actually writing. What he is actually doing is running a… I want to say scam, but technically it isn’t… operation, maybe? No, that sounds like a mob job. Running an online course, I guess. I hate to demean education like that, but it’s his fault, not mine. Anyway, he’s clearly not interested in writing full time. He’s interested in running a “business” to pull money out of the pockets of starry-eyed neophyte author wanna-bes.

I know this isn’t a surprise to any of you, my savvy and attractive readers, but the internet is absolutely the wild west. That’s both what we love and hate about it. Give you one guess what old wild west character Mark Dawson comes across as:

 

"Step right up! Step riiiiiight up! I can empty your pockets for just six easy installments of 59.95!"

“Step right up! Step riiiiiight up! I can empty your pockets for just six easy installments of 59.95!”

 

Look, Facebook Ads may work. They may even work as well for you as they did for Mark, but I doubt it. Why? Because I’m 90% sure he’s a shill. Facebook gave him free ads or reviews or maybe even real money to boost his success so it would look like Facebook Ads can work for everyone. Do I know this for a fact? No. But, I’ve been alive for 42 years and have seen and fallen for a number of scams. I really can’t imagine this isn’t one. Well, as much as a clear shill can be a true scam, I guess. You’re not being completely taken for a ride, after all. You are actually getting something for your money. You’re just being sold it under false pretenses. It’s absolutely overrated though. When you boil it down you are being asked to pay out a ridiculous amount of money just for the privilege of having some guy teach you how to use a Facebook Application. How much money? I don’t remember exactly, but it was in the few hundreds of dollars range.

As for Freebooksy, I went from not just being unimpressed with their straight-up advertising services to being deeply suspicious that they are in bed with (if not outright owned by) Facebook.

But it wasn’t all bad. Mark made the critical error (for a shill) of being truthful about how he achieved whatever real or imaginary level of success he’s achieved before Facebook Ads – by using mailing lists. I’m not certain mailing lists are still as effective as they used to be, but I know it’s one proven technique that I still haven’t implemented. So, if you like my books and/or like what I’m doing on this blog, go ahead and get on my shiny new mailing list:

Subscribe to the Newsletter!

Do it now and you might pre-qualify for a FREE TOASTER!*

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But seriously, I’ll have some cool stuff to give away during the holidays and I’ll be utilizing that list quite a bit. Do yourself a favor and sign up now!

So long everybody! Instead of enrolling in an online course in “How to Facebook,” why not tip your driver? 😉