Things That Make Me Sad

     Good morning, Gentle Reader. It’s Wednesday, or “Hump Day,” as the gainfully employed have long styled it. The rain is pissing down on my kinda-sorta-beloved Long Island home, yet the dogs keep demanding to be let out…and let back in five minutes later. Thus, the house is accumulating a great number of muddy tracks from end to end. But this too shall pass away, right?

     That’s enough of an introduction, I think. Anyway, what I want to talk about is indie fiction.


     Hans G. Schantz has been operating a Based Book Sale at regular intervals for a few years now. At first it seemed an effective promotional technique. However, the bloom might be off that rose, at least if my own sales are an indication.

     There are some fiction-marketing “gurus” who argue that the way to develop a significant enduring readership is to “keep the pipeline filled.” Keep pumping ‘em out! Don’t bother fussing over every word. Don’t concern yourself with assuring that your prose flows smoothly and that your sentence structures propel the reader irresistibly forward. Don’t fret over the occasional typo. And indeed, some who have followed that star have sold a lot of books.

     I can’t do that. With one exception, I dislike the stories of those who’ve embraced that prescription. Overall they strike me as slapdash, often repetitive. But as regards sales volume, it seems to work for some of those who have the knack.


     Some time ago, I penned a short piece about things a writer should not do in promoting his books, with specific attention to the promotional blurbs we post at Amazon. However, I never posted it here or elsewhere. So here it is:

     Patterns can arise in any venue, and from many practices and techniques. Sometimes a pattern is an unrecognized consequence of the indie-fiction “Uber-consciousness:” i.e., the way we’re always furtively watching one another, hoping to spot someone who’s made an actual breakthrough. Since indie writers are more challenged by promotion than by most other aspects of their avocation, the patterns I’ve found there are my place to start.

     Mind you, I’m not particularly successful. I’ve made some money at this, but averaged out over the hours I’ve invested in my fiction, from a profit perspective I’d have been better advised to get a part-time job at a fast-food place. All the same, as a major consumer of indie fiction as well as a producer thereof, my observations might just have some value to my colleagues in this madness.

     Preliminary Meta-Observation: You cannot rise above the herd by aping the herd’s practices. If it seems as if everyone else (or a large fraction of everyone else) is doing what you’re doing, chuck it at once and try something else!

     When it comes to patterns, the above is the guiding principle. If it strikes you as obvious, then why are you still doing what everyone else is doing?

     First Detail Observation: Indies are prone to praising their own work.

     Doubleplusungood! It’s always a mistake to preen yourself in public, and never more so than when money is involved. Self-awarded praise is almost always detectable, is redolent of arrogance, and will reliably turn your prospective customer off. Speak plainly of your book or story, and let the praise come from happy readers.

     Second Detail Observation: Grammar, spelling, and punctuation always count, and never more so than in promotional material.

     Indies have stories to tell; no one disputes that. Many of those stories are inherently as interesting as anything being published by conventional publishers. But he whose craft is suspect won’t sell his stuff. He could have produced the next Gone With The Wind, and it wouldn’t matter. Paying readers don’t tolerate sloppy writing — and if your promo stuff is slovenly, the prospective reader will assume your fiction is as bad or worse. Remember, authors pay proof readers, not the other way around.

     Third Detail Observation: Even a good promotional technique can be overused. No matter how intriguing or evocative a technique seems to you, if it seems that “everybody is doing it,” you shouldn’t be.

     This comes to mind because, just this morning while fishing at Smashwords for something to read at lunch, I encountered about two dozen promotional blurbs in sequence, every one of which ended with a question. The hook here is easy to understand: If you can get a prospective reader interested in the answer to that question, he just might buy your book. But there are other ways to elicit that sort of reader curiosity. Breaking out of the pack by using one of those alternatives would add the refreshment of novelty to the lure of your blurb.

     If you write indie fiction, let me know whether the above is of any help to you.


     One practice mentioned above really must be extinguished at once: self-praise. Is there a reader who’s unaware that your Amazon blurb was written by you, the author? Somehow I doubt it. Yet the trend toward praising one’s own works in those blurbs is actually getting stronger.

     If you can get someone else to praise your stuff – someone who doesn’t owe you money – fine and dandy. But restrict your blurb to talking about the substance of your tale, not how you hope the reader will feel about it.

     I mention this because I was recently induced to check out the fiction of a fairly well-known commentator. This gentleman has written a long series of novels, whose themes “should” have aroused my interest. I’ve resisted his oeuvre because of the style of his commentary, which can be grating. But not too many days ago, he casually referred to his novels as “amazing” in one of his op-eds. Bizarrely, that made me feel compelled to see if he’s as good as all that.

     To stay compact about it, he’s not. I couldn’t get ten pages into his most recent novel without shaking my head at the flaws of craft. I shan’t name him, as I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a dip in his sales. But I hope he learns some fictional craft sometime soon…and some humility.


     Finally, a story that doesn’t make me sad. It’s not often that I write Amazon reviews any more, as the frequency of those reviews was proportional to the volume of requests from other writers to review their books, always for no consideration whatsoever. But now and then I do pen a review. The work in question must please me significantly more than average, as mere diversions are legion. My review of such a book will say so.

     And just yesterday, an extremely nice note arrived in the e-mailbox:

Dear Francis,

     Hello. You may not remember me, but I’m the author of Strangely, Incredibly Good, for which you wrote my all-time favorite review, and there have been hundreds! I loved that it tickled you and that you found I didn’t over-write.

     I didn’t have an email for you until recently (found it on GR) and came across your review again today, so I just wanted to thank you for it. You are one of the reasons I probably went on to write five more novels and a couple screenplays! It’s not an easy career, especially with some people who live online deciding cruelty is a way of life, so reviews like yours were the deciding factor for me between persevering and poking my eyes out with a very sharp object so I couldn’t write or read the reviews any more.

🙂 Thank you.
Heather Grace Stewart

     If you have a few bucks to spend, a little room in your reading queue, and aren’t turned off by romantic comedy, go to Amazon and show Heather Grace Stewart some love. She deserves it.

1 comment

  1. “The rain is pissing down on my kinda-sorta-beloved Long Island home, yet the dogs keep demanding to be let out…and let back in five minutes later. ”

    Hey, don’t complain, Francis. That just means they’re smart, and are doing it exactly right. Over the course of my life, I’ve had a few dogs that would look out the door I was holding open for them, watch it pour down for a few seconds, then turn away and go take a dump on the living room rug. You could almost see the thought running through their heads: “Screw THAT for a game of checkers, I’m gonna stay inside and dry!”

    Can’t honestly say I blame ’em, either. 😀

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