Amazon Reviews – Who Are They Really For?

Anyone who has read my blog recently, or who has followed my social media accounts is readily aware that earlier this month I published my first novel. While I've had a few sales, the real excitement has been how well it's been received on the Kindle Unlimited (KU) platform. I'm getting the equivalent of one to two full-volume reads every day, which has been quite exciting. Who knows if it will last, but for today, at least, I'm feeling good about the book's initial reception. I also have one review – and it's a 5-star review, too! Pretty cool!

Getting that review got me to thinking about reviews in general, and how important they are to authors and the sales of our books. Even so, reviews are not really for authors, are they? Are they not, in fact, "customer" reviews? Written by customers, with the purpose of providing insight into a product (in this case, a book), to other prospective customers before those customers decide to lay down their hard-earned money for the product. And yet, we as authors beg our readers to leave a review (preferably a positive one), primarily because it has become such an important tool in the marketing of our books. We have not made it this way (at least, I don't think we have), but it is this way nonetheless. I'm not saying it's good or bad, but simply the way it is.

The review system had become so critical to a book's success, Amazon has had to take steps to guard against those who would "game" the system in order to make their book more favorable. Sadly, I doubt this has done much to alleviate the problem, but has only served to hurt authors who are actually trying to play by the rules, mainly because the rules themselves seem to be in a constant state of flux.

I do think, when one reviews a book, the process should start, not at the book's conclusion, but rather at the time of purchase, as that experience is often crucial to the reader's mindset as they approach the book, before they ever read a word. For instance, if I pay $14.99 for the latest James Patterson e-book, my expectations are likely to be a lot higher than if I spend $2.99 on an unknown indie writer publishing their first novel. By that same token, if I purchase a book outright, whether it's for $2.99 or $14.99, my expectations will be different than if I stumble across a book as part of a subscription package like KU. I would compare it to a movie rental – I'm going to be more critical of a movie I pay to rent than I am of a movie I happen to catch as part of my Netflix subscription, but probably wouldn't have watched otherwise. The phrase "Hey, that was pretty good, I wouldn't have gone to see it in the theater, but it wasn't bad." comes to mind. In this sense, how one obtains a book will likely influence how it is reviewed, and should, at least in my opinion. This doesn't excuse the author from offering their best work possible, it only frames the work in the correct "you get what you pay for – hopefully much more" context.

As I've thought more about reviews and their real purpose, I've come to the conclusion that either they will come or the won't. (Although, accepting this conclusion is not easy as I continue to see more "reads" of my book via KU, without any additional reviews – I am human, after all!) In addition, when the reviews do come, they will either be positive, or they won't. Like many things in life, reviews of my book are beyond my ability to control or influence, and I shouldn't be attempting to do so, even if I could.

So, while a specific review, or the significant lack of reviews may concern my work, and may indeed have an influence over the commercial success or failure of my book, the review is not ultimately about me, or my wants and needs. I've already fulfilled those by completing and publishing the book. What happens next is not up to me. My efforts are better spent getting started on the next book, but that's a blog for another time.


Like What You Write

I recently (self-)published my first full-length novel—a character driven, science fiction story entitled, Your Truth is Out There. I'm proud of this achievement-not just that I actually finished and published  it, but that I really like what I've written.

Now that it's published, the hard, somewhat distasteful work of marketing the book begins—that tedious (and often odious) endeavor whereby I seek to convince others to trade their hard-earned cash for a book that I worked (at least) equally as hard to write. Or so says conventional wisdom. But to be honest, I'm not sure marketing is where I really want to spend the bulk of my time. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to sell a million copies and spend the rest of my life "living the dream," but honestly, how realistic is that? Even if it were to happen, it would probably do so regardless of how much time I spend on Twitter, Facebook and other social channels "pitching" my wares to an audience that consists primarily of friends, family and other authors who are essentially pitching thier books right back to me. Honestly, how many of one another's books can we really afford to buy? I could place ads, but I'm a communications/ad guy in my day job and I understand what a successful ad campaign takes—significant and consistent ad placement. Translation: lots of investment dollars. No thank you.

Then there's this: "I really like what I've written."

To me, this the ultimate takeaway. Yes, I will stalk the Amazon KDP reports for the next several weeks to see if anyone has purchased my book, or read any pages within the Kindle Unlimited program, and when they do, I'll rush over to the book page and see how the sale affected its ranking (oh, to get into the top 100,000, if only for a moment!). Yes, I'll react accordingly when I get a review: I'll be so excited my feet won't touch the ground when it's a positive one, and I'll be equally depressed when the review is not so favorable. And yes, I'll still regularly make the rounds on social media, and perhaps do a few ad buys here and there, but it will all be tempered by the deep-seeded understanding that: "I really like what I've written."

Why is that so important, you ask? Because, regardless of how many copies I sell, ten or ten thousand, if I don't like what I've written—or worse, what I'm writing—then why bother? Why spend my free time squinting at electronic screens of varying shapes and sizes, fingers pecking away at keyboards that suck, all in an effort to tell a story I don't enjoy? Personally, I have better things to do with my time. Ahhhhhh ... but, if I like what I've written, then it doesn't matter what others think of it. If I like what I'm writing, I'm going to enjoy the process, even the difficult frustrating parts (yes, I'm referring to editing!). When it's all said and done, if I like the story and the characters, I will keep going, because that's why I started in the first place. If others want to come along on the journey, we'd love to have you (yes, my characters are real, and they're quite welcoming, too). But should you decide to choose to join another quest, that's okay too—my characters and will be just fine.

If you're a writer, struggling to get that first story down on paper (electronic or otherwise), I would challenge you to examine why you're struggling. Is it a time issue (i.e. not enough of it)? Is it that your idea simply isn't fleshed out far enough? Or is it something deeper? Do you like what you're writing? If you don't, even if you finish, you won't feel as if you've succeeded.

Your Truth is Out There Preview: Chapter One

Last weekend, my first novel, "Your Truth is Out There," went live on in both Kindle and paperback formats. The paperback is available for immediate order, while the Kindle version can be pre-ordered for delivery on March 14.

Here's the first chapter. Enjoy (and then go buy the rest of the book!)


Chapter 1

I Lost My Job Today

Henry glanced up at the clock behind the bar, saw that it was almost 2:30 in the afternoon, and realizing it was much too early in the day for his third shot of whiskey, proceeded to take the full glass in front of him and knock it back.

“Another one, please,” he said to the bartender, “in fact, after what I’ve just been through, you should probably just leave the bottle.”

“Look my friend,” said the bartender, “I don’t want to get into your business, but I can’t leave the bottle unless you pay up front.”

“No problem,” said Henry, pulling out his wallet. He took out his one and only credit card, hoping through the buzz in his head that he had enough credit left to pay for the bottle, and slapped it down on the bar. “There ya go, put it on that.”

“You sure about this, buddy?” said the bartender, giving Henry a once-over. “You’re not one of my regulars, and you don’t look like the kind of guy who polishes off a bottle of Jack in the middle of the afternoon.”

Henry nodded. “Take it,” he said.

“Suit yourself,” said the bartender taking the card and turning back to the register. “It’s your money … and liver.”

Henry looked at the clock again, and then chastised himself after seeing that it was now exactly 2:37. Why the hell should he care what time it was? It wasn’t like he had anywhere to be. It wasn’t like he still had a job or anything.  

“What’s your name?” he said to the bartender when the man turned back around with his credit card, the approval slip, and the nearly full bottle of Jack Daniels.

“Craig,” said the man, who didn’t seem much older than Henry’s twenty-nine years. He took the slip back after Henry signed it, and looked at the generous tip Henry had left him. “Thanks for that, Mr. Backus.”

“Mr. Backus … hmmm … almost makes me sound important when you say it like that. Call me Henry, please.”

“Sure thing,” said Craig absently, as he put the ticket into the cash register and went to check on another customer at the other end of the bar.

“Almost sounded important,” said Henry quietly to himself as he poured another drink, “almost.”

Henry downed the shot, then looked around the darkened room through eyes that, even though hazed by alcohol, were still perceptive enough to quickly understand the place. It was a bar, sure, that was easy enough to see. There were booths lining the far wall and tables in the middle of the room, all empty at this time of day. Then of course, there was the bar itself where he sat, along with the establishment’s only other customer, the one Craig was tending to now. Yes, this was a bar, but it was more than that; it was a kind of resting place, a place where the wounded of spirit came to find a small modicum of respite from the pain that tortured them.

His counterpart at the end of the bar, for example, was clearly a regular. Henry could tell that easily enough by the way he and Craig interacted. The man was quite comfortable with his surroundings, much more so than Henry. He clearly knew his way around the place, too, reaching behind the bar and grabbing a stack of cocktail napkins and stuffing them in his pocket while Craig had his back turned, then going for a can of peanuts the next time the bartender wasn’t watching. Aside from his kleptomania, it was clear this man had an affliction of some sort, a disease upon his soul. Otherwise why would he be in here and not out amongst the living? As Henry began to wonder what his situation could be, the man turned toward Henry and made eye contact with him. It was brief, but it may as well have been an eternity, for in that moment, in those eyes, Henry saw a darkness, a level of broken despair he never thought possible, even knowing how deep his own pain went. Henry turned back to his bottle, poured another shot and downed it, deciding that the rest of the world was none of his damn business.

“You know, I’m not one to tell someone how they should drink their bottle,” said Craig, as he returned to Henry’s side of the bar carrying a glass filled with ice, “but shooting the whole thing is a pretty tough way to go. I might suggest taking it a little slower and trying some on the rocks. You might even think about mixing it with something.”

Henry looked up at the bartender as the man set the glass down in front of him.

“Thanks, that’s probably a good idea,” he said, doing his level-best not to slur his words. He poured the whiskey over the ice, watching the two forces of golden liquid alcohol and frozen solid ice interact with one another. The liquid melting the solid, doing its best to tear it down, while the solid, not giving in without a fight, quietly diluted the liquid, leaving it less potent than it once was. He wanted to believe there was a lesson to be learned there, inside that glass, some parallel he could equate to his own life, but if there was, he couldn’t find it. He picked up the glass and took a drink, but just a sip this time.

“So, what brings you into my corner of the world dressed in business casual in the middle of the work day?” asked Craig, breaking Henry’s downwardly spiraling train of thought.

Henry looked up at the bartender, his eyes definitely hazier than they were a few minutes before. He was almost certain he wouldn’t be able to answer this time without slurring.

“It’s okay,” said Craig, “you don’t have to tell me, I just thought you might need someone to talk to. It’s kinda what I do.” He started to turn around, back toward the other end of the bar.

“I lost my job today,” said Henry, suddenly not caring if he slurred or not. Someone had actually asked about him, had actually cared enough to ask why he was where he was, and not in a negative, angry way. He couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. In fact, he couldn’t remember that ever happening. Not his parents. They barely noticed him, much less cared about where he went or what he did. They were too busy with their own lives to be concerned with his. And certainly not Lucy. No, definitely not her. But Craig actually seemed interested in the answer. He couldn’t let him walk away.

“I didn’t actually lose my job,” he said, correcting himself as Craig turned back to face him, “I pretty much threw it away all by myself.”

“I see,” said Craig, “and how did you do that? More importantly, why? I can’t imagine you just up and decided that you wanted a bottle of Jack more than you wanted your job.”

“No,” said Henry with a snicker, “nothing so simple. I was giving a presentation to my boss, the company’s CEO, about a new ad campaign I was proposing. I’ve spent the last three months working my ass off putting this thing together and before I even got halfway through it, he cuts me off and tells me it’s no good.”

“Sounds pretty harsh,” said Craig.

“You’re telling me. But hey, I remained calm. I stayed professional. I restrained myself and politely, but firmly, I defended the campaign strategy.”


“And … he didn’t budge. He said he wanted me to start completely over and he wanted to see six new concepts, and he wanted them in two weeks. Six! In two weeks!”

“Wow, the guy sounds like a total ass. What’d you do?”

“I lost it. I mean, I completely lost it. I called him every name I could think of, and I know quite a few. I threw things, knocked other things over, and basically made a complete fool of myself.”

“I don’t know,” said Craig, “it sounds like you were just standing up for what you believe in, right?”

Henry looked up from his drink. Someone was taking his side. That had never happened before. Never.

“Right,” he said, “that’s right. I put a lot of work into that campaign. The least he could have done is let me finish the presentation, but no, he had to stop me right in the middle, tell me I wasn’t worth a crap right in front of everyone.”

“Yeah, that’s messed up, especially since other people had to have seen the campaign before he did, right? I mean they would have approved it before it got to him, so it’s not all on you … right … Henry?”

Henry didn’t answer, he was too busy taking a long drink from his glass and doing his best to avoid eye contact with the suddenly too-inquisitive bartender.

“You did let someone else review it before you showed it to the head of the entire company, right Henry?” Asked Craig again, as Henry lowered his glass.

“Well,” said Henry, “not exactly. But it wasn’t like I was hiding anything. That’s the way it’s always been, nobody sees my work until I’m ready to show it, and then I show everyone at once. I’ve been there for almost a year now and it’s never been a problem.”

He stopped to take another drink, and as he did so, the words the bartender could have said, but didn’t, hit home, making him realize something he hadn’t before.

“Then again,” he said, looking back at Craig, “I’ve never had a project like this before. It’s always been small, one-page flyers and stuff like that, never anything on this scale. Even so, it never crossed my mind to consult with anyone else.”

“It couldn’t have hurt,” said Craig, “it’s tough to go it alone all the time.”

“That’s all I know how to do,” said Henry softly, staring into his now empty glass, “it’s all I’ve ever known.”

“People change, Henry. It’s never too late.”

Henry didn’t respond, but continued staring at the empty glass. Something as small as asking someone for help might have changed everything. Understanding so simple of a social norm might have been the difference between achieving success within his company and the reality of what happened today.

But even as he said those words in his head, they rang hollow. A second, more insistent, inner voice said: Who would you have asked for help? Which one of those philistines would you have trusted when it came to matters relating to creativity? The accountants? The lawyers? The engineers? The sales staff? Okay, maybe the sales staff, but even then it might be iffy. Besides, the voice continued, is success within the company what you really want? Do you really want to climb the corporate ladder, trading in ever larger pieces of your soul along the way? Is that what you really want, Henry? Henry? Henry?

“Henry? Henry, are you still with me?” It was Craig.

“Oh, sorry,” said Henry, stirring from his inner tug-o-war, “yes, I was just thinking. What is it you were saying?”

“I was asking about the campaign. Tell me about it, let me see if it’s any good or not.”

“Sure,” said Henry, pouring himself another drink, “why not? Are you a fisherman?”

“Yeah, I like to fish every now and then.”

“Ever heard of Telasco rods and reels?”

“Oh yeah, sure, that’s what I use.”

“Well, that’s who I work … used to work for.”

“No kidding.”

“Nope, no kidding. They wanted a whole new ad campaign, print, video, mobile, social media, the works, and they wanted to see what I could come up with. So, I spent several weeks developing a slogan, and then the next couple of months creating the art for all of the different media where the ads would be placed.”

“So, let’s hear it, what was the slogan?”

Henry took a deep breath. After what happened in the conference room with his former CEO, he wasn’t sure he wanted to say the slogan out loud again. He took another sip of his drink.

“Ah, what the hell?” he said. “Here goes … it was, ‘Telasco Industries, We love fish, and fish love us!’”

Henry looked up at Craig, hoping for a better reaction than he received earlier in the day. He didn’t get it. The bartender appeared to be doing everything he could not to laugh directly in Henry’s face.

“I’m sorry, Henry,” he said, unable to contain his laughter any longer, “that is terrible. I mean, it’s really, really bad.”

“Thanks,” said Henry, “thanks a lot. Go ahead and kick a guy when he’s down, why don’t ya.”

“Hey, Henry, I’m sorry buddy, but even you have to admit that it’s really bad.”

“No I don’t. If I thought it was that bad, I wouldn’t have presented it.”

“We love fish, and fish love us? Come on, Henry, that’s terrible.”

Henry stopped and thought about it for a second.

“Okay,” he said with a smirk, “I guess you’re right, it is pretty bad. And yes, you were right, I should have let someone else review it before I presented it to the CEO of the company. But so what? It’s too late now, I’ve already screwed up and I’m out of a job.”

“Maybe not,” said Craig with a nod of his head toward the door, “I think maybe someone’s looking for you.”

Henry turned to the door and saw his former boss, Jason Lesko, President and CEO of Telasco Industries.

“Oh crap,” said Henry, half under his breath. “What the hell? Is he going to fire me again?”

“Henry,” said Jason, walking over to where he was sitting, “I was hoping I could find you. It’s taken a while, but I’m glad I caught up with you.” He looked at Craig. “I’ll have whatever he’s having.”

“Here, sir,” said Henry taking his bottle, “allow me.” He took the glass that Craig handed him and poured his former boss a drink. “What are you doing here?”

Jason took a sip of the drink, then pulled an envelope out of his suit jacket pocket.

“I wanted to deliver this personally. It’s your final paycheck.”

Henry’s heart sunk. Whatever chance he thought he might have had of getting his job back was gone now.

“I see,” he said. “Thanks, I appreciate you delivering it, although I don’t really understand why. I said some pretty awful things, called you some pretty awful things.”

“Yeah,” said Jason, smiling into his drink, “you did at that. But I know you didn’t mean them. Look Henry, we’ve worked together for nearly a year, and in that time I’ve come to appreciate your … let’s call it, candor. Although, today’s display was a bit too direct and, well, inappropriate.”

“Jason, I’m really sorry about how I acted today. You’re right, it was totally inappropriate and unprofessional. And, you know I didn’t really mean any of it, I was just frustrated, that’s all.”

“I know, Henry. But that’s not why I’m here.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” said Henry.

Jason picked up his glass and sloshed the whiskey around.

“Do you like to bowl, Henry?” he asked.

Between the buzz in his head from the alcohol and the bizarre conversation, Henry was confused as ever.

“I’m not following you, sir,” he said.

“Bowl, Henry, you know, do you like to go bowling?”

“I can’t really say for sure. I’ve never tried it.”

“Ah well, there’s nothing like it, Henry,” said Jason as he downed his drink and slid his glass over for a refill. “Nothing like being in the groove and throwing strike after strike after strike.”

Henry nodded his head, as if he understood what his former boss was talking about.

“I’m guessing you’re pretty good at it then,” he said, refilling the glass.

“I used to be,” said Jason, a far-away look in his eyes. “I used to be very good.” He turned back to look at Henry. “I was all set to turn pro … had my sponsors lined up and everything. All I had to do was show up at the first tournament in Memphis and compete.”

“What happened?”

“My father died.”

“Oh God. Oh Jason, I’m sorry.”

Jason nodded and took another sip.

“Thanks,” he said. “But that’s not the tragedy of this story. When he died, I didn’t go to Memphis to compete in that tournament. Understandably, I stayed home to handle the funeral and to wrap up his affairs. But, I didn’t just miss the Memphis tournament, I missed them all. My father left Telasco to me, on the condition that I give up my “childish fantasy” as he put it and stay home to run the family business.”

“Wow, sounds like your dad had some serious control issues,” said Henry, not knowing what else to say or do. “Believe it or not, I can relate.”

“I believe you can, Henry,” said Jason, looking at Henry in a way Henry wasn’t used to. “But, I’m not looking for sympathy or anything like that. My life turned out just fine. I’m likely a lot wealthier now than if I’d gone pro, but that’s not the point either. I didn’t chase my dream, Henry. Not many of us get the opportunity to go after our dreams, and when we actually do, even fewer of us actually take the risk to chase after it.”

“Okay, but what does that have to do with me?”

“Henry, I was going over your presentation, you know, giving it a closer look to make sure I didn’t miss anything.”

“And …?”

“And … well, your artwork is … is amazing.”

“Excuse me, sir?”

“Henry, please don’t call me sir, you don’t work for me anymore. I’m here as a friend. You are a truly gifted artist, I mean beyond anything I’ve ever seen before and I have a pretty good eye for this kind of thing. Henry, if I can offer you this one piece of advice, don’t think of the fact that you no longer work at Telasco as a setback, but as an opportunity for you to chase your dream as an artist. Do what I didn’t. You weren’t meant to work the eight-to-five shift in the corporate world; you’re far too talented for that.”

Jason reached over and put his hand on Henry’s shoulder.

“You’re going to be just fine,” he said, “and to make sure, I added a little extra to your check. Think of it as an investment in your new future.”

Henry felt a lump in his throat, but fought it down with another drink.

“Thank you, Jason,” he said when he finally regained his composure. “I don’t know what to say.”

Jason got up and held his hand out.

“Say that you’ll consider my advice and pursue your dream.”

“I will,” said Henry.

“Good luck to you.”

“Thank you,” said Henry, standing up as well. “I hope you find someone who can create the right campaign for you.”

Jason nodded, then turned around and left.

Henry sat back down and looked at the glass in front of him, which a moment before seemed half-empty but was now clearly half-full.

“Everything okay?” asked Craig coming back from the other end of the bar.

“Yeah,” replied Henry as he picked up the glass and downed the rest.

“Did he take you back?”

“Nope,” said Henry. “Better. He told me to chase my dream.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“It would be, except for one problem.”

“What’s that?”

“Not a that, but a who.”

Not bothering with the glass, Henry grabbed the Jack and drank it straight from the bottle.

“My wife,” he said as he set the bottle back down on the bar. “You’d best call me a cab.”

Get the rest of the story at Amazon: Kindle / Paperback

Cover Reveal: Your Truth is Out There

The past few weeks have been an exhausting combination of working hard to stay focused on my real job, (a job that I love and which also keeps me quite busy), carving out the time to put the finishing touches on my novel – Your Truth is Out There, and containing my excitement over the sheer AWESOMENESS of the book' cover art and design. Before I share the cover with you, I want to take a moment to thank a few people, without whom, none of this would be possible.

First, I must thank my incredible wife, Rhonda. Aside from all of everyday amazing things she does, she has been instrumental in not only helping me make the story stronger, but also in helping me find the time to actually complete the book. She knows how much it means to me and she share my joy in seeing it come to fruition. Thank you, my darling – when I say I couldn't have done it without you, I really do mean it!

Secondly, I want to thank artist Stephen Youll and his wife Jamie. I have been a long-time fan of Stephen's work (as I noted in my previous blog), and so getting the opportunity to work directly with him was a great honor. More than that, however, Stephen is simply a great guy. Not only is he talented beyond description, he is very easy to work with. I sent him my idea for the cover, along with a draft of the book, and he took it from there. It wasn't long before he sent back some sketches for me to review - which were pretty phenomenal in and of themselves. After choosing the one I wanted to go with, he went to work colorizing and detailing it until I had my final artwork. To say I was blown away would be an understatement. (Be sure to check out Stephen's web site.)

Throughout my career, I have had a significant amount of experience in the field of graphic design, so it would stand to reason that once I had the artwork, I could move forward with creating the rest of the cover myself. To be honest, I considered ... briefly. Once I saw Stephen's work, I knew anything I did to it would only serve to lessen it's impact and value. He had mentioned that his wife was a designer and that they often collaborated on covers, so I asked if we could bring her into the project. I'm so thankful we did, as Jamie's work is so clearly complimentary to Stephen's and completes the cover in a way I wouldn't have been able to. Thank you Stephen and Jamie for the amazing work you have done on behalf of my book. I only hope the words inside live up to your beautiful cover!

So, without further ado - here is the cover, front and back of Your Truth is Out There. (Expected release in late July/early August!)

Front cover for my first ever novel - Your Truth is Out There. Art by Stephen Youll. Design by Jamie Youll

Back cover for Your Truth is Out There. Art by Stephen Youll. Design by Jamie Youll

Find Your Truth & A Stephen Youll Cover

So, it's been a while since I last blogged, but that doesn't mean things haven't been moving forward. In fact, there's been significant progress on a few different fronts.

First off, Book One in my "Find Your Truth" series, "Your Truth is Out There" has come back from editing and is now with my beta readers. I received some great feedback from my editor and have already gotten some excellent early suggestions from my beta readers. I suspect the book will be ready for a final proofing by the end of June.

While working on finalizing the copy, I've also been trying to nail down my cover art. I've been reading science fiction novels since I was a kid, and have always been a huge Isaac Asimov fan, particularly his "Robot" and "Foundation" books. I remember how much I liked the books, and how much I was always drawn in by the covers. Several months ago, I did some research into who the cover artist(s) were for some of my favorites titles. One of the artists who did some particularly memorable work is a gentleman named Stephen Youll. On a lark, I looked up his website and contact information and reached out to him. Stephen was extremely gracious and told me that in addition to his other work, he also creates covers for self-published authors. We discussed the project further, but at that point in time, I couldn't make the necessary financial commitment. Even though Stephen offered me a very attractive deal, I simply couldn't afford it. As the weeks and months passed and my book moved nearer to completion, the idea of having a Stephen Youll cover continued to play on my mind. Then, he accepted my friend request on Facebook, and I began seeing more of his most recent work. That, combined with the growing excitement over the completion of my book made it clear to me that if I didn't at least discuss the possibility with Stephen again, I would regret it. We reconnected this past week and discussed my vision for the cover. Stephen was very excited about the concept and we subsequently agreed to financial terms. With that, I'm very pleased to announce that the cover art to "Your Truth is Out There" will be designed by none other than reknowned sci-fi artist Stephen Youll. If you're unfamiliar with his work (or not sure if you're familiar), check out his web site at and/or look for his page on Facebook.

While we're on the subject of covers, let me say that it's worth spending the money to highest quality cover possible. This is the first thing your potential reader will see and should represent your work in the best possible light. As an avid reader, especially in my younger days, I cannot tell you how many great books I discovered simply because it had a great cover. A strong editor and a great cover are two areas where an author should never skimp.

While all of these developments with Book One have been taking place, Book Two is also progressing nicely. The first nine chapters are almost complete and am very excited with the way the story—and these characters (including a few new ones) are moving forward. I'll continue to keep you posted as the story takes shape.

In the meantime, be on the lookout for a mid-summer launch of Book One: Your Truth Is Out There, complete with a Stephen Youll cover!

Truth Be Damned

Greeting my friends! Today's blog will provide a quick update on the status of my writing projects. Book one of my Find Your Truth series is in its final stages. It's currently in the hands of my editor, with changes expected to on their way to me within the next week or two. Depending on the complexity of the needed edits, I expect to send the book out to my beta readers sometime during the first half of May. At the same time, I'll begin working with my cover artist, a veritable artistic genius named Mike Corley. He's done a lot of covers, and I've yet to see one that wasn't amazing. If you're in need of an excellent cover check him out, but note that he has a relatively long waiting list.

My hope is to release book one sometime in early summer. I'm thinking my wife and I may host a launch party at our home to celebrate. We'll have to see about that one, however! One thing to note, is that I'm now "waffling" a bit on the title. Up until now, I've been calling it "Your Truth is Out There." After finishing my first draft, a member of my writer's group suggested a different title: "Dawn of Endless Beginnings" after the name of one of main character's paintings. I had originally wanted to keep the word "truth" in the title of all three books in the series, however, as the "Dawn" title rolls around in my head, keeping that consistency seems to be lessening in importance. I welcome any thoughts and input you may have!

So, while book one is wrapping up, work in earnest has begun on book two: Truth Be Damned (I'm pretty certain this title won't change). I'm through chapter seven and can't seem to write fast enough to keep up with the ideas. I can't wait to roll this one out to everyone. This will be a "middle" book, meaning that, while the story will have an ending, it will also leave various story lines unresolved, leading into book three. It will also leave at least some of our protagonists in a less than "happy" place in their lives. For all of you Star Wars fans, think "The Empire Strikes Back," and you'll be headed in the right direction. As with all of my writings, it may take a while, as my time for personal writing is limited, but the excitement of this story should keep me working on it as steadily as book one.

A couple of blogs ago, I mentioned a short story I wrote and submitted to The Magazine of Fantasy and Sci-Fi. They rejected it, but also gave me hope that it wasn't terrible. With that hope, I submitted the story to Asimov's and am awaiting their reply (it can take up to four months to hear back from them).

One final note about book one, I could still use a couple of additional beta readers. If anyone is interested, please let me know and we can discuss further.


I Refuse

This blog will be a bit of a departure from my regular ramblings about the writing process or my journey toward the release of my first full-length novel. My book is at the editors and so I'm taking this opportunity to write about something that's been on my mind for a while now.

I believe it's important, make that be active participants in the discussions and debates that regularly take place on topics of significant importance—topics which can often also be controversial. I'm not talking about who should've won American Idol, or if the SEC is a better college football conference than the Big 12. I'm talking about the topics that tend to dominate local and national headlines. Topics that draw in massive amounts of attention on social media, and which, at times, even lead some members of our society to commit acts of violence against those who disagree with them or who are "unlike" them in some way. I'm talking about the big ones—politics, race relations, religious intolerance, discrimination against individuals for various reasons, whether it be gender, age, sexual orientation, or some other reason, along with the many other subjects that affect us daily, not only as a nation, but as a planet, as a people and as a species. There are important Issues out there that concern everyone. So much so, that I believe it is a moral imperative for each us to involve ourselves in the discussions and debates that take place, in an effort to understand one another better, and perhaps find resolution. At the very least we should all be aware that the discussions taking place. 

Unfortunately, there's a larger issue that keeps us from having the kind of important, productive, discussions we as a people need to have.

Before I continue, did you notice what I did in the paragraph above, when I listed the "topics" of discussion? Among the legitimate topics of race relations and discrimination, I listed "religious intolerance." Sounds okay doesn't it? I suppose it does, unless you're not religious, or you've been wronged (severely or otherwise) by those who claim a religion. For the record, I consider myself a Christian, but if you belong to one of the latter demographics, than you're removed from the discussion of "religious intolerance" before it's even began. This leads to the larger issue I mentioned earlier. Our media outlets, whether they be mainstream, social or otherwise, position themselves to generate controversy and conflict, rather than any kind of reasonable discourse among rational individuals. The reason is simple, as any storyteller knows: the greater the conflict the better the story and conversely, no conflict, no story. 

But here's a thought—what if we try speaking and listening to one another with honor, decency and respect, even, especially, when we disagree. No conflict, no story, perhaps, but when it comes to resolving some of our deepest issues, perhaps we don't always need to make it into a story.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, there can be a different story to tell.

My wife and I enjoy watching "The Good Wife" television series. It's well written, funny, poignant, and relevant, without being preachy or condescending. In a recent episode, one of the side stories directly broached the issue of LGBT couples who believe they are being discriminated against when a business refuses to sell goods or provide a service to them based on the grounds of religious freedom. In the spirit of full disclosure, I support the rights of LGBT couples to marry and receive the same protections and benefits as any other married couple. Be that as it may, I also understand the arguments of those who do not feel comfortable providing a service to said couples on the grounds of their religious beliefs. When you take the emotional element out the equation and look at it pragmatically, it is a difficult issue. The rights of one person or group are in direct conflict with the rights of another. In this episode of The Good Wife, the service in question was wedding planning, and what I enjoyed most about the show, and what I truly respected the show's producers, writers, actors, etc. for, was the way they considerately portrayed both sides. Within the storylines of the show, there were straightforward arguments between intelligent, educated people, who strongly believed in points of view that were diametrically opposed to one another, but never once did they denigrate each other as individuals, nor did they attempt to belittle the other's belief simply for the sake of "getting in a good zinger." By the end of the show, they had made it clear that this is, by no means, a simple cut-and-dry, right-and-wrong, yes-or-no issue. I believe this is true for most of the important issues we face today.

And guess what? It made a pretty compelling story, too.

So, what is my end game with this blog? What do I hope to accomplish? Not much, I suppose, other than to say that, as the title of the blog states, I refuse to get drawn in to pretend "debates" that are clearly meant to be nothing more than "conflict creators," with the goal of keeping us closer to one another's throats, and further away from real resolution.

Anyone care to join me?

(Near) Final Editing...and What Comes Next

It's been a busy few weeks, which is why I haven't blogged in a while. Work has been crazy busy, and the weather, well, it's just been crazy! (I'm so ready for winter to be over!)

The good news is that I've finished reading the current draft of my novel to my wife aloud (see How I Write-Part 5: Editing, Rewriting & Beta Readers, Oh My!), and am in the process of making the edits we noted.

Reading your entire story (novel/novella/short story/etc.) aloud to someone you trust is an excellent exercise that I highly recommend for all writers. Together, my wife and found areas in the storyline that needed some additional fleshing out, a character that needed further development and in one instance, where a key relationship between two important characters wasn't quite working as I had intended. Beyond that, however, my wife also provided a host of additional suggestions here and there, which I believe will make the story that much stronger. While it may sound like we basically ripped the book to shreds and now I have tons of work to get it all back together, in truth, a handful well -placed sentences will take care of most of the edits we noted. And, even if there were deeper issues that made it necessary to rewrite large portions of the book, I'd rather do so now, then find out after I've published that the story doesn't work.

So what are my next steps? 

Once I've finished making this round of edits, which includes compiling the book in its entirety (all front matter materials, appendices, etc.), I'll send the book off to my editor for her review and mark-ups. This means that the time I have been devoting to this story will soon be available for my next project...which has put me in a bit of a dilemma. This book I'm wrapping up, Your Truth is Out There, is the first in a three-book series. I've already started book two, and it's going well, but another project has popped up that has me thinking of setting book two aside. This other story is not a new project, but one based on a (longish) short story I wrote several years ago. It's a post-apocalyptic story...well, I suppose that's only technically true. It takes place on the eastern seaboard of post-apocalyptic America, but that is more of the setting than anything else. The story is really less about war and violence and more about the people—two people in particular. Two men who have never met before, but who have much more in common than either would have thought.

Even though I've received favorable comments from those who read it, the story never worked as a short—there's just too much there. My original plan was to write series of five or six shorts in this "world" that, when put together, would equal one complete novel-length story. The more I ponder it, however, the more I believe each of those shorts could be a full-length novel in and of itself, each leading to the climatic finale. As much as the current story is a fun, sci-fi adventure, with characters I adore and enjoy writing about, the post-apocalyptic story is a deeper, somewhat darker, but a potentially very important tale (if I can pull it off correctly). It's one of those stories that just feels like it needs to be told. 

So that is my conundrum—which story do I work on next. The more dynamic of my readers will likely advise me to work on both at the same time. That isn't likely, for two reasons: first, I simply can't "live" in both worlds at the same time. They'll, without fail, crossover into one another, with disastrous results. Second, as long as it seems to take for me to finish just one book at a time, I can't imagine trying to complete two. So thank you, no, I'll stick to writing one at at time. I just need to decide which one—do I continue straight through the current three-book series, remaining immersed in that universe and those characters, without stepping away? Or do I step into post-apocalyptic America for a while, write the first book in that series, before coming back for book two of the Find Your Truth series?

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions!

Staying Focused Through the Doubt

A couple of weekends ago, I had a few days that shall I put it...

...they were less than...

(no, that's not quite right)

...they weren't quite up to...


Oh heck, let's face it, they stunk. They were awful and depressing. Mainly for two reasons, both of which had to do with my writing.

First, I received the expected rejection letter from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for the short story I sent them (see previous blog post). In and of itself, the letter wasn't a big deal. As noted, it was expected. What got to me was what the letter said: 

"This is a very clever, well written story but in the end it feels one dimensional and didn't quite win me over."

Under most circumstances, this would have been an great rejection letter to receive. After all, the editor called my story "clever" and "well written." That being said, he also hit upon the one issue I've struggled with in my (fiction) writing since the very beginning—how to peel my characters off the one-dimensional page and turn them into living, breathing beings that my readers will become emotionally involved with. As it pertains to the short story, it's really no big deal—that story was/is nothing more than a fun distraction. Whether anyone publishes it or not is of little concern. As this critique applies to my larger works (i.e. my novel), however, it is monumental.

The second reason for my awful, depressing weekend came, as if to reinforce the critique of the rejection letter, while reading the draft of my current novel to my wife (see How I Write-Part 5: Editing, Rewriting & Beta Readers, Oh My!), we stumbled upon a couple of chapters that were...well...let's just say they weren't as ready for the light of day as I originally thought they were. In fact, they were about as flat and one-dimensional as you could get. I noticed this to be the case as I was reading the chapters in question aloud (another example of why you should ALWAYS read your work aloud at some point in your editing process). It was only after I finished reading that my wife confirmed what I already knew to be true: I had a whole lot of work to do, if I was going to get my novel back on track.

I spent most of the rest of the weekend in quiet contemplation (read: pouting) over what to do next. The first thing I had to determine was if this flat one-dimensionalness infected the whole novel, including what I'd already read aloud, which was more than half of my book. Here's a snapshot of how that conversation went in my head.

The insecure part of me said:

"Of course the rest of the book is flat and one-dimensional—you're terrible at this and you should just quit now before you embarrass yourself any further." 

Then the arrogant part of me said:

"Don't pay any attention to that ridiculous editor. Your writing is superb. You can't help it if others are unable recognize your obvious talents. You're being way too hard on yourself."

Then the more realistic part of me popped up and said:

"Alright you two, knock it off. I know my writing isn't terrible, and not all of it is flat and one-dimensional. That being said, however, it clearly need some work, so stop whining and figure out how you're going to fix it!"

And with that, I began working on a solution to the issues of the broken chapters. Implementing those solutions will take some time to complete, but in the end, I believe they will make for a better story, with stronger, more well-developed characters. This level of rework is no fun at this point of the process, but it is vital to the success of the story.

If I've learned one thing from all of this, it's that while, for simplicity's sake, I must write my first drafts "in a vacuum" so to speak, at some point my stories must come out and be revealed to (and critiqued by) those I trust. In so doing, I must be prepared for the moment when the flaws in my work are found, for they will be. When that happens, I have to fight the doubts that arise and simply work to fix the problems, even when those problems seem insurmountable. I must never take my eyes from the ultimate goal—to write and publish the best novel I possibly can.

The Down Time(s)

As those of you who have been following my blog know, I've been in the editing phase of my first novel for quite some time now. Unfortunately, due to factors beyond my control, the process is moving very slowly, and there's simply not much I can do to speed it up. Beyond that, I'm also finding that, as I'm reading the story aloud to my wife, most of what I've written is quite satisfactory (excitingly so!), yet I'm also finding several passages that need a significant amount of attention, perhaps even total rewrites (depressingly so). (Side note: reading your work aloud to a trusted individual is great exercise. Not only do you get their thoughts on your story, you get to hear your words for yourself as you read them. Doin this, you can often determine if something  works or not before your listener does.)

While the slow and tedious nature of the editing process can get frustrating at times, I'm doing my best to not let it get me down. One of the ways I'm spending my excess time is by continuing to write new material. I've recently written and submitted a new short story to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (rejection letter pending lol). I've also started working on the next book in the Find Your Truth series, Truth Be Damned. While it's only in the beginning stages, I like where the story is headed.

I've also enjoyed doing more blogging, and expanding my social media networks. I've been especially surprised and gratified by the response I've received via Google Plus. It's been a much better platform for me than expected—certainly better than either Facebook or Twitter.

Finally, while I will never claim to be an expert on the subject of writing, I have found that sharing the lessons I've learned while writing my book with others who are currently in the process of writing theirs has been quite uplifting. Hopefully it is helpful for those who I share with, as well.

Until next time, keep writing...always keep writing!