Thursday, August 30, 2012

Paying For Reviews

The interwebs have been abuzz with this for more than a week, following the New York Times article about self-published authors paying for reviews.

Well, since I'm doing some social media marketing (in my day job) for a website whose mission is to "bring together readers and books," and one of their services is paid reviews, I decided I'd throw in my two cents worth.

No, just to be clear, I don't think paying for Amazon reviews is worth it, and I think it's borderline fraud since readers go to Amazon for reviews by people who bought and read the book. Not paid shills who read a summary or a couple of pages and then wrote a fake 5-star review. Yes, that's bad.

But not all paid review are like that.

Reviews are a valuable tool for authors. Self-published authors have limited options to get quality reviews. I'm not talking Amazon reviews. Those are valuable, and I'm not discounting them, but some reader want to see "professional" reviews. (Please don't start an argument about the meaning of "professional" here. You know what I mean. Reviews by people who make it their business to write reviews.)

When you publish your book on Amazon or on B&N (and presumably also on Kobo, though I haven't done that yet), there's this intimidating box marked "Reviews." I know the value of having profiles filled out completely, so I wanted to fill in that box too when I published Haunted Vampire. But guess what? No one from the New York Times, Washington Post, or any other publication had offered to review it.

I could have asked one of my friends to write something, but that's known in the business as a "sock puppet," and readers see through that immediately. So no good.

Along came a friend who was starting a website called ReaderRap (launching in October). I could get the pre-launch special of a listing on the site and (whoo hoo!) a review by someone who didn't know me or the book. She didn't promise that it would be positive, but I was okay with that. Hopefully, it would be honest, and if it were critical, I could learn from it. I said, "Sign me up."

I can't reveal the pre-launch price right now, but trust me when I say it was very reasonable.

Yeah, it was nerve-wracking. I didn't know what the guy would say, and when Beth sent it to me, she prefaced it by saying, "Well, it's not completely positive, but I think it'll be okay."

She was right. It was good where it needed to be good, and the critical elements just showed the guy wasn't a real fan of vampire/warlock books. Whew! I figure that people who like books in the genre will be confident that it will be something they'll like, and people who aren't fans of the genre aren't my target audience anyway.

I was able to snip the parts I liked for the aforementioned "Review" section:

"replete with tongue-in-cheek first-person comments by the narrator, sometimes deftly interrupting the serious account with Am-I-really-talking-to-a-vampire? quips."

and left off the parts I didn't like as much:

"Paul can’t go into anyone’s house without being specifically invited, for some unexplained reason."

Dude! Really? Have you never read a vampire book? That's like, staple material. (I think I just channeled Dafydd there. Hope you don't mind.)

Anyway, it was a good review and definitely worth what I paid for it. As soon as Werewolf Puppy comes out, I plan to do it again. I'm eager to see what having a sample and the review on the ReaderRap site will do for sales. Exposure in more places is all good.

So don't think that paying for reviews is always bad. Sometimes it can be exactly what you need to get some additional exposure.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why Is Dafydd Gay?

It's the other common question I get.

The short answer is "because he is." When I conceived the character, he was gay. It wasn't a conscious decision. He just is.

Now for the longer answer.

I've been a fanfic reader/writer for well over a decade, and I enjoy slash (male/male stories). Always have. It's not just because the idea of two guys getting it on is hot (though it definitely is). I like the different push/pull dynamic of love between two men. Men can be all about the sex, but they can explore feelings as well. The trick as a female writer is to let them explore emotion while still being men. It's a fine line, and I love writing it. I love reading it when it's done well.

I'm not so in love with explicit sex scenes. Again, when they are done well, they are great. But most male/male sex (and most male/female sex as well) is all caught up in how body parts fit together. Boring! As are the endless attempts to come up with yet another word for penis (which is one of the least romantic words in the English language).

So I wanted Dafydd to be gay because I could play around with some of this. Slash fanfic writers LOVE stories where one guy is gay and the other isn't. It gives lots of room for "is he interested in me?" "why the hell is he interested in me" and "what do I do about the fact that he's interested in me?" None of that requires sex, by the way, at least not written out in blow-by-blow fashion.

Dafydd is gay. Definitely. Not even slightly attracted to women, though he does recognize beauty when it crosses his path. I've got a scene in one of the books where Dafydd notices an attractive woman and then jokes with the reader that he can appreciate it even if he doesn't want to go to bed with it.

Paul is the question here. In Haunted Vampire, we learn that he was in love with a woman 30 years ago. And in good vampire fashion, killed her. Watch out, Dafydd! But there are hints that may not be the end of it. And always remember, gentle readers, that the fun part about writing in the first person is that your narrator can be unreliable. Dafydd may be seriously in denial. Or not.

In Book 3, which I'm currently working on, we learn Paul's historical identity. I will say that the historical figure who "became" Paul was married and had kids. I've also tried to be sensitive to the descendants of that historical figure. I haven't messed with the real Paul's sexuality. I didn't have to. He's had more than 100 years to change, in any direction I'd like.

When I started writing the series, I knew I wanted to have fun with sexual tension, and I've done that. Not as much as I thought I would. Fanfic can be endless examinations of emotion. Commercial fiction usually needs a bit more substance, so I've focused on the action and character development (non-sexual). But I've tossed in some tension. I finally decided whether or not they are getting together (and no, I'm not telling now).

When I started writing, Dafydd was a bit more defined in my head by his sexuality and what I wanted to do with that. I wanted to write a story where a gay character was noteworthy for something other than being gay. I think I've done that. Actually, I know I've done it. By the time I finished writing the second book, I just loved both of them. Gay, straight or in-between didn't matter. These guys are great. I love them, and their sex lives, or lack thereof, are secondary to everything else about them. Maybe even tertiary.

So there's the long answer. Maybe more than you asked for, but I've never quite written it out like that, and I'm glad I did.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why These Characters?

People ask me all the time why I started writing these characters and where I got the idea.

Well, the seed of the idea was from this music video. We'll wait while you watch it.

I'd had the two guys from the video knocking about it my head for years. I knew I wanted to write about them, but I didn't really want them to be ghosts, like here. I'd been studying social media and reading various blogs on self-publishing, and I decided "Hey, I can do that." I just needed the characters and the story.

One day, driving to meet a client, I remembered the video and the two guys, and I decided to use them in a book. The one in white was easy. He was my vampire. (By the way, the artist's name is Paul van Dyk, and yes that is the origin of Paul's name.)

Then I decided the one in black would be a warlock. Not a wizard, but a warlock. Everyone writes about wizards. Not so many people about warlocks. Originally, Dafydd was supposed to have a day job as a stage magician, but I never quite got into the idea, so he became a multi-level marketer instead. Because that is so much cooler. ;) Oh, the singer in the video is Wayne Jackson. I didn't want my main character to be named "Wayne," so I named him after my son instead. But one of Dafydd's favorite singers is Wayne Jackson, so I do keep the connection, after a fashion.

Once I had the basic character ideas and worked up a bit of their background, writing them was easy. Well, relatively so.

There's where I got the idea for the characters. Tune in next week when I answer the other common question. Why did you make Dafydd gay?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rituals. Why Does It Have To Be Rituals?

I just finished crafting another finding ritual for Dafydd. This time he was trying to find a place, not a person, so it was similar to ones I've done before, but just different enough that I had to go research more magical herb properties.

I keep thinking these will get easier as I write them, and I suppose they will, but not yet. Fight scenes are so much simpler!

Why are rituals so hard? I think it's because of the research. I haven't found a good source for herb properties yet, but one of the sites directed me to a book on Amazon that I'm going to buy. It's supposed to be a good encyclopedia of herbs and their properties. And luckily, it's on Kindle, so it'll be searchable! Hooray.

I know of the author (Scott Cunningham), and he's good, so it'll be a good addition to my library. And if it makes ritual writing easier, it'll be worth every penny!