On Writing Book Reviews

Last weekend I was checking Amazon to see whether THE DEVIL AND PASTOR GUS had any new reviews. It had been stuck at forty-six for a few weeks, but had continued to enjoy a 4.3 star average rating.

When I saw that it had jumped to forty-seven, I was elated. My goal after reaching twenty-five had been fifty. Maybe I’d get there yet.

But then I looked at the review title, “Possibly the worst book ever written,” and the one-star designation; thank goodness Amazon doesn’t have a no-stars option! After the reviewer admitted being an atheist who’s read some good Christian fiction, she proceeded to give her opinion of everything she thought was wrong with the book, concluding with “Seriously, this story is worth skipping.”

Hmm.

As an author, I’ve grown increasingly thick-skinned over the years. After all, not every book is for every reader, and PASTOR GUS was obviously not the right read for this lady. I respect that, and I don’t even mind her leaving that kind of negative review, even though it lowered GUS’s rating from 4.3 to 4.2. Potential readers are probably too impressed by good reviews to pay attention to horrible ones.

Nonetheless, reviews like that–PASTOR GUS’s only other one-star review was written by a Christian minister–make me wonder. Not about the reviewers’ lack of interest in one of my books, but about the reason for writing such  almost-angry reviews. Did the book hit so close to home that it made the reviewers defensive?

In the case of the Christian minister, I had to laugh because Pastor Gus talks in one scene about the fact that a large number of preachers will claim Gus isn’t a Christian and ban the satire he’s writing about the devil (which is ultimately THE DEVIL AND PASTOR GUS), making members of their congregations start buying copies in record numbers.

Alas! The Christian minister reviewer didn’t recognize himself in PASTOR GUS.

Maybe I just have a different way of looking at reviews. Writing them, I mean. Although I really have to love a book to give it five stars, I don’t hesitate to go with four if I only just like it a lot. I may feel a little guilty if my four star review is the first for someone who has all fives, but I think that helps to give some legitimacy to the whole review process. Just as my one-star reviewers do.

If I really dislike a book, I may or may not finish reading it. But I’m not going to review it. Why should my opinions prejudice other readers who might perceive that book in a much more positive light?

When I write reviews, I try to find something good to say about the book. As many good things as I can think of without sounding like I’m gushing. If I feel the need to share something negative, I try to make it sound as inoffensive as possible. Like saying that the number of mistakes in the book must have resulted from the publisher’s poor editing and therefore aren’t the author’s fault.

One of PASTOR GUS’s best reviews was actually a three-star written by the wife of a minister who’d given it five stars; that man got it! What she did was to give a very balanced view of her likes and dislikes, along with examples. It was NOT an angry review. It was a helpful one. The kind I hope I write most of the time.

Authors depend on Amazon  and Good Reads reviews. Reviews help potential readers decide whether to make the plunge and buy their books. If you don’t regularly review books you’ve read, I urge you to start doing so. They don’t need to be lengthy or complicated. A simple “I liked this book because…” or “This book wasn’t really for me, but people who love (whatever) will probably love it.”

What do you think? How about leaving a review? Uh, a comment, I mean.

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Best regards,
Roger

Why I Wrote: Rosa No-Name

Last week I shared with you why I wrote The Devil and Pastor Gus. Today I’ll give you the background on Rosa No-Name, which will release sometime in late April. Pictured above is a proof copy, used for catching final mistakes before it’s too late.

My daughter, Kristi, went on a short term mission trip to Mexico after graduating from high school. When she returned, certain facts about her trip struck my imagination:

  • She was eighteen at the time. Maybe not really spoiled, but in need of doing some more growing up.
  • She failed to pay attention to the directions she’d been sent about what to bring and not bring. Consequently, she paid for extra luggage to bring a number of things she didn’t need and failed to bring some of the important things she did need. Like a sleeping bag!
  • She was part of a house-building project.
  • That area had a lot of trash on the ground.

Struck my imagination? Ha! Fired it up!

One evening I sat down and roughed out the idea of a story involving all of those elements. That short story was the original “Found in the Translation.” You may read it here. I entered the final version in an online contest, and it placed within the top ten of seventy or eighty entries. That was encouraging!

Even while writing the short story, I knew it would ultimately become a full-length novel. The short story was just the warm up.

You wouldn’t believe the changes I made to the short story in writing the novel, but I was pleased with the outcome. Nobody seemed to want to publish Found in the Translation, though, no matter how my wife and I believed in its merit.

At a Christian writers conference I showed the first couple of pages to writing teacher and overall writing guru James Scott Bell. He advised me that I didn’t have a proper start.

So I cut the first fifty pages and wrote a new beginning. I shared a sample with an editor friend who then asked to see the whole thing and subsequently landed me an agent. Within a year Found in Translation–Barbour Publishing dropped the “the”–and its sequel, Lost in Dreams, were under contract. I was on my way!

But there were a number of things I hadn’t brought out in Found in Translation. I was especially fond of Rosa, the mother of the little girl whose right arm ended at the elbow. Why had Anjelita been born that way? And who was her father? Those are just some of the things the protagonist, Kim Hartlinger, didn’t learn during her time in Santa Maria because of the language barrier.

Consequently, I wrote Rosa No-Name as a prequel. But because it dealt partially with adult situations, I never considered it a teen novel. (I’d never considered the previous two to be Young Adult, either, but because the characters were eighteen, that was the only way my publisher could market them.)

Potential publishers weren’t interested in Rosa No-Name. So just as I’d done with the little play The Devil and Pastor Gus was based on, I stuck Rosa No-Name in a drawer and tried to forget about it. That was ten years ago.

But my wife and my daughter have always been especially fond of Rosa No-Name–they like it better than any of my other published novels and unpublished manuscripts–and five or six months ago I decided to reread it. I fell in love with it all over again, and I felt led to ignore the objections traditional publishers had expressed and go the independent route.

Amazon has a couple of amazing free book publishing facilities–the books aren’t free, just the ability to publish them–and soon I was on my way.

God didn’t whisper in my ear and tell me to publish Rosa No-Name, yet I believe this is what He wanted me to do. My prayers are for its success in blessing and entertaining a number of readers.

Do you think you have a book in you, waiting to be written? It may not be one the general public will be interested in, but perhaps one your children and grandchildren would benefit from being able to read. Is that you? How about leaving a comment?

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Best regards,
Roger

A Little Thing that Seemed Big

If you’re like me, you often take little things for granted. But this little tale–do you believe I’m capable of posting something short?–is about about something small that proved to be both elusive and fascinating. What you’ll think of it remains to be seen.

My wife knits and crochets, and she’s made three sweaters for me and two vests. All of them are really super.

But the vests didn’t have anything to connect them in front, and my tummy was getting chilly. So she bought some frogs. Not the green hoppity kind, but the kind that makes the  join my vests needed. She sewed them on.

Great! Wonderful. Uh, except the loop sometimes slipped off.

So we went to Michael’s. I knew just what I needed, but neither of us knew what they’re called. It didn’t matter. They didn’t have any. So we bought a bag of beads, since a bead could slide over one part of the frog and usually hold it shut. Of course, it could slip off while hanging in the closet.

That worked pretty well, but I hated to give up on what I really wanted–a spring-loaded mechanism you push the end button down on while moving it where it needs to go. When you release the button, the spring holds the mechanism in place. Does that sound familiar?

As hard as I tried to find it on Amazon, I couldn’t come up with the right words for a match. Fortunately, my wonderful son-in-law responded to my Facebook request for help. He’d not only found the name, he posted an Amazon link for a package of them. Less than $3.00, if I recall correctly.

I was elated. But when I went to that link, I found other products of the same kind. And one was not only under $1.50, it had good reviews and came with free shipping. So I went with that one.

Interesting how long it takes something like that to arrive from China!  The gadgets were just what I’d expected, though. Very sturdy so far.

This was one little thing that meant a lot to me, no matter how insignificant it would be to most normal people.

What are these things called? Ha! It wasn’t a simple name, and–frankly–I can’t remember it. Why don’t you tell me what YOU think they’re called.  I’ll post the answer next week. All comments are gratefully accepted.


 

 

Still available:                   Coming soon:   kindle-cover

Join the Facebook group Rosa No-Name Tribe to learn the latest about its upcoming release


NOTE: Various people have complained about not being able to find or leave comments. Go all the way to the bottom of this post, beneath my “Best regards, Roger.” On the very bottom line of that last section just above the previous post you’ll see “Leave a Comment” if yours will be the first or “X Comments,” where  X denotes the number of existing comments.

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Blatant Self-Promotion?

printFrontCover     printBackCover     kdpCover

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably realize that I haven’t tried to sell you any of my novels. But that doesn’t mean I won’t share information about my writing, especially if it’s something new. Something I’m excited about.

Let’s back up a few years. Like from the 1970s until the early 2000s. I wrote a bunch of stuff. Songs. Poems. Short plays. A short story or two. Several short plays. A couple of dramatic monologues. Even an essay. And let’s not leave out all the articles I wrote for newsletters at the places where I worked.

A number of those things even got published. Some in a local newspaper. Some in a free local magazine. And some even made it into some Southern Baptist periodicals–for a small amount of money! Wow!

But when I started to focus on writing novels, which I’d never done before, I quit writing those other kinds of works. And didn’t pay much attention to those I’d already written.

Then, when I created my current website, I wanted to give people a sample of the whole me, if you know what I mean. Sure, I’m no longer a poet or a playwright, and I’m barely a songwriter anymore, either. But those writings represent me just as much as my novels do.

So I put some of those old works on my website. The best I can tell, people have been reading them. Wonderful!

Now flash forward to a couple of weeks ago when I went to a writers conference in western North Carolina. One class I took was on self-publishing, and it confirmed what I’d been wondering about. There was no reason for me not to gather some of those older materials under a single umbrella and create a small print book. Also, the Kindle version of the same book.

So I did. The first two pictures above are of the print book. The third is the front of the Kindle version. I took the picture of the iris, by the way, and I wish I could’ve used the Kindle front for the print cover.

I’m not really concerned about making money from this book. I’m more concerned about having a positive influence on the people who read it. I also want to use it as a thank you to people who, for example, endorse my novels. Maybe even as a prize for a website-related contest.

Who knows? The possibilities are endless.

Now, you may not have any interest in my older writing–or my current writing, either, for that matter–and that’s fine. I won’t even tease you about not knowing what you’re missing.

But if you are interested, please take a gander at Amazon. The Kindle book is here. The print book is here.

So…what do you think? I’d love to have a comment here. Better yet, a review on Amazon.

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list. And uf you’re interested in that blog, please go here.

Best regards,
Roger