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.

Links you might be interested in:

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

Rosa’s Facebook Release Party

Non-writers aren’t apt to realize that most of the marketing of a book falls on its author. Even the largest traditional publishers don’t do much marketing for their authors. Uh, except for the really big money makers. The 20% who’ll pay for the 80% of authors who don’t sell sufficiently well to justify helping. Unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.

And there are no guaranteed marketing strategies. What works for one person or one book will fail miserably for another. If there was one sure-fire way to guarantee book sales, everyone would hop on it and everyone would have a bestselling book. Hmm. Life doesn’t work that way.

I’ve mentioned–probably too often–that I’ve self-published Rosa No-Name, the prequel to Found in Translation. That means I don’t have a publisher to provide even a minimum amount of marketing.

So, like every other author, I’ve been trying to do everything I can to promote Rosa.  During the next month, Rosa is being featured on five different blog interviews or other promotions. And that’s good. At least additional people will learn about my book and perhaps even feel motivated to visit Amazon and check it out more closely.

But there’s one tradition I both love and dread: doing a Facebook release party. It’s easy enough to set up an event, in this case from my “Roger Bruner (author)” page. Since my wife, Kathleen, was helping, we both started inviting all of our Facebook friends. Between the two of us, we had a fairly large number. So I was about halfway through my friends list when Facebook told me I could only invite 500 people. There’s no limit on how many people can attend, but I could only specifically invite 500.

Okay. We’d both shared the news about the party on our individual Facebook pages. Hopefully enough people would see it. We knew only a small number of our friends and family would actually attend. People forget. Or they have something more important come up. Or they’re non-readers. Or they aren’t good enough friends to be supportive. Maybe some of them have attended a Facebook release party before and know how confusing they can be.

Planning a Facebook party sounds like it should be uber-simple. Buy a few items to offer as giveaways and hold drawings to, uh, give them away. Oh, but a release party should take longer than five minutes. The host/hostess needs to stay right in the middle of things, asking questions, making comments, and providing interesting information. Anything to keep the party in motion.

At least a Facebook party doesn’t require real food.

Kathleen and I did my release party this past Thursday night.  Several days earlier, she spent no telling how long writing a suggested script for the evening and sent it to me. One of the many wonderful things about Kathleen is I can edit and add to her suggestions without offending her. She’d made a GREAT start, but I had additional ideas that took about two-and-a-half hours to put into a Word document.

Then we hashed through it together at lunchtime, and I made a few additional changes. We were as ready as we were going to be.

Who would come? Only God knew. Would we retain our sanity while trying to inspire and entertain party goers? Only God knew that, too.

I’m happy to say we survived the party and enjoyed “talking” with our six attendees–four other authors and two “civilians.” We gave away four prizes. Fortunately, the non-authors both won something as well as two of the authors.

Was it worth it? Hard to say. Will we do a party for the next book? Probably.

Jesus may not have been talking about book sales when He said, “You don’t have what you want because you haven’t asked God for it” (Bruner translation of the Bible). Nonetheless, we’re praying with as much faith as we can muster, “We want Rosa No-Name to bless as many lives as possible. We’re asking You to help sell thousands of copies. We’ll do whatever marketing You want us to do, but we’re depending on You for the results. P.S. Not our will, but Yours be done.”

Have you ever attended a Facebook event? What did you think of it? How about leaving a comment?

 

Links you might be interested in:

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

An Easter Enigma

Christmas doesn’t confuse Christians. At least not that I know of. It’s no secret that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. In fact, He might not even have been born in winter. But we aren’t apt to knock ourselves out trying to figure out the actual date.

Easter is an interesting enigma, however. Christians typically view Jesus’s death and burial as occurring on a Friday because the Bible says the next day was the Sabbath. And the Bible says the women found the tomb empty early on Sunday morning. Hmm. That adds up to two nights, one whole day, and part of two others.

What? Jesus said He would be in the grave three full days and nights. This seeming discrepancy has bugged me–and probably a number of other Christians–for years.

It’s amazing what a search of the Internet can reveal. I found two somewhat partially conflicting articles which both explain how Jesus actually remained in the grave three full days and nights.  If you want to read the details, check out “The Two Sabbaths of Passover” and “Good Friday or Good Wednesday.” 

Jesus and His disciples ate their last meal together in the evening of what was actually the beginning of Passover day. (Remember: Jewish days ran from sundown to sundown.) Later that evening He was arrested, tried, and condemned to death. The entirety of His crucifixion and burial took place on what was still Passover day, the “Day of Preparation.”

Jesus couldn’t be left on the cross after His death because the Sabbath would be starting shortly at sundown. There wasn’t even time for the women to anoint the body properly; He was simply wrapped in a linen shroud.

How thankful we should be that Jesus’s disciple John said something in His Gospel that the other Gospel writers apparently took for granted and consequently didn’t bother to mention. He referred to that Sabbath as a “high day,” meaning it was not the regular Friday-sundown-to-Saturday-sundown Sabbath. And that makes sense. The day after Passover day itself was to be a special Sabbath. So the Old Testament taught .

So that week had two Sabbaths, and Jesus had to be buried before the beginning of the first one–the special one.

Accepting the fact that Jesus arose on Sunday, “the first day of the week,” as the Bible says, let’s count backward.

  • The first day of the week began at sundown on Saturday
  • The normal Sabbath ran from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown
  • The special Sabbath ran from Thursday sundown to Friday sundown
  • Passover day ran from Wednesday sundown to Thursday sundown

Are you still with me?

That’s assuming the special Sabbath occurred the day before the regular Sabbath. Since it began at sundown on Thursday, was Jesus  crucified on what was left of the day that ran from Wednesday sundown to that Thursday sundown?

Although Jesus would’ve been dead on our Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights–thank goodness Jewish days can’t change nighttime–do the days work out right? Those days would’ve had to run from just before sundown to just before sundown. And three full days by the Jewish calendar would last until just before sundown on the “first day of the week.”

But that doesn’t work. Jesus had already arisen before the women came to the tomb that morning and found it empty.

One of those articles insists that the two Sabbaths must have had an extra day in between. Jesus died late on our Wednesday, he said.  As “Lord of the Sabbath,” Jesus would have risen on the Sabbath itself but not be found alive again until the first day of the week. That would explain three full days in the tomb while eliminating a fourth night .

I have no idea what the accurate answer is, but I have no problem thinking of Jesus dying late on Wednesday rather than Friday.

The important thing is, Christ arose. I hope your Easter was a blessed one.

How about leaving a comment?

 

Links you might be interested in:

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

Let’s Not Get Too Formal

 

When some good friends got married more than thirty years ago, I found myself stuck with wearing a tuxedo. Yuck! I’d never worn one before. I’d never attended a prom and wouldn’t have worn one then anyhow, and I bought a nice suit to wear at my first wedding.

I’m definitely not a formal person in any sense of the word. I wear jeans seven days a week and put on something slightly dressier only for the most special of occasions. Like when our choir director makes us wear black slacks/skirts and white shirts/tops for the Christmas musical.

Guys are also supposed to wear Christmassy ties. But I partially, uh, skirt those requirements because I’m sitting off to the side playing bass guitar where I’m not really seen. I wear black slacks all right, but a white turtleneck. No tie.

As you can see, formality–especially regarding apparel–isn’t my thing.

So when my daughter got married five-and-a-half years ago, I had to deal with the second tux of my life. That meant I’d made it approximately twenty-five years since the first tux. Not too bad, I guess. People are so used to seeing me NOT dressed up that the compliments about how nice I looked flew in right and left. Maybe so, but that didn’t change my distaste for tuxes.

It’s been almost a year now since my third–and final, I hope–up close and personal encounter with a tux. Good friends Stan and Ashley were getting married, and Kathleen and I were both members of the wedding party. I couldn’t turn that down, even to avoid wearing a tux.

I got fitted for it–an almost painstaking procedure–but I either couldn’t pick the tux up until too close to the wedding for adjustments or simply failed to try it on.

Hmm. The pants were adjustable. Just one problem. At their tightest, they were still too big around the waist. The groom had the same problem. But he couldn’t keep his hands in his pockets most of the time to hold his pants up. I could and I did.

Almost immediately after the ceremony, I literally slipped those pants off–I didn’t even have to unfasten them–and put the jeans I’d worn to the venue back on. Although I was the only informally clad member of the wedding party when we were introduced at the reception, at least I didn’t have to keep my hands in my pockets any longer.

Kathleen and I agree about informality. And we agree it would be a waste to pay for coffins when we die, especially to be put in our dressiest clothes first. So initially we decided to be cremated after donating whatever of our organs might prove useful to somebody else. But why bother with cremation when we could donate our bodies to science?

Some of you may be horrified at the thought of our bodies being disposed of that way, but not us. We’ll be dead then. Our bodies, anyhow. Our souls will be in Heaven, where the condition of our earthly bodies won’t make a bit of difference.

Heaven is a perfect place. I have no doubt Kathleen and I will be wearing denim again. Eternally.

How do you feel about tuxedos or dressing up in general? I know some people actually enjoy it, while others are at least not opposed to it. How about sharing a comment?

Links you might be interested in:

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

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?

Subscribe to Roger’s quarterly newsletter:


Links you might be interested in:

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

Why I Wrote: The Devil and Pastor Gus

I was recently challenged to share why I’ve written several of my novels. I’m taking up that challenge today to give you some background on The Devil and Pastor Gus. I’ll talk about Rosa No-Name next week.

My minister father was almost a rabid fan of C. S. Lewis. Although he failed to introduce me to the Chronicles of Narnia, which I discovered quite accidentally while browsing the bookcases of a family I was spending the weekend with in Maine as an adult, he did mention the Screwtape Letters. Probably in a sermon. Even so, I never got to read it until eight or ten years ago.

My father must have mentioned the fact that the Screwtape Letters is a satire about the Devil (Screwtape), who is sending letters of advice to his nephew Wormwood,  who keeps failing to win the enemy (a Christian). I must’ve tucked those few facts somewhere in my head, because I ended up writing a short play, “B.L.Z.,” during the 1970s; it was published in a local, free magazine in 1977.

The Devil, B.L.Z. (B.L.ZeBubb)–named after a very troublesome car my parents used to own–is getting ready to retire, but he’s afraid to turn the reins of his evil kingdom over to his son, Junior, who never ceases to do good when he’s supposed to be doing bad. So he gives Junior one last chance to prove himself.  I won’t give away the ending, though. If you’re interested in reading the play for free, go here.

Writing that play and having it published were fun, but–like so many other things I’ve written–I tucked it away for safekeeping and all but forgot about it.

Ten or eleven years ago I wrote my first novel. And then a second and a third. I envy novelists who seem to have an unlimited supply of story ideas. I didn’t, and I still don’t.

But something–I prefer to think of it as God’s inspiration–made me reread “B.L.Z.” Yes, the language was dated in a couple of places, but the basic idea was sound and I loved what almost happened to Junior at the end.

Ideas began percolating, but was this truly a novel-worthy story?

Once I started writing, I decided it was. I kept B.L.ZeBubb as the antagonist, but relegated Junior to a reference rather than an actual character. And what almost happened to Junior at the end of “B.L.Z.” almost happens to B.L.ZeBubb in the novel. I kept the selling of the soul to the Devil idea, but made Pastor Gus Gospello decidedly more of a protagonist in the novel than he had been in the play. And I tried to retain the satirical quality of the play as well.

One thing I enjoyed in writing The Devil and Pastor Gus was having Gus battle typical problems in writing a first novel. Much of that had to be edited out in the published version, though. My publisher thought those details would be of less interest to most readers (other novelists would be the exception). Plus we needed to cut the length of the book by a number of thousand words.

If you’ve read both the play and the novel, you can easily see the similarities and the differences. If you haven’t–and if you’re curious–it won’t hurt my feelings if you buy a copy of The Devil and Pastor Gus.

Have I said anything you’d like to comment about? Please do!

Subscribe to Roger’s quarterly newsletter:


Links you might be interested in:

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

On Judging a Book by its Cover

There’s something to be said for the old cliche, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” It would be impossible to determine or even just  guess how many excellent books have the least appealing covers or how many of the absolutely worst books have covers that not only gain a potential purchaser’s second look, but are largely responsible for their ultimate purchase.

I suspect we’ve all avoided at least one excellent book and settled for one of the worst instead. Not that we’re apt to admit it, of course.

The longer I’m in my post-retirement career as a novelist, the more I’ve come to appreciate how important the cover is. And I’ve changed a lot in how I evaluate a cover.

I admit it. I want to see some kind of resemblance between the cover and what the book is about. But it doesn’t always work that way.

I was allowed to give input for my three traditionally published novels, and I had very specific ideas. What I didn’t realize at the time is that publishers have various sources they check for stock photos and use a model only as a last reserve. Undoubtedly a more expensive move for them.

My wife and I really liked the covers Barbour Publishing came up with for Found in Translation and Lost in Dreams. The Kim Hartlinger depicted on the first book is appropriately shown with a suitcase.  But Kim in the book was petite and looked almost Latina. Not so on the cover. It was still a good cover, though. One readers could connect with it, and that was the important thing.

Barbour very intelligently used the same girl on the cover of Lost in Dreams.  That in and of itself was appealing, and it helped to tie those two books together. Kim’s wistful look was perfect for a story that started out extremely seriously.

Although the way LPC depicted Gus on the original cover of The Devil and Pastor Gus was whimsical and clever–I can just hear Gus thinking, “Is this plan to defeat the Devil going to work?”–the cartoon-ish depiction of a stereotypical devil on the upper right not only didn’t fit the book’s depiction of B.L.ZeBubb, we know of people who were afraid to buy the book because of the cover. Not good.

LPC realized the need to try again, and the new cover is immensely more satisfactory. Although I’m not sure exactly what this night-time view of the church represents, it’s intriguing without being scary,  and I’m satisfied. I think the addition of those two lines of text at the top helps.

For Rosa No-Name, the prequel to Found in Translation, a novel I’m independently publishing, I knew I would need a professional cover. Not something I could do myself. So I got in touch with graphic artist Ken Raney, who’s done a number of excellent book covers, including some of his wife’s (popular women’s lit novelist Deb Raney).

My wife and I sent him a list of very specific suggestions. Although Ken couldn’t fit those ideas to any stock photos he could find, he sent us four or five photos to consider. We fell in love with two of them. Picking the right one was tough.

But since Rosa No-Name is a fictitious memoir about Rosa from age sixteen to twenty-nine, we thought the more mature Rosa would be the better choice. She looks like she’s actually thinking about her past, and we love that.

Everyone we’ve talked to loves Ken’s cover . We hope it will make people take a second look and hopefully read the description. And then buy it if it appeals to them. We want them to judge Rosa No-Name–initially at least–by its cover.

How do you feel about book covers? Do they make a difference in your buying…or at least in your considering buying? How about leaving a comment?

By the way, please note the form below you can use to sign up for my quarterly newsletters. I’d love to have you as a subscriber.

Subscribe to Roger’s quarterly newsletter:


Links you might be interested in:

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