Goofy Math, Magical Helpers & Here Comes 2022

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quad-vision, mothman empress, detail, used by permission, author image.

Thank you, France and the USA for paperback sales yesterday! I’m ashamed to say that I have become a bit wary about checking my sales data since struggling to “process” well, the review. The negative indeed cuts deeply and I’m not at all proud to have to admit that it takes a disproportionate number of positive responses to compensate. But these latest sales, well, I was prepared to not sell anything perhaps until TC2 is released next year, such is the unholy level of importance that we first-timers place upon the elusive reviews and ratings. If you have reviewed or rated the book positively, thank you, it means so much to experience a connection. And if you find yourself compelled to rate it poorly, well, thank you, too, for taking the time and making that effort.

Did you know that, regarding ratings and reviews on Amazon:

  • Reviewers are ranked according to both the number of reviews they’ve posted and the number of “helpful” clicks their reviews receive. (You can look up your own reviewer ranking by clicking on your icon).
  • The higher the reviewer ranking, the more percentage weight Amazon awards to that reviewer’s reviews.
  • If you have purchased the book you are reviewing on Amazon, your rating holds more weight than if you didn’t.
  • So that the star-average you see beside a book is an average of the ratings but NOT in purely quantitative terms.

All this is to say that as an author you could have a handful of 5-star ratings and positive reviews by folks who didn’t buy the book on Amazon and don’t post many reviews and a single lousy rating and review by a so-called “Verified Purchaser” (somebody who bought it on Amazon) who likewise posts lots of reviews and their input will weigh far more heavily upon your star-rating average, which isn’t an average in the sense we normal folks understand it. That’s why when I look at my Time Crime ratings, the numbers don’t add up to a quantitative average.

It also explains why, unless you select the pulldown for “Most Recent” reviews you will be shown the so-called “Top Review” which isn’t the top review for anyone in the sense of what they may interpret as the “best” review or most viewed review, but rather the review the Amazon folks have ranked, according to their goofy math, as coming from the reviewer with the top ranking. As compared to how many reviews any other reviewers have posted and the “helpful” votes they’ve received and whether they bought the book on Amazon.

Why do they not simply communicate quantitative star-rating averages and reviews in order of “most recent”? Because, somehow, this system intends to encourage you to buy the book on Amazon and gain favor in terms of rating and review influence. As a reviewer you are awarded greater influence for having written other reviews. As a rater you are awarded greater influence if you purchased the book on Amazon. Crazy? Hey, It’s their business, they can do what they want. It’s great that they still allow us to rate and review things we didn’t purchase on their site because they don’t have to continue to do that, either. And for a book with, say, fifty ratings and reviews, I’d say the gritty details of the numbers don’t matter.

Meanwhile, Time Crime as a story seems to be across-the-board acknowledged as worthy, let’s call it, for even within the two-star reviews there is encouragement for that. I suppose I’m destined to remain overly focused upon seeing regard for the writing itself, the craft of it, because I appreciate writerly talent so much myself. There are different kinds of readers, as we all know – some folks like my wife, for example, primarily read for story and remain very tolerant regarding mechanics and style and the things writers themselves perhaps by nature obsess upon. We want to write well. My favorite novels?

  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • My Antonia, Willa Cather
  • Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad
  • The Moon is a Harsh Witness, Robert Heinlein
  • Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

All very well-written books demonstrating enormous facility with all the technical aspects of writing on top of communicating great stories. In my opinion, they are examples of books where the writing talent – the handling of the words – even surpasses the engaging nature of the story –for me the story or so-called plot almost takes second place to the imagery evoked by the prose. Did these manuscripts enjoy the talents of professional editors? Yes. And copyeditors and proofreaders all employed by the traditional publishing houses of the times. Which happened to be much more numerous then, as we all know.

Now? I dare say that if you landed a so-called trad publishing deal with one of the three or four trad houses still in existence, since they no longer employ full-time editors, will likewise job out the task exactly akin to how an indie author does. In other words, they will sub-contract the job. Prove me wrong. Will the trad house have more money to spend? Perhaps. Will they know “better” editors? Perhaps. These days, perhaps not. But I won’t go off on trad versus traditional publishing. Look around and you find authors who have been both traditionally published and have chosen to go indie for reasons they are very qualified to explain.

What am I saying? That the writing itself matters and I’m disappointed whenever I discover that I’ve fallen short in my own eyes, let alone a reader’s eyes. Let alone when somebody regards my work as unprofessional. Fitzgerald, Cather and Conrad and within the SF genre, of course Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein and Bradbury are likely to beyond the talents of folks like me who nevertheless strive to hone their work to the highest standards. I don’t intend or otherwise surrender to the idea that I, as an indie author, ought to be provided any break, any quarter, as it were, upon the battlefield of publishing. If it sucks, it pretty much sucks. If it’s great, it’s great. Between these extremes, however, reside the rest of us and oftentimes the consensus, as I’ve said elsewhere, takes some time to play out, that’s all.

I was surfing the web yesterday, reading blogs by folks who had advice and sympathy for the ratings and reviews struggle and the whole authorpreneurial challenge in general – psychological and economic – and there is of course nothing new under the sun. I already knew that. I was just reading trying to work myself through my little nadir of confidence. One gal described having her book sales drop off and experiencing a commensurate diminishment in her interest to write.

Well, if you’re really destined to be a novelist, you may be saying to yourself, there is nothing that ought to stop you from writing besides death. And you would be correct. I’ve been writing my whole life, not novels mind you, but I’ve been writing with intention – to be read, that is – since I can’t remember when. I write if only to that little alter ego, so to say, that resides within my own head and functions as the listener, as the public, as the reader who someday might be reading. Reading this, for example. I have been cranking out journal entries for going on twelve years now and I only blog a handful of them, namely, the ones that I feel have a certain public perspective. The more private auto-therapy type of stuff I keep to myself. Yet even those entries are written with the sense of somebody else reading them. Someday. Perhaps after I’m dead. A crazy idea. I’m not saying this isn’t a weird thing to be doing, playing patty fingers with my internal reader, but it’s what I do, so be it.

I suppose I will continue to write whether or not I can continue to sell or publish. At least until my creative well dries up. Regardless, it hasn’t ever been anything to do with the money. The money or lack of it never entered my head until I became an authorpreneur and it only matters to me now because my aspiration is to have my work at least pay for itself, which it is far from doing. I’m also interested in entrepreneurship for its own sake – the idea of working for oneself. But negative reviews and problems with sales, all that threatens a writer’s fortitude. And for me, a sale will probably always bestow what I call my ensuing twenty-four hours of bliss. We require so very little to keep going. So very, very little.

Are writer’s vain in this way, or needy or otherwise pathetically self-oriented? Do you have to be a self-interested knob to even want to write a novel? Is it nothing but ego?

To me it’s nothing to do with ego. I never had an ambition to write a novel until New Year’s Day 2015 when I started writing one almost in spite of myself. It just arrived. In personal mythological terms, it was a true calling. I always say that everybody has a book in them. They are all a form of expression and everyone would be pleased to sell enough copies to, say, retire and live off the royalties, but if that were the driving requirement for most writers and authors then you wouldn’t have many. Or any. Because, again, statistically there isn’t any money in the novel writing business. The outliers upon the so-called normal curve, yes, they exist, but then so do the folks who somehow manage to win the lottery. Which is to say, there isn’t any reliable career to pursue regarding being a novelist.

It takes luck to sell your novel just as it takes the hard work that somehow seems to create its own luck. The cosmos must come to your aid. You need your magical helper who shows up within so many of the myths. And the cosmos does come to your aid. The magical helper does appear. It has happened to me. It happened to me today when I discovered that I’d sold two paperback copies of TC1. There I was, still working to overcome my despair at my predicament, considering that perhaps it was time that I quit this whole charade of wannabe novelist. I’m not making it, I told myself. I’m not selling enough copies to pay for the expense of publishing. I’m not even getting reliably positive reviews. So why do it? The world-of-action has spoken, my book sucks, people don’t want it, I tired my best and failed, I’m not cut out for it, being a successful novelist is somebody else’s job, somebody else’s vocational destiny. It’s perhaps time to move on.

All that was going to be the miserable topic of my blog post if I managed to post it and not merely bury it in this journal. Yikes, huh? I mean, who needs to read that kind of downer material?

And the fantastic news of two sales in one day hardly vanquishes my doubts. Time Crime 2: Empire & Oracle when I publish it might bomb. There will be the giveaways intended to generate interest and – heaven help me – ratings and reviews. I may try again next year with paid advertising in an issue of Locus. But, in the end, it has to sell – how many copies will be enough for me to keep going, who knows?

It can’t just be me writing for myself. We novelists write books we want to read, yes, sort of. More accurately, we write the novels that we need to write, that we must write, that somehow we are called to write. Sure, I suppose sometimes it’s merely an experiment. But otherwise, the novel arrives on behalf of the Muse, the Cosmos, the Mystery, the nature of our personal mythology, our tribe, what have you. The choice really isn’t one. Choosing to continue in the face of despair isn’t, either. We don’t write novels for ourselves. We have journals for that. We write novels to participate in life. We write and try to sell novels to have the experience of being properly alive.

Thanks to everyone who has taken a chance on Time Crime. Next year, come May, there will be, as I’ve been declaring, the second in the series. The third manuscript is in first draft, in need of an ending, and the fourth, well, I’m fifty pages in. We all wish we could write and self-edit more quickly and expedite the publishing process with a mind-blowing cover and fantastic, flawless, professional editing and innovative, market-penetrating marketing. All within some semblance of a reasonable budget. But it takes time, especially when there is history, mythology and research involved. And a bit of luck. Especially when you aren’t a genius. Meanwhile, here’s to goofy math, magical helpers & here comes 2022. Stay tuned.