Maelstrom–Cover Reveal

Maelstrom Full Cover JPEG

Here it is at last – the final cover for Maelstrom. We were able to integrate all the elements I wanted:

  • A swirling, maelstrom like sky
  • A prominent cliff that reflects a major location in the novel
  • A clear, easy to read book blurb on the back
  • The inclusion of a piece of original artwork that connects closely to the history of the novel

I’m planning a few posts over the next week in preparation for Maelstrom’s release. I hope you’ll tune in and be part of the fun.

Worshipping the Ever-Elusive Amazon Book Review

five stars - google image

Amazon is in the process of suing 1,114 Fiverr users for offering to write fake product reviews for money. The publishing giant is hot on the scent of authors who used this type of service. That will result in many book reviews being pulled. Amazon is also cracking down heavily on the practice of review swapping amongst authors.

This is a positive happening for readers. I’m not alone in having skimmed through some stellar reviews, bought the book in question, began to read and found myself stunned at the formulaic, predictable writing, or plot holes, or lack of proofreading or all of the above. I definitely wondered who on earth could have penned those five-star reviews.

Cash register - Google image

Paying for reviews is a major no-no for all self-published authors. Put aside the fact that the big publishing houses pay for reviews all the time. For those of us who have chosen self-publishing, no such leeway is allowed. Accept it, live with it.

The idea of swapping reviews is also strongly discouraged. But all reciprocal reviews amongst self-published authors are not necessarily swapped. Part of my motivation in building a social media network is the goal of getting my name out there and encouraging readers to buy and review my books. And while there are countless people active in cyberspace, I tend to attract a number of like-minded people to my networks. Another self-published author likes my Facebook page, follows on Twitter or follows my blog. I reciprocate. I end up purchasing and reading a book written by this social media contact. Let’s not forget that many writers are also voracious readers. I definitely fall into that category. If I enjoyed the book and because I like lending a hand and I have been indoctrinated to the almost sacred belief that Amazon reviews are the be all and end all measure of success, I write a review. This social media contact does the same with my book. We never spoke of swapping reviews. And yet, we now find ourselves in a suspect situation.

Reciprocal reviews sit on my Amazon book pages. I might lose those reviews and reviews I wrote might get pulled. My only fault was connecting on social media and enjoying the work of another self-published author. Doesn’t seem fair, but if this is the price we all pay to eliminate fake reviews, then so be it.

dog-chasing-tail - google image

As I reflect on the broader questions related to reviews, I start to question the way we self-published authors chase after the elusive Amazon book review … hmmm … have we bought into a false indoctrination? I wonder…

I’m happy to share what I’m learning along the way:

  • Say a categorical no to any request to swap books for the purpose of reviews with any other self-published author.
  • If you are a self-published author, post a review to Amazon only if you understand that the author of the book you review will never review one of your books. 
  • Re-educate ourselves to place an equal or higher value on reviews done on blogs and other venues unrelated to Amazon and begin to expand our understanding of the many ways that bring readers to our books.
  • Work at expanding social media networks and contacts beyond other self-published authors.
  • And just a final point on debunking the altar of worship that exists around stacking up the Amazon reviews – we’ve all heard and read about the mysterious marketing boosts that kick in at some magical number. The common wisdom most certainly states that reviews on Amazon matter, a lot. I can’t back that up with my own experience. Before I had self-published, I never read a review on Amazon, though I bought widely from them. I gathered my book buying information from other sources. I also never wrote a review, though I enjoyed and was passionate about many of the books I read.

word of mouth marketing - Google image

I can say from personal experience that word-of-mouth sells books. If you read my book and liked it – tell a friend or family member. Offer to lend them your copy. Purchase one of my books as a gift for someone you think might enjoy it. Tell people where they can get a copy.

Book Club - Port Alice

In closing, I appreciate every single review I’ve received. I took them at face value and learned from all of them. I will be saddened to see any of them pulled by Amazon. I also value all my social media contact with other self-published authors. I’ve learned from each of you and hopefully shared well my own growing expertise. We can continue to support one another through means other than Amazon reviews. Here’s to coming up with ways to do just that.

The Valleys and Peaks of the Self-Publishing Life

Looking out to Monument Valley - Bruce Witzel photo

I’ve learned that life will go through changes -up and down and up again. It’s what life does. (Ben Okri)

Ben Okri’s words resonate. You’re up, you’re down … such is life. Being a self-published author has definite peak and valley experiences. But, really, how could it be any other way? Self-publishing is akin to being the general contractor on a major construction job that never ends.

I write, I rewrite, edit and proofread. I format for publication and come up with cover design ideas. And after all of that, I try and promote my own work – times all that by four.

I’m not saying I don’t have help – I do my share of contracting out. From the early days of writing Disappearing in Plain Sight, I’ve had the joy to work with a fabulous editor who is willing to do conceptual and line-by-line editing. I’ve sought the help of a great e-book formatter and I’ve had my husband, Bruce, to create covers and take on the lion’s share of softcover book sales. He is a very active promoter of my work.

Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park - Bruce Witzel photo

Even with a team of dedicated contributors, the choice to self-publish puts me down in the dumps occasionally. Amazon sales plunge, someone returns a $2.99 e-book for refund weeks after purchase, softcover sale move like molasses on a cold day, promoting on social media seems like soul suicide and worst of all, there never seems to be enough hours in a day to write something new. Characters and their stories clamour in my head for escape and I just want to get on with writing the next book.

But like most valleys, these experiences provide a view of the peaks. A local couple recently purchased the whole Crater Lake Series. A phone call the other day provided wonderful feedback – the wife is through all three, husband is currently sliding through the forest beside the cougar in Chasing Down the Night. They both love the series and can’t wait for the next instalment. They’ve already passed on the first two books to a good friend and are eager to order two more complete sets as Christmas gifts.

Barrier Lake, Alberta - Fran Guenette photo

I’m three years into my five year, self-publishing plan with three books out and one more soon to be released. All good things come to those who wait. I’ll just add my own spin to that maxim – those who work hard while waiting. I’m good on the hard work part but waiting is a challenge. Which leads me to a stream of consciousness question – what is it that I am waiting for?

Success, or that sense of having arrived, to a self-published author can be as diverse as the number of self-published authors out there. For me, it means being self-sustaining in my craft; over and above that, making a modest retirement income through my writing. Self-sustaining translates to having the money in my pocket from sales to produce my next book. Modest income truly is modest.

Not to say success is totally defined by money. I am successful because I pursue my dream. I am successful whenever I discover that my books have changed a reader in some essential way. I am successful in the satisfaction I draw from my own creativity.

There you have it – self-talk through a blog post takes me from the valley and plunks me back on the mountain top. I often assigned writing tasks to my counselling clients who were open to such exercises. The goal – write your way out of your current state of mind.

2 Kananaskis Country, Alberta - Bruce Witzel photo

Not a bad idea. What do you think?

Disappearing in Plain Sight by Francis Guenette

Debbie Young has reposted her review of Disappearing in Plain Sight. Thought I’d share it with my followers. Fall is a great time to get into a new series of books that remind one of those lazy, hazy days of summer. Enjoy!

Debbie Young's Reading Life

Cover of Disappearing in Plain Sight by Francis Guenette This novel is set on the shores of Crater Lake in Western Canada

If it wasn’t for Twitter, I would never have had the slightly surreal introduction to Francis Guenette and her excellent novels. Our paths crossed on Twitter on the night of the last papal elections, when we shared our amusement at the wry comments being made about the incoming pope, whose name turned out to be the same as Ms Guenette’s.

Francis (the author, not the pope), was just self-publishing Disappearing in Plain Sight, her debut novel, which stayed in my memory because of its beautiful cover, intriguing name and setting on Vancouver Island, where I had an aunt and cousins for many years, though I never managed to visit them there. I also enjoyed Francis’s blog, which features many more gorgeous photos of the local scenery and some interesting insights into the process of writing novels.

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Writing a Book Blurb is Hard Work

Arizona tree - Bruce Witzel photo

And it doesn’t seem to get any easier with practice! I’m at it for the fourth time and I feel as though it would be easier to write another book than it is to construct this short synopsis. Struggle, struggle, struggle.

I found a handy-dandy resource this morning over on Books Go Social Book Marketing Blog.

Using my current draft of Maelstrom’s blurb, here’s my take on a few of the steps.

A strong first sentence. This makes a lot of sense. Hook the reader right from the start.

A shot is fired into the still night air and a young woman dies up on Suicide Ridge.

Suicide Ridge - chalk - Lorna Friesen

Highlight the drama. Let the reader know what kind of book to expect.

A dangerous game of move and countermove has begun. The year is 1976, the setting, small town America. Over the course of one blistering week in late August burning winds of change sweep through Haddon Valley and no one’s life will ever be the same.

Name the characters and broadly sketch their circumstances.

Sheriff Bert Calder, with the help of Mayor Amos Thatcher, has held the isolated town of Haddon under his thumb for twenty-five years.

The sprawling estate of Casa Destino sits on the hill overlooking the town. Rafael Destino races against time to gain control of the all-important Haddon Valley Railroad. His goal – to destroy Amos Thatcher, the man he believes responsible for the death of his beloved sister.

Pencil sketch - Casa Destino - June Guenette

Myhetta, commonly known by the petty citizens of Haddon as the breed, is charged with carrying out Rafael’s revenge. But how far will his adoptive father push the young man who owes him everything?

Laura Thatcher has prided herself on being a person who makes do in a loveless marriage. She sleeps in the spare room and lavishes all her affection on her step-son Casey. Her quiet life explodes when Myhetta pulls her into the Destino’s blood feud against her husband.

Meanwhile, Calder lays his plans to regain control of Myhetta’s mother, Ahya, a woman who escaped his grip so many years before.

If the book is meant to be dramatic then play that up. Don’t be afraid of a little hype.

Maelstrom is a pot boiler of a reading experience. The dialogue sizzles, the characters jump off the pages and the story races along like a runaway train.

The road up to Casa Destion - chalk - Lorna Friesen

Well, there you have it. It’s back to the drawing board. I have my work cut out for me.

The Road to Aldeao - pastel work June Guenette

Except for the top photo, I’ve used examples of my mother and grandmother’s drawing to illustrate this post. Hopefully some of these images will make their way to the cover of Maelstrom. But that is still very much in the planning stage.