The Negative Book Review and Appropriate Author Reactions

Rodan at Stanford - Bruce Witzel photo

I read something recently that made me chuckle. It was a how-to article about ways to preview an Amazon e-book before purchasing. The Look Inside feature was outlined as well as the option to download a preview before buying. The writer went on to explain that if a book was offered free, she simply downloaded it because what was there to lose. It’s free. She took umbrage at people who think they have a right to complain about not liking a free book. It’s free, people. Come on.

Free or otherwise, readers reserve the right to always have and sometimes, to even express that opinion in the form of a review.

From my close observation of writers … they fall into two groups. 1) Those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review and 2) Those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review. (Isaac Asimov)

What is the best way for an author to react to a negative book review?

With quiet respect. Obviously. Without a doubt, it is easier to be respectful and over the moon when it’s a stellar, five-star beauty of a review full of statements like – best book I’ve ever read. When the review is the one or two-star variety, naturally the author feels the sting. But, all the same, respect is due either way. Someone took time out of their busy life to download a book (free or otherwise), read and comment. That deserves respect.

Rodan at Stanford - Bruce Witzel photo (2)

I’ve dropped in on more than a few Facebook writer’s groups where the topic of bad reviews has come up. Some authors have a hard time dealing with their emotions around reviews that are far from positive. They want to argue the reviewer’s points and explain themselves. The bad reviews have the power to devastate them. Fellow authors often rush in with comments about how the review was clearly written by a troll. If someone has the nerve to point out that writer’s need thick skins when they put their work out into the world, that there is much to be learned from constructive criticism, the subsequent discussion lights up with anger over anyone having the nerve to take the discussion stream in such a direction.

All emotion aside, a genuine review – positive or negative – is one person’s reaction at one moment in time. Nothing more and nothing less. A rave review doesn’t make one a Pulitzer Prize winner any more than a one-star, scathing commentary makes one a hack.

Rodan at Stanford 2 - Bruce Witzel photo

Readers have pet peeves. I know I do and I’ve certainly seen from reviews of my own books, that others do. This is normal. Read the review, take the feedback that is useful and move on. But what of the trolls? I can hear the many Facebook writer’s groups screaming this question. A careful perusal of a book’s reviews will allow a reader (except in the most unusual of circumstances) to separate any obviously malicious reviews from the genuine ones. Readers aren’t dummies.

When it comes to reviews, I wonder if readers who are looking to access an honest opinion of a book are more often on the receiving end of trolls than authors are – in the form of faked five-star reviews authors obtain through less than legitimate means.

In my humble opinion, self-published authors need to learn to roll with the punches. As much as social media has provided opportunities to get our books noticed, it can also have a dark side. I’m not trying to deny that trolls are out there but I think the actuality of being targeted with a poor review written by a troll is far less likely than various groups would have us believe. We must take the social media good with the bad. And that goes for all our reviews!

Down through the ages, negative reviews have always been part and parcel of the artistic endeavour. We are simply coming of age, folks.

New Mexico - Guenette photo

Tuesday Book Blog – On Lucky Shores: A Chet Walker Adventure

On Lucky Shores - Cover

First things firstKerry J. Donvan’s novel is on sale for a mere 99 cents until April 21st on Amazon! What a dealSmile I have had variable results checking the sites for this sale price but Kerry assures me all is in order and his book is on sale.

Genre: Thriller, mystery, suspense, crime, medical, heist

18 Reviews on with an average of 4.8 out of 5!

Kerry J. Donovan author photoA tidbit of info on Kerry:

Born in Dublin, Kerry J. Donovan now lives and writes in a stone cottage in rural Brittany, France. A former cabinet maker and respiratory physiologist, Kerry writes character-based thrillers as well as police procedurals.


What’s the book about:

In an action-packed tale of secrets and lies in small town America, Chet Walker is a man forced to make decisions that will affect his future and the life of the woman he loves. Witness to a car crash and in receipt of a cryptic message from a dying man, traveling musician, Chet Walker, reaches the picturesque lakeside town of Lucky Shores. He faces hostility and suspicion from the locals and learns that the information he carries could unlock an eight-year-old mystery—it could also get him killed. Josephine Dolan, owner of the Lucky Shores diner, wants to bury her past. When Walker arrives with a message from her father, she doesn’t want to hear it. She cuts him cold. When his life is threatened, Chet Walker learns the truth behind the saying, “no good deed goes unpunished.”

My Review

4.0 out of 5 stars

Well-drawn main character dropped into a great setting!

I loved the setting – a small town nestled in the Colorado Rockies. Donovan’s main character, Chet Walker, is finely drawn from the details of his back story that informs his current actions to his multi-faceted personality – the musician, the martial arts fighter, the drifter, to say nothing of his mysterious knowledge of firefighting and medicine. It takes some time for Chet to come completely into focus – another master stroke of storytelling! A line like, “… focused on the pain and the rain and the water running down the drain.” as Chet observes his surroundings and turns them into a tune captures the reader’s imagination. A mysterious sheriff, a small town doctor who seems anything but and a damsel in distress round out a team of secondary characters who all hit the right notes. Solid writing – an enjoyable read.

So, there you have it – a great book at a great price. Off you go to the Amazon site of your choice. Here’s your link to Kerry’s book on and and

Happy reading on lucky shores.

Izzy’s Clothesline Platform

Socks on the line - Guenette photo

For all the new readers of Disappearing in Plain Sight – here’s a treat and an example of how fiction informs reality.

One of the first building projects tackled after I came to the cabin was a crude platform up a couple of stairs that allowed me to reach the newly installed clothesline. For all it’s primitive nature, that original platform hung around a long time – twenty-three years this fall!

Sheets on the line - Guenette photo

In the above photo, the platform is barely visible. It was a humble structure all tucked up behind the salal bushes. And definitely on it’s last legs in 2015 with rotting posts causing the whole thing to lean forward at the front end. The already iffy platform was not helped, on more than one afternoon near the end of last summer, by the antics of a large bear who chose to climb up and plant him or herself on the end to eat salal berries.

This spring, Bruce set out to build me a new clothesline platform. Here are the results. We have both concluded that it is fancier than either of us envisioned. It seems this model would suit Izzy to a tee!

Fran's new clothes line platform, April 14, 2016 - bruce witzel photo

I’ll have to struggle along to be worthy of the magnificence Smile 

Excerpt from Disappearing in Plain Sight:

“Liam, take a look at this … it’s priceless to watch, really.” Liam looked where Caleb was pointing but all he saw was Izzy out on the clothesline platform Caleb had built for her. She was hanging out the wet laundry.

He cast a somewhat baffled look at his friend but Caleb just kept smiling through his words, “Look at how carefully she chooses each piece, Liam.” Izzy did seem to search through the basket as if she were looking for something in particular. “I used to think maybe she would hang only pants together … or shirts … or my stuff and then hers … or maybe there was a colour code or something. It never made any sense. It was the damnedest thing. And then one day I figured it out. It’s because of those two lilac bushes. You see … look … first big pieces and then smaller pieces in the middle so they will clear that one bush and then some bigger pieces again but only small pieces at the end because if the wind comes up the bigger pieces would hit the lilac.”

Liam was seeing the logic of this but Caleb’s fascination with the whole process seemed odd. Izzy put the last piece on the line and reeled it out. She turned, going quickly down the three steps from the platform and walking toward the kitchen door. Liam was about to head into the shop to do some task or another. He and Caleb were always working on something. But Caleb grabbed his arm to hold him back out of Izzy’s sight, “No wait Liam, this is my favourite part … she’ll stop,” and as Caleb said those words, Izzy did indeed stop. “She’ll turn back to the clothesline.” This was exactly what Izzy did “And she’ll survey her handiwork.” Izzy stood gazing for a moment or two at the line and then headed inside.

Caleb began to walk toward the shop door shaking his head, “It’s always exactly the same. I have never seen that woman look as satisfied as she does when she turns back to that clothesline.” He laughed out loud, pushed Liam in the arm and winked at him, “You know what I mean, Liam.” Caleb paused for effect before he added, “Never seen her that satisfied.” Then he had laughed even more. “Good thing I don’t have a big ego, hey, Liam.”

That was the essence of Caleb. Liam could still picture him, all these years later, leaning there against the workshop door – a big guy with shaggy blond hair and a wild looking beard. He would often slouch a bit so he and Liam were on the same level. In Liam’s memories, Caleb’s dark-blue eyes always sparkling with humour. Caleb hadn’t ever had anything to prove; he was sure of himself and his chosen friends.

Looking back - clothesline platform

A Quintessential Feel Good Song – And I Do!

Skunk Cabbage - Bruce Witzel photo

Yesterday was just one of those days that turned out great but I can’t explain why. Poised on that uncomfortable fence between obsessively planning to write the fourth book in the Crater Lake Series and actually starting to write said book, suddenly, inexplicably, I broke through. With the upbeat lyrics of American Authors in the background, as the smell of freshly mowed grass drifting in the window, I managed a few thousand words that are definitely going somewhere.

Once again, I was back at Crater Lake and the characters so filled my thoughts that I had to drop everything and stroll the paths around our place in an attempt to untangle the various knotted threads that represent their lives. It was then I knew, I had vaulted that uncomfortable fence. I was on my way.

Just in case you have any lingering Monday morning blues, I’ll share the lyrics from American Authors – Best Day of My Life. Follow along to the You Tube link and I’m sure that in no time you’ll be up and dancing around the room. Enjoy!

Best Day Of My Life

I had a dream so big and loud

I jumped so high I touched the clouds


I stretched my hands out to the sky

We danced with monsters through the night


I’m never gonna look back

Whoa, I’m never gonna give it up

No, please don’t wake me now


This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life


This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life

I howled at the moon with friends

And then the sun came crashing in


But all the possibilities

No limits just epiphanies


I’m never gonna look back

Whoa, I’m never gonna give it up

No, just don’t wake me now


This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life


This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life

I hear it calling outside my window

I feel it in my soul

The stars were burning so bright

The sun was out ’til midnight

I say we lose control


This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life


This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life

This is gonna be, this is gonna be, this is gotta be

The best day of my life

Everything is looking up, everybody up now

This is gonna be the best day of my life

My life

American Authors Album Cover

Disappearing in Plain Sight–Five Free Days–Part Four

Analyzing the situation - Bruce Witzel photo

In the first post of this series, I described how I made the decision to try for a BookBub (BB) advertising slot. In part two, I outlined the steps I took in preparation for the big BB day. Part three was the fun post! I got to write a timeline of my stunned disbelief at the success of my promotion. In this last of the series, I host my own post-game show.

Five-day promotion totals:

  • Free Downloads – 34,990
  • Sales – 95
  • KENP’s – 16,622 = approx. 33 sales (calculated at the 48 cents per 100 pages and divided by an average cost across my books of $2.44)

Total expenditure for promotion – $596.00 (CND)

  • BookBub to run March 27th – 330. 75
  • Fussy Librarian spot to run March 26th – 33.38
  • Book Marketing Tool (placing my promo info up on 30 different sites) – 21.29
  • Book Sends/IQ Reader slot to run March 28th – 207.07

Total costs recouped by the first day post-promotion! And sales across all three books in the Crater Lake Series have continued at a good pace since the promotion ended.

Stanford - Bruce Witzel photo

Final Reflections:

Until I saw it with my own eyes, I never believed BookBub would work the way it did! Wow! I recommend the Book Marketing Tool. I know this small expenditure really pushed me up the charts ahead of the BB slot. Not sure how much impact Fussy Librarian had but again, relatively inexpensive. I also had the benefit – for no cost – of going out on a fellow author’s email list with a really attractive advert for my book and that definitely had impact. Building a social network is never effort wasted!

In the two days prior to the BB, I had a lot of re-tweeting action on Twitter as well as extra sharing of my Facebook posts and increased traffic on my blog. I’m sure all these little things added up.

The one expense I remain unsure of was the BookSends slot that ran the day after the BB placement. It was costly. Downloads stayed close to 10,000 for the day the BookSends email went out – could have been a partial carry over from the BB, though. There’s no way to tease these things apart. Common wisdom does suggest that surrounding the BB slot by other promos extends the halo effect. Another time, I would try harder for something less expensive.

U of T - Bruce Witzel photo

I’ve already garnered ten new reviews and have had a taste of my first 2 stars! The reader said Disappearing in Plain Sight was self-indulgent without a single character to care about. I feel I have truly arrived with that criticism. I’ve also had a number of positive emails – here are just a few snippets of these: “One of the best books I’ve read in years …”; “Thank you for writing such a healing book.” ; “Once a year, there will be a book or books in this case, that I know I am going to read again and again for the rest of my life.”

Many, many thanks to everyone who supported my promotion and for those who have been with me from the beginning. We’ve plugged away together and the celebration is sweeter in the sharing. It was a wild and crazy five days!.

I look forward to doing another post in this series at the one-month, two-month and three-month beyond BookBub mark.

Minneapolis - Bruce Witzel photo

Disappearing in Plain Sight–Five Free Days–Part Three

a study of contradictions - bruce witzel photo

In part one of this series, I mapped out the route that I took on the road to the decision to try for a a BookBub (BB) slot. Part two was a detailed description of things I did once the BB slot was secured. This post is the fun! I get to tell you how the whole promotion went.

Free Day One

Disappearing in Plain Sight (DPS) went free at midnight on Thursday, March 25th. When I awoke on the morning of the 25th and checked my Kindle Direct Publishing page, 15 books had been downloaded. I was ranked around 22,000 but had managed to make my way to #8 in the category of literary fiction – sagas. A modest start but quite a change from where DPS usually ranks.

First ranking check of the day

As I watched the download total climb, I set about posting to various Facebook groups, creating a blog post and responding to twitter action.

My ranking dropped from 22,000 to below 1,000 and by mid-afternoon I had gained the #1 spot in literary fiction – sagas. I pre-scheduled another round of hourly tweets for the following day and my last check on the 25th saw total downloads of DPS at 227. I was stunned.

Literary Fiction - Sagas - DPS

Free Day Two

The day began with 96 downloads. I was ranking 500 in the Kindle Free Store and hanging onto that #1 category spot in literary fiction – sagas. The Fussy Librarian spot and my inclusion in fellow author, Peter Ralph’s, email had kicked in. Twitter action continued to spiral higher and higher, Facebook friends shared my posts and blog followers clicked through to my buy links. I saw my rank hover back and forth – a bit over 300 and then a bit below. Sometime in the late afternoon, I noticed that I had garnered a handful of sales of books 2 and 3 in the Crater Lake Series. I was stunned. Prior to this weekend, The Light Never Lies (LNL) and Chasing Down the Night (CDN) were nearly dead in the water with rankings up over a million. At last check before bed, I had managed 635 downloads for a total of 862 over two days.

I had a hard time going to sleep knowing that the so-called best was yet to come with the BookBub slot scheduled for the next day.

Poised and ready for take-off- Bruce Witzel photo

Free Day Three

My first check-in was before the fireworks began. 51 downloads. Between 7:00 am and 8:00 am downloads shot up – 563 – 810 – 1088 – 1550. I was still sitting ranked at 272 in the free store but had gained the #5 slot in the category of coming-of-age stories. After this point, the promotion started to take on a frenetic pace with me hitting refresh on my Kindle Direct Publishing Report button every five minutes. By 9:00 am, I had over 4000 downloads! Oh, and another batch of sales for LNL and CDN! This is the part that stunned me – I expected a ripple effect over time but the line on the sales graph was rising steadily even as the free days on DPS continued.

3rd day - 3 ranking capture

At the point of 12,000 downloads, the whole thing took on a surreal quality. I imagine this is how someone working at a bank counting $100.00 bills must feel. The money or the numbers start to lose their intrinsic meaning.

By 8:00 pm, I had been watching the computer screen for twelve hours. I was absolutely exhausted. DPS had been downloaded over 21,000 times. I was racking up downloads in every single Amazon market and I felt as though I had stood on the corner and hawked each one of those copies. Sales of LNL and CDN continued to rise. The day ended with 22,221 downloads, 40 sales and 1300 KENP’s (if you aren’t familiar with this acronym – please check out the 2nd post in this series).

Fully loaded - Bruce Witzel photo

Free Day Four

day 4 - number 2 in the top 100

Woot, woot, woot. I made it to the #2 slot in the Top 100 Amazon Free Books – right next to all-star marketing genius, J.A. Konrath. I had racked up over 2,000 downloads by 8:00 am. I was also seeing a radical increase in KENP’s – up over 3500 and the day was yet young.

At 2:00 pm I had over 5000 downloads and 24 sales. Definitely slowed down from the BookBub day but I was still riding a huge wave. Checked again at 6:00 pm. Over 7000 downloads and 29 sales.

Free Day Five

At 9:00 am, 800 new downloads, 1 sale and almost 5000 KENP’s. Things may be slowing in the sales column but the KENP’s are more than compensating. I am almost halfway to breaking even on the overall cost of the promotion and the free days haven’t even ended.

Before going to bed, I had 2,855 downloads, 20 sales and 8100 KENP’s for the last day of the promotion.

Little car, big truck - Bruce Witzel photo

Tune in for part four of this series where my post-game analysis recaps costs and benefits.

Disappearing in Plain Sight – Five Free Days – Part Two

Montreal - Bruce Witzel photo

In part one of this series, I described my book marketing journey since 2013 and the circumstances that led me to attempt procuring a coveted BookBub (BB) advertisement for the first book in the Crater Lake Series – Disappearing in Plain Sight (DPS – because acronyms are so cute – right?). In this post, I will describe the things I did to get ready for the promotion.

Step one: Before trying for the BB slot, I moved all my books into the Kindle Select Program. For those of you unfamiliar with the way Amazon works, a short primer may be in order. When I enter my books in the Amazon Select Program, I give Amazon the exclusive right to market my e-books. In exchange, they allow me the opportunity to do free promotions (up to five days in a three-month period) or countdown in price deals. They also enter my books in the Kindle Unlimited Program. Readers can subscribe to this service for a monthly fee and then they are allowed to download up to ten books at any given time free of charge. Authors are paid for these books based on the number of pages read.

Freighter on the St. Lawrence - Bruce Witzel photo

Amazon calculates Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) based on a ratio related to the number of real pages the book would have if it were a print copy. The softcover edition of DPS has 328 pages. This translates to a KENP of 588. Authors are paid (as of last month – this rate varies) 48 cents per 100 pages read. If a reader goes the distance, I will make $2.82. More than I would make from a sale. Authors who write longer books do a bit better with this formula.

During and after a BB promotion, Kindle Unlimited subscribers really notice a book. Because DPS is the first book of the Crater Lake Series, there should be a ripple effect of notice over the other two books, as well – The Light Never Lies (LNL) and Chasing Down the Night (CDN). So, I really need to be in Kindle Unlimited!

Looking towards the Channel Islands off the California coast- bruce witzel photo

Step two: Once accepted by BB ($330.75 CND), I set up my free promotion days on Amazon. Because the slot BB had given me was Easter Sunday, I decided to extend the common wisdom that advises three free days with the BB slot in the middle to five. This would give extra insurance that the book was actually free on the day of the slot. I’m so paranoid about things not working out. BB will not advertise a book if it isn’t free or at the price agreed upon for the arranged date and they will not refund your money! Five free days would also give people who didn’t check their email Easter Sunday or Monday a chance to still act on the sale and get DPS for free.

Step three: A friend recommended Book Marketing Tools  as an easy and inexpensive way of getting the news of my free days out on a number of sites. I signed up ($21.29 CND) and this service allowed me to fill in all my book and sale details once and then reap the benefits of being promoted on up to 32 different marketing sites. I made it onto 29.

Victoria Harbour - Bruce Witzel photo

Step four: I was advised to surround the BB slot with other promotion methods in order to go into the BB day with the lowest Amazon ranking possible and to extend the burst BB would create as long as I could after the day.

I booked a Fussy Librarian slot ($33.38 CND) for the day before the BB. As well, fellow indie author, Peter Ralph , offered to feature my promotion to his entire email list that day.

For the day following the BB slot, I signed up with BookSends. I wanted to go with E-Reader News Today, a less expensive and higher rated option but they were not accepting any new submissions until April. The services I chose on BookSends were expensive (207.07 CND). I debated going with their less costly option for only literary fiction subscribers but after perusing the actual emails they send out, it was obvious to me that the top slots for Free Books of the Day got the most attention from subscribers. I decided to go big or go home.

Freighter on the Columbia - Bruce Witzel photo

Step five: On March 24th, the day before the free days started, I scheduled tweets with the hashtag #FREE and a catchy one-line hook to run every hour on the 25th. I’ve never done anything like that with Twitter before, always having held to the idea that one should do nine interesting tweets to every promotional one. I broke this rule because I really wanted to get the news of DPS free to as many people as possible.

West Coast magic - Bruce Witzel photo

Okay, there you have it. Tune into part three of this series to find out if I managed to catch any readers!