Up Like A Rocket

SpaceX_Rocket2Last month I gave my quick list tips for getting started in marketing, but this month let's get into the weeds on the launch itself.

Many people still go for the biggest bang on the first day. They'll take out ads, email their lists, post on their blogs -- sometimes weeks in advance -- in an attempt to gin up some interest in a book that may not be available yet. Launch day comes, everybody buys the book, sales rank climbs straight up like a rocket. Our erstwhile author sits there, refreshing the sales screen every few minutes, unable to look away.

Great launch.

Then there's the next day. And the next. And the next. There's a very, very long line of "the next" in this book's future but there's a nasty surprise in store for those who aren't aware of how this book actually gets into orbit.

Up like a rocket?
Down like a rock.

The problem is the way sales ranks get calculated. It's a black box as far as precise details go, but there are some models we can use that approximate the algorithm's behavior.

Your book's sales rank marks your place on the bestseller list in Amazon.

Example: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,810 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

That means there are 16,809 books selling better than you in the last hour and a few million selling worse.

So how does Amazon calculate that? It's not based on the number of books you sold in the last hour. It's a weighted average based on a rolling window that counts current sales more than past sales.

Here's what a hard launch looks like after 20 days.

That first day is great with 500 sales. It might get you up above #300 in terms of sales rank. The red line marks the weighted average ("Sales points") per day as that big chunk rolls off. By the end of the first week, you're at the bottom of the Great Amazonian Sea unless you can maintain a level of sales. For the first time author, getting a big first day is much easier than getting a good first two weeks.

Here's what a soft launch looks like after 20 days.

graph-soft-launchNote the difference in scale. Everything here happens under the 100 level on the hard launch graph, but the important thing is that your consistent sales yield a persistent position on the best seller lists. It's worth noting how the graph falls off when sales start tapering down after 14 days. If you can maintain that modest level of sale, your sales rank will stay more or less level.

Both graphs represent about 625 sales.  As an author, you'll make the same amount with either launch. As a publisher, your sales rank performance will be better with the soft launch because those sales ranks feed into other metrics like the Popularity list, giving your book better visibility there even when the bestseller lists start to fade.

Here's what an actual soft launch looks like after eleven months.

Note that this title stayed above #1,000 for a month and above #10,000 for four months. My launch consisted of one email to my list, one post on my blog, one tweet, and a note to my Facebook fan group - each separated by a day to try to spread the notice out. I don't have a hard launched book to show you. I've been doing soft launches since I started publishing my own books in 2012.

The soft launch gives you a chance to ask your network to share the news while the book is still visible. It's a window where some small amounts of promotion can actually make a difference, even on a first book. The advantages for the second and third and fourth books just multiply if - and this is a big if - you can keep your messaging low key so everybody doesn't buy on the first day.

If you can keep your book from going up like a rocket, you might be able to keep it from coming down like a rock.

Disclaimer: The launch pattern graphs do NOT represent the actual bestseller algorithm on Amazon. Only Amazon knows the exact mathematics involved. Things like "how much weight to apply to aging sales" and "how long is the window" are only approximated here based on observed performances. While the actual levels of those curves might vary, the general shapes have proven to be reliable. The third graph is from my Author Central reporting for the last book I released. 

Promotion—The Necessary Evil

My kitchen table about two hours ago.
My kitchen table about two hours ago.

Promotional plans, and lessons learned along the way.

I hate promotion. I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact, I’m not sure I know any fellow writers who tell me they love promoting themselves and their work. For me, it’s not even so much that I don’t like talking about myself and my work. It’s just a big workload piled on top of an already big workload, and most of the time it feels like it’s not really getting me anywhere.

I know it’s necessary, though, so I do what I can. I don’t think I do it particularly well, but sometimes I manage to find something that’s actually fun, and that helps.

In any case, when it comes to my current Kindle Scout project, it’s blatantly obvious I need to promote. So, while I’m finalizing my edits and figuring out what system I want to use for my final formatting, I’m brainstorming on some promotional ideas. Here are some things I think I’ll try for online promotion:

Thunderclap. I’m not sure this kind of “tweetstorming” approach works consistently, but I know people who’ve seen some decent results. I think it’s far better to have numerous other people tweet for you than to tweet the hell out of your own audience. Also? It’s easy. And free.

Blog tours. Also free, unless I decide to pay to have someone set it up for me, which I don’t think I’ll do.

Facebook boosted posts. I’ve done this a couple of times but not enough yet to have made any conclusions about the results. I think it’s worth a shot.

Facebook ads. I had some good success with these on a past project, so I think I’ll give it another go.

I’m also going to switch out my autoresponders on my newsletter signup site to send out a sample of the book I’ll be Scouting. I’ve been sending a romance short story to new subscribers, but I think it’s time to switch it up a bit. I’ll also send this sample to my current subscribers. I’ve found that I get very high open rates when I send out freebies. This so far hasn’t really translated into sales, but at least I get people’s attention.

I’d like to hear from anyone who’s tried these promotional techniques, or who’s had a particularly good response from any other on-line promotion approaches, so feel free to hit the comments. The promotional landscape is changing at least as fast as the publishing industry itself, so reports from the “front lines” are always useful and welcome.

In-Person Promotion

I also have an in-person opportunity coming up this weekend with Colorado Gold. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, so I took an informal poll. (This was while I was at my BFF’s house for brisket on Labor Day weekend. I said, “I gotta figure out what to make to take to the conference.” She said, “Chocolate. Everybody likes chocolate. Add a prize. Willy Wonka that shit up.” My daughter said yeah, do that. And that was my poll.) That seemed like a good idea, and it was a lot simpler than some of the things I’d been brainstorming. There are some lessons here: 1. Simple is good. 2. When it seems appropriate, have somebody help with your brainstorming. 3. Willy Wonka is applicable to numerous life situations. Also, listen to your BFF.

I was freaking out about the lack of time because I left it to the last minute, like I do, so my daughter agreed to step in and design a bookmark for my packages. She did a great job, and we printed them up (after much printer hijinks) and put them together with some chocolate for that Willy Wonka-ing. In addition, there’s a Golden Ticket—one person who subscribes to my newsletter over this weekend will win a $25 Amazon gift card. Lessons here: 1. Don’t leave things until the last minute (I will never learn that one). 2. Outsource whenever possible, especially when you have talented people living in your house. 3. Printers will always decide to stop working properly when you’re in a hurry.

If you’re at Colorado Gold, hit me up or look for my cards at the main table. Also, if you can’t make the conference and are reading this blog, you can enter the contest by signing up for my newsletter at katrienaknights.com. You’ll get a pdf of the first chapter of Call Me Zhenya, the book I’ve been working on preparing for Kindle Scout. You can see this either as a thank you for sticking with me through all these posts, or as an act of blatant self-promotion. Either way, I hope to see some of you at Colorado Gold!

Getting to Know You: The RMFW Q&A Project #6

The Getting to Know You Project is intended to introduce RMFW members with short responses to three questions, a photo, and a few social media links if available. If you would like to participate in the project for future months, please email Pat Stoltey at blog@rmfw.org

Travis Heermann

Website: http://www.travisheermann.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Travis-Heermann-Author-155963681137209/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TravisHeermann

2016_Travis Heermann1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I write a variety of stuff, leaving no genre unturned. I have a historical fantasy trilogy, a YA supernatural thriller, a science-fiction noir novel I'm shopping, and a horror-western novel debuting in September called Death Wind. The Death Wind original screenplay, co-written with my friend Jim Pinto, gave rise to the novel and won Grand Prize at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, CA, in 2012. I've also dabbled in mystery and romance. Am I missing anything?

I write full-time in various capacities, from freelancer to fiction, so my goal is to be writing all the time, even if I don't always manage it.

The methods I use for composition vary depending on the nature of the piece I'm working on. Sometimes a story seems to demand that I write long-hand first, then transfer to PC. Sometimes I can just crank it out in Scrivener. I can typically finish the first draft of a short story in about a week, with another week or so of reflection and revision. When I'm on a roll, I can do 50k words in a month, so theoretically I could finish a novel in two months, although I have yet to try it.

As for where I work, we recently moved into a house large enough for me to have a private office, and I haven't had that before, so it will be interesting to see how that works out. Prior to that, and probably still occasionally, I worked in a rotating pool of coffee shops around the Denver area.

The writing bug seized hold of me when I was about twelve, and it's never been cured. I can't see myself doing anything else, not anymore, although back in my 20s I tried to deny it for a while. I write because I have to. If I don't, I get really crabby. You wouldn't like me when I'm crabby.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

My family and I just moved back to the States after a year living in New Zealand. During that time, we traveled extensively within NZ, North and South Island, and also in Australia. We made the pilgrimage to several filming sites for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, including Hobbiton and the Weta Workshop. My office door now bears a placard from Bag End saying "No Admittance Except on Party Business."

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

That varies, honestly. I love video games (games of all sorts really). I love immersing myself in the experiential and/or strategic thinking of detailed virtual worlds. The Bioshock and Starcraft universes are two of my favorites.

But I also enjoy martial arts. In NZ, I had the good fortune to join a Japanese ju jitsu dojo. I wouldn't call the training sessions enjoyable--they often involved a great deal of physical pain and exertion--but the feeling of accomplishment gave me a tremendous sense of satisfaction. Over the course of about six months, I achieved the (lowest) rank of white belt, and let me tell you, they do not give those belts away. It's one of the things I'm proudest of having done in my life.


Rachel Hoff

Website: http://pencilprincessworkshop.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachel-hoff-87541644
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rachel.hoff.52

2016_Rachel Hoff1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I write YA sci fi and fantasy because I'm miserable whenever I'm not writing and when I am writing, these are the stories that come to me. My writing time is any time I can wrestle away from handling kids, doing household-chores, and freelance editing, so I write in the early morning or late night, when the kids are at school, or on buses. I write longhand in pencil for first drafts, so those can happen in any clean space. Getting things into the computer usually happens at my desk.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

As my critique group knows, I lived in China for about a decade before moving to the Denver area five years ago, and my family (husband, two other kids, and I) are now in the process of adopting a teenager from one of the provinces we lived in.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

It's hard to choose, but I think baking is my favorite non-writing or reading activity. I love the way it makes me take my time. I love the texture of dough, and the rhythm of kneading, and the heavenly smell once the bread is in the oven.


Jennifer Kincheloe

Website: http://www.jenniferkincheloe.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheSecretLifeofAnnaBlanc
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jenkincheloe
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jrkincheloe/

2016_Jennifer Kincheloe1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I write historical mysteries set in 1900s Los Angeles because no one else was telling the story of the police matrons and female cops who worked for the LAPD back then. They were tough, brilliant, amazing women who transformed law enforcement and were virtually ignored by history. Scotland Yard credits them as creating the first crime prevention program in the world.

Despite the serious subject matter, being serious does not come natural to me, so my books are humorous and light.

I write in bed or at the Botanical Gardens. When I'm in the flow, I write blissfully and constantly (and some days never really get out of bed). When I'm starting a new book, which is terribly difficult for me, it's painful, my drafts seem hopeless, and it's very, very slow.

I LOVE revising.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

I lived for a summer in a remote village in Papua New Guinea where there was no telephone, no mail service, and no roads (not even dirt ones). The only doctor was a shaman. I arrived by flying, driving to where the roads ended, then taking a motorized raft eighteen hours up the Sepik river. The airlines lost our food and luggage, so I wore a beautiful sarong and these neon orange, leopard print men's briefs that someone gave me. I ate leaves and sago paste. I hunted crocodiles at night from a canoe.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

Teaching my kids how to do things, like cooking or replacing toilet seat lids, and seeing them do it; road trips with my husband; hiking alone with my dog; listening to audiobooks; designing research studies and coding statistical analyses.


Judy Rose

Website: http://www.jrrose.net/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Judith-Robbins-Rose-ChildrensYA-Author-Candlewick-Press-127997043963855/

2016_Judy Rose1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

Though I’ve spent my life writing (print, radio, stage and screen), it is a dream come true to now be writing young adult novels. It’s a challenge—the hardest thing I’ve ever done—and that motivates me. I usually write on my laptop, in my recliner…or whenever the muse comes. I’ve been known to write on napkins and grocery receipts in the car at stop lights.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

I did standup comedy for a while, at the same time and venues where Roseanne Barr got her start. One of the pros at the Comedy Works in Denver said to me, “If we could take your writing and Roseanne’s delivery, we’d have one really funny person.”

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

I love working with middle grade students, which is something I didn’t know about myself until I entered the second half of my life. I’ve had a chance to teach acting and writing classes to pre-teens, which is so much fun. Tutoring and mentoring individual students has changed my life.

Thanks to Travis, Rachel, Jennifer, and Judy for participating in these get acquainted Q&A posts.

Colorado Calling

I believe Colorado crime fiction is having a moment.

The writers?

That’s not what I mean.

I’m talking about the dramatic setting.

I mean, right now.

In August, it was the release of Erik Storey’s Nothing Short of Dying.

This month, it’s Kevin Wolf’s The Homeplace. (Today as a matter of fact; Sept. 6 is the official publication date.)

In October, it’s Barbara Nickless’ Blood on the Tracks.

What else is unusual?

All three are debuts.

And I mean, these three books make for a fascinating triple header.

And they take major advantage of the Colorado landscape. Storey’s is all Western Slope—Grand Junction to Steamboat to Leadville and back to G.J.

Nickless is all Front Range—Denver, Fort Collins and a splash of the eastern plains (get ready for your close-up, Wiggins).

And then Wolf is all farm country, way out east in a fictional town in a fictional county but just as “real” as they come. Dry and windy, too.

I’ll go west to east to give you a flavor.


Nothing Short of DyingNothing Short of Dying is big. It’s rough. It’s tough. It’s a full-throttle thriller led by a guy named Clyde Barr, who has his own moral code. He’s a loner. He’s a fighter. Yes, we hear the echoes of Jack Reacher (I’m dying to know if Storey is tired of hearing the comparisons between Barr and Reacher) but Barr’s motivations, to me, are built on a stronger foundation.

The plot is less cartoony, too, than Lee Child’s stuff (as addictive as those cartoons might be). Clyde Barr is a man who keeps his promises and he’s made one to his sister, Jen. When she needs help, Barr goes looking for her. He teams up with a woman he meets along the way and calls on old friends including one guy named Zeke, a pal from his days in a Mexican prison.

Barr is not all bad boy. He’s got his weapons, sure, but he’s also got paperbacks by Friedrich Nietzsche and H. Rider Haggard. He can be sensitive when the time is right, but you do not want to piss him off.

The backdrop for all this action is pure Colorado. “Sandy escarpments rose up on the left and forested mesas hugged the right until we dropped off a hill and headed into the Rifle valley. The river was wider here, with waves shimmering in the sun. What were once hay fields in the flat floodplains were now natural gas pads, pipe yards, compressor stations, and gas plants. One of the latter spewed a flame sixty feet in to the air. Closer to town, the cattle pastured I’d known as a kid were buried forever under asphalt and pavement, with house and apartment complexes built on top.”

Hey, Colorado ain’t all beautiful.

(I already reviewed Storey’s book on my book review blog, here. This includes an interview with Storey.)


Blood on the TracksBlood on the Tracks is just as tough and wild as Nothing Short of Dying.

I am really taken with this ambitious story, which starts out as a thriller, morphs into a mystery, and turns back again into a movie-ready action-packed finish.

Railroad Police Special Agent Sydney Rose Parnell is one complex and interesting character. She sees dead people, for one thing. But don’t think paranormal. Uh, hardly. These are “skills” she doesn’t necessarily want. She’s haunted for many reasons, including the fact that she worked in corpse retrieval during the war in Iraq. She was also involved in a situation covering up atrocities. The past is chasing her down. (A common theme in all three of these books.)

The plot here involves the murder of young woman who was known for her kindness to hobos and drifters. She is murdered in vicious fashion. The killer scrawls bloody hobo symbols nearby so Sydney and her K9 partner Clyde (yes, again, Clyde) are pulled into the investigation. Clyde is a great character, too. He’s got his own darkness. Something is broken inside him, too. Clyde is absolutely one of the best-developed dog characters I’ve ever met in a book. But he doesn't overshadow Sydney Rose.

After a big scene where they stop and search a freight train, they think they’ve got their man—or do they? The guy in custody seems like the obvious culprit but based on the number of pages left to read we know there are some problems coming and they start rushing at Sydney in waves. The hunt leads to big-picture conspiracies and into the deadly lair of white supremacists and ultimately into a terrifying confrontation with a predator during a snowstorm in, yes, Wiggins. In the end, there is blood on the tracks and many other places, too.

Cue the movie for this one. And don’t just take my word for it, check the great advance blurbs from Vikki Pettersson, Jeffery Deaver, and Hank Philippi Ryan, among others.

Blood on the Tracks is already reaching readers ahead of its launch next month; check the reviews already rolling in from a Kindle promotion for early readers.


The HomeplaceAt the end of Blood on the Tracks, when Sydney Rose comes into Wiggins, Nickless writes:

“Barns and ranch houses gave over to businesses as I drove into town. A single traffic light swayed forlornly above the empty street. I drove past a dry goods store, a saddle shop and a single-marquee theater, all with Closed Please Come Again signs in the windows. Near the end of the block, red neon blinked through the snow. A grinning cowboy became visible, holding aloft a flashing beer stein.”

That small-town flavor connects right over to The Homeplace.

Of the three books here, this is the quietest, the most serene. But it does not lack for suspense.

The Homeplace won the Tony Hillerman Prize in the fall of 2015 (the prize goes to an unpublished writer of a mystery that captures the southwest flavor of Hillerman’s work).

What’s hard to believe is that The Homeplace is the work of someone from the unpublished ranks.  But those of us who have been around Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers know that’s true—and also know that Kevin has long turned out beautiful stories with clear-eyed prose.

The Homeplace features Chase Ford, who is coming home to Comanche County, where there’s “forty miles of dirt for every mile of blacktop.” He’s a former basketball star and he’s also the first of four generations of Ford men to put Comanche County in the rearview mirror. At least, that is, until now. Ford is as deeply troubled as Clyde Barr and Sydney Rose Parnell. And all three of these folks share a strong streak of stoicism, too.

In addition to Ford, there’s a full small-town ensemble cast. Wolf jumps easily from perspective to perspective. There’s Birdie Hawkins, a game warden for the Department of Wildlife. There’s Mercy Saylor, who works in the café in Brandon, and deputy sheriff Paco Martinez. There’s also Ray-Ray Jackson, who lives on the edges of society.

The sky is big and the wind blows, but life in the small town has a trapped, closed-in feeling. Complexities abound. And Wolf’s writing is uniformly calm and unsentimental, as when Chase and Mercy reconnect in the café for the first time since he disappeared over the horizon to play big-league basketball. “Quiet slipped into the room and took the empty chair at their table. Pans and pots clanged in the kitchen. Dishes loaded with eggs and bacon slid over the front counter, and the cash register drawer opened and shut. They both stared out the window, content in that minute to say nothing.”

The Homeplace is billed a mystery—dead body in the first few pages and all of that. There is a “who done it?” But with its weight and depth, The Homeplace could easily be read as straight novel, characters and setting first.

“As the first spikes of orange painted the gray morning, Chase spotted a deer at the edge of the field. No chance it would scent him. Through the binoculars, Chase could tell it was a big deer. The broken tine on the buck’s wide antlers and its graying muzzle meant it was an old bachelor, most likely run off from the herd by the younger bucks to live out what years it had left on its own.”

Yes, this is Colorado, too—way out on the windblown plains where the inimitable Kent Haruf (Plainsong, Eventide, Benediction) set his novels.

I wish Haruf was still alive to read The Homeplace. He would recognize the setting.

This is also Gregory Hill country—East of Denver and the Lonesome Trials of Johnny Riles.

Congrats to Storey, Nickless and Wolf for putting some terrific new characters in motion against one of the best backdrops going—good old Colorado.


The RMFW Spotlight is on Scott Brendel, Editor/Agent Critique Coordinator

Our monthly feature, The RMFW Spotlight, is intended to provide members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers with more information about our board members as well as featured volunteers. This month we're pleased to present two spotlights, especially in honor of the Colorado Gold Conference in Denver on September 9-11, 2016. Today we're featuring Scott Brendel, and on Monday, our conference chair Corinne O'Flynn.

2016_Scott Brendel1. Scott, welcome to the RMFW Blog Spotlight. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

For the past few years, I have coordinated the editor/agent critique workshops held during the Colorado Gold conference. I also help run one of RMFW's critique groups. At various times over the years, I have helped judge the contest, was the Education chair, and served for two years as President. Many people in RMFW have been enormously helpful to me in ways I can't begin to describe and volunteering has been one way to try to pay that back.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

Last summer, my short story, entitled "Threesome," was published in a literary 'zine called Cactus Heart (http://www.cactusheartpress.com/e-issue-16/e-issue-12/). It's about two estranged brothers who meet on a golf course to carry out their father’s final wishes.

I recently finished a new novel called Just Beyond the Light, in time to pitch it at ThrillerFest. It's set in the late 1970s in the mid-South where I spent time after college. A young woman—a dancer—living in a boarding house ends up in a coma after her wrists are slashed. Her brother (a petty criminal on the run) and a detective mourning the death of his young son try to determine if it was attempted suicide or attempted murder.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

Here's one I actually fulfilled. I wanted to go with my father to visit Egypt. Unfortunately, our trip was cancelled after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Years later, we finally made the trip, this time with my sister, mother and our spouses.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

I get carried away with description. As one of my critique partners says, "Tell us what the building looks like. We don't need a treatise on its architecture."

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

The unexpected things I discover in the course of writing the first draft and the sense of satisfaction when I finally get to the end of the story.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Take the plunge and join a critique group. I toiled in isolation for too long before putting my work in front of the kind of people who could help me the most.

7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

It's cluttered with unpaid bills and scraps of paper with story notes. My desk faces a wall with built-in book shelves that remind me of the end goal. And a nine-inch figure of a troll that I picked up in Sweden many years ago watches me while I write.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

Everybody's Fool, by Richard Russo, who I met at a Tattered Cover reading over twenty years ago. He's a fellow, former upstate New Yorker. An incredibly talented writer with a gift for capturing the humor of hapless but earnest small town folks who struggle their way through life.

Thank you, Scott. Your work with the agent/editor critique workshops for Colorado Gold is most appreciated. There are quite a few of us who found agents or editors through our participation in those sessions.

On Reviews

An author friend recently thanked me for posting an Amazon review for her latest book. “How do you always know when I’ve reviewed your books?” I asked. “Because I read my reviews,” she answered. “All of them?” “Yes.”

I’m the opposite. I seldom read my reviews. I might occasionally check my star rating and the number of reviews I’ve received. Or even glance at the first few when my book comes out. But after that, I avoid them.

I’ve put some thought into why my friend and I have such different approaches to reviews. Maybe it’s because my friend is a very non-controversial writer. She writes inspirational romances, and her books are what are called “gentle reads”. They’re never going to offend anyone, or provoke strong reactions. I can be a very polarizing writer. For example, when I entered my latest historical romance in the RITA, I got scores back of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Readers' responses to my books tend to be all over the place.

Since the beginning of my career, my books have gotten mixed reviews, and I’ve come to accept there are aspects of my world view and creative vision that are a bit different from that of most romance writers. I also have a very distinctive voice, which draws some readers in, while turning others off. I can’t change either of those things. And so I seldom read reviews, because a lot of the time it’s my voice or my story vision that the reviewers are reacting to, and their opinion, good or bad, isn’t going to be helpful.

In contrast, my friend reads her reviews to discover what readers like and don’t like in her books. The idea is to figure out how to write a better, more compelling book next time. It’s great when a reviewer gives you something specific that you can process and use in the future. But a lot of the time, that’s not what happens. Many readers don’t analyze what they didn’t like. They simply express their emotional reaction to the book.

Professional reviews are another matter. I read a lot of them in my job ordering fiction for a library. Professional reviewers tend to discuss both the good and bad aspects of a book. When they are critical, they tend to criticize specific things. They will mention slow pacing or tired tropes, clichéd characters or awkward prose, things like that. They also tend to balance negative things with a disclaimer, like “Despite the over-the-top action and lack of character depth, urban fantasy readers will be pleased”. Or, “Her (the writer’s) fans will find what they’re looking for.”

In those cases, the reviewer is recognizing that even though they didn’t like the book, there is still going to be demand for it. For someone like me, who is purchasing books for a library, that’s very helpful. I can’t simply buy the books that get the best reviews. I have to buy the books that the patrons at the library where I work want to read. And trust me, those aren’t always the ones that get the best professional reviews.

Despite my resistance to reading reviews of my books, I have to admit reviews have influenced my writing. I’m currently rewriting a book that was published almost fifteen years ago. As I rewrite, I’m conscious of the fact a fair number of the reviews of the original version found my heroine unsympathetic and cold. This time around I’m trying to make her more appealing. I’ve not only tried to get inside her head more and better reveal her psychological state, I’ve actually changed the plot so her actions aren’t so frustrating to the reader. I’m trying to make her less flawed and more “heroic”.

Bear in mind, it’s taken me fifteen years to get to the point where I can do something positive with those negative reviews. And that’s the thing you have to be careful about. Bad reviews can be devastating. They can demoralize you to the point that you feel like giving up writing. Or, they can push you to make changes that don’t play to your strengths as a writer. You have to remember that for every reader who dislikes a certain aspect of a book, there may be another one who loves that very thing. There are books I find plodding and dull, while other readers see them as beautifully crafted and complex. There are books that bore me because the characters seem shallow and uninteresting. But other readers don’t care because they’re focused on the action and suspense.

Over and over we’re told that a review is only one person’s opinion. And that truly is something to keep in mind. If that opinion helps you write a better book next time, then maybe it’s a good review, even if it is critical of your work. But if it does nothing except ruin your day, then it really is a bad review.

How about you? Do you regularly read your reviews? Do they influence your writing?

Rocky Mountain Writer #55

Kevin8297-4x6-web-2-300x200Kevin Wolf & The Homeplace

Kevin Wolf is on the podcast this week right before the launch of his first novel, a Colorado-based mystery called The Homeplace.

Kevin won the Tony Hillerman prize for this book last year and the reward was a publication deal with St. Martin’s Press.

Kevin talks about his experiences with a big publishing house, how he developed his cast of characters for the story, and his straightforward writing style. In addition, Kevin also breaks a bit of news about his publishing career.

Kevin is a member of RMFW and Crested Butte Writers. The great-grandson of Colorado homesteaders, he enjoys fly fishing, old Winchesters and 1950s Western movies. He lives in Littleton, Colorado, with his wife and two beagles. Stay tuned after the chat as Kevin reads two quick excerpts from The Homeplace.

More: Kevin Wolf's website.

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com


I was re-reading some of my past posts here on the RMFW blog. Can you believe I've been a contributor for two years? Who knew I had so much to say? I would've expected to be ridden out of here on a rail just weeks in!

As I revisited some of my old topics, there were many I feel made some good points, if I say so myself, and that might be worth a fresh look. So in lieu of fresh content this month I thought I'd share links to some of my favorite past articles over two years of contributing to the RMFW blog. If you missed any, maybe take a look at one or two, see if there is anything in them worth taking away and applying to your own writing.

I HATE MY BOOK (12/2014)
How I went from loving my book to hating the very mention of it to loving it again!

How to enrich your world-building by bringing complex political pressures to bear on a plot.

Tackling what can be a daunting task: relating large-scale conflict while still keeping your story character driven.

Academics will only take you so far. Without passion, you're just writing, not storytelling.

The occasional caustic off-hand comment often says more about us than we know, and can have devastating effects on our fellow writers.

Something wrong with you.noʎ ɥʇıʍ ʇɥƃıɹ ƃuıɥʇǝɯoS (5/2016)
Worried that you aren't writing the traditional formula that sells books? Don't be - it's what makes us different that makes our stories stand out.

Thanks for reading for two years! Here's to many more!

Author Newsletters or Aliens Ate My Lunch … by Stephanie Reisner

2016_Stephanie Reisner
I subscribe to quite a few author newsletters. Not just because I’m an author, but as a reader I like to keep up with my favorites, too.

As a reader, I want a newsletter to do one of three things:

  1. Inform me of what’s coming or what has just been released. The truth is I only want an author’s newsletter when something new is releasing, pre-releasing, or something big is happening. This may only be once every month to once every quarter.
  2. Let me know about sales or freebies. Sure, this could go along with #1, but sometimes sales are happening on older books and I’ll want to share that information with my friends if I already enjoyed the book.
  3. Let me know about important events or dates. This would include book signings, appearances, or online events that I might be interested in.

Anything beyond this, meh. I mean, if I wanted to know every time my favorite author posted a new blog, I’d subscribe to their blog separately. Some writers are boring bloggers (myself included at times). So keep your blog subscription separate from your newsletter subscription. Check out FeedBurner or Networked Blogs to help you install subscribe buttons for your blog. I subscribe to newsletters to actually get NEWS (about books).

2016_Reisner_AliensHere are some tips to make your newsletter better:

  • Don’t spam readers weekly if you’re not releasing new books weekly. If you do that, we readers will eventually start treating your newsletters as SPAM.
  • Don’t start a newsletter and forget it. Try to send out something regularly (once every month or every quarter), even if it is just a SALE or FREEBIE announcement. You want readers to remember you’re there without annoying them. This will also (hopefully) motivate you to release on a more regular schedule, especially if you’re indie. If you can’t release quarterly, consider writing short stories or novellas between books to keep readers interested.
  • Put new releases first. Sales and freebies second and important dates or events third. Because that’s how I, as a reader like to see it. I imagine I’m not alone in this.
  • Include links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble where I can actually buy your latest book or get the latest deal! Don’t send me to your blog, which will then send me to your book. You might lose me at your blog. I want a direct connection to buy. If you want to include your blog/web link in the newsletter, just throw it in at the bottom.
  • I prefer short descriptions as opposed to an entire chapter excerpt within the body of a newsletter. Just link the excerpt and if it looks intriguing, I’ll go to your blog or website to read the excerpt.
  • Don’t include full articles in your newsletter. Give me a heading, at most a paragraph description, and then a link to where I can read more. Click-bait me, baby!
  • Concentrate on no more than three books per newsletter. I might feel overwhelmed. The point being I want to be able to open the email, get the highlights while I’m having my morning coffee, and click what interests me. If your links are lost behind paragraphs of rambling commentary, I might get bored and move on to the next thing in my inbox.
  • Use eye catching taglines and descriptions. Not: “My new book is coming out!” Why not: “Aliens are stealing your lunch on September 1! Pre-Order **Aliens Ate My Lunch** today and save .99 cents! Well damn it – I’m ordering Aliens Ate My Lunch right now if I see that header. And if I’m not ordering, I’m definitely reading the brief description. If that brief description is just as intriguing, I’ll likely buy.
  • Include book covers. I like to see pretty book covers.
  • Don’t bombard me with the same book month after month. I get it, you only have one book currently available, but there are ways to rectify this. Did I mention short stories and/or novellas between book releases? In the case of one book bombardment, give me updates on your next book first (maybe a cover reveal?), then list appearances, and THEN remind me about your existing book with the cover, title, brief description, and buy links.
  • Of course if you are an awesome blogger, go ahead and click-bait me to your blog at the very end. I may not click it all the time, but if you’re entertaining enough, I might.

As a reader, what do YOU like to see in an author newsletter?


2016_Reisner_Ascending2016_Reisner_SavingColorado native Stephanie Connolly-Reisner grew up with a love for reading and writing. She started penning her first stories in grade-school and never stopped. Now much older, she’s a prolific writer who lives along the front range of the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her husband and a couple of very pampered house cats. You can find her and her four author personas at www.the-quadrant.com. She can also be found at Facebook. Stephanie writes under four pseudonyms: S.J. Reisner, Audrey Brice, Anne O'Connell, and S. Connolly.

Pitch Like a BOSS by Angie Hodapp

Originally published in Nelson Literary Agency’s monthly newsletter

Pitching your book to an agent or editor is daunting. How are you supposed to cram the essence of your entire novel into a pithy couple of sentences? (Hint: You’re not.) Here’s a formula for a concise pitch that will set you on the right track. Ladies and Gentlemen, James Scott Bell‘s “three-sentence pitch”:

First Sentence: Your lead character’s name, vocation, and initial situation. Will Connelly is an associate at a prestigious San Francisco law firm, handling high-level merger negotiations between computer companies.

Second Sentence: “When” + the main plot problem. When Will celebrates a recent merger by picking up a Russian woman at a club, he finds himself at the mercy of a ring of small-time Russian mobsters with designs on the top-secret NSA computer chip Will’s client is developing.

Third Sentence: “Now” + the stakes. Now, with the Russian mob, the SEC, and the Department of Justice all after him, Will has to find a way to save his professional life and his own skin before the wrong people get the technology that can be used for mass destruction.

Boom. Three sentences. The first introduces the protagonist in his ordinary world. The second presents the inciting incident. The third is what your character stands to lose if the antagonistic forces prevail. Here’s another example:

Dorothy Gale is a farm girl who dreams of getting out of Kansas to a land far, far away, where she and her dog will be safe from the likes of town busybody Miss Gulch. When a twister hits the farm, Dorothy is transported to a land of strange creatures and at least one wicked witch who wants to kill her. Now, with the help of three unlikely friends, Dorothy must find a way to destroy the wicked witch so the great wizard will send her back home.

Give it a try, but keep each sentence brief. Having taught this formula at pitch workshops, I know how tempted writers are to pack those three sentences full of backstory, secondary characters, and world-building. Resist that urge!

Now, can you boil your three-sentence pitch down further to create an even more concise pitch? Conversely, can you expand it to craft an evocative query letter? Whichever way you go, start here: with three sentences.


Above, we looked at a quick three-sentence formula that will help you start to craft your pitch. Did you try it? Yes? Awesome!

Did you thwart the temptation to squeeze in a bunch of backstory, secondary characters, and world-building? No? Alas. Go back to those three sentences and whittle, hone, refine, and polish. Until you do, your pitch probably isn’t ready.

Go ahead. Do it now. I’ll wait.

Are you back? Excellent. Then let’s get you ready for your pitch appointment:

Ditch the idea that your pitch is supposed to be a complete summary of your novel. It’s not. Your pitch is a conversation starter. Pitch appointments at writing conferences tend to run about ten minutes. Deliver your pitch, then let the agent you’re pitching to ask you questions about your novel. About you. About your writing in general. Relax and have a chat.

Focus on character and plot. Ten-minute pitch appointments fly by, and many are wasted by the author who spends…way…too…much…time…explaining (1) his protagonist’s backstory, (2) his world-building elements, or (3) all the cool historical facts he discovered when researching his novel. Seriously. I once listened to a pitch during which the author never actually told me a single thing about her plot. Even when I asked questions about the story itself, her replies remained focused on backstory and setting. The agent wants to know if the story you put down between page 1 and page 350 is something they can sell. That’s what’s on the table, so focus on that.

Be prepared to respond to feedback and questions. Things I’ve said (gently, I hope!) to writers during pitch appointments include: (1) You’re pitching this as YA, but it’s coming across as a middle grade. What makes it YA? (2) How will your novel stand out among current bestsellers in your genre, or how will it appeal to readers of those bestsellers? (3) What are the last three books you’ve read in your genre? (4) What is your novel’s inciting incident, and how far into the manuscript does it occur? (5) In the story you just described, it concerns me that your protagonist isn’t actually the one who solves the plot problem. (6) The conflict you describe is very internal to your character. What is the story’s external conflict, and how does it get resolved and/or relate to the internal conflict? (7) Has your manuscript been critiqued by a critique group or beta readers?

Bring a copy of your query letter. If the agent stops you in the first minute of your pitch appointment with something like “I don’t represent that genre” (or anything else that feels like a shutdown/letdown), then politely ask if she wouldn’t mind giving you her quick impression of your query letter. After all, it’s your ten minutes. You paid for the appointment. And her input on your query letter just might help you land a different agent—one that’s right for you, your genre, and your project.

Understand that a disappointing pitch has zero bearing on your future as a writer. There will be other conferences, other pitch appointments, other opportunities. Keep pitching. Keep sending out query letters. The more doors you knock on, the more likely one (or more) will open.

And above all, keep writing.


AngieHodappAngie Hodapp has worked in language-arts education, publishing, professional writing, and editing for the better part of the last two decades. After completing her master’s thesis, a work of creative nonfiction, and leaving academia, she gave herself permission to write what she really wanted to write: speculative fiction and romance. Angie is currently the contracts and royalties manager at Nelson Literary Agency in Denver. She and her husband live in a renovated 1930s carriage house near the heart of the city and love collecting stamps in their passports.