Sunday, November 25, 2012

Grade Inflation on Amazon?

There are a number of people who have works that have appeared on my online critique which they have self published on Amazon.  I thought I'd get onto Amazon and see how they are doing just for kicks. 
I was surprised to see the number of five star reviews.  Everyone I looked at had more five star reviews than any other rating.  Maybe the people I am looking at are the greatest collection of writers ever assembled, excepting maybe the Ex-Patriots of the 1920's.  More likely, the reviews on Amazon are greatly inflated.

It's inevitable that some of the people I'm talking about will read this post.  Don't worry, I'm not slamming you.  In fact, I think most of the people I've helped with the review process have put a lot of hard work into their novels and they are quite good as a result.  Problem is, if you give everything a five star review, then a five star review ceases to have meaning.
Think of the star rating as a bell curve.  The most common rating should be three stars since it would be at the middle of the curve.  Three stars are not bad, since these writers are competing with a number of other hard working and highly determined people. 
Consider it this way.  Suppose you study Physics at Harvard and earn a high C or low B GPA.  You have accomplished considerably more than a student who studies Physics at his or her community college and gets an A average.
I've seen a lot of pretty good novels in my critque group, most of which I think are solid three or four star efforts.  In my opinion, that is still an excellent rating because, anyone crazy enough to undertake the task to write a novel is dedicated enough to develop the talent and skill to create a good one. To me, five stars are only for the very best novels out there.  I've seen a couple novels on my crituque group that really stand out, and I literally mean a couple.

I think the reviews on Amazon are inflated for two reasons.  First, people want to be nice. They want to help whoever wrote the novel they are reading the novel and give four or five stars to anything halfway good.  The problem with this is, they indavertantly water down the value of each star they give for the review.  It becomes that much harder to pick out the really outstanding works from those that are merily pretty good.   Second, and this is the more sinister reason, a lot of people cheat by having friends write fake five star reviews or even creating fake identities and writing their own. If you are one of these, shame on you. You're ruining it for everyone.
(If you are someone I know, don't worry, I'm not accusing you.  The fellow aspiring writers I am close to strike me as honest people. I know you have gotten your accomplishments through sweat and rejections. It's the bad apples I'm talking to.)
Like most people on here, I'm working on novels of my own. When I finally finish my first novel, I was considering posting it on Amazon too, if only to see what kind of reviews I get.  My goal is to learn and rewrite until I have my work to what I consider a four star effort. Maybe after a couple more years of writing experience I can get something that approximates a five star novel.  If all I get are three star reviews, it would be a sign I have farther to go than I thought.  If I get one and two star reviews, I think I will put a paper bag over my head and use a pen name from now on.

 While I'd like to succeed on Amazon like everyone else, I want only the stars I've earned.  I'd rather have an honest three star review than a tainted five star one. 
~ Chuck Robertson

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My First Autograph Request

Someone in the office I work in is leaving in a couple weeks and his co-workers wanted to buy him a parting gift.  He's a fan of science fiction and likes apocalyptic literature in particular.  A fellow co-worker who knows I write and thinks highly of my writing suggested a short story I'd written that was published in an anthology of apocalyptic stories.  They ordered a copy of that anthology on Amazon for him.  What's really amazing is, they actually asked me to autograph it for him!


They actually thought I was bestowing an honor on them by agreeing to autograph it.  In truth, the honor was mine.  This is what all us writers live for -  recognition from fans.  There is no greater feeling than to hold a book in your hands that you have written in part and have someone ask you to autograph it for them.  Okay, it was only a minor publiscation and I only got $20 for the sale, but the exposure is easily worth ten times that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I've been writing seriously for about three years now and have learned to handle personal rejections like "Your story nearly made the next cut" or "We almost passed it on for the entertainment value alone."  Even the generic "Your story did not fit our needs at the moment" is something I'm used to by now.  But I got one today in which the editor said " Ian's (my main character's)  voice didn't quite come alive for me, and the setting wasn't as vivid as I'd prefer." That devastated me so much, for two hours or so I felt like I was ready to give up writing then and there. 

Character development had become job one for me, and I wrote a couple novellas and short stories with the voice of the main character as the top priority.  Also, I began rewriting my first novel, this time with a strong main character's voice in first person. It looked like I was making real progress.  Critters for the other novella and the rewrite of my novel commented that the voice of the MC comes across very well. Thus, when I received the line "Ian's voice didn't quite come alive for me" it was like a blow to the heart.

So, have I failed as a writer?  In all honesty, I did not try to get inside my MC's head as much as I did in the other stories I wrote during this period.  It was by design, as I imagined this story as more of a plot-driven and faster moving story.  Was I wrong in writing it this way?  Should the writer always get as much inside the head of his characters as possible?  Or, should I just forget what happened today and send the story off to someone else tomorrow?

Anyway, I've ranted enough.  Please excuse my narcissism, I get quite self-centered when I get depressed about my writing.  I'll be back to reasonable sanity in a couple days (I hope).  I know people who read my posts have given me more support than I could ever hope to return, but I'm still dying to know about your opinion on these experiences.  Can someone please give me some objective feedback on what I've just experienced?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Trying my hand at rejection notices

I’m finding getting stories published to be somewhat difficult.  Since not every magazine needs that story about a transgender vampire in a spaceship on a collision course with a black hole, I thought I’d switch to something more lucrative.  It occurred to me that rejection notices are the one thing every publisher needs lot of, so I thought I’d try my hand at creating some of those.  Here’s what I came up with:

Rejection Notice #1

We know you haven’t submitted anything to us for publication, but at ACME Publishing we pride ourselves on an efficient submission process.  Rather than have you submit your work and make you wait ninety days for the inevitable rejection notice, we are sending you the rejection in advance.  That way, should you decide to submit to us, you will not have to wait to know the status of your submission.

We wish you the best of luck with submitting your work elsewhere, where you have an equally hopeless chance that it will ever be accepted.

Rejection Notice #2

We have decided to pass on your novel submission.  It is said in a writer should never take a rejection personally, but in this case the rejection is personal.  We hate your guts.  As soon as we saw your name attached to this manuscript, we immediately deleted it from our hard drive without even reading it.  After that, we gave the drive that received your e-mail a low level format so there was no chance of us ever opening your attachment again.  In fact, as soon as our head editor learned you had submitted a novel to us, he went into an uncontrollable rage and began throwing furniture out the window. We hope you die a horrible death and then burn in Hell for eternity.  Have a lousy day.

Rejection Notice #3

We regret informing you we will not be publishing your story.  It simply was not up to our standards.

You have undoubtedly been told that the worst that can happen when you submit a story is you get a rejection notice.  If only that were true in this case.  Your story sucked so bad we have decided to ban you from submitting any stories to us ever again.  Furthermore, we are contacting every publisher we can think of to arrange a world-wide blacklist of your works.  Not only that, but we are retaining a Buddhist priest.  If you are reincarnated as another writer after you die, he will determine your new identity so we can blacklist that individual as well. 

We wish you luck in your new career field.  You will certainly not stink as bad at it as you do at writing.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lots of Runners-UP No Beauty Queens

I've had a bad week as far as submissions go. Since last weekend I've received five rejections to short stories I've submitted. One story even got two rejections in the same weekend.  To add insult to injury, I just received another rejection this morning.

What's frustrating is that for the story that was rejected twice, both were personal rejections. One publisher said he almost passed it on for further consideration. The other publisher said he almost passed it on for further consideration for the entertainment value alone. I consider that encouraging since this was intended as a humor story without any serious implications.

 I find even more discouraging the experiences of a 950 word piece of dark horror I submitted. I thought I found the perfect publication for it. A week later they e-mailed me back saying they passed it onto stage two. The next week they said it was going on to stage three. I thought for sure the piece would sell, but got a personal rejection with comments from two people.

One person said she didn't understand the relationship between two of the characters. The other said he had seen five or six similar stories in the last two years. One thing I need to say about this story is it is about a man who makes a deal with the Devil to save his sick daughter. I've heard a lot of editors frown on this plot but everyone in my crit group who read this story liked it a lot.

So what, do I put a nametag on my character saying HI!  MY NAME IS SATAN  ?  Do I change the character of the Devil to the Medicine Fairy?  Or maybe I should take it on faith that if this story can almost make it to publication for one magazine, there’s another that will accept it.

Just for grins, I looked at the recent feed on Duotrope for the publishers that rejected my stories.  They all had a string of sometimes twenty or more rejections before the occasional acceptance came up.  I guess I should feel fortunate to have my three acceptances.   The problem is, three acceptances in minor publications are not enough.  I’ like the alcoholic who can’t stop at one drink.  I want that forth sale, and then I’m sure I will want that fifth and so on.

I guess there’s nothing to do but try again.  I already have the 950 word story submitted to yet another publication.  I am scouting markets for the other.  Write more stories, better stories, and hope.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ever since high school I’d spend many an evening reading Asimov’s.  It’s one of the few publications that have stayed constant through the decades of change in the publishing industry.  As you can probably guess, it’s always been a dream of mine to be published there.

The only problem is, I’ve never submitted a story there.  Obviously my dream has no chance of being fulfilled unless I summon the courage to take the chance. Just for grins, I read the stats on Duotrope.  Their acceptance ratio is roughly one in three hundred.  That also ignores the fact any story submitted has to compete with scores of well-established authors.

For some reason a case of insanity overcame me tonight and I submitted my recently completed novella Beneath Europa to Asimov’s.  Considering the level of competition, I feel like I’m marching the story off on a suicide mission.  On the other hand, I suppose in a few weeks  I won’t have to spend the rest of my life asking myself what would have happened had I sent this to Asimov’s.   I guess what I’m asking is for someone to tell me I’m not crazy for even thinking I have a chance.  Or, if you do think I am crazy at least tell me in a kindly way.  J

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I think I may have picked up on a trend that more editors respond to submissions on Saturday or Sunday evenings than any other time.  After noticing this, an idea occurred to me.  Maybe most of the editors of small publishers have day jobs and do most of their publication related activities on weekends.  Does this, and as an aspiring writer I hate to say this, humanize them just a little bit?

Nothing personal against all the publishers on this site, but you are the bad guys to me.  I send you guys stories I have worked on for weeks and you won't even buy them for a stinking twenty dollars. You send out gobs of form rejections instead but I still have to kiss your butts because pleasing you is the only hope I have to ever fulfill my dream of becoming a full time writer.

But what if you guys are in a similar situation?  Maybe you are working forty hour jobs as technical writers, English teachers, and editors for other publications but dream of owning your own full time publication is really in your hearts.  Just like I'm working my forty hour week, trying to raise two teenagers, mow the lawn, keep the cars running and writing on the weekends because this is the only time I can find to chase my dream, you are spending your weekends sorting through sludge piles in hopes of finding those stories that will lift your token payment publication to the big time.  Then you, too, can quit your day jobs and do what you really want to do with your lives as well.

Somebody pinch me, because I can't believe I'm really saying this. Good luck with the pursuit of your dreams.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I've been told every writer needs a blog. Since I'm now fifty years old (okay, fifty-one) I figure it 's time to get started. Besides, writing is such an emitional experience for me it might be theraputic to express myself somewhere.

When I was in high school, one of my goals was to become the next Isaac Asimov. I figure I still have a chance to reach that goal if I live to be a hundred and twenty, get a Ph.D. in Biochemestry, write twenty hours a day and become a pompous arrogant ass. Failing that, the best writer I can become is myself.
This is my third attempt at keeping a blog going. I've tried twice before.  The first time I made a few posts and then dropped the idea.  I tried again a little more than a month ago but something happened and I couldn't sign in no matter how hard I tried. I think the host company changed something and I didn't catch it.  Anyway, here goes.