Archive for June, 2011

Every once in a while I pick up a book and as I start reading it, it turns into this revelatory, almost overwhelming, experience. Dos this happen to you, too, sometimes? You start reading and as you make your way through the book you go “How come I had never heard of this book before?” or “Why is not everyone talking about this book?” or something down the lines of “It is a shame this book is so overlooked, because it should be a best seller.”

Blockbuster coverWell, guess what? It just happened to me again and the book in question is Blockbuster by Sven Michael Davison.

The book is an incredibly witty and irreverent take on Hollywood. In essence, it is the written equivalent to something like “Die Hard” — an action story that is superbly balanced with hilarious moments, great characters, cool action and everything else that makes some of those blockbuster movies so memorable — and more.

Imagine, a group of terrorists infiltrate and take over a major Hollywood studio and take everyone hostage, from the action mega stars, the diva directors, the writers, the crew, the assistants, all of mahogany row… everyone. Can you imagine the possibilities this scenario offers? I mean, rally? Why didn’t I think of that?

What makes this book even more irresistible is the fact how it pokes fun at Hollywood, its image, lifestyle, glamor, business, the people. In every paragraph would will find a little nod at a well-known movie, actor or director, and I love the way it is always disguised a little, turning it into a fun little guessing game every time a name or movie title is being dropped.

One might suspect that I am biased when it comes to this book, because Sven and I go back some 10+ years, but I honestly do not think so. In fact, Sven and I have been working in Hollywood at the same time, and that’s how we met, because he used to be one of the head honchos creating DVDs for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Yes, my friends, if you own any Fox DVD that was released between 1998 and 2009, you can bet your sweet bottom on it that Sven had a hand in it, if only to call up the movie’s stars and book them to record a commentary track or to film an interview featurette or documentary.

And that is just the thing. Sven knows Hollywood inside out. And it shows in his book. There is an authenticity to his story that I can fully attest to. As I said, Sven and I have worked Hollywood during the same time period and I am very familiar with the people, the biz, the lingo, the status symbols, the facade, the schmooze, and so forth.

When Sven describes the circle of assistants, each of whom is trying to get their own project off the ground, each of them using the other to serve as a front for potential investors, it reminds me of the way the game is played in Tinseltown.

When he names his assistant characters with names like “Delicious” or “Botswana,” it may sound funny at first, but interestingly enough, for some weird reason, these are exactly the kind of names you find in the front offices of movie executives.

But it goes much deeper than that in the book. The way people talk, the way they carry themselves, the self-conscious way with which they behave is all too real. Add to that the level of detail Sven puts into adding little nuances about the security guards, the layout and design of the studio lot, the made-up history of his Mogul Studios, or the love for the subject matter when his characters geek out over high-end equipment, and you get a feel for what Hollywood is really like. It may scrape off the pink dreams you may have had, but always with a wink in his eyes, Sven reminds us all that making movies is a business — nothing more and nothing less.

The thing that struck me most from the first sentence, however, was Sven’s use of language. His opening chapter describes the shoot of a blockbuster movie and like the movie itself, his vocabulary is completely over the top. It is the same popcorn-style writing. Absolutely hilarious and off the wall. Rich with adjectives and metaphors, immediately bringing to your mind images of some of the greatest action movies you’ve ever seen.

Then the style changes, as the story moves away from the set and settles into a more realistic tone that is nonetheless as energetic as a sprite, filled with pixie-dust and wonderful wordplay. I found myself relishing every sentence I read.

Anyway, before I get too carried away, as I said in opening, I was completely floored by the book. I had promised Sven to read it some time ago but it took me months to actually get around to it. Boy, do I regret that now. The book is like a fresh breeze.

Do yourself a favor, grab the reading sample on Amazon and check it out. If you are a movie buff or simply someone who enjoys movies for a little escape, you simply owe it to yourself to check Blockbuster out. I guarantee you, the first chapter will hook you completely! To me, Blockbuster was like a kick in the butt, forcing me to face the question, “Will I ever be able to write a book as cool as this?”

As I am taking a self-imposed leave of absence from Victorian England and the supernatural encounters of a certain man named Jason Dark, I have been working no some material to branch out. No, I am not tired of writing Jason Dark mysteries — far from it — but I felt that I needed to add a little diversity to the books I am publishing. The idea is that I want to reach readers that I simply cannot entice to read horror mysteries — such as children.

Yes, you read correctly. I have written a book for children. A middle-grade adventure, to be exact. It is one of those things that happen to you when you’re a parent, I suppose. You start taking an interest in the material your own children are reading and you begin to detect that some of this is actually quite interesting or intriguing. In my case, it sparked an interest to write some stories for children myself.

Easy as pie, you might say, but don’t be fooled. Writing a book for children is a lot harder than writing a book for adults. The reason is quickly becoming obvious when you consider that you are trying to tell a story to someone who has only a fraction of the vocabulary of an adult. Word choice is one of the most critical elements — and one of the biggest challenges — when you write for children.

When we write a novel, it is easy for us to create diversity by spicing up our writing with words of different meaning, sometimes relying on very subtle nuances of these words to create atmosphere, mood or action. This is a lot hard to do when all you have is one or two words for a meaning.

Let’s say, for example, in your children’s book you want to write about a dark and foreboding room. For adults we could draw from a wide variety of words to create the right mood for this. The room could be gloomy, dark, depressing, spooky, ominous, foreboding, shadowy, malignant, pitched in darkness or even tenebrific.

When you write for middle-graders, out of that entire list only two or three words could be really be applied safely. Maybe a few more, depending on the exact age range you are writing for, but the general point I am trying to make is that your vocabulary is severely restricted. In order to be able to still paint vivid images with your words, you end up doing a lot of wordsmithing. I spent a lot of time revising my book over and over again. Not so much for content itself, like it is often the case with my stories for grown-ups, but instead to create sentences that flow easily, that have a solid rhythm. I will check sentences to make sure they are word appropriate, I will double-check sentences to make sure they do not run too long, and I will remove most of my sentence modifiers, rephrasing paragraphs to make the clear and to the point. All of this is essential for young readers to be able to follow your writing.

Much of this is actually good practice when writing for adults, also, but naturally there is a lot more leeway. Starting with the word choices, adults have a much wider knowledge base, usually, a vocabulary upon which we can draw as writers to create more colorful prose.

Naturally, in books for adults, we also want to make sure our sentence structure is not always minimalistic and overly simplistic. While it is never a good idea to get lost in your own convoluted sentences, I do believe that insertions and modifiers can vastly define the style and voice of a writer.

For me, it was an experiment really, to see how well I would do within such limitations. Since English is not my native language I am always very conscious about potential weaknesses in my writing, and creating this book was an exercise for me to really get down to the fundamentals of it all.

Some time soon, I’ll tell you more about this exciting new book. It is completed and I am only waiting for interior illustrations and the cover to be finished.

Seed CoverToday I would like you all to welcome Ania Ahlborn, author of the horror thriller Seed, to this blog, as she is tackling an issue that is not discussed in public very often: hateful reviews. Many authors will not talk about it for a number of reasons, because it is painful, because whenever you’re criticizing a customer’s review you’re dangerously close to sounding touchy and defensive, or for any number of other reasons. By talking about this subject, Ania not only touches upon this subject but she goes one step further and does so from a analytical point of view. It goes a long way to show how professional and serious she is about her work and I am proud to have her on my blog today. So, here’s what she has to say about the Vampire Reviewer.


There’s something to be said for book reviews. Many writers use them as a tool–a stepping stone to improving their writing. They listen to what their audience wants and try to figure out how to make the next book better. But not all reviews are helpful. If you’re a writer who has sold even a handful of books, you’re going to run into it: the dreaded one and two star review.

Believe it or not, this is what keeps a lot of writers as just that–writers, not published authors. There’s a very real and palpable fear in the writing community of being judged, and not just judged, but judged harshly. And while it’s definitely scary to put yourself and your work out into the world, stalling your own writing career because of that fear is downright silly. But writers do it all the time. They do it because of that one reviewer–the reviewer that’s overly harsh, overly critical, and less than specific about what they liked and didn’t like about a work of literature. Every writer has them. Stephen King has a whole army of haters. They’re vampires, and most of the time they huddle in the shadows not under the cover of night, but under the cover of anonymity.

Vampire reviewers huddle under the cover of anonymity

The fact that sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble allow you to post anonymous reviews is a problem. Quite frankly, it shouldn’t be allowed. The second problem: reviews don’t have a word count requirement, and they should. The fact that people can post reviews without it being tied to them in any way, shape, or form, is basically giving that person license to be an idiot. And while some may say ‘what’s the big deal?’, if you’re a writer, it’s a very big deal. A single mindless comment can bring even the best of us to our knees.

I’m not saying that one and two star reviews shouldn’t exist. I’m a believer of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and if you have an opinion, don’t be afraid to speak your mind. But with reviews, there’s a fine line between critique and critic. Critique puts something on the table, be it a comment on character development or plot. It offers the writer some incite on why the reader didn’t like what they read, and while even the most constructive criticism can sting, it’s at least helpful. The critic is the guy who tosses out one and two star reviews like they’re going out of style. They’ll say something like ‘this book sucked, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody.’ How does that help anyone? It doesn’t offer a potential reader any incite on why the reviewer thought the work was bad; but worst of all, it strips the writer, for just the briefest of moments, of the hard work, the effort, and the dogged determination they put into that novel… and for what? For someone to shout ‘you suck!’ from the rooftops and run away before they can be identified.

Putting a novel up for sale is a hell of a task

I’m a firm believer that if someone isn’t a writer, there’s no way for them to truly understand how much emotion goes in to producing a piece of work. And then there’s the bravery part. Putting a novel up for sale on a site like Amazon, where anyone in the world can purchase it, read it, and judge it, is a hell of a task. It’s hard enough to be judged for any multitude of reasons throughout our lives. It’s even harder when that judgment doesn’t have a name or a face, or, quite frankly, anything constructive to say.

So the next time you’re ready to post a one or two star review, by all means go for it. But stop, take some time, and put some effort into that review, because the author very well may be reading it as soon as you post it, and that author is just as human and imperfect as you are. The only difference is that they’ve got their head on the chopping block, and you’re the one wielding the axe.


AniaBorn in Ciechanow Poland, Ania Ahlborn’s earliest childhood memory is of crawling through a hole in the chain link fence that separated her family home from the large wooded cemetery next door. She’d spend hours among the headstones, breaking up bouquets of silk flowers so that everyone had their equal share. She’s been drawn to the spookier things in life ever since.

Ania has been dabbling in fiction since the age of twelve. She attended the University of New Mexico, where she received her BA in creative writing. Seed is her first published work.

You can find Ania online at www.aniaahlborn.com

Focussing your distribution

There is a saying that goes “Money begets more money,” meaning that the more money you have, the easier it is to make even more of it. The rich get richer, because they can make more lucrative investments.

Talking to many authors over the months, I think we can also draw a parallel here to books. “Sales beget more sales” is a mantra I think most authors will agree with. The more you sell, the more your book will be recognized, the more word of mouth it will generate and the higher it climbs in recommendation- and sales charts.

I am pointing this out, because I want to make you think about your distribution strategy for a moment.

Many authors try to cover as many bases as they can. Any outlet they can get their books listed in, they will do so. The believe is that it is a way to maximize exposure and thus generate more sales. Even if a small distribution portal makes only one sale every six months, it is still a sale, right? Money in your pocket and a reader.

I had the same idea initially but changed my approach over time. I delisted my books in all outlets that do not really perform. That means, I took my books off Google, I took them off Diesel, I took them off Smashwords and a number of other more specialized outlets. For the longest time I didn’t even upload my books to Apple’s iBookstore any more either.

Instead, I am driving all my potential sales to Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo these days. These three are the key players in the market. I have even stopped referring potential buyers directly to the Jason Dark website to purchase their books and instead direct them to the major three also these days.

I am sure that by now you are wondering why I would do such a thing. Surely, I must be losing sales. “No,” I say.

I am no longer diluting my sales, is what I say, and the reason is very simple. “Sales beget more sales.” I am trying to drive every sale I can to Amazon for the simple reason that every single sale made through Amazon, improves my book’s ranking. Improving the book’s ranking improves its exposure. It gets listed higher and more often and as a result I am increasing the chances of the book getting noticed and making another sale which, in turn, makes it climb higher yet, further increasing its exposure and hopefully leading to another sale, and so on. With more sales in a channel the odds of getting additional reviews climbs also, and as we all know, customer reviews are one of the most critical drivers in the entire sales game.

It is very noticeable, I think, that books that make it across a certain magic threshold, suddenly begin to climb at an accelerated pace. They have been discovered. I attribute this phenomenon entirely to the “Sales beget more sales” effect. The sales themselves are perpetuating the book’s success by generating more sales.

So, instead of allowing my book sales to get lost in a labyrinth of a vast number of channels, I am focusing my distribution to the three major players. Companies like Smashwords take pride in the fact that they give you access to many small and some premium channels, but ultimately all of that is for naught. Good luck releasing your book as an iPhone App. Now you’re not only competing with a million other authors, but with about 50 million app developers too, as if things weren’t hard enough as they are. All of that extraneous glitter that companies like Smashwords dangle in front of you is really just a sign of how unfocused they are. Instead of getting their core product – the easy one-step preparation and publishing of eBooks for authors – in shape, for years now they have been chasing down a frazzled track in my opinion. And trust me, their core product needs some serious work.

Every author I talked to in the past 16 months tells me the same story. The real money comes only from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo. Everything else is a trickle. Now, if you funnel that trickle and put it to work for you at one of the big three distributors instead, you may actually have not only those few sales, but you may generate even more by pushing your book further up the search results and rankings.

You may not agree with me, or you may simply be afraid that you might be losing that one extra sale in an obscure channel, but I hope that if nothing else, this has given you some food for thought.