"I would recommend Margolis’s easily read novella to readers who want a science fiction adventure that causes them to think, not only about the future, but also about themselves. It is also just a fun read, if one is not so easily depressed by imperfect futures."
Someone stole my biscuit.
A biscuit is a twice-cooked cookie. In North America, it’s a cookie, and to confuse matters, it’s also a baked product similar to the scone. Those outside of the continent may have heard of the term biscuits and gravy. I’m sure Oreos are biscuits and not cookies. Whenever I pass them (or Dad’s Cookies) in a Canadian supermarket my brain screams biscuit. And to throw another spoke into the cookie wheel, a cookie in South Africa, is in fact, a cupcake. Perplexed?
On a recent family visit to England I made one frivolous purchase (other than eating chips). It was Fortnum & Mason’s Lucifer’s Ginger & Chilli Biscuits. I can’t offer you any, because—well—not that they were a cure for anxiety exactly, but on my return they were scoffed down before I could invite anyone over for tea. They were worth the devilish price.
I paid for The Code of Happiness review. I really wanted to say, goddamn, I can’t buy a review (at the lack of reviews), but that’s not true anymore. In principle I’m against this practise of paying for reviews because the reviewer is compromised by payment — and I’m sure as hell am not going to ask a reviewer to give me a bad review on the basis I won’t believe them if it’s good!
As someone who talks to himself at an alarming frequency, I found a reasonable counter. The reviewer is aware of this notion and thus their credibility and integrity is on the line. For the writer, it requires a leap of faith.
In my research I found “paid for” reviews had mixed results but generally skewered toward the negative as an aid to self-published authors. It was also noticeable how quickly the world of self-publishing is changing. Posts about this subject matter from a mere two years ago seemed to be losing relevance. As a barometer, consider how Publisher’s Weekly has changed its stance and now offers paid reviews.
My case was simple. I had a specific genre, and while I watch Sci-Fi, I’m not a Sci-Fi reader. Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go was my closest encounter with the genre before writing the novella — and that was before the movie came out. I was frankly, an interloper.
A review by someone who reads, writes, and reviews Sci-Fi made sense. Someone who is part of, or trying to build an online magazine, and whose readers will turn away if they can’t be trusted. It was apt. A summation, which recommends books to a certain kind of Sci-Fi reader helped push me over the edge — and I like to swim in the deep end.
I didn’t know my reviewer. I had no contact with them. I didn’t know if they had seen my short synopsis. I assume they had. What I did notice is their review ratings ranged from 5-7. I was dreading a six or worse. A seven? Hmm, okay, but honestly, I was hoping for more. The novella had been through proofreading and passed editorial with flying colours. I knew it worked, but liked, loved, appreciated? Understood? Enjoyed by people whom I didn’t know? Completely in the dark.
Receiving an 8/10 and a review that made me want to read the book again left me ecstatic. But more so because the decisions I made around story, character and style worked. I felt I had connected with the reviewer, and potentially, an audience. From screenwriting I know how important (and how fabulous) it is when you make a connection with a reader, and subsequently people who want to (and can) turn your script into a movie. Believe me, my ego has flipped (and then unfortunately flopped) all over LA.
A special shout to screenwriting. What a discipline. A training ground. It is brutal. You can’t lose a reader on a page because there’s another script they can read. It’s that simple. Whether you think Hollywood turns out crap or not, it’s the bottom line for those trying to break in. A book? How many people will admit to skipping pages?
Admittedly my mom skipped a few pages of the novella, but then again, she was up until 1:30am and read it straight through — and she’s not exactly of the demographic this would appeal to (or a Sci-Fi reader). I neglected to ask for her score.
Did I want a score greater than 8/10? No, unless the reviewer gave them out routinely, and I wouldn’t choose a reviewer who does this because it renders the score redundant.
This relates to another problem in the self-publishing world. And it’s namely all the fake reviews on Amazon and the like. It’s comic (literally) and does a disservice to authors. It occurs because user reviews drive sales.
Yes, it’s sad to say, but we humans are sheep. I can attest. The Code of Happiness looks (sniff) unwanted and disowned on cyber bookshelves. It begs, an object of doubt, a naughty child, untrustworthy of a precious download. If only it had a smattering of user reviews to keep it company.
The unfortunate result is almost all self-published eBooks are splattered with five-star reviews. Apparently we’re all Ishiguro’s.
While I haven’t expressly forbidden my family and friends from posting, I have discouraged such practise. I’m happy if my friends spread the word if they like the book. I do not expect them to share if they don’t like it. If Sci-Fi isn’t their thing, then I hope the review will help when they meet, or know someone who does read the genre.
And the price? Print (on demand) copies would have to retail at US$5.99 to yield any return. US$2.99 for an eBook is a steal, even if it’s a novella, the bastard child of literature, and from an unknown author. But we self-publishers are in a race to the bottom. I suspect we’re already there.
There’s a glut of free and 99c books as we look to find an audience. I started off free for the first two weeks as I didn’t want family and friends to feel obligated to purchase, and also to encourage unknown readers to take a chance without any reviews to inform. As the second week ended, it was clear; free or not, great review or not, I had tapped out my social networks, and the limited advertising had failed to draw a quorum. There is a merchandising argument it should remain free for months, or until it finds a readership. If we are all taking the same advice, we are all doing the same thing — and in a saturated market. The demand is not so much for books, but for constant creativity in marketing.
Nonetheless, the feeling someone has stolen my biscuit grows.
As I’ve negotiated these early weeks of self-publishing (and it’s taken far too much of my time), two things have become abundantly clear. There is a need for publishers, organizations who are expert at finding and establishing a market for their authors, particularly new one’s. Secondly, there’s a need for paid reviews from those who can rise above the noise, those who have a readership. Trust is the de facto online currency.
Does my novella review warrant an 8/10? All I know is that it seems to match what was written.
The jury is out (and may not return for years) on my decision to and whom to pay for a review. EBooks after all, are a slow burn. It wasn’t a frivolous decision.
On second thoughts, perhaps I should have saved some of those Lucifer’s Biscuits, for at least, I’ll have time to debate about cookies and biscuits, and work on something new while I find out if my novella is really half-baked, disappears into the ether, or if I am indeed Ishiguro.
The Code of Happiness is available for a ridiculously low introductory price of 99 cents at multiple online retailers. It’s cheaper than a bar of chocolate and lasts longer too.
For a wonderful take on paying for five star reviews, here's Andrew Shaffer's Huffington Post article.
Never Let Me Go has a user rating of 3.8/5 on Goodreads.
This blog post marks an official return to blogging after a year's absence. All previous posts on this site can be ignored (pretty sure they have been).