"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

Myth in Fiction Intertwined: How One Author Wove His Tapestry

by Birgitte Rasine 

In my holiday post, I discussed the power of myth in storytelling. Today, I’m taking you with me to see how it’s done in a published novel.

Roman Pantheon, photo by Birgitte Rasine
Roman Pantheon, photo by Birgitte Rasine

I recently spoke with Dr. Kenneth Atchity, the author of The Messiah Matrix. Classical scholar and Yale-educated professor of literature and classics as well as film producer, publisher, book reviewer, and literary agent, Dr. Atchity wears many hats—yet none perhaps as enthralling as that of author.

Birgitte Rasine: What was the initial inspiration for “The Messiah Matrix”?

Ken Atchity: I’d been thinking about the subject matter for a long time—since high school, when my Jesuit teacher drew a parallel between the two JC’s, Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar. Both were said to walk on water, both performed miracles, both gave their lives for their people. So over the years it kept me thinking. Then I met a woman doing research on the topic, and eventually we came to the conclusion I need to write a novel.

BR: What made you decide to write a novel as opposed to a book of non fiction?

KA: The more I researched, the more I realized this story really needs to be told. If I’d written a non fiction book, 56 people would read it during my lifetime. With fiction, thousands of people have read it and hundreds have submitted reader reviews—and hopefully that’s just the beginning.

BR: How long did it take to write, and how many drafts did you go through?

KA: It took a year to write the first draft. I revised, restructured, and reshaped for two years, and polished the writing and checked the research for another year. All told the book took about four years. I wrote at least 40 drafts of this book. The last 20 were either cutting research or figuring out how to dramatize it. My favorite chapter is “Birth of a God,” a spectacle that Augustus stages for the people to make his divinity real to them. I couldn’t imagine this Emperor not staging a show like this.

BR: How much research did you do and how did you go about it?

KA: It took many years of research. During that time, I came across a remarkable book published in 1898, “The Worship of Augustus Caesar,” written by Alexander Del Mar, a former postmaster general who happened to be a numismatist. He’d studied the coins minted during the reign of Augustus and showed how every element of Roman Catholic worship can be traced to Augustus: the title of Pontifex Maximums, the tiara the Pope wears, his titles “Savior,” “Messiah,” “Anointed One,” “Awaited One,” “Prince of Peace,” “King of Kings,” even the golden flail he carried to signify he was a good shepherd of his people.

The more I looked into it, the more I saw this was a remarkable historical explanation for the various symbols of the Catholic faith—that made more sense to me than the unproven stories of a “real Jesus” walking barefoot around Palestine. In fact, I went to the catacombs of Rome to see for myself. The symbols of early Christianity can be traced back to Roman origins. The image of Mary with the serpent at her feet, for example, goes back to Bona Dea, the “good goddess,” the first Roman goddess of abundance and birth. It was Augustus who had the depictions of Bona Dea redone with the likeness of his own mother, Maia. That’s how the iconography related with Mary started.

What Augustus did was both ingenious and profound. He rewrote the history of his time and resculpted myth in his image. He commissioned Virgil to write the Aeneid; he had the Sibylline books edited; he had the scribes from the various nations that formed a part of the Roman Empire rewrite the historical texts, inserting predictions of his coming, predictions of a golden age and a golden child, the lion lying down with the lamb. His coins were struck with the inscription, “God and Son of God.”

Why? It goes back to myth. Augustus knew the way to leave a lasting impression on the world is to create a new myth, or associate with an old one—in his case, that of the redeemer-god who gives his life for his people (following Dionysus, Osiris, and many others). The Romans had confusing and fragmented myths, so he streamlined and unify them. He was a brilliant emperor who copied the cultural icons and concepts of his own time and sought to turn them into a global religion. The Roman Empire never ended; it’s alive today in the Roman Catholic Church, headquartered in Vatican City in the heart of Rome, where even the ATM screens are in Latin.

BR: How did you handle this rather extraordinary proposition in your novel?
KA: I created a character who was skeptical about Catholicism like I was. Ryan McKeown is a young Jesuit who doesn’t understand why there are no provable contemporary references to Jesus Christ. His counter character, archaeologist Emily Scelba, discovers a legendary gold coin that becomes the “smoking gun” to the theory they discover about Christianity’s imperial origins.

BR: What was the most challenging aspect of writing a thriller like this?

KA: Dramatizing the research and trying to make it believable and not totally expository. You’re dealing with a lot of ancient history, and you have to find ways other than expository dialogue to make it come alive. For example, the cave at Cumae, which actually exists, I described it in the context of the narrative, not necessarily exactly the way it is.

BR: What are the key differences between a typical historical fiction novel and a thriller that incorporates mythology?

KA: Some authors write historical thrillers—they only deal with history, not myth. I was dealing with how a myth is constructed. The basic structure of a myth is always the same, but the narrative elements vary. Even Dan Brown doesn’t deal with myth, he deals with artifacts and history.
A myth makes you think on a different level. Being conscious of storytelling is different than telling a story. Myth is about the power of storytelling. That’s the difference.

BR: What aspect of “The Messiah Matrix” has resonated most with your readers, and what aspect were they most critical of?

KA: I think every Catholic who is serious intellectually [about their faith] has had doubts about whether Jesus really lived or not. Writers always write for their ideal reader, not for “everyone.” So when your readers respond to your own doubts, you know you’ve reached them.
As far as criticism is concerned, some readers thought there was too much historical material to digest, but then many thought there should be more.

BR: Share your thoughts about the role myth plays in contemporary literature.

KA: Myth is in our DNA, and it’s at the heart of every piece of literature. What do writers do when they’re at a loss for a story? They consult myth. A writer should always ask, “what’s the myth beneath my story?” If something doesn’t feel right, then the myth has been betrayed or the storyteller wasn’t aware of the myth within the story. Fiction without myth is never going to be satisfying.

BR: What would your advice be to writers tackling myth in fiction for the first time?
KA: Read a book of mythology. Learn what the myths are. Get a dictionary of mythology. For example, “The Greek Myths” by Robert Graves, “Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend,” or “The Masks of God” series by Joseph Campbell.

Reposted from The Write Practice

Between The Pages Book Review - FOSSIL RIVER by Jock Miller

Book Title: Fossil River
Author: Jock Miller
Buy Now Link: 
Genre: SciFi-Thriller
Page Length: 298 pages

Book Video:

About The Book:
The perfect energy storm is sweeping over the United States: Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown has paralyzed nuclear expansion globally, BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill has stalled deep water drilling, Arab oil countries are in turmoil causing doubt about access to future oil, the intensity of hurricanes hitting the Gulf’s oil rigs and refineries has intensified due to global warming, and the nation’s Strategic Oil Supply is riding on empty.

As the energy storm intensifies, the nation’s access to Arab oil, once supplying over sixty percent of our fossil fuel, is being threatened causing people to panic for lack of gas at the pumps, stranding cars across the country and inciting riots.

The U.S. Military is forced to cut back air, land, and sea operations sucking up 58% of every barrel of oil to protect the nation; U.S. commercial airlines are forced to limit flights for lack of jet fuel; and businesses are challenged to power up their factories, and offices as the U.S. Department of Energy desperately tries to provide a balance of electric power from the network of aged power plants and transmission lines that power up the nation.The United States must find new sources of domestic fossil fuel urgently or face an energy crisis that will plunge the nation into a deep depression worse than 1929.

The energy storm is very real and happening this very moment. But, at the last moment of desperation, the United States discovers the world’s largest fossil fuel deposit found in a remote inaccessible mountain range within Alaska’s Noatak National Preserve surrounding six and a half million acres.Preventing access to the oil is a colony of living fossil dinosaurs that will protect its territory to the death.

Nobody gets out alive; nobody can identify the predator--until Dr. Kimberly Fulton, Curator of Paleontology at New York’s Museum of Natural History, is flown into the inaccessible area by Scott Chandler, the Marine veteran helicopter pilot who’s the Park’s Manager of Wildlife. All hell breaks loose when Fulton’s teenage son and his girlfriend vanish into the Park.

Will the nation’s military be paralyzed for lack of mobility fuel, and will people across America run out of gas and be stranded, or will the U.S. Military succeed in penetrating this remote mountain range in northwestern Alaska to restore fossil fuel supplies in time to save the nation from the worst energy driven catastrophe in recorded history?

Lynda's Review:

~"They won't charge us, Scott. They're going to watch us first. Feel us out. They'll surround us, alright, but they'll stay at the edge of the clearing, waiting studying us. I know their habits, especially hunting and tracking."~ Page 164

I'm always ready to suspend reality in favor of a good story, especially one that keeps me on the razor-edge of terror. This is a science fiction/adventure story. I'm sure not all the science premise is bulletproof, but then, If I wanted science facts, I'd take a college course. There was just enough plausibility to tickle my curiosity and that's all it took to keep me reading. Nothing in this story went according to good reason but that actually made the suspense part better for me. The crazy characters didn't act or react in the most logical way, and well, aren't people somewhat like that in real life? 

Reposted from Between The Pages 

Genre versus Author Platform? Which Matters More?

author platformby C.S. Lakin (@CSLakin)

When my friend and colleague Susanna Lakin told me about her experiment in trying to find out exactly how important an author platform is for genre novelists, I was fascinated. Now, she’s written up the story of what she did, and what she’s found out. This is crucial reading for any novelists who are having trouble getting traction with their sales. Susanna, who has written more than a dozen critically-acclaimed novels, was the ideal person to run this “experiment” and I think you’ll be as fascinated as I by her results. Here’s her report.

Is it enough for an author to write a terrific book, then market it wisely, devoting a lot of energy and time to building an author platform? Will that ensure great sales? Most authors have precious little time to spend on building their platforms, yet most experts in publishing will agree that author platform is crucial.

But how crucial? Even if an author spends hours a week trying to get known—via social networking, blogging, listing their books on paid and free promotions, joining in on forums, offering sales—often all that effort shows little return in the way of sales, new readers, and buzz. A million writers are vying for attention, and many are putting out similar effort to build their author platform.

Authors can certainly benefit from engaging in all of the above activities; surely those efforts must help to some degree to get their name “out there” and be recognized. The aim of most authors is to get discovered, and to have name recognition (along with a great reputation for being a solid writer).
We’ve heard how crucial it is, particularly for nonfiction writers, to build that platform, which is so much easier than trying to build a platform for fiction. However, fiction writers are highly encouraged to do similarly using many of the same methods as nonfiction writers, such as blogging on timely topics that can tie in with their novel’s themes or setting.

Where Does Genre Fit In?

Without going into the strategies and methods for either fiction or nonfiction platform-building, I’d like to take a step back and ask this question:
How much does genre [for the novelists] have a bearing on success?
This is a question I did not want to ask myself, but after writing more than a dozen novels in various genres and spending years trying to market them, promote them, grow sales and readers, I kept coming back to this question.

Why? Because although my books were getting terrific reviews and winning awards, they were not strict genre novels—in fact many of my books are a bit experimental and can’t be easily categorized. My books just weren’t selling much.

With indie publishing, authors like me have been able to publish our “unusual” or “different” novels and find readers. But after I’d put out five novels as ebooks (and some also in print), and did extensive marketing and promotion (spending an outrageous amount of money on publicity, for example)—following to the letter all the sage advice I’d garnered on how to sell for success, nothing worked. My author friends were making easily five figures each month, often off one title, or they would release a book and it would hit the best-seller lists off the bat.

Maybe It’s Just Luck

I thought they were just luckier than me. I thought perhaps they were doing something special with their marketing and author platform that I wasn’t. But when I interviewed them all, I found out the truth. They were not. Many had little author platform. Some (yikes!) had none. I mean—no website, no social media, no previous novels out, no name, nada. Huh?

What I did see was that these hugely successful authors were writing to a specific genre, and often a niche genre. What do I mean by that? I mean a subgenre that has a particular readership—one that is very large and one that has few (compared to other main genres) books available for sale. What I was seeing was a manifestation of the old economics “supply and demand” rule.

But could that really be true? Could an unknown author write a novel with no author platform for one of these subgenres and sell big, with no additional effort other than putting her book up on Amazon, carefully using the same kind of description, cover, etc.?

I was dying to find out.

My Genre Experiment

So, here’s what I did, in a nutshell (I plan to write an entire ebook soon on this experiment/method called From Idea to Selling in Three Months, so others writers can do this too!):
  • I picked the subgenre I was told “sells itself” without any author platform.
  • I came up with a pen name so I would be an unknown, unpublished author.
  • I chose one novel to deconstruct. [NOTE PLEASE: I did not plagiarize or copy the plot, writing, or tried to mimic this author. I just deconstructed the structure. If you don’t know what that involves, buy my book when it comes out!]
  • After deconstructing the novel, I plotted and constructed mine.
  • I hired the same cover designer to brand my look for my series.
  • While writing the novel, I copied and pasted 30 Amazon descriptions of books in this genre in order to create my own in the same style and fashion. [NOTE: This was a genre I had never even read, so had no clue how this differed from the genres I already wrote in.]
  • I got a couple of well-known author friends and a reviewer for the Examiner to read in advance and write me reviews/endorsements, so I’d have something to put in the book and on the Amazon page.
  • I did set up tweets (not as my pen name but via my real Twitter account) to get some exposure.
  • I set up a Facebook page for the author, but did nothing to promote it. Even now it has maybe 25 likes. So no big influence there.
  • I hired an assistant to find bloggers and reviewers, but only had three people blog about the novel when it was released.
author platformSo, essentially, as far as author platform goes, I did almost nothing to build or prepare for this book release. I felt I should do a minimal amount of promoting, just as many of my successful author friends do when releasing a new book. And of course, their subsequent books sell very well too, since they have, inadvertently, build a bit of author platform just from the sales and buzz of the earlier novels released.

My Results

The novel has only been out a month. Within the first two weeks, the book jumped to paid #247 on Amazon, and hit the top ten genre lists: Historicals, Historical Westerns, Western Romance. My genre is Historical Western Romance (and more specifically sweet Western—meaning no sex or heat).

In those two weeks, the book sold more than 1,500 copies at full price ($3.99 US), while all the top twenty on the lists were sale priced. I wanted to start out the gate with the novel regularly priced and not discounted, based on Mark Coker’s research (Smashwords) that $3.99 sells better than any other price. I also wanted to imply “quality” because it is a long, rich, quality book.

My novel has been on the genre lists’ top 100 ever since, selling about 30-50 books a day. Way more than I ever made on any of my other dozen novels. Here’s the interesting thing. I made $3,600 or so in three weeks. I was told by writers of that specific subgenre that they make about $3k a month off each book. Which is what it looks like I’m making. Why? Supply and demand.

One author sold 80,000 copies of her first novel, with no Internet presence, website, or author platform. She still doesn’t have a website, and her books are all selling in the tens of thousands. Is she a terrific writer, better than anyone else out there? No. She writes good books for the genre, as do the others who are selling well.

Genre Isn’t the Only Factor

I can’t emphasize enough that first and foremost an author has to write a terrific book. And it now looks to me that a terrific book in one genre just may sell a whole lot more than a terrific book in another genre. Authors who lament that their “terrific” book (if it indeed is one) is not selling, may need to consider genre. Maybe they might even want to try their own genre experiment.

My novel has been getting mostly 5-star reviews, and what pleases me most is when reviewers say I wrote a book that perfectly reflects the genre. I did my homework and it paid off. The strict genres I’ve noted sell well in addition to romance, romance, and more romance are paranormal, thrillers, and mystery (and YA versions of all those).

I don’t read or particularly like romance, but the RWA (Romance Writers of America) recently noted that 40 percent of ALL ebooks sold are romance. And I actually had a blast writing this novel, with two more in the series slated to come out in 2014. I love Lonesome Dove and always wanted to try my hand at Westerns.

You Don’t Have to “Sell Out” to “Sell Big”

I don’t think writers should “sell out” and write something they don’t want to write just to make money, but hopefully I’ve given you food for thought. I find nothing wrong with writing to a specific audience for the sole reason of selling more books and making some money. It feels nice to pay the bills.

So, does it matter whether you have an author platform or not? I suppose it depends on what genre you want to write in. As my pen name identity grows an author platform, I’m assuming it will help my sales. But it didn’t hurt at all to not have one when I published this novel.

Reposted from The Book Designer

Guest Post: Memo to a Successful Writer by Dennis Palumbo

Hollywood on the Couch
The inside scoop on Tinseltown, USA.
by Dennis Palumbo

How to keep making it after you've made it

I’ve heard from a number of my Hollywood writing patients who are new to the business, as well as some successful veterans, ask me to write a column about them. People who are doing well, having their TV scripts and screenplays produced, being offered good deals.

So here goes.

It doesn’t suck. When they option your work, when your film is opening or your pilot is picked up, it can be very sweet indeed.

There are still challenges, of course. Like keeping your focus on the writing, and not getting caught up in just having meetings and developing pitches. Not to mention the effort it takes, in the midst of all the business concerns, to remember why you wanted to write in the first place.

Success in the industry can be as terrifying as it is exciting, as complicated as it is gratifying. But it’s worth it. Seeing your words transformed into feature films and TV episodes, getting to communicate what’s in your mind and heart to countless others, is a profound joy.

That said, here are some things to remember to help keep you grounded...and keep you writing.

YOU ARE ENOUGH. You have everything you need—right now—to be the writer you want to be. As Emerson said, “To know that what is true for you in your private heart is true for everyone—that is genius.” Which means each writer has within him or her the entire range of human experience. If you feel it and think it, pretty much everyone else does, too. So keep mining your own particular thoughts and feelings, what excites or worries or intrigues you, and you’ll have an inexhaustible supply of things to write about.

One of the great gifts that creative people tend to share is a sense of wonder. The best way to keep your writing fresh and your ideas unique is to be open to new experiences, concepts and situations. Moreover, smart writers are always reading new things, discovering new films or innovative TV programs—in other words, keeping their eyes and ears open to what else is going on around them creatively.

I don’t mean you have to watch CNN 24/7, but an understanding of the issues and stresses confronting the people around you is crucial to keeping your writing relevant. Whether you write the broadest of comedies or the most sober of dramas, the best writing is informed by the context in which it is created. Our own culture—political, social, economic—is and has always been the well-spring for the most creative story-telling. It’s what makes a narrative or a collection of characters—and their concerns—relatable to the audience.

DON’T PANIC IF YOU GET STUCK. What does it mean if, in the midst of a script or treatment, you get stuck? It means you’re a writer—and that’s all it means. Writing is hard (and good writing is harder!), so getting stuck, or having doubts about which direction to take the narrative, is just part of the job. Writers only get in trouble when they give their writing problems a personal meaning—when they think it’s evidence of some defect or inadequacy in themselves. It isn’t. In my experience, once I help patients challenge the notion that a writing problem indicates something deficient in them, they tend to be better able to grapple with the actual problem itself—and work through it.

TRUST YOURSELF. Your talent, instincts and hard work have gotten you this far, so it’s unlikely that this skill set will abandon you. No matter how things are going, trust yourself. Every writer, regardless of success, has to navigate the ups and downs of the business. This is a lot easier to do if you can trust yourself—creatively, professionally and personally. You’re the one knows best how to tell a story, craft compelling characters, build to a suspenseful moment or the pay-off to a joke. You know best how to thrill an audience, how to make them laugh and cry and think.

Which means, no matter what, remember who you are and what you can do

Reposted from Psychology Today

Guest Post: How to Get More Reviews on Amazon.com by Penny C. Sansevieri

These days, we hear a lot about book discovery. As more and more books hit the market, readers are deluged with choices and authors are struggling to get in front of new readers and even existing fans. Recently Bowker announced that the number of books published each day in the US is up to 3,500. This does not include all eBook data since many eBooks are published without ISBN numbers that Bowker can track. What this has done is create a strong need for a reader's voice. Reaching these readers, however, is another matter entirely.

What's an aspiring publisher or author to do? Well, it's time to get serious about being seen in places where your reader will find you. It's time realize the things that are important to your reader: reviews and engagement. Authors who focus on those two things alone are head and shoulders above the rest.

More Reasons to Love Reviews

The other reason to love reviews is that the more reviews you get on Amazon the more visible your book becomes. This is largely due to the Amazon algorithm which is based on a few things, one of which is the number of reviews you get to your page. It's called Social Proof and Amazon loves it. More reviews on your page push your book higher in search ranking when someone enters your book's search term into the Amazon search bar.

Different Types of Reviewers, Do They all Matter?

Reviewers, like anything in marketing, are very relationship based. That's why it's often easier to get reviews for your second or third book, but first-time authors, don't worry - I'm going to show you a tip in a minute that can help you double or triple the amount of reviews you get.

There are a few different types of Amazon reviewers. Let's look at each:

Top Amazon Reviewers: These folks can review anything, not just books, and they often do a lot of reviews. I had one reviewer tell me she once posted 100 reviews a month on Amazon. These reviewers also get a lot of credibility in that their reviews are often accompanied by attributes such as Hall of Fame Reviewer, Vine Voice and Top Ten Reviewer.

It's a great thing to get a top Amazon reviewer to consider your book but they are tough to target. Does it mean you should ignore them? No. We'll talk more about how to creatively target them in a moment.

Amazon Reader Reviewers: These are readers who just love books. They aren't part of the top list like the high profile Amazon reviewers, but they can also review a lot of books. Their reviews are thoughtful, insightful, and thorough. They tend to be very genre focused, which means that they stay true to one genre, possibly two. Many of them are also on Goodreads, which is another reason why it makes sense to be on that site, too.

Consumers: Do consumers review books? Yes, but according to a review statistic I read recently they don't review a lot. Often only 1% of consumers will review a book they read, but I'll show you how to quadruple that number for your next book.

Bloggers: We love bloggers. They have this tireless passion for books and if you can get them to review yours, this relationship can last the length of your career. But keep in mind that while book blogger relationships are great, not all of them review on Amazon so if your goal is to really populate that page with reviews, you'll want to make sure they do.

Curious about how to find great book bloggers? You can search for many of them on Google and search "book blogger" + Your genre. You can also go to sites like: http://bookbloggerdirectory.wordpress.com/ or http://www.blogmetrics.org/ to find bloggers in your genre.

Different Ways to Find Amazon Reviewers

A quick Google search will take you to this link: http://www.amazon.com/review/top-reviewers. The problem is that this link takes you to an endless list of reviewers you now have to ferret through.

As you will see, the list has two tabs on it, Top Reviewer Rankings and Hall of Fame Reviewers. The Hall of Fame list is really the top of the top. If you can get picked up by one of those folks, you're golden. Not all of them review your genre, and some don't even review books. There are other ways you can reach them, though.

Some authors I know will just find reviewers based on other, similar titles. You can do this by going to books that cover the same or a similar topic and see who has reviewed their book on Amazon. You follow the reviewer's link to his or her Amazon profile page, look for an email address, and send a pitch. It's a very time-intensive way to get reviews, though it's 100% worth it. If you start this process early (i.e. before your book is published), you'll be able to target these folks as soon as your book is ready to go.

The other way to find reviewers is to use the following search string, which I've seen a few times in various formats. Keep in mind that this search string isn't an exact science, and I've also found that it works better for some genres than for others. First, let's take a look at the search string structure:

Search String in Google:

http://www.amazon.com/review/top-reviewers "Top 500 reviewer" "Romance"

Or you can also use:

http://www.amazon.com/review/top-reviewers "Top 1000 reviewer" "Romance"

The string is broken down as follows:

1. First is the site you want to search: http://www.amazon.com/review/top-reviewers this is the profile link on the Amazon page--that's the URL you are searching from so you must include this in your search string.

2. Next you want the Top X reviewers, in this case I recommend putting in 500 or 1000. You won't pull up that many, but it's a nice high number to shoot for. Why the difference in the number? Because I recommend that you search it both ways. Oddly, though you're just changing a number, each of these searches may produce different results.

3. Next up is the genre. I put in romance here but yours might be mystery, sci-fi, etc. Whatever your genre is (fiction or non-fiction), put it there.

When you do this, you still have to sift through the results. Keep in mind that not all Amazon reviewers list their email address on their profile so you may have to hunt for them by searching their name and their blog (most Amazon reviewers have blog sites they repost their reviews to).

If you're willing to continue your search, you can also try this search string:

http://www.amazon.com/review/top-reviewers "Top 500 reviewer" "Young Adult Fiction" "E-mail:"

Note the spelling of the term e-mail. For the purposes of finding the right reviewers, we want to mimic how the term e-mail is referenced on the reviewer site.

This process, while time-consuming, can help you start building your top Amazon review list.

How to Double the Amount of Blogger Reviews You Get

You've now identified the bloggers you want to pitch and they also review on Amazon. You know that they get a lot of review requests, so how will you make yours stand out?

Last year I conducted an experiment. I wanted to see if there was a way I could double or triple the amount of reviews I could get if I were an unknown, newly published author. If you've ever attempted to get reviews, you know it's never easy as a first-time author. You're lucky to get one or two at the most. I always tell authors to personalize their pitches whenever they can because it'll net more review requests. Most of the time authors sort of nod in agreement, but I suspect that very few actually do this. I mean let's face it; it's a big time suck to personalize pitches, right? You have to go to their blog, find their name, look up some of the books they've done reviews on, see if they're right for your book and then pitch them. Seems like a lot, right? Now I'm going to ask you to take this a step further. I want you to include some personal information on them, too. I did this anytime I could and, as I said, I tripled the amount of review requests I got for this unknown author. In some cases I quadrupled the amount.

Turning Your Book into a Review Machine

We all want to turn our book into a sales machine. Now I'm not taking about turning your book into a cross-promotion tool (though that's good, too) I'm speaking about getting your book to work for you in other ways.

We've worked with many first-time authors, but earlier this year I had an idea I wanted to try. I wanted to find a way to encourage readers to review the book by adding a specific request. We asked the author to include a letter in the back of her book asking for reviews. She reminded readers how important their voice is. Did it work? Yes. In fact she's got well over 70 reviews of which only 10 were solicited. Remember, this is a first-time author with no history online and this book was self-published. All of these things worked against her and still she succeeded in getting tons of reviews. Were they all five-star? No, but that's not the point. Let's face it, a book page that's populated with tons of five-star reviews is pretty suspect anyway. All of the reviews are authentic, written by real readers the author engaged with. Want to know another secret? These readers are now part of her "tribe;" she stays in touch with them and lets them know when her next book is out.

How did she ask for reviews? She crafted a letter to her readers. Here's a sample of the letter we included in the back of her second book. You can see the letter here: http://www.amarketingexpert.com/getting-reviews/

Keep in mind that as I mentioned earlier, generally only 1% of consumers review books on Amazon. Using this letter helped to beat that average by a lot.

A Little Known Amazon Tool

Did you know that you can respond to a review on Amazon? Using access to your Author Central account you can now write a note thanking the reviewer, or, you can let the various reviewers know that you have another book out and ask them if they want a free copy for review. To gain access to your Author Central Page, go here and log in using your regular Amazon login: https://authorcentral.amazon.com

Once you're inside you'll see a header. Click on Customer Reviews. Once you click that button, it'll take you to this page where you'll see a bunch of your reviews. Under each review you'll see "Add a comment"--this is where you want to click. That will let you respond to the reviews. It's a great way to connect with your readers on Amazon!

Reviews and the process of getting them has gotten more challenging and time intensive as new books continue to flood the market. Reviewers have a lot of choices. But if you're smart about your efforts, and leverage Amazon's features wisely, you can really boost your book's exposure, and your sales. One final note on Amazon reviews. Sometimes in order to get reviews, you need to become a reviewer. I'm not suggesting you compete for their top review spot, but instead help other writers in your market by reviewing their books. It's not only a great way to pay it forward, but they may offer you a review, too.

Reposted from The Huffington Post

Your Brain on a Thriller [via David Angsten]


"Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said.  The new research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.
"'We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically,” said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study."
The key word is "gripping."  Read the full article HERE.

Book Marketing: How 4 Authors Are Finding Success With Social Media


Andy Meek is a senior business reporter for The Memphis Daily News. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyMeekTN.

The book industry is in upheaval. The recent news that Borders will liquidate and shutter all of its 399 stores is the latest sign of print’s unstable market.

In many ways, tech advancements have forced the industry’s deterioration. While print struggles to catch a foothold, tech-savvy authors are managing to bridge the gap. Therefore, I’d like to introduce four tech-savvy authors whose statuses range from rookie to bestseller. Thanks to social media, they're writing their own rules about branding and fan engagement.

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    1. John Green – The Fault in Our Stars

    Author: John Green
    Twitter: @realjohngreen
    Facebook: John Green
    Website/Blog: JohnGreenBooks.com

    John Green’s latest book, The Fault in Our Stars, is riding high on the charts. It recently landed the number-one spots on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. But here’s the thing – his story won’t be published until 2012.

    Green promoted the book to his 1.1 million Twitter followers, according to The Wall Street Journal:

    On (a) Tuesday afternoon, he posted the title of his new book on Twitter, Tumblr and the community forum YourPants.org. An hour later, he upped the stakes by promising to sign all pre-orders and the entire first-print run, while also launching a YouTube live show. Mr. Green discussed his plans for signing the book and also read a section to give viewers a sense of what The Fault in Our Stars would be about.

    On the same day of the WSJ article, Green responded by tweeting, “I am genuinely uninterested in marketing, but I am VERY interested in being part of awesome communities.”
    Publisher @penguinusa also tweeted the news: “did you hear? @realjohngreen’s new #ya novel THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is #1. One catch, he’s still writing!”

    To which Green could not resist shooting back: “@penguinusa HAHAHAHAHA Don’t make fun of me corporate overlord or I will refused to finish it! ;)”
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    2. Laura Hillenbrand – Unbroken

    Author: Laura Hillenbrand
    Twitter: @laurahillenbran
    Facebook: Laura Hillenbrand
    Website/Blog: LauraHillenbrandBooks.com

    Earlier this year New York Times bestseller Laura Hillenbrand – the author of Seabiscuit – participated in a new media experiment to promote her new book Unbroken, which follows a WWII pilot who was shot down, only to survive a Japanese prison camp.

    NPR produced what it described as a “book club-meets-social media experiment” across its Facebook, Twitter and web presences -- places where Unbroken was widely discussed. On the NPR Books Facebook Page Hillenbrand also contributed to the discussion.

    By achieving direct access to the author, readers like Robin Politowicz became inspired to write back:

    Was there a moment in your research that just stopped you in your tracks? A particular incident or injustice or cruel twist of fate (of which there were so many) that gave you pause?
    Wonderful book – listened to the audio version on a long vacation drive, and had to think of errands to run once we got home so that we could finish listening :-)
    –Robin Politowicz

    Dear Robin,
    Good question! There were so many breathtaking moments in Louie's story. I think the one that was most striking to me was the one when he was on the raft, and the Japanese bomber began strafing him and his raftmates. This was incredible enough, but in seeking cover under the raft, Louie ended up having to fight off sharks, striking them in their noses while the bullets showered down. I can't imagine that there's been another man in history who has been simultaneously fired upon and attacked by sharks. That he survived it continues to amaze me.

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    3. Blake Northcott – Vs. Reality

    Author: Blake Northcott
    Twitter: @ComicBookGrrl
    Facebook: Vs. Reality
    Website/Blog: BlakeNorthcott.com

    If you’re a new writer who’s looking ahead to a seemingly daunting publishing task, take a tip from Toronto writer Blake Northcott.

    She recently self-published Vs. Reality, a work she’s calling a “comic book-inspired urban fantasy novel.” The Kindle version is now available through Amazon.com.

    During the nine months spent writing her comic and movie blog, she amassed a 16,000-strong Twitter following, and collected more than 1,700 personal Facebook friends. Furthermore, in the space of one week earlier this month, her re-launched blog got 4,500 page views.
    To put the numbers in perspective, her Twitter tribe is roughly the same size as that of publisher Image Comics. And a few days ago, Goodreads.com notified Northcott that she is the tenth most-followed Canadian on the site.

    Northcott’s social media presence includes what she describes as an “instant feedback mechanism that tells me people are listening.”

    “People are so passionate about books, comics and movies,” says Northcott. “When you connect with them on their level, and they know you’re legitimate, they respect you a lot more. Social media facilitates the ‘secret handshake’ where you get into the club, and people know you’re one of them.”

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    4. Duane Swierczynski – Fun and Games

    Author: Duane Swierczynski
    Twitter: @swierczy
    Facebook: Duane Swierczynski
    Website/Blog: Secret Dead Blog

    If Quentin Tarantino ever decided to put down his camera and pick up a novelist’s pen, the result might read like the action-packed work of Duane Swierczynski. He writes hard-boiled thrillers that have the inventiveness, colorful characters and crackling dialogue of comic books.
    His latest book, Fun and Games, was released a few weeks ago. To coincide with the release, Swierczynski devised a promotional contest that met with great fan approval.

    To boost his pre-order numbers, Swierczynski invited fans to send him a confirmation once they had pre-ordered the book. In return, he randomly picked winners to which he sent personally chosen prizes - for example, signed copies of his five previous novels, a copy of Rockstar Games' recent title L.A. Noire, and even the right to name a minor character in the third book of his current trilogy. Additionally, he sent everyone who pre-ordered his book an offbeat postcard he picked up from the road, complete with a handwritten note of thanks.

    “I was just talking to a friend the same age as me [late 30s] about how much harder it was to find like-minded people back in the early '90s,” says Swierczynski. “Sure, there was 'zine culture, but other than that, you couldn't help but feel kind of all alone in the universe ... Social media makes it so much easier, and so many people I've met online have turned out to be good friends in real life. So [social media] is not really a ‘strategy’ – it's a matter of craving that hive-mind experience. And as part of that hive-mind, you should give as much as you take.”

    Reposted from Mashable.com

Guest Post: January 1, 2014 -- 55 years after Castro's reign of terror began, 3 brave dissidents give me hope by George J. Fowler III

January1, 2014 marks the 55th anniversary of Fidel Castro's reign of terror on the island of Cuba.

The country is so close that perhaps if you stand on your tippy toes in Key West, you can see Cuba.

On January 1,1959, I  was a little boy in Cuba. It was a great country. I was awakened by celebratory gun shots. I  knew they were not New Year's firecrackers.

That day bearded men in green fatigues came to my home and acted like they were in charge. Ten days later they stripped the people of all weapons and ensured that control.

But today I have hope.

This op-ed is about three brave Cubans: Berta Soler, Yoani Sanchez and Guillermo Fariñas.

They lead Cuba's growing but isolated dissident movement. I write about them because it is sadly clear that, after 55 years, our government (whether led by Republicans or Democrats) is going to continue to ignore the people of Cuba.

    Because of Berta, Yoani and Guillermo, 55 years later I have hope.

This op-ed is also not about Castro's 17,000 political assassinations, his legendary dungeon prisons,or his prolific torture methods. It is not about my uncle, who, deceived by Castro, first fought for him and then against him in the Bay of Pigs invasion. President Kennedy reneged on his promise to assist the invaders.

After my uncle ran out of ammunition, he was captured and tortured.

I am not going to detail the story of the brave American, William Morgan, who rose to the rank of Commandante in Castro's army then turned against him. His executioners, ordered him to kneel. Morgan spat back "I kneel for no man". They blew off one knee but somehow the big American still struggled to stand. Then they blew off his other knee and massacred him.

I am not going to explain why our State Department annually recognizes Cuba as a state  sponsor of terrorism.

Nor will I address the fact that a few months ago a Cuban ship was detained in Panama carrying nuclear missile parts and weapons from Cuba to North Korea. Our media seemed to have glossed over that story.

I  am not too troubled because our president hopped two steps and cheerfully shook the Bloody hand of Fidel's brother, Raul. Raul has always been a bug in the shadow of his brother.

Moreover, I don't think our president recognized Raul because two weeks earlier he had met with Berta Soler and Guillermo Fariñas in Miami and cheered them on.

So let's talk about hope.

First, there is Berta Soler. This brave,black woman leads the ladies in white,the wives and mothers of Castro's political prisoners.  Every Sunday after mass Inst. Rita’s church,Berta parades the ladies in peaceful protest, wearing white and carrying flowers.

Every Sunday, Castro sends his thugs to beat them, stick them with needles and recently, strip them of their clothing. But every Sunday there are more ladies in white.

Yoani Sanchezis the famous blogger who, in a country that prohibits the Internet, reaches millions  throughout the world. She denounces Castroism. When I asked her, she told me she was very afraid of the violence against her and showed me a hole in her mouth where they had knocked out a tooth. She admitted that she was most afraid when Castro’s thugs threatened to hurt her only son. But Yoani blogs on.

Guillermo Fariñas is tall, dark and bald. Because of 24 anti-Castro hunger strikes she has the countenance of a concentration camp prisoner. But he has the heart of a lion.

This November while in Miami, I noticed fresh scars on his bald head. I begged him not to go back. I reminded him that last year  Cuba's leading dissident, Oswaldo Paya had been publicly murdered by Castro's men.

Guillermo told me his group now numbers 7,000 and he was going back no matter the consequences.

He is back in Cuba.

So, because of Berta, Yoani and Guillermo, 55 years later I have hope. I would be even more hopeful if America decided to really support them. They are so close to us.

George J. Fowler is author of the recently published book, "My Cuba Libre: Bringing Fidel Castro to Justice." He is Vice President and General Counsel of the Cuban American National Foundation. He can be reached at fow@frfirm.com.

Reposted from Fox News