Tag Archives: bestseller

A simple guide to overcoming 1-star review grief

I briefly mentioned in my last post that free giveaways are notorious for attracting random readers that just don’t get your novel. Also, you may or may not know that the average Goodreads rating for any given book is usually lower than that on Amazon. This may be due to a few reasons, one of them being that people can rate your book without ever reading it.

So it’s not that much of a surprise that someone posted a 1-star review of Shizzle, Inc on Goodreads today. Still, it was a kick in the balls that I don’t even have, to read words such as “heaving pile that’s hard to swallow”, “poorly developed characters and an equally poorly thought out plot”, and finally “I’m sure the author is planning an equally stomach-churning sequel.” Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Normally I think of myself as having thick skin, but the review derailed me, and after a pretty good day, too – I penned 1,300 words of that stomach-churning sequel and even had an idea for another Donald Trump video spoof. Suddenly, I didn’t feel funny at all. Felt like an idiot for taking time off work to do this, and a whole bunch of other very unhelpful thoughts. I had to reverse the nosedive before I crushed. I tried watching TV, but it was all bad news, as usual. I poured myself a glass, but it only made me feel closer to tears. Then I struck onto a brilliant idea, and it worked like a charm. I decided to put it down in writing for future reference, as alas, I’m sure I’ll have even more bad reviews on my path to developing Isa into a bestselling sensation. I hope it may help you, too.

Life is all about perspective, isn’t it? I was actually pondering that just a couple of days ago, as I wrote this sentence in Indiot’s draft:

Everything is relative, and everyone is familiar with that concept – it’s the one that causes your ass to appear either huge or toned, depending on whether you’re in a yoga class or Burger King waiting line.

So for a bit of a reality check, I decided to peruse Goodreads reviews of some of the world-famous books that are known as epic bestsellers. Below are some stats on those books, complete with juicy quotes lifted from 1-star reviews:

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter #1) by J.K. Rowling. Number of 1-star ratings: 59,343. Most striking quote: “Awful in every way.”
  2. The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1) Number of 1-star ratings: 33,017. Most striking quote: “Tolkien can’t write. He can’t build character. He can’t advance a plotline.”
  3. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia #1) by C.S. Lewis. Number of 1-star ratings: 15,800. Most striking quote: “Well,all right.I have to say that this book is terrible…In fact I haven’t read this book before but I’ve heard from other people that this book had ruined their childhood… :(“
  4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Number of 1-star ratings: 96,578. Most striking quote: “If I could give this book a zero, I would. I absolutely hated it.”
  5. The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon #2) by Dan Brown. Number of 1-star ratings: 68,541. Most striking quote: “Whoever edited this drivel ought to be sewn in a sack with a rabid raccoon and flung into Lake Michigan.”
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Trilogy #1) by Stieg Larsson. Number of 1-star ratings: 47,572. Most striking quote: “This is a book so bad that it doesn’t deserve a review.”
  7. 1984 by George Orwell. Number of 1-star ratings: 35,943. Most striking quote: “Not really for me. Where’s the action, where’s the romance?”

I was going to do ten of these, but I feel a whole lot better now and would rather return to writing that sequel. I have a lot of work to do before I can earn tens of thousands of 1-star reviews.

Hope you’re feeling a whole lot better too.


Filed under Self-publishing and marketing

Interview with Matthew FitzSimmons, #1 bestselling author of thriller Short Drop!

Hi, everyone!

You may recall that Matthew FitzSimmons unexpectedly stopped by this blog a couple of weeks ago, to explain how The Short Drop made it to #1 in Kindle Store and gathered over 1,300 reviews weeks before its release on 1 December (it’s now well over 1,800 reviews with average 4.7 star rating!). You may recall that his debut novel was one of November offerings in Kindle First program, and that Matthew was kind enough to not only explain the ins and outs of Kindle First, he even agreed to answer your questions about his experience.

Thank you all who have contributed to the questions below. Without further adieu, here are your long-awaited answers!

matt-fitzsimmons-225-shadow short-drop-225-shadow

In your bio you mention the first novel you wrote, which you would rather forget. Can you tell us a bit more about that experience? What made you want to try again? What kept you going?

Ah the dreaded first book. Well, I spent four years on it. It was meant to be this lyrical, personal meditation on life, the universe and everything – my “great American novel.” It was none of those things. I was young and undisciplined. I worked jobs that I loathed to support my writing. I lost an early version when my hard drive died – too naïve to have backed it up. And there came a point, when I began to suspect that it wasn’t very good. And shortly thereafter, I simply began to hate it. I hated writing. I hated what I’d written. It was self-indulgent, pretentious and achingly “literary.” Actually, in retrospect, there were some quite good bits, but my God they were buried under acres of manure. I decided I was done, done with writing, and that I’d wasted quite enough time on this daydream.

Eventually, I became a teacher, which I loved and was good at. I taught books, theater and coached sports – all in the same day. It was a marvelous job. I did that for eleven years. And then, five or six years ago, I began noodling about with writing again. I’m don’t remember why only that I didn’t tell anyone about it. Small things – a blog that no one read. Bits and pieces of story ideas…that no one read. I was very happy about that – the no one reading it part. It was just something for me. Then I had a bit of a personal crisis, and I began writing more seriously largely because it offered an escape from my day-to-day struggles. Somewhere along the way, I had learned to love writing again. I was older and disciplined. I backed up my hard drive like it was my job. And, to my surprise, what I wrote didn’t seem half bad. When I was halfway through, I showed it to a few friends who I knew wouldn’t be needlessly kind. “Would you keep reading if I finished it,” I asked. “Yes,” they all said. So I did.

You have quite a diverse education and background – from B.A. in Psychology, to theatre, to teaching English literature. How did those experiences, combined with living in Great Britain and China, influence you as a writer? Have you used any of your personal experiences as material for the plot or characters in your stories?

I’ve come to realize that all of my experiences – theater, a degree in psychology, teaching, coaching – have been, in one way or another, about understanding people. Collectively it is the foundation of my empathy. The same for growing up and living abroad; it’s all helped me to put myself in another person’s shoes. And if you can’t do that, then all your characters wind up sounding like variations of yourself.

What is your writing routine? Is writing now your full-time job, or are you still teaching? Do you read broadly, or do you confine your reading to certain genres? Who are your favorite contemporary authors?

Writing has been my full-time job since June. I write six days a week from seven to four. I write new pages in the afternoon and then edit them the following morning. I was writing seven days a week, but I found that if I didn’t take a day off that my brains turned to porridge. I read broadly although I read more thrillers now “for work,” than I once did. But I think it’s essential to read outside of ones genre, because genre can easily become a closed system and then everyone begins to sound like everyone else. It’s the beginning of formula, and formula is the beginning of the end of anything good. Among contemporary authors, I’m an enormous fan of William Gibson, Kazuo Ishiguro and Don DeLillo. Ian McEwan. And for my money, Daniel Woodrell is the best American thriller writer working today.

Your first published novel The Short Drop is a thriller, complete with political intrigue, murder for hire, missing people, computer hacking, and a web of lies. How did you come up with the idea for this story? Did you use early/advanced readers for Short Drop? If so, how did they affect the story?

I started from a theme rather than a story. I wanted to write about the role of our past on our present. The idea of finding closure was near and dear to my heart at that time, and while Gibson Vaughn’s past is nothing like my own, I related to his desperate need for answers. The story itself, I built in a slow process of addition and subtraction. For example, Gibson’s hacker background was a late arrival, and originated from a conversation with a friend who works in computer security. One night at dinner, he told me about the Stuxnet virus, which was used to crash a nuclear reactor in Iran. It’s an unbelievable story, and I thought it would be interesting to write a hacker character that was truthful to how computers actually work.

Yes, I had an incredible group of advanced readers. Having readers who will give you honest feedback was critical to my success, but it takes time to cultivate them. A reader needs to trust that if they tell you the truth that you aren’t going to throw a tantrum. It was very important to me that the book appeal to both men and women, so I purposefully sought out women to read early drafts. Jenn Charles, for example, underwent a thorough rewrite after a woman, who had served in the army, took me to task for how I’d portrayed certain facets of her personality. She made great points, and helped me understand what the experience of being a woman in a male dominated field experiences. I adjusted the character accordingly, and Jenn Charles is a much more rounded character as a result.

The Short Drop has been complimented for well-developed characters, which is often unusual in thriller or action-driven writing. Would you say it is more plot-driven or character-driven?

That’s the compliment that meant the most to me, and I’d like to say that the book relies on plot/character in equal measure. Without character, the plot and action rarely have any impact on me. There’s an old cartoon called Bambi vs. Godzilla that illustrates this principle perfectly. In the cartoon, Bambi is grazing in a field. Out of nowhere, Godzilla’s foot crushes Bambi. End of cartoon. It’s so shocking and unexpected that we laugh rather than cry. An adorable woodland creature has just been heartlessly crushed by a gigantic, nuclear lizard, and we burst out laughing. Now part of the humor is the inherent mismatch of opponents coupled with the suddenness of Bambi’s death, but I think the cartoon also lampoons the laziness of a lot of action thrillers that traffic in murder and mayhem without investing the time to make the characters real. As a result, when the murder/mayhem comes along, the audience is able to stand at an emotional remove and simply spectate rather than feel invested in the outcome on anything but a surface level.

What is the one most surprising thing you’ve learned about the traditional publishing industry? What was it like working with Amazon’s own Thomas & Mercer? Have you ever considered self-publishing?

When I finished my book, I looked at the pros and cons of self versus traditional publishing. There are merits to both, and I decided to try my luck at finding an agent first, with the knowledge that self-publishing was always there to fall back on. I chose that path because I’m essentially lazy about things that I don’t love to do. I love to write; I do not love marketing or any of the other critical work of audience building that the self-published author must do and do well if they hope to succeed. There are self-published authors, Hugh Howey is the obvious example, who are brilliant at it. I had to be honest with myself that I would not be successful following his example.

I was surprised at how “small” an industry publishing is in the United States. Everyone knows everyone else and relationships are important. There is tremendous fluidity among the publishing house and the larger agencies. It’s not uncommon for agents to become editors and vice versa, or for staff to move among the various publishing houses. So protect your reputation and don’t burn bridges ever.

As for my experience with Thomas & Mercer, it has been tremendous. They are innovative and collaborative in a way that I’ve found very exciting. It’s fair if you take this with a grain of salt, but I feel incredibly fortunate to work with this group of people.

Your story is an inspiration to all aspiring writers and authors. Can you share with us the moment when you’ve realized that The Short Drop became or was about to become a huge bestseller? How did you feel?

I think it was the moment that I asked my agent, “is this normal?” I really didn’t know since I have nothing to compare it against. He said, “no, there is nothing normal about this.” He isn’t one for hyperbole so that kind of opened my eyes.

How did it feel? Relief followed swiftly by elation. It’s like the first time you ask someone out – you don’t have enough experience to know if they like you or not. So you simply put yourself out there and hope against hope that you aren’t scarred for life by their cruel rejection. And that feeling, when they actually say, “yes” … well, it’s brilliant. And then it’s over, and everything has changed and nothing. My desk is still in the same spot, and my chair stills squeaks when I rock back in it. I still have a book to finish, and I don’t get outside as much as I ought to do. But sometimes, I peek at the numbers just to confirm that I haven’t made it all up.

Congratulations again on making it to #1 in Kindle Store and staying at the top for such a long time. You’ve mentioned that Kindle First was a godsend. What marketing strategies are in place for The Short Drop now that it is available to the general public?

Thank you! The advantage and limitation of having a publisher who is also your primary bookstore is that you’re putting all of your eggs in one basket. The tools that Amazon Publishing have at their disposal in the digital realm are unique and incredibly effective. Their ability to direct market to book fans through Amazon.com is unparalleled. For example, the “daily deal” when they drop a book’s price for twenty-four hours is a great tool to boost sales/awareness. However, on the flip side, it can be difficult to reach readers who are not Amazon customers, and traditional publishers are still much better at reaching them. So I’m working with a public relations firm to raise awareness of the book outside of Amazon’s channels. I’d like to say I have a deep understanding of how it works, but mostly I work on the next book and they send me emails telling me what to do next. It’s rather lovely actually.

Is it hard to concentrate on writing the sequel with so much going on at the moment? When can we expect to see it in print?

I’d be lying if this has challenged my focus for the past few weeks, but I’m learning to tune it out while I’m working. IF that doesn’t work, I may throw my router out the window. The draft of my second book, Poisonfeather, is due early next year, and the plan is to publish in October, ’16 – which feels very, very soon.

And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring writers and authors?

There’s an old adage that goes, “write what you know.” It once possessed a kernel of truth, but like many aphorisms, it’s been stripped of its context and become terrible, limiting advice. Writing only what you know would lead to a world without science fiction and without fantasy. Jules Verne didn’t write what he know – not unless he was secretly a submarine commander, a time traveler and an astronaut. He made it up. You don’t need to be a retired lawyer to write legal thrillers, and you don’t need to be a decorated Navy Seal to write a military thriller. I’m sure it helps, but it’s not essential. I have no military background, and I’ve never hacked anything in my life. For me, the best part of writing has been the opportunity to research and talk to people with different life experience from my own. So don’t only write what you know. Actually, I think I’ll offer my own aphorism in its place: Don’t write what you know, write what you want to know.


Filed under Self-publishing and marketing

Ana Spoke to interview bestselling author Matthew FitzSimmons!

Have you ever wanted to ask a celebrity author a question? Like, I dunno, maybe the author of Short Drop – the #1 bestseller OVERALL on Kindle Store? Do you wonder how his debut novel hit big time in the oversaturated fiction market?

Well, believe it or not – you can! Unexpectedly, Matthew stumbled across our heated discussions over the reviews of his yet to be released book – which turned out to be available via Kindle First. Matthew was kind enough to post several comments and so we already know that he was picked up by Amazon’s own publishing house through an agent, and that indeed Short Drop was available via Kindle First during the entire November and that’s how it now has 1,352 reviews. Short Drop will be released to the general public on 1 December and is set to make waves, with a sequel already in the works.

That in itself was pretty amazing – I’m personally blown away that he is engaging with readers directly and not via a publicist. I was so encouraged, that I boldly asked if he would be interested in an interview on my blog. You, know, all casual and the like. Whatevs.

He replied and said he would be “delighted” to do an interview! This is when I thought of you – my dear readers and followers – you, who keep pushing my site traffic to record numbers almost every day. Without you, who would’ve noticed this blog? Certainly not a bestselling author! So it’s only fair that you get to interview him, in a way.

So here’s the plan: post your questions in the comments below, I will collate them until midnight on Tuesday, try to combine any repetitive/similar ones, and will come up with a list of 6-8 or so. I’ll get the ball rolling with these:

  1. What is the one most surprising thing you’ve learned about the traditional publishing industry?
  2. What marketing strategies are in place for Short Drop, once it goes live?
  3. Is it hard to concentrate on writing the sequel with so much going on at the moment?

Post away! You have about 24 hours to come up with a perfect question! Don’t miss this opportunity!


Filed under Self-publishing and marketing

Finally! A paid advertising site that actually works!

Well, actually it’s two sites – I accidentally scheduled two promos for the same day (10 October), and so I will never know which business to thank for catapulting Shizzle, Inc back to the bestseller lists. Yeah, baby, guess who’s back? Isa was back in top 100s – in Humor, Adventure, and General Humor! She’s slipping back down as I write this, but the proof is in the pudding. I mean, this screenshot:

Screenshot (20)

As mentioned in the previous post, I’ve paid $25 to eReader News Today to promote a $0.99 sale on Shizzle, Inc. I have also paid $10 to Awesome Gang – you can get details of both websites on my Most Super-Duper, Exhaustive, Comprehensive, and Current Listing of Free and Paid Book Advertising Websites and Ideas. So what did I get for my $35USD investment?

  1. 47 copies sold in the first day – more than in the entire previous month!
  2. Total of 61 copies sold over the promo weekend – this equates to about $20-$21USD, depending on exchange rate. A couple of these were due to my usual efforts – people were nice enough to write and let me know. Thank you!
  3. Shizzle, Inc ranking going from worse than a 1,000 to #76 on an Amazon Bestseller list.
  4. 850 KENP pages read, which is about another $5USD. KENP pages are the payment basis for books borrowed through Kindle Unlimited – I am assuming about 0.57 cents per page.
  5. Hopefully more reviews! If 10% of buyers leave a review, I should get 6-7 new ones in the next couple of weeks – and in this game, reviews are priceless.

I didn’t quite make my money back, although there could be a few late sales at a regular price and more KENP pages read, I will review the results again in a week. Who am I kidding, I will be checking stats every five minutes…

I’m so inspired by this result, that I am staging an all-out assault over the Thanksgiving weekend. The plan is to have 1-2 promos every day on 26-29 November, with a goal of reaching a #1 spot. Can I do it? I think I can – look out for another race in six weeks or so!


Filed under Shizzle, Inc.

Get Shizzle, Inc for free – my “thank you” to all of you!

Hi, everybody,

Thank you again for helping me make Shizzle, Inc happen – you’ve been with me while I was writing it, gave me advice when I was pulling my hair out during editing, and you even bought copies of my first baby, catapulting it to Amazon’s Humour Bestseller List within the first week (even if it was there only for a few hours).

I was wearing my fingers raw typing endless mad “thank you”s when I realised that no amount of exclamation marks, or even the cutest emojis can convey my gratitude. I also realised that the best way to thank someone is with stuff. Since I’m far away, don’t have much stuff to begin with, and really need the stuff I already got, I want to thank you with free copies of Shizzle, Inc. I’ve scheduled the promo to be on Amazon this weekend, although I’m buffled as to which time zone it will be. It’s a fair bet that on Saturday afternoon you should be able to download a copy. If you’ve already bought a copy, thank you double – and maybe tell your friends about the promo.

Thank you again, and please let me know what you think 🙂

Big, big hugs.


Filed under Shizzle, Inc.