Really interesting article here on the purchase of reviews–primarily positive reviews.  By David Streitfeld of the New York Times:


On June 4, 2012, I wrote a blog entitled “Going Free as a Group–Does it Still Work?”  I published the blog right before I banded together with seven other great authors to gain maximum exposure for our two free days (June 4th and 5th).  The event was called #Reads4Free.

Quite honestly, I was a bit skeptical regarding what type of results we would get.  After all, none of us had ever organized an event of that magnitude before.  Right as the event was getting ready to start, I had resigned myself to the possibility that the countless hours we had poured into preparation would not yield the results we wanted.  Results that were intimately tied to the excitement we all felt about the event.


What occurred June 4th and 5th was actually a bit startling.  Let’s start with some of the stats.  Seven of the eight books involved hit the top 100  free books on Amazon.  Doug Dorow’s “The Ninth District” topped out at #5 overall.  Rob Guthrie’s “Black Beast” topped out at #9 overall.  My second thriller, “Allegiance,” reached #15.  Elise Stokes’ second YA adventure book, “Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula,” reached the top 35.  The only book not to reach the top 100 still performed extremely well for its genre–anthologies–which generally do not climb as high as individual novels.


Gulp.  Yeah.  Over 75k books downloaded in the first #Reads4Free event.  A first event where we undoubtedly had hiccups and mistakes.  A first event where kinks will be ironed out for #Reads4Free redux.

Climbing the free charts is exciting and worthwhile in its own respect.  It means you got exposure.  People have your book in their reading device, and setting aside debates as to whether they will read it, the first step in doing so is owning it.  However, we’re in this profession for another reason, as well.  To make some money.  Especially as indie authors, we are juggling a job (or multiple jobs), families, marketing, promoting, networking, events, etc., so more than anyone else, we are relentless about the pursuit of our singular dream–making writing our full-time and only job.

So, it was important to track books after the free event, and how they performed once they went paid.  It was painfully obvious that the heyday of KDPS had passed.  With the numbers of downloads each of our books received, some of those books should have gotten into the top 50 paid books as well.  In the US at least, Doug Dorow’s book was the only one to reach that level.  However, fear not (at least, not yet) because there was a positive impact on most of our books.  Specifically, all of us had a nice bump in paid sales that we were able to maintain with other methods such as pricing and advertising.

Here are the things I took away from the event:

  1. Going free on your own and doing no pre-free preparation is absolutely off the table.  Won’t work, and in fact, could hurt your rankings.
  2. Going free as a group that works hard and works together is still viable.
  3. Going back to paid is a rough ride, but through pricing and particularly, with some well placed ads, you can mitigate that transition.

That’s dem apples.  If you’re interested in being a part of a future event, email me at

You know what I love about being indie?  My world isn’t a cloistered cave of writing and talking to just my editor and/or agent.  My world is literally full of thousands of other indie authors that brighten up everyday for me with their generosity.


Okay, that bit of sentimentality aside, I’ve actually got a point here.  Let’s start with Kindle Direct Publishing Select.  When it started out, you could go free on your own and get thousands of downloads.  But, like anything else in this (insert expletive) world, there’s no free pass to success.  Honestly, some days I wish I would wake up with two things: (1) perfect vision, dammit, and (2) about 50 million dollars.  I digress.  So, no free pass to success.  What does that mean several months after KDPS started?  Going free and doing it solo–not so successful anymore.  And you’ve heard it from a whole bunch of people who continue to do the same thing and expect the same results.  Bottom line, those results ain’t there, so we’ve got to adapt.

What’s a way to deal with this?  Think like an indie my friend.  Going “solo free” (I’ll coin that term right here) is so freaking traditional author.  Going free with a group of great indie authors?  Now you’re thinking.

Let’s get one thing straight.  Going free as a group is nothing novel.  There are other groups that do free events.  However, there’s no way any one organization can provide all of your promo needs.  For one, it makes sense to diversify your advertising dollars.  For two (can you say “for two”?), if you have multiple books, then a single organization may not have enough free events for you.  That’s kinda where I was, which is why I did the following.

Through my publishing arm (haha, always wanted to say that.  My publishing arm are these two hands, and when I can get his lazy ass going, one of my dogs), I have organized eight of the most excellent indie authors I know to go free as a group.  Of course, I know more than eight excellent indie authors, but there will be more events.  The point?  We have worked our tails off to put this event together (another reason to pay the IBC their entry fee and sit back while their staff run the promo for you!)  We have canvassed the entire world of indie publishing and advertising, or so it seems.  The bigger point.  THERE’S NO WAY YOU COULD DO THIS AS A SOLO FREE.

This world of publishing changes so damn quickly, so who knows how long going free as a group will be successful.  However, we indie authors are the small tribe that can adapt to change on a dime.  Let the bureaucracy of the traditional publishing world die.  In the meantime, we’ll evolve, come together, and take advantage of whatever we can to sell more books.

With that being said, here are the awesome authors involved in the group event, appropriately titled #Reads4Free.  You, my dear indie authors, owe it to them to go download their free books.  Just as we will owe it to you when you go free.











Oh GOODNASS, don’t those books look sexy?  Check them out on the webpage we built.  Seriously, they look dead sexy there, and you can find out more info about what you’re downloading.  Click on any cover to be transported (the click comes with a drop of acid).  Or, just click on this hyperlink:!Reads4Free/cj6w

Over and out my friends.  If you’re interested in being part of an Indie Book Collective event, or another of my #Reads4Free events through Rogue Books, then just send me an email at

I’ll be upfront–this blog post is as much for me as it is for you.  Catharsis. 

My first book, Enemy in Blue, has been selling wonderfully.  That means one of my goals in writing the book is starting to be fulfilled.  Namely, people are reading a story about a difficult and challenging subject.  What does that mean?  It means that some people are getting REALLY pissed off.

Okay, no worries.  I knew that would happen and am glad it has.  How else can you draw attention to a controversial subject?

That said, it still stings to get bad reviews.  I believe I had the honor of a recent reviewer saying my book would destroy Kindles because readers would barf all over them. Excellent.

With Enemy in Blue out a little over a year now, and having gotten a few bad reviews, I’m going to do this for you, and for me–okay?

There is No Final Answer in this Blog Post

Let me be upfront about one more thing.  I don’t have the final answer regarding how to handle bad reviews.  This is almost as much about me asking the question as me answering the question.  Further, this is a very emotional analysis.  You can’t really rationalize bad reviews, especially the really bad ones.  So, understand off the bat that you may very well deal with bad reviews differently.  Just like we all deal with emotions differently.  That’s fine.  In fact, it’s good.

Don’t Kid Yourself, Bad Reviews are Inevitable

I’ve heard this a few times.  “It’s not going to happen to me.”  Hold on while I choke back a laugh.  If you’re selling books, even if you’re selling the best book ever written, you’re going to get bad reviews.  Imagine if you went into a movie theater after an award-winning movie like The English Patient played.  You think everyone in that theater would give it 5 or even 4 stars?  That movie bored me out of my mind.  Bottom line, everyone is going to have a different perspective.

Add to the whole perspective issue the fact that with our books, people sometimes buy our genres when they don’t really like our genres.  For instance, if you wrote a romance and a person that typically reads and enjoys thrillers picks up your book, guess what, you’re behind the eight ball to start. The final exacerbating factor to getting bad reviews? Complete anonymity.  People can hide behind nondescript profile names on Amazon and leave nasty reviews.  Without the buffer of face-to-face interaction, there’s nothing stopping a bad reviewer from letting loose.

In short, if you’re selling more than a book a month, you are likely to get some bad reviews.  So, what to do with them?

Don’t Feed the Monster!

You can respond or comment on bad reviews at Amazon’s site.  Did you know that?  Well, you do now.  But, before you go responding to every person that leaves you a review, whether good or bad, remember this.  That cloak of anonymity?  If you, the author, start responding to people’s reviews, you intrude on the anonymity that people enjoy about Amazon.  They like the fact that if they want to, they can leave a bad review to “warn” other consumers about a product.  Similarly, they like leaving a good review when they have enjoyed a product.  If you step into their space, it will no doubt get ugly.

As an example, I have heard an anecdotal story of an author that responded to a bad reviewer, got into it with the person that left the review with back and forth posts on Amazon, and then Amazon lifted that author’s book from the website.  Yessir, don’t forget, Amazon cares about their customers more than their suppliers.  And, rightfully so.  Thus, think twice before you engage.  Secondly, if you engage, I would expect that other consumers would be more inclined to do the same.  Stated otherwise, your response could piss 1, 2, 3, etc. people off that may otherwise have just put your book down and not left a review.  But, if they see you advocating on behalf of your book, then they may feel justified to advocate against your book.

Again, the short and sweet of this section is to take your punches and move on.

Can Those Bad Reviews Actually…Help?

Let’s just take a behemoth book for example.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  That book has a whopping 7,254 reviews!  (An interesting analysis for another day is trying to determine the ratio of sales to reviews.  At last count, The Hunger Games sold about 18 million copies.  That means only 0.04% of people have left a review.  Innnnteresting).  Out of those reviews, Ms. Collins has 210 one-star reviews.   You think those have hurt her sales?  How about we take a classic, Pride and Prejudice?  Over 1,000 reviews, including 57 one-star reviews.  How about this trending book called Fifty Shades of Grey?  Out of 3,360 reviews, there are 962 one-star reviews.  Almost 1/3 of the reviews have been one-star!  Guess where it is ranked?  #1 overall on Amazon in the United States.

Our conclusion?  Bad reviews don’t always spell doom for your book.  Especially since we aren’t selling a high priced item, such as a tablet, people are still willing to plunk down a few bucks to give something a shot.  On top of that, I have heard from readers that some bad reviews actually lend credibility to a book.  When readers see nothing but positive reviews, they tend to think something fishy is going on.

So, remember a few things.  You’re gonna get bad reviews.  Cry, scream, throw things–you ain’t gonna change it.  When you get bad reviews, don’t exacerbate the situation by responding to them.  Create voodoo dolls, go for a run…whatever.  Just don’t respond.  Finally, those bad reviews won’t necessarily spell the end of your book.  Work on getting some good ones by submitting your book to friends, family, and other authors.

There, I feel better.  What about you?  What do you think?  Go on, comment and get a little healing yourself.

Very interesting play here.  Microsoft is going to invest $300 million in Barnes and Noble’s Nook.  Microsoft has a history of running other company’s products into the ground, so I wonder if this will be any different.  If successful, however, this could change the landscape of ereaders a bit.  Here’s the article:

I found this interesting because the video game industry is undergoing some of the same pricing issues that we are seeing in the book industry.  Namely, the introduction of quality, inexpensive products is pressuring the traditional, higher priced products.  Sound familiar?


Another very interesting article on the impact of Amazon on the publishing industry.  “Daring to Cut Off Amazon,” by David Streitfeld of  The New York Times. 

Publishers of all sizes are struggling to survive in the face of the online giant.  Where do you think the industry is headed?

With all the marketing and promotion that can go into our books, sure seems like it’s easy to forget about our craft.  With that in mind, it makes sense to post a great video and article about a presentation that Ray Bradbury gave, in which he discusses the keys to being an excellent author.  I guess if you’re going to listen to someone, Bradbury isn’t the worst example you could have, huh? 🙂

Zoe Sharp and I met in a Facebook group for authors, and I’ve got to say that I was intrigued with her Charlie Fox series right off the bat.  She has amazing reviews, and her covers are fantastic.  Haven’t gotten to reading one yet, but her latest book Fifth Victim is in my queue.

A Charlie Fox Thriller

This is the first interview I’ve done, and I’m happy I did.  So interesting!  And, I lose my man card–sucks.  Without further ado, Zoe Sharp!

Derek Blass: Charlie Fox is the heroine in your bestselling series. Tell us about her.

Zoë Sharp: Charlie Fox is definitely someone you want on your side in a fight. She’s ex-British army, kicked out in the middle of a Special Forces training course after a brutal attack by a group of her fellow trainees. The start of the series is the turning point in her life, when she comes under threat again and this time she discovers her inner killer instinct. From teaching others how to protect themselves, she progresses into the world of close-protection, protecting others. It’s a profession for which she’s well suited, and one of the few legal options open to ex-military personnel who want to use their skillset to best advantage.

I tried very hard to keep Charlie human and female—definitely not a ‘guy in nylons’. She’s torn
between going too far and not going far enough. She has a vulnerable side, but cross her and she’ll
take you down. My favourite quote about her came from the Chicago Tribune: “Ill-tempered,
aggressive and borderline psychotic, Fox is also compassionate, introspective and highly principled:
arguably one of the most enigmatic − and coolest − heroines in contemporary genre fiction.”

DB: What inspired you to start the Charlie Fox series?

ZS: The very first crime novel that really caught my attention was THE MISFORTUNES OF MR TEAL
by Leslie Charteris, since republished both as THE SAINT IN LONDON and THE SAINT IN ENGLAND. I
loved the character of Simon Templar ‘The Saint’, mainly because he went against the convention
that the detective had to be the hero of the book.

But I quickly began reading the classic thrillers by authors like Frederick Forsyth, Jack Higgins, Alistair
McLean and Clive Cussler. They were great books—I’ve always loved action and pace—but I couldn’t
help noticing that the female characters tended to be a bit on the wussy side. They screamed and
fell over and twisted their ankles a lot, and had to be rescued by the men. I wanted to read about a
woman who could fight her way out of a corner and do her own rescuing. I couldn’t find quite what
I was looking for on the shelves of my local library, so I decided I was just going to have to write my
own. Charlie Fox was the result.

DB: How did your career as an author start?

ZS: I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen, which my father—bless him—typed up for me. (OK, this dates me horribly—pre-computer days!) It did the rounds of publishers and received what’s known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’. Everybody loved it but nobody actually wanted to publish it. It still sits in a box in the attic somewhere.

On the Triumph

Slightly daunted by this, I spent my teenage years doing weird jobs like delivering yachts and being a horse-riding instructor and then ended up writing magazine articles about motoring. In a fit of wild optimism, on the strength of my first accepted article, I gave up my job to turn freelance. That was in 1988, and I’ve been making a living writing ever since.

Some years later, I was doing a regular column for one of the car magazines and every time my photograph appeared in the mag, I received death-threat letters. Really nasty, cut-out-of-newspaper jobs—like a ransom note—telling me they knew where I lived and my days were numbered.

This had two effects. The first was I took a sudden and very earnest interest in learning self-defence, which has come in enormously handy not only as research, but also because I occasionally do self-defence demonstrations at conventions like Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, and CrimeFest.

DB: “Fifth Victim” is your latest book. What is Charlie up to in this latest installment?

ZS: FIFTH VICTIM sees Charlie on Long Island, the playground of New York’s wealthy and privileged, looking after Dina, the daughter of a rich businesswoman, from threat of kidnap. At the same time, Charlie is trying to come to terms with the after-effects of her last job in California, during which her lover was shot and left for dead, and is still in a coma.

It’s a book about not knowing what you have until it’s gone, and about what you might be prepared
to do in order to get it back.

DB: Now more than ever, there are tons of books being published. Why should someone dig into
the Charlie Fox series?

ZS: Oh, that puts me on the spot, doesn’t it? And I’m a Brit—we blow our own trumpets really badly. Read them if you like a good story, a fast pace, a heroine who’s real and damaged and resourceful, and who grows as the series evolves.

Last year I put up the whole series in e-format so people can finally start from the beginning without difficulty. If you want to dip a toe in the water, there’s also FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection, which contains five stories of Charlie that span her career and give you a real taste of the character and the world in which she moves.

Apart from that, I’m going to quote one of my heroes in the crime thriller genre, Lee Child: “If I were a woman, I’d be Zoë. If Jack Reacher were a woman, he’d be Zoë’s main character, Charlie Fox.”

DB: On a personal note, your Facebook page has you sitting on a Buell motorcycle. Does that say
something about your personality?

ZS: Oh Derek—you lose a Man Card for that 🙂 It’s a Triumph Street Triple, not a Buell. (Charlie rides a Buell Firebolt in FIFTH VICTIM, and still has a Honda FireBlade sitting in storage at home in the UK.) I’m tempted by a Ducati Monster next, actually …

But, to get back to your question, I suppose it does. It says I’m not averse to calculated risk in certain areas. That I like to move fast, but always stay in touch with my surroundings and what’s happening around me. When you ride a motorcycle you’ve got to be there, every second, looking for threats and hidden dangers before they appear. If you snooze or you’re likely to end up dead. These were characteristics I wanted for Charlie, too, which is why she rides a motorcycle in just about every
book in the series.

DB: For the authors out there reading this, what thoughts do you have on a path to success in the

ZS: Wow, how long have you got? Basically, the first—best—thing you can do is write the very best book you can. If you’re going the indie publishing route, get the book professionally edited and proofread and get a really great cover. Do what you can to get your name out but without ramming it down people’s necks. Be professional, be polite, and pay it forwards. Take reviews—good and bad—with grace and equanimity. Listen to all editorial comment but then apply the rule of thirds:

One third of advice you follow absolutely.

One third of advice you consider.

One third of advice you ignore completely.

(Of course, working out which third is which is the tricky part …)

The final piece of advice is that persistence is everything in this game. I have often thought there are more persistent published writers than there are talented published writers. You’re going to take a lot of hits—somebody once told me that writers have to face more criticism in a year than most people face in a lifetime. How you respond to those knock-backs will define you. Keep working to improve your craft.

DB: Do you have a “must” when you’re writing (i.e. music, coffee, a great view, etc.)?

ZS: LOL! I’d love to say I have a rider that includes a permanent supply Jelly Belly jelly beans (with the cinnamon and root beer ones removed) and fresh-brewed Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, but in truth, I’ll write anywhere and under just about any circumstances.

If I’m at home I do listen to music a LOT when I write. Nothing creates the mood or atmosphere I need for a particular scene faster. But really, if you’re a writer, you write wherever and whenever you can. All I need is a pencil and a load of scrap paper (also known as a myPad or an iBrain) and I’ll scribble.

In fact, I’ve found I work better if I make detailed notes just before I start on each new chapter, so time away from my computer can often be really productive. And long car journeys are great for untangling knotty bits of plot. I often work on my laptop in the car. But NOT while I’m driving!

DB: What’s next in the pipeline for you in terms of books?

ZS: I’ve delivered the next in the series, DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten, to my publisher, so now I’m indulging myself. For years I’ve had an idea for a supernatural thriller that I’ve kept putting off writing. Its time has finally come! I started in early March and am already halfway through the story. After that I’m going to start on what I hope will be the first in a trilogy with a new female protagonist who’s a bit like Charlie … with the brakes off. Plus I have a standalone crime thriller that’s waiting for edits, and then I’ll be back to Charlie for the eleventh installment in the winter. (She says breezily… Actually, I’m having cold sweats thinking about the amount of work I’ve taken on this year, but I’ve always thought that sleep is very overrated!)

DB: You obviously have a loyal base of readers. Anything you want to say to them?

ZS: “Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!” Without readers, we’re talking to ourselves in an empty room. The feedback I get from people constantly touches me. Writing can be a very isolated business and knowing that your voice is being heard and liked and understood is wonderful.

A satisfied reader is always a writer’s best friend.

Derek, thank you so much for inviting me to chat. It’s been a blast!

Don’t you just think she’s great?  Can’t wait to dig into your books, Zoe!  All of here books are available on Amazon, but click on this cover to start with Fifth Victim!

Another Charlie Fox Thriller!

Okay, gotta admit that I almost made this mistake.  In fact, I DID make the mistake, but thanks to a small group of amazing authors I associate with on Facebook, I caught it before publishing my second book.  The mistake–using the lyrics of another person’s song in the book.

In the back of my mind, I thought two things.  First, I’m no mega-bestseller, so who the hell cares?  Second, fair use, right?  Wrong.  Starting with the second point, there is no fair use for songs because they are too short.  Apparently, it is acceptable to use thetitleof the song, but none of the words.  Not even a couple.  As to the second point, even if you’re not a bestseller, you can get nabbed for using what amounts to copyrighted material from another artist.  And, removing the reference won’t necessarily help you avoid a lawsuit.  Finally, citation to the song is not sufficient to cover your butt either.

In short, get permission to use the lyrics, just avoid using another artist’s lyrics at all, or write your own damn song!  Good luck writing Stairway to Heaven though…

Here is a very good article I found online by Lori Lake on the topic (it spells out the legalities in more detail).