Monday, November 26, 2018

Review of Allegiant (and the Divergent Trilogy) by Veronica Roth

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)Allegiant by Veronica Roth
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

*** Spoilers Ahead ***

I liked the first two books in this trilogy enough to give them 4 stars. I thought the idea of the factions and the serums and other aspects of the story were interesting. Unfortunately, the Divergent trilogy turned out to be a letdown for many of the same reasons Ender's Game, The Maze Runner trilogy and The Wayward Pines trilogy were a let down. With all these books/book series I felt the author started with a great idea but couldn't come up with good reasons for why things happened the way they did.

I expected Allegiant to provide an explanation for why the factions existed and it did do that. But the explanation made no sense at all. We find out that the factions and factionless are living in a giant experiment to produce genetically pure people. Like with The Maze Runner, the people who hold an enormous amount of power and who have all kinds of advanced technology at their disposal manage to come up with overly complex ways of dealing with problems.

The main goal in Divergent was to lessen the number of Genetically Damaged people and increase the number of Genetically Pure people. While listening to Allegiant, I continually wondered why the government wouldn't use some kind of controlled sterilization and breeding program. It would have been no more unethical than what they were doing and much more effective. It would definitely have been cheaper and less complex. For reasons I couldn't fathom, and the author couldn't explain, they kept people trapped in Chicago, continually monitored them, and allowed them to slaughter each other (and that included allowing their prized Genetically Pures to be killed).

Throughout this series, the relationship between Four/Tobias and Tris irked me. Their constant bickering annoyed me enough that I turned off Insurgent a couple of times. Yes, they love each other but they're clearly a dysfunctional couple. The Hunger Games had a similar situation with Gale and Katniss but by the last book Katniss saw Gale for who he really was. Not Tris though. Even after Tobias' stupidly got a friend killed, she still takes him back. And then things get even worse. Roth kills off Tris in the end while Tobias gets to live in a suddenly almost perfect world where we can assume he'll use his troubled childhood as an excuse to emotionally abuse some other girl. I think Roth may have killed off her MC simply because other YA books don't do that. But this attempt to be different made the ending even more pointless and unsatisfying.

Despite these complaints, I'm giving Allegiant two stars because it was often entertaining enough to make housework bearable.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Why I Didn't Care for Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (A Review)

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For years I've been aware of Ender's Game and its controversial author but never got around to reading it. Considering the hype around it and the awards it won, I went into it with high hopes that were soon dashed. It's not a bad book and I don't regret reading it. The overall plot idea was interesting but badly executed. I feel that in the hands of a better author this could have been a genuinely interesting book.

In the story, a group of fighters from Earth are preparing to annihilate the descendants of a race they call buggers. The buggers had attacked Earth in the past so a plan was put in place to launch a preemptive war to prevent a potential third attack. I love this idea and think it presents a lot of interesting moral and ethical questions but the author doesn't address these questions with the depth they deserve. Ender is a child genius, the only one capable of leading an attack on the buggers. However, when Ender destroys them, he doesn't know he's doing it. He believes he's playing a simulated type game and throws a mini fit when he's informed he has committed genocide against a group we later learn wasn't going to attack Earth again. In fact, this isn't the only time Ender has killed someone. He had killed twice before. Again, he had no intention of doing so, and wasn't even aware anyone had died until later.

And this was my biggest problem with the story. Ender this amazing child genius tasked with saving the world is always portrayed as a victim, someone without any real agency. We must hold him blameless at all times because he never makes choices. His actions are always forced upon him by watchful adults who refuse to intervene to protect him. As a result, Ender comes off as a very one-dimensional character. I would have preferred if he was someone who was aware of what he was doing and who had to struggle with the moral and ethical implications of his decisions. That could have made this a truly thought-provoking book.

Instead Ender accidentally commits genocide. Card seems more interested in creating a sympathetic figure than a complex one forced to make hard choices. We're always supposed to feel sorry for Ender because he was never in control. This despite the fact that he killed two people by using extreme force. His reasoning is to prevent future persecution and it wasn't really bad because he didn't mean to kill them. And they're presented as really awful people out to destroy Ender so we can't hold him accountable. Even when Ender does struggle with moral questions, they never seem to go too deep.

So while I like the overall plot idea and the setting, the desire to protect his protagonist from any kind of blame ruined the story for me. As one critic of the book said,

"Card sets up Ender to be the sincere, abused innocent, and rigs the game to make us accept that he does no wrong. I see the entire purpose of the "remote war by game" trick in the novel as a device to make this argument plausible. But in the real world genocide is not committed by accident."

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

Why I loved Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many readers seem to think of Mockingjay as a disappointing end to an otherwise great series, but I actually put it on the level of the other books in the Hunger Games series. Unlike many stories where the hero/heroine has traumatizing experiences, but is largely unaffected by them, in Mockingjay we see Katniss spiral into depression. We see her struggle with PTSD. It's not just that she's seen and experienced much death and destruction. She believes that she caused them. That she was the spark that caused the conflagration. And she struggles with that. She's not presented as an automaton, but as a human being. And yet despite what may come across as weakness or frailty, she still saves the day in the end. But in a way I would never have predicted. She's only seventeen in this book which is something many critics of her behavior seem to forget. She's still a child, but one who was forced into the role of an adult at the age of twelve. She has a lot of anger and is often emotionally detached.

*** Some spoilers ahead ***

The other thing I loved about the book was how the leader of the revolution President Coin is no better than President Snow. That's something we've seen many times in history where revolutionary leaders turn out to be just as, if not more oppressive than the people they fought to overthrow. Katniss is a pawn in the violent dispute between them. She knows this, but feels she has little choice in the matter. Events are controlling her, not the other way around. This just adds to her sense of anger and frustration. I also love the dark feeling of the book, how it captures the horror, fear, and futility of war.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was the pointless mission to kill Snow. I get that Collins needed to move the story forward and bring Katniss into the larger struggle, but this subplot made no sense. Katniss was smart enough to know it would never work and responsible enough to not drag others along. Gale, Boggs, Finnick, all of them would have known it was pointless. That whole aspect of the story, while well written and engaging, went against what we already know about the characters. But this is something I can overlook because the book does so many things right.

Collins could have taken the end of this trilogy in a more predicable direction and earned a lot more 5 star reviews in the process, but I'm glad she didn't. And I do understand why many readers were disappointed in the end. I've read books where I expected a story to end one way but it went in a completely different direction, and I felt empty as a result. This book went in a completely different direction than I expected, but I think it worked. I'm glad Collins chose to present Katniss as a pawn rather than some kind of super human who is somehow able to rise above the machinations of people with a lot more power than her. Despite her role as a symbol of the rebellion, the war is like a big game and she is rightly presented as a small and largely insignificant piece in it. I like that Katniss is a flawed heroine who never truly recovers from the horrific events she had to experience and witness. I'm glad that Katniss ended up with Peeta who is open-minded, thoughtful and emotional, over Gale who is quick to anger, filled with rage and unconcerned about her feelings when it's obvious she isn't ready for a relationship. I like that Katniss is imperfect, sometimes weak, sometimes angry, sometimes brittle, but even as an imperfect heroine she saves her nation from what would have been a future as brutal as the past. I can't think of a better end to such a great trilogy.

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Review of Wayward by Blake Crouch

Wayward (Wayward Pines, #2)Wayward by Blake Crouch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are aspect of both Pines and Wayward that I love. The atmosphere and mystery keep me reading, and I'll definitely finish the series. The thing that has sort of ruined the books for me is some things that happen come across as illogical to me. I keep asking myself questions like why would someone do X when Y would have made far more sense. This book is worth a read if you like action, thriller and mystery. But be prepared for some things to not make a whole lot of sense.

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

How effective are free eBook promotion websites?

If you have a self-published eBook on Amazon's KDP service, one promotion opportunity available to you is offering your book for free. This can be a good way to get reviews or word-of-mouth advertising. You can make a book available for free for five days every quarter and how you use those days is up to you. There are several websites available that will promote your free eBook at no cost. While you won't spend money on these sites, you will spend time filling in submission forms.

I wanted to test the effectiveness of these websites using my Young Adult (YA) novel "Io Hunter and the Guardians of Aldernar" which was made available free for one day. The test was done on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. I submitted the book to the following websites:

  • * 
  • * 
  • * 
  • * * 
  • *

I didn't do any other types of promotion other than retweeting a couple of tweets from two of these services. A week before the promotion, I spent thirty minutes filling in the submission forms for each site. The sites in the list with an asterisk next to them either didn't promo my book or if they did, I was unable to find it ( didn't accept this book, but did accept my other book The Girl at the Well for an earlier promo). I know with certainty that my book appeared on five of these sites. 

The book appeared on: 5 websites
Downloads: 6
Average: 1.2 downloads per site
Time spent per download: 5 minutes

These are obviously disappointing results. I put in 30 minutes of work but only got 6 downloads, which is 5 minutes per download. During an earlier free day, I only promoted the book on Twitter and got 13 downloads. Each indie author needs to decide for themselves whether the time and effort involved in submitting their book is worth it, especially when you consider that six downloaded books doesn't necessarily mean six new readers. Many people who download books for free might not read them for months if they ever do. So perhaps these six downloads might lead to one or two new readers. I might continue to use some of the five websites that accepted this book and because they accepted another one of my books. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Results of using Bargain Booksy for a 99 cents young adult (YA) eBook promo

Over the coming months, I'll provide details of my personal experiences as a new indie author promoting an eBook. A lot of what I'll be doing is trial and error. I hope to give other new indie authors some tips on what to do or not to do. However, what works for me may not work for you, and what doesn't work for me may work for you. 

On June 12, 2018, I did a paid promo with Bargain Booksy for my young adult (YA) fantasy book The Girl at the Well. This is a tier two book promotion website. Many top tier websites are expensive for new authors and it's hard to get a book accepted. Bargain Booksy is a high tier site but more affordable and easier for new authors to get listed on. One thing I love about their site is they don't remove books the day after a promotion finishes. Each book remains on the site for several days. 

My book was listed at $0.99 for the promo. I chose Bargain Booksy because I had heard so many good things about them. Even authors who complained about not doing well said they got about twenty-five sales. So, I thought I would give it a go. The cost for a one day promotion for YA books is $25. That cost varies by genre. I paid $23.75 because I used the coupon code PAIDAUTHOR. With my book listed at 99 cents, I would make a per book royalty of 35 cents. To break even, I would have needed to sell 68 books. I didn't have any expectation of that happening, but I hoped to sell around twenty and get some reads on Kindle Unlimited as well. Unfortunately, I didn't do so well. I sold only four books and had 593 KENP reads on Kindle Unlimited. That's about three readers. Since this site works for so many self-published authors, it's probably worth a try. But it is quite a big financial loss if it doesn't work out.

 If you want more details on my promotion, watch the video overview.


Results of using bknights on Fiverr for free eBook promo

Over the coming months, I'll provide details of my personal experiences as a new indie author promoting an eBook. A lot of what I'll be doing is trial and error. I hope to give other new authors some idea of what to do or not to do. Of course, what works for me may not work for you, and what doesn't work for me may work for you. 

In this instance, I’ll cover a promo campaign I did with bknights for my young adult (YA) fantasy book The Girl at the Well. This service is available for purchase through Fiverr. The promo is affordable at only $5, but you also have to pay a $2 fee to Fiverr. Promoted books are featured on the website (you can pay $5 more to be featured in the newsletter). Authors can promote free or paid books, but free will usually result in far more downloads.

Amazon allows authors to provide their book for free for five out of every ninety days. I like to spread these free days over those ninety days. This means I do one to two free days per month. Prior to my bknights promo, I typically got a handful of downloads. My maximum for The Girl at the Well was only thirteen. I felt like these promo days were being wasted and determined it was time for some paid promo. With bknights, I got 178 downloads, which exceeded my expectations. I haven't yet received any reviews as a result of the promotion but it's only been a few weeks and people can take weeks or months to get around to reading books they download. 

Overall, I was delighted with this promo. Although results do seem to vary based on book placement. If a book is closer to the top of the site, it will likely get more downloads. If a book is placed further down, it may not fare as well. So, there is some risk involved. I would like to promote a 99 cent book with them at some point to see what the results are. You can follow my blog or subscribe to my YouTube channel to get the results of my future promotions.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Using Snickslist to Promote your eBook (A Review) offers low cost promotion for indie authors starting at $0.99 for one day. This is my experience doing a one day promotion for my book The Girl at the Well. Over the coming months, I'll be doing more promotions. I'll make a video for each one to give other self published authors an idea of what did and did not work for me.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

How to eliminate blank pages when uploading files to CreateSpace or similar websites

The file for your eBook looks perfect. You excitedly upload it to CreateSpace, wait a few minutes for it to process, launch the previewer only to find there are blank pages that don't exist in your original file. You stare in horror wondering what the heck is going on and how do I fix this? This was an unexpected problem I ran into when I first uploaded a .docx file from Google Docs to CreateSpace. Another problem you may run into is chapter headings that are pushed down a few lines even though they are at the top of the page in your document. 

Show Add-On for Google Docs
The fix for these kinds of problems is quite simple. When you type out a book, make changes, delete things, push sentences or headings down, etc. a lot of junk builds up on the page. You don't see this junk but it can impact how CreateSpace interprets your uploaded file. To eliminate this junk, you need to see and delete unnecessary non-printable characters. If you don't know how to do this with your word processing software, use Google to learn how. In Microsoft Word, you will find non-printable characters under File, Display, Options, and then check Paragraph marks. If you use Google Docs, you will need to get an Add On. Go to Add-Ons, then Get add-on. In the Search, type show. Click Free to download Show by pasgoude. To use it, go to Add-Ons, Show, Activate show extensions. Go to Add-Ons, Show and then choose Show All. The non-printable marks will become visible. 

A lot of these marks are necessary such as those backward p-like symbols at the end of each paragraph. These serve as either paragraph or line breaks. But look at the one highlighted with red. That could cause a problem when uploaded to a website like CreateSpace. You should use page breaks to make sure new chapters start on new pages. As long as those are set, you should be able to eliminate all these unnecessary page breaks that may in some cases cause a blank page to appear or push down a paragraph heading. Hide the paragraph marks before uploading your file again.

Example of an unnecessary non-printable character

Friday, April 13, 2018

Why indie and aspiring authors should avoid adverbs in their writing

One of the best known movies of all time is The Wizard of Oz. It's based on the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by author L. Frank Baum. If you read just the first chapter, you'll notice Baum made liberal use of adverbs.

"Uncle Henry sat upon the doorstep and looked anxiously at the sky."
"Suddenly Uncle Henry stood up."
"...she lost her footing and sat down suddenly upon the floor."
"The house whirled around two or three times and rose slowly through the air."
"Toto did not like it. He ran about the room, now here, now there, barking loudly;"

All these examples are from the first chapter. If you read a lot, you almost certainly see plenty of adverbs in fiction. Yet, if you look for writing advice, you'll almost certainly be urged to avoid using adverbs. That may be surprising to would-be authors who are used to seeing adverbs in fiction, including in widely known classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. There are a few reasons why writers are urged to avoid using adverbs as much as possible.

You Are Telling, Not Showing
Another piece of advice writers often come across is "show, don't tell." Look at these sentences.

"The boy ran quickly to his house."
"The boy was a blur as he ran to his house."

The second sentence is more visual, and lets the reader see what's happening.

Adverbs are often redundant. Look at this example.
Bryan wondered where his toy soldiers were. When he entered the kitchen his younger brother was about to throw them into the trash.
"Don't you dare," he shouted.
Compare it to this.
Bryan wondered where his toy soldiers were. When he entered the kitchen his younger brother was about to throw them into the trash.
"Don't you dare," he shouted angrily.
Angrily in the second example is redundant. It's obvious based on the context and the word 'shouted' that Bryan is angry. Overuse of adverbs can weaken writing when they aren't necessary. 

This is not to say they can never be used or that they are always unnecessary. In this example, the adverb is necessary to show the reader how the father speaks to the daughter.
She was sulking when she got into the car.
"Is something wrong?" her father asked. 
She was sulking when she got into the car.
"Is something wrong?" her father asked soothingly.
You could avoid the adverb with a sentence like this.
"Is something wrong?" her father asked. His voice was as soft as cotton.
I personally prefer the adverb in this case. It perfectly captures what I want to say without being wordy. As a writer you need to use your own judgment. When writing a first draft, don't worry about adverbs. But when you're editing your work, try to eliminate as many as possible. Look for ways you can show, rather than tell. And watch out for redundant adverbs that add nothing.

 Look at these possible rewrites of some sentences from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

"Uncle Henry shot up."
"...she lost her footing and fell upon the floor."
"The house whirled around two or three times, then rose like a feather on a gentle breeze."

Monday, March 12, 2018

How movie review embargoes can predict box office and critical success

If you pay attention to movies on social media or on discussion forums, you've almost certainly heard of movie review embargoes. The term is pretty much self-explanatory. Movie studios allow critics to view movies ahead of the official release day with the agreement that reviews won't be posted until a specific date. This arrangement can be beneficial to both the studios and the reviewers. Without embargoes, reviewers would be under pressure from their publications to publish reviews for movies as soon as possible. For highly anticipated movies that could be almost immediately after viewing. That's a lot of pressure on reviewers who would have to run to the nearest coffee shop to belt out a review, leaving them with no time to really think about and digest the movie. How you feel about a movie on your way home from the theater may be different than how you feel the next day after you've had some time to ponder it. Reviews written in a short time span will likely be filled with lots of knee-jerk reactions instead of thoughtful analysis. 

Of course, embargoes also benefit studios. They allow them to control the timing of both good and bad publicity. An embargo end date can give some insight into how studios themselves feel about their own movie. I was surprised when I visited Rotten Tomatoes and saw a score for the movie Love Simon a week before its release date. Movies usually get a Rotten Tomatoes score two or three days before release. The early score for Love Simon indicates that the studio felt they had a great movie on their hands. When I initially saw the RT score, it was at 92%. Such a positive score can generate buzz and excitement around an upcoming film.

If a studio believes they have a dud on their hands, the opposite will likely happen. Simon Brew wrote about his experience reviewing A Good Day To Die Hard in the article "Movie embargoes: what are they, and why do they matter?" on The studio had so little confidence in the film they held a press screening at 9.30 p.m. the night before it opened.
"Now: the film itself finished at just gone 11pm, so that left just an hour before people could post their reviews. Many saw this as damage limitation from Fox, and I’m one of them. How many people, after all, could belt out a review of A Good Day To Die Hard in an hour flat, to have it ready for the exact minute they were able to post their review? The gamble was not many, thus meaning the negative reviews wouldn’t start flowing until people had bought their tickets."
Negative reviews can drive down ticket sales at the box office. Delaying the publication of bad reviews could at the very least give a mediocre movie a strong first weekend opening. The studio-imposed embargo for DC's super hero flick Justice League lifted at 2:50 a.m. EST on November 15, 2017. The release date was November 17. The review embargo for Marvel's Black Panther lifted on Tuesday, February 6th, 2018, ten full days before its release. Justice League has an RT score of only 40% while Black Panther has a score of 97%. The embargo end date can tell you a lot about how studios feel about their own movies. 

In addition to review embargoes, movie studios also have social media embargoes that prevent critics from posting anything about a movie on social media until a specific date. The social media embargo for Justice League ended on November 10, seven days before its release. The social media embargo for Black Panther ended on January 30, sixteen days before its release. 

The social media embargo for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle ended a whole month before the December 20, 2017 release date. Many people expected the remake of Robin Williams' Jumanji to be a disaster, especially after negative reactions to the trailers. The studio likely believed they hand a hit on their hands and they knew many people expected the worst, so they generated buzz early by allowing critics to post their opinions well before the official release. Reviews also began appearing online about two weeks before the movie's official release date. The early positive buzz and 76% score likely contributed to the film earning over $900 million at the box office.
If you want to get an idea of how good a particular movie will be, use google to find out when the social media and movie review embargoes will end. If they end well in advance of the release date, it likely indicates the studio feels confident about the movie. If the studio is cutting it close, it could indicate a lack of confidence. However, Wonder Woman, proves this isn't a perfect predictor of quality. Wonder Woman was released on June 2nd, 2017 but reviews didn't start appearing online until May 29, just a few days before the official release. The review embargo was supposed to be lifted the day before the release but was moved up. DC movies are usually panned by critics, which could explain the reluctance to allow earlier reviews. In hindsight, Warner Bros. likely regrets delaying what turned out to be overwhelmingly positive reviews for Wonder Woman. The movie has an RT score of 92% and was the third biggest movie at the box office in 2017. 

Review of Allegiant (and the Divergent Trilogy) by Veronica Roth

Allegiant by Veronica Roth My rating: 2 of 5 stars *** Spoilers Ahead *** I liked the first two books in this trilogy enough to give t...