How To Be A Better Human (in theory)!

Between unannounced projects cropping up like hydra’s and a trio of computers cahooting to end the tyranny of their human overlord by committing near simultaneous suicide, the last month or so has been wonky. Which is why ya’ll haven’t seen me in a hot minute. But now I’m back and I’m gonna do a blitzkrieg styled post to get everybody on the same page, so without further adieu, buckle up and grab the ‘Oh shit’ handle, we’re going to lightspeed.

Wait, what do you mean this thing doesn’t go to lightspeed? How ’bout the speed of sound? Uh… as fast as a Fiat rolling downhill? Rollerblading downhill? Somersaulting downhill?

panda roll

Ah, there we go. Alright, let’s try this again: Buckle up and grab your “Oh shit” love-handles, we’re going to somersaulting-down-a-hill-speed. Boy, that sounds way less cool.

Anyhoo, first up on the agenda, I turned 31 this month. Woot woot. I’m officially old, right? Well, perhaps not. If current estimates of life expectancy are correct I suppose I’m only at about a 1/3 life crisis, so still young at heart, though the body seems to be breaking down more than ever these days.

Now that I’m considered a village elder (of some peculiar village out in the rain forest that you’ve never heard of, don’t bother fact checking me, just trust that I’m not lying. I’m totally a village elder, promise), I’d like to share with you a couple knowledge nuggets I’ve accrued over the past thirty years.

1) Put Other People First

We are all the centers of our own Universes.

World Revolves Around Me

But the world, as a whole, is a better place when we remember this fact and yet actively try to disprove it. We never fully can, of course. Self-preservation is hardwired into us humans, it’s part of what makes us so successful as a species. But there’s a lot to be gained by putting other people first and, for a time, allowing yourself to be sucked into the gravitational well of their lives.

*I am incredibly bad at this.*

2) Take Care Of Yourself

A good argument could be made for putting this one on the top of the list. If you can’t take care of yourself, then it’s impractical to think you’ll be of much help to others. But it’s too easy to fall into the trap of, “I’m not ready,” especially for people floating around my age, or a bit younger. We’re so focused on our own futures and outcomes that it’s difficult to see how we can be of much use to others until we’ve firmly established ourselves into the world. If you keep waiting for the day you feel grown up and ready, however, then chances are you’ll spend your entire life waiting.

Here’s the quick and dirty list to taking care of yourself:

-Exercise: I don’t care how, but make sure you’re doing it. Whether it’s jazzercizing in the park, excessively vigorous sexual escapades, or just doing 5,000 jumping jacks every morning, get that heart pumping. Don’t put it off for tomorrow, do it today.

-Eat Better: Be conscious of what you’re putting into your body. As a general rule always ask yourself “Why am I putting this in my mouth?” Listen, you don’t need to follow some fancy new-fangled diet, ’cause quite frankly, they don’t work. All you need is to exercise some critical thinking and conscientious eating habits, the rest will probably take care of itself.

-Brush Your Teeth and Wear Sunscreen: This is one of those classic “Do as I say, not as I do” moments.

-Get Your Finances In Order: Again, I’m a creative type, and we’re not always known for our long term thinking/planning skills. Money in particular is one of those things most people don’t “like” thinking about. But not thinking about it isn’t gonna make it go away. As my Dad has told me since high school, “Make a budget, have a plan.” It’s that simple.

Do these things and you greatly increase your chances of a somewhat happy geriatric experience when you finally get there (or so I’m told).

3) Plan For The Future, But Live In the Now.

Young people, in general, are much, much unhappier than old people. Why? Studies show that old people spend less time stressing out about the future. Faced with their own mortality, they realize there’s not much point in fretting unnecessarily about the far future, this frees them to focus on the things that really matter, such as the present.

It takes some mental gymnastics to juggle these competing mindsets. On the one hand, for a guy like me, statistics show I have about another sixty years to live. But on the other hand, there’s always the chance I get smooshed tomorrow by a semi-truck driven by a super intelligent chimpanzee recently escaped from the black ops government research facility just down the road.

So I mean, shit can go sideways at any moment. Try not stressing on that too hard.

But do stress a little bit. Hedge your bets and have a contingency plan for old age. Once in place, stop worrying about it.

4) Have Goals

I’m a very goal oriented person. Part of that is related to my ADHD. Goals help us focus on the thing we need to do to accomplish the things we want to do.

Let’s unpack that a bit. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you come from a socioeconomic background that affords you the ability to do pretty much anything you want (given enough time/effort/skill/talent/money). The important question you have to ask yourself is: What do I want?

It’s a consequence of my age and geographical position in the world that everybody I currently know could conceivably do *anything* (within certain limits, of course. I’m using hyperbole to make a point, suck it up) they set their minds too. The problem, and this goes across the board, it’s hard to decide what we want when faced with so many options. Compound that with the fact that we won’t be the same person tomorrow as we are today, and setting any sort of reasonable goal to guide our life for twenty years down the road seems a crap shoot at best.

A lot of my close friends are (and I used to be) paralyzed by this fact, instead choosing to ride the winds of destiny wherever those gusty zephyrs might blow. Which is fine, up to a point. We all need a moratorium period to really figure out who we are and what we want out of life (lord knows I did), but eventually you’ve got to move out of that mindset. Consequently, once you have goals in place, life becomes a bit less stressful and a lot more fulfilling.

So how do we set goals? I think I’ve done a blog post on this before, but I’ll rehash the nitty-gritty.

A speedometer with red needle pointing to Reach Goal, encouraging people to get motivated

-Set long terms goals. Example: In ten years I want to be a full-time author.

-Set medium term goals. Example: In five years I want to have published *such and such* many books.

-Set short term goals. Example: Write everyday.

These are intensely oversimplified, but they give us a framework. Long term goals are hard, but conceivable. For example: “Become NBA superstar” is unfeasible for me at this point in my life. That’s not a goal, it’s a dream.

goals are dreams wiith deadlines

Sorry to say, but I missed the “Become NBA superstar” deadline.

Long term goals can be nebulous things, but the more you nail them down in specifics, the better. Instead of saying “full-time author”, figure out what that actually means. Is it tied to financials or publications? If it’s tied to money, how much constitutes full-time to you? Figure this out at the beginning and understand that the details will likely shift along the way. That’s okay. It’s a good idea to annually revise your goals as life and circumstance change.

Medium term goals are the bridge, the checkpoint, that helps you gauge your progress towards the long term goal. Make these obtainable, though not easy.

Short term goals are absolutely obtainable, things that you can do right this moment, and are (on their own) relatively easy. Write everyday is on face value very easy. That is until life crops up and you run out of time, energy, or whatever.

Short term goals are frustrating because they are incredibly easy on their own. It’s doing them day in, day out, for years at a time, where they become unwieldy little bitches. This is where the 10,000 hour rule comes into play. Don’t know what that is? Google Malcolm Gladwell and learn, it’s an important concept regardless of what you hope to accomplish in life.

An easy way to visualize this is to put your long term goals at the top of a mountain. Your medium goals are base-camps spread out at regular intervals along the way. Short term goals are the countless individual steps you have to take along the way to ascend the mountain. There is no Donald Trump’esque escalator to get you up there, you’ve got to do the work yourself.

Start now.

5) Never Stop Learning

Doesn’t matter what, how, or why, just do it. Don’t become stagnant, don’t be boring. Learn, grow, try, and fail. Then repeat. Always. Until you die. Then start over in the afterlife.

never stop learning

Alright, alright. I could keep going indefinitely, ’cause I like spackling you with advice that I, myself, am horrible at following, but I’ll save you from my hypocrisy and end the torture now. Get down to the comments and let me know what you’ve been up to this summer. What goals you’ve set, what things you’ve learned, and which people have sucked you into the vortex of their lives.

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One Day Only: Time Heist For Fleas!

I’ve been hitting the ginger ale pretty hard this morning. What I meant to say is: Time Heist for FREE!! Yeah, that makes more sense and seems a better deal for all parties involved.

Seriously, I don’t want your fleas, but thanks for asking.

Okay, so I screwed the pooch the other day when I announced Sins of the Father was free and that got me feeling pretty crummy. So here is my lame attempt at making it up to ya’ll. Until the end of the day, bop on over to Amazon and get yourself a free digital copy of Time Heist.

If you don’t read on Kindle devices, no problem. Just shoot me an email at anthony@onelazyrobot.com and I’ll send you whatever sort of format your little heart desires.

But you’d better be all Speedy Gonzalez about it ’cause this offer only lasts until the end of the day.

Click the pic below to be magically transported to Amazonia.

time heist

Another Free Story? Madness!

*EDIT* Uh, due to some technical issues with Amazon, this post came out a bit premature. So, uh… Sins of the Father won’t be free until Wednesday. Whoops. Sorry to have lied so blatantly to you all.*

So Sins of the Father came up to me yesterday and said, “Hey Anthony, what the heck? Why am I gettin’ no love over here?”

I try not making eye contact with Sins of the Father because it’s got a history of violence and mental illness. Sure, it’s only a novella. You’d think that would give me some sort of advantage if we got into a tussle, but you’d be wrong. Sins of the Father is a psychological thriller that holds no punches. None! Zero. Those punches are too busy flying towards your face and emotions and heart-strings. It’s horrible.

You should read it. So here ya go, ’cause I like the way you cut your jib over there, here’s a free copy of Sins of the Father. Click the pic and get it now. Also, it’s not too late to get a copy of Parallel for free. It’s less psychological thriller, and more space opera (or something?) but no less of an emotional sucker-punch.

Correction Parallel - High Resolution

Science Fiction Has Gotten A Little…Gay.

This is going to be another touchy subject so let’s all promise to be on our best behavior right out of the gate? If not, I’m prepared to throw down, if you know what I mean.

*smacks a riding crop menacingly into the palm of his hand*

Good. Now that we’re all reading the same book, let’s get on the same page by giving you a bit of my own background. I’ve lived in Oakland, CA for the past four years. Before that I lived in Minneapolis, MN. This is important because these two cities (If you include San Francisco into the conversation alongside Oakland) are like two super LGBT capitols of the world. So I come from a microcosmic world of LGBT acceptance.

This skews my perspective.

In addition, one of my sisters is dating another woman (Huzzah! I like women too, welcome to the club dear sister). I don’t really know if that makes her gay, or bi, or what… and honestly I don’t really care to define it. As long as she’s happy, I’m happy. Not everything needs a label.

I certainly don’t. I don’t want to be known as Anthony the straight guy. That’s so…restrictive and disingenuous and trying to fit me nice and neat into a box that most certainly cannot accommodate my girthy hips.

Sexuality falls along a spectrum. We’re all a little gay and we’re all a little straight. Accept that. Does that make you uncomfortable? Well, too bad. That’s your baggage, not mine.

Never thought I'd agree  on anything with a child named Honey Boo Boo.

Never thought I’d agree on anything with a child named Honey Boo Boo.

But I will say this: If that previous assertion does make you a little uncomfortable, you should probably do some soul searching and figure out why that is because the world of tomorrow is coming and you’re falling behind the times. The rest of us aren’t gonna slow down and wait for you either.

So, in light of everything I just said, here’s what’s bothering me: Locus Magazine recently announced the shortlist for Best Sci-Fi and Best Fantasy book of 2014.

Best Sci-Fi

The Peripheral – William Gibson

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Lock In – John Scalzi

The Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer

Best Fantasy

The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

Steles of the Sky – Elizabeth Bear

City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett

The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman

The Mirror Empire – Kameron Hurley

I don’t know how many of these, if any, you’ve read, but I’ve read 8 of the 10 books (Excluding The Magician’s Land–cause I didn’t really enjoy the first book in this series–and Steles of the Sky) and I noticed something really interesting: they all have a gay character.

I’ll get to why that stuck out to me as being odd a little bit later, but I want to draw attention to some of the praise these books received:

“They fell in love at a university in Saypur, but Vo turned out to be gay (Shara suspects he liked her boyish figure.”City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett

Annihilation has an Asian lead character, Authority a Latino and Acceptance has a gay man as protagonist. Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer

One of the characters is gay, and it’s A Very Big Deal in the way his history is presented.”The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

Those aren’t the reasons I’m falling so hard for this book. A big part of the reason is this: there are two characters, Jim Buchold and Rick Wisson, who are MARRIED. Yep. You got it. Two guys, married.Lock In – John Scalzi

This is also, it’s worth noting, a book as queer as the Bel Dame Apocrypha, if not queerer. The Mirror Empire‘s cultures all have multiple genders – three or five; and bisexuality is completely normalised and expected. The Dhai are a polyamorous society, where multiple-person marriages with all sorts of configurations of gender are shown without comment, and the men of Saiduan seem to be shared at their owner’s whims. Hurley has also included theOrlandoesque character of Taigan, who changes gender with the seasons; we see Taigan as both male and as an intersex individual in the novel, but presumably in future installments we’ll see her become female too.The Mirror Empire – Kameron Hurley

“One of the main characters is gay. You don’t see a whole lot of homosexuality in fantasy, and you should …. One of them is sexually promiscuous. One of them is depressed. There’s a kind of range of psychological personalities that is a little bit broader than what you see in standard fantasy.” The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman

Gibson’s inclusion of gay characters as a regular part of Clanton’s community is commendable, and merits remark until such inclusion is no longer remarkable.” The Peripheral – William Gibson

This is what bugs me. We are still acting, as a community, as though the inclusion of gay characters in popular Sci-Fi and Fantasy is somehow…cutting edge. I don’t know if Steles of the Sky has any gay characters, but every other book on the list does. That’s 9 out of 10, which is like…90 percent or something.

crunched the numbers

Those are insanely high numbers. Now, you may be thinking that I’m somehow upset by this fact, but hey, I have gay characters in my own Firstborn Saga so it’s not like I’m petitioning for them to be removed.

Actually, I’m not sure what I’m petitioning for, because on the one hand I think it’s fantastic that the LGBT community is getting the inclusion they deserve–they are getting stories where, FINALLY, they get to be the hero–but the paradigm is shifting in a weird, unexpected way in that the LGBT community is now being…over-represented.

Huh? You all grunt as a collective.

Alright, don’t burn me at the stake quite yet, hear me out.

The National Center for Health Statistics does an annual National Health Interview Study and recently they began surveying Americans’ sexual orientation and what they found is that about 3.8 percent of American’s identify as gay/lesbian/bi/transgender. I’ll be the first to point out that there are some significant methodological issues with this survey.

– A lot of people don’t feel comfortable reporting one way or the other.

– A lot of people who participate in same-sex relations don’t identify themselves as gay, ie: “I sleep with men, but I’m not gay.” Huh? That… that is confusing. I agree, but remember, sexuality is a spectrum.

Anyways, I’m willing to grant that 3.8 percent is probably on the low end, so let’s round up to a solid 10%. Okay, so that means 10% of the population is represented in 90% of the Locus Award Eligible Novels for Sci Fi and Fantasy.

That’s INSANE (in both a good and a bad way). It’s good because I think gay rights is a super hot button topic right now. It’s good that writers are bringing awareness to this and being inclusive in their writing.

The bad side of the equation is that now, to write an award winning book, it almost feels like you have to include a gay character. As a result, everything is feeling a little.. same. A little.. forced.

Here’s an example of something else that affects ten percent of the population: Diabetes (which incidentally is the seventh leading cause of death in America). Now, imagine that 9 out of those 10 books all had a character suffering from Diabetes, and that a percentage of them even died from said disorder.

That’d be a little weird, right?

diabetes

How about mental disorders? Hell, we could focus entirely on Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder which together affect over 10 percent of the population. Include all mental disorders and you’re looking at closer to 25 percent of the population.

Okay, I guess if I had to state my gripe, it would be this: We’ve thrown open the doors of inclusivity, but by doing so we’ve pigeonholed ourselves to the singular character trait expressed in terms of sexuality.

I am not defined by my sexuality any more than my sister is. If the character in the book your reading is, then we’ve got a problem. We’re doing something wrong.

There is a caveat to this and it was mentioned in one of those reviews up above. Let me scamper up there and grab that real quick… hold tight.

*puts on some elevator music*

One of the characters is gay, and it’s A Very Big Deal in the way his history is presented.”The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

When introducing a character and making a point of their sexuality, it has got to serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, then your character is a blatant attempt at ticking boxes on your Diversity and Demographics checklist.

Let’s leave off with this:

Gibson’s inclusion of gay characters as a regular part of Clanton’s community is commendable, and merits remark until such inclusion is no longer remarkable.” The Peripheral – William Gibson

The long, drawn out point I’m trying to make is this: the inclusion of gay characters, in and of itself, is no longer remarkable. It just isn’t.

Or is it?

*shrug*

Honestly, I just thought it was really cool how many awesome books are including gay characters these days and wanted to push your buttons to draw attention to that fact. Sucker! You’ve been had!

Time For Another Free Book!

Howdy kiddos and grownos (<– I’m making that into a word, so deal with it) last week I was giving away free copies of Standing Kill Orderlies. If you missed the boat, no worries, I’m back again this week with another free offer. Click the pic to be magically transported to Amazon where you can get a copy of Parallel for FREE!!!!!!! WEEEEE!! EEEEH! AHHHH!!! (are we done? yeah, we’re done.)

If you’re feeling real outgoing, maybe think about leaving a review or a flaming pile of dog poo wrapped in a brown paper bag on my porch. Either way, I’ll be psyched! Yaay for free paper brown bags!

Parallel - High Resolution

Why Ratings and Reviews Don’t Matter Anymore! (sort of)

This post might ruffle some feathers so I’m gonna be on my best behavior so as not to piss off the jury of my peers.

Here’s my observation: the ratings/reviews on Amazon are absolutely irrelevant. I see you over there eyeing me suspiciously and whittling a piece of driftwood to resemble a pretty spectacular shiv while mumbling, “Tread carefully, Princess Buttercup.”

As a quick aside, yes, I do respond to Buttercup. No, I won’t tell you why.

as you wish

We hear this all the time: “If you want to help my new book get off the ground, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.” Shit, I do the same thing because to a certain degree (here I’m already going to contradict my earlier thesis, they don’t call me Flip-Flop Buttercup for no reason–but no, I’m still not going to tell you the reason. Stop asking.) reviews lend a degree of social proof. They are that friendly recommendation that says, “This thing right here? Yeah, it’s the shit.” And if that opinion is coming from somebody you trust, Huzzah! You’re likely to pick up the book and give it a shot.

But what if it’s from an untrustworthy source such as… a person on the internet who you’ve never ever even met? Does that opinion matter? Does it carry any weight?

Sure, to an extent. If it’s a well thought out, unbiased critique of the work in question, then absolutely the review can be helpful. If it’s a simple gush-fest of–

“OH MY GOD, I ADORE THIS AND I WANT TO SNEAK INTO THE AUTHOR’S BEDROOM AT NIGHT AND STEAL HIS/HER PILLOW JUST SO I CAN FALL ASLEEP WITH THEIR SWEET MUSK FILLING MY NOSTRILS!”

–Then not so much.

So here’s the problem, I’m cruising around Amazon looking for some sicky gnar gnar new books to check out and give a thorough eye molestation to, and the ratings are so lopsided that they actually impart a negative amount of information.

*This is the part where I’m probably gonna piss off a few people*

pissing off

In particular, the books with the most lopsided ratings tend to be from self-published authors. What do I mean by this? Well, self-published authors, whether they be fairly popular, or not, tend to have significantly higher ratings than their traditionally published brethren.

Before we get into the why and the how, I want to substantiate this claim with some examples. I spent a little bit of time this morning compiling some datas that I now want to throw in your face. Incoming!

First, I googled top 100 science fiction books of all time. What pops up reads as a who’s who of sci-fi literary mastery. So I just went down the list, took the top 12 titles and searched their Amazon rating to get a baseline. Here we go:

Fahrenheit 451 – 4.2 stars

Ender’s Game – 4.5

Dune – 4.5

1984 – 4.5

Neuromancer – 4.0

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – 4.2

Brave New World – 4.2

War of the Worlds – 4.3

Stranger in a Strange Land – 4.0

Starship Storm Troopers – 4.4

Snow Crash – 4.1

The Left Hand of Darkness – 4.4

Average Rating 4.2

Okay, so pinnacles of the genre have an average rating of 4.2. That’s not so bad, but there is room for improvement.

Next, I went and took the Hugo winners for Best Novel in the past six years. Take a gander below.

Ancillary Justice – 4.2

Equoid – 4.3

Red Shirts – 3.8

Among Others – 3.7

Black Out/All Clear – 3.3

The City & The City – 3.8

The Windup Girl – 3.9

Average Rating – 3.8

Holy 3 star, Batman. This seems low, doesn’t it? Well, no… actually not so much. These books on average score a half-star less than their all-time perennial classic cousins. Which isn’t so terribly far away all things considered.

Now, does it matter that these books are scoring a full star below the holy grail of 5? Nah, not really, because there is an internal consistency among them. Based on these numbers we would expect to see the average “good, perhaps even great” book to rate about 3.2 stars.

But now, let’s introduce some self-publishers into the mix and see how things get all wonkified. Now, I just grabbed some big named self-publishers off the top of my head and went to their author page on Amazon and simply scrolled through the ratings of their most popular books. On average, these books have very solid ratings with over 100 reviewers, but there are certainly some outliers with less. We’ll talk about this later and why it matters.

So, if you’ve been around the self-publishing world for any length of time you’ve probably heard of Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt (and David Wright who I think might be my all-time favorite curmudgeon). They host a self-publishing podcast that is incredibly popular and jam packed full of actionable advice. If you’re serious about self-publishing you should probably go give them a listen.

spp

Anyways, here are the numbers for their 8 most popular books:

Invasion – 4.4

Contact – 4.6

Robot Proletariat – 4.8

The Beam Season 1 – 4.8

The Beam Season 2 – 4.9

Dream Engine – 4.8

Axis of Aaron – 4.6

Namaste – 4.8

Average Rating: 4.6

Yikes! These guys are consistently scoring a half-star higher than the All-Time Best of the Best Books of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Genre, and nearly a full star higher than the Hugo awards (which the argument could be made are to be considered some of the best books of their respective years).

Of these books I’ve read The Beam Season One and Robot Proletariat, and you know what, they were both pretty good. They were well written with an engaging story line. I enjoyed them, but you’ll never convince me they are a half-star better than Neuromancer, or Snow Crash, or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

You can try, but I’m just gonna jam my fingers in my ears and start singing lalalalalala, I can’t hear you. What can I say, I’m a childish debater.

otter

Let’s move onto the next huge Indie name, Dannika Dark. Dannika writes YA and she’s so uber-popular it sickens me. But that’s just the jealousy talking, I’m sure she’s actually very talented.

*Whoosh, ziff, bang!*

Future Anthony here to clean up Past Anthony’s stupid messes! Turns out a wee-bit more research would’ve revealed that Dannika does NOT write YA. In fact, her website explicitly says as much. That’s what I get for skimming! Anyhow, my point still stands. Dannika has a crazy awesome average rating. Thanks to Dannika herself for setting me straight!

*back to the regularly scheduled program*

Let’s take a look at the ratings for her most popular series.

Seven Years – 4.4

Sterling – 4.1

Four Days – 4.9

Three Hours – 4.9

Twist – 4.7

Shine – 4.9

Average Rating: 4.65

Not as good as Johnny and Sean, but still significantly higher than the Hugo Award winners and the All-Time Bestselling SFF. Then again, this is YA, so perhaps it would be more fair to rank it against its genre peers?

For the sake of fairness, let’s compare it against The Hunger Games.

Hunger Games – 4.6

Catching Fire – 4.7

Mocking Jay – 4.3

Average Rating – 4.5

Boom, take that Suzanne Collins you wanna-be hack. Dannika’s got your number–somebody get Ms. Dark a seven figure movie contract, STAT! Then again, that’s only pulling from a sample size of three, which isn’t terribly significant. Hm… okay, let’s see how Dannika stacks up against another little known lady…

J.K. Rowling and the Hairy Clay Potter.

Sorceror’s Stone – 4.8

Chamber of Secrets – 4.7

Goblet of Fire – 4.8

Order of Phoenix – 4.8

Azkabhan – 4.7

Half Blood Prince – 4.4

Deathly Hallows – 4.7

Average Rating – 4.7

Which is pretty much what you would expect for the best selling book about a hairy gardener ever! But, geez, even then it was actually a pretty close match. Rowling only edged out Dark by .05. That’s a slim margin no matter how you slice it.

Is Dark’s series really as good as The Hunger Games? Possibly. Is it almost as good as Harry Potter? Eh.. possibly, but boy I would be surprised.

So, what the hell is going on here? How are self-published authors pulling in such ginormous numbers? Are they cheating? Did they sell their bodies to the Rating Gods in exchange for all those spiky five star reviews?

Maybe? But I think it’s something a little less sinister then that.

There’s a couple things happening here. First, self-published authors recognize the value of good reviews and go waaaay out of their way to field willing reviewers, often reaching out personally to said people. By comparison, when was the last time you got an email from J.K Rowling asking you to review her upcoming book?

Unless you’re secretly a big named newspaper or literary journal simply pretending to be a human in an attempt to infiltrate my blog, then you’ve probably never received jack squat from J.K. And this is important because we have a hard time saying “no” to people we know.

koala

An even harder time saying bad things to, or about, them.

I’ve struggled with the same thing. An author asks me to review their book and because they’ve personally reached out to me, I feel this subconscious pressure to pull my punches and give a slightly better review/rating than I normally would.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume I’m not the only one doing this. So that’s one part of the rating inflation, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

Self-published authors have learned they need to be their own marketing team and they’ve figured out some great ways of doing this starting with email lists/newsletters. This is an awesome way of corralling the people who really love your writing and opening an avenue of communication with them. With the email list an author can send out notifications whenever their next book is dropping. They can send free deals, and short stories, and puppies, and pretty much whatever you can fit into a digital inbox.

This personal connection with the reader goes a long, long ways and we see the effects of it in the startlingly high ratings these authors are pulling in. Let me throw out an example of a book I saw go live the other day and how the author used his preexisting fan base to astounding effect.

Michael Bunker released his book Brother, Frankenstein just a couple days ago. It already has 99 reviews. I think it ended it’s first day with 97 or 98 reviews. How many of those are 5 stars? 88. Fresh out of the gates, less than a week old, and Brother, Frankenstein has nearly a hundred reviews and a 4.9 average.

Whoa. Let that sink in. Michael Bunker used his readership base to do something absolutely impressive.

Now, please don’t interpret me pointing this out as any sort of hate against these other authors (in fact, I picked up a copy of Brother, Frankenstein ’cause I think Bunker is a talented writer and a good storyteller. I’m intrigued to see what all the hype is about!). The indie publishing landscape is brutal. You’ve got to play the cards your dealt and maximize your chances of getting a winner.

Truant, Dark, and Bunker are definitely playing for keeps. Props to them. But the thing is, everybody is doing this and it’s saturating the rating system. It’s hard to find anybody saying a bad thing about Truant or Platt’s work in their reviews. Same with Dark and Bunker. Everything is “THIS IS SO AMAZING I HAVE TO USE CAPS LOCK TO EXPRESS MY ENTHUSIASM!”

caps lock

That’s not particularly useful to me when I’m searching for a book to read. I’m guessing it’s not very useful for you either, but hey, maybe I’m wrong.

Typically I find the most value in the three star reviews because that seems to be where people are most even-handed in their praise and critique. But shit, some of the books mentioned above don’t even have a single three star, so I’m left in the lurch on that one.

Why’s this a problem?

Oh, I don’t know. I’m probably making something out of nothing. Ultimately we’re all playing for internet points, so does it really matter? Well, yeah, actually. Careers are on the line, after-all.

But here’s the thing: all those five star reviews don’t make me anymore likely to pick up a book. Especially if they are not balanced by a healthy amount of low stars. Look at that All Time SFF list again. Peruse the reviews and you’ll see a substantial portion of readers absolutely hated said books. Does that make them bad? Not at all.

Here’s something we need to realize: A low rating does not mean a book is bad.

Well, to a degree. If it’s significantly below 3 stars, then maybe it is a bad book. But for the most part, a low rating simply means there is something about the book that is polarizing. And that is a good thing. Knowing what people disliked about the book is beneficial and revealing.

I’ll tell you this, I’ve picked up more books (and loved them!) based off a 2 star review trashing said book, than I ever have by a 5 star gush-fest.

What’s the point of all this? Meh, I’ve lost the thread. You tell me. Get down to the comments and tell me what you think!

Standing Kill Orderlies Free!

Psst. Hey you, do you like free stuff? Of course you do, you’re a frugally minded individual, why wouldn’t you love free?

Okay, fair point, sometimes free equals shoddy workmanship. Also, just to play devil’s advocate, sometimes free = bed-bugs. You wouldn’t take a free mattress off the side of the road would you?

Wait, you would? And you’d sleep on it? Yuckers. You’re a particularly devout brand of frugal, aren’t you?

Anyways, I’ve got something for you and I promise it’s not shoddy or covered in bedbugs. For the next five days you can get my short story Standing Kill Orderlies (along with the bonus short Infidelity) for FREE from that little old marketplace called Amazon.

Seriously, all you’ve got to do is click on the picture below and you’ll be magically transported to that digital farmer’s market. If you want to earn extra brownie points, do me a favor and tell all your friends and families and neighborhood hobos with electronic reading devices so they can get their own copy!

Free is good. Very good.

Free is good. Very good.

Want to earn quadruple brownie points? Of course you do, brownies are delicious. Please consider leaving a review, whether that be on Goodreads or Amazon. It’ll make my day and I’ll throw brownies at your face-eating hole, what’s not to love?

The Hawkeye Initiative

I’m knee deep in a robo-baby short story over here, but I wanted to give you all a little somethin’-somethin’ to keep you entertained on this Sunday afternoon. Coincidentally, it tag-teams off my previous post about really lame superhero costumes (how’s that for bringing things around full circle?).

One of the comments in that post referenced The Hawkeye Initiative which is a marvelous attempt to raise awareness as to the ludicrous ways women are portrayed in comics.

How do they raise awareness? Click below to find out. I guarantee it’s good for a chuckle or two.

THE HAWKEYE INITIATIVE!