Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I have arrived!

The other day Nelson Telson – The Story of a True Blue Blood received its first negative “review” on amazon.com.  There is a reason why I put the word review in quotation marks.  Was it a review?  Or was it simply a bad rating by a disgruntled person on Christmas Day?  The “reviewer” (pardon the quotes, but I just can’t help it) didn’t say what it was that made her not like it.  All she wrote was, “Kids didn't like it and neither did I. No one even finished it.“  And that was that.  No explanation.
   Based on sales, school donations and Kickstarter rewards, I’m guessing about 400 people have read the book.  To date on Amazon it has twenty-four 5-star reviews where reviewers explain why they love and recommend the book; one 4-star, “It was perfect for young readers! A lot of useful knowledge introduced in a easy read...,” and then this little 1-star Christmas gift.  Yes, it is a gift.
   At first I was perplexed. What?  Someone, not just one person but a whole family, didn’t like my book, and didn’t even have the courtesy to say why they didn’t like it - on Christmas Day, no less.  I looked at her other reviews; she was a real person and not just a troll.  She’d reviewed only one other book, non-fiction, a movie, and a bunch of consumer items.  Who is this person/family who didn’t like my book?  And why didn’t they like it?  It wasn’t so much the lousy rating as the lack of substantiation that irked me.  But it got me to thinking:  What are the differences between reviews, opinions, and ratings? In this world of instant messages, texts and quickie online ratings, it only takes a few seconds to rate a book.  Just a click of the mouse and a few curt words is all it takes to be a “reviewer.”

Review - A book review usually consists of these basic elements:
  • A brief description of what the book is about without being a plot spoiler.
  • What you liked and/or didn’t like about it (characters, plot, pace, style, emotional impact, denouement, etc.) and why.  Was it satisfying, or were you left wanting in the end?
  • A summary to wrap it up – the type of reader you recommend it to (or why you can’t recommend it); any authors or books you’d compare it to, its value, stuff like that. 
Opinion - Due to the nature of the beast, and the modern reader’s time constraints, an Amazon “review” a.k.a. opinion is shorter.  Opinions are just that, but still require a modicum of supporting evidence.
  • Give it a star rating between one and five
  • Briefly explain what you liked and/or didn’t like about the book and why you rated it the way you did.  “I didn’t like it.” isn’t sufficient, however, “I didn’t like it because it is poorly written, the plot feels contrived, and it contains gratuitous violence that I find offensive…” would suffice on a quickie online opinion.
Rating - Click the star, and because the program demands it, write a few words.  No explanations necessary, unless you’re in the mood to write an opinion or review.  If you are too lazy or disillusioned  to actually read a book to the end, this is the perfect option for you.
   The thing that all three of the above have in common is that they are subjective in their nature, and as with the judgment of any work of art, be it writing, painting, theater, music or whatever, it’s what the experiencer brings to the table that colors his opinion.   And in the case of the 1-star “reviewer” I respect that with all of my being.

Why have I arrived?

It’s not because I sold a million copies or went to St. Louis with the companion science curriculum in hand.  It’s not because the book has become part of many schools’ core curriculum. It’s not because a few literary “gatekeepers” reviewed it favorably. It’s not because I got a movie deal with Disney.  It’s because I know now that my book is part of the bigger picture. It made me feel whole. Thanks unhappy Christmas Day rater for the perfect gift.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lists Not Resolutions

People often ask me how I manage to find the time to do all of the things that I do.  In addition to my teaching classes each week, I also manage to run regularly, and get a painting in now and then.  In the first six months of this year I illustrated, designed, formatted, made final edits, did a Kickstarter campaign, fulfilled rewards and thank-you notes for over a hundred backers, and released my book.  That was the easy part.  With the daunting task of marketing, I’m navigating unknown waters.  From the outside it might look like I’m highly productive, but internally I feel like I’m spinning my wheels.  As my son keeps reminding me, frequent blogging is a very important part of market visibility.  With Christmas less than a week away, I’m writing this while my eggs dry.  Every year since 1984, I’ve been making these intricate painted eggs as gifts.  No shopping for me, just egg-making.  At one point I was cranking out 48 eggs for the people on my list.  This year I tried to whittle down the list and made a dozen to sell and another 30 to give.
So, people ask, “How do you do it?”
I awoke this morning with the answer: Lists

I dream up my lists in my sleeping hours, wake up, and jot down the stuff I dreamt about. I even have a list to make on my list!   My list today includes:
  • Make holiday food list (from planned recipes for beef Wellington, lava cake, duxelles, bordelaise…)
  • Grocery shop - that can wait until Monday
  • Finish eggs (that means personalize the eggs, put the final finish on, let them dry, pack up the ones that need to be mailed, go to the post office, and move forward into the holiday)
  • Get Phoebe’s gift, wrap grands’ gifts, pack and mail
  • Call Perry’s – order 2.5 lb tenderloin (no silver)
  • Horn Book award submission
  • Order art supplies from Dick Blick
  • Vacuum and wash floor – doubt that’ll happen
  • Write blog post
Never before have I put blogging on my list, and when I woke up this morning I knew the only way I’d get it done is to put it on the list.  The list gets triaged, and some things can wait for another day.
The photo shows how I operate. 

There’s my egg list, today's list, art supply list, calendar with student list.
All the while I’m dreaming up my list for the New Year.
  • Get a companion curriculum prepared for Nelson Telson
  • Make a piece of really compelling collateral for the book that includes curriculum
  • Make a reservation to the IRA convention in St. Louis in July (airline and hotel, too)
  • Figure out how to engage educators and home schoolers
  • Get the book in schools
  • Sell the movie rights to Pixar, Disney or Spielberg
  • Sell a million
You get the picture.  Now I can check that one off the list

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – no resolutions here, just lists.