Posting an audiobook segment to YouTube is a great idea. Give it a listen.
Last weekend, a new low-budget movie called CHEAP THRILLS opened in LA and Austin, as well as on iTunes, Amazon and whatever. It’s about a guy who gets fired from a shitty job and finds himself desperate for money to avoid eviction… on the night he and his buddy meet a couple willing to pay them to do crazy stuff.
Here’s the trailer.
It looks intense.
It’s also a surprise hit, with great per-theater earnings, terrific VOD revenue, and a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What makes this movie different from any number of terrific indie films? A great social media campaign. Check out this article on how they managed it. I have a non-academic interest in how this sort of thing is accomplished, of course, but it seems the short version is: great movie, enthusiastic friends with huge social media footprints, and a little craziness to attract attention.
Anyway, interesting stuff.
Okay. As much as I was annoyed by the decision to distribute the movie through Flixster, I actually sat down to watch it tonight.
It’s good. I mean, very good.
The portrayal of Neptune is the most winning part of the movie: Everything that was awful about the divide between the rich and the poor has gotten ten times worse since the series ended, the place is more corrupt than ever, and things look bleak. The characters are back, obviously, and they’re great but it’s the noir tone that makes this work. The only real let-down are a few cartoonishly nasty villains taking their three to five minutes to strut their bullshit for old times sake. That stuff doesn’t have the power it did when everyone was in high school.
But that’s easily overlooked. It’s a good movie, and I have to admit that it’s nice to see a real mystery played out in (just under) two hours. I’m not sure how well a Veronica Mars tv show would play out with a grown-up Veronica, but I’m glad I decided to back it.
If you haven’t seen the TV show, the movie would still make sense, but I wouldn’t recommend it. A great many characters breeze in and out, and it can be tough to keep track of them all. Better to watch the show first, if you haven’t seen it. The first season is great, the second season is not as great but still very good, and I haven’t rewatched the third season in a while so I’ll have to let you know. I’m making my wife and kid wait until they’ve seen the whole series before I play the movie; I recommend that for everyone.
Veronica Mars, as a tv show and as a set of characters within a set of plot tropes and conventions, is pretty fucking great. Seriously, I enjoyed the hell out of that show and the famous Kickstarter for it has given me a chance to share it with my son. There are so many things that I really liked that bores the shit out of him (any kind of fantasy, anything I write, Buffy, stuff with spaceship battles, whatever) that it’s a real pleasure to see him latch onto something cool.
So, when the opportunity to download the movie came (which is today, because today is the movie premiere) I took it.
I’m not what you call a movie-buyer. I own a few DVDs (maybe a dozen or so, most bought at yard sales) and I watch Netflix, but I’ve never bought and downloaded a full movie before. Still, I know it’s a thing people do. iTunes, right? Or Amazon? I’ve definitely seem Amazon purchases in my affiliate link reports.
But the Veronica Mars Kickstarter did not direct me to either of those options, nor did they stick a file on a server and send me a link to go fetch it. Instead, I had to sign up for Ultraviolet and Flixster.
Apparently, Ultraviolet is a service created by the studios that lets people download films without the worry of omg piracy, and why am I being forced to turn over my name and email to some third-party service just to get the thing I already paid for?
Because I am a commodity. I’m being turned over to these two companies so they can market to me, and they can add my account to their user numbers when they go hunting for new clients.
It’s disappointing. I’d rather watch the DVD, but that’s two months away, apparently. To get the movie now I had to become someone’s marketing opportunity, and I pledged a Kickstarter for the privilege.
The endless flood of updates into my inbox was bad enough, but this tears it. Not more big media corporate Kickstarters for me.
Tell Me Another is about stories and storytellers, and I talked about that, I guess? Actually, I pretty much forgot everything I said except: I recommended a book I read recently, I recommended a noirish movie on Netflix Streaming that I loved, and I went into my rant about vampires and vampire lore at some point. Presumably, I said other things, too.
Also, if you go the the podcast site, you’ll see a picture of me. Go ahead if you want. I’m not ashamed. (Much.)
Yep, shocking but true. I spent decades of my life reading and writing, studying texts and story, and sweating over revisions of my own work only to hoodwink readers. You got me!
Or maybe I think that Amazon reviews are not especially important. Maybe I think an unknown number of the reviews are completely fake/done as a personal favor. Maybe a substantial number are written because the reader has some weird axe to grind that has little to do with the book at hand. Certainly many of the reviews are written by readers eager to share their honest opinions without much evidence that those honest opinions actually have an impact.
I’ve been trying to come up with a metaphor for this, but nothing seems right. Not every reviewer is being paid, so you can’t call it a whorehouse. Not every reviewer is friend or family to the author, so you can’t call it a theatrical review of a grade school play. Not every reviewer is a twitchy reactionary lunatic, so you can’t call it a recruitment session for the Libertarian Party (I kid, I kid).
I suppose I could ask if anyone reading this can think up an appropriate metaphor, but seriously, fuck you guys.
For folks who don’t know who Harriet Klausner is, a brief introduction. Here’s the full text of her review of my debut novel, CHILD OF FIRE:
In Hammer Bay, Washington, the ecomony is booming due to the toy factory; however, residents even those who work at the prime employer fail to realzie that some of their offspring can use magic.
Twenty Palace Society field agent Annalise Powliss hunts and kills rogue magic practitioners. Convicted felon Ray Lilly is her chauffeur, but they share a not so kind past as he betrayed her so he knows she plans to kill him at the most opportune time. The Society learns of the goings-on in Hammer Bay and led by take no prisoners Annalise plan to destroy the factory and kill anyone of any age who uses magic. However, the execution fails and Annalise is hurt; Ray must finish the assignment against a much more powerful sorcerer who sacrifices humans especially children to gain incredible amounts of power.
The key to this small town fantasy is the use of magic as collateral damage is not only acceptable it is preferable if needed to complete a mission. That premise ties the rogue and the Society together as innocent bystanders die in high numerical waves, which in turn brings a sense of realism to the exciting story line. The dysfunctional relationship between the driver and his boss enhances the tension of an exhilarating High Noon paranormal thriller.
All spelling infelicities in the original; this is just a cut and paste.
As Klausner’s reviews go, this one is better than average. Yes, it appears to have been written as quickly as possible with little regard for spelling or how it reads. Yes, some details are wrong; Ray isn’t anyone’s chauffeur, although he is driving the beater van at the start of the book. However, most of the plot details are correct, which isn’t always a given in Ms. Klausner’s reviews. However, she did give my book her lowest review: only 4 stars. For her, that’s practically a slam.
So, yeah. Her reviews are not insightful and some this year she will post her 30,000th on Amazon.com. That’s, er, a lot. I’ve heard that some times she posts as many as six reviews a day; how many books could you speed read in a day?
But whatever, right? No harm done… unless you’re the sort of person who’s Bothered By Things. See this 2012 “investigation” into Klausner’s reviews, which discovered that she received free ARCs from publishers, gives them positive reviews, then hands them off to her son to sell for COLD HARD CASH.
Nevermind that The Strand bookstore is floor to rafters with resold ARCs from other book reviewers. Nevermind that there’s no difference in what Klausner does and what other reviewers do besides scale. Apparently, she’s a woman reviewing badly for nefarious purposes and a group of people have begun to follow her around and badmouth her reviews. That link takes you to Sharon Lee’s new book Carousel Sun; how pleased would you be to discover that, on the week your book comes out, Internet Melodrama is breaking out on the book’s Amazon page that has nothing to do with the author. (Buy her book, folks, to help soothe that pain.)
[Edited to add: There are, as of this writing, 46 comments under Klausner's review, many justifying the decision to follow Klausner from page to page to taunt and mock her including one comparing her to Timothy McVeigh(!). Ugh.]
You might think I would be upset about what Harriet does–write universally positive reviews so she can continue to churn out incomprehensible reviews on books she’s barely skimmed for a few thin bucks, but once again you’d be wrong. My take is this: It’s a hard hard world. If she can make a few bucks (nobody is getting rich selling ARCs on fucking half.com) for herself and her family, and if publishers want to keep sending review copies to her, let them. As sins go, this isn’t half so terrible as the moving flame war hitting the Amazon pages of author after author.
Klausner-stalkers, find something useful to do. Advocate. Make something. In fact, Instead of reviewing Klausner’s work (fish -> barrel) write your own, and make them good. If your lives are so comfortable that a minor transgression like this annoys you so much, give thanks to whatever deity you worship and go volunteer at a food bank.
Because this thing where you follow a woman from page to page to insult her? That’s just sad.
You know how it is: you write things, you put them out into the world. Sometimes people like them, sometimes not. Worst of all, sometimes people just don’t seem to care.
But let’s imagine you’re a book reviewer who is becoming frustrated by the fact that you aren’t becoming as prominent as you used to be: What’s the next step? How do you give yourself the boost to prominence you’re hoping for?
If you answered: “Write better, more insightful book reviews and dare to be honestly controversial in a way that gets people talking,” you clearly need to be more entitled. Try this instead:
I operate on a Quid Pro Quo system. I will continue to promote authors that do the same for me. Not only that, but the more times promoted, the more buzz you will see. Tweet to your followers, post on Facebook, etc.
See, getting a review is a service provided to the author. If you mark her Amazon reviews as “helpful”, sign up for her newsletter, like her Facebook page, circle her on G+ and… oh christ time to start skimming this ridiculous list.
Anyway, “Bookiemonster” is frustrated that authors just aren’t meeting HER needs.
What I would (gently) suggest in response is that reviews are for the benefit of readers, not writers. Sure, it’s publicity, and yeah, it sells a few copies, but not many. Not many at all. I can see my own sales, and I know what the bump from a review looks like (spoiler: not large). Reviews are not for writers. In fact, a great many writers never ever look at their reviews. Not ever.
If you doubt that reviews are for readers, not writers, consider reviews in other fields: are film reviews just unpaid publicity? Nope, they exist to drive filmgoers to a newspaper (or whatever) so they can decide what to watch. Same for theater. What about critiques of art galleries? Nope. they’re an attempt to say something worthwhile about art, and to engage the aficionado on the subject.
It’s the same for books. Reviews are there to share an enthusiasm for the written word with other enthusiasts; in fact, a decent reviewer should excite readers with their expertise. This is about an exchange of ideas, not moving product.
You write reviews because you think there’s something worth saying to other readers. Maybe you think a book is wonderful. Maybe you think it’s toxic sludge. Maybe you think it’s emblematic of the sort of toxic sludge we see all too much of lately. Maybe it’s part of a movement that no one other than you has noticed. Maybe it reflects a certain kind of cultural change. Maybe you could talk about those things.
Or you could just write stuff like this:
The novel is witty, intense and keeps your interest from start to finish. It reads fast, I mean super fast and not that the book is short, it just reads that well. Nothing stumbled me. And that rarely happens. While some Zombie snobs may not like this book, I certainly did.
I also felt that prior to Mary becoming a prisoner in a walking dead corpse, her conflict with Azrael the Angel of Death was vague and undefined. More details on how Mary discovers Azrael’s scheme to take over the spirit realm would justify him sentencing her to an undead dungeon as well as her rage toward him.
Dead Boys was a welcome departure from what I find myself usually reading. Would I have picked it up had it not been submitted? Probably not. Why? Because short stories aren’t my normal thing. Simply because I enjoy investing the time to get to know the characters and follow a story through it’s arc. Penkas succeeded by giving me the appetizer, but I still wanted the main course. Thankfully, his concepts were intriguing and thought provoking enough to make the read satisfying.
You say your book review site is not as prominent as you’d like? Inexplicable.
I’m a writer. I put non-fiction on the blog and fiction in my books, and when they don’t sell or languish in obscurity, it’s not because someone didn’t hold up their end of the quid fucking pro quo. It’s because the thing I wrote didn’t earn it.
The same goes for reviewers. Your words will bring you the attention you deserve. If you feel you deserve better, do better. Be more thoughtful and original. Write with care and style (advice I could certainly bear to take myself). If some of your reviewers can’t manage that, let them go and put less (but better) content on your site.
But don’t come around with some quid pro quo, because ugh.
I’m going to make my blog inaccessible for a while while I try to install a new theme, fuss with it for way too long, then give up and go back to how it is now. Again. The main page, www.harryjconnolly.com will still be available.
Added later: Yep! Changing themes is a pain in the ass and I can’t be bothered to waste time on it. Back to the same old boring look.
Christ, I meant to watch a few minutes of THE MAN FROM NOWHERE and now it’s quarter to three in the morning and I’m supposed to be getting up to work in the morning.
Anyway, I hate writing short blog posts–esp if it’s just a link to something on another site–because it feels like such a cheat. WordPress automatically posts notice of the new entry on my Facebook, Twitter, and G+, and all people find when they click it is a link to another site. So, for example, if I want to let people know how to write for a game company like Evil Hat, it would make more sense if the tweeted link they’re clicking was the direct one. Just saying.
But the weird thing is that fewer than half the people who click a link to my blog actually bother to click the direct link. It’s like they click the one, see another link and just give up. They cared enough to click once, right?
I feel like Werner Herzog in JACK REACHER: “They always choose the bullet. I do not understand.”
Oh god I’m tired.
Must be seen to be believed.
The podcast War Rocket Ajax created the Worst Christmas Mixtape Ever for their War on Christmas episode.
Aside from the warning in the subject header, you should also know these are not just incredibly terrible and physically painful, some are downright offensive.
making books The Great Way: a blessing of monsters internet moi? publishing
by Harry Connolly
So! As many of you know, last September and October I ran a Kickstarter for my new epic fantasy trilogy. My goal was $10K, which was barely enough to cover the cost of cover art, interior design, a map, printing, copy editing, etc. In my original budget I had about $80 worth of wiggle room, which I figured would be safe enough; if costs went over, I could cover them with the Twenty Palaces POD edition which is coming out soon.
Then this happened:
The project hit its goal in about 8 hours and doubled it the next day. This post is going to be about what happened, why it happened, what I did right and wrong, and what I learned from it. more »