The One Dumb Thing I Did = A Nasty Review That Will Last Forever

Karen_Redemption_72dpi(750x1200) Amz-BNLike many authors, I have a love-hate relationship with reviews. When I discover a new review of one of my books on a blog, Amazon, or Goodreads, I kind of look at it sideways, squinting as I read it. I’m relieved when I see a fabulous story or a top favorite! which prompt an fully open eyed examination. On the other hand, the disheartening a bit slow at times and the dreaded This is not a good book make me want to hide under a rock.

But like every author, I’ve come to accept that no matter what I write and how hard I work to create it and how wonderful my editor and I think it is, my work is just not going to appeal to every reader. It is just not to their taste, although they thought (hoped) they’d enjoy it when they bought it. I know this is true because I’ve done the same thing. I’ve heard good things about a book and picked it up, but what appealed to others, even when it’s a best seller, just fell flat with me.

WEB IN-BETWEENSo although my little writer’s heart twinges when I see a one or two-star review on Goodreads or Amazon, if it’s accompanied by a thoughtful review, I can accept that this reader did not care for the book. They read it, they thought about it, they are invested enough in books and reading to spend the time writing a review, and that’s a good thing. It’s good to know there are people engaged enough in the written word that they want to share their opinion of it.

There is, however, another kind of review that just burns my jets. No, it’s not the snarky This is the stupidest book I ever read, or even Gosh, this thing is full of typos. It’s an entirely different animal that’s unfair to authors everywhere: A review where the reviewer didn’t even read the book.

Unforgettable IndieThis requires a story. A somewhat embarrassing story.

When I first started putting up my previously published books as indie ebooks a few years ago, I was green as grass. I struggled through the formatting and uploading and filling in the myriad boxes Amazon required (I started out only on Amazon). I finally got the first one up, then re-thought the title, and dithered over whether I should use my own name or separate my romances from my YA books by using a pen name. You see some of those seesawing decisions in the cover art posted here.

After the book had been up for a while (with few sales), I decided I should put up some backstory about how I came to write the book. I was so new to this whole thing that I didn’t realize there was a handy place in the Amazon author pages where I could put something called “Author Notes.” I thought my only choice was to post the information in a review (thinking it was kind of like adding comments to a blog post).

Unforgettable Lg PrtSo I merrily wrote up my cool backstory material as a review. But when I clicked the “save” button, Amazon insisted I had to add a rating. I didn’t want to add a rating. It didn’t seem right for an author to rate her own book. But Amazon wouldn’t accept my “review” (which was by no stretch of the imagination an actual review) without a rating.

I may have been completely ignorant to the ways of the indie-publishing world back then, but I wasn’t an idiot. If I had to rate my own book, I was going to give it 5 stars. So I did. And the sky fell on my head.

There are apparently people out there who feel it is their duty to (a) beat authors over the head when they do something stupid and (b) berate them when something is posted on their book page that they have no control over and (c) accuse the author of underhanded doings when the author had nothing to do with what they perceive is underhanded, all while never actually reading the book they’re reviewing.

Unforgettable MMHave you ever read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka? Where the Big Bad Wolf tries to set the story straight about what really happened between him and the pigs? That’s how I felt.

Here’s her review, btw, so you can follow along.

Her first critique, that I’d given the book a 5 star review, I plead GUILTY. I did it. I confess. And when I realized what a transgression I’d committed, based on comments by a couple other members, I hastily removed the review, my cheeks flaming. However, the fact that I’d fixed my mistake seemed to make me more suspect, not less.

Her second critique, that there were three reviews by the same person, I swear I had nothing to do with that. That was some kind of glitchy thing that Amazon did. I did not put up three copies of the same review (jeez, why would I?)

Her third critique, that there were three different versions of the book, with two different titles and two different authors, I was certainly partially responsible for that. As I said, I decided to re-release the book under a different title, using a pen name. But a couple of the editions she objected to were the original mass market book (which I wrote, but Berkley published in 1999), and the large print edition that followed (which Ulverscroft published in 2006). I have no control over those books or their prices (which was another point of contention). In fact, my deal with Ulverscroft was flat rate, so the fact that they’re currently charging $29.95 for the book (kaching!) benefits me not at all.

I really, really, really wanted to engage the reviewer on all these points. But rule #1 of reviews is that the author should never talk back to the reviewer (I even think thank yous for a good review are kinda smarmy). So I kept my trap shut (well, until now), asked friends to comment on the review (which a couple nicely did), asked Amazon to take it down (which they refused to do, hence the “forever” part of this), and have just lived with it.

If this person had read the book and given it a 1 star review because she didn’t like it, I would have wept, but come to accept it. But to gripe about a book you haven’t read because you don’t like the price, or the fact that Amazon put up multiple copies of the same review, or the author made a numbskull mistake (which she corrected!), seems mean.

Okay, climbing off my soapbox now. If you’d like to check out my indie and tradpub books, visit my website. And can anyone loan me a cup of sugar?


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I Have No Idea What to Blog About, So I’m Posting Pictures of Cats

Tenka Bellyrub

Tenka, begging for a belly rub.

You thought I was kidding, didn’t you? You thought you’d click through on that link and you’d maybe find a cat picture or two, but the rest of this post would be filled with meaty, substantial advice about writing, or marketing, or improving your discoverability.

Zak Posed

Zak in his CAT FANCY cover pose.

But no, I’ve got nothing. Or rather, what I really want to do is get back to my super-secret new series that I’m working on, but I haven’t blogged in six weeks and feel an obligation to get a post up. Since the one thing I always have in abundance is cat pictures, cat pictures are what you get.

So feel free to ooh and aah, or turn away in disgust (I see you dog lovers curling your lips in disdain). But this is all you’re gonna get today.

Actually, I take that back. You can also get a screaming good deal on my paranormal romance, Hearts Redemption for a limited time. This book is usually $2.99, but until March 31st, it’s only 99 cents. Buy it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords.


Zak as an itty bitty

Zak fighting aliens with his laser eyes.

Zak fighting aliens with his laser eyes.


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“The boys,” Charlie (ginger tabby) and Casper (mackerel tabby). RIP


My sweet lovebug, Cozy, gone now for many years.

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Rebellion Cover Reveal!

Rebellion Final Cover medHere it is, the cover for the third and last book of the Tankborn trilogy! Isn’t it gorgeous? I am so in love with this book cover. It perfectly captures my heroine, Kayla 6982, and the very special setting of Rebellion‘s story.

Here’s the cover flap copy:

In the wake of a devastating bomb blast, severely injured Kayla has been brought to the headquarters of the organization that planted the bomb—and many others like it in GEN food warehouses and homes. Her biological mother tells her that Devak is dead and that Kayla must join her in the terrorist group, which is ramping up for something big. Now Kayla must pretend that she embraces this new role in an underground compound full of paranoia as she plots a way to escape and save her friends.

Meanwhile, Devak has emerged from his healing in a gen-tank, only to be told that Kayla is dead and his family has fallen from grace. Can he overcome his grief at the loss of his power to see the clues that point to Kayla being alive?

As Kayla and Devak overcome the multiple obstacles put between them while trying to free GENs without further bloodshed, the Tankborn trilogy rushes to a thrilling conclusion!

These books have been a part of my life for nearly four years now, and it’s bittersweet to say goodbye to the series. But at the same time, it’s so exciting to have the trilogy completed.

So, how do you like the cover of Rebellion? I hope you love it as much as I do. :-)

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Beware the Facebook Ads

FB Author Page ScreenshotLike a lot of people, I use Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends. I also use it to promote myself as an author, although I’ve found it to be pretty ineffective in that respect (as I posted here).

But while it’s fun to catch up with the family and some of the posts are very entertaining, Facebook can be a dangerous place too. Dangerous, that is, in terms of sending you off to websites that might add a little something extra to your computer that you’d just as soon not have.

FB Ads ScreenshotYou’ve probably noticed the “Sponsored” content over on the right hand side of your Facebook page. Lots of ads there, some of them quite enticing. They change frequently. To the right is a screenshot I took of ads that appeared on my page recently.

You might have to click on that image and enlarge it to read the text. It’s perfectly safe to click since it’s just a jpeg image.

But the original ads would not have been safe to click. Although each one has a link displayed as part of the ad (,,,, the true link for each ad is entirely different. Clicking that ad will send you not to Weight Watchers or Zulily, but to a site with malware.

As a user of Facebook, this is distressing, both with regards to the damage these sites could do to my computer, but also because of the fraud aspect. Facebook is taking money from companies that represent themselves dishonestly.

As an author who has used Facebook to promote, this is unsettling because I don’t want ads for my books to appear alongside scams. How would a reader know whether a click on my book cover would take them to Amazon where they can buy my ebook, or if they’ll end up on a site that downloads some kind of malware onto their computer?

Facebook does have a form I can fill out to report these fraudulent ads. But honestly, I’d be submitting forms all day long because based my observations, few of the ads in the sponsored section are genuine. Maybe my Facebook page is a scam magnet, and no other users out there are having the same experience as me. But it seems to me that Facebook is not performing due diligence in allowing those ads to run in the first place. And I’d say it’s their responsibility to fix the problem and not mine.

Here are some guaranteed genuine links for my latest books. Just click on the cover to buy.

Full Cover-s Tankborn sml Awakening Final cover-s

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Never Eat Popcorn at a Book Signing, and Other Tips

Signing Placerville 12-21-13

The Placerville News, in operation since 1856.

I’ve done a fair number of book signings, sometimes alone, sometimes with other authors. I’ve done them in bookstores, at libraries, and outdoors. I’ve done talks and then signed my books, or just sat at a table with my books piled high, watching folks avoid eye contact with me as they passed me on their way to the cookbook or self-help section. :-)

Usually I’m indoors. Or when I am outdoors, it’s in a lovely, temperate season (such as the springtime book signings I did at a lovely daylily farm). I’ve had signing where I’ve sold many books, a few books, one book, and zero books. I always start my signings full of hope, but while I do my best to pitch my books to passersby, it’s considered bad form to tackle them and force it into their hands.

Me and the Cowboys

Always handy to have a few cowboys at your side.

My most recent signing was a real adventure in that it was outdoors and it was freaking cold. Combine Placerville’s nearly 2000 foot elevation with the first official day of winter, add in me standing in the shade along a section of street with a wind tunnel effect, and you have one mighty cold writer. It didn’t help that I hadn’t brought a jacket. By the end of the three hours I stood behind my table, I was a Popsicle.

I do learn something at every book signing I do. Here are a few new tips in no particular order:

Stagecoach 12-21-13

This pair of Standardbred horses pulling the stagecoach are 28 years old and former harness racers. When they trot up the alley, you’d better get out of their way.

  • Make sure you understand the terms

I’d arranged with Placerville News to do the book signing, but I’d brought my own copies. I’d expected to sell the books myself from my table. The store expected that customers would bring the books inside to purchase them and the store would take a cut. I was able to negotiate the split with the store, but I should have gotten that worked out before signing day.

  • For outdoor signings, be prepared for the weather

I shoulda known better. I’d brought a heavy coat the year before, but I didn’t want to wear wear it this year because it was kinda ugly. I suffered for that decision. Did I mention how cold I was?

  • Stand behind the table rather than sit

    Full Cover-s

    Click on cover to buy CLEAN BURN

I’ve actually been following this tip for quite a while. If you stand, you’re at eye level with your potential readers. It’s much easier to engage with them. You’re able to at least say hi as they pass by, and maybe they’ll get curious enough to stop and check out your books. Of course if you’re physically unable to stand all that time, you’ll have to sit. But you’ll still want to say hi and smile, smile, smile.

  • Stay off your cell phone

I was a little naughty in ignoring this tip. I was pretty discouraged at first with how my signing was going. I texted a pity-me message to my husband, then got preoccupied with checking for his response. But for the most part, I left that distracting device in my pocket. It’s too hard to engage with potential buyers if you’re texting or playing Words with Friends.

Awakening Final cover-s

Click on cover to buy AWAKENING

  • Don’t eat popcorn during a signing

Yes, I munched a box of popcorn during the signing. And was horrified afterward when I saw my teeth. Ugh. Very embarrassing. My only excuse is that because the signing started at noon, I hadn’t had lunch beforehand. I was starving. People kept coming out of the store with popcorn and I just couldn’t resist. Now I understand why kids who wear braces aren’t allowed to eat popcorn. That stuff sticks everywhere. Double ugh.

  • Have fun

It’s tough sometimes when you’ve stood there for what seems like an eternity and you haven’t sold even one book. But you never know if the person you engage in conversation during a book signing will later check out your books online and become one of your biggest fans. That memory of meeting you will stick with them, and you want to leave them with a positive impression.

Anyone have any tips of your own? Experiences (or horror stories) that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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On the 1st Day of Christmas, it was Hanukkah

Tree 2013d-sChristmas is my absolute favorite holiday. I love decorating the tree with far too many ornaments, the old and the new that I buy each year. I adore making Christmas cookies, especially if I can get someone else in the family involved. And going out into the neighborhood to enjoy the gorgeous lights is so much fun. I even love playing the corny Christmas CD pack that includes a wonderful mix of songs (although I do try skip that freakish Jingle Bells track that goes overboard with the bells).

I came by my love for Christmas honestly. I lived mainly with my Grandmother when I was a kid, and she always went way overboard with the presents and decorations. We’d all been raised Catholic, so the holiday had special religious significance—for me and my sisters, that is. While my sisters and I attended church faithfully each Sunday, my grandmother, mom, and Jewish dad (who’d “converted” to Catholicism) only went on the holidays, if at all.

Christmas 1985sOf course, one of the best things about those Christmases was the food. It was always the same menu. A relish tray filled with sweet and dill pickles, green and black olives, two varieties of celery sticks stuffed with cream cheese—pimiento and chopped black olives. When I was old enough, I was the official relish tray maker, mixing the pimiento and chopped black olives with cream cheese, filling the celery, arranging it all artfully on the tray.

After we’d scarfed up the relish tray, it was on to the main event: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams (topped with tons of brown sugar and marshmallows), rolls, and something green (usually peas) as a sop to healthy eating. We’d follow that carb-heavy main meal with pumpkin pie, Grandma’s fudge, and whatever Christmas cookies my mother had made. Then we’d all roll around on the floor groaning.

Of course, this food extravaganza was preceded by the opening of far too many presents. I recall the year my mom and stepdad owned an apartment house, and their large front unit included a living room that was about 12×20 feet. We had the Christmas tree on one end and piles of presents covered about half the floor space. What can I say? We were Christmas over-achievers.

hp photosmart 720When I married my husband, who’d been raised in the Jewish faith, my latent Judaism got a chance to shine, for the holidays at least. I discovered the wonders of Purim and Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And, of course, Hanukkah.

I learned that Hanukkah was quite different from Christmas (rather than a birthday, it celebrates a military victory and the miracle of the oil lasting for eight nights instead of one). But the Jewish holiday had all those great familiar elements that I loved about Christmas. Pretty lights: check. Presents: check. Decorations: not quite as elaborate, but check. And fabulous food: triple check.

It turned out that my husband’s dad had the most incredible recipes for beef brisket and latkes (potato pancakes) you ever tasted. The gravy that the brisket makes is so delicious, you could eat it on a sponge an enjoy it. The latkes fulfill the tradition of cooking with oil. Add some creamy cheese blintzes for the vegetarians (also cooked in oil), and Hanukkah easily competes with Christmas in stuffing your guests so full of food they can’t move. Between the food and the opening of presents for eight nights, Hanukkah is a sheer delight.

I like to think that by celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah, I double the pleasure of the holidays. It’s double the lights, double the presents, double the yummy food.

And if the dial my bathroom scale swings a little higher afterward, it was poundage worth gaining.

Full Cover-m

Click to buy CLEAN BURN

Awakening Final cover-s

Click to Buy AWAKENING


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My Characters’ Miserable Lives & NOT Drawing from Personal Experience

Full Cover-mA good friend of mine emailed me recently. She’d just finished reading Clean Burn, my crime novel from Exhibit A. Clean Burn’s heroine, Janelle Watkins, is, shall we say, edgy. Janelle comes from an abusive childhood, is twitchy and dark, and has a rather alarming self-destructive habit.

My friend praised the book’s story and the realism of Janelle’s character, but there seemed to be an unspoken question in the email. Out of concern for me, I think my friend was fishing around for information. I think she was wondering if maybe I’d written Janelle’s dark character from personal experience. The short answer–no. The long answer–um, well, no again.

I had a pretty unremarkable childhood. I did get the occasional, rare spanking (it was more the thing to do when I was a kid), but abuse? Uh uh. No way. In fact most often, my mom would wave that wooden spoon around and we’d all take off for the hills. I don’t think she had the heart to actually use it anyway.

Am I harboring any secret, self-destructive habits? Erm, no again, unless you count my occasional over-indulgence in ice cream. I’ve also never been shot in the leg or had an affair with a married man, although Janelle has gone through both of those experiences.

Awakening Final cover-sI think it’s pretty fabulous that my friend thought Janelle’s character was so realistic that she worried I’d based her on my own personal experiences. Nice to know I’d written such a convincing, compelling character. But a teensy little part of myself was the weensiest bit annoyed.

Why? Because it ignores a very important part of this character-creation equation. The fact that I’m a professional. I write for a living. Creating realistic characters and making them miserable/heroic/strong with weaknesses/evil with redeeming qualities is part of my job. Creating complex stories that fill a novel, also part of my skill set. Writing dialogue or narrative that intrigues, moves the emotions, keeps the reader reading, ditto.

Celebrate sThere’s a piece of writing advice that is oft-repeated, that I’m sure you’ve all heard: Write what you know. That might be where my friend got the notion that I must have gone through something horrible in order to write my character so realistically. But a writer (luckily) has another important tool in her toolbox to draw upon when venturing into the unknown–her imagination. What I don’t know first hand, I imagine. In other words, I make it up.

No, I don’t make up my characters and their stories entirely out of whole cloth. I do take experiences from my own life and from the lives of those I know well (beware, friends, you might end up in one of my books :-)), and I observe the lives of strangers. I read widely, diversely, seeking out the interesting and mundane. All of these elements I weave into a character like Janelle Watkins from Clean Burn, or Kayla 6982 from Awakening, or Sarah Meyer from “The Eighth Gift,” my contribution to the Celebrate holiday anthology.

The end result is indeed a little bit of me in every character. But much, much more of that fictional person is just a figment of my fertile imagination.

Full Cover-sClean Burn–buy the Kindle version here or the Nook version here

Awakening–buy the Kindle version here or the Nook version here

Celebrate–buy the Kindle version here or the Nook version here

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