indie authors

Book Review: The Selected Poems of K. Morris

As the author’s preface states, the poems in this substantial collection are drawn from six books published between 2013 and 2019. They are grouped into four sections: Time and Mortality, Nature, Love and Sensuality, Progress and Human Nature.

The Time and Mortality section occupies half the book. Clearly, this subject preoccupies the poet as he moves through his days. Images of clocks abound, along with churchyards, repetitive sounds, and episodes of light and shadow. Many of these poems are quite similar to one another, differing only in details, as though their author is carefully examining the theme’s every facet. The tone is one of quiet acceptance that has moved beyond despair. “Death Is Dead” presents an oblique view, suggesting that if we lived forever, we would bore each other to… Oh, I get it! Writers especially may relate to several poems, for example, “Why Do I Write?” and its resolve to make “A light that glimmers / In the dark / Illumining the human heart.”

In Section 2, Nature, an awareness of mortality is also present, but the focus here is a sense of nature’s benign indifference, which is somehow comforting. “Standing Under this Rain Drenched Tree” begins with the poet listening to whispering leaves but ends humorously with a sneeze.

Section 3, Love and Sensuality, moves from fleeting glimpses of beauty in “Ethereal” and “Chiffon,” to the wry humour of “Unrequited” and “Girls In Unsuitable Shoes.” “Birds That Fly” is especially fine, subtle and poignant. Even with these differences in tone, the themes of passing time and the insignificance of individual lives are present. Love and lust, while crucial to individual humans, do not greatly affect the turning of the world.

The poems of Section 4, Progress and Human Nature, display a mixture of cynicism, acceptance, and even appreciation of humanity despite its faults. The final line of “Dark and Light” is interesting. “Mourn not, for there can be no dark without the light.” Some might expect these opposites to be reversed.

The poems are short, rarely more than a page and often only a handful of lines. Rhyme is present in all, deliberately structured and crafted. The rhythms are often choppy, perhaps echoing those ticking clocks.

In his preface, the author says he believes the poems in this collection are his best works. They show how a poet may abstract himself from the whirl of life and view it from a philosophical perspective, and then embody his observations in brief and eloquent verse to share with readers. The book is perfect for the reader who wants to dip in for a few pithy observations on life and death, or simply to admire the poet’s dexterity with words.

This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the author.

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Book Reviewing: a Murky Business

Continuing the theme of reading I started a few weeks ago, I decided to revisit the topic of book reviews. They are so important to writers, both for book sales and validation. These thoughts were prompted by other bloggers’ opinions about and experiences with reviewing books. While readers’ comments on books may seem essentially genteel and harmless, book reviews can stir up some visceral emotions. For a couple of examples, just Google “the greek seaman” or “author stalks reviewer.”

Hoping that “if you give, you get” applies to book reviews, I resolved some time ago to write a sincere, thoughtful review of every indie book I read. I would post the reviews on Goodreads, and also on Amazon or Smashwords, depending on where I acquired the book.

I’ve found it’s easier to make this resolution than keep it. Reviews are best written right after finishing a book, but if I’m tired or distracted I don’t do it. Then I start reading something else; days go by, weeks go by and the review is unwritten. Even for books I really liked, that deserve a favourable review. Sometimes those reviews are never written.

Then there’s the DNF book, the one I give up on because it’s poorly written or just doesn’t interest me. My policy is not to review books I haven’t read from start to finish. It’s not always the book’s fault.

That brings us to the star ratings that accompany reviews. So far, I’ve written no one- or two-star reviews. Many think they are unnecessarily harsh and punitive and should be avoided. That leaves only 3, 4, or 5 stars, otherwise known as OK, Good, or Excellent. That’s a pretty narrow range.

I reserve five stars for books I love so much I think it’s likely I’ll read them again. If I want to buy myself a copy, especially a print one, after reading a book from the library or an ebook, that’s definitely a 5-star.

I give 4 stars to books that are reasonably well-written and interesting but fall just short of great because of what I call lumpy writing — awkward sentences and scene transitions or too many typos. Or, for some intangible reason, I just don’t think it’s a great book (subjectivity strikes again).

Three stars are for books I make myself finish only because I’ve committed myself to reading them, constantly checking the number of pages remaining. (Thinking back to comments on a recent post about reading, I might call these “life is too short” books and give up on them. Which means no review.) Three stars also go to books that aren’t bad but pretty much disappear from my conscious mind right after I read the last word. In other words, “Meh.”

And then there’s the question of whether it’s even possible to boil our thoughts about books down to a number. That’s why an actual review is helpful; it’s a place to explain the rating.

Something else that bothers me is too many of the “reviews” I write are just off-the-cuff remarks with little or no structure or planning. I think that’s how most readers write their reviews, although I sometimes see long, detailed, and serious reviews that make me think I ought to do a better job with mine. Which reminds me — a plot summary is not a review. The “blurb” or book description already provides as much of that as the reader needs and you want to avoid spoilers. So just say what you like or dislike about the book.

The hardest review to write is the less-than-enthusiastic one for a book whose author I’m acquainted with, if only through blogging. It’s like telling a friend their book is less than great. I consider some of those bloggers to be friends; the only difference is I don’t have to look them in the eye while delivering the bad news. Depending on the personalities and relationships involved, the best approach might be to send a private email rather than post a public review/rating.

What might happen if no one wrote negative reviews or never tagged books with one or two stars? Three stars might become the default “bad” rating. Come to think of it, some authors get upset at those already. And if the only reviews were positive ones, what would that say about books with no reviews? Some potential readers might dismiss them as no good, while the truth may be that those books were never read by anyone, or their readers were too lazy or preoccupied to bother posting reviews. Innocent books condemned without due process!

Maybe the “positive reviews only” practice is just a cop-out. It’s much easier to say nice things than critical ones. While it is possible to write a thoughtful, helpful, critical review, it does take more work than a positive one. If a reader is too busy/tired/distracted to write a even a positive review, they certainly aren’t going to attempt a negative but helpful one.

The best reviews, in my opinion, are nuanced. Positive but not wildly enthusiastic. Critical but not unqualified condemnations. I’ve actually been motivated to seek out and read certain books because critical reviews of them intrigued me.

Like so many other aspects of writing, book reviewing is complicated and there’s no easy formula. Nevertheless, knowing how important reviews are to authors, I will continue to write and post them.

Your turn, bloggers — what are your thoughts on reviews and ratings?

Image by olekowy from Pixabay

open books, grass

Creating and Fulfilling Expectations: Books as Products or Works of Art

The book as product: specific word count, story arc, number and types of characters, type of ending, and a cover suited to the genre. It may help its author make a living. Or it may not.

The book as work of art: whatever gives the writer the feeling of having a hand on the lever of creation. It may or may not become a “classic.” A posthumous one.

This is what happens when I’ve been reading too many “how to do it right” posts for writers. (Snarky aside: Judging by the vast amounts of advice we need, we writers are self-indulgent, impractical airheads, fumbling our way through the real world.)

The author of a recent such post expressed acute distress (“I almost cried!”) when a writer admitted they didn’t know the target audience for their book.

OK, all you writers hiding behind your computer screens, is this you? You don’t write your novels for a defined demographic? Well, I suppose YA authors do, but what about the rest of us? I certainly don’t. I feel a ghostly reader peering over my shoulder as I write, but I don’t know anything about them except they’re reading my book and I owe them a good experience.

I write from a need to embody in written language the stories churning in my brain. That’s what makes me sit down and crank out the words, not a market survey that indicates a taste for a specific type of novel in a particular slice of the population.

“What if they find out that … ?” and “Let me tell you how it happened. There was this thing–” These are the sources of story. Not market studies.

Many indie authors see their writing and publishing as a business. Authors with contracts to traditional publishers are nudged to deliver the correct book-shaped products with cover images accurately labelling their genres. Products must be packaged to match customer needs and expectations. That’s totally fine and logical.

Trouble is, not every writer thinks of the books they write as “products,” even if they publish them using the same platforms as do businesslike, marketing-oriented indies. Today, publishing takes many forms.

As they prepare to publish, writers may find it helpful to examine their intentions and expectations. In private, in secret if necessary. Do you want to sell a million copies? Be #1 on some list? Connect with a few readers, a secret society of people like you? Achieve perfection? Become famous? Just be able to call yourself a “published author”? Produce a printed book you can hold in your hands and post pictures of on social media? Every writer fits into one of these categories, or the infinity of spaces between them.

As in other areas of life, it helps to know what you want and act accordingly, with your expectations set to “realistic.” Then you can read and absorb only the advice that’s relevant to you, and cheerfully ignore the rest.

Despite all the expert advice, there are many indies who don’t conform, whose books straddle genres, or mix them up, or don’t belong to any genre at all. What about all those off-beat or zany cover images? (Airheads, right?) From experience I can say those books aren’t all terrible and worthless. Some are excellent, but prospective readers have to be adventurous and take a chance. Think farmers’ market or craft fair, not big box store. Spend a dollar or three and maybe discover a new and wonderful reading experience.

Until the end of July you can do just that at the Smashwords Store. The Summer/Winter Sale continues until July 31st. My books may be found here.

Our Golden Age?

The early decades of the twenty-first century saw a great flowering of the literary arts, due in large part to the advent of self-publishing on the Internet. The writers called themselves Indie Authors. Many of them were members of the so-called Baby Boom generation, born between the end of the Second World War and the nineteen-sixties. With a high degree of literacy and egos inflated by the conviction that they were the first humans to experience anything worthwhile, many of them used their retirement years to write. Literary agents and publishers were overwhelmed by a flood of submissions from these eager wannabees. Mail rooms overflowed with manuscript boxes, fat brown envelopes and SASEs. Rejections issued forth, provoking incredulous disappointment. Technology came to the rescue, providing online publishing platforms that allowed the indies to elbow the weary gatekeepers aside and publish. Millions of ebooks and POD print books issued forth. Savvy entrepreneurs stepped up to provide services to the indies. Blogs multiplied and online literary salons proliferated.

Every now and then, I wonder what future scholars of literature might say about us indie author/publishers. The mainstream of traditional publishing gets lots of attention, but over the past decade, vast numbers of writers have been quietly publishing, blogging, debating, opining, reviewing, interviewing, and ultimately creating a Thing.

Will anyone, in the future, study, write about, and analyze our Thing? What will they call us? The Early 21st Century Indies? The Tsunami of Crap? Boomers Unbound?

Really, though, think about it: we create, we connect, we write and publish. We’re serious and sincere. Aside from the fact that most of this activity is carried on via the internet, there isn’t much difference between the current phenom and the literary movements of history. Salons, pamphlets, feuilletons, little magazines, and literary societies all have their online equivalents. This blog on which I’m holding forth right now continues the tradition of writers and thinkers using whatever means are at hand to share their thoughts.

Who knows what posterity will make of us? We may represent only the very beginning of a larger phenomenon. Or we may be a brief spark that vanishes into the current of history. Will our works be curated and preserved, or will their survival depend on pure accident amid some global catastrophe? To us, right now, it really doesn’t matter. The true value of the indie author movement to us indie authors is the connections we’ve made with one another by creating and sharing our works and ideas.

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Let’s keep on creating our Thing, whatever it is!

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Book & Brains image created with Canva

Hammer and anvil image courtesy of Pixabay

The Indie Author Manifesto by Mark Coker at Smashwords

 

An Exciting (Scary) New Venture

Those who haven’t seen this yet — author and blogger Don Massenzio is now offering editing and formatting services to indie authors.

Author Don Massenzio

I launched my author blog about three years ago and have watched it grow beyond anything I’d hoped. I’ve met many great people as I’ve made some friendships and have helped some authors along the way.

As luck would have it, I lost my day job about two months ago and I’m still in search of regular employment to keep the lights on and put food on the table.

The silver lining that emerged from this is that I’m embarking on a new venture. During the past year, I have edited books for a few select authors as kind of a pilot and test launch of a set of services that I hoped to turn into a business. My extra ‘free time’ and my need to generate some income, I’m launching a book editing/formatting service formally as a separate WordPress site.

For authors that take advantage of these services, I’m…

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When Writing is the Cause of and the Solution To Anxiety

Here is a thoughtful post by indie author Chantelle Atkins, about writing and emotions.

The Glorious Outsiders

For a lot of people, writing can be incredibly therapeutic. It provides an emotional outlet, a chance to say what we think and feel, the opportunity to have a voice and be heard. Whether we publish our work or not, there is no doubt that writing provides an emotional release, as well as a creative one. Throughout my life, I have often turned to writing to soothe and comfort me. I’ve used it to combat and work through feelings of anxiety, loneliness and anger. As a young child, I wrote a diary religiously, and I still have them. Piles of notebooks filled with my inner thoughts and emotions, as well as my hopes and fears. There is no doubt in my mind that writing has helped me in my life and provided a kind of therapy when needed. For this reason, I would recommend it to anyone who needs to…

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The 2018 Interview Series Featuring Audrey Driscoll

By happy chance, my appearance on Don Massenzio’s blog coincided with my birthday. A birthday bonus!

Author Don Massenzio

It’s time for the next subject for my 2018 author interview series. Author interviews are posted every Friday throughout the year.

I am honored to continue this series with Canadian author Audrey Driscoll.

You can catch up with all of my past author interviews (nearly 200) on my Author Directory page.

If you’re an author interested in being interviewed in this series, I still have limited spots available for 2018. You can email me at don@donmassenzio.com

Now, please enjoy this interview with Audrey Driscoll:


Audrey Aug 31 2014 Crop (2016_07_22 03_09_15 UTC)Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

The premises behind my books don’t come from any sort of rational intention to deliver a product to a target market of readers. They all arise from some mysterious conjunction of ideas in my brain. Some of them are probably more original than others.

If you could tell your younger writing…

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Electric Eclectic

Guest Post: An Alternative to Free Ebooks

Just before Christmas, I read this post on Paul White’s blog. As you can see, it sparked some fairly diverse comments. In fact, I was so busy formulating my comment, I didn’t read the end of the post as thoroughly as it warranted.

Paul’s solution to the give-books-away-for-free marketing strategy deplored by the rest of his post is called Electric Eclectic Novelettes.

At this point, I’ll turn it over to Paul…

*~*~*

To quote that wonderful philosopher, Winnie the Pooh, “The beginning is a very good place to start.”

I was looking for a great book to read.

I finished reading the last book by my favourite author. It would be another year, maybe two, before his next book became available. This meant I needed to search for another book to read. I was even willing to stray from my usual genre to find an excellent read.

Easier said than done.

You would think, with over 45 million books on Amazon alone, finding a story to enjoy, a book you can immerse yourself in totally, would be a pretty easy thing.

But no, it is not.

You could look through the thousands of free books on offer. But… much of the time there are reasons books are offered for free, or heavily discounted, by their authors… and not all those reasons are good.

There is the uncertain quality and content of many of the full priced eBooks. Anyway, do you really want to commit spending your hard-earned cash to buy something you do not enjoy reading, or find the writer’s style is not to your taste?

It all makes choosing a ‘new to me’ author or selecting a book from a different genre a bit of a lottery.

That’s when I thought there must be a better way.

I asked myself, “HOW CAN YOU MAKE CERTAIN A BOOK YOU BUY WILL BE ONE YOU ENJOY?”

Electric EclecticThat’s when I had my eureka moment.

The result is Electric Eclectic Novelettes.

‘Electric’ because they are ebooks– digital, electric.

‘Eclectic’ for the various styles, genres and authors who write them.

And ‘Novelettes‘ to tell readers they are short, sample books, introducing readers to new authors and new genres.

Electric Eclectic (EE) books are written by various authors under the EE brand as introductory, sample works of each author’s writing style and narrative forms.

Each EE book is a short work of between 6k and 20k words.

A standardised price of just 1.00 (dollar/pound/euro) for each novelette, allows people searching for new reads to get to know our EE authors’ styles and narrative types before committing to purchase their full-length books and novels.

Offering these short works also lets people read examples of genres they may not have previously considered.

Electric Eclectic books are written by some of the best indie authors in the world. Each Electric Eclectic Novelette delivers wonderful and entertaining storytelling to a high standard.

All Electric Eclectic Novelettes undergo stringent assessment, ensuring the storytelling is of high quality, dismissing concerns generally associated with low cost or free eBooks. People searching for their ‘next favourite read’ can rest assured in the knowledge that Electric Eclectic Novelettes have undergone a rigorous selection process, ensuring the stories meet exacting standards.

This means you do not need to read through a bunch of substandard books, or spend money on a random book hoping you will enjoy its content. Say goodbye to ‘dodgy’, inferior writes.

Once you have found the right style of stories, the ones you love, you will have found your next favourite author and can start to work your way through their full-length books and novels knowing you thoroughly enjoy their writing.

Download a handful of Electric Eclectic Novelettes and give yourself a literary treat!

Electric Eclectic Novelettes are easy to find.

The first way is to visit the Electric Eclectic website where all the Novelettes are shown, along with author insights and links to their personal books and pages.

The second is to go to Amazon books and type ‘Electric Eclectic books’ into the search bar. (In the USA you will need the Amazon.com Kindle search page.)

Alternatively, if you are on Amazon.co.uk you can follow this link: http://amzn.to/2BnYe7u

Website link: https://goo.gl/q2zwTS  (This site is available to view, but not fully functional or edited. Estimated date of completion Mid-January 2018)

Email: EEbookbranding@mail.com

Book Review: My Old Clock I Wind and Other Poems by K. Morris

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The first poem in this collection of 74 contains the theme that pervades the entire work – the relentless passage of time.

Morris’s verses are products of reflection and mature thought, expressing both resignation and a zest for life. This poet is not fighting advancing age and eventual death, but lives with an intense awareness of the temporary nature of human lives and preoccupations. “Passing By,” for example, sums this up perfectly in only three lines. The fleetingness of beauty and attraction are pictured in “Chiffon” and “Dark and Light.” As sadness frequently follows delight / Mourn not, for there can be no dark without the light.

The poet’s mixed feelings about his relationships with others are exemplified by “Shall I Sit Out This Dance?” whose last five lines are especially poignant. “What Is A Double Bed?” further explores love, joy, and pain.

Humour is not absent from the collection. “Howling At the Moon,” “Count Dracula Went Out To Dine,” and “It’s Raining Out There,” along with a group of limericks, celebrate the absurdities and quirky angles of life.

A certain amount of social commentary appears in “Crack” and “Girls in Unsuitable Shoes,” which has a touch of wry brilliance. Climate change is acknowledged by the short poem “Melting Ice.” Of the poems that question progress and technology, perhaps the finest is “Man’s Destiny,” which contrasts the poet’s enjoyment of life’s small pleasures with grandiose aspirations and predictions.

Most of the poems feature pairs of rhyming lines – not rhyming couplets, exactly, because the lines often differ in length and metre. The effect is one of ticking, bringing to mind the clock of the title. In densely packed sequences of short lines, this rhyme pattern can become a bit tedious. “Understanding,” which features a more complex rhyme scheme, is a notable departure.

Morris’s poems are distillations of thoughtful life experience, and thus best savoured slowly, like good wine. Readers will find something here to match any mood, to celebrate life or commiserate with sorrow.

I received a copy of this book with a request for a review.