Yesterday, the world lost a uniquely-global icon. For me, Stan was very much more than even that. Having been indirectly introduced to him in 1978 through The Incredible Hulk TV series (my all-time favorite TV show), I soon became a Marvel Comics aficionado. To this day, I own a 5000-strong collection of vintage, original Marvel Comics. 70% of the items in my bedroom are ‘Stan’-related. And that includes my socks!
Growing up, it wasn’t easy being into this stuff. Social rejection due to the ‘geek’ status was tough to live with. To counter this, I took myself to my physical limit in an effort to emulate Stan’s creations. “Aim high, and you’ve got a chance of getting at least halfway there,” and about ‘half-way’ is as far as I attained. It was enough to shut the bastards up.
Following the rise of the Marvel movies in 2000, all of that changed, and the world finally ‘got me’.
Stan’s spirit is in all of my novels. While they are firmly affixed in the thriller genre, they all have elements of ‘the fantastic’, holding back just short of the impossible.
There will never be another Stan Lee. Even if his name isn’t known in some remote parts, I doubt there is anyone in the world who isn’t familiar with at least one of his characters. He was undoubtedly the most prolific and far-reaching writer, not only of our time – but in the history of literature.
Rest in peace, Stan. Excelsior!
This is going to be a long one. I have been off the scene for quite some time, trying to figure out where to go from here. Regardless, I am confident that the information I am going to expose, from an insider’s perspective, will be helpful to consumers everywhere. Nobody really has any idea how much Amazon invades the lives of every one of us, and it has reached a point of critical mass, analogous to George Orwell’s “Nineteen-Eighty-Four.”
I paid my dues with publishers and discovered they were either the proverbial ‘road to nowhere’ – or they were power hungry, abusive controllers, just like the vast majority of music labels. When someone with such an extreme, rebellious spirit as I got involved, it was always destined to end in disaster.
Amazon presented KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) ten years ago, enabling authors to self-publish their works, free of publishers. It also came with the bonus advantage of us being able to reap the majority share.
But it came at a price. The Kindle format made it possible for readers to buy books at negligible cost, no postage fees, and instant access to the product. As a result, the high street book store industry virtually collapsed overnight. Amazon monopolized the book distribution industry, and hold a 90% share of it today. All other online ebook retailers COMBINED make up only 10% of the overall market share. International monopoly laws seemed to have no effect in regulating this. As an honors graduate of law, there is only one way in which I can imagine this was accomplished: Amazon BOUGHT the law!
At the time, authors felt more freedom than they ever had. But the honeymoon wasn’t to last long. After a few years, Amazon began implementing policies to trample authors into the ground, all in the name of ‘second-to-none customer service’. It will be necessary to explain certain particulars in order to fully illustrate how Amazon operates, and how they invade YOUR privacy.
The first bout of attacks against authors began in 2015, when they announced the Kindle Unlimited lending library’s new policy. They started paying authors for ‘pages read’ rather than a ‘blanket fee per book, regardless of length’. Scammers latched onto this rapidly and began posting fake books on Amazon with various methods of tricking readers into clicking through immediately to the last page. One-thousand pages of gibberish can be profitable when the system believes they’ve all been read in one hit. Just as quickly, Amazon got wise to this and clamped down on the scammers. (Fair enough.) In retaliation, the scammers then used cyber ‘bots’ to inflate the ‘pages read’ of innocent authors in order to detract attention away from themselves.
Here’s where it became ugly. Amazon don’t ask questions, and they have no concept of ‘right to a fair trial’ or any appeal process. They simply terminated the accounts of the authors that had been targeted by the scammers – often when they were in the middle of a costly promotion. Being in the top 100 was potentially lethal at this time because it brought us to the attention of the scammers. If they attacked our accounts, we could’ve lost them. In one moment, we would no longer be writers. As a result, all authors were frozen, and nobody dared to make a move.
Amazon then placed a blanket ban on genre tags in book titles on product pages. This was largely in response to abusers who would fill up their title boxes with keywords to the extent that you couldn’t even make out what the title was. (Fair enough again.) But Amazon didn’t stop at the perpetrators. They blitzed everyone. I was one of the first to be targeted because I simply added “An Action Thriller” to my titles. I found a way around it ultimately, but it wasn’t easy to figure out. A brief descriptive tag in the title flags up in the ‘customers also bought’ section at the bottom of the product page and informs potential readers what kind of book it is. For a whole year, I lost two-thirds of my downloads as a result of having to remove that simple tag.
However, while they were happy to remove relevant information, they were equally happy to implement the addition of IRRELEVANT information. Have any of you ever wondered what that strange box on product pages is, which says “Rated by customers interested in . . .”? It means that if you’ve bought numerous products on Amazon that are completely unrelated, they will try to find relevance in your buying habits. So, if a young mother buys books for her children, then buys the Fifty Shades Trilogy for herself and reviews them all, the children’s book could flag up as being “rated 5.0 by people interested in erotica.” Likewise, Fifty Shades could flag up as being “rated 5.0 by people interested in children’s books.”
Hold On! got the brass ring on account of this. It’s an anti-authoritarian action thriller that flags up as “rated 4.5 by people interested in religion and spirituality”. How can this possibly serve to accurately inform you about the nature of a product? It deters the product’s true audience, and will seriously disappoint the expectations of the religious. It’s ‘lose-lose’ every step of the way. Does this seem like ‘second-to-none customer service’ to you?
Last year, I ran a huge promotion for my Trilogy box set, at a cost of over $700. This usually pays off, but on this occasion, on the first day of the promotion, a glitch in the system deleted my campaign on KDP. The book was still at full price. It was restored much later after three calls to California, but not after the technical department tried to blame me for ‘not doing it right’. The reason was revealed the following day when Amazon.com went down completely. They were upgrading the system. No matter what, they will not move from a position of zero-accountability, and they will point the finger of blame at anyone but themselves.
But by far the worst strike against authors is the one that directly affects all of you, and it concerns reviews. Reviews are extremely rare. We get, on average, one review per one-hundred readers.
Readers will be unaware of this, so I will reveal all here. If a book slips below an average of four stars on Amazon, no promotion company will even take an author’s money to promote it. It has to be rated among the elite before you can even put it in front of anyone. This places all writers on a knife’s edge at all times – and Amazon are constantly trying to push us off the precipice . . . by invading YOUR privacy.
They first started to devalue all reviews that were over a year old. We could go to sleep one night at – say – a 4.5 average, and wake up at 4.4 with no new reviews on offer. The older reviews had simply lost their value under the new system.
The only older reviews they held in high esteem were the negative reviews. I’m sure you’ve all seen that ‘most helpful’ button at the bottom of the reviews. The more ‘most helpful’ clicks a review gets, the higher up the list it goes. Human nature dictates people are drawn to negatives ten times more than they are to positives. (That’s why the news is always bad.) If a product has one-hundred positive reviews and just one negative, the audience will hone in on the one negative and send it soaring to the top of the list, regardless of how old or badly-written the review is. Consequently, that negative review is the first thing anyone reads about the product, and deters customers who would’ve most likely enjoyed it. It is yet another, disproportionate, grossly-misleading and destructive policy Amazon has employed to trample us into the ground.
It’s also worth noting that when a book comes from one of the top publishers, such as Penguin-Random House or Harper Collins, Amazon only delete the negative reviews. Don’t ya just love nepotism?
Now, the fun part. When you leave a review on Amazon for anything at all – they search all aspects of both the author/seller’s AND the customer’s social media life in order to establish a possible connection. If they determine there might be a connection, they will delete your review. As authors, we start shaking in our boots if we get a five star review from someone called ‘John Smith’. All it would take is for us to have a Facebook friend with the same name, and we would lose the review. I lost three five star reviews in one night this week on account of this, and these were reviews from total strangers. I had no connection to them whatsoever. In the blink of an eye, Hold On! went from a 4.5 average with 127 reviews, to 4.4 with 124. With such a high average rating requirement on the table, this is extremely disturbing for any writer. I receive friend requests on Facebook from readers all the time, but I dare not accept them anymore. We are all under constant surveillance from this insidious, totalitarian monster.
Just know, whenever you buy anything on Amazon – they are examining your social media history with this ‘Big Brother’ act. They track your purchase habits, and they know more about you than you’re likely to be comfortable with.
Amazon aside, I recently fell into serious danger when I hosted a Kindle Paperwhite giveaway as part of a book promotion. I am not a tech expert, and I’d made one honest mistake with the way I’d mailed out to all of the entrants. Due to new data protection laws, I was threatened with either heavy fines, or extradition to the USA and incarceration in a Federal penitentiary!
I was two chapters into a new series, and had to stop immediately. Writing is dangerous, and the system is set up in such a way that our rights are compromised at every turn. Now, our very liberty is being threatened.
I fought tooth and nail for this for six years, but now, all routes are blocked, and I do not see any way to move forward. With Amazon holding the monopoly, there is simply nowhere to run.
To be continued . . .
In 1960, iconic movie director, Stanley Kubrick, gave us the classic motion picture, Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas. In a departure from the expected, the movie ended on a sad, tragic, and devastating note. The titular hero met his fate via crucifixion by the Romans. The question is – why?
The true story of Spartacus (or as much of it that can be ascertained from the history records) tells a far more intriguing account, with an implication it was ready-made for Hollywood. In descriptions virtually identical to the ending of John Carpenter’s Halloween, Spartacus was seen going down on the battlefield. When the Romans went to retrieve his body – it had disappeared. Nobody will ever know what truly became of him.
This concept opened the door to myriad creative possibilities, and yet Kubrick opted for the most downbeat alternative. In so doing, he left behind a revered classic that has stood the test of time.
But how can that be?
I will not deny that I was riding on the shoulders of giants when I wrote the Hold On! series. Learning from the winners has always been the way of the wise. I knew what the ending of the Hold On! Trilogy would be, long before I actually wrote it. I also knew that what I had planned was a risk. Playing it safe rarely yields long-lasting results. In the case of Run! – Hold On! Season 3, I wanted my cake and eat it too. On the one hand, it was the ending the reader didn’t want to see. On the other, there was a hint that something awesome would result from it. This was firmly punctuated in what I refer to as my ‘miracle book’, Hold On! – Tomorrow. With the collaboration of the Gods of Rock, we gave everybody what they wanted, along with a soundtrack song.
And I was right. At the time I am writing this editorial, Run! – Hold On! Season 3 is enjoying unanimous five star reviews on Amazon. However, on Goodreads and the collected Trilogy boxed set, it has picked up a few three stars. There are some people who are unable to accept the sad ending of Run!, despite the fact that it’s no longer the ending. Nevertheless, the ‘five’s’ still remain dominant by a considerable margin.
So, why not just end every book on a HEA (Happy Ever After)? Well . . . for precisely that reason. Virtually every book ends on a HEA, to the extent that people know how it’s going to end before they even start. This dictates that every book they read merge into one, and they can’t recall one from the other. HEA is the perfect way to make a story forgettable.
Why did Hollywood writers kill Michael Schofield after four seasons of Prison Break? NOBODY wanted Michael to die. OK, they cleverly brought him back seven years later, but during those seven years, Michael was dead and buried. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he died. It was painful to watch.
And yet, it’s that very pain that made the narrative memorable. While there might be a few who balk at the ending of Run! – Hold On! Season 3, they will retain it in their memory for far longer than the hundreds of HEA novels, with identical endings, they’ve read.
HEA is how to ensure a story gets lost in the swarm. Daring to stand out from the crowd is no guarantee of great fortune . . . but then, neither is HEA. Doing the unexpected is just an effective way of not being forgotten. It’s not about giving an audience what they want. It’s about giving them what they need.
I’m not saying never write a HEA story. All I’m suggesting is that it not be considered mandatory.
In any case, Brandon Drake never really died.
What is it about a certain four letter word that gets people so hot under the collar? I’m sure most of us have had occasion to be in a room when grandma is sitting among us. A movie comes on the TV containing a scene of gratuitous violence. The antagonist is stabbing the victim to death, blood flying everywhere, bellowing something to the tune of “You fucking bastard!” Grandma gasps in horror and says, “Why do they have to use ‘that language’?” The gratuitous, homicidal violence isn’t even mentioned. A virtually meaningless combination of four letters – four alphabetical symbols that serve the purpose of expressing an exclamation mark – is the first cause of such horrified excitation.
But why is this? Out of scores of reviews for Hold On!, I have only been hit by this phenomenon twice (to date.) The use of profanity in it is, by no means, excessive, and is only used occasionally in dialogue for the purpose of contextual realism. If I’d had enraged characters or psychopathic killers bellowing ‘good gosh’, ‘golly’, ‘darn’, or ‘blinkey, blonkey, blimey’, I would’ve been laughed out of the writing game. It’s a no-win situation. Hold On! contains scenes of extreme homicidal violence, torture, and skull-crushing vengeance. I find it extraordinary how all of that goes unnoticed by certain people, in deference to the use of a mere word. Ironically, this very issue is directly addressed in chapter 33. It still doesn’t seem to be giving certain people a moment of thoughtful pause.
It’s four letters. F.U.C.K. They contain no mystical properties whatsoever. They literally define the word ‘nothing’. If any of these people were to be asked why they felt so offended by it, the answer would, invariably be, “That’s how I was raised.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t constitute an opinion. There were many views my parents tried to drill into me, the ‘F’ word being a big one (as in – ‘we’ll cut you out of our will’ big.) However, if they couldn’t back those views up with any reasoning other than ‘because we said so’, I would simply disregard it with the contempt it deserved.
An opinion is a viewpoint at which one has arrived through personal experience, observation, and logical reasoning. Thinking what we are told to think is the very antithesis of that. All it shows is that critical thinking has, for that person, been minimal – at best! It is this very same shortcoming within the human condition that enables acts of terrorism.
For my part, I am not going to compromise on this issue. I refuse to pander to the absurd, in order to gratify the bizarre sensibilities of those whose critical faculties have been so deeply impaired. I invite all to join me in a chorus of personal free expression, and it goes like this – “FUCK IT!” :-)
Commentary from Youtube:
After my flagship novel, Hold On! hit #1 on Amazon, the sequel, Go! – Hold On! Season 2 was released. As with Hold On!, AOR/melodic rock was the driving force behind the sequel. These are the tracks my ears picked up on from my ever-growing stack of AOR CDs as I went through the process of creating the story. Many scenes in the book were directly inspired by these tracks. The opening song, “Go” by Asia, was the inspiration behind the book’s title.
It is a privilege for me to share with you the works of my silent partners in this project, that they might be silent no longer. Writing is a lonely task, but these heroes of rock were with me every step of the way.
The relevance of the songs to the story in Go! appear in text captions in the video.
This video is a labor of love, and no copyright infringement is intended. All rights are reserved by the artists concerned. The albums from which these songs arose appear in the video, should you wish to purchase them.
Recently, and at the height of my success, I had no choice but to temporarily remove my thriller series from Amazon. I had become the target of a legion of readers, who demonstrated behavior analogous to Children of the Corn.
On September 28th, purely by chance, I discovered the case of TV and film actor-turned-writer, Dylan Saccoccio. I can’t say that I am overly-fond of the man. He comes across as a human time bomb waiting to explode at any moment. I can’t really judge him for that because it’s impossible to know what circumstances gave rise to such characteristics. I’m fairly confident he didn’t wake up one lazy Sunday morning thinking “Today, I’ll start a war with the world just for the fun of it.” However, I have found connecting with him to be utterly impossible, even when offering the hand of friendship.
On June 5th, Mr. Saccoccio entered into a dispute with a Goodreads member named Cait. His ratings had been impressive up unto that point when, after Cait gave him a one-star review, he went into a type of ‘meltdown’. It was clearly an overreaction on his part, I’m not disputing that. Conversely, I can understand his feelings of panic and threat, given that most promotion sites won’t even take an author’s money if their overall rating falls below an average of four stars on Amazon. Negative reviews can seriously impair authors’ options for peddling their wares. It’s a harsh and arguably unreasonable system. However, it’s the nature of the beast, and Mr. Saccoccio committed career suicide as the dispute escalated into a drama of epic proportions, with a huge cast of characters.
What happened next was my reason for stepping in. The story spread throughout the internet, and a legion of Goodreads members banded together like a pack of wolves to issue a slew of false negative reviews against his book on both Goodreads and Amazon. They effectively knocked him out of the game, conclusively. When I saw this, it chilled me to the bone. Goodreads members instantly became a lynch mob, forcing me to question what kind of a nightmare I had found myself in by entering the writing world. It was not only sadistic and savage, but it also made a mockery of the rating system, which has far-reaching implications for all authors.
In an effort to gain a deeper understanding of the incident, I went onto Cait’s review thread, and questioned their justification for what they had done. Immediately, I fell afoul of exactly the same kind of wolf-pack behavior, with implied threats that they were going to do the same to me. (“You brought this on yourself.”) None of the points I raised were addressed. They continually defaulted to their pre-conceived idea that I was condemning their right to leave a negative review, which was simply not true. I stated I would defend their right to air genuine opinions, but I could not condone a cavalcade of bearing false witness. There was absolutely no reasoning with them. Finally, I was blocked from the thread, and I had no choice but to remove my titles from Amazon in order that they might ‘live another day’.
Deeply disturbed by the experience, I proposed my position on Book Riot, a blog site of which I was a member. The thread I posted on was directly concerned with the story of Dylan Saccoccio. Immediately, my post was deleted, although I had managed to salvage it in my hard drive:
“I'm currently working on an editorial about this case. I admit, Dylan Saccoccio did not do himself any favors with his response, but he was, in no way, threatening or abusive. Perhaps a little overly-poetic and wordy, but I implore you all to understand, it was a human reaction to shock and pain. The end result of this is that a sadistic wolf pack of readers went onto to Amazon and Goodreads and 'one starred' him out of existence overnight. His website has since been taken down. Did he really deserve that? And how do fake negative reviews serve the experience of legitimate readers? When I raised this issue with those responsible, they attacked me in like fashion, threatened to do the same to my own books giving me no choice but to take them down. They seemed to be more concerned with me raising the issue two months after it began. Of course, if someone gets murdered and they catch the guy two months later, they can let him go because - hey - it was two months ago. How these characters can think that two months negates the evil that they do is beyond me. What I bore witness to was the very worst in humanity, and an example of wanton savagery. If we wish to call ourselves a civilization, this kind of brutality has to be addressed.”
The moderator of Book Riot then attacked me:
Amanda Nelson Mod Guest • an hour ago
You don't get to decide for someone else whether the abusive or threats they've received are valid, and you certainly don't get to come here and compare readers to murderers. I'm deleting your comment.
Peter Darley Amanda Nelson • an hour ago
Thank you, Amanda. I will be using your comment and your name in the article as an example of the totalitarian nature of the writing world. You're basically saying I have no right to address, what I consider to be an atrocity. And for what it's worth, I wasn't comparing readers to murderers. I was simply using it as an example to illustrate the illogical nature of discrediting a comment purely on the basis of the brief time span between comment and incident.
Amanda Nelson Mod Peter Darley • an hour ago
I'm certainly not--you have every right to say whatever you want on your own blog or in your own space. You don't, however, have the *right* to use our platform, and you're not entitled to our readers' attention. Meanwhile, I'll be over here awaiting the what I'm sure will be drastic and horrific affect your article will have on my life.
Peter Darley Amanda Nelson • an hour ago
Amanda, I was already a member of this blog, so I already had implied consent to comment - just like everyone else here. Are you actually stating that unless my views mirror yours perfectly, I have no right to comment? Where does the First Amendment fit into all this? I would be very interested to learn your views on this because it is a serious societal issue you've raised.
After that, I was blocked from Book Riot.
So, where do we go from here? This is now way beyond writing, ratings, or Dylan Saccoccio. This is the totalitarian suppression of free expression, in what is supposed to be a civilized democracy. It was for the cause of that ‘civilized democracy’ that I stepped into this hornet’s nest in the first place. I am hopeful that someone will, at least, be able to recognize the venom and absence of reason in Amanda Nelson’s words. They reflect those of most of the others I have encountered in connection with this. The question remains – why?
Writing is beautiful. It is one of the primary staples of our culture. It is our language and our ability to communicate. So how did it fall prey to a mindless lynch mob? Is this truly what the writing world has become? And what does it say about us a civilization?
Run! gets a 4.5 from Sandy at The Reading Cafe. Read the review here.
What if the unthinkable happened and America didn't exist? A key figure in the Revolutionary War has been shot. If he dies, could it change the course of history?
Cherry Franklin teaches American History and is in charge of the annual Independence Day pageant. Zachary Somerset is a Colonial soldier. The two literally bump into each other. Zack is dressed in an authentic uniform and Cherry believes he is part of the pageant, though Zack insists otherwise. He tells Cherry that nothing is familiar to him and she thinks he is delusional. When he explains why he's here, she begins to entertain the idea that perhaps he has traveled through time, and enlists the help of her father, who believes time travel is possible, and also happens to be a doctor.
Zack returns to 1776, armed with what is hoped will keep history from changing. However, he accidentally leaves part of his uniform and Cherry decides to try to return it to him. As the two travel between 1776 and the present, their bond becomes stronger as each absorbs the other one's environment. Zack learns to fit into the present, though finds much of it confusing, but Cherry knows she could never live in the past. Zack tells Cherry he loves her, but she won't tell him she feels the same. She's afraid to make a commitment only to have it taken away by the capriciousness of time travel. Though Zack is ready to take a chance that they can both remain in the same time, Cherry must decide if she's willing to do the same, knowing if they can't, she risks a broken heart.
Given that a blurb gives away everything an author wants readers to know beforehand, I won’t delve too far into the plot details. Nevertheless, I found Red, White, and You to be a charming, and thoroughly enjoyable entry.
Here, we have Zack, an eighteenth century Colonial soldier and aide-de-camp to a vital figure in American history during the time of America’s origin. He experiences sporadic episodes of phasing through time. A jump to 2013 brings him into contact with Cherry Franklin, a descendent of Benjamin Franklin – and who experiences the same time traveling phenomenon.
What impressed me with this tale was the depth of insight Ms. Harreld shows in the particulars time travel would, hypothetically, present. The awkwardness the lead characters experience, with extreme cultural and technological differences, are explored realistically, and not summarily dismissed; a trap that would have been easy to fall into. Moreover, the ‘Time Loop’ implication is present, as both characters appear to be familiar with one another, but can’t initially understand from where.
At its core, Red, White and You, is a romance story, which crosses over into . . . what? Is it science fiction? Is it supernatural? Or is it something else? The mystery deepens for Cherry and Zack, as they try to gain an understanding of why this astonishing wonder occurs.
A self-contained story in its own right, the myriad possibilities for a continuation are clear, not to mention – appealing.