Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Book Review In A Forest

Have you ever wondered– If a book review was tacked up in a forest, and no one was around, would it make a noise?

The second best promotional tool an author has (I'll get to the best in a minute) is a good book review. As a first tier author this is an easy one, you pretty much have your choice of reviewers. But lets move a little deeper into the forest to the self-published or first-time authors published by small independent presses.

As you toil away at your first novel you begin to fantasize about your place on the New York Times Best Sellers list. You know if you could just get your book in front of the right reviewer it would be your ticket to the big time. They're out there, you can hear them typing away. They're just beyond the clearing. So you set your compass and begin to blaze a trail, fighting your way through the underbrush of obscurity. Easy, right? Not so fast. Before I get to the book reviewers, let me say a few cautionary words about the publishing forest.

As with any forest there are dangers. The sign reads Authors Beware! There are thickets of "Get Published Fast" schemes waiting in the shadows to ensnare unsuspecting writers. Cottages where evil "Self-Proclaimed Editors" lurk, tempting you with fame for the gold in your pockets. Fire-breathing "Critique Groups," beating down your prose with poisoned pens. And don't even get me started on the flying monkeys. But you're strong and stay on course, making it through the worst of it. The day finally arrives when your idea has become a published book. Now, what about those book reviews?

There are a multitude of sites/blogs willing to review books of every fiction genre. What you need to consider is– What is their visibility and what are you getting in return? By this I mean, if a blog touting itself as a book review site has a hundred or so book reviews but only 8 followers, what have you really gained by submitting your book for review? Were comments left by someone other than friends or family members? Were comments left at all?

You may regard this as cynical but there is a certain reality to it. I'm not saying ignore these sites/blogs; like anything else they should have a place in your marketing plan as part of a blog tour. What I caution is to keep it all in perspective. And, in case you missed it, I'll say it again, the important thing here is your marketing plan. This is an authors best tool. Without a solid marketing plan you can expend a great deal of energy for very little return. Getting reviewed should be a priority, but getting reviewed by a top reviewer should be a top priority. Set your sights high and go for it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It won't be easy, and it won't happen overnight, but the greater the effort the greater the prize.

In this day and age of spider bots trolling the web, the more links you have out there the greater your exposure. So, in relation to our forest, continue to tack up small reviews as you make your way to the clearing, but be selective. Each one increases the chances of your book being stumbled on by intrepid readers passing by, but each one requires an effort on your part. Make that effort count.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Father's Reflections

I remember the first time I saw you. I stood there trembling over the thought of this precious gift I was given and the responsibility that went along with it. With your mother’s hand in mine, I became Dad, and my life changed forever.

Changing a diaper was a skill quickly learned when mom was at work and it was just the two of us. I always made your favorite for dinner, and it amazed me how quickly a bowl of spaghetti could turn into a hat by just turning my back on you for a moment. Then we would play for hours. No matter how many times you knocked the blocks over, I stacked them back up just to hear you laugh once more. You climbed on my back when you were tired and it was off to bed. I read the same story for six years, and it soon became my favorite, too.

It seems like just yesterday when I let go of your bike for the first time. The little hand I once held was taking a firm grip on life, and my role changed. I became the strength you looked for when confronted with an obstacle; the shoulder you leaned on when things didn’t go your way. Rain or shine, I was on call whenever a ride was needed. I kept a ladder handy to get the Frisbee off the roof, and calamine lotion for when I searched for the ball in the bushes. No matter how many times I told myself no more, I always found an excuse to give in when you wanted something.

The years continued to go by. There is a car in the driveway instead of a bike, high school has turned to college and you are making your own way in the world. I'm more a spectator now, but always there when you need me. Our journey is far from over, so for the time being I'll just sit back and take pride in the person you have become.

I’ve accomplished many things in my life, but nothing is more precious to me than hearing those four little words, “Hi, dad, I’m home.”

A very Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers out there!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The New Client

For those of you venturing out of town this weekend, you might find this little tale of mine interesting. It's flash fiction, a short story in 300 words or less.

The New Client

Carol was miserable by nature. After an exhausting 4 hour flight the last thing she was in the mood for was finding out the midsize coupe she reserved was not to be. This lead to a heated, albeit one sided, argument with an unconcerned agent at the rental counter.

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” interrupted a sharply dressed woman with a restrained voice. “I’ve had someone bring around a luxury sedan. Please accept this with my compliments.”

Carol dismissed the agent at the counter with a piercing glower, followed by a condescending smile to the gracious manager.

In the car Carol regained her composure. This was her first meeting with the client; they had only spoken once on the phone. The address was unfamiliar, so she was grateful for the GPS.

Merge onto Interstate 84 West.

An hour went by. The sky was turning darker ahead and the surrounding area less inviting. Carol was getting anxious about being on time.

Turn left .5 miles ahead onto Charon Avenue.

“That voice sounds very familiar,” Carol mumbled to herself. She became increasingly distracted by the drastic change in scenery. “This can’t be right. There’s nothing out here.”

Turn Left onto Charon Avenue.

“This is absurd,” Carol remarked, making quick glances out of each window.

The road narrowed to one lane. Turning around was not an option.

Turn right 2 miles ahead onto Acheron Drive.

Something wasn’t right. The sky was pitch black with a deep red horizon.

Turn right onto Acheron.

As Carol turned the corner the scene ahead startled her. She stomped on the break. The car stopped inches from a sheer drop.

You’ve arrived at your...final...destination.

The doors locked. Carol panicked, pushing with all her strength on the brake pedal. A moment later the taillights disappeared over the edge.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

One TV Season Closer To “The Running Man”

Steven King had the right idea, and it’s more than just a little scary now. As we creep closer to 2019 with each new television season, the line between violence and entertainment is slowly blurring in the prime-time lineup. We have chefs who can’t recite the ingredients for Flan without using the “F” word, housewives you wouldn’t trust caring for your worst enemy’s children, and groups of desperate people on islands interacting with each other in ways Jane Goodall would have trouble explaining. But where did it start? Was it the day we found out TV Wrestling was fake? Maybe it was that episode of Geraldo when he got whacked in the head with a chair? They may have been there at the beginning to usher in this new form of entertainment, but to me Reality TV has its roots along the highways of this great nation of ours.

Essentially there are two types of people; those who slow to a crawl on a major Interstate at the mere sight of flashing lights and crumpled cars, and those who blow their horns and yell an assortment of expletives in an attempt to get the aforementioned moving more than 5 miles an hour. Somewhere, during one of these gaper delays, a Hollywood producer sat in the back of his gas guzzling limo and had an epiphany. After a few phone calls to cancel meetings, and an hour of moving slower than if his staff were behind the car pushing it, he gazes out the window and spots the future of television. One car is on it’s back with it’s wheels in the air like a dog doing tricks, and the other is a once sporty coupe which now looks like the prototype for the Smart Car. But that isn’t what set the light bulb off. What he saw was the 8-mile backup of “viewers” slowing down to get just a glimpse of the misery and carnage. And POOF! Reality TV was born.

Reality shows are making celebrities out of people who weren’t talented enough to mow our lawns yesterday, but today we’re taking fashion advise from them. They say it’s reality, but is it? Maybe it’s scripted just a teensy, tiny, little bit? Maybe just a casual suggestion here or there to get things rolling? Years ago they swore up and down TV Wrestling was real, and then they came out and said it was choreographed. Now it’s called Wrestling “entertainment” and they use an acronym hoping you’ll forget what they said before. Is this the fate of Reality Shows? Now that the viewers are hooked will these shows be choreographed, making them more and more outrageously real? Add to this a host with an Australian accent and an Erectile Dysfunction sponsor and you got yourself a hit show.

Lets not forget politics isn’t immune to the reality fever everyone is trying to leverage. I’m a devout Republican, but the VP choice in the last election really had me scratching my head. He picked who? An obscure governor from a state with more Snowshoe Hares than people? Then the reality factor reared its ugly head. Hints of scandal in her cabinet; a pregnant, unwed daughter; a bridge to nowhere, this had all the makings for a “Housewives of Anchorage” series not a political campaign. I truly believe Mr. McCain’s intentions to right the wrongs of our nation were sincere, but they were completely buried in the media frenzy that followed his decision. Maybe if Kate Gosselin had been available things could have worked out better for him? Sadly, by November Mr. McCain’s intentions had done more to raise the ratings for SNL than the confidence of the nation.

So what’s next? It would appear these Hollywood visionaries have created a monster. The challenge now is trying to satisfy the insatiable thirst for misery and hostility we crave week after week. The obvious answer is a Reality version of The Running Man. “Inmate” shows have been popping up in the television lineup over the past couple of years, so why not take it to the next level and do something that might have an effect on the surplus prison population, one week at a time? Or, given the economic climate of the nation, why not a Reality version of Fun With Dick And Jane? Each week you give an unemployed couple a Bill and Hillary mask and a rubber gun– then let the fun begin! I’m giddy just thinking about all the possibilities.

The one positive note I’ve found in Reality programming, it has driven me back to reading. I had almost forgotten how good it felt to get lost in a good book. To sidle along behind a character as they introduce you to a small town filled with emotion, a big city wrought with suspense, or the intrigue of an international affair. Now, that’s entertainment. If I want reality, I'll just pull up a lawn chair and break out the popcorn the next time my neighbors have a row. Who knows, it could end up being the next hit show.

Photo courtesy of: www.photos8.com

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Rook, Rhyme & Sinker (Mystery Book Review)

My latest book in the Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series is out and the reviews are in! I'm very excited to share this. Rook, Rhyme & Sinker by R. Michael Phillips (Mystery Book Review)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Old Friends

I had a book launch the other day at Barnes & Noble. As usual I was a bit nervous in the days leading up to this first event for my new novel, Rook, Rhyme & Sinker. I had no reason to be nervous. It’s not like this was my first signing event, as I’ve done many now in an assortment of venues. Still, it makes me nervous at the thought of sitting behind that familiar table, peering out over a stack of crisp, new books. I try to stay positive but a few thoughts manage to sneak through. What if no one shows up? What if the books haven’t arrived? What if I spend the first hour talking to mystery readers and then realize my zipper was down?

But the day arrived. I took a deep breath, and with pen in hand, I entered Barnes & Noble, ready for how the world intended to greet my latest literary effort. The staff at Barnes & Nobel is wonderful. We talked a little; catching up on things from when I was there last. Then I fielded a question or two from customers. “What isle are the cookbooks in?” “Do you have Dan Brown’s new book?” All this greeted with a smile as I stand proudly by a large sign stating, “Meet Mystery Writer R. Michael Phillips.” An announcement, directing customers to my presence, comes over the PA system and interest starts to swell around the table. The conversation turns to mysteries. My fears subside as I sign my first book of the day. People clustered around a table will always attract others, so the inquisitive nature of the public takes over. One last check to make sure I’m not having a wardrobe malfunction and it’s time to sign some books.

For me, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy meeting new people and talking about writing, mysteries, authors we both enjoy, etc. But the most exciting part is how an event like this affords you the opportunity to reconnect with old friends. I’ll expound on this further by saying a great deal of the success of the event and excitement of reconnecting is made possible by the advent of Social Networks. This is especially true for those of us who have not yet made it to the NY Times Best Sellers List.

This event was particularly exciting for me as I was surprised by the attendance of a couple high school friends; two cute girls back then who are now beautiful, successful women whom I haven’t seen in years. And more years than I care to remember or we’ll ever admit to I might add. They looked great, and brought with them the same spirit and enjoyment of life that made them standout as special so many years ago. We caught up on life, and quickly closed the gap between then and now.

So, you may ask, “Was the event a success?” I signed a lot of books, so from a retail point of view I would say it probably was. But to me success goes beyond the monetary element of the event. I’ll borrow a page from that credit card campaign and restate there are some things money still can’t buy. “One mystery novel- $14.99. Reconnecting will old friends- Priceless!”