Help a writer out, review books you enjoy at Amazon

Which of these books are you going to read? The one on the left with zero recommendations or the one on the right that nine out of 10 people rated at 4 or 5 stars?

Which of these books are you going to read? The one on the left with zero recommendations or the one on the right that nine out of 10 people rated at 4 or 5 stars?

I try to check daily, sometimes hourly, to see if anyone has reviewed one of my books at But obviously I am not checking with enough frequency. For eight days I’ve had a 4-star review posted at the site and I didn’t even know it!

In fairness, Jean and I were out of town last week for a couple of days celebrating how happy she’s been these last 19 years being married to me. Then we were gone to a soccer tournament all weekend. We came home and – surprise! – we actually had to work at our paying jobs. Then yesterday I was gone all afternoon visiting my friend Howard Sills.

It’s been a busy week, so if I was slow to check reader reviews I might be forgiven. The review was left on El Teneria.

It’s a 4-star review and the reviewer says he finished El Teneria and bought the follow-up novel, Blood Tubs, and I’m grateful whenever anyone enjoys one of my books enough to buy the next one. In fact, that’s as good a review as I could possibly ask for.

The review is titled “Flashmanesque” and the reviewer states that El Teneria is “very much a take on GM Fraser’s Flashman novels. It is not as good as they are.”

This is true. I’ve written here before that I hate the thought of Flashman fans reading Jackson Speed novels and comparing the two. Jackson Speed is not Harry Flashman and I’m certainly not George MacDonald Fraser.

I do think the Speed books are entertaining, and the history is solid. I’ve heard from a couple of Flashman fans who have really enjoyed the Jackson Speed Memoirs, and I’ll be honest, if a Flashman fan says that Jackson Speed comes in second to Flashman, I’m not disappointed by that. Even I say that Speed comes in second to Flashman!

I’ve only had one person tell me that he thought the Jackson Speed Memoirs are better than Flashman, and I’m very dubious that he says this out of a sense of loyalty to our longstanding and close personal friendship.

This sort of leads me into another something I have been trying to write on my blog but wasn’t sure the right way to say it without appearing self-serving.

I spend a lot of time reading blogs from other indie writers. Some of them are legitimately out there trying to make a living on their books, or supplement their living with their book sales.

I’m just screwing around, enjoying myself and having fun writing stories that entertain me. I love it when my stories entertain others, and I love it when readers leave a comment on my blog or send me an email or post a reader review (particularly a positive one, though I have this odd masochistic side that feels validated whenever I get a poor review).

But on behalf of those writers out there who are seriously trying to make a buck, if you find a book you really enjoy, please give a thought to leaving a 4- or 5-star reader review at Amazon. It doesn’t have to read like an English Lit grad student’s thesis paper, nor does it have to be particularly long or detailed.

You can offer potential readers who are looking through reader reviews a summation of the plot. You can briefly mention some things you liked about the novel or the author’s writing style. You can just simply say that you enjoyed the book. Just write whatever feels appropriate to you.

My favorite thing to see in a reader review is when a reader says they will read the sequels – if it’s a series – or other books by the author. That’s gold for an indie writer, because it tells people who are considering whether or not to buy a book that the book was good enough to get a reader to come back for more.

You see, the conventional wisdom that I read over and over from writers who offer marketing tips is that the thing that helps drive book sales is more reader reviews. The more reader reviews they have (especially positive reviews), the more likely other people will be willing to give an unknown writer a chance.

Personally, I think there are other things readers could do that would better help indie writers. If you’ve read a book by a writer and you’ve enjoyed the book, tell people. Post it on Facebook or tweet it on Twitter or tell people face-to-face that you enjoyed a book. How do you think Fifty Shades of Gray did so well? I haven’t read it, but I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with the writing. Instead, it had to do with women telling other women, “I just read this book and you should read it, too.”

I actually heard someone make a recommendation to a couple of other women about Fifty Shades of Gray.

I can tweet links to my books thousands of times, but none of those tweets will have the same impact as someone who has read my books saying to someone else, “You know, these books aren’t half bad.”

As far as negative reviews go, I’ll say this: Obviously if you read a book and you don’t like it for one reason or another, you certainly can leave a negative review.

But I would ask that you don’t leave a 1-star review if you bought a Kindle book and something corrupted the download and you didn’t get the book. That’s a problem to take up with Amazon customer service (and they will get you the book) and not something over which the author has any control. A 1-star review for a failed download punishes the author unnecessarily.

I realize that for people who are writing books – especially the people who are depending on their income from books to pay bills – we eat, breathe and sleep this stuff. Reader reviews or sharing a book you’ve enjoyed on social media, these are things that we are desperate for and think about all the time.

But for the average reader, who doesn’t give any thought to the challenges in trying to market a book and only wants to know when the next one in the series will be released, these aren’t necessarily things that you’re thinking about.

So, if you find a writer you enjoy and you want to encourage them and help them, I would ask that you give some thought to promoting their work. It doesn’t have to be a lot. A two or three sentence review, a post or two on social media, maybe a word to a friend – and then you can feel really good about yourself, because you’ve probably just really helped an indie writer and maybe turned some folks on to a great new book.

Celebrating a milestone!


It’s been a pretty good month for Jackson Speed and his editor (me).

Last month I published the third book in the Jackson Speed series and (for the first time) I spent some time creating a spread sheet with all of my sales (to include paperbacks and Kindle downloads, paid and free).

As May came to a close and June started, I realized that I was just eight books away from hitting my first big milestone. I had already distributed 992 books (that’s a combination of all four of my books) through Amazon.

I posted it on Facebook and a few of my friends were kind enough to drop $3 (or in a couple of cases, $12 plus shipping) to push me over the edge.

I’ve now distributed 1,000 books through Amazon.

These people are not celebrating the World Cup being in Brazil, they are celebrating 1000 copies of Jackson Speed novels going out through Amazon.

These people are not celebrating the World Cup being in Brazil, they are celebrating 1000 copies of Jackson Speed novels going out through Amazon.

I know what you’re thinking: “Wow! A thousand books! This dude must be a millionaire!”

That’s what I was thinking, too!

But I’ve run the math with a calculator (twice) and I’m not a millionaire. If 1000 book sales were going to make me a millionaire, I’d have to be selling my books for $1000 a piece.

Besides, most of those 1000 books that I’ve distributed through Amazon were on free Kindle days where people were able to download the book for free. So I haven’t sold 1000 books through Amazon, but I’ve distributed 1000 books through Amazon.

Anyway … it’s a milestone all the same.

The hope is that the people who download the book for free will enjoy it and maybe come back for more. The truth is, most of the people who download the book for free haven’t read it and never will. When people see free books that interest them, they’ll frequently download the book but never come back to it (I’ve done it myself).

However … I have heard from a handful of readers who did download a book for free and enjoyed it, and that’s the neatest thing to me – being able to connect with people who like my books and are literally all over the world.

At some point, I gave up on marketing my books. I decided the more important thing for me was to write more. Book marketing becomes a full time job if you let it, and I have a full time job. I had to either market my one book or write more books. So I decided to write.

The extent of my marketing scheme now is that I post on Facebook sometimes, tweet links to my blog or books on Twitter once in a while, and I update my blog periodically.

The fact that I’ve had 1000 people get copies of my books with little marketing from me is a true blessing.

I’m still writing and still not marketing (though at some point I do plan to really start pushing the marketing), so 2000 books through Amazon may still be a year or two away. But that’s okay. I’m loving writing, I’m enjoying connecting with readers, and I’m having a great time making spread sheets that show that in one month there were 46 people who downloaded El Teneria for free and in the following two months 14 people bought Blood Tubs, the sequel to El Teneria.

Anyway … if you can count yourself among the 1,000 people who have gotten my book through Amazon, I honestly, truly, sincerely am grateful to you.

And if you’re one of the people who has sent me an email or a message on Facebook or a comment through my blog or if you’ve come to a book signing or posted a reader review on Amazon or in any way expressed to me that you enjoyed my book – again, thank you so much. I don’t have the words to tell you how much it means to me.

When you write and publish books, you take a huge part of yourself and put it on display for other people to see. When you read a book, you get a glimpse into the mind of the author – his thoughts and imagination are on display.

It’s a terrifying and embarrassing thing to expose yourself like that.

But … if you’re among those 1000, I appreciate what you’ve done to help make it a little less terrifying and embarrassing. I guess the real joy isn’t whether or not I’m making millions of dollars with my writing (although I am considering pricing Jackson Speed at the High Tide at $1000 when it comes out), but the real joy is having people respond favorably to the things I’ve written. Thank you so much for making these last couple of years writing about Jackson Speed a real joy!

* I should note that I’ve sold or given away many, many paperbacks, too (I don’t have good numbers on that, but somewhere approaching or maybe just over 200). So if you’re a Jackson Speed fan but you’ve never bought a novel through Amazon, I’m also grateful to you!