Hard Lessons Learned-My Experiences as an Author

Writing, like anything worth doing in life is challenging and filled with daily lessons.  One lesson became painfully obvious despite my many attempts to ignore it. I am on my own when it comes to marketing. I research quite heavily on how to market a book.  Many people suggested outsourcing marketing such as hiring bloggers to share or review your work.  There are an innumerable amount of people and “companies” on Twitter who are willing to Tweet books and/or put you in their email list to their “many” followers.

Like most authors trying to build a brand, I’ve had a hard time with marketing.  The feedback I’ve gotten on my books from people I trust has been largely positive.  However, giving out books for reviews rarely produces any reviews at all.  So many people say they would love to write a review but when it comes to committing, they simply don’t show up to prom.  To further that metaphor, I’m left alone on the dance floor without a date that swore to Heaven she would show.  This is even after treating her like a princess and picking her up, she just slips away quietly right after we enter the school.

I feel like everything I’ve done as far as marketing is concerned is met with similar results.  My wife and I tried to hire a marketing team, but even with the prospect of paying company several hundred dollars they still took weeks to respond and never met their deadlines.  It’s beyond infuriating when I’m told I will get a response by Friday of this week and I don’t hear anything until four weeks have gone by and I contacted this person’s boss.  After this I felt depressed.  I am still learning how to find my audience.  I need someone to come along side me and work with R. Michael Books long-term.  I also got desperate.  Desperation never results in good judgement.

I decided to reach out to a blogger who writes book reviews who initially contacted me.  I researched this person and could not find anything bad about her and her site was professional and looked legitimate.  I did research on whether authors should pay bloggers and one site suggested it is a good way to get exposure as did a few others.  In my desperation I became convinced and decided to hire this blogger. She seemed professional and was always kind in her emails, so I ignored my reservations.  She did produce a review on her blog, but it was obvious that she hadn’t read my book.  It was just a bunch of flowery platitudes that were carefully crafted to stroke my ego, most likely in order to win a repeat customer. I decided to dig deep into Google and try to find ANYTHING I could about her other than what her website says.  Lo and behold I found a KDP thread where a few authors detailed a similar experience with this blogger.  I then carefully read through her blogs and they were all the same.  Overly flattering to the author, she was reviewing.

I tell of this experience because I learned a few things.  NEVER pay for a blogger to review your work.  No matter how reputable he/she may be.  The blog I purchased wasn’t technically for a positive review, and the site owner claims to only charge to help her family.  I also know as someone who has a few websites that they are expensive to keep operational.  It is frowned upon to pay for reviews in the literary world.  I honestly didn’t realize that until it was after the fact and I did more reading on the topic, which meant going more than a few pages into Google.  This review is utterly useless due to the nature of how it was designed to flatter me more than actually giving an honest look at my book.  Initially I justified this in my mind because there are large companies that review books for several hundred dollars.  Well-known companies and I found it odd that paying them is considered professional but not a blogger.  Honestly, I don’t think either are all that helpful.  As authors when it comes to getting reviews and selling our books it is based on time and hard work.  Throwing money at the situation doesn’t solve the problem.  I’ve learned my lesson, and if you are an author too, learn from mine as well.

I Believe in Science!

I just started writing a science fiction novel.  With writing in a new genre comes research and new things begin to stand out more than normal. Many times, I come across either memes on social media or blog posts declaring that a person or group “believes in science.” I find this to be rather odd.

I’ve never read about, met, or otherwise known of anyone who doesn’t believe in the process of coming up with a hypothesis and testing it to see if the results are not only possible but repeatable.  Despite what some may think, I am not sure there are many worldviews that are actively against believing in such processes.  Of course, I’m not an idiot and know that this declaration is meant to counter what the scientific community’s stances are on evolution and climate change.  More accurately, “I believe in science!” is a statement that has baggage which indirectly is sometimes used to discredit “religious” beliefs.  Not always, but it is true rather often.

As a Christian who accepts the scientific findings, I am all too aware that the culture that surrounds my faith is known for rejecting things that appear painfully obvious to those who do not adhere to Christianity.  I would argue that such an instance isn’t about rejecting science, but instead scientists’ findings and claims.  Those who announce their love for science claim those who do not fully accept climate change and evolution to be real fail to understand or believe science at all.  Those on the receiving side of those arguments say that there are things science cannot answer and can and has been wrong before.  “Religious” folks do not see it as rejecting science as a process.  Many of them believe science supports other ideas than what are mainstream.  Instead they reject common belief due to worldviews and that history has shown that scientists have been wrong before.  Do I as a Christian agree with this position?  Not entirely.  Yes, scientific consensus has been wrong in the past and until more information comes to light we might find out that is the case now as well.  That is the nature and beauty of science.  However, where I disagree is to use that as a catch all to simply justify preconceptions and therefore reject an idea even when heaps upon heaps of evidence, peer reviews, and testable evidence support a theory.

This topic ties into my previous blog post about truth.  People believe what they want to believe no matter what evidence is given.  One must not only be open-minded but have a worldview that doesn’t crumble simply because something is uncomfortable.  This is true on all matters, not just heavy topics like climate change.  Another thing that would help would be for both believers and non-believers to acknowledge that science and faith are not incompatible.  Certainly, they are if either are layered with presuppositions, but that doesn’t have to be the case.  Ultimately, believing in science does not equate believing in scientific claims.  The process and the results are different.  Political and religious worldviews shape how we interpret these claims.  I would argue both political sides ignore important scientific truths.  The reality is we must do our best to curb our natural human bias with discernment.  This is possible, but a difficult endeavor.

Growth

I wrote a blog before about how characters are expected to change and grow. That is a fair expectation, if all characters were static they wouldn’t be interesting.  Everyone changes to some degree, but how many people change significantly enough where they would be considered a “dynamic” character in a book? Honestly, I do not know the answer. Maybe it’s everyone, maybe the number is a small minority.

From my limited perspective, the anecdotal evidence in life seems to indicate that people both change and stay the same simultaneously.  How is that possible?  As people grow older their behaviors change, become more refined, their habits that are good and bad become deeper entrenched. It is common from what I’ve seen for people to become set in their ways and when they encounter challenges to their lifestyle they become defensive.  However, they become set in their ways after adapting to the environment form their childhood and early adulthood.

True change is hard.  I think we all can say we do things that we wish we would change, but despite hating certain behaviors or habits, sometimes they still rear their ugly head. From my limited point-of-view it appears that people eventually accept these habits as a part of who they are.  As I said, change is hard. It takes active participation every day, and frankly not everyone has the will to follow through. There are things I am challenged with daily too.  There are things that I do sometimes that I know are wrong yet do them anyway because they have become ingrained in me.  This is a struggle that we all deal with, but I want to actively try to change them.  Sometimes it is discouraging because it never feels like there is going to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Sometimes “discouragement” is too weak of a word, “depression” and “hopelessness” are more fitting.  We feel like we can’t be better, we are a slave to our whims, passions, and habits. However, we can change.  Every one of us, no matter what the issue may be. Let us all actively work hard to be better men and women everyday while accepting perfection isn’t going to be possible. We don’t have to be slaves to our habits and become set in our ways.

Truth

It is said that truth is something that cannot stay hidden.  Many believe that no matter how long it takes, truth eventually comes to light and reveals itself.  I may write fiction, but good fiction is driven by truths.  Truths mostly about the human spirit and condition.  This may sound cynical, but I wonder if indeed truth cannot stay hidden, or if our bias and private perspectives blind us.

In our postmodern era, perhaps not everyone would agree that truth is truth regardless of culture or perspective, but I’m certain most would.  After all, we know there is only one star that our solar system revolves around.  Someone may believe the moon is a star too, but that wouldn’t be correct, no matter what worldview that person would use to justify his belief.  There are other things that get trickier, and truth begins to blur so much with worldview that they become almost indistinguishable.

If a person believes that evil spirits and not microbes are the cause of illness, even if he is shown the bacteria under a microscope, that is when a worldview interferes with truth.  We know intellectually that just because an idea is widely believed, that doesn’t make it true, but we are social beings who want to be accepted.  The more an idea is floated around and made prominent, the more readily accepted it becomes.  Sometimes this happens for good, sometimes for bad.  History is replete with examples of both.  Slavery is an example of an evil in humanity, while civil rights and freedoms are examples of good.

There are things that I feel are true and have been tested and proven as such, yet in some instances certain people are unwilling to mold their worldviews to the truth.  In other cases, what was once accepted as truth even “common sense” appears to be becoming lost in western culture.  The inability for people to see through their worldviews is largely what is at the heart of the political strife in America.  Anymore either side cannot agree on what is right even at a fundamental level.

This situation is nothing new.  For the entirety of human culture, people have refused to acknowledge truth based on presuppositions. If that is the case, then how can truth always come to light? Having beliefs is normal and essential to being human, so do not misunderstand me.  Nor do I feel that beliefs should always be compromised by what someone else says is truth.  Merely, I find it fascinating that truth while apparent to some may not be as apparent to others.  Truth in some matters might be understood by a person, but the same man or woman may be blinded by untruth in other matters. Something to think on.

Do we live in an age without self-awareness?

As an author I feel it is my job to pay attention to cultural leanings and norms.  I’ve written before about the politically charged climate we live in.  People have adapted an “us verses them” mentality not just with politics but faith, lack of faith, and even mundane things like movies.  Yes, movies, I’ve seen some impassioned arguments about them on the internet.  With these discussions one primary accusation comes up; the other person or side is a hypocrite.

The truth is, no one likes a hypocrite and we can smell hypocrisy a million miles away in another person or group but struggle to see it in ourselves.  It’s undoubtful that everyone has been a hypocrite before.  I certainly have, everyone I know has been.  That is an inevitable part of being human.  There is a problem when hypocrisy is a pattern or even a lifestyle.

Hypocrisy can evolve to a point where a person is utterly lacking self-awareness.  The problem compounds when such lack of self-awareness spreads throughout a culture like a cancer.  Perhaps I’m cynical but from my perspective this seems to be where we are at in western society.  We see this especially in politics.  If someone from our “team” is guilty of something we look the other way and justify their actions.  However, if the “other side” does the same thing we lose our minds and catastrophize the situation.  The same thing is with religious verses irreligious folks.  The common attitude is that people can have their faith and believe what they will, but they must keep it to themselves.  However, irreligious folks, sometimes flood the internet with comments about how people who believe differently than them are delusional idiots.

There is a surface celebration of diversity in our culture, but rarely are diverse ideas met with approval.  It is the norm to shout down, belittle, and attack those who think differently.  Maybe we should try to understand why someone believes differently instead?  That is much harder.  It also goes against human nature.  It requires an immense amount of empathy, but it is not impossible.  I’m directing these comments as much to myself as anyone reading this.  This is how we become self-aware and do not become what we hate in others.