Why I Write Diverse Books That Are Outside-The-Box

The Boys of SPINNER

As an urban high school teacher for twenty-five years, I primarily taught kids of color. And yet, in the books and stories we read, almost all of the characters were Caucasian, and most with reasonably stable home lives. I decided as an author to write about the kids I knew best – kids of color, gay kids, marginalized kids, poor kids, kids with disabilities, gang members, and incarcerated kids – because I want all youth to see themselves represented in a positive light within the pages of teen literature.

To that end, I crafted a five-book series called The Children of the Knight Cycle that takes a fantasy concept – King Arthur in modern-day Los Angeles – and uses it to showcase a laundry list of crimes this society perpetrates against kids who don’t “fit the norm,” or won’t be shoehorned into the “one size fits all” mentality of public education, or don’t want to be a mini-me version of their parents. Virtually all the main characters in my series are teens of color, including Native Americans. Some of them are gay. But all are dynamic, memorable individuals that readers can relate to. Every day in America such kids are kicked to the curb. We don’t want them in our homes or classrooms or in our books. We’d rather they just disappear. In recent decades, we’ve decided we like putting them in prison. A staggering number of states arrest children aged ten (and younger) and charge them as adults for imitating the anti-social examples of adults, or for copying illicit behaviors popular media models every day.

I present these kids as real human beings with the same hopes, fears, needs, and wants as everyone else. My characters benefit from adults who choose to love them no matter what and who show them how to do what’s right, rather than what’s easy. The kids learn that every one of them can make a positive difference in this world, and that’s a message the students in my urban, working-class high school seldom got from the books I was forced to teach them. In those books, only “white” kids succeeded.

In my teen horror thriller, Spinner, I highlight the other forgotten kids I taught for many years – those with disabilities. These kids tend to be the most overlooked of all high schoolers because it is “assumed” by adults that they will never amount to much in life. Kids with physical or learning disabilities are no different from those without them – they can learn and achieve, but maybe not in the same cookie-cutter fashion school systems like to employ. I know what I’m talking about because I have a disability of my own – hearing loss. I’ve lived with a severe sensorineural hearing impairment my whole life, and did not have access to hearing aids until I was in college.

I also didn’t know anyone with hearing loss until after graduate school. I was the only kid like me, and that kind of singularity can be isolating. Even though people don’t always mean to be insensitive, not a single day went by that I wasn’t made to feel “different” because of my disability. On the plus side, my isolated childhood gave me true empathy for every youngster who was “different” in some way, and likely directed me to seek out such kids and work with them. After graduate school, I joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, wherein adults mentor kids with no father in the home. I was matched to a 14-year-old boy with hearing loss, and the experience was revelatory. Even as an adult, the relief that I felt to finally know someone who grew up with hearing loss was palpable. Imagine what it’s like for kids like me to see themselves in books they read, to understand that they aren’t alone or broken or crippled, to see hope for their lives because they see others like them achieving greatness. We all need to know that being different is not wrong. In fact, being apart from the norm is most often a net positive. But, my disability never defined me, and I want kids to see that theirs don’t define them, either.

I think publishers are skittish about books like mine that mash up various genres and focus on outside-the-box characters, stories that don’t fit an established pattern that can be “pitched” easily, and can’t be described as “the next Hunger Games” or something of that nature. Children of the Knight was released by an indie publisher that seemingly lost faith in the project because there was no visible attempt to promote it to the target audience. They even labeled it a romance on Amazon and it’s not a romance. I made a big push with Spinner to engage the interest of an agent or larger publisher and got nowhere with either. An indie publisher, YoungDudes Publishing, saw potential in the book and chose to release it. As a startup, they have no budget for promotion, but they are awesome people and working with them has been wonderful. But without the marketing arm of a big publisher, without those necessary journal reviews, like School Library Journal, nobody knows the book exists. This is the dilemma every writer must face, especially if, like me, you write outside the box and outside the genre mold.

Having said that, I would not change what I write to fit those molds or to make my books more “white,” assuming that is the goal with publishers. The main character in Spinner is Caucasian, but his friends are kids of color and they all have various disabilities. I took an interesting class last year about cover art on books for teens and children, and learned that even if the main character in those books was a child of color, the cover had been whitewashed in some fashion so the race or ethnicity was obscured. That class opened my eyes to how the publishing industry works and maybe showed me that, just as I never did in life, I might never fit into their predetermined “molds.”

One reviewer of my Children of the Knight series applauded me for breaking the teen hero mold by presenting a strong teen boy who is conflicted about his sexual orientation: “Lance is the hero around which the action pivots. Not many authors would have given such a character the heartthrob role. But Bowler takes a chance, fashioning something completely different by having such a key figure question his sexuality.”

I suspect a major publisher would have told me to “make him straight” like every other teen boy hero. I never had the chance to make such a choice, but I hope I would have said no. Lance is far more interesting and real for his inner turmoil, and for his desire to “fit in” the way society says he must in order to be a “real” boy.

No matter what we look like or how much money we have or how smart we are; no matter our race, ethnicity, gender, or orientation; no matter our abilities or disabilities – at the end of every day we’re all the same. We’re all human. We’re human first, and everything else second. We spend way too much time in this country focusing on what we perceive to be the weaknesses or differences in others. The teen characters in my books prove that our strengths always outweigh our weaknesses, and our diversity, i.e. our differentness, is to be celebrated, not hidden away. If more adults would focus on the natural talents and gifts of kids instead of always trying to make everyone “fit in,” then all children would have a real chance to soar. As a writer of teen lit, my goal is to empower every kid, not just the ones most Americans “look like” or even “act like.”

The Children of the Knight

 

Lance Statement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the Genre Term “Young Adult Literature” is Dangerous

Young Adult

I hate the term “Young Adult Literature.” Teens and children are NOT young adults and they never will be young adults. Twelve and under are children or kids. Thirteen to eighteen are teens or adolescents. Eighteen years old is the beginning of young adulthood in America, and the adult brain isn’t fully formed until age twenty-one plus. That’s real science, not my opinion.

I point this out because it’s a major theme in my writing. America seems bound and determined to rob children of their childhood. Even on such supposedly safe channels as Nickelodeon and Disney, shows often depict kids as young as ten or eleven pursuing romantic relationships.

These storylines put ideas into the heads of kids at home that there must be something wrong with them if they don’t want a boyfriend or girlfriend in elementary or middle school. Kids that age should NOT be pursuing such complicated and stressful relationships. They should be building friendships that are strong and binding. Developmentally, they are figuring out who they are as individuals and don’t need the pressures of a “relationship” they can’t fully understand and don’t actually want. I talked to an eleven-year-old recently who said he wanted a girlfriend. When I asked why, he didn’t have an answer. I know the answer – it’s because the media keeps pushing that idea and kids always want to “fit in” with whatever is the current trend. Why the media pushes romantic, and by extension sexual, relationships on children is a disturbing question to ponder. No good can come of such poisoning of children’s minds and souls in this fashion, and yet we as a society allow it to happen. That’s scary.

There’s another, even more insidious aspect to labeling kids “young adults.” Children today are exposed to more and more adult behaviors, usually bad ones, and when they copy those behaviors they are expelled from school or arrested. If the behaviors are really serious and somebody gets hurt, these children are put into adult court and sentenced to prison. I know a large number of them personally. I’ve spent time with seven and eight year olds in juvenile hall. Children reflect the society in which they grow up, and America is teaching them how to be self-absorbed consumers with little regard for others. Maybe that’s the plan – keep them self-absorbed with “me” centered behaviors and they won’t challenge the status quo. If kids, i.e. the next generation, don’t challenge the status quo, corruption and greed win every time.

Young children can be tried as adults in many states and the media always labels these kids “young men” or “young women.” Why? Because readers or viewers won’t feel sorry for them and think of them as the damaged children they actually are. Even when children do something positive, they are still referred to with those factually and morally misleading terms “young men” and “young women.” It’s clearly an agenda designed to benefit adults. There’s no other explanation. If society decides children are “little adults,” then anything goes with those kids, right? They can be put into prison, used sexually, or forced to work so parents or guardians can make money off of them.

My Children of the Knight series explores these themes in depth. My young characters rebel against societal brainwashing and use social media to galvanize their peers across the country to do the same. A revolution ensues that continues in the latest installment, Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot. Children and teens are the only ones who can make society better because they will run it some day. Brainwashing them to obsess over themselves – as though kids don’t do this enough already – is the easiest way to ensure that those in power across the board won’t be challenged. Sadly, the tactic seems to be working. It’s my hope that kids who read my books will come to the same awareness as my characters about what is really going on and feel empowered to rise up and stop it.

Vigilant parents keep their kids away from media, and screen everything, within reason, that kids watch or read. And allow their children to grow developmentally along natural milestones. Rushing children to “behave” like adults is a net negative. Far too many adults are poor role models. These adults don’t want to make the world better for kids because they personally benefit from how it is now. I don’t want my children copying the behaviors of most “famous” people, or even characters in so much of what passes for children’s entertainment these days, because then my kids will become part of the problem, not the solution.

So yes, I decry the term “Young Adult” applied to children and teen lit. It’s just an excuse to distract kids by putting more adult material into their books, mostly sexual material, and get away with it because the books are for “young adults.” No, they’re not. These books are for kids who are still developing and are not young adults and never will be young adults until they actually grow into young adults. I write books for teens and tweens that can be enjoyed by adults of all ages. Now I just have to convince the rest of the industry to call teen lit what it is – teen lit. If more parents complained on a grass roots level and emailed publishers and Amazon to replace that “Young Adult” moniker, we could seriously challenge the status quo. Or we could just succumb to the brainwashing and do nothing. I prefer to challenge. And then go after Disney and Nickelodeon.

Anyone with me?

WarriorKids-Facebook V2

Michael J. Bowler

Michael J. Bowler Amazon Page

Do Characters Write Themselves?

Fictional Characters

I know, that sounds like the plot of a Stephen King novel, right? Novelist stalked by his murderous main character who springs to life from the pages of his latest book! Oh wait, that was a Stephen King novel. Ha! However far-fetched that and other stories of a similar ilk may be, I’m here to attest to the essential reality of this peculiar notion, and to answer my own question with a resounding “Yes!”

Am I crazy? Perhaps. But hear me out first and then I’d love to get comments from fellow authors on this subject. And readers, too, since we write for you, after all. I’ve just spent the past year and a half living with the fictional characters in my massive, 721,440 word Children of the Knight trilogy, after having spent twenty years on and off (due to that pesky thorn in the side called work) developing the series. The first volume, Children of the Knight, is available from Amazon and the other usual suspects. Part II, Running Through a Dark Place, comes out in May or June, with the finale, And the Children Shall Lead, slated for fall. This story is one long book broken into three parts to make it less daunting (and less expensive to publish and buy – Ha!), so to say I’ve lived with these characters 24/7 is an understatement. And yes, as difficult as it may be for people to comprehend, those characters lived and breathed and directed their own dialogue and their own actions. I, as the author, merely wrote what they wanted me to write.

I know, crazy. Except it’s true. As the author, I very much created the plot and laid out the storyline and decided who my characters would be, both main and supporting. I knew how the trilogy would end before I even finished the first part. Did I know every single scene ahead of time? Of course not, though I did have an outline of the entire epic to work from. But here’s the rub – once I selected my characters and got to know those characters and then set them loose within my chosen plot, well, they just took over.

This series has a huge cast of characters to juggle. Most are teens or children, but there are also many adults of varying ages and from different walks of life. The teens are all unique, each with his or her own back-story and life experience. Thus, they don’t talk or act the same. I really hate any YA literature these days wherein the children (especially middle school age kids) talk and act like adults. It’s not only preposterous, but it perpetuates the notion that kids can think like adults, and that idiotic notion has slipped big-time into our so-called justice system, resulting in some states putting children as young as seven into adult court if those children commit a crime. Kids can mimic adults, yes, but they do not have the fully formed brains and rational thinking capacity of adults, and an author needs to keep that biological fact in mind when writing. But I digress. Sorry.

Anyway, once I got to know my characters, I pretty much let them run the show. I’d be at the gym on a treadmill or using the elliptical machine, and thinking of the next scene or scenes I was going to write when I got home. I’d picture in my mind what had to happen in the scene and which characters would be involved, then simply let it play out. And damn if it didn’t unspool in my mind like a movie! Not ever did I consciously compose a single line of dialogue. The kids talked and responded as they would have had the situation been real life, and all I had to do was either write it down at the gym or keep playing the scene back in my mind until I got home and then transcribe it. But the bottom line is, I let them tell me what they wanted to say. That’s not to suggest I didn’t change up some of the phrasing later on, but the essentials of what they said remained intact.

Readers ask how I came up with Lance’s little catch phrase, “Damn straight,” and I don’t have an answer. Or Reyna saying she couldn’t take orders from a boy younger and prettier than her, and then reusing that line to jibe Lance from time to time thereafter. Or Lance calling six-year-old Chris “little man” and everyone else gradually following suit. Or why Jenny tells Arthur, “That’s the great failure of our society–too many adults who want to act like children and too many who expect children to act like adults.” The list is endless and the only answer I can give is that those characters wanted to say those things that way at that moment, and so I let them.

Even while sitting at the computer, I’d type out a scene and let characters have their way with each other and respond to the circumstances in which they found themselves, then I’d go back later to reread what I had written and wonder where it all came from. Often, these scenes played out perfectly, the dialogue completely organic and exactly how Lance or Reyna or Arthur or Jack or Mark or Esteban or Jenny or Chris would have responded. It was definitely Stephen King-esque. Then, after concluding each book, I’d go back to revise, and more often than not laugh or feel choked up with emotion at what a character said or did, knowing that I’d written the scene, but never quite understanding how it came off so seamlessly, or why I couldn’t even remember actually composing it. Okay, I’m weird, but I’ve known that forever. Maybe that’s why I’m a writer. Ha!

What I also found interesting was what happened when I tried to get a character to do or say something he or she clearly didn’t want to do (in other words, would not do in real life.) Those scenes felt empty and wrong, though I didn’t always understand why at first. In Children of the Knight, there’s a scene I can’t describe because it would be a spoiler, but my main character, Lance, kept telling me he wanted to do something in the scene, and I kept resisting. In the first few drafts I fought to have it my way because I worried how readers might react to the scene. But Lance is nothing if not determined. Growing up on the streets had made him so. He kept insisting I let him do what he wanted, so I finally relented. The scene now feels very natural, real, and quite touching, and thus far no readers or reviewers have objected. See – the character always knows best.

In saying all of this, I don’t always see this same attention to character continuity and reality in books I read, even from bestselling authors. A character in these books will suddenly act out or make a decision completely counter to who he or she is, apparently to further the plot, and those anomalous behaviors always jump off the page at me and pull me right out of the story. At that point, the author has partially lost my allegiance. In most books, the plot, or storyline, if you prefer, must dictate the flow and pacing, but it should never force a character to act counter to himself or herself for the sake of a plot twist, or more commonly, a plot contrivance. Characters are supposed to evolve and change over time, depending on what events befall them, but those changes should be gradual and come across as organic and believable or the reality of the human being is lost. That’s my whole point. I could give specific examples from bestselling books, but I don’t want to dis a fellow author or the book editor, though it seems to me a good editor should have pointed out such an egregious faux pas to the writer and politely insist it be corrected. Oh well, the books are hits so what do I know, right?

If you’re a new writer you may be asking yourself, how do I get to know my characters? Well, how do we get to know anyone – by listening. Many writers start with Fan Fiction on the Internet, writing stories using characters they already know from some TV show or other. As a teen I often did that myself, though there was no Internet to post them on back in the day. Ha! But I knew those characters from watching them and, more importantly, listening to how they talked and interacted with others. The same principle holds true for characters of your own creation.

Of course, it’s important to have at least a basic outline for each of your characters, but you don’t need to know every aspect of his or her life up to the point of your story unless those aspects are relevant to your story. As with all of us, our past experiences – good and bad – inform our choices in the present and often dictate how we respond to certain people, events, or locations. Those are the details you need to think out ahead of time because they will determine how your character interacts with others in your book. Once you have these back stories in your head, including the level of education a character may or may not have had, then their manner of speech, as well as what they say or don’t say, becomes clearer to you with each passing scene. Run scenes in your head as I do, put your characters in place, and then just listen to how they talk, and note how they react to the given situation. Yeah, I guess writing is sort of like having a multiple personality disorder, but in a controlled way. You can’t allow yourself to become Stephen King’s alter ego in his book and have your main character possess you. But if you did, would that be called “method writing?” But I digress again. In any case, “method writing” is not recommended if your main character is a serial killer. Ha! But always listen to your characters, and more importantly, learn from them.

I personally spend an inordinate amount of time revising my books, especially the really long ones, because I want that character consistency and plot continuity that I’ve relished in books I love. I want everything I set up to pay off satisfactorily for the reader, even if that pay off comes in the second or third book, and the worst comment I feel I could ever receive would be that one of my characters acted in a way I never set up (or should I say, the character never set up.) Thankfully, I’ve not gotten such a comment yet, and hopefully never will. While readers might not be conscious of characters bending to suit the plot, it’s my gut feeling that the books they cherish don’t do this. We can get so caught up in plot that we overlook character inconsistencies, but when all the dots are connected and all the strands woven together seamlessly, a story will live in our hearts forever.

This quote from one reviewer on Goodreads helped solidify in my mind all the time I spend making sure each character runs his own show: “The very large supporting cast is quite uniquely developed. Everyone is developed uniquely to suit their role within the novel, without throwing in irrelevant details to bog down the reader. Also, their dialogue and dialects stay consistent throughout. Bowler never trips up on who speaks which way. It made it quite easy to differentiate between characters.” That’s such a fantastic validation, and encourages me to keep taking my time in getting the characters right.

So, any comments out there? Agree? Disagree? Feel free to weigh in, especially you writers out there. Some of you write ten books a year. Wish I could do that, but I’m too detail oriented and OCD when it comes to this issue of character and story continuity. I know I’ll never win any writing awards for poetic descriptions or flowery prose, but at least I strive to make my characters live and breathe and be at all times 100% real to the reader. To that end, I trust my characters to know themselves. I don’t argue with them any more. Lance taught me that. I let them be, and they don’t let me down.

Children of the Knight-best quality alt

 

First Person Narrator or Third – Which Works Better?

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Sir Lance, who is the main character in my Children of the Knight series, wanted the entire story to be from his point of view. But was that possible? As the author telling his story, I had to make the best decision for my readers, and that’s always an interesting decision for writers to make –  which will work better, first person narrator or third? My answer to that is: depends on the story. For personal stories like romances or reflections back to childhood or struggles with a deeply emotional personal dilemma, I always prefer first person because of the intimacy factor. You, the reader, feel part of the person’s heart and soul and it’s easier for the writer to share the emotions the situation requires, especially feelings of love and longing or even wistfulness and nostalgia.

Having said that, I don’t like first person narration in horror, action, adventure, or even mystery books for this main reason: you. the reader, know right up front that no matter what danger may befall the main character, he or she won’t die. That eliminates such an important layer of suspense that it can practically derail what would normally be a good story.

Case in point: The Hunger Games Trilogy. Gee, Katniss is the narrator and it’s in the first person voice. You think maybe she might survive the games? I wonder . . . That choice by the author nearly ruined those books for me because the story was much bigger than Katniss alone and when we the readers only saw what she saw, that was limiting. The movie version was able to open up the entire world and let us see into areas – like how the games were run – that Katniss (and by extension us) never could see or experience. Plus, especially with the first book, there’s no suspense in the game because you know she can’t die. In my opinion as a reader, that was a poor choice by the author.

Children of the Knight is written in the third person because there are so many characters and locations that a single narrator could not have covered everything in any way that wouldn’t have seemed forced and idiotic. In addition, characters dying can be traumatic and very emotional for readers and I want that option in my books so readers can rightly fear for the life of a beloved main character. That, to me, is what makes a book great, when the author shocks the readers with something completely unexpected. Sure, it can happen in first person narrated stories, but never to the narrator, at least nothing shockingly fatal.

Another disadvantage to first person is that it’s hard to hide anything about your narrator from the reader since we’re constantly inside that person’s head. I find it intriguing to learn bits and pieces about characters as a story progresses, and that includes the main character. To service the story, you may not want the reader to know until a certain point that your main character loves someone else or is plotting something against someone, but if you’re inside the character’s mind the whole time it’s tough to hide anything like that from the reader.

Since I’m not likely to write a memoir or romance that’s simply a romance and not a story with a romantic element, I’m not likely to use first person narration in any projects I currently have lined up. That’s not to say I might not dip into it in the future, but it all depends on how best to serve the story and make it work for the reader.

Self-Publishing versus Traditional – Which is Better?

My Book CoversSelf-publishing or traditional publisher – which is better for you? That’s a question I’ve been asked and have asked myself, and since I’ve done both Sir Lance insisted that I share my experiences. My first two books, A Boy and His Dragon and A Matter of Time, were self-published, but by different companies. My latest book, Children of the Knight, which stars Sir Lance, himself, was picked up and released by a “real” publisher, Harmony Ink Press.

With A Boy and His Dragon, which I had initially written years ago and which failed to interest a “real” publisher, I decided to go with Amazon’s Createspace to finally release it in 2011. Createspace is relatively inexpensive to use, especially if, like me, you can create your own cover art. That in itself can run you some money unless you take all the photos yourself, but if you do and own those photos, programs like Photoshop make creating the cover fun and easy. If not, there are tons of stock photos sites you can go to for images. Createspace will give you the template for your cover that will fit your eventual book size (if you want a paperback release.) Obviously, eBooks are much simpler to format. Again, Createspace makes that process rather painless.

My main problem with formatting Dragon was Microsoft Word, which always seems to have a mind of its own (and the mind of a psychopath, at that. Ha!) Createspace gave me a template to download for my book size that would double-side the pages, etc, and all I had to do was cut and paste my Word document into that template. Except, it didn’t work. Word would change fonts and font sizes all through the entire book and I eventually had to copy-paste the manuscript one chapter at a time and check over each chapter for Word changes that I didn’t want. Very annoying and time consuming. However, once I had it right the finished product looked beautiful and very professional. Being an Amazon company, the book was made available in Kindle format, but not Nook (if that is of concern to anyone.) The paperback version is available on the Barnes and Noble website, however.

I decided for A Matter of Time (which I wanted released by April of 2012 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking) to go with a “package deal” from Outskirts press, which I’d read about and which seemed good for a number of reasons. As I was working a lot and didn’t have as much available free time, this option fit my schedule because they pretty much did everything for me. I designed my own cover and uploaded it, but they formatted the book and got everything set and converted it to epub and mobi formats and prepared the paperback from the bottom up.

I didn’t notice at the time, however, that, I suppose as a way to compress the number of pages, they removed all my transitions and ran those paragraphs together, which some readers complained about because it made the flow of the story confusing, especially if the scene shifted from one time period to another. I recommend to every writer, no matter how you publish, to put several non-letters or characters (like ***) in between important transitions – don’t just leave extra space. Otherwise, you might find yours all run together, too. Overall, however, the finished product looked good. What wasn’t good were their marketing services (which cost extra, of course.) I wouldn’t recommend any of these because you’d likely get more results doing all the marketing yourself and you can save money in the process.

My newest book, Children of the Knight, was released by a real YA publisher, Harmony Ink Press, and the pre-publication process was an amazingly positive and joyful experience. These people were fantastic and creative and incredibly helpful all along the way, from the executive director to the art department to the cover artist to the editors and I can’t say enough good things about the company or the people who produced the book. I happened to find them through another writer on Goodreads. I read his book and thought it outstanding. I reviewed the book and then he and I got to chatting on Goodreads about his experience with Harmony Ink. He said they were amazing to work with so I checked out their requirements for YA submissions and my manuscript seemed to fit those requirements, so I submitted it. While my book was clearly different from what Harmony Ink normally published, they decided to take a chance on it anyway, for which I am grateful.

You can make more money self-publishing because all the royalties come back to you since there is no “publisher” that needs to make its money back. In that regard, Createspace is the cheapest way to go for you as an author as you lay out the least amount of money up front. The value of a real publisher, at least in the case of Harmony Ink, is not only did I not spend any of my own money but they actually paid me an advance! Sure, I get no royalties until the amount of the advance has been exceeded, but it’s still cool to know that someone thinks your work is good enough to pay you money (which means they have confidence it will earn them money.) Again, the people at Harmony Ink were so amazing and affirming I may be spoiled to find other publishers aren’t like them. Still, there are some smaller publishing houses like this one that will read books not submitted by an agent, so I recommend checking them out.

So here’s the bottom line, even with Harmony Ink: most of the promotion is up to you. A real publisher like Harmony Ink has more access to media outlets and can have your name on a list of “new books,” but I’ve found that unless your book is noted for being controversial or you’re an author readers or other authors already know, yours is just another title for review sites to ignore. And your book is considered a failure if the publisher cannot generate any interest in your book pre-publication. E-book copies or even galleys, are made available to reviewers three-four weeks prior to publication so there can be reviews right on “opening day.” But, of course, a publisher cannot force any site to review your book. It’s strictly up to the reviewers who populate those sites. However, and this is key, the pre-release buzz from those reviewers snapping up the offered e-books will likely determine if the publisher will  promote your book at all once it’s released, or just dump it out there and move on to the next book, and author.

Despite Harmony Ink having a long list of review sites that, as a rule, love their books and generally post a large number of reviews right when the books comes out or shortly thereafter, Children of the Knight generated no such interest. I think I got maybe three reviews from those sites shortly after the book debuted. Obviously, my story didn’t interest them enough to even give the book a chance. As I said, it’s different and I guess among reviewers who are set in their ways, “different” isn’t good. Oddly enough, the storyline involves kids who are “different,” whom society disdains and who are not given a chance to prove themselves worthy, and here we have reviewers not giving the book, or its author, a chance, either. Life imitates art. Very ironic.

So, on all three of these books, it’s been me generating most of the reviews and pushing the books on Facebook, Twitter, by email and on Goodreads. Goodreads, which put me onto Harmony Ink, is a great place to interact with other authors and most of us are willing to let our brains be picked for insights or experience. However, even offering free books in exchange for a fair review might generate no interest whatsoever.

There are subgroups for virtually every genre and subgenre out there, and you can promote your work there, but I haven’t seen tangible results yet from Goodreads. I’ve gotten a tiny handful of people interested in my books, even the last one, despite my targeting the “right” groups that should embrace the story. Also, a lot of people may add your book to their “wants to read” shelf, but never actually buy it. As I said, offering free copies in exchange for reviews could be a good way to get reviews, and here’s hoping you have better luck in that arena than I. Subgroups who love everything Harmony Ink publishes haven’t been too responsive to reading my book, even when I offered it for free. Having said that, the reviews it has gotten have all been excellent, mostly four and five stars. But again, I had to do all the legwork to get those reviews and you might have to, also.

There are Virtual Book Tours available from various online companies and they can help you with blog stops and interviews and even reviews, and I’ve done a few of these for Children of the Knight. I haven’t yet seen tangible results from those efforts, either, but time will tell. Let’s face it, I just suck at self-promotion. Get good at that and you’ll be the next Stephen King.

Well, that’s it. My publishing journey so far. If you’d prefer a “real” publisher and don’t mind smaller royalties, see if your specific book meets the submission requirements for small publishing houses that don’t expect you to pay anything. If you want complete control and all the returns, I’d say go with Createspace and avoid the vanity publishers – they may cost you more than you’ll ever get back.