Blurb, blurb, blurb…

blurb.jpgThe letter was from a big, big, big, publishing company.  Oh, boy! Addressed to me personally, sent through my agent’s offices. Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Oh, boy!  Immediately my mind went into ceremonial procedural mode;

You can’t just rip it open: sit down at your desk, calmly take the letter opener and slit the envelope so no evidence of child-like anticipation, like torn edges, will belie my “professionalism.”

Dear Mr. Avitabile, They spelled it right!

We know you get many requests… yeah, but not from a gigantic publisher who obviously has noticed me! …But can you blurb this book!  Ah, crap! Another request to read a book and say nice things about someone else’s work.

I quickly karmically adjust my transmission into the universe by hitting the spiritual delete button a few times. Then, I rephrase my reaction, Oh boy, a chance to pay forward what I have been so generously blessed with; a writer’s praise for inclusion on the back (or possibly, front) cover of a book. 

But this is not just any book, this is a gigantic publishing company’s book. A major publisher, you know, the one with thousands of employees who stay awake all night endeavoring to get an author’s work into the hands of every reader in America and the free-world.  And along with that book, will be my name…and my pithy, succinct and quotable, quote.  

Well, that blurb worked out well. Turned out it is a great book with a “novel” approach to voicing that could become a thing, like; Gone Girl’s, unreliable narrator was a thing for a while.  Plus, the big editor-at the big house, loved my quote. Good luck, and God bless to the author and the publisher.            But…

Many times I find myself in the unenviable position of reviewing a book that has uncorrected or unseen, earlier draft issues. Glaring malpractices, that destroy the read for me. Things like, temporal errors that drag out a beat or make no beat at all, too much filler or not enough minor, unexpected delights in the prose or style. My first reaction is, how can this book have gotten this far? Who didn’t read it but passed it on after skimming through it. Did some intern right out of lit-school recommend the submission and it just got rubber-stamped all the way to my front door mailbox? Or am I unworthy? Not able to pass judgement on a work that has obviously been worked on by professionals including agents, editors, marketing folks and the author — at least four times! Yet, my reaction is “Yeah, but this book is not-so-good.”

So as in five previous cases, I have refused to lend a blurb.  Usually in an E-mail with a simple open-ended line, “I am sorry, but I cannot recommend this book at this time.”  Three editors got curious enough to ask me what, “This time” meant. I told them it meant, “The book needed more time.” Then I added, “But what the hell do I know.”  Yet, in two of those cases they let me give my notes to the author. I am pleased to say that both authors said essentially the same thing; i.e., No one read it that closely.

But here I am talking obvious stuff.  Like time warps between POV characters or echoes of 10-dollar words whose value depreciates upon every reverberation within the manuscript. Or, sometimes it’s just too much dependency on the willing suspension of belief: like a passage where a reporter is doing a puff piece with the protagonist, while we know (and presumably the world of the book knows), that a murder of someone close to the hero has been committed and the body is lying in the morgue, yet not a question from the media. In fact, the whole interview goes hunky dory and the next chapter begins.

My cat jumps as I scream out loud, “Then why the hell have the hero interviewed? Why take us there to; no conclusion, no foreshadowing or complication…WHY?”

How could any publisher allow a neutral flat plot line between two already neutral plot lines? So that there’s three, NUTHIN’ HAPPENS, sequences in a row, when only one was needed.    — You see why I think it’s me? That I fear I don’t have the tools to do this?

By the way, that book got released with glowing, effervescent blurbs by some of the biggest authors in the publishing universe.  So, WTF do I know?

P.S. Don’t send me your book.

The Drone Wars vs. Hot Beans!

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Okay, so I am going to try to make this not some old guy rant about, ‘In My Day…” but since The Eighth Day has achieved #1 bestseller status, many more people have been reading it and resonating with the Bronx, New York side of the story. Which elicits E-mails from fans of both the book and the Bronx. “Belly Flopping” a street game being central to the character development of FBI Special Agent, Joey Palumbo, has started a stream of E-mail consciousness that lead to HOT BEANS!

For those of you NOT blessed to have grown up on the gritty streets of the Bronx, I will endeavor to explain this particularly unique “childhood” game.

Start with a Garrison Belt, which is a serious looking strap of leather that’s around two inches wide with a mean-ass metal buckle on the end. Just like in Hide and Go Seek, one person is designated as “It.” The rest of the kids hide at “home base” around the corner. Now the guy that’s “it” hides the belt anywhere on the street. When he’s got the belt where is sure no one will find, he yell’s, “REEEEEAAADDYYY!”

Everyone comes around the corner to find the belt. The one who finds it, gets to yell, “HOT BEANS” and then gets to whip the crap out of everyone who is caught between the home base (around the corner) and him. At this point it would help to remember we are talking a heavy thick belt with a heavy buckle that can draw blood.

Believe me you don’t know what terror, fear, trepidation, caution, strategy and courage is until you play this game. Why? Because unlike other games, where the only skin in the game is playing for a win, bragging rights or the most points, in Hot Beans, your skin is actually at risk in this game.

Today, kids hardly go out into the street anymore. Their games are on a computer. The optimists and sociologists say it’s a good thing, that they are developing skills for our techno-future.

However, I wonder about those men and women who operate the drones and other High Tech, Stand Off, Remote controlled weaponry that we are embracing as national policy. I am referring to those who joystick their way through a war, one that’s been made impersonal and game-like on LCD screens. A process that transforms the deadliest endeavor of mankind to be remarkably like, Call Of Duty or Battlefield 3.

What happens if somebody pulls the plug on their console, will they, who have been raised in this kind of Sanitized War, be able to become warriors? The bigger question is, are Americans, who never played HOT BEANS and have no skin in the game but a vote once a year, citizens who in general have become war weary, will they have the grit to turn to our war fighting soldiers who have tested their mettle? Combat ready troops who are the ultimate weapon, and last resort, in defending a nation’s way of life and thus all we hold dear? Or will our techno-war complacent population cower at “home base” when some big, ugly brute from a foreign land wields an actual big belt with malicious intent?

P.S. Millions of people play war-based video games. All of these games are sold with graphics depicting “Shit Wired Tight” soldiers who are shown as stoic, deadly and dressed to kill. These are homage’s to the true warrior. Yet, millions of players, who assume these roles, never show up to a Veteran’s Day parade or write their congressperson to take better care of the actual “prototypes” of these fake computer icon warriors, when they return from the real life battle.

Those images and the exploiting of heroism has amassed many billions of dollars in box office for games and almost equal amount for movies. Unlike these computer generated figures, our soldiers have actually faced danger, unspeakable horror and have risked everything. Yet, far too many are homeless.

Here’s a thought for all you gamers out there, donate 1% to 10% of your highest war game score to Veterans Matter or text VETS to 41444.

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Upon Further Review…

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Along with the corner bookstore, many of the benchmarks of the book business have bitten the digital dust. Hundreds of thousands of books now flood the virtual shelves of the big and small on-line retailers. Marketing experts call this “fragmentation” while most authors call it “frustration.” It seems nowadays this evolution in book selling has made the REVIEW, the gold standard in determining how much buzz, support, exposure and sales potential a book receives.

“If you like your thrillers realistic enough to make your spine tingle, and well-written enough to keep you turning pages, you must pick up THE DEVIL’S QUOTA.  Tom Avitabile is at the top of his game.  Read this book.” – Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling author of TERMINAL CITY and DEATH ANGEL

But how does an author garner reviews, and good ones at that? The simple answer is write a great book. The nuanced answer: start the snowball effect, the more reviews, the more people read the book, the more they post reviews and it goes on like that until you have an avalanche of reviews.

“The go-to guy for pure thriller reading pleasure, Tom Avitabile delivers with every word.” – John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of THE KEEPER and THE OPHELIA CUT

It’s also great when your big –time multi million selling, NY Times bestselling authors who huge fan bases, take the time to read your book and then serve up glowing quotes. That’s just gotta help. But in the new democracy of the Internet, average readers hold an awesome power also. Their reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook, Good Reads and other sites are critical in informing the large retailers where to put marketing “soft dollars” to push a book over the top.

“This gritty and interesting novel swooped me up early in it’s pages and hung on tight to me until the very last words.” – Five Stars – Good Reads by Booklover Catlady

Me personally, I would never push my reviews in your face, but it is a dire necessity today to garner as many 5-Star reviews as you can. Why? The algorithm (No, not the Al Gore Rhythm, which if you’ve watched him dance is decidedly not in evidence) but those little robotic calculators that today make decisions large and small in everything from your refrigerator, to automated factories to how Amazon decides a book is worthy of “Push”

“This is the kind of book you want to snuggle up with for a quick and quiet thrill.” – The View From the Phlipside

So the new reality is this: an author could get tens of thousands of dollars worth of boost marketing from on-line book sellers if the Al Gore Rhythm machine inside their servers counts a certain number of glowing reviews. Now this isn’t money in the author’s pocket, it’s in soft dollars or what you would have to pay them to push a book like this to their customers. Let’s just say for that kind of advertising they’d charge you four arms and six legs. But old Al Gore the Rhythm King, he’s going to bestow that windfall on a purely digital, cold, unemotional basis – namely reviews!

“Tom Avitabile’s plots are page-turning and gripping. Good read for all fans of crime/thriller fiction!” – Crystal Book Reviews

Therefore in conclusion, you may not be able to judge a book by it’s cover but, Al-A-Gore-ically, they can, and do, judge a book by it’s reviews…

“Reading a novel is like being in a car and taking a journey. The narrator is driving. And whether he drives fast and cruises the curves or whether he’s pedestrian and pokes through the plot – he’s in control.
Tom Avitabile is a cocky chauffeur and The Eighth Day is one hell of a ride.”
-Anonymous via Amazon

Here’s some links in case if by now you haven’t gotten the clue, that I would love a good review from you.

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The Waiting Game

On Tuesday, June 17th my third novel, The God Particle goes on sale at all the usual places. Currently, I am pacing in the virtual waiting room awaiting the delivery of this little package to the world. Many things go through your mind at a time like this. Questions like; Will it ever go to college? Will people like it? Will it be healthy? Will it someday have offspring of it’s own?

College: Will it be embraced by the all important 18-25 demo and be catapulted to “must read” status by students who find resonance between what they are learning about the world and the themes, issues and concerns contained between the covers?

Likability: That elusive quality. Sure, I gained 106,000 words during the gestation of this thriller, but will people like the way it came out? 

Healthy Retail: Can this creation achieve a strong showing in sales? Will the marketing, promotion, reviews and buzz encourage readers to buy and suggest this new arrival to their friends, associates and groups.

Offspring: The God Particle itself is the child of two previous Bill Hiccock books coming together. Will this new take, focusing on Brook Burrell, the FBI agent turned secret operative for the Science Advisor to the U.S. President attract the right kind of soul mates that will produce a next generation of books?

These are the questions the parent of any book ponders as he or she waits for the signal that the labor has ended and now their “baby” has to go out into the world and make it on it’s own.  I can only hope I imbued it with all the smarts, compassion, wit, thrills and drama to succeed out in the world and make me proud.