Behind the Story of Blood Orange

I remember reading an interview with Stephen King where he said that the single most hated question that he receives from fans and critics is, “where do you get your ideas?” His snarky answer, after being asked the question countless times was, “I have a big box in the basement labeled ‘ideas’ that I go to every time I write a book or a story.”

Blood Orange is my fourth book. My previous three books were detective novels. The ideas for those books mostly came from my imagination with specific real life people forming composites that became each character. With Blood Orange, the story came to me from a different source. A good friend of mine from high school who may or may not admit to being in the marching band with me, but would definitely admit to a long and distinguished career in the US Navy, reached out to me after reading one of my books. He had a story idea rattling around in his head for a while. He went as far as contact Clive Cussler to see if he was interested. He received a handwritten note back from Mr. Cussler telling him that the story idea was a good one, but he did not take unsolicited story ideas and was quite busy with many works in progress.

I was intrigued by my friend, Brian Fogarty’s idea. It appealed to me on two levels. First, we are from the same hometown, Syracuse, New York. Syracuse is known for two things, snow and college basketball. I moved from Syracuse to Florida 20 years ago and I miss one of those things, but the other, not so much. College basketball was a passion that got us through the long winters. We lived and died with our team. The premise in the book, from which I published an excerpt in my previous blog, describes the Syracuse basketball fan’s ultimate dream; Syracuse playing Duke in the championship game which miraculously takes place in the Carrier Dome, the iconic Syracuse Basketball arena. The book builds up this dream and then shatters it.

The second aspect of the story builds upon a factual historical event that took place in Syracuse nearly 100 years ago. At that time, World War I was nearing its end. The manufacture of munitions and gun powder in the U.S. was extremely important to the war effort. In July of 1918, a horrific tragedy took place at a munitions plant called Split Rock in what is now the Camillus area of Syracuse. Brian’s brilliant idea was to take that tragedy and turn it into something more sinister and conspiratorial. Without giving away the premise, we did this and then tied the original, factual tragedy to the modern day potential tragedy.

It involved taking something very positive that occurred in a community and turning it into an unspeakable tragedy. It was both an interesting and painful journey to take. While researching many of the terrorist aspects of the book, I waited to hear the knock on the door from the NSA looking to seize my computers. It was also concerning how much information is readily available on the Internet regarding terrorism tactics.

For all it’s worth, Blood Orange was a very personal journey that was rewarding because I got to collaborate with a distinguished veteran who also happens to be a friend. I also was able to write about my hometown and hopefully jinx any kind of tragedy from happening there by writing about it.

If you want to read an excerpt, just check out my previous blog for one of the early chapters.  If you want to read the reviews and check it out on Amazon, just click here.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

About Don Massenzio:

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian-American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series was released on April 24th, 2015 and is available on Amazon.com in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

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Welcome to 2016 – Now Let’s Talk

2016

Last night, as I struggled to stay awake, I watched Carson Daly try to control four intoxicated guests in the foreground of Times Square as they waited for midnight and the ball to drop signifying 2016. As they waited, they recapped the “top” stories of 2015. Most of the stories mentioned were the typical celebrity fluff. NBC and Daly seemed to strategically skirt the tragic terrorist attacks in Europe, the Middle East and the United States. I can’t say that I was looking for hard news in this setting, but at least a moment of silence or some form of acknowledgment for the victims of these attacks might have been appropriate.

Now that I’m sounding like an old man complaining about the younger generation, my actual point is quite different. I spent the better part of 2015 researching and writing a book called Blood Orange. The book centers on a devastating terrorist attack on a highly-visible soft target in the United States.

The book’s original date of publication was set for November 13, 2015, the night of the Paris attack. I promoted the book heavily leading up to the publishing date spending a good deal of money on social media advertising.

When the attacks in Paris happened, I was out to dinner with my wife and two daughters. We were watching the coverage on my cell phone and wondering who was behind it. Not long after we began watching the coverage, I received a text from my editor. She asked me if I thought I should pull the book promotion based on what happened in Paris. It didn’t take me long to make that decision. While I was disappointed because I believe in the story the book tells, I didn’t want to be insensitive or appear to be taking advantage of a horrible event for personal gain.

Now that time has passed, and like we always do, Americans have put the tragic events in Paris and Bakersfield behind them, I want to move forward with promoting this book. Blood Orange is important to me in that it shows how vulnerable we are in the United States. We live in a wonderful country with a great deal of freedom. Terrorism, whether foreign or domestic, cripples us in two ways. First, there is the grief for the victims and the disgust of the act. Second, when behavior is changed because of terrorism, the terrorists score a victory.

I am glad I made the decision to pull the promotion for my book, but, at the same time, I am angry that these soulless, misguided individuals that carried out the attacks made me change my behavior.

With that in mind, please indulge me as I begin to heavily promote this book. Those who have read it have been extremely positive in their reactions. Can the story the book tells happen in the United States? Absolutely. Will my writing this book prevent it from happening? Probably not. The story is meant to entertain. It’s not meant to scare or anger its readers.

I’ll be using this space in the next few weeks to tell you about the book and give you some excerpts. My goal is to entice you to buy it, of course, but I also want to take this book out of the shadows and promote it like I originally intended.

If you’d like to read the reviews or get a preview of the book, you can check it out here on Amazon.com.

I am looking forward to 2016. At a time when people are setting (and breaking) resolutions, my sole resolution is to go for it this year. This is my third year of writing and publishing novels. I hope to continue and increase the success I have had thus far. I feel like this is a pivotal year. I hope you come along with me on the journey.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

About Don Massenzio:

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian-American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series was released on April 24th, 2015 and is available on Amazon.com in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

He has also published a well-received short story collection that is available on Amazon.com.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Independently-Published Authors – Your Best Marketing Tool – Reasons to Quickly Write Your Next Book

Fellow authors,

My post this week is all about the activity that most of us probably enjoy the least, marketing our work. You’ve probably seen my posts all over Facebook and my tweets. This is the part of independent publishing that I dread and that is the most cumbersome.

I’m sure most of us would just like to write and ignore the marketing. Unfortunately, if you want to gain exposure, this is an unavoidable aspect of what we do.

For the mundane marketing tasks, such as posting to Facebook and other social media outlets, I have found time-saving ways to raise the awareness of my product. I’ve also enlisted the help of a PR person to help me gain exposure through third parties like podcasts and blog interview tours.

I will make sure that future blog posts focus on some of these aspects of marketing. I have some great tips to share around posting on social media and using giveaways to build your mailing list, another very important aspect of marketing.

In this post, however, I want to talk about the best aspect of marketing for an independently published author, writing. That’s right, the more you write, the more exposure you’ll gain and the more product you’ll have to offer to the very deep pool of readers. Here are some reasons to write as much as possible:

1) More Product = More Potential Readers: There are a lot of consumers of books out there. The more offerings you have, the more exposure you will get with those readers if they like your work. If you only release one book every 1-2 years, you might fade from the memory of readers that read 2-3 novels per month.

2) More Product = More Potential Reviews: I’ve blogged about feedback and its importance in the past. It’s advantageous to get feedback on multiple works so that you can assess how readers are reacting to your work and make adjustments. It also gives you the chance to get reviews from multiple (non-family) independent reviewers which will help your profile on platforms such as Amazon.

3) More Product = Greater Traction: In traditional publishing, it takes an author an average of three books to gain traction. On a publisher’s schedule, this is a minimum of three years if you’re lucky enough to find a publisher that will wait for success through three books. Did you know that John Grisham had boxes of the book A Time To Kill in his garage until The Firm became a huge hit. It was his first book and probably one of his best in terms of substance. The good news is that we can accelerate that period of time and get to that three book milestone more quickly.

4) Less Product = Selling Your Book to Death: If you only have one book and you’re posting weekly to your favorite social media outlet, you’re going to hit the same targeted readers multiple times with your single offering. This can turn readers off to you’re single work because they are overexposed to it.

5) The more books you write, the more books you’ll sell: There is something called the Long-Tail Effect. This is the tendency of readers to go back and purchase older books by an author if they read a newer one that they enjoy. This is how I’ve discovered many authors. Harlan Coben is a case in point for me. I read one of his later books and liked his writing style and this caused me to go back and read his earlier work chronologically. If you are on your 4th or 5th book and it hits with readers, it is almost guaranteed that your earlier books will sell more.

Now, after my pep talk extolling the virtues of writing multiple books, that doesn’t mean you should do so without some important do’s and don’ts.

1) Make sure that what you are publishing is of good quality: Publishing 12 books that are not of good quality will not gain readers for you. A reader will take a chance on 1 or maybe 2 books, but continued quality issues will ensure that your books will not be read or attract loyal readers. Negative word of mouth spreads as fast, if not faster, than positive.

2) Consider writing short stories: If your an author of fiction, short stories can be useful for multiple reasons. First, they are a great way to practice your craft. Second, they can be published individually to give readers a small, inexpensive taste of your writing, or they can be collected into an anthology giving you another book to offer. Also, short stories can be a way to further gain exposure by offering them for publication in niche online or print magazines and collections. Hugh Howey’s Epic series, Wool, started as a short story.

3) Don’t rush to publish something before it’s ready: I’ve extolled the virtues of editors and beta readers. Don’t cut corners. Make sure that you have done all of your quality checks before launching. One slip in quality and your readers may abandon you.

4) Don’t be afraid to relaunch a book: Once you’ve published a book, that doesn’t mean that it will reach a peak early on and then fade away. Remember my John Grisham story. A Time To Kill is believed by many to be his best work and is arguably the best adaptation of one of his novels into a movie.

5) Play with pricing and giveaways: When you have a new book coming out, consider lowering the prices of your earlier books or using the free or progressive pricing options on Amazon to entice readers to impulse buy them.

The information in this blog evolves for me on a daily basis. If you take nothing else away from this, strive to learn from the tasks that you carry out to gain a positive reputation as an author. Remember, authors write books. Don’t pay attention to the artificial time constraints imposed on traditionally published authors. Break out of the box and keep on writing.

As always, your questions and comments are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Self-Publishing – Your Fellow Authors are not Your Enemies – Let’s Help Each Other

If you are like me, you are aware of the thousands of other authors that are in the self-publishing universe on social media platforms. We all belong to groups on Facebook and we promote our books, blogs, giveaways, and events. We start to see the same names over and over relentlessly touting our work.

As I first entered the self-publishing world, I viewed all of these authors as people that were competing for my readers. I wanted to out-promote and out-sell all of them. Over the past year or so, however, my view has changed. Instead of viewing my fellow authors as competitors, I have come to think of them as fellow pioneers. I selected the word pioneer purposely. Early American pioneers didn’t compete against each other. The amount of land and natural resources available were abundant. Pioneers worked together to build houses and cultivate crops so that they could all survive. If they had competed against each other, it is likely that none would have survived.

Like these early settlers, I believe it is important for self-published authors to work together. Besides writing, I have made it my goal to help authors as much as possible. We are encumbered with a stigma from those in the traditionally published world who perpetuate the notion that our work is not up to the same standard as the work coming out of publishing houses. In many cases, this is not a valid assertion. In some cases, unfortunately, it is true.

So how can we, as self-published authors, help each other? Here are some of the things that I try to do in my quest to pay it forward.

1) Share the lessons I’ve learned – I’m about to publish my third book. The experience of publishing the first book was one that was very daunting. I had no idea how to format my book for the Kindle and paperback platforms. I knew nothing about marketing. I just wasn’t sure what to expect. I read some books (by self-published authors) on how to get started, but a lot of the things that I tried were done on a trial and error basis. I made note of what worked and what didn’t. When it came time to publish my second book, I used some of the techniques that I picked up publishing the first one and it was a much smoother process. I felt like I wanted to share this information with other authors. That is the reason I changed this blog into a weekly post that seeks to help others with their writing and publishing. Starting a blog like this is simple. I highly recommend that other authors do this and occasionally share tips so that we can all improve the craft that we obviously love.

2) Read each other’s work – It is important to read the work of other self-published authors. The first self-published author that I read was Hugh Howey. For those of you that have been under a rock in the self-publishing world, Hugh Howey is the extremely successful standard model for self-published authors. He has made millions with his self-published works and, now that he has gained fame and respect, has doggedly refused to go the traditionally published route. While Hugh Howey is the standard, I make it a point to read work from other self-published authors. I have been pleasantly surprised in some cases and have offered advice in others. On the whole, I think that the assertion that self-published work is of a lower standard is greatly exaggerated.

3) Share your resources – There are certain tasks, as self-published authors, that we should concentrate on. Editing, marketing, cover design, etc. are just a few of the common tasks that we all must undertake to ensure the quality of our work. Everyone has different approaches to these things. Some work very well, and others have mixed success. Let’s share our techniques and tools that we use to handle these tasks. We can all benefit. If you have a great cover designer, for instance, there is no benefit to you to keep their identity and talent a secret. Share their name with other authors. Your cover designer will appreciate the work and the growth in reputation and fellow authors will benefit through having nicely designed covers. This same principle is true for sharing editors, beta readers, and outsourced marketing. I now have all of these things that are traditionally provided by publishing houses in place, and I am more than happy to share with other authors.

4) Make friends with as many authors as possible – Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are excellent forums for you to make friends with your fellow self-published authors. You should trade reviews with them, share tips, and promote their work and interviews through your own social media network. Your readers will thank you for introducing them to other work that they may enjoy and you will all benefit from the combined strength of your networks. There are those short-sighted individuals that will yield their limited power and seek to trash your work. It’s just part of human nature. Like bitter movie or restaurant critics, those who disparage your work are just reflecting their own failures in many cases. The trick is to parse their criticism looking for things that you can act on to improve your work. If you find nothing, then acknowledge the uselessness of their critique and move on. Never, ever respond to a negative critique publicly. All this will do is give validation to the negative review and will make you look defensive.

5) Help other authors one-on-one – I recently had the pleasure of returning to my hometown. I had the chance to meet with one of my fellow high-school graduates who is also a self-published author. We traded some tips and agreed to read each others books. It was very enjoyable for me to discuss the things I had gone through face-to-face with someone with common experiences. Additionally, I am participating in my first group author event in April. It will involve networking and book signing. I have received a great deal of help from other authors that have gone through these events before in terms of what I need and how I need to prepare.

The bottom line is, we are all in this together. To use a sports analogy, when Michael Jordan played basketball, his presence on the team raised the game of all of his teammates. He wasn’t selfish in using his talent to help others improve their game. We have people like Hugh Howey who can be compared to the Michael Jordan of self-publishing. He is very willing to share his information and help us all raise our game. We should also seek to share our good information. There are plenty of readers willing to consume our work, so we should seek to provide them with the best quality product possible by working together.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

The Importance of an Editor and Beta Readers for Independent Authors

My blog this week focuses on the importance of using an editor and enlisting beta readers if you are an independent author.

Let’s start by comparing/contrasting independent and traditional publishing. In traditional publishing, an author receives an advance (if he or she is lucky). This advance is usually a fairly small amount. The author may then receive royalties for books sold after a certain number. The royalties can vary from pennies per book to dollars if you are a bestselling author. In exchange for allowing the traditional publisher to publish your work, you receive editing, formatting, publicity, and marketing services. The quality and effectiveness of these services can vary depending on how much the publishing company believes it can make from your book. In the end, very few published authors make a living wage from traditionally published books.

Independent authors know that their world is a different one. All of the services mentioned for traditional publishers are either do-it-yourself or individually purchased from the many service providers out there. Future blogs will talk about which of these services make sense for independent authors, but I want to focus on the two that I believe are the most important and what you should look for in each.

The first, and perhaps most important, service that an independent author should look for is editing. What is editing with respect to a book? There is no simple answer to this. I suppose that editing, in its purest form, is checking your work for punctuation, spelling, usage, and grammar errors. These things are important. You may think, as an author, that you are an expert on these things. You may very well be very proficient in these areas, but over the course of a 70,000 word manuscript consisting of your own work, you are going to miss something. Having a fresh set of eyes with some expertise can help save you embarrassing typos and spelling mistakes.

I am very fortunate. My editor is a dear friend, but not the type of friend that will tell me something is good when it is not. I mentioned before that, in my opinion, editing services can vary. The qualities that set my editor apart is that she is an avid reader and has writing ability of her own. She spots weak story elements and plot inconsistencies and is excellent at documenting them.

If you are using a friend, or anyone, as an editor, you must be able to take criticism and be willing to implement the suggested changes. It is rare that I disregard or disagree with the changes my editor suggests. Your mindset should be that your editor is the first reader of a particular work. If they have issues with elements of your work, this will be multiplied exponentially once you publish your work if you do not change them. You need to trust your editor and develop a working chemistry with him or her to be effective in producing quality work.

Finding an editor can be a challenge. There are, however, various services out there such as eLance and Fiverr. I have provided services on eLance and they do have a decent screening process where you can vet potential editors. I have used services on Fiverr, most notably for my cover art and trailers. Services on Fiverr are inexpensive, but you have to carefully vet your service provider or you might get what you pay for. Of course, I am always willing to share my editor. She is very good at what she does and has bandwidth to take on other clients.

The second focus of this blog is the use of beta readers. Beta readers are early previewers of your book that read through it after the editing process is complete. They look for story element inconsistencies and other elements of your book from the perspective as a fan and a reader. It’s a good idea to pick a couple of readers that are big fans of your writing, but are not afraid to give suggestions.  This process is like having a focus group or preview audience for your product that gives their opinion to you on a small scale before you release it to the relentless general public. Beta readers will spot things in your book that you and your editor missed such as inconsistencies in character traits, likability of your characters, and other intangibles. This is especially importance if your characters span more than one book in a series. You don’t want to publish a book in a series that has continuity issues with previous books.

One famous example of this, and he actually points this out in the forward of his second book of the series, is from David Morrell’s Rambo series. In the first Rambo book, John Rambo dies. When the book was made into the Sylvester Stallone movie, the studio had the dollar signs associated with sequels in their eyes. Since zombies weren’t in fashion back then, Rambo’s fate had to be changed in the movie. The interesting thing is that Morrell had the novelization rights for the sequel and had to right the second book in the series despite having killed off his main character in the first book. In his forward, he tells this story and basically says that he ignored Rambo’s death in the first book and just wrote the sequel. Of course, Stallone went on to make other sequels and Rambo eventually turned into a parody of the original character.

You might ask why, as an independent author, I am focusing on editors and beta readers. To answer that question, download some works from your fellow authors and look at the quality. There are some books of excellent quality in the world of independent publishing. And then there are some that are…not so much. Independent authors have a stigma, mostly perpetuated by traditional publishing, that the quality is lacking in their work. Those authors, such as Hugh Howey, that have survived and thrived in independent publishing have debunked this perception. In my work, I am trying to publish work of high-quality as well. I personally don’t believe this is possible without strong editing and beta readers.

I want to see independent publishing evolve into a force that overtakes traditional publishing. I don’t think that a group of corporate publishing wonks in an ivory tower in New York should decide what books should and should not be published. The recording industry has gone in the independent direction, and movies and television are following. Let’s work together as authors to make our quality stand up against the traditionally published work. Editing and the use of beta readers are a big step in that direction. If you use them wisely, you will recoup and exceed every dollar that you invest in your writing.

If you have questions about these topics or you want to be put in touch with my editor, please let me know at don@donmassenzio.com

Thanks again for making this blog a success. The viewership increases each week and I am happy to keep helping my fellow authors by publishing it.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Instead of Worrying About First Person vs. Third Person, How About the “Right” Person?

My blog this week stems from my recent reading. As you know, besides writing books and short stories and recording my audio book, I am an avid reader consuming 3-4 books per month. My reading genre is mostly fiction with some non-fiction mixed in. Lately, I have been reading the work of some noted authors that have jumped on the young adult fiction bandwagon and some that have written for characters that are opposite their gender. The results, in my humble opinion, are mixed.

Let’s start with those that have been able to write effectively from a perspective that is quite opposite their own. Most notable is J.K. Rowling. Her Harry Potter series and, to some extent, The Casual Vacancy, were very effectively written from the point of view of 10 year old children through young adults. She represented their emotions, actions, and reactions quite accurately and demonstrated how, over the course of time, they learned from their experiences. Because of her abilities, she was able to cross over to adult readers in a big way making her an international sensation who at one point had more accumulated wealth than the Queen of England.

Moving on to American authors, a trio of women rise to the top in terms of success. Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games Trilogy, and Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, have all logged huge best-sellers with their angst-ridden cast of teen protagonists. Of these series, I enjoyed The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins was able to write a compelling saga. The first book was a sizzling page turner. The second book, however, reminded me of the movie, Back to the Future II. It was just a vehicle to compel the reader to read the third book. The third book was very significant in terms of character development. These books, in particular, depicted the main character, Katniss Everdeen, as a flawed individual that doesn’t always do things perfectly and make the right decisions. This makes Katniss compelling as a main character.

I gave a try at reading the Twilight series. I found the characters too depressing and angst-ridden for my taste. They were downright depressing. I was surprised at my reaction due to the success of the series and the movies. I sate with my teenage daughter to watch the first Twilight movie and experienced the same reaction. I am, however, far removed from being a teenager myself. My reaction was a burning desire to kick these teens in the seat of their pants and tell them to comb their hair and get a job. I must be getting old.

As for Divergent, I have gone to see the movie with my daughter. My first impression was that it was as if Harry Potter and The Hunger Games had a baby. The story was a good one. I have the first book on my “to read” list. The characters definitely had some depth in the movie.

Now on to male authors that write as characters that differ from themselves and do it well. The first is Stephen King. In the Shining and, to a much greater extent, in It, King writes very believably as a child. At no point did I find his writing not believable as he took on the point of view of children. They make fun of each other and form a bond that only childhood friends can do. In The Shining, this bond comes between Danny Torrance and Dick Halloran is due to their psychic ability, in part, but there is also a mentor/mentee relationship. In It, King is able to write as several different adolescents and give each a distinct and memorable personality.

The second author that has written effectively from a young female perspective is Hugh Howey. Howey is the hero of independent writers who has turned his dystopian Wool series into a huge bestseller without the benefit of a major publisher. Wool and his earlier Molly Fyde series are written from the perspective of young women. Howey does this effectively and is able to realistically depict their actions and emotions.

Now for those writers who have not done this effectively. The first author, who has been running hot and cold with his work recently, is Harlan Coben. I recently read Missing You which Coben wrote from the perspective of a female New York City detective. I was disappointed in this work. His female character was both unrealistic and not likable. He was inconsistent with the way she reacted to situations. Coben has also created a young adult series based on Mickey Bolitar, nephew to his frequent protagonist Myron Bolitar. The stories within the Mickey Bolitar books make them worth reading. The main character, however, is not a realistic teen. His points of reference are not contemporary, but are those of a 40-something year old man in terms of music and other cultural aspects. He makes a lot of wrong decisions in terms of hiding things from adults. I’m not sure that most teens would push things to the limits that he does without seeking help.

John Grisham has also jumped into the YA market with his Theodore Boone series. Theodore Boone is a 13 year old only child of small city attorneys. He is enamored with the law and aspires to be an attorney. He is a straight “A” student and always seems to make the right decisions. He listens to his parents and is the favorite of judges, teachers, and the school principal. All of these adults defend him to the fullest even when it appears that he has done something wrong. While the stories are interesting, Grisham makes Boone too perfect. This 13 year old has the reasoning ability and intellect of an adult. He says all of the right things. This is not to say that a child like Theodore Boone is unrealistic. What is unrealistic is his popularity with other kids. In my recollection, kids like Theodore Boone would have been labeled as nerds or brainiacs in school (I was one) and would also be subject to regular ridicule and pranks. Theodore Boone is not.

Dean Koontz has also written a series of eight books based on his character, Odd Thomas. Odd is a twenty-something short order cook with psychic abilities. In his early Odd Thomas books, Koontz portrayed him as a simple and likable character. Odd was believable and spoke in simple dialog. I just finished the last in the series, Saint Odd, and found Koontz to be portraying his main character in a much more verbose fashion that is similar to his other books. He spends many paragraphs describing the plant life and the architecture. This is contrary to how this character viewed his surroundings in past works. Koontz even tries to justify this by referencing a novelist mentor that Odd has been getting pointers from. This new point of view from this character made the later Odd Thomas books a bit plodding and less genuine.

So, what is the message in all of this? As authors, I think it is important for us to truly understand the perspective of our characters. Don’t write a book as a teenage girl based on the way you see them in sitcoms or reality television shows. Write from this perspective based on real experiences and insight. Your readers will not find sincerity in your work if they find that you are misrepresenting how a character would think, react, and learn in a situation. If your target audience is young adults, you have to appeal to their world.

As a struggling author, I have found that readers resonate most with works where I have written based on what I know. I give my characters attributes that I know a lot about and this comes across as sincere. The private eye/mystery genre that I write in is not the “hot” style right now. Authors of Romance and Young Adult fiction are finding a much higher rate of success. I have avoided writing in these genres, however, because I’m not sure I could write believable stories or create compelling characters.

With all of this being said, do you agree or disagree? Have you had success with writing from the perspective of characters different from yourself? What tips do you have?

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Reacting to Feedback as a Self Published Author

As you dive into the world of self-publishing, one of the biggest fears that you must overcome is the unknown reactions that you will get from those that read your work. For me, I had written a short story and kept it to myself for months before I finally shared it with my wife. I knew I could count on her for honest feedback. I knew she was aware of my writing ability from many of the business and personal documents I had either written or helped her with at home. Also, when I was an independent consultant, she often looked at the documents I produced.

This was different, however. I had invented my own story with characters, settings, and emotions. If she hated it, I would have probably quit going down this path. Luckily, she liked it and I continued on and gradually expanded the circle of people that I let read and comment on my work.

I became very lucky with this path. I have a dear friend who is an avid reader and is very detail-oriented. She agreed to become my editor. In this capacity, she not only caught all of my careless punctuation and grammatical mistakes, she also looked at my story objectively and told me what parts worked and didn’t work. My first two short stories were published by an online literary magazine. My first book, Frankly Speaking, went the independent publishing route through Amazon.

Once the book was published, the iterative process of receiving feedback began. It started with family members that bought the book and posted five star reviews on Amazon. After a couple of those, the initial excitement wore off because they were, after all, family members. The excitement really began when I started to receive reviews from people I didn’t know. Those five star reviews really validated what I had done.

One day, after the first book was out a couple of months, I received a two star review, the first that was less than five stars after about 12 reviews. I quickly looked to see what valuable feedback I had received from this reviewer and there was only a single word in the review, “Boring”. I felt a few different emotions, one of which was anger. I looked to see what other brilliant reviews this person had posted and only found two other book reviews that were just a stellar for gardening books.  My initial reaction to this review was to reply to the reviewer on Amazon. I wanted to ask why they found the book boring and what I could have done to make it better. I also wanted to chastise the person. I had written 70,000 or so words and this only merited a one-word review. I actually went as far as writing a response and then I came to my senses and deleted it. I had seen other independent authors respond to negative reviews and I promised myself I wasn’t going to be “that guy”. After this one word review, several additional four and five star reviews came in and this one bad review became an anomaly.

I also publish a newsletter and I correspond with readers via email. One of my readers, a former English teacher, wrote me to let me know that she thoroughly enjoyed my book but she had found some additional typos, grammatical issues, etc. in the book and would I be insulted if she sent them to me. Part of the flexibility in independent publishing is being able to go back and improve upon your product once it’s published. I could have left it alone, but I felt that future readers deserved the best product possible. I corrected the book and I then proceeded to enlist this person as a beta reader on my future books. This is definitely a suggestion that I would make to my fellow authors. Find those detail-oriented, voracious readers out there and let them preview your books. They will find things that you and your editors missed and it will make your book a better product.

So, what is the bottom line of reacting to feedback. Take it all in. Qualify it. Use what is useful and discard what is not. In the end, you will have a better product and if you publish a better product, that improves the playing field for all self-published authors. There is a stigma in some circles regarding self-publishing. The quality of the product is viewed as less than that of published works. In some cases, this is true. There are self-published authors that self-edit or don’t bother to edit at all and their product is lacking. Don’t be one of those. Treat your self-published work as something you wish to be proud of. Don’t be afraid of feedback. Qualify both the positive and the negative feedback so that you can find the useful stuff and discard what is not going to help you.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com