Communion Of Dreams

Penny for the Guy?*

Hmm. Perhaps it’s time to invest in companies which make those Guy Fawkes masks

Even better, we can set up an investment fund which holds stock in companies which make yarn, knitting needles, Maalox, poster board, magic markers, etc. Just to hedge our bets, it should also look at firms which deal in security consultation, drones, police & military equipment, private prisons, and so forth. Pity there’s no way to own stock in the ACLU.

Oh, and I wish I held the copyright on 1984

Who’s in?


Jim Downey


“The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy”

That’s the title of a NYT article a friend sent me. It’s long, more than a bit depressing, and probably something that every aspiring author should read.  More than that, it’s probably something that every book consumer should read. Because if you’re going by book reviews listed online, well, you might be reading nothing more than “artificially embellished reviews” in the words of one former business owner who brokered such reviews for authors.

Why do people do this? Money. From the article:

In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.

There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.

And why do authors seek such services? Same reason. Gaming the system to have a bunch of fake reviews posted helps to boost sales, building the dynamic which leads to a self-supporting “best seller.” People love the idea of being part of something successful. This is why marketers of all sorts seek to create “buzz” — that kind of attention is the Holy Grail of selling anything. Again, from the article:

One of Mr. Rutherford’s clients, who confidently commissioned hundreds of reviews and didn’t even require them to be favorable, subsequently became a best seller. This is proof, Mr. Rutherford said, that his notion was correct. Attention, despite being contrived, draws more attention.

So, what to do about it?

There’s no easy answer, for either a writer or a reader. Ideally, you should be able to read a review and tell whether the person actually read the book or not. But you can’t trust that. Believe me — I wrote advertising copy for several years after college and before grad school, and I got to the point where I could convince almost anyone that whatever product I was writing about was *FANTASTIC* whether or not I had ever even tried the product, let alone whether I liked it. Any competent writer could churn out ‘reviews’ for books they’ve never read by the dozens.

So, what then? Because reviews really do make a difference — having a solid body of honest reviews has helped others decide to give my books a try. That’s why I keep asking people to do them: it helps. A lot.

But what I think helps even more is word-of-mouth. Well, the internet equivalent of it, anyway. Which is people — real people — posting their thoughts/recommendations about a book on their favorite forum/blog/twitter/Facebook wall. I haven’t hit this mechanism nearly as much as I probably should since the initial launch of both Her Final Year and Communion of Dreams, but that’s because I hate bugging people.

But I’m going to swallow my pride and ask when it comes time to kick off the Kickstarter Project for St. Cybi’s Well that I keep mentioning. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that the Kickstarter will either succeed or fail according to how much promotional support it gets from people who have read Communion of Dreams.

So if you read that book, and enjoyed it, and would like to read another component in my over-arching story — be ready to help spread the word.

Thanks. In advance. There will be more tangible expressions of my appreciation coming soon.

Jim Downey

PS: Editing (Sept. 3) to add another link addressing this problem: RJ Ellory’s secret Amazon reviews anger rivals 

Turn! Turn! Turn!*

This is . . . difficult.

Difficult because it is hard to see myself this way. Difficult because it is largely taboo in our culture. Difficult because I’m still struggling with it. Difficult because reality sometimes comes as a shock.

Last year was a hard year for me, as I said earlier:

Because 2011, while it had some good things about it, was mostly just painful. Literally. In many regards, I’d just as soon forget the bulk of it.

But I hadn’t quite realized just how hard it was until confronted with some numbers yesterday. Those numbers were on our tax returns, collected from the accountant.

Yeah, like I said, taboo. You’re not supposed to talk about income in our culture, at least within certain limits. I won’t stray too far over the line, but I will say that there was a reason that I was feeling frustrated and angry last year about the response to my writing efforts. That reason amounted to having an income so low that after deductions, we owed *no* taxes to either the state or federal government in the final analysis. Well, we had to pay the ‘self-employment’ tax, but that’s it.

Do you know how little you have to make in order to not pay any income tax? Well, trust me, if you don’t, you don’t want to, at least not by direct experience.

It was due to a combination of things. The recession had squeezed my book conservation business all along, limiting the money people had for something so discretionary, but last year was the worst. And the pain from my intercostal tear was very limiting until very recently. And I sunk way too much time and energy into getting Her Final Year ready for publication and then trying to promote it. Yes, I accept my own culpability for this, and I am not trying to blame or shame anyone else.

Which is why it is difficult to talk about. But facing the hard, cold reality helps me to understand some things. About my self. About my motivations and behavior over the last year or so.

Obviously, I got through the last year OK, thanks to a variety of resources I had. Hell, I was able to travel to New Zealand (a commitment made when things were more flush). And I’m happy to say that so far this year things are looking up. My book conservation work has picked up. My intercostal tear is *slowly* getting better.

And I’m actually selling books. Not too many of Her Final Year yet, but a decent start with Communion of Dreams.

Thanks to all who have helped to change the dynamic. Seriously, just knowing that people find the books worthwhile – that they are willing to tell others about them, write reviews, et cetera, makes a huge difference. I very much appreciate it.

Jim Downey