© Dubhghlas Kraus Graymalkin Publishing 2023
What Makes You Think So?
I remember being at my mom’s house in the early 1980s and looking for something
to read. Since my mother only subscribed to TV guide and had copies of True
Confessions magazine and an occasional National Enquirer passed on to her by one
of her friends, reading material was slim. My mother had what may well have been
the world’s largest collection of TV Guides. I recall boxes and boxes of them in a big
closet under the stairs when I was a kid, because she liked doing the crosswords.
Why she kept them, I have no idea.
Anyway, a recent issue at the time contained an interview with David Hasselhoff, who
was the star of a show called Knight Rider about a talking car. I never saw the show,
but I imagined it to be an updated version of the 1965 show My Mother the Car,
starring Jerry Van Dyke, about a man whose deceased mother reincarnated as an
antique car. Hollywood has never lacked for creative genius when it came to situation
Anyway again, I was sufficiently bored to read the TV Guide interview while in the
bathroom. The only thing I recall about the interview was Hasselhoff talking about
how he had been a struggling young actor being interviewed by the daughter of an
MGM mogul. Maybe it was Louis B. Mayer’s daughter. Or Samuel Goldwyn’s daughter.
Or Rufus G. Metro’s. I don’t recall.
Anyway yet again, Hasselhoff was understandably nervous and somewhat
intimidated by the woman, who sat behind her huge desk smoking a cigar.
“So, you’re an actor,” the woman said between puffs.
“Yes, ma’am,” Hasselhoff replied.
“And what makes you think so?” the woman inquired.
Wow. Now, if you’re like me, your response to that would be, “What a bitch! The
guy’s a struggling actor hoping for a break, and she asks what makes him think he’s
an actor? Man, that’s cold!” And I thought so for many years. But, a couple decades
after reading that interview, my mind reached into a filing cabinet and blew the dust
off the memory of that woman’s remark. I started thinking about it, and gradually I
started seeing it from a different perspective.
So, you’re an artist. What makes you think so?
So, you’re a songwriter. What makes you think so?
So, you’re an author. What makes you think so?
Seriously, what makes us think we’re authors? Experience? A track record? Sheer
blinding talent? A ‘maybe someday when I have the time’ dream?
Do we seek fame and fortune? Do we have something to say that we hope others will
want to read? Do we just want to make our mark; to say “I was here. And I created
something good that will remain after I am gone”?
Far too many creative people seek accolades instead of advice. Find an editor who
knows his or her stuff (yeah, some like to shoot you down rather than become a
writing partner; avoid these people!). LISTEN to him/her. Professional-minded writers
want to improve. Amateur-minded writers want kind words and a pat on the back.
Former type? Keep writing. Latter type? Find another hobby. A good editor will
improve your work 100%. The good writer will be GRATEFUL for the edits and
comments! The bad writer with a bad editor will be hurt. So will the bad writer with a
good editor, because the bad writer cannot take criticism, even if it will improve
her/his writing. If you can't develop a professional attitude, you'll never be a
Sounds kinda brutal, doesn't it? Well, good advice and truth can leave bruises if the
writer seeks "The book was WONderful!" instead of "Good story. I've marked the
edits and made suggestions that I believe will make it even better."
Put ego aside and strive to be a good writer. Find yourself a good editor, and form a
partnership with a common goal: making your book shine.
So, you’re an author. What makes you think so?
But Wait – There’s More! and the Book Marketing Gurus
We’ve all seen the TV ad for The Greatest Product Ever. The voiceover guy gushes
quite loudly about it while smiling models are shown using the product.
There are scores of The Greatest Product Evers, and they all cost only $19.95 (plus a
low shipping cost of only $12.95). But Wait! There’s More! Order NOW and receive a
second The Greatest Product Ever ABSOLUTELY FREE! (just pay a total shipping cost
of $24.95) WOW!
People order The Greatest Product Ever like crazy! Every major department store and
pharmacy chain in the US is stocking them! People are buying them like crazy. “Look,
honey! The Greatest Product Ever! As Seen On TV! Only $19.95!” “Great!” replies
honey. “Let’s buy several! They make great gifts – like the guy on the TV commercial
gushed quite loudly!”
Sales are astronomical. The person who mortgaged his or her house to pay all the
inventor’s fees and get the product manufactured in China and distributed is on his
or her way to becoming a millionaire! Thanks, As Seen On TV The Greatest Product
But then, the inevitable: people quickly discover The Greatest Product Ever is crap.
They return the items for refunds. They leave one-star reviews online (“I wish I could
give it NO stars! It’s CRAP!). The stores mark The Greatest Product Ever down 75%
off. They can’t give the damn things away. The inventor’s dreams of wealth are
crushed. They’ve lost everything. Luckily, As Seen On TV The Greatest Product Ever
company’s doing alright. They’ve got tons of other crap you can’t live without to
So, what’s this got to do with the Book Marketing Gurus?
Quite a lot, actually. The advent of independent publishing meant authors would no
longer struggle to find a literary agent and hope that agent could interest a book
publisher. No longer would multitudes of would-be authors rend their garments in
despair for not being becoming of the miniscule Chose Few who got publishing
contracts! Nay, nay! Rejoice, ye authors, for now you can do it all yourselves! Write,
publish online, and await great fortunes as eager readers purchase your books! Free
at last! Free at last! I’m an indie self-published writer, and I’m free at last! Finally,
anyone could publish on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo and others! Anyone!
And that’s the problem. Anyone could do it. And anyone did. Those with writing
talent, wonderful story ideas, competent editing, and eye-catching covers, and those
without. Anyone. As a result, the estimated 70,000 titles added every month to
Amazon alone quickly bury even the best independently published books.
How to overcome this? Simple: learn effective ways to advertise, market and
promote your book! “But, I don’t know anything about advertising, marketing or
promotion!” And that’s exactly what the “gurus” – the “experts” on advertising,
marketing and promotion – want to hear! God knows, there are a lot of these
“gurus;” each with a “guaranteed, sure-fire method” of selling tons of books, getting
hundreds of five-star reviews, and becoming a best-selling author! These courses
only cost several hundred dollars. Some cost over a grand. And the best part is,
NONE of these gurus require that the author have any writing talent. Nope! Not a
Some of the methods taught are actually tried-and-true, and above board. Others
are shady. Some are absolute male bovine solid waste. One of the Big Guys among
the gurus charges about $850 for the full course (apparently teaching everything
from How to Turn On Your Computer to How to Format Your Book), and another $500
for the ads training. Now, the guy certainly knows his business. I counted over 60
books he has in print before losing track. Each with thousands of reviews, averaging
4 1/2 stars. Wow. But, can even someone with such success teach writing talent? Not
Then there’s another guy who has published four novels, 12-20 reviews, a series of
novels with a collaborator (15-20 reviews), and of course several books on writing
and promoting books. He’s somehow hooked up with just about every other guru,
and charges about $800 for his “advanced” course. Not exactly an impressive track
record for an advertising and promotional expert.
You can get 30,000 downloads of your book! (The trick: advertise it as a free book).
You can get dozens of five-star reviews! (The trick: exchange reviews with other
students who’ve bought the course!)
You can have a bestseller! (The trick: choose an obscure category with little
competition. Intergalactic Robot Lesbian Romance, for example).
Combing offering your book as free, and choosing an obscure category, and WHAM!
You haven’t earned a dime. That $800 was money well spent!
Then there are the experts who advertise their training materials (usually single-
page PDFs) that have a combined value of $1299, but if you ACT NOW! It can all be
yours for ONLY $59 (a savings of $1240!) Wow!
Just be cautious. Many (okay, most) of these experts of these gurus can smell a drop
of newbie indie author perspiration in the water from a mile away.
Okay, so I’m skeptical of the hype. But I’ve saved a lot of money by not falling for As
Seen on TV The Greatest Products Ever commercials.
Are there coaches with lots of novels in print with hundreds or more four-plus-star
reviews who can actually guide you step-by-step in book marketing, advertising and
promotional methods that are above board, and actually work? Yes. Proceed with
caution, and you’ll find them.
Gripe of the Day: Comparisons
Personally, I think the weakest types of reviews are those that draw comparisons
with other (usually far better known) authors. They’re usually just names of famous
authors tossed it as filler. If we were to believe the reviews, we would conclude that
the style of nearly every indie author on the planet is reminiscent of a particular
horror writer who lives in Maine.
A couple of years ago, I came across the ultimate example of this travesty. I wanted
to use it as THE example of what I’m talking about, so I recalled the name of the
author and the books title. Over a thousand reviews, four and one-half stars. Not bad
at all, huh? Well, I set about looking through all of the reviews (35 pages of them!)
to find the example I’m talking about. I couldn’t find it! Well, darn! I know I saw it.
Where’d it go?Well, it wasn’t in a review. Far worse: it was in the author’s own
description under the book’s blurb! Seriously.
Want to see my nomination for the Worst Book Description in the History of Self-
Here it is:
What readers are saying about (author’s name) and the (book title) series:
"Could not put it down! Good job of capturing the underlying fear most of us have of
gators, snakes, and Deliverance style backwoods."
“(Author’s name) will become a household name along with Stephen King, Dean
Koontz, and Richard Laymon."
"I have been a lifetime reader of Dean Koontz, Stephen King, James Patterson, Lisa
Gardner, and various other suspense and horror authors...I have found a new author
to add to my list of greats."
“Sharp and fast, the pace reminded me of Jack Ketchum's Off Season.”
"If you like Stephen King, Blake Crouch, or Dean Koontz, then you'll love (author’s
“The best horror novel I've read in a long time. If you are a King, Koontz fan, this
ranks right up there.”
“Fast paced read, reminding me a lot of Edward Lee and Jack Ketchum.”
“Reminded me of a tale Jack Kilborn, J.A. Konrath might conjure up.”
"If you love J.A. Konrath, Jack Kilborn, and Blake Crouch, you'll love (author’s
"FIVE STARS...I would recommend this book to any fan of Richard Laymon or Jack
"Compares to my favorite writers Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and John Saul."
"Richard Laymon would be proud."
“One of my new favorite authors. Fantastic read! Very King like.”
"Excellent read! Similar to the style of Dean Koontz."
I hope you enjoy the first book in the (book title) series, my friends. This series is
ideal for fans of authors across several different blends of dark fiction! Authors like:
Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Richard Laymon, James Patterson, John Saul, Jack
Ketchum, J. A. Konrath, Karin Slaughter, Lisa Unger, Lisa Gardner, Blake Crouch,
Edward Lee, Brian Keene, Bryan Smith, J. F. Gonzalez, L.T. Vargus, Tim McBain,
Patrick Logan, Jeff Strand, Darcy Coates, Willow Rose, and many, many more. Happy
Pretty bad, huh? And it’s what the author himself used in the book description. What
it says to me is “There is nothing unique about this author. If you’re a fan of every
well-known author in print, you’ll like him, because his book contains lots of the
same words the famous authors use.”
(By the way, the Famous Horror Author from Maine was mentioned ten times.)
I’ve actually seen indie authors ask their readers for comparisons, because it seems
to be a method that works. To each their own.
In my mind, it’s as silly as “If you’re a fan of the Famous Horror Author from Maine,
you’ll love Arby’s new Corned Beef Reuben sandwich!”
Seriously though, the “We’re all the same! We’re all equal!” mantra has become so
common that we’ve been lulled into believing uniqueness is a bad and dangerous
thing (unless it’s an inanimate object, in which case it’s very unique or very very
unique. Like, literally). No, we are not the same. Each person has their own talents
and shortcomings, hope and fears, strength and weaknesses, desires and anxieties,
character traits and levels of intelligence. We are all unique beings (God bless DNA!)
and there’s no reason on earth why we should compare ourselves – or want to be
compared – to anyone else. Somehow, we have diverged from the 1960’s “Do you
own thing. Be yourself,” to the current “Do what ‘everyone else’ is doing. Believe
what they believe. Say what they say. Be them.” Yay, individuality! Boo, conformity!
Now, getting back to comparisons, I will admit that an author of many books offered
a review of Darkness: A Collection of Stories, and in the review he stated not only
that my stories reminded him of E.A. Poe and O. Henry, but went on to explain why.
This, I confess, I found flattering, and humbling. He didn’t just toss out famous
authors’ names, but detailed certain similarities, in his view, in style and structure.
The question is, how did those famous authors become famous in the first place? The
answer is because each had his or her unique style and voice.
The type of reviews I love are those that tell me the reader felt the same emotions
reading my words that I felt when writing them. The fear, the sorrow, the joy, the
hope. The power of the written word to convey emotions never ceases to amaze me.
What a wonderful thing that is!
In closing, I offer my advice to any author, any artist, any songwriter:
Be unique. Be an individualist. Be incomparable.
How Dare You!
I recall working at a company that had completely useless but absolutely mandatory
morning meetings where everything was discussed except information we might find
helpful in our daily tasks. On one such occasion, a woman from the office (who I
shall call Gwen because that was her name) attended and proudly passed out copies
of an invitation she had typed up that was intended to go out to local big-wigs for the
company’s fundraising dinner. I spotted a misspelling, but waited until the group had
disbursed before approaching the woman. “Gwen,” I said in my usual soft tone of
voice, “this looks really good (leading with a compliment to soften the minor
criticism), but there’s one slight error.” I showed her my copy where I had circled her
phonetic attempt (ordervs) and written the correct spelling (hors d’oeuvres) beside
it. One might expect a smile and a “thank you!” for sparing her the embarrassment
of sending out invitations to executives saying “ordervs” would be served.
Nope! She angrily snatched the paper from my hand and spat, “Oh, they’ll know
what I mean!” while storming away.
What does this have to do with writing? Quite a bit, actually. Are you a writer with
thin, easily bruised skin who feels any correction to be a personal affront to your
perfect being, or are you a writer who actually welcomes honest criticism, knowing
that it may very likely bring your manuscript closer to perfection?
In other words, are you an amateur, or a professional, in your attitude?
A few years ago, I met a woman who had worked as an editor for a big publisher. A
publisher whose roster included some major-league authors. She told me how some
of the best-known authors would fight the editor tooth and nail over any correction
or suggestion. “Yet,” she told me, “if we had said ‘screw it’ and published the
manuscript as presented to us, the author would have been a laughing stock due to a
myriad of grammatical errors, continuity problems, and sloppy structure. The author
could kiss that ‘New York Times #1 Bestseller’ status farewell.”
And the best authors to work with? Those who welcome corrections and suggestions.
Those who see a good editor as being a partner in the completion of their work.
True, there are editors – frustrated authors, perhaps – who are a pain for even the
most humble, open-minded author to work with. So it can go both ways.
Ego and immaturity – being overly sensitive and taking things personally – stand in
the way of professionalism. A good writer and good editor make a successful team,
working toward the same goal.
And if your skin is so thin and your emotions so fragile that you can’t take advice and
criticism – you don’t need no stinkin’ editor because you are God’s gift to indie
publishing – then go ahead and publish as-is. Then wait (and have lots of tissues
handy) for when those one-star Amazon reviews
come a’rollin’ in. Especially the ones that say, “This writer really needs an editor!”