Purged Amazon Reviews: Case Closed?

Case Closed

Castalia House Lead Editor Vox Day passes along a possible solution to The Case of the Purged Amazon Reviews.

Specifically, he quotes author Amanda Green's theory based on her review of Amazon's terms of service.
2. Are authors allowed to review other authors’ books?
Yes. Authors are welcome to submit Customer Reviews, unless the reviewing author has a personal relationship with the author of the book being reviewed, or was involved in the book’s creation process (i.e. as a co-author, editor, illustrator, etc.). If so, that author isn’t eligible to write a Customer Review for that book. 
3. Can I ask my family to write a Customer Review for my book?
We don’t allow individuals who share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer Reviews for that author’s book. Customer Reviews provide unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers and aren’t to be used as a promotional tool.
The implication is that members of the Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance on Facebook were especially hard-hit by the purges because they were assumed to have violated Item 2 above. As I mentioned previously, a number of reviews were removed from my Soul Cycle books. While I'm technically a CLFA member, I was essentially drafted into it, as FB allows groups to do. The only CLFA members I've met in person are Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen, neither of whom have posted reviews of my books. Thus, Amanda's theory doesn't explain why my reviews were purged.

Vox makes a similar observation.
...the fact that Jon Del Arroz's reviews were restored upon review by an Amazon manager, as were some of the reviews of Declan Finn's books, indicates that there was probably more going on than just legitimate TOS policing. My guess is that a rogue Amazon employee took it upon himself to take advantage of the opening being given to him by TOS-violating reviewers, but got carried away and ended up deleting a number of reviews that were not in violation of the terms of service as well.
This leads me to two conclusions. First, reviews are considered very important by SJWs. Therefore, culture warriors should be diligent about posting Amazon reviews of books that they read. Even if it's only a short, one-paragraph review that only takes a minute to post, it will help build up the total number of reviews as well as bolster the book's average rating against fake reviews meant to lower it.
Second, when you are dealing with an SJW-amenable authority, or even just an authority that happens to employ an SJW, you must keep your nose clean. Don't push the envelope with regards to the posted rules and regulations. Don't give them an excuse to crack down, because when they do, they may not stop with your infractions, but cross the line themselves.
Vox's advice carries some weight since he's dealt with rogue Amazon employees before. Support indie authors who are bucking the corrupt Big Five. Learn the terms of service and codes of conduct put in place by SJW-friendly organizations you're forced to deal with, and follow them to the letter. Crossing all your t's and dotting your i's won't guarantee protection--nothing will besides creating your own platform--but it will force the SJWs to drop the guise of impartiality if they censor you.

A gripping, thrilling send-off to a most wondrous series
The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier


How to Avoid the River Plot

Infinite River

Best selling author Jonathan Moeller offers his expert advice on how to write a long-running fantasy series without falling into any of the genre's common pitfalls.
First, I figure out the overall arc for the entire series. What is the central conflict and the main antagonist? Then I decided on the main characters and their specific character arcs.
By that point, this is usually enough to work out a synopsis of the entire series. Then it’s time to divide the synopsis into individual books. It’s important to have an antagonist and a fully formed plot for each individual book. Otherwise you fall prey to one of the weaknesses of long-running fantasy series, where there’s an entire 800 page book where the characters do nothing but walk around the woods or spend like a million chapters sailing down a river or something.
We all know who he's talking about. Learn from those bad examples. Don't be the Book-length River Voyage guy.

By the way, the reason having a clear antagonist helps authors avoid writing aimless novels is that having a solid antagonist to place obstacles between the protagonist and his goal generates conflict, which is the engine stories run on. Characters end up riding the lazy river when they're insufficiently motivated and/or face insufficient opposition.

Jonathan continues:
When I write a synopsis of an individual book, I start by writing a list of the really significant or spectacular scenes I want in it, and then I sketch out the rest of the scenes to connect the big scenes. Then I chop the synopsis up into individual chapters and start writing.
It’s good to have both external and internal conflicts for your characters. In FROSTBORN, Ridmark’s external conflict is stopping the return of the Frostborn, but his internal conflict is the fact that he never dealt with his wife’s death and is very bad at processing grief in general.
More conflict -> more dramatic tension -> a book that's unputdownable.
You can also get a lot of plot mileage when the internal conflict bubbles over into the external one.
Having multiple conflicts intersect at the same time is a central feature of the seven-point plot structure popularized by author Dan Wells. Having your characters beset by multiple sources of opposition at once is a good way to maximize emotional impact--especially when your characters overcome them.

Souldancer provides a good example of the interplay between external and internal conflict with Astlin's struggle to escape Shaiel while wrestling with the madness that makes her a danger to herself and others.

Jonathan dispenses plenty more sage advice in his original post. Read the whole thing here.

And if you're looking for a not-so-long adventure series that employs Jonathan's advice, check out my award-winning, and complete, Soul Cycle.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier


We've Passed Peak Pop Star


In recent Decline of the West news, record sales have fallen off a cliff.
Record sales are being touted these days as on a comeback. All you hear is: streaming will save us.
But things are pretty dire. For example, Justin Timberlake’s “Man of the Woods,” touted so highly on the Super Bowl and a hit in its first week, has been a total sales stiff. As of this week, “MoW” has sold just 285,000 copies.
Contrast this with Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience,” which was the best selling album of 2013 with 2.5 million copies. (Luckily, Justin had a smash single last year with “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”)
Even worse: U2’s “Songs of Experience” has taught us nothing. It had great songs, like Timberlake, but they didn’t save the situation. “Songs” has sold just 250,000 copies total. Remember U2? Their sales used to be huge.
 As a matter of fact, I remember U2 quite well. Regular readers of this blog are aware that I was quite the fan of the Larry Mullen Band in my day.

Friedman's article connects a number of dots scattered among multiple posts on this blog. Take this one, for example, which explains why there will never be another Biggest Band in the World. U2 themselves held that title for decades after inheriting it from The Who with a brief interregnum presided over by The Police. It's fitting that Friedman used them as an example. 250k copies does not a megastar make.

A major red flag that should have alerted everyone to the current pop music decline was that one band dominated the market for so long. There were plenty of contenders for the title over the years. Record label PR, MTV airheads, and sensationalistic trade magazines all assured us that acts like Jesus Jones, Smashing Pumpkins, Live, etc. would be the new face of rock & roll.

To be sure, all of the bands I listed, and many others, achieved some success. But none became the new colossus standing astride the pop landscape. The Red Hot Chili Peppers came within a hair's breadth of the mountaintop, but the whole scene fractured and contracted under their feet. If they'd come along just five years earlier, the outcome may well have been different.

What exactly happened to shatter the former pop music monolith? The Z Man proposes an explanation.
A 15-year old can go on YouTube or Spotify and find fifty versions of the current pop hits, gong back before their parents were born. They can also find stuff from previous eras that was remarkably well done and performed by people with real talent. Justin Timberlake may be very talented as a singer, but no one is confusing him with Frank Sinatra. It’s simply a lot easier for young people to see that pop music is just manufactured pap from Acme Global Corp.
That’s another thing that may be plaguing pop culture in general and pop music in particular. When I was a teen, your music said something about you because you felt a connection to the band. In the sterile transactional world of today, no one feels an attachment to anything, much less the latest pop group. There’s no sense of obligation to buy or  listen to their latest release. Supporting a type of music or a specific act is no longer a part of kid’s identity. The relationship is now as sterile as society.
The Z Man has hit upon something here. But how did it come to this? Read on.
That is the funny thing about pop culture in our Progressive paradise. It is a lot like the pop music of totalitarian paradises of the past. The Soviets manufactured their version of Western pop, but it was never popular. Just as we see at the Super Bowl, comrades can be forced marched to an arena and made to cheer, but no one really liked it. There’s a lot of that today, as every pop star has the exact same Progressive politics and uses their act to proselytize on behalf of the faith. That’s not a coincidence. It is by design.
The specter of message fic looms large over yet another dying industry.

The lesson, as always, is that Progressives can't create. They can only subvert, deconstruct, and mock what came before. And they always do so in the service of their totalitarian ideology. Our current cultural wasteland is the result.
The great philosopher Homer Simpson said, “Why do you need new bands? Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact.”  There’s a lot of truth to that as per capita music sales peaked in the 70’s and began a decline until CD’s forced everyone to repurchase their music. But that peaked in the late 90’s and there has been a precipitous decline ever since.
Here, Z Man brings us full circle to an epiphany I recently chronicled here: 1997 was the year the music--and Western pop culture in general--died.
Pop music is not art, but like art it does hold a mirror up to society. In the heyday of pop music, the society it reflected was one that was optimistic and happy. Today, the society it reflects is the gray, featureless slurry of multiculturalism and the vinegar drinking scolds who impose it on us. It’s not that it is low quality or offensive. It’s that the music is a lot like the modern parking lot. It is row after row of dreary sameness. Like everything in this age, popular music has the soul of the machine that made it.
The converged manufacturers of Western culture have destroyed the rich patrimony bequeathed to them by past generations. Happily, a new generation of creators are turning back to the great works of the past and finding inspiration to build the pop culture of the future. We can't make it happen without your support!

Move over Dark Tower. There's a new level of fiction in town.
Souldancer - Brian Niemeier


A Wrinkle in Time

Tune in for Geek Gab as Daddy Warpig and Dorrinal review the controversial new adaptation of beloved YA novel A Wrinkle in Time. Plus Slay the Spire and Hurricane Heist!

God-slaying fun for all!


Casablanca's Lessons for Writers


Over at Amatopia, the Daytime Renegade discovers the invaluable lessons that the classic film Casablanca has to teach writers.
My wife and I watched the 1942 classic Casablanca few nights ago. It had been over a dozen years since I had seen it, and it was the first time for my wife. All I have to say is that the movie is classic for a reason, and that it gets better with each viewing.
And what struck me were the lessons this movie provides about novel writing. Sure, it’s a different art than screenwriting, but several techniques translate very well across the mediums.
The DR is quite astute. Not only is Casablanca rightly considered a classic. It's also recognized as the origin of the industry standard formula for screenwriting. And yes, you can easily adapt the Hollywood Formula to writing novels, as I explained in a previous post.
Screenwriting teacher Dan Decker identified the Hollywood Formula to help his students maximize the emotional impact of their movie scripts. It was widely adopted by film makers following the success of Casablanca; where, Decker speculates, the creative team stumbled upon the formula by accident.
The Hollywood Formula utilizes three archetypal characters whose interrelationships drive the story across three acts.
  • The Protagonist — the character whose pursuit of a goal drives the story. The goal must be concrete, definable, and achievable. Not "I want to be happy" or "I want to be rich", but rather, "I want him to fall in love with me so that I will be happy." "I want to win the game show that I'm going to be on so that I will be rich."
  • The Antagonist — the person who places obstacles between the protagonist and his goal. The antagonist is not necessarily a villain. The antagonist's goals may be diametrically opposed to, or even the same as, the protagonist's.
  • The Relationship Character — accompanies the protagonist on his journey. Typically a more experienced character who has wisdom to share with the protagonist, which the protagonist rejects at first. The theme of the story, what the protagonist needs to understand in order to succeed, is expressed either by or to this character. In many cases, this happens as part of an actual conversation. At the end of the story, this conversation or expression of the theme will be revisited, and the protagonist and this character will reconcile with each other.
The story ends when the protagonist achieves or relinquishes his goal, defeats or is defeated by the antagonist, and reconciles with the relationship character. The closer together these things happen, the more emotional impact the story will have.
Unlike Dent's model, which divides a story by word count, The Hollywood Formula indicates which events should occur at various percentages of the way through the story.
  • First Act: beginning at 0% of the way through the story; Introduces the characters and their goals. At 10%-15%, the protagonist faces a fateful decision, a choice, and how he answers determines whether or not there is a story.
  • Second Act: begins after 25% of the story has been told. Starts piling on the problems. At about 50%, the story has been raising questions. It begins to answer them.
  • Third Act: begins after 75% of the story has been told. The beginning of the third act is the low point—the furthest the protagonist can possibly get from the goal. At Climax the protagonist confronts the antagonist, reconciles with the relationship character, and claims success or failure in his goal. Then we have Denouement; loose ends are wrapped up and the story reaches its conclusion.
The writing utility of Casablanca's structure is well-trodden ground. DR takes us further by highlighting some other storytelling elements the movie got right.
  • Setting. Rick’s cafe seems like a place you’d want to hang out in, gambling and drinking and listening to Sam and his band play jazz. But it was also a dangerous place, always under the eye of the authorities and the setting for some violent confrontations.
  • Atmosphere. There is a pervasive sense of danger and dread in Casablanca, as though time is running out, not just for the characters, whether in love or trying to escape the Nazis, but for the world itself. It gives everything a heightened sense of urgency that even the revelry at Rick’s can’t cover up. Indeed, the parting of Rick’s guests is tragic, laughter in the face of inevitable evil. Remember, this movie was made when it still looked like the Nazis were unstoppable.
  • Dialogue. Much of this movie’s classic lines were written on the fly, or improvised (“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”). But what stands out to be is how each character in Casablanca speaks in a unique way, and there is not a wasted line of dialogue.
Every word uttered in this movie had to be spoken. The dialogue is snappy without sounding forced, particularly Bogart’s lines and his delivery. The responses characters give sound unique without seeming too clever.
Lesson: Trim the fat. Sometimes us writers try to make things sound more “realistic” with “Well” and “so” and “um” and lots of ellipses. But it doesn’t work in movies, and it doesn’t work in print.
There's plenty more in DR's original post. You should definitely check it out. I want to leave you with his lesson about dialogue, because it's one of the top pieces of editorial advice I give to my author clients. Novel dialogue shouldn't emulate real-world speech. It should be the best of real speech. Keeping that tip in mind will help make your dialogue pop.

If you'd like additional help polishing your writing to a pro-level shine, I'm currently offering editing services. Get a professional pair of eyeballs on your manuscript to spot problems your beta readers missed. Plus, you can say your novel was edited by a Dragon Award winner. Just send me an email.

Of course, talk is cheap. For an example of my own advice in action, pick up my thrilling Soul Cycle adventure/horror series, starting with the breakout Lovecraft-Firefly mashup Nethereal.

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier