Why I Personally Respond to My Readers

I get this all the time: people remind me I only get 35 cents for each book I sell, and want to know why I take the time to personally respond to emails and website comments. My answer is always the same:

It’s good manners!

Folks tell me I should use an auto-responder or hire a secretary to do it. They say, “How can you afford to answer emails?” My response: “What does book income have to do with answering emails? No one’s paying my readers to write to me!  Isn’t their time as valuable as mine? –Of course it is!”

When you read my book and take the time to click onto my website and leave your name and email address, and tell me you loved my book—how could I not thank you? You paid money to read my book! You gave up your time to read it! That’s a gift of time you’ll never get back.

Do most people not understand this?  Out of every single thing in the world you could have done today, you chose to spend those precious hours of your life reading my book?

It’s the most incredible honor in the world!

Bless your heart!  I’m so humbled I don’t even know how to properly thank you! Is someone going to sit there and tell me my readers don’t deserve a couple minutes of my flippin’ time to thank them for what they’ve done for me? My readers aren’t an interruption of my time. They’re the purpose for it!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

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Michael J. Fox and Your Loved Ones

I’ve never met Michael J. Fox, and doubt I ever will. He’s not a fan so far as I know, and has almost certainly never heard of me. I’m not seeking his endorsement. This is a tiny blog with a very small readership, so he’ll never read these words.

In short, there’s nothing in it for me…to write about him. Which is proof these words come from my heart.

I’ll make this short. As you know, I value your time, and only write when I feel I have something important to say. I could wait till Mike is in the news, but that would be opportunistic, and unworthy of the subject matter.

I’m busy, you’re busy. But I’m pausing a moment to express my admiration and gratitude for not only Mike, who is an extraordinary human being, but for all those special people who exude character and class every day of their lives while fighting debilitating diseases hell-bent on breaking them down and killing their spirits. I’m talking about not only Mike, but your friends and mine, and our relatives.

I’m sure Mike has rough days where he struggles to stay positive, days when fatigue gets the better of him, days when he wonders from what reservoir can he possibly extract another ounce of strength. But here’s a guy…wow! I’m almost at a loss for words. It takes a lot of courage for a former leading man to put himself out there and take his battle to the enemy in front of all the world’s cameras. So truly…wow!

And yet, we all have friends and relatives who have it even worse than Mike. These quiet family heroes bravely battle incurable diseases without the benefit of an adoring public. My cousin, Susan’s, battle would overwhelm me in no time, and yet she maintains an attitude that shames me to complain about the insignificant trials I face. I have a friend, Lisa, who’s in the middle of a tragic battle. She’s showing us all, by example, what it means to have true courage. Your friends and relatives are doing the same. I wish I could single each of them out and praise their epic, individual examples.

Mike, Susan, Lisa…and your friends and family members are giving us a blueprint for how to live our lives with courage and dignity. They’re teaching us how to face fear and overcome obstacles. How to live extraordinary lives in the face of crushing physical and emotional devastation.

I only know Michael J. Fox through his TV and movie roles and public appearances, and I don’t know your loved ones at all. But I love them. Love them the same way I love my friends and family members who bravely fight the fight. Love their mental toughness. Admire their ability to handle adversity.

I write books about kooky characters and larger-than-life heroes, but I’ll tell you something right now: the amazing true-life heroes we all know and love are everything that’s right, noble and true about humankind. Their remarkable determination, unbreakable will, and their indomitable courage will surely be placed as credits to their names in Paradise.

Michael J. Fox is the name of this blog, and its face. But it’s a blog about all who struggle daily, while displaying the mental fortitude to prevail against overwhelming odds. It’s for all the Dick Clarks of the world. The Roger Eberts. The Susans, the Lisas, and it’s for your parents, your siblings, your friends and your loved ones. So when I say Mike, I’m talking about a million amazing people who are absolutely worth pausing a few minutes to think about and honor. Since I can’t single everyone out by name, I’ll just say:

Keep fighting the good fight, Mike. I love you, man!

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The Day I Lost My Innocence

I was twelve years old, excited, knowing Pak-a-Sak had the new comic books on display.

I’d outgrown Archie, Richie Rich, Donald Duck and Casper years earlier, and very recently and reluctantly, Superman, Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, and Batman. I was older now. Wouldn’t be cool to get caught scanning the comic book racks.

But there was one I couldn’t’ give up. One I still clung to. One I was willing to sneak out and purchase, quickly and quietly, like a thief in the night.

Kid Colt.

I loved Kid Colt like a ten-year-old loves puppies. The Kid was cool. Only needed one gun. Had a horse named Steel, and a back story that’d make you cry. Well, maybe not cry. But, you know. The Kid lived by a creed (a Donovan Creed, you ask?) The Kid was an outlaw, wrongly accused. Went from town to town, always one step ahead of the law. Everywhere he went, he’d right a wrong.

Great stuff.

It’s eight a.m. Saturday morning, my friends asleep. I enter the store, do a quick walk-through, pause briefly to see where my comic is situated on the display rack. Can’t spend too much time at the rack, you know. Check the soft drinks, then the candy. I’d be less nervous buying condoms, tampons, a Playboy, or beer. Because those things a guy can laugh about with his buddies. Not comic books. Comic books are things that make your buddies laugh at you!

I rush to the display, grab my Kid Colt, set it on the counter with a dime and two pennies. No eye contact. Put the book in a bag and I’ll be on my way. But no. Counter guy picks up my book. In a voice dripping with condescension, says, “Wow! Kid Colt! Fastest gun in the west! Fastest horse ever lived! And looky here,” he says, pointing to the cover. “He’s surrounded by a dozen men, guns blazing all around, but Kid Colt shoots them all!”

While he’s saying all this, and more, I’m shrinking, mortified, horrified. He ends it with the dreaded, “Aren’t you a little old for this stuff?” I stand there, saying nothing. He takes my coins, says, “Want a bag?” I nod, take it, and rush out the store.

I was crushed. He’d found my weakness, and made me suffer for it. My cheeks were on fire like Johnny Storm, Fantastic Four. Once home, I climbed on my bed, opened the cover of my beloved Kid Colt. Read a few words, stopped, stood, gathered all my comics, added this one to the pile, and lovingly placed them in the trash can.

I’d lost my innocence. 

February, 2011.

That’s when I published, against the advice of everyone I know, a Western Adventure titled Follow the Stone. People said “Westerns are dead. If you publish a Western, you’ll lose the audience you’ve worked so hard to build.” They said, “If you must write the damn thing, at least use a pen name!”

I wrote the book. Put my real name on it because…well, because I’m proud of it. You say you don’t like Westerns? I hope to change your mind. I’m writing a series of John Locke Westerns, meaning, Westerns with a smirk. In doing so, I’m reclaiming a piece of my youth.

A few years back, my daughter’s friends thought she was too old to like certain types of toys. So my wife and I took her into toy stores and pretended we were picking out toys for younger kids. “I’m sure she’d like this one!” our daughter would say, with bright, happy eyes. Years later, we did the same for our son. When their friends came over, we’d put these “kid toys” in a box. We kept their toy secret all that time, and I wouldn’t tell you now, except that we’re friends, you and me. I think you understand why I wanted my kids to enjoy their youthful indulgences as long as possible.

Which brings me to why I’m telling you all this: I want you to download my Western for only 99 cents, a friendship rate.

You know Donovan Creed, and I’m honored you like him. There’s only one Creed, only one Callie. But the same author who brought Creed and Callie to the dance has lovingly crafted a whole new group of friends you need to meet. This ain’t your grandpa’s Western–it’s totally cool and hip and funny. You’re gonna love Emmett, Gentry, Shrug, and the rest of the gang.

I guarantee it.

Did I mention it’s the #1 Western on Amazon/Kindle? Has been, for six weeks now. But don’t read it because it’s popular. Read it because it’s fun.

Give it a try. Find your childhood smile.

Here’s the link. Click it now, before the world gets you sidetracked: Follow the Stone

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Break Some Rules!

All right, so you’re driving down the interstate and one guy’s going 40 mph, another’s pushing 90. You and the other legal beagles are doing 65, just like you’re supposed to. My question is this: do you pay any attention to those who are doing the right thing?

The answer is no.

You only notice the ones who are breaking the rules!

It’s the same with your writing.

You want to be technically perfect? Great. Maybe they’ll study you in high school English class someday. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lofty goal. But it’s the difference between educating your readers and entertaining them. You need to choose which works for you.

You might say, “There’s a reason you shouldn’t drive 40 or 90 on the interstate, John,” and I’ll say, “Of course there is. People could get hurt, even die from such recklessness.” And that’s why I’m not advocating dangerous driving. But let me ask you this: who’s gonna get hurt if you break a flippin’ writing rule once in awhile?

I get a lot of criticism from purists for my writing, but I can live with it, because English teachers aren’t my target audience. Not all English teachers. Just the cool ones. My newest novel, A Girl Like You, breaks a lot of rules. Especially in the last six pages. But my target audience will love that final chapter because they’ve come to expect certain rules to be broken in my writing, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. I have two people at a table in that final scene. But in my mind there are two extra chairs you don’t know about. And I’m doing all I can to put my guy readers in one of those chairs and the ladies in the other.

 Does it work? You Decide.

 Kindle Books – A Girl Like You – John Locke, author – 99 cents.

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Bad Reviews

What’s that? You got a bad review? 

Aww… It’s all right. No, really, I understand. Come on over, pull up a chair. Yeah, that’s right. Get comfortable. Are you comfy? Good. Here’s a tissue. Wipe those tears from your eyes. Yeah, that’s better. Take a deep breath. You’re gonna be just fine. Now listen up, ’cause I’m gonna tell you all you need to know about “bad” reviews.

Don’t take bad reviews personally.

Yeah, I know. Easy for me to say, right? After all, I used to knock on doors selling insurance! Not to mention I’ve been married 3 times! –I mean, what can you possibly write in a review that’s gonna hurt my feelings?

Someone made fun of Saving Rachel for having 36 1-star reviews. I can deal with it. It helps that Rachel is the #1 download on Amazon/Kindle and has been for the past week. Of course, this will change, and I can deal with that, too, ’cause it’s the natural order of things.

I never received a bad review until I hit the top 100!

In your book’s infancy, you’re marketing to friends, contacts you’ve made, and their contacts. Your book attracts readers by word of mouth. They like you, recommend you, and your ratings reflect it. As your book goes “viral” and works it’s way into the top 100 it attracts readers who never heard of you. They buy your book for different reasons: they like the cover. It has lots of great reviews. It’s a best seller. And these readers will love it, hate it, or forget it. If they love it, you’ve got another fan. If they hate it, they blame you and the folks who gave you a good rating. Doesn’t mean your book sucks, and it doesn’t mean they’re petty, hateful people.

It simply means they aren’t part of your target audience. 

Why do they get so angry? They wanted to like your book. They paid money, invested time, and most importantly, wanted to join your party, have fun, hang out with the cool kids, and be part of the group. They see those 50 great reviews and were hoping to “get” it. And now they feel left out. And sometimes they lash out. In the long run, it’s good for you, and good for them. They won’t buy your next book, and that’s one less bad rating you’ll get next time.

You’ll never get a bad review from your target audience.

Never change your writing to accommodate the ones who hate you. Do that, and your core audience will abandon you.

The more books I write, the fewer “bad” reviews I get.

Why? ‘Cause your first few books will attract followers and repel non-followers. After that, you’ll be selling to a higher percentage of folks who already like your work, which means fewer negative reviews. You’ll also get fewer positive reviews, ’cause your core readers have already invested time and effort to give you good reviews in the past. They feel it’s someone else’s turn. Saving Rachel hit the top 100 with 175 reviews. Follow the Stone did it with 6! This week, A Girl Like You hit the top 100 with only 2! Today it’s #29 with 3 reviews! As Girl attracts people who shouldn’t be reading it, I’ll get a high percentage of bad reviews unless my core audience steps up and fights for me by posting some positive reviews  (Yeah, Chachi, that’s a hint! Step up to the bullies and defend my honor, will ya?)

The reason some people hate your book is the same reason your target audience loves it!

You better HOPE a lot of people hate your writing! ‘Cause if they don’t, you’re not very original. And if you’re not original, you’re not gonna stand out. And if you don’t stand out, you’re not gonna sell.

One last comment…

I like bourbon, my wife likes beer. My kids are too young to drink. You can pour the finest single-barrel bourbon in the world into a tumbler and set it on the counter of my bar, and it’s only going to be right for one out of the four people in my house. Are you gonna sit there and try to tell me that whoever created that fine Kentucky bourbon sucks at what he does because 3 out of 4 people give it a thumbs down?

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