Monthly Archives: March 2009

Review – Mr. Jefferson’s Piano

Mr. Jefferson’s Piano and other Central Harlem Stories – A Moving Fictional Memoir

Rating: 4 of 5

Author: Betty Wilson
Available: Paperback, Kindle

Melba Farris is a long way from Ohio where she grew up.  Living in New York City in the late 1970s, she applies for a position managing the cities’ public housing units in Central Harlem.  Given little to no training and without much supervision, she’s suddenly responsible for managing numerous buildings and tenants.  Managers with drinking problems, building supers who meticulously sweep their streets, pistol packing tenants, crazy directives from the “suits” downtown, and touching stories of love and loss are part of Melba’s everyday life.  Giving her all to her job, tenants, and buildings provides a sense of purpose and escape for Melba who, at home, is a victim of spousal abuse.

Though Betty Wilson’s Mr. Jefferson’s Piano is written as a fictional memoir, it is clear from the depth and detail of the 68 short stories that Ms. Wilson has leveraged her twenty years of experience as a New York City property manager.  Similar to her novel’s heroine, Wilson herself was a Sloan Award winner for her public service.  This is a uniquely written novel as it isn’t necessarily just a memoir.  Wilson has added work memo’s, notes to file, and letters collected by her fictional character over the years and integrates them throughout Melba’s recounting of various experiences she’s had on the job.  This adds such a sense of realism it’s hard to believe this is a fictional account.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this novel was the way Wilson has different characters come in and out of Melba’s life.  Like Melba, we only see a glimpse of their lives without knowing necessarily how each of their stories resolve.  This reminded me of what drew me to the first season of the television show ER where patients would come in and out of the emergency room and one never knew exactly how their stories resolved – just like in real life.  Also, similar to an ER physician, Melba must cope with the frequent tragic lives she encounters on a daily basis.  As a result, she occasionally comes off a little dispassionate.  For those concerned they may be left frustrated by this method of story telling, Farris does close a number of these open arcs at the books conclusion.

Some stories are shocking, for example the drug user who has clogged his toilet with numerous needles requiring him to use his bathtub for collecting human waste.  Others stories are touching, such as the one recounting the history of Mr. Jefferson’s Piano.   After reading this novel, I have new found respect for the difficult, dangerous, yet rewarding social work undertaken by city property managers.


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Getting the most of Amazon Listmania

How to Maximize Amazon’s Listmania

Most everyone knows about Amazon’s Listmania option.  But do you know how to get the best most out of it?

The goal: to have your book be on a list frequently provided to Amazon customers as they search for their favorite books.

What do I mean by this?

Let’s take a look at an example.  In the juvenile fiction world, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is extremely successful.  If I search on this book, the following appears on Amazon.


Notice on the left of the page the two Listmania! lists featured.

If either of these were your list with your book in the list, it would likely get a lot of visibility. Your book may even appear here as well.

So the key is to identify other more popular books in the same genre as your book and populate your listmania list with these books as well as your own.

Every time one of these other books is searched on, your list may appear in the side panel just like the example shown.

In order to increase the likelihood of your list showing up during one of these searches versus someone else’s list having the same book in it, I’ve set up the “Tag My Listmania” page.  Check it out!


Filed under book marketing, Listmania

Word of Mouth – Your Key to Big Time Sales!

Though I’m at risk of stating the obvious, the one key to success with marketing is successful word of mouth.  Getting the average Joe or Jane to talk up your product, book, or service is they key to exponential exposure, sales and success.   In fact, you can see that of all marketing, the type of “advertising” consumers trust most is recommendations from consumers (see graph).

While no one is surprised by this, the big question is how do you make this happen?  Many of us participate in blogs, forums, online groups, social networks, etc. to gain exposure about our books.  This has good results.  Friendships are forged, trust is gained, and we start to buy each others books.    The limitation is that these sales are only additive.  That is, they are essentially direct sales from author to buyer, one at a time.  What is needed are the multiplying sales.  Essentially having readers sell books for you.  They don’t do this outright (commission, etc.) but they do it by word of mouth.

I first heard of The DiVinci Code from friends at work who had read it and talked it up.  I didn’t read a review in the newspaper or hear a radio add.  I was “sold” by my friends.  This is the power of word of mouth.

But how do you get readers to do this?  Well, the answer lies within.  When do you do it?  When do you start “selling” books you’ve read to friends?  My guess is you don’t talk about every good book you read.  Just those that somehow stuck with you, made an impact or otherwise struck a chord.  So the issue here isn’t writing just a good book, but one that will resonate and create what are called “promoters”.

In marketing, promoters are the folks that go out of their way to “sell” something that they believe in even when they personally don’t benefit from the sale.  These folks are hard to find.  In fact, if you have a normal population rate a product on a scale from 1-10, only those who rate a product 9 or higher would be even close to being promoters.  A seven or eight is a good score but doesn’t cut it.  Even with a 9 or 10, this doesn’t always get you there.

So how do you find these promoters?  Well, they find you.  They are the ones who send you an email about how they found your book and loved it asking when the next book is coming out.  They are the ones who tell you they’ve told their friends or neighbors about your book.    They are the ones who continue to visit your blog and comment on your posts.  These are your promoters.   Your job is to stay in close contact with them; keeping up that relationship as you write your new book.  And frankly, you ask them to promote (subtley of course).  Some folks have even asked if I’ve got extra bookmarks because they want to hand them to folks they know who might like the book.

In the end, promoting starts with you.  We can all promote one another.  It is one of the reasons I’m posting reviews on this site as well as Amazon, Shelfari, Goodreads, etc.  I also take these books to work and lend them out to collegeause.  If you’ve read some of the books from authors on this site, how much are you “promoting” them?  I know, it’s hard enough to promote your own work, but honestly, it’s easier to promote someone elses work because no one sees is as self promotion (which of course it isn’t).  And frankly self-promotion makes everyone skeptical (just check out some of Amazon’s forum’s where an author tries to promote their work – yikes!).  But if everyone is promoting everyone elses work – well, no stigma of self-promotion and suddenly you’ve got an arm of folks promoting your work instead of yourself.

So I ask all of you to think of books that you’ve really enjoyed and believe they deserve a shot to be read by many to go out there and promote them!  And for those interested, I do still have a number of extra bookmarks (wink!).

P.S. One easy method for spreading word of mouth is the “Retweet (RT)” on twtiter – check out the twitter post here.


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Review – Survivng an American Gulag

Surviving an American Gulag – Sometimes the worst prisons are created from within

Rating: 4 of 5
Author: Edward C. Patterson

Available: Paperback, Kindle

Winslow Gibbs has no business being the army.  He’s overweight, out of shape, lonely and different.  Unable to get past the first rung on the monkey bars, Gibbs quickly earns the nickname Pillsbury Doughboy in the mess hall.  Of course, he doesn’t want to be in the army at all, but in 1967, the draft had other ideas.  Unable to cut basic training, Gibbs is moved to a new platoon in the Special Training Unit One – the last stop before either making it back to basic or getting a Section 8 which would haunt him for life.  He quickly learns that his new unit is the army’s equivalent to the land of misfit toys – not just the troops but the sergeants as well.  The group also has something else in common, they’re all gay.  Well all but Gibbs, or so he believes.

Life in Special Unit One is a nightmare.  Gibbs is taunted daily by his sergeant. The PT course and twenty-mile walks, turn his body into an aching chafed amorphous blob.  Throughout it all though, Gibbs fails to give in continuing to work his body and forge friendships which provide him support and confidence as he takes on each challenge.  One day, Gibbs finds his ribs again as his physique takes shape and he frees himself from the physical bondage of his former body.  But what of his emotional bondage?

While reading Surviving an American Gulag by Edward C Patterson, I was reminded of Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues.  Patterson provides a memoir-like novel whose protagonist searches for who he is amidst the chaos and challenges of basic training.  This is a poignant novel about how the military treated it’s gay recruits and how a rag tag group struggled to overcome substantial obstacles.  I found myself cheering for Gibbs in the novel’s closing chapters as his confidence and abilities grew along with his self discovery.  While Surviving an American Gulag primarily refers to Special Unit One as the Gulag, the parallel gulag is the one Gibbs has created for himself regarding his admission and acceptance of his own homosexuality.  Patterson masterfully crafts these two gulags together and Gibbs’s triumph over each.

Finally, Patterson gives readers a special treat at the end with a small story called A Dime a Dip.  I won’t give away it’s premise, but suffice to say it was a perfect companion story and closing chapter which brought a tear to my eye.  Well done Mr. Patterson.


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Review – A Lifetime of Deception

A Lifetime of Deception – An Intriguing Military Murder Mystery!

Rating: 4 of 5

Author: P.J. Grondin
Available: Paperback, Kindle

Unwanted and given up at birth, Becky Lippert moved from foster family to foster family suffering verbal, physical, and sexual abuse until she decided to take matters into her own hands.  Blessed with a keen mind and killer looks, Becky finds she has a talent for quickly putting any man under her seductive spell.  With these assets, she leaves “home” in her mid teens and begins life as a grifter, conning young military servicemen out of their life savings.  She had the perfect crime and what she thought was the perfect payoff and Becky was sure she could forever lead a life of deception.

Unfortunately, dead bodies begin to pile up in her wake and Becky begins to search for a way out.  Meanwhile the government quickly finds a pattern of crime against it’s own and calls up Joe McKinney to active service to help solve the crime.  A battle tested marine, Joe works with his brother Pat to piece together the clues to the identity and whereabouts of the mystery woman conning these men and those responsible for their murders.  But will they find Becky before the trail gets cold or will they fall victim to her and her accomplices’ plans?

P.J. Grondin’s A Lifetime of Deception is an intriguing military murder mystery thriller.  Grondin’s own experience as a former submariner aboard the USS John Adams clearly comes through as he describes the duties, assignments, recreational activities, dress, hygiene, and habits our nations servicemen and women.  I especially appreciated getting a glimpse into the emotional balancing act one must manage regarding one’s duty to country and one’s family responsibilities.  For someone to target and take advantage of these heroes is a travesty.  All Americans should ensure that as our nations’ heroes protect us oversees we should likewise protect them against any individual or group that would stand to gain by exploiting them while deployed.

A Lifetime of Deception is the second novel featuring Joe and Pat McKinney.  In these brothers, Grondin has created characters we all can related to.  They are flawed human beings with questionable pasts and occasionally struggling relationships but who, none-the-less wake up each morning committed to improving their and their loved ones’ lives.  I look forward to reading the first novel in the series A Lifetime of Vengeance.


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