El Gringo

There’s a book on Amazon.com with 2,149 1* comments. (At the time of writing.) On Amazon.co.uk it has only 437 1* comments. Only! Ha! Can we just take a minute to imagine how the author feels about those stats. I’ve had a few 1*comments and they used to hurt me, like hammer blows to bare feet. But if I had that much scorn poured on one of my writing projects would I wonder about giving up writing? Before we get too carried away in a tidal wave of sympathy for the ‘poor’ author, please, read on to give the stats their proper context.

The title in question is also #1 bestseller on both sides of the pond. On Amazon.com it has over 26,000 comments (5,000+ on AmazonUK). That is a lot of feedback. It also signifies a hell of a lot of downloads, if normal ratios of comments to downloads of my books is anything to go by. I check the charts fairly often when I’m procrastinating and I’ve never seen another book with so many comments. I wonder if anyone else has. I’d be interested to know. This author’s publishers must wake up and pinch themselves every morning with those sorts of figures. Can you guess what the book is? (Clue one: The title of this blog-post is an anagram of the title of the book. Clue two: the photo (a bit cryptic). If you can’t work it out or can’t be bothered to try, the answer is at the bottom of the page.)

In one of my less serious bouts of contemplation I thought about trying to write a book with the sole purpose of garnering as many 1* comments as possible; I wanted to write a book that has a consistent Amazon average rating of 1*. I thought it would be such fun to put something out there masquerading as something serious and inspiring a frenzy of negativity and vitriol. Every 1* comment would make me laugh at my little joke. I thought about the ‘ingredients’ I would need to include to give the book the best chance of disappointing readers. How about this for a speculative list?

  • Price it high.
  • Don’t have it proofread. (In fact go out of my way to make clumsy mistakes that would have even the most benign readers reaching for their keyboards.)
  • List it under the wrong genre. (Contemporary romantic fiction? See next.)
  • Include a great deal of swearing. (See previous.)
  • Make the plot deliberately confusing.
  • End the book halfway through the story (maybe include a hundred blank pages) and invite readers to purchase part two separately. (Price it even higher.)
  • Include lots of bad and unnecessary sex. (Maybe with animals or the dead, for starters.)
  • Shockingly bad formatting.
  • Make the dialogue really clunky and long winded.

(Before any smart arse out there comes back with, ‘But you’ve already written a book that meets these criteria. It’s called insert book title of mine here, I like to think that because I’ve beaten you to it you won’t be so funny.)

Why would I want to do something like this? Well, apart from being my idea of fun, I would also be testing a theory. I believe that prospective downloaders of ebooks are drawn to books that have low ratings. I’m not saying that we buy them, but if I see a book with an overall rating of three stars and it’s had dozens of reviews, I’m usually going to check out some of those comments. I want to know why this book is regarded as so substandardly shite. Done cleverly this could turn into a hook to get readers to part with a bit of cash. (It would need to be done very cleverly, obviously, to get people to pay for something that everyone condemns.) The old adage, there’s no such thing as bad publicity springs to mind.

My latest writing project is going fairly well. I’m 30,000 words in. From its inception I found the story difficult to pigeonhole genre-wise. (What should I list it under when the time comes to self-publish?) And if I was mildly confused then I’m positively bewildered now. It’s part utopian, part dystopian, part love story, part western, part political, part contemporary fiction. And I’m only on chapter five. What it isn’t and doesn’t look like being is part crime, part mystery, part thriller, which is my usual line of writing country. Still, I’m enjoying myself. I might try to fit an alien invasion in there somewhere for a full house. In for a penny and all that. Hey, maybe I’m writing that really substandardly shite book I was thinking of. The subconscious works in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform.

I just learned something. My WordPress stats tell me that someone from Lesotho viewed my blog today. Lewhereo? I’d never heard of it. Now I know it’s a landlocked country in Africa that gained independence from the UK in 1966. (If whoever you are reads this, please get in touch. I’m totally intrigued to know who you are and what you are doing there.)

(Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Did you get the picture clue for an extra point?)

10 thoughts on “El Gringo

  1. I didn’t get the title of the book by looking at the clue, but it’s too early on Sunday morning and am only on my first mug of tea. But I should have done, as I was surfing Amazon a few weeks ago for something good to read, I came across the book you are talking about. There are a lot of books on Amazon which I wouldn’t read even if they were free, and this was one of them.
    Firstly I always look at the 1* reviews and if I find most are saying the same thing, that’s a big no-no for me. Secondly, I look at the author page. Thirdly, I try not to read anything from American authors unless they’re really good like Miller, Steinbeck, Highsmith, Fitzgerald etc. European authors I can take or leave because recently I attempted to read a crime novel by a Swedish author – not Jo Nesbo, he’s quite good – and I had ploughed through half of it before I gave in as nothing was happening. So, fourthly, my aim in life is to is to support British authors as we have a lot of untapped talent here.
    As I have said before, I do not write to a genre. I write what I want to write then look at the finished article and decide where it might be best placed. But it baffles me how THAT book can be placed in LITERARY FICTION sitting alongside the likes of Sebastian Faulks etc. And how she came to have been shortlisted for a Golden Dagger is beyond me. Which leads me to think we authors have to write something in the realms of War and Peace to get recognised, but thinking about it, if War and Peace was published today on Amazon it would probably get zilch readers.
    I firmly believe it’s not ability, or what you know that makes you successful, but who you know.

    • Hi Pat
      Thanks for your thoughts. I would like to read that book to see if I felt the same way as the detractors but I’ll wait until it’s free. (Never then. I might pick up a cheap copy in a charity shop in the UK.)
      My reading preference is for UK crime and there are a lot of authors I’d like to read now: Wingfield’s Frosts, Dexter’s Morse, Rendell’s Wexford, Agatha Christie and on and on, because I’m sure I could learn so much about the craft. But they’re all so flaming expensive on Kindle. Just looked at the first Frost and it’s nearly £5 for an ebook. If one is intending to work one’s way through a series, that’s going to get expensive. Too rich for me right now in pocket and principle. (Meh.)
      Life, I’ve come to understand, is always about who you know.
      Best wishes.

  2. This is Brian Mulvaney writing from Maseru in the Kingdom of Lesotho.Thanks for the mention, Oliver. (I’m the one who pointed out the difference between interred and interned). The country was formerly Basotoland and was a British Protectorate until 1966. Prince William is a frequent visitor due his sponsorship of AIDS programmes here. This is my second spell in the country. We arrived last September. From 1987 I worked as a lecturer at the local accounting college, which was then sponsored by the Irish Government. I’m now part-owner of a boutique selling Clarks shoes and exclusive clothing with my beautiful local wife, Lerato, who is also a published author. I have written my first novel, The Butcher, which was published by Emu Ink on 16 August and am working on the sequel. Both focus mainly on outlaw biker gangs (think Brothers in Arms meets Breaking Bad). We have been from Lesotho to South Africa, back to Ireland and now enjoying semi-retirement.

    • Brian,
      Thanks for getting in touch. I’m very pleased that you did. My appeal was heartfelt. I’ve wondered over the weekend about that stat. I appreciate the detail of your reply. Life sounds good for you.
      Of course I remember your recent helpful and friendly contact. I looked up ‘The Butcher’ on Emu Ink’s website. It looks an intriguing read, being a bit of a biker myself. Very best of luck with it and your further writing projects.
      Enjoy that semi-retirement and my best wishes to you and your wife.
      Thanks again.

  3. Got the title of the book and I loathed it..the book that is not the title. When I look at comments from others I am often surprised with the star rating and wonder how much they are being paid! I shall say no more!

    • Bonjour!

      Congratulations. And the bonus point? Don’t bother answering – of course you did. I am yet to communicate with someone who did like the book, so maybe your payment comment isn’t so libellous. I’m even more intrigued to read it, now.
      I shared your pack of cards/marriage joke with a good friend the other day. It’s still funny and soooooo true.
      Best wishes.

  4. I love the concept of becoming the Ed Wood of literature. The goal should be it’s so bad it’s good.Kind of like the book version of Top Gun. You could call it something like Horney Teenagers From Outer Space.

    • I like it – make it so bad it’s good. What a challenge. That must have been done before though, eh? I mean consciously done, not like Top Gun. I think there could be mileage in an alien invasion theme but I wouldn’t be comfortable writing about teenagers with horns. It would just remind me of Prep at Sitek.

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