Promotional Criticism

(This has been copied and pasted so please disregard grammatical and punctuation errors.)

Blackhorse 2015 Cover Art

I had an interesting interaction this morning and feel a need to put this out there. DON’T ASK QUESTIONS THAT YOU CANNOT HANDLE THE ANSWERS TO. I’m writing this from me personally, but I mean it as an overall suggestion about asking anyone for advice. Make sure you really want to hear the answer.
A person asked if an image on their page made me want to read their book. Quite honestly, it made me want to run from the page, but I didn’t answer that blatantly. I said it screamed of topics other than what I was told the book was about, and the person took offense. I want everyone to know that If you ask for my opinion, I am going to respond honestly, even if it stings. It’s who I am, and I cannot, in good conscience, give fake answers just so authors think they’re on the right track. It doesn’t help them in the long run. But I’m also not the end all with book marketing. I have nothing to hide in any of this fun publishing world. We’re here to help each other, not harm each other. I’m one person, with one opinion. I’m not an expert in any of this. None of us are. This industry is an ever-changing one that takes continual efforts to stay on top of trends and techniques in marketing, writing, and the like. My opinion is that of ONE person, not the masses. Please keep that in mind when asking anyone for advice. And if you are wondering, yes, I’d give the same honest answer again in the same situation. And yes, I get negative feedback, too. You must be able to receive as effectively as you give (even when it stings).
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44 people like this.

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Massimo Marino Someone needs to thicken their skin 🙂
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Travis Simmons Melissa, I will admit when you first started critiquing my book covers, it stung, but I didn’t stop asking, because I knew you are a lot like me: you give honest advice to help the person. And, using your advice, I now feel completely confident in my covers. You give great advice, and it’s never from a bad place. A lot of times I feel people don’t want advice, they just want a pat on the back. I’ve had friends who want me to beta read for them, and when I start giving them constructive feedback, they don’t like it. Now I don’t beta read for those people, but the ones who understand that I’m being helpful enjoy my help. Also, they will never be able to take comments from editors well if they can’t take a little feedback about an image they are using! Editors don’t have time to handle people with kiddie gloves!
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Allison Tidwell How is that person going to feel when actual book critics respond? It’s part of the business. If they can’t take constructive criticism then they are in the wrong line of work.
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Melissa Foster Travis Simmons sorry:-) But I’m glad you stuck it out. You care about your work, and I could tell that from day 1, which is why I took the time to give complete answers. I also accept criticism. It’s part of the process. I’m years into this business and I still have people who knock my work (writing, covers, input), and even the stuff that makes me want to hide under a bed still gets the same ear as the good stuff. I listen and evaluate with a fine toothed comb. There might be a smidgen of truth among the garbage, but when we aren’t open to it, we might miss it. So yeah, I know it’s hard, and important. Allison Tidwell exactly. Massimo Marino I think we need alligator skin in this business lol
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Carol May Vaughn If only we had MORE friends like you…
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Ann Bracken One of my critique partners was hemming and hawing until I told her to be my friend and spit it out. What resulted was a much better story. Criticism stings, but can be invaluable.
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Crackerberries Anderson First of all, I did not ask if the image made her want to read the book. Melissa asked what the book was about and I asked her if the description was not clear. She then went on to tell me how the image on the page looks like an erotica book is coming and screamed of lesbian love and dirty hot sex. I responded and said the military was changing and didn’t it kind of make her want to see what it was all about. Then she went on to tell me about her husband and what she thought about marketing and blah, blah, blah. If someone is going to share insights I think it’s important to be honest about the whole interaction, not just to make yourself look better. And I admit I am new to this world of publishing and thanks to people like Melissa my skin grows another layer every day.
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Melissa Foster Crackerberries Anderson let’s be honest here, you asked if the image made me want to read the book. I did not name you in this post for good reason. I was making a point, not pointing a finger, but since you would would like to be named, here is our full conversation:

Crackerberries Anderson
Jun 4th, 2:25pm
#ShareTheLove4Authors from the World Literary Cafe (WLC) community! Great page!

Hi Melissa, if you would like to return the favor, my page is https://www.facebook.com/Crackerberries.Blackhorse.2015
Thank you! Have a great day.

Melissa Foster
Jun 4th, 2:58pm
What exactly is the subject of your book?

Crackerberries Anderson
Jun 4th, 3:31pm
It’s a Military novel spanning over a 20 year period. The Blackhorse Strategic Regiment is home to conspiracy, racketeering, and treason within the United States Military. Just out of curiosity, is the description not clear?

Melissa Foster
Jun 6th, 5:56pm
The image on your page looks like an erotica book is coming. Is that what you were going for? The Comstock image cries lesbian love or dirty hot sex I definitely don’t get a military vibe from your fan page.

Crackerberries Anderson
Jun 7th, 5:58am
The military is changing. Kind of makes you just want to see what it’s all about doesn’t it?

Melissa Foster
Jun 7th, 7:42am
Maybe for some people but not me. My husband is a retired colonel and yeah, the military is changing, but those pictures don’t tell me anything about that. I’m not here to judge how you market your book. I was just curious. Good luck!

Crackerberries Anderson
Jun 7th, 8:15am
Thanks.

Crackerberries Anderson
Jun 7th, 8:28am
Some people remember that old saying ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’. Also, you being in the business as long as you have shouldn’t be so negative to jump on someone who is just starting out. And yes, you are exactly judging my marketing skills. My husband too, is former Army MP and he’s helped me write an excellent book. Thanks for you good wishes.

Melissa Foster
Jun 7th, 9:23am
I’m not judging. I saw another post on your page that also asked if the pic was really from you, which is why I had asked. You asked if the cover would make me want to read it and I answered honestly. That’s not judging your marketing skills, that’s giving an opinion after you asked.

You had sent me your link to like your page, and the reason for asking my initial question was because before I like a FB page and make sure it’s something that my readers won’t find offensive. I needed clarification, which you gave me, and after reading the other post on your page, I passed along that the image didn’t seem to convey a military presence to me. I’m sorry if you took offense to that. As I said in my note to you, I’m not here to judge your marketing skills, but as an author advocate and mentor I always try to give honest answers, even if they’re tough to swallow–and I accept your criticism and appreciate your candor.

As for “Don’t judge a book by the cover” – yes, that’s an old philosophy, but I think you’ll find in this day and age, unfortunately, it’s almost a given that books are judged that way in the realm of sales. You have about 3 seconds to hook a potential buyer’s interest, and the cover has a big impact.

I’ll close with this thought, and hope you understand. Opinions are just that. Personal feelings on things. My opinion is solely my own, and just because I read an image one way does not mean that someone else will read it the same way. I assume the other person who posted on your wall about that image was a friend of yours. Maybe asking that person their opinion would be better. My business is publishing and marketing, and I apologize if my opinion offended you. I certainly did not mean to do so, and I meant “good luck” with the sincerest hopes.

Write a reply…
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Crackerberries Anderson Exactly I asked you if the description was not clear…. thank you for sharing.
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Bazzi Annamaria Melissa, honesty can be brutal, but it’s the one thing that really helps. the publishing world is harsh world and if an author can’t take the truth he/she shouldn’t be in the business. in this group, i’ve found, that people answer with great honest, and that is what helps us go forward. Melissa Foster, i’m glad you’ll continue to give your honest opinion when asked. I personally wouldn’t want it any other way. thank you for being who you are and creating this group where we know we will get good feedback and honest answers.
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Melissa Foster Yes and you asked if it made me want to see what it’s all about, which is what I answered, and this was the image in question:

COMSTOCK
“Crackerberries Anderson
Jun 7th, 5:58am Jun 7th, 5:58am
The military is changing. Kind of makes you just want to see what it’s all about doesn’t it?”

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Crackerberries Anderson Yup that is one and if it doesn’t make you want to read, that is fine and if you don’t like my marketing technique that’s fine too. Thanks for the free promo, BTW. And I am completely honest and I did mention I was new to this. Do you people remember what it was like when you first started out? Give me a break okay? Geees.
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Allison Tidwell I would have jumped to the same conclusion looking at the book cover.
Nothing on that cover suggests a change in the military. It looks like erotica. Not all young women want to become hot, bikini clad military personnel. Many female soldiers I know want to be considered equal to their male counterparts and want to be taken seriously for what they have to offer. I’m sorry, but the image sends out an entirely different message, and it isn’t a good one. But again, I am one person and my opinion, you can take it or leave it.
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Melissa Foster Crackerberries Anderson absolutely, which is why I didn’t make this personal when I posted originally (I was surprised that you wanted to by posting what you did). This is a very tough business, and I’m truly sorry that you weren’t happy with my opinion. We’re ALL still learning. My post here in the private group (the initial post) was about accepting criticism, and again, you were not mentioned bc it has nothing to do with pointing fingers, but rather learning/growing/accepting that sort of thing.
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Crackerberries Anderson Thank you … I learn a new lesson in this business every day. I appreciate it…
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Crackerberries Anderson And I should add my publisher chose the book cover because it was more intriguing than boring military covers.
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Allison Tidwell I think it would have been cool to see a close up of the two women’s faces with camouflage makeup on and sporting their military-issued rifles. 🙂 your publisher doesn’t sound like he/she relates well with a female audience. Good luck

to you Crackerberries on getting your book published. Many good writers don’t even get that far.
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Crackerberries Anderson Thank you Allison Tidwell I’m pretty sure the cover works well with the book… we’ll see how it all turns out. But I do lve your idea of the camo and chicks with rifles … maybe I’ll have to work on a new trailer.
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Melissa Foster Crackerberries Anderson the other great thing about this business is that nothing is permanent. If you have trouble with the cover the publisher can always modify, or maybe it’ll blow us away and be exactly what the audience wants ❤
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Helga Zeiner that is only fair, Melissa Foster and we expect nothing else from you. However, it can happen the other way around too. As you know, I was not happy with a cover design that was made for me and told the designer so. The reaction I got back still stings, so I understand your frustration. It is a pity that we can all handle honesty as well as pretty white lies.
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Erica Marchant I am the same way. People take offense because they only want to hear something good about something they worked
So hard on even if it’s untrue. I would rather you be honest so I can fix the issue.
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Marlene Hudson It’s like those asking for constructive criticism – followed by keep it positive; if you don’t have something nice to say, I don’t want to hear it. Really? 😉
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Paul Stawski Melissa Foster Keep doing exactly what you’re doing in exactly the way you are doing it. Exactly. And thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!
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Jerry Hatchett Amen and amen, a thousand times, amen!
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Marjorie DeLuca Truly honest, constructive advice is priceless and we all appreciate it. That’s what helps us grow. So keep on doing what you’re doing Melissa Foster and don’t look back!!!
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Jerry Hatchett After reading the whole thread, wow. Given the tissue-thin skin shown in response to such professionally tendered thoughts from Melissa, I can only imagine the response she’s gonna have when reviews start rolling in, if they ever do.

First, Melissa is spot-on; the cover in absolutely no way hints at a “military novel.” It screams erotica and thus will be of no interest at all to the overwhelming majority of readers looking for a military novel.

Second, it looks like something that was whipped up in a couple hours by someone with zero experience or skill in graphics; I could go on for an hour about all the things wrong with it.

Third, someone wanting to be an author said something about “not judging a book by its cover.” REALLY?

Just when I think I can no longer be shocked by what I see from the “writing” world, I am not only shocked, but blown away.
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Jerry Hatchett BTW, what feels like a thousand years ago when I had only been writing fiction for a couple years, I applied to and was accepted into a very selective online crit group; you had to submit writing samples, be voted on, etc.

I was absolutely certain I was all that AND a five-dollar bag of chips. Submitted my first chapter to the group. The crits rolled in. I’ll preface this next part by saying I am about the unweepiest guy you’re likely to meet. The crits, which I thought at the time were harsh and mean but which I now recognize as the most helpful and professional gestures I could have ever hoped for, brought tears to my eyes. Literally. But I read them over and over. After a few days of licking my wounds, I looked at the crits and thought, “OMIGOSH, THEY’RE RIGHT.”

That was a life-changing moment for me, and I mean that in the most literal sense. It was at that moment that I understood that they accepted me into the group because they saw raw talent, but that’s nothing more than the seed that must be present. I vowed to myself and to my crit partners that I would do whatever was necessary to learn to write at a pro level.

I immersed myself in the craft. I read every craft book I could get my hands on. I studied. I devoured bestselling thrillers to try to pick up on what they were doing that drew people in. I relentlessly sought out and begged for honest, competent crits, because YOU CAN’T FIX WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW TO BE BROKEN.

A lot of years later, I still have a ton of improvement ahead, but I can indeed now write at a professional level and feel good about people paying me money to read my work. I also know who I am as a writer, and who I am not. And it ALL started with accepting a few brutally honest crits.

Now? I’m sad to say I almost never agree to read and crit others’ work. I do so only within a tiny group of writers who have shown that a) they have talent, and b) they want to become professionals. It’s NOT because I don’t want to give back. It’s 100% because I encounter so very few who actually want honest feedback. The overwhelming majority of people I observe in this endeavor may say, “Be honest,” but what they really mean is, “Be honest and tell me how great this is!”
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Christine Cunningham Just to add my two cents, if you want to build an audience for your book it’s vital to honest with your audience. Baiting and switching will shrivel your audience in the blink of an eye. Today’s reader has tons of choices and once burned it’s not likely they will give you another chance.
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Crackerberries Anderson Thank you Jerry Hatchett for your brutal honesty…I did point out that I was new to all this and hey, I do what I do because I like it. So critic away and whatever will be will be. Maybe this one won’t be the next great best seller, maybe it won’t sell at all, but you know what, at least I’m trying and I’m not giving you my resume of how great I am. I’m not, I’m simply a story teller and story tellers tell stories…
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Melissa Foster Jerry Hatchett it’s all a learning experience. I’ve stopped critiquing work, too. I will help a handful of people who are truly interested in honest feedback, but reading and critiquing take time and to put in the effort and have it all ignored is a waste for both parties. When I first started working with my deve editor she gave me 15 pages of notes and I tossed it aside and thought, “My readers will love it my way.” **rolls eyes**

Now, although that book sells very well, I see EXACTLY how much better it could have been. I work with her very closely now on all books and would never put out even a short without her eyes on it.

We all start, learn, and hopefully grow along the way
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Michael J. Tobias Thank you so much for posting this, Melissa. I get asked my opinion on occasion and I have adopted a routine: Do you REALLY want my opinion? Or are you looking for a pat on the back? Yes, that is blunt, but I’m tired of getting asked for my honest opinion when people don’t want that. Honest feedback is, to me, a precious gift. I don’t treat such gifts with disdain and I don’t want to waste any thought or you know, think about how to help you, if all you’re looking for is a pat on the back.
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Christine Cunningham A cover like this would catch my eye and portray the message a little better in my opinion. You keep the sex appeal, but make the girl look more like a badarse who is taking her military career seriously.

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Jerry Hatchett Crackerberries, you’re welcome. My suggestion would be to solicit criticism and not respond at all for a while other than to say thanks that someone spent their time for you. Let it roll around and revisit it over a period of a few days or a week. See if you still feel the same way after that time. Each person has an opinion and not every opinion must be accepted. BUT, when you start to see a pattern emerge in comments from multiple people, you ignore at your own peril. Good luck.
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Jerry Hatchett Exactly, Melissa. Maybe it really was pretty good as it was, but what might it have been if we had listened? 🙂
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Crackerberries Anderson Thank you for your suggestion Christine Cunningham but the picture Melissa shared is a promo, not the cover. The Comstock House is only part of the story…. not the whole story. Might I add this book is fiction and be it a military thriller, science fiction, or as Melissa referred to it an erotica lesbian love or dirty hot sex isn’t grabbing the potential reader’s attention what we’re after?
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Jerry Hatchett Grabbing attention in a way that accurately portrays the book is what you’re after. Do it in any other way, and you’ll open a whole other nasty can of worms. People will buy it, feel misled, and bury you in one-star reviews for it.
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Melissa Foster Crackerberries Anderson if your book is not erotica or sexual then you do not want to solicit the reader’s attention in that manner. It will lead to poor reviews and losing readers by misleading them. However, if your book does have those elements then you’re on target. However, “military thriller, science fiction” does not mean “erotica” or “lesbian sex” at least not by any definition I’ve ever heard.
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Melissa Foster Crackerberries Anderson I just reread the book description: ~~After supervising military intelligence, and less than a month away from retiring to his hometown of Winston-Wisdom, Sergeant First Class Jon Hunter has one more mission. Operation Goatfish involves transferring nuclear weapons from Bonfire Island in the Pacific Ocean to a more accessible location in the states. Only the elite are chosen to be involved. Jon, a dedicated and decorated E-7 for the US Army, gets a bad feeling about Captain Todd Carlin who is in charge of the mission. Jon travels to Fort Wyatt Military Foundation to see what is behind The Blackhorse Strategic Regiment, and uncovers Captain Todd Carlin’s real MOS.

That doesn’t say anything sexual in the info. To me, the images are misleading, but again, just my two cents. I might also suggest that you check out Blackhorse Regiment, because it’s a real military outfit and I would wonder how they might react when this is published if it does portray them in the light of the images. Again, not my place to judge, just a recommendation.
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Crackerberries Anderson Mine is Blackhorse STRATEGIC Regiment. I’m sure the cover is an accurate portrayal as well as the promo trailers and pictures…After all I did write the book and I did mention the military is changing. It is a thriller and it does have sexual and erotic scenes. Read it and then tell me what you think. Thank you all for sharing your comments, I do appreciate it. I don’t think you’re judging (too much) but I do think that I’ve touched on a nerve with a lot of people. Hmmmph, imagine that?
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Melissa Foster Is there a reason you don’t have any reference to erotic or sexual scenarios in the description? It just seems to me that the pics and the description don’t jive. I wonder if there’s a reason you’re trying to keep it from the reader in the description.
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Melissa Foster Oh, as far as a nerve goes, I’m not at all against erotic or lesbian sex in books. I write graphic sex in my romance novels on a daily basis 🙂 I just believe in being transparent to the readers so you gain the right audience.
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Crackerberries Anderson As I mentioned it’s part of the book, it’s not the book.
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Crackerberries Anderson How many books have you read that give you every detail on the back cover of what takes place in the book? I’m teasing and tantalizing with things that happen in the book.
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Melissa Foster Oh, i don’t at all think the summary should give you everything. But I do think that there’s a big difference in readership of erotic scenes and military thrillers, so my marketing sense tells me to include a hint of that or perhaps bare the consequences of poor reviews because of it. But I guess if your cover is going to be more erotic or imply erotica, then it may not matter what your summary says. They’re just so far from one another that I think it has the potential to backfire and confuse/alienate readers, but again, just one opinion.
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Crackerberries Anderson I’m going to read The Bell Curve by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray. It looks like a great book to help me understand this whole book publishing experience. It amazes me that so many people have taken the time out of their day, on a weekend, on what too many people here have implied is trash, to comment and share their opinions on a ‘hack’ such as myself. I’ve done nothing in the literary world. I’m not even published yet. It’s gotta say something about the book if it gets this much attention. 🙂
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Melissa Foster Crackerberries Anderson you happen to belong to a very giving group. We help each other to understand the ins and outs of the industry. I can’t tell from your post if your comment about The Bell Curve is supposed to be a spear toward the helpful, intelligent people here, but I will hope for the best and won’t assume that.

In any case, the people in this group care about helping others, but it doesn’t sound like you are looking for any sort of advice. You obviously feel as though know what will work, but please don’t confuse attention over appropriate marketing strategies with if your book will sell. Given the feedback in this particular thread, there is nothing to say it will, given the images you’re posting to try and make it happen.

The fact that you’re not published has nothing to do with receiving answers in this group. If you’re a NYT bestseller or not yet published, everyone gets the same attention in this group.
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As of time of this post, the beat goes on. What is all the hoop-la? https://www.facebook.com/Crackerberries.Blackhorse.2015

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