Wednesday, February 29, 2012

School Shooting in Chardon, Ohio Leaves us With Only Questions

REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
School Shootings: Remembering Chardon 
By Jeff Bennington
Monday, Feb 27, 2012 
Just when you think school violence is slowing down, another killer comes along. T.J. Lane went on a shooting rampage in Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio, killing two students and wounding three others. What is even more heartbreaking to me, is that this happened no more than thirty minutes from my hometown of Aurora, Ohio. I'm deeply saddened and sick about this. The way the events played out is absolutely frightening. The worst part is that this is just the beginning of this nightmare for the wounded, families, witnesses, the injured and the community in general.

According to Wikipedia, the first recorded incident of school violence occurred on July 26, 1764, in what is known as the Enoch Brown Massacre where a group of Indians retaliated against the community in what is now Franklin County, Pennsylvania. According to David Dixon ten students were scalped along with their teacher in a single-room schoolhouse. All died except one student who escaped(1).

The first recorded school shooting occurred in 1871 when Chauncey Barnes shot and killed Anna Dwight, who rejected him as a suitor(2). He then committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Since that tragic day, there have been many more school shootings. I never heard of a school shooting until that horrific day on April 20th, 1999 when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 15 (including themselves) and injured 24 others in Littleton, Colorado. To me, that was a day that marked a turn in my world-view that has since been reinforced due to the many acts of violence that have followed.

School shootings didn’t start in Columbine and they haven’t stopped since. 

Did you know there have been more acts of school violence after the Columbine massacre than those that occurred the entire century before? That’s right, there have been over 100 acts of violence, including shootings, stabbings and other methods in American schools after Columbine. 
The worst attack in school shooting history occurred on a college campus in Islamabad, Pakistan in 2007 leaving 154 students dead and another 44 injured(3). Closer to home, there was the Virginia Tech shooting among others and a school shooting as recent as February 7, 2011 in Youngstown, Ohio where one student died and 11 were injured(4). And then on March 25, 2011, in my current home state, there was a school shooting in Martinsville, Indiana where a 15-year old shot another student(5). The most recently publicized shooting occurred in Rio de Janiero where 11 elementary students were gunned down(6). Of course there are many, many more that I didn’t mention.

The point is... school shootings are an ever-growing reality for us and for our children. They shoot fear into our hearts, but do they still shock us like they did in the 1999 Columbine shooting? Our society has grown numb to many things, but I hope we never become so calloused that we shrug off this disease that has infected the entire human race.

The death toll is staggering. The number of students who will live the rest of their lives with scars, ptsd, or in wheelchairs is frightfully unfathomable. School violence is an enormous problem and yet the solution is elusive because we cannot predict the future, and according to the U.S Secret Service, it’s just too hard to profile a school shooter; their profiles are too varied(7).

As a novelist, I feel a responsibility to include social issues like school shootings into my work, because the world needs to do less escaping and more watching. When it comes to our kids I believe we need to change in a few areas. Here are a few:
  • Focus less on ourselves and pay attention to what’s going on around us. It’s not enough to hear the news that a school shooting occurred at your school and then suddenly become passionate about the cause. When that day comes, it could be too late. Your son or daughter could be the next victim, and so could mine, an absolutely frightening and unimaginable thought.
  • Be aware that there are hurting children in every school system that are on the brink of losing it and they have learned that violence has become the attention-getter-of-choice. We need to find them, listen to them, discover the source of their pain and get them help. 
  • Reject school bullying policies that are too lenient and ineffective. It's amazing how fast the government responds to a new flu strand and yet we can't seem to respond to the bullying epidemic that is spreading like wildfire.
  • Understand that human nature cannot be put in a box and that students who are bullied are absolutely unpredictable; their frontal lobes are not fully developed, leaving them susceptible to reckless and impulsive decision making.
  • Put an end to bullying now. I’m not just talking about teenage bullying; I’m talking about adult and workplace bullying as well. Children act according to the examples we set. I often sign my books by writing “Bullies Suck!” or “Life is short, don’t be a bully” but you know, bullies aren’t the only ones who suck. If I watch someone getting bullied or mistreated and do nothing about it, I’m just as guilty!
Passivity is killing us.
I’m not an expert on school violence and bullying, but I do know that people enjoy their personal space—their comfort zones. I do too. The problem is, when we live passively, life begins to get turbulent around us and we get caught off guard when reality smacks us in the face. We have to proactively investigate our children’s friends and the particulars of our kid’s social life. We have to have open lines of communication. We have to listen, and we have to find ways of helping instead of cowering to fears, ignoring the red flags and silent expressions of distress.

Ultimately, every school shooter, every bully and every victim has a story to tell. There is almost always a trail of warning signs, patterns and cries for help that were somehow overlooked. Unfortunately, knowing the stories after the violence occurs doesn’t do anyone any good. The dying spirit of a young person will only leave so many breadcrumbs on their trail to destruction before they implode and decide to take matters into their own hands. 

According to the current trends, there will be more school shootings this month and more this year than ever. Before we let another massacre hit the news, will you do something to create change? I’m not exactly sure what that is, but we have to talk about it. We have to call out the bullies. We have to reach out to the lost ones. We have to do something! What we’ve been doing isn’t working.

I believe we need to ask if this is a spiritual matter or if this is simply a matter of policy? In my opinion, the human condition is too complicated to fix by tweaking the numbers. We can’t leave this to government and bureaucratic red-tapers. Hearts and souls are not logarithmic or statutory; they’re tender and hardened and everything in between. This is a matter of personal contact and interaction, a matter of the soul, literally in our own backyards.

As a writer, I’m trying to do my part. I’m creating the impetus for a discussion and I've written a book that I hope will bring an awareness to the many issues that surround bullying and school shootings. 

What about you? Will you continue the conversation? Will you Twitter this article or share it on Facebook or forward it in an email? Will you talk about this with your children? Or will the next February 27 become just another day? We’ve had twelve tears since the Columbine massacre to think and act and change? How are we different? 

Remember Chardon, and pray it never happens again.

Written by Jeff Bennington, the author of Reunion, a supernatural thriller that addresses school shootings, bullying and the long-term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. 


For more information about the shooting in Chardon, go here.

1Dixon, David(2005). Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac's Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America. University of Oklahoma Press)
2New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-12.
3BBC News. 2007-07-19. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
4ABC.News. February 7, 2011. March 25, 2011.
6Associated Press and Salon. April 7, 2011.

Monday, February 27, 2012

eBook Pricing is Driving Kindle Readers to Indie Authors!

If you think that indie authors are just driving down the price of ebooks, think again.

What's really happening is that 99¢ and $2.99 ebooks are driving readers to INDIE AUTHORS.

I recently read a newsletter from Steve Windwalker, the founder of Kindle Nation Daily where he listed the results from their annual survey. If you're an indie author or a reader, you'll want to listen up because Steve discovered that ebook pricing is changing the habits of kindle readers… in a good way. 

If you love facts and figures, you'll love this article, especially the full report. But if numbers make you cringe, I'll try to give you a few of the highlights, although I just can't do the report justice with a short post. 

In a nut shell, Steve sent out his Kindle Nation Citizen Survey to his many followers and 2,360 readers responed. I don't know how much you know about statistics but 2,360 is an impressive response by any scientific standard. So please do not shrug off these results; they could be very important to you. 

Below are a few of the results of this survey. These results show the current trends in ebook pricing and reader preferences regarding what they are reading. And just so you know, I'm a huge proponent of the 99¢-$3.99 price point strategy and I tell you why in my book, The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe. I also tell you how to use a pricing strategy I call, Floatation Pricing. This method is very helpful in not only getting you a higher ranking, but could get you closer to Amazon's Top 100. 

I'm also a huge believer in the Amazon KDP Select program. I believe authors have a unique opportunity to reach the Top 100 thanks to the Select "free promotion", so this report is also valuable in understanding where you should spend your marketing time and resources.

After reading this report, you'll want to find out what I think about ebook marketing. I've written a clear, and so far, effective marketing plan in The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe, so I am glad to report that my ideas about promoting books are in line with the results of this survey.

Here are a few snippets that might interest you…. 

Survey Results: 
(taken directly from the newsletter)

Statement #1:
"Higher prices for new releases from big publishers have driven me to try more and more indie authors, and I like what I have found.

61% agreed with that statement, and only 14% disagreed. Just to make sure, we also flipped the statement.

Statement #2:
Higher prices for new releases from big publishers have driven me to try some indie authors but I haven't found much quality there so I have gone back to paying higher prices.

Only 7% agreed with that statement, and a whopping 65% disagreed."

That's good news for indie authors! We are making a difference. But don't stop working hard; we still have 35% more to go!

Here are some other results…

"Among our survey respondents, sources such as newspaper, magazine book reviews, and mentions on the electronic media are less and less influencial. Just 8% of our respondents are driven to buy ebooks once a month or more from these influences. How about brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries? You see a book on display and download the ebook, right? Not so much. Only 9% of our respondants are driven to buy ebooks once a month or more by these influences."

~ 11% of the respondents buy ebooks once a month or more based on the influences of friends, colleagues and relatives.

~ 17% say they buy ebooks after noticing them on the best-seller list! 

WOW! That is important news for indie authors; not only in how readers view us, but also in helping us plan our attack. There are more stats, but these really stuck out in my mind. 

I highly recommend you read this article

But before you do, I suggest grabbing a copy of my newly released book, The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe so you'll know how to apply these statistics and what they mean to you as an author. The survey is the "what" and the book is the "what now?"

Jeff Bennington is the author of Twisted Vengeance, Reunion, and Creepy
The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe is only $3.99 on Amazon for a limited time for my readers!


Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe is Ready for Lift Off!

The universe is filled with anomalies and mysteries, from black holes to dark energy. For some authors who are new to publishing, getting their books in the hands of readers is equally baffling. In truth, writing a book from cover to cover is a huge task, but an even greater obstacle is finding an audience. 

The Indie Author’s Guide to the Universe is meant to help any author, whether they are traditionally published or self-published, to take one step further in their journey. This book is designed to encourage and inspire authors in their craft, and the daily lives of those who dare to explore the new galaxies in publishing. At the core of this universe is a black hole, a black hole that is sucking readers and time away from you. The gravitational pull is overpowering, and it’s your job to find the strength and tools to get them back into your gravitational field. The journey is not for the faint of heart. The task is not for the weak and thin-skinned writer. 
I want to be clear from the very start, however, that the lessons in this book will in no way, shape, or alien life form turn an automatic key to selling your books. It is not a definitive guide in marketing and selling. It is not a guide to the craftLord knows I could never teach that.
The Indie Author’s Guide to the Universe is about nudging new authors through the publishing process and offering helpful advice and encouragement in an environment that can be extremely draining. The guide may inspire, coach, and motivate you to go the distance, but it will not solve the problem of lackluster sales without serious effort on your part. This book will teach you what I’ve done on the road to Amazon’s Top 100 and give you indie-publishing wisdom, including tips and thoughts from some of the best-selling indie authors out there.
Any author who has experience in this industry will tell you that there are many excellent books that just aren’t selling. There are many reasons why some books sell and others don’t, but overall, it’s about luck, timing, and many other dynamics that come into play. No empty promises here. This book is based solely on my experience, my blog posts, and lessons I’ve learned along the way.
I’ve asked several other best-selling authors to add their two cents; authors like Scott Nicholson, Joanna Penn, Blake Crouch, Robert Bidinotto, Bob Mayer, Richard Bard, Ann Charles, Saffina Desforges, and more. Their advice paints a clear picture of what you can expect as an indie author. Hopefully, you’ll find comfort in knowing that successful indie authors understand the struggles that come with the freedom of independence, and that you are not alone in your quest for bestsellerdom.

What will you find in this book? 

  • How to Build a Blog Tour
  • Your Role as Marketer
  • Marketing Strategies
  • Your Role as Publisher
  • Author Blogging
  • The Ultimate Book Promotion
  • Understanding "Floatation Pricing"
  • How to Build an Author Platform
  • Selling and Price-point Strategies
  • Strategies for Navigating Amazon's KDP Select Program
  • Understanding the Indie Author Movement
  • Helpful links
  • Tips From Best-selling Indie Authors Like Scott Nicholson, Bob Mayer, Joanna Penn, Blake Crouch, Robert Bidinotto, Richard Bard, Amber Scott, Melissa Foster, Saffina Desforges and many more!
Now, time to get back to the control panel. We are ready for lift off in five, four, three, two, one!

Jeff Bennington is the author of Twisted Vengeance, Reunion, and Creepy
The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe is only $3.99 on Amazon for a limited time for my readers!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Writing About The Dark Side of Humanity

"Stop it! You're hurting her!"

Those words cut to the core of my being.
Chilling words aren't they?
I can imagine the scene. I can hear the slap, the thud, tumbling chairs and pretty little things breaking.

When it comes to domestic abuse, I want to make the big bad abuser feel 10x the pain that has been doled out.

At the very least, I need to write about it.

As a novelist, my imagination has a funny way of taking the things in life that don't make sense and turning them into stories. When it comes to abusers I've managed to weave them into two of my novels, Reunion and Twisted Vengeance. The first time I did this, the abuse was threaded into the backstory of a troubled teen. Most recently, I not only built a storyline around domestic violence, but created themes and subplots that damage the people in the story, giving them scars from their past, and obstacles to overcome.

My immediate family has many stories to tell about abuse, both physical and sexual, so I know a little about what it means to hurt, even decades after the abuse has stopped. Hence, cutting to the core of my being. I hate abuse. I hate the cycles it produces. Fortunately, it can stop.

I've had hands-on-experience with an abuser. I watched him hurt his family and listened to the never ending, "I'm sorry", "I love you", "I've changed", "Can you forgive me?" bull crap, only to see it happen again, and again.

I feel called to tell the dark stories that lie beneath the surface, and to tell the stories of real people, with real pain, with no voice. Of course I want to entertain. Of course I want to create substance, and a compelling read. But I have a strong conviction to tell the tales that are often overlooked, disregarded, misjudged, and forgotten.

The wounded, the molested, the bruised, and neglected. These are the stories that you hear about on the news, but only the cases that are discovered and manage to hit the headlines. Rarely are they they extreme cases. Little do we know that abuse of all kinds is running rampant. There are women, teens, girls and boys in your neighborhood right now who are silently suffering from physical, psychological and sexual abuse. There are parents who are "done with their kids", "had enough" and ready to sign them over to the state, and families that are disintegrating because the pain of abuse is misunderstood.

Teens are hiding their hurt. Boys and girls down the street feel ashamed and wonder if they are to blame.

So of all the things I could write about, why this? Why write about something I hate? Why write about a topic that we'd rather not think about? My answer: because it is necessary, because we cannot forget, because turning a blind eye is wrong.

Conflict is in the center of every good book. At the heart of conflict is the protagonist's inner conflict that drives his or her greatest desires. And at the heart of every writer is a need to tell the truth about life, to reveal secrets, to expose societies, and to heal people who are broken inside.

Twisted Vengeance is that kind of story. There are twists and turns and mysterious characters. No one is who you think they are, and no one is innocent until the truth is revealed; much like the society we live in. But there is more to this tale. There is life. There is pain. There is vengeance. And there is truth. And the truth is... sometimes life sucks; sometimes life doesn't make sense; sometimes we want to grab a shot gun and blow the balls off the sons-of-bitches that hurt the innocent.

This why I can never stop writing. Communicating these messages is a labor of love for me. Telling the truth about the human race through twisted plot lines and dark villains is just too important, and too much fun. How could I ever do anything else?

That's all. Sometimes I have to vent. Sometimes I have to rage. And sometimes I write a damn good story.

You can read reviews Here.

Jeff Bennington is the author of Twisted Vengeance, Reunion, and Creepy
The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe will be available on 2-25


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Amazon is Publishing Reviews? Will You be Next?

You may already know that book reviews can be extremely sweet, or bitter as a mouthful of moth balls. You may also know that a bad review can sit on your book page, festering, scaring readers away until it falls out of sight. But did you know there are some reviews that can be posted to the "Editorial Review" section of your Amazon book page without your consent?

And did you further realize that these reviews are posted via Amazon at the very top of your page… before your product description?

The real kicker is, it doesn't matter if the review is good or bad, once it's published, there's nothing you can do about it.

How do I know this? I was helping an author spruce up his book page this week. I did my thing and saved the changes and told him that the updates should show up in a day or two as usual. They didn't. I didn't understand. I went to his Amazon page and noticed that there were two reviews posted at the TOP. In fact, the product description was pushed out of sight because of the length of the reviews.

I was pleased that one review was a starred review, but the first review was extremely critical. The Good review was published by Booklist and the bad review was posted by Publishers Weekly.

What shocked me more than the fact that the author had a bad review on his page, was that the review wasn't even accessable in the author's "Author Central" account. This is supposed to be the page where an author and/or publisher can access the complete book information, and make changes after intial publication.

I told the author that I couldn't delete that review if it wasn't in his book details. I told him to contact Amazon and have them remove it. Keep in mind, I believe in freedom of opinion, but not on the product description page! That's where the author should be able to pitch his book. The review section should be where reviews are posted.

Here's Amazon's reply to my writer friend:
"My name is Chantel from Author Central.

Publishers Weekly [reviews] are considered licensed content, provided to and owned by the publication. In order to keep Editorial Reviews objective and informative, we rely on many sources to provide content for this section. The reviews may be positive or negative; that is not a factor in our decision. We work to create a diversity of opinion on our site, and this may include negative reviews, when they arise.

While we're glad to offer you the option to add to this section or to correct typos, licensed reviews already appearing on your book's Product Detail page cannot be removed or moved to a different place on the Detail page."

Wow! That's a big deal!

Has this happened to you? Have you submitted your book to these sites for review? If you did, you better hope that they like it because a review by a reputable publication posted at THE TOP OF YOUR PRODUCT PAGE can be as damaging as a shot in your book's head. And you could be next.

If you have experience this, did you resolve it? If so I'd love to know what transpired. Here's a little bit of information (taken from each website) about two of the publications that Amazon is using for this valuable "content". Like I said, I'm all for diversity of opinion, and I'm all for Amazon finding professional methods of weeding out books that are not what they say they are, or riddled with gross errors and poorly edited material. But I think they should be a little more courteous to the author/publisher and let the reader find out what the story is about before they post any review good or bad.

Publishers Weekly is the international journal of book publishing and bookselling, including business news, reviews and bestseller lists  targeted at publishers, booksellers, librarians and literary agents.

Booklist, the magazine the New York Times calls "an acquisitions bible for public and school librarians nationwide," is the review journal of the American Library Association. It recommends works of fiction, nonfiction, children's books, reference books, and media to its 30,000 institutional and personal subscribers. In-house editors and contributing reviewers from around the country review more than 7,500 books each year, most before publication.

Here's an update on The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe: I am getting the book back from Neal Hock (editor) tonight, and will make corrections and format this week. That means it shoul be available in digital formats this weekend. I will make it available in all ebook formats and sell it on B&N, Amazon and Smashwords for now. BOOM!

Jeff Bennington is the author of Twisted Vengeance, Reunion, and Creepy

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Book Marketing Experiment That's Actually Working

So far my marketing experiment is working. 

I mentioned in my last post that I had worked with Soren Petrek, author of Cold Lonely Courage, helping to send his book into Amazon’s top 100 a few weeks ago. He reached #76, and is currently holding around #2,200. He is still ranked in a category list, and was previously in the six digits.

My next client, Laura Rizio, just went through a coaching session a couple weeks ago. When she approached me, she was ranked over #100,000. After evaluating her platform, book page, cover, etc, I saw a few things she had going for her and a few things that she needed to change. She is now ranked #120. She hit #96 over the weekend and has held her ground on the strength of her excellent reviews.

As you can imagine, Laura was ecstatic. Here’s what she had to say:

"Jeff Bennington of the Kindle Book Review is the BOMB. I was fortunate to stumble on the Kindle Book Review site looking for a way to promote my book, Blood Money. I knew that the book was good and had promise but no one was seeing it.

I was lost, literally. 

A few books sold here and there but this was not where I knew I should be. I needed to advertise the book but found no good way to do this. The other venues, which I won't mention, were a waste of time and money. I needed a road map to break through to Amazon Kindle readers—to let them know that I existed.

Jeff was there for me all the way, from creating a dynamic book cover to a road map which brought Blood Money from 12 sales in January to over 25,000 downloads as of this writing.

Here are a few things that we did:
  • Re-designed my cover
  • Re-designed my product description page and fixed a few typos.
  • Re-designed my print cover to match the new ebook cover.
  • Enrolled in the KDP Select program.
  • Changed my price to make my KDP Select promotion more successful.
  • Layered my marketing as I rolled back into Amazon's paid store when my promo ended
I couldn’t have found a more professional service or a better mentor. Lucky me." ~ Laura Rizio

And that, my friends, is what I'm hoping to accomplish with my next three(3) author apprentices. Yes, I said three. When I posted the previous blog entry, I had already decided to help Bert Carson, author of Fourth and Forever.  
I've also made a decision with the final two authors who dared to sign up last weekend. 

And the winners, based on the quality and quantity of reviews are….drum roll please…
Deborah Hughes, author of Be still my Love, and Robbi Bryant, author of The Beautiful Evil

Both books have received rave reviews but their sales have much room for improvement, which makes the task ahead even more of a challenge. I chose these books to demonstrate that the best thing you can do to sell is to have a great story and good editing. Those two items will always come first. The rest is where many authors fail: packaging and promotion. After reading through the Amazon samples, I believe these two books have what it takes to excel.

A Beautiful Evil is currently ranked #381,778 has 14 reviews and a 4.9-star rating.
Be Still, My Love is ranked #120,546 and has 17 reviews and a 5.0 star rating.

My goal is to give each of these authors over 20,000 new readers two to three weeks and help them to sustain a better sales rank by simply changing a few things that I think can make a big difference. Everything that I do with these authors is in my book, The Indie Authors Guide to the Universe.

If I did not pick you, it was not because I didn't think your book has potential. All of you have excellent reviews and if you tweak just a few things, I think you could see an increase in sales and readership. But since you took a chance on me, I want to give each one of you a FREE copy of The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe. When you read it, I hope you are motivated to stay in the game, encouraged to meet the challenges that indie publishing brings, and learn how you can effectively price and promote your books. If you posted your book in my contest, go to my "Contact" page and send me an email. 

Jeff Bennington
Author of Reunion, Creepy, and Twisted Vengeance
Founder of The Kindle Book Review