Tag: Joe Mahoney (page 1 of 8)

Review of a Review

Cover Art for A Time and a Place, by Jeff Minkevics A Time and a Place

Time now to amuse myself by revisiting the Publishers Weekly review of my novel A Time and a Place.

Generally I don’t react much to reviews. Well, I do write to reviewers from time to time to thank them for taking the time to read A Time and a Place and for writing a review. I will even do this sometimes for less than stellar reviews–hey, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. But I will not engage them or take issue with their reviews, and I’m only commenting on this one from Publishers Weekly, because, well, it amuses me to do so.

And no, in case you’re wondering, I’m not missing an apostrophe when I write “Publishers Weekly.” Apparently they dropped the apostrophe a while back; I don’t know why. Can we take a review seriously from a publication that doesn’t even know how to punctuate its own name properly? Sure we can! Especially if it’s a positive review. 🙂

Now, is drawing attention to a positive review in Publishers Weekly boasting? Of course it is! That is, if bragging about a review of an almost entirely obscure book that’s sold (let’s face it) hardly any copies (compared to say, J.K. Rowling) and written by a completely unknown author can be said to be bragging.

Anyway, onward:

Our anonymous reviewer begins thusly:

“Debut author Mahoney…”

I choose to imagine our reviewer as female. A part of me suspects it’s someone I know. Someone doing me a favour, maybe. A moonlighting friend, say, scoring a few extra bucks writing reviews for Publishers Weekly during her scant precious free time to supplement her meager public broadcasting income.  Why else review a debut novel by a completely unknown author? I have no other evidence to support this conjecture. Whoever it is will carry their secret to the grave.

“…this entertaining, chaotic adventure.”

Whoever the reviewer is, I think I love them. They called my book entertaining! And chaotic isn’t bad, is it? Not if the chaos is entertaining! And who doesn’t like adventure? It seems a very positive review so far.

“…temporal loops where effects come before causes…”

She’s actually read the book. No head scratching on the part of this reviewer. She might even have understood the book better than I did. When I read that line I had to stop and think about it. Yes, effects do come before causes in A Time and a Place. Heck, had anything happened to me while writing A Time and a Place this reviewer could easily have stepped in and finished writing it for me. She understood what she was reading. She could summarize it afterward effectively, pithily. I should have had her write the synopsis and query letter before pitching it to publishers. Could have saved me a lot of time. Maybe got me a better deal.

“Mahoney skillfully (but unsubtly)…”

My head almost exploded when I read that. Skillfully! A reviewer for Publishers Weekly thinks my writing exhibits skill! It almost makes me want to write this blog post well. The word “skill” gives me joy. I spent years writing  A Time and a Place trying to get it right, and not just right but exactly right. Can you say validation, anyone? And from someone who obviously knows how to write well themselves because this is one, well, “skillfully” crafted review. And I’m not just saying that because they think I write “skillfully.” Okay, maybe I am. But still.   

Oh, but then there’s that “unsubtly.”

Was that “unsubtly” really necessary? Could we not have just left it at skillfully? Perhaps that was to ensure that I could get my head through doorways in the future. Okay, clearly she’s saying that A Time and a Place wasn’t quite as subtle as it could have been. Noted. I’ll try to do better next time.

“…moments of comedy, tragedy, horror, and philosophical contemplation of time, free will, and personal responsibility.”   

That pretty much sums up what I was trying to do. I mean, aside from just trying to get the damned thing written. Here our friendly neighbourhood reviewer conveys the sense that she both understood what I was trying to do and maybe even—dare I say it?—appreciated it.

“Despite occasional segments that distract or feel a little overdone…”

Okay, so it’s not perfect. I accept that. I may have been a tad self-indulgent here and there. Perhaps I should have taken out the line about Ridley’s nose that Arleane (the first editor of A Time and a Place) wanted me to cut. You know the one:

Emotion played over Ridley’s face like ripples on the surface of a pond. A pond from which, I might add, his nose protruded like the dorsal fin of a shark.

Again, noted.

Mahoney’s work is great for those who like their speculative fiction thoughtful, eloquent, and messy.”

The final line of the review. The money line, really—the one I quote when promoting the book. Sporting an Oxford comma, no less. As if we didn’t already accept this reviewer’s credentials.

What did she mean by “messy?” Something to do with the plot, I imagine. I don’t really know.  Who cares?  

Not me.

Not after a review like that.     

Here’s the review in its entirety:


A Time and a Place
Joe Mahoney. Five Rivers Chapmanry, $38.99 trade paper (412p) ISBN 978-1-988274-25-6

Debut author Mahoney sends a mild-mannered fellow on an interdimensional journey in this entertaining, chaotic adventure. Barnabus Wildebear needs to know why his teen nephew and ward, Ridley, is acting so strangely. Unfortunately the cause is an ominous entity, possibly a demon, named Iugurtha. She whisks Ridley away to dimensions unknown while implanting mysterious information in Barnabus’s mind that allows him to (sort of) control portals to other dimensions and times. The odyssey that follows bounces him to other planets, the minds of other people and creatures, temporal loops where effects come before causes, and a war against a merciless enemy seeking to steal the knowledge in his head. He’s accompanied by an increasingly vocal artificial intelligence named Sebastian. Mahoney skillfully (but unsubtly) uses Barnabus’s multilayered adventures to yank readers into moments of comedy, tragedy, horror, and philosophical contemplation of time, free will, and personal responsibility. Despite occasional segments that distract or feel a little overdone, Mahoney’s work is great for those who like their speculative fiction thoughtful, eloquent, and messy. (Oct.)

One Year Later

It’s been just over a year now since my debut novel, A Time and a Place (ATAAP for short), was published by Five Rivers Publishing.

Time to sit back and reflect a bit on the experience.

One year in and I’m not exactly in J.K. Rowling territory. Still got the day job and the bank account looks roughly the same. I did not expect anything different. I went in to this knowing that I might only sell dozens of copies, that it could have been critically ravaged; or worse, completely ignored.

I also went into it with the intention of making it as uniformly positive an experience as I could possibly manage. I’m happy to say that I’ve (mostly) succeeded on that front. And that it hasn’t been critically ravaged or ignored.

It was a year marked by at least a couple of miracles.

The experience started on an amazing note when, shortly after publication, I stumbled upon a positive review of A Time and a Place by Publishers Weekly. I hadn’t even heard of Publishers Weekly before publishing ATAAP. I had to look it up, and when I did, I was interested to learn that Publishers Weekly is considered one of the Bibles of publishing, having been published continuously since 1872. To get a positive review from them was enormous validation of all the work I’d put into the novel. It meant that the work had paid off, at least on a critical front. It also immunized me from any subsequent bad reviews. Publishers Weekly liked it! Who cared what anyone else thought? Well, I did care, but one positive PW review meant that I could easily stomach any other bad reviews.

In the Bistro of the Free Times Cafe before the launch. That’s genuine happiness you see on my face there.

The second miracle was the book launch. The Merril Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy (of the Toronto Public Library system) agreed to host the launch of the book. Having the launch at such a respected venue gave the launch some credibility, in my mind. And Bakka-Phoenix Books, Canada’s biggest SF&F bookstore, agreed to sell the book for me at the launch. And the attendance at the launch blew my mind. Seventy-eight people confirmed their attendance beforehand and I’m pretty show we had more than that actually show, as it was an open-door event. I remember walking into the Merrill Collection the night of the launch and being gobsmacked at how many people were there. It was a packed house. One of my favourite movies is It’s a Wonderful Life, and the classic line from that movie is “no man is a failure who has friends.” The book launch was my It’s a Wonderful Life moment. That night I felt like I had friends.

We sold fifty-eight copies of ATAAP that night, which made ATAAP the number one best-selling Trade Paperback for Baaka-Phoenix Books for the month of October 2017. It was a great start to the life of the book.

That same day my wife and I were invited to meet the Mayor of Whitby, Ontario. We had a great chat with Mayor Don Mitchell and he graciously purchased a signed copy of A Time and a Place.

Shortly after the launch, I was approached by a film/TV rights database called Rightscenter inquiring about the dramatic rights for ATAAP. I thought this sounded promising but apparently it’s actually just standard practice. Around the same time I was approached by someone about translating the book into Italian. These two events, along with the great launch and the Publishers Weekly review, made me think, holy cow, who knows what’s going to come of this book? But nothing came of either the film/TV rights or the Italian translation.

It was fun tracking ATAAP on Amazon.ca over the year, where it sat on Amazon’s bestseller list for Hot New Releases in Time Travel fiction for a while. I’ve conducted a few interviews about the book over the year, including one on CBC Radio Charlottetown (approved by the CBC ethics commissioner, a requirement because I work there), another for an online radio station in the states (Jessie’s Coffee Shop), and another just recently on Hunter’s Bay Radio in Muskoka (Storylines with Christina Cowley).

I spent one day in Chapters attempting to sell ATAAP (sold nine copies that day) and several days at various other events attempting to do the same (Bookapalooza, Ad Astra, etc). I’ve read from ATAAP at several events, including Words of the Season for the Writer’s Community of Durham Region, and twice at the Parliament Street branch of the Toronto Public Library. And I participated on a panel for Indie Author’s Day in Ajax.

I was roundly ignored by the organizers of Toronto’s Word of the Street, which stung a bit, especially after sending them (at their request) two copies of ATAAP, but apparently they’re run by a small team of volunteers, so maybe I just slipped through the cracks.

I had hoped that ATAAP might get shortlisted for an award or two (the Sunburst or the Aurora Award) but it didn’t even come close. My publisher had warned me that this would likely be the case but one must have one’s illusions.

Over time ATAAP continued to garner excellent reviews, mostly four and five stars, on Goodreads, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Chapters, Library Thing, Audible, and even one five star review on Amazon.co.uk. There is one two star review on LibraryThing and one three star review on Goodreads. Some of the reviews are by people I know and some are not. Without a doubt, ATAAP has received at least one or two extra stars from some of the people I know. For this reason, it’s hard to know where ATAAP actually sits critically. There is that positive Publishers Weekly review though, and several four and five star reviews from people I don’t know, so I think I can safely conclude that at least some people like the book.

Gradually the interviews, events and so on began to taper off. Sales, too, began to dwindle. To combat this, and at the behest of my publisher, I created an audiobook version of ATAAP, which was released a couple of weeks before the anniversary of its initial publication. As I type this, it has climbed to the top of the Amazon Audible Bestseller list (in the niche category of Science Fiction/Time Travel), fallen off that list, and climbed back up gain, where it currently sits at #2 on the Hot New Releases in Time Travel list.

That sounds impressive, but to tell you the truth I have no idea what it actually means. It could represent two hundred sales or two. The ways of Amazon and Audible are largely unfathomable. I won’t know until I get my Royalty statement from Five Rivers.

So, one year later I can report that although A Time and a Place has not made me rich or famous, it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It has taken me to a few new places, made me a few new friends, and introduced me to a couple of new opportunities.

The thing about books, as someone told me recently, is that they have long lives.

A Time and a Place may have more to offer yet.

 

 

A Time and a Place Available on Audible!

Lot of work went into this puppy…

I cannot tell you how pleased, relieved and excited I am that A Time and a Place is finally available on Audible.

Those of you who have read about my adventures turning ATAAP into an audiobook know that it was a lengthy, educational experience that took a lot longer than I expected.

But now it’s done, my publisher Five Rivers is pleased with it, and Audible’s giving it prominent billing in their SF/Time Travel New Releases.

Now to see what everyone else thinks of it!

Further Thoughts on Audio Book Production

Cover Art by Jeff Minkevics
A Time and a Place

I thought I had finished the production of the audio book of A Time and a Place.

I had submitted the files to my publisher, who had forwarded them to Audible (ACX), only to have them rejected because they were less than 192 kbps. This didn’t make any sense to me as I was sure that I’d exported them from Audacity properly. When I checked the files out, though, I discovered that I’d actually accidentally exported a couple of files at 32 bit sample rate. It’s weird this only happened to a couple of files; why would the settings change for just a couple of files?

Anyway, I figured this was the problem, so I corrected those files and resubmitted them.

Audible still rejected the files.

Embarrassing.

So I went back and had another look. I thought I had the settings in Audible correct, but my mistake (well, one of my mistakes) was that I hadn’t actually checked the files themselves. This was really sloppy on my part. The reason I hadn’t checked the files themselves was because, well, I had checked the files, but I’d done so on a Mac, which doesn’t tell you the bit rate. It tells you a lot of other stuff, but not the bit rate, unless you jump through a few hoops, which I hadn’t done. I’d simply assumed that Audacity was doing what it said it was doing:

It says it’s exporting 220-280 kbps. So isn’t it? Nope!

Turns out I should have selected “Constant” Bit Rate Mode, which would have resulted in a guaranteed Bit Rate of 192 kbps.

Live and learn.

Because of this mistake, I had to re-export all my files at the correct bit rate of 192 kbps.

This meant finding the original sessions of each chapter. Doing so, I discovered another bit of sloppiness on my part: poor file management. I’d carefully saved each session using a specific naming convention, but I hadn’t paid much attention to where I saved the files, other than ensuring they were saved on a hard drive somewhere in, say, my house.

Well, at least I knew all the sessions were saved on a hard drive attached to my MacBook Pro. Fortunately, my searches usually managed to locate the required sessions. Unfortunately, they didn’t  always do so. I could not find the final sessions for about four chapters. The good news was that I was able to find and re-open at least the penultimate session for each chapter. This resulted in a bit more work than I would have liked. And I became paranoid that I wasn’t re-exporting the absolute final version of each chapter. Because of this paranoia, I decided I needed to re-listen to every second of every chapter to ensure that they were in fact the absolute final, pristine product.

This cut into the writing time of my second novel, which I usually worked on during my commute, and so was a bit of a drag, but it had to be done. Fortunately, I was able to download the files from Dropbox onto my Smartphone, which meant that I could listen just about anywhere I went. Unfortunately, this usually wound up being in rather noisy environments, which meant that I could confirm the proper pacing of the sound files, and that there were no missed edits, and what the chapters would sound like in the real world, but I couldn’t really tell if there were any little clicks or pops or mouth noise etc.

So I listened to all twenty-seven chapters this way, and during the course of this exercise discovered several chapters that weren’t quite up to snuff. In the case of some chapters, it was because I hadn’t been able to find and export the absolute final version, but in the case of other chapters it was because the absolute final versions themselves just weren’t quite up to snuff.

By “up to snuff” I mean mostly that the pacing was off. The way I had read and edited them had resulted in readings that were way too fast. My brain couldn’t keep up listening to them. They threatened to ruin the entire product. Even if listeners couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong, what was irritating about the product, I was pretty sure that it would still bother them. All of these chapters needed to be re-edited. There were a few other minor issues too that I took the opportunity to correct, mostly sloppy enunciation, and some minor issues with the levels.

If I hadn’t exported the files at the wrong bit rate to begin with, I probably wouldn’t have discovered these other issues until it was too late, so I was glad about that.

Looking back, the single biggest hurdles I encountered during the production of this audiobook was the fact that I performed it myself, and did the whole thing all alone. There was nobody to tell me I was reading too fast, and I was too close to the product to realize myself where I was going wrong. I didn’t actually even clue in that there was a problem until after I’d finished recording the entire novel and completed the initial edit of the first chapter. Listening back to that initial edit, I was horrified at the pace of my read. So I re-edited the entire chapter and it was STILL too fast. It wasn’t actually until a few weeks went by and I listened to the chapter again with completely fresh ears that I was able to tell what the proper pace should be. So I edited it AGAIN and finally got it in the ballpark (I hope!).

I made the same mistake with several other chapters, thinking as I was going along that I was getting the pacing right, but again I didn’t have sufficient distance to be able to tell for sure. It was several chapters before I acquired enough experience to know to insert far more space than I thought I needed. Doing so made it  far easier on subsequent passes to edit the material correctly, tightening it up a bit.

Had I been a seasoned performer, I would have been able to get the pacing right in the performance, which would have resulted in one heck of a lot less editing.

At least one chapter (Chapter Four) was so bad that I was forced to re-record the entire chapter. But by then I had a much better idea what I was doing, resulting in a performance  that was much closer to the mark, and that required only a light edit.

Bottom line: it’s mostly about the performance. If you get the performance right, post-production becomes infinitely easier.

I’m not saying that writers shouldn’t read and record their own novels. But I am saying that if you do, have a second set of ears present—preferably, somebody who knows what they’re doing—so that they can set you straight during the recording, which will result in a whole lot less post-production time.

If you can’t have someone else present, maybe just do one section or chapter at a time. This should reduce the learning curve, and maybe by the end of the book your performance which be much closer to what it needs to be.

Still, despite having created a whole lot extra work for myself on this audiobook production, I’m fairly happy with the final product. I did not release it into the wild until I was satisfied with it. I’m also really happy to have this one under my belt. With what I know now, if I ever have to do this again, it should (theoretically!) go one heck of a lot faster.

But then, I have always been an optimist.

A Time and a Place, published by Five Rivers Publishing, is now available on Audible.

Q & A with Fellow Writer and Word Nerd Nicky Borland

My friend and fellow writer (and editor and proofreader and transcriber and discerning reader) Nicky Borland just did a Q&A with me on her blog Finding the Words,  The Q&A is mostly related to the writing of my novel A Time and a Place.  Nicky’s blog is devoted to, as she puts it, “bookworms and word nerds.” That definitely describes me!

I really appreciate Nicky taking the time to feature a Q&A with me on her blog. I hope she doesn’t mind me mentioning that she’s also working on a novel herself.  I’ve read an early draft, and it’s really good. Hopefully she will get it out into the great wide world soon so everyone can enjoy and appreciate it.

You can find the Q&A here.

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