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Judging a Book by its Reviews

I have good news, and I have bad news.

The good news is that, in the era of eBooks and low-cost graphic design, readers are less inclined to judge a book by its cover.

The bad news is that it’s never been easier to judge a book by its reviews. And well-contemplated reviews are increasingly rare.

NetGalley (www.netgalley.com) seeks to address this problem by facilitating online reviews for a wide range of authors, from indie first-timers to best-sellers. Pay their fee, upload a digital copy of your manuscript, and they will make a digital copy of your manuscript available to hundreds of thousands of ‘professional readers’ – bloggers, media, educators, librarians and booksellers.

Authors (or publishers) have the choice of restricting copies to only the readers they approve, decisions often based on the reader’s profile or past reviews. Or you can open the title up to all NetGalley members without vetting them individually – a greater risk, with a potentially greater reward. (There are no guarantees that reviews will be favourable, though readers mostly stick with their preferred genre and use a logical method for evaluating titles. Mostly.)

Authors can also choose a number of additional add-ons, from direct email campaigns to being part of monthly newsletter distributions. A typical NetGalley run lasts for six months and costs USD$450 (USD$699 if it includes a newsletter spot). Three-month listings can be purchased by members of the International Book Publishers Association (IBPA) for USD$199. Direct email campaigns can run into the thousands.
In terms of actual results, a regularly listed title might receive a few hundred ‘requests’, which may in turn generate perhaps twenty or thirty reviews along with some additional library sales, bookstore orders and blog posts. My debut novel Rum Luck was available for a six month period and promoted via a NetGalley newsletter – it was the subject of around a dozen blog posts and about 80 reviews total – 40 on Goodreads and around 35 on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca combined.

Even the least expensive NetGalley listing may exceed the budget of many crime writers. A no-cost alternative is to give away eBook ARCs via LibraryThing (www.librarything.com), which allows authors to distribute up to 100 eBook ARCs per giveaway. (Fair warning – I have not attempted this myself, and have heard from other authors that LibraryThing readers grade on a harder curve.)

Overall, I found my listing on NetGalley to be worthwhile – particularly for a debut novel. A six month run was probably more than I needed, as most requests were placed in the first few weeks. An IBPA listing should be sufficient for most. Next time, I would book as early as possible (six months or more) to get my choice of newsletter slots. I would also make my title available to all NetGalley members, rather than evaluating readers one at a time. And I would run a LibraryThing giveaway as well.

This post originally appeared in the Crime Writers of Canada publication Crime Beat in January 2018.

Video Interview with BookTrib

In which we talk about the inspiration for Rum Luck, humor writing, bringing out a character’s voice and my own eventful travels in Costa Rica.

Alisha’s Epic Drinking Song


An Epic Drinking Song for Alisha, who is born and raised in Calgary (a rare breed apparently…). Her hobbies include travelling around the world, photography, and making handmade crafts (then selling them) – including wine charms.

Alisha was at the airport
Ready for her flight
She was travelling to Europe
The trip would take all night

The agent saw her passport
“In Calgary you’re born?”
“I’m sorry you can’t leave, dear.”
“We’re afraid you won’t return.”

“So few are ever born here”
“They all come from out east”
“You’re an endangered species”
“At the very least!”

Alisha said, “I’ll come back”
“It’s only a week-long trip.”
But the agent wouldn’t hear it
Not a word from Alisha’s lips

Alisha reached in her pocket
For a gold homemade wine charm
That dazzled the gate agent
And flew to Europe without harm

So when you meet somebody
Who causes you alarm
If you find that nothing else will work
Try to use your charm

Want an Epic Drinking Song for yourself or a friend? Just post a picture of the fun, fast-paced mystery ‘Rum Luck’ in its native habitat. Click here to learn more.

Mike’s Epic Drinking Song


Here’s an Epic Drinking Song for Mike, who likes nature, playing guitar, and fancy wines, Coke, bourbon or pretty well any other beverage.

(Based on a true story.)

Oh once there was a man named Mike
He travelled to Gili Air –
An island in the Pacific
And oh, what happened there?

He showed up on the beach one night
The fishermen were drinkin’
Mike said, “I’ve got a plan for you
Now here is what I’m thinkin’…”

“We’ve got to get the sauce just right
We’ll mash up all those roots
And then we’ll have a meal to pair
With your tasty local hooch”

Next day Mike could not be found
So his friends went out in search
But they could not find him
They feared he was in the lurch

But then they heard the music
Of guitar, pretty as you’d like
The fisherman gathered round ‘im
Eating a dish they call ‘The Mike’.

So let this be a lesson
For those with strange pursuits
If you find yourself with strangers
Always stay true to your roots


Want an Epic Drinking Song for yourself or a friend? Just post a picture of the fun, fast-paced mystery ‘Rum Luck’ in its native habitat. Click here to learn more.

Another Five Star Review for ‘Rum Luck’

I’m very much behind in posting links to blog posts and reviews regarding ‘Rum Luck’ – so, time to catch up. Here’s a five star review from Brad Horner.

“… It’s a good novel about pursuing your dreams. I think I’ll remember that bit long after the murder mystery fades, but don’t get me wrong, there was a good deal of fun with that, too. I didn’t even mind that all the characters kept having hidden depths of skills popping up out from nowhere to save the day. It made them interesting. Really interesting. 🙂 No problemo. 😉

So who do you want to be when you grow up? Hey! As long as you don’t say clown, you’re in business.

Recommendations while reading this novel: Rum.

If you really want, then get some good tequila, but I seriously recommend rum. It’s not just in the title. It’s in the spirit. You can’t read a mystery novel taking place in a bar without getting blasted, can you? Sure, it doesn’t hurt if you like rum, too, or perhaps a bit of good tequila, but just imagine how much fun you might have if you turned the reading of this into a drinking game! Screw movies. Books are the new bar-room entertainment. Don’t believe me? Read the book. I can guarantee a good time. 🙂

Thanks to the author for a copy of his book! I was skeptical at first, but it was a charm to fall into and really, really smooth. Thank you!”

Thank you for the five star review, Brad – and thanks also for coming up with the idea of a Rum Luck Drinking Game. That is absolutely going to be a thing.

June’s Epic Drinking Song


Here’s an Epic Drinking Song for June, who took the picture backstage at the Elizabeth Bader Centre for the Performing Arts (and who borrowed the book from her friend Seb).

Oh, once there was a girl named June
Her friend Seb had a book
June thought it looked amazing
She had to have a look

June took it home late one night
And cracked a box of wine
She woke up with a pounding head
The clock said half past nine

June said, “Where’d I leave it?”
Seb wanted it for later
And in a fog June realized
She’d lent it to Liz Bader

She asked Mrs. Bader, “Please,
I’m asking with all my heart.”
And Liz replied, “Well, maybe…
In trade for a work of art.”

So June she made a masterpiece
Out of old cardboard
And Liz, she gladly tossed the piece
Atop of her art hoard.


Want your own Epic Drinking Song? Click here to learn more.

Emily’s Epic Drinking Song


An Epic Drinking Song for Emily, who likes rum and cokes and watching Netflix, and who took this picture while on holiday.

Emily went on holiday
She was having lots of fun
She got herself a rum and coke
That’s when the trouble begun

For she was reading Rum Luck
When a pirate came ashore
He said, “If you’re drinking rum and reading rum
You’re the woman I adore.”

So the pirate captured Emily
And took her on his sailing ship
He said, “You’ll learn to love me
On our year-long pirating trip.”

Emily, she hatched a plan
And said, “I’ll go with you
Only if you share my interests.”
He said, “Tell me what to do.”

She introduced him to Netflix
And he gave up the skull and bones
‘Cause it’s tough to capture other ships
When you’re watching Jessica Jones

So let that be a lesson
To everyone you know
The best way to stop pirates is
Low-cost streaming video.

Want an Epic Drinking Song of your own? Click here to learn more!

Sabrina’s Epic Drinking Song


This one for Sabrina from Edmonton, who likes Caesars, decorating, and posting on Instagram.

Oh, it was just past two am
And Sabrina, drink in hand
Had finished posting all her pics of
Throw pillows on Instagram

She took a sip of her Caeser
It tasted like victory
Until her post was stolen
By ‘Decor_Amy’

Sabrina sent a private message
Saying, “Hey, you take that down.”
Amee said, “No way in hell
I’m top decorator in town.”

Sabrina replied, “Do you know who I am?
I hail from Edmonton
All our winters are too cold
We build sod houses for fun

So unless you want some rig workers
Messing up your shop
I’m telling you right here and now
Your post-stealing’s gotta stop.”

That was the last of Decor_Amy
Her post-thefts came to an end
And what about Sabrina?
She got drunk on a beach again.

Want your own Epic Drinking Song? Click here to learn more.

‘Rum Luck’ – Get Your Own Epic Drinking Song

To celebrate the launch of ‘Rum Luck’, I’ll be authoring Epic Drinking Songs for readers throughout the month of July. All you need to do is take a picture of your copy of ‘Rum Luck’ – eBook or physical – and either e-mail it to me at ryan.aldred@gmail.com or post it to social media with the tag #RumLuck. Please include the name of the Epic Drinker and a few facts about them. (Eg. Where they live, favourite drink, etc.)

‘Rum Luck’ is a humorous mystery in which Canadian tourist Ben Cooper wakes up in a Costa Rican prison cell to find he’s bought a bar on a beach and been arrested for murder – is now available for purchase in eBook and hardcover.

Here’s an example of an Epic Drinking Song:


From Kristin: I want the Ballad about me! haha! Born in Saskatchewan, Live at the beach (Regina Beach), I like Gin, I make pots… And the photo is my favorite corner on my deck, friday afternoon, comfy chair, gin and tonic…

And here is Kristin’s Song:

Oh, Kristin had a long week
In Saskatchewan
She said, “I think I need a gin.”
Wayne said, “I’ll get ya one.”

Regina Beach had been too cold
And the pot she’d made had broke
So she took a big ol’ swig
But began to cough and choke

She looked inside her mug and saw
Stones of different blues
She asked Wayne, “What gives here?
What are you trying to do?”

He said, “My dear you asked for gin.
This one’s on the rocks.
You drank it that way all last night.
That’s thinking outside the box.”

And then Kirstin remembered
She’d loved that pot so much
So when the darn thing broke apart
Her poor heart had been crushed

She’d put the shards in the freezer
To keep her drink ice cold
So that’s the way she drinks her gin
(And carefully, so I’m told.)

Drinking Songs will be at least 8 lines long, but may be much longer if inspiration strikes. I’ll be posting them on my facebook page and on twitter throughout the month.

Let the Epicness begin!

25,000 manuscript edits in a single image

I made around 25,000 revisions to the manuscript for ‘Rum Luck’, from when I first queried agents to when I sold to a publisher a year and a half later.

Here’s what that looks like when crammed into a single image:

Merged Changes

(Thanks go to Amy McCullogh and Will Hill for first doing this with the edits they got back from their respective publishers.)

I almost didn’t post this.

It’s tough to be a writer who is sitting on a manuscript that hasn’t yet found a home. No one needs to make that time any more difficult that it is already. And there’s no doubt – that’s a lot of changes. A veritable sea of red. Quite possibly a very daunting sea, depending on where you’re at in the writing process.

Don’t be discouraged.

When that manuscript first left my hands, it was perfect in my eyes. But only in my eyes. It needed more.

That red is the ‘more’, those elusive improvements that could only come through outside feedback – in my case, the beta-readers, prospective agents, my former agent, a professional editor, potential publishers, and eventually the editors at Five Star – including the eminent Deni Dietz.

Over a year of editing.

I didn’t listen to everyone, all of the time. But I did look for trends. If several readers made the same suggestion, I took it very seriously. And even when one reader said there was too much description and another not enough, I asked myself – is there a problem with the description?

And by slogging it out – getting rejections, making changes, and repeat – I was able to get the feedback needed to bring ‘Rum Luck’ to where it needed to be. And get shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis award. And then get a book deal.

Aspiring authors – don’t worry if you think your book isn’t quite ready for prime time. You may just need to ask your beta-readers for a map to help navigate that sea of red.

Update: I’ve had some feedback to the effect of ‘OMG is that even the same book?’ – the answer, surprisingly, is ‘yes’. This is pretty much the exact same story as what I started with. I mostly streamlined the descriptions and removed a lot of unnecessary scene direction – character’s shooting each other looks every three lines, or spending half the book drumming their fingers on something. I also took out a lengthy flashback and added another day to the timeline. The dialogue, however, has remained virtually unchanged.

I used to live in fear of re-writes – I’d think, “I need to make sure this is perfect, or I’ll lose it all during the edits” – but the truth is that if it’s gold, you’ll find a way to use it. And if it’s not gold, you won’t miss it when it’s gone.

Rum Luck is coming out from Five Star Publications in February 2016. To stay in touch, join my mailing list (sidebar) or ‘like’ my facebook page.