The Importance of (Good) Reviews

How important is a review? In today’s publishing world, especially on Amazon.com and its international sites, a good review (four or five stars) is worth quite a bit. Dozens of them are priceless.

Shock Totem does most of its sales through Amazon, the bulk of which are digital sales. That’s a great thing, particularly for our authors. Readers are their lifeblood. Ours as well, but while readers keep us afloat on a pride level, we need revenue to sustain us for years to come.

We’ve been around for five years and each of our issues costs around $1,500 to produce. They say most businesses take five years to become profitable. Thankfully, we’re almost to the point where we’re paying for each release with profit from sales. Our last issue, Shock Totem #7, cost $236 out of pocket, which is wonderful.

We’d love to get to a point where we’re not only paying for issues with profit but also making money, enough to expand, raise our pay rate.

And that’s why we still need your help.

The debut issue of Shock Totem is our biggest seller. This is typical for every month. On Amazon, where it matters most, our debut has 28 reviews. That’s eleven more than the closest second, which is issue #2, with 17 reviews.

Our latest issue, however, has just two reviews. And we’re having a hell of a time getting review sites to respond to review requests these days. Not sure if there’s so much self-publishing going on that they’re overwhelmed with review material or if we’re so established they don’t think we need reviews; but whatever the reason, the reality is, we do need reviews.

Why? Beside the obvious reasons, Amazon.com, where sales are highest, has a ranking algorithm (among other things) that helps authors and publishers sell books. One of the biggest theories, and it’s a good one, is that the more four- and five-star reviews a book has, the more it is shown to potential buyers.

Again, our debut issue has nearly a dozen more reviews than any of our other issues and it’s our biggest seller. Signs point to Yes, the algorithm is real and that issue is being put in front of more potential readers than our other issues.

So how can you help? By posting reviews of our work. They don’t have to be long or have literary flair; they just need to be honest.

The more our sales increase, the longer we’ll be around. When so many publications are using Kickstarter to fund their projects, we’d like to earn people’s money. So if you’d be so kind, please consider reviewing anything of ours that you have read. We’d be very grateful.

In parting, and this applies not only to our books but any book, please note the difference in ratings between sites.

Three stars on Goodreads is not the same as three stars on Amazon. (There is another theory that any review given with less than four stars on Amazon seriously impacts a book’s rankings—kicks it right into the gutter, in fact. Again, this is a theory, but based on authors’ experience, it’s a good one.) For instance, a two-star review on Goodreads should be a three-star review on Amazon, as both mean it was “okay.” Therefore, a three-star review on Goodreads should be a four-star review on Amazon, which helps the author quite a deal more. Again, in theory.

And finally, thank you! Five years strong. We’ve lost some staff along the way, but we’re still dedicated and committed to the long haul. It’s been a hell of a ride so far. Help us keep the wheels on!

Posted in Editorials, Publishing, Reviews, Shock Totem News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Three Reasons the Strain Series Sucks

I was so excited to read the three books of The Strain series, which was a collaborative effort by director extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, author of the very entertaining The Town. All of the books came equipped with the full endorsement of the friends of mine who’d read them, and hell, the series was presented as a science-based horror yarn about a biological strain of vampires taking over the world! Take I Am Legend and combine it with a modern retelling of The Andromeda Strain and voila!—perfection!

Or so I thought.

The first book, The Strain, moved along quickly and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Sure, there were parts I rolled my eyes at, but the story was so entertaining that I could easily forgive them. Then came The Fall, which started out well enough. But then halfway through that book, something happened. The storyline became laughable. It all went to hell. And by the time I finished The Night Eternal, my opinion was set in stone.

The Strain series sucks.

And here are my top three reasons why, completely filled with spoilers for those who haven’t read the books.

#3: Bad Science

There are really only two glaring instances of this throughout the entire series, but trust me, these instances are HUGE.

First of all there’s the more minor affront. One of the man characters is Abraham Setrakian, who’s a Romanian Jew and who’s well over eighty years old. The text makes constant reference to his severely crippled hands and his bad heart, and yet he is constantly able to not only duke it out with the vampires, but all it takes is a single swing of his silver sword to sever head from neck. Seriously? I mean…seriously? Even guillotines, with their 45- to 50-pound blades, did not always succeed in hacking through the tissue and spinal column. And yet this ancient professor was able to do so every time with relative ease. Completely unbelievable, and we won’t even get into the fact he screams, “My sword sings of silver,” every time he executes a vamp, because that’s just plain dumb.


“Get off my lawn, dammit!”

The second and most egregious affront to science just so happens to be the conclusion of the second book, which completely sets the stage for the third book and forwards the vampire master’s plan. This plan includes exploding a series of nuclear power plants built by another rather unbelievable character in order to block out the sun with ash. Once this is finished, there will be a world that has only three hours of muted sunlight a day, which is of course vampire paradise.

The problem? Nuclear power plants don’t explode. They melt down.


“Wait, does anyone know how these things work?”


“Eh, never mind, no one cares.”

A nuclear explosion requires a catalyst and weaponized atomic fuel, which are quite lacking in reactors built to supply the public with electricity, because to have a reactor that could incinerate miles of prime real estate if anything went wrong would be just plain stupid. No, reactors melt down. When the core overheats, the fuel and fission products seep out and radiate the environment—which is of course really bad. Now, while it is true that hydrogen explosions from superheated steam can most certainly occur, those detonations wouldn’t be in any way large enough to create an ash cloud big enough to blot out Chris Christie, never mind an area of the sky. Even if it could, and the place did go up in a giant mushroom cloud, there’s no way that the main characters of the story, who weren’t even a mile away from one of the explosions when it occurred, would remain fine and dandy and drive off into the no-sunset.

Now, I know what you’re saying. These reactors were all built by one of the baddies from the books. He probably added explosive materials into his reactors to allow these nuclear blasts to occur, right? Well, I guess that’s possible…however, during the laughable back story (more on that later), it’s said that when Chernobyl melted down, one of the Ancient Ones (more on them later too) turned to dust. But wait…Chernobyl melted down, it didn’t explode! In other words, the authors are setting up the finale by rewriting a scientifically historical fact and hoping no one notices. Which of course no one does, because to most folks nuclear power is like Merlin, David Copperfield, and Ric Ocasek’s love life—it’s magic.

That being said, this sin is nowhere near as bad as…

#2: Good (Fake) Science Ruined By Bad Mythology

The vampires in The Strain are brilliant. They truly are. They’re created by parasitic (capillary) worms that burrow into and then change the biology of the host. Human traits are nullified, the skin becomes opaque, the digestive systems are simplified and fused to allow for quick absorption, and a stinger is formed where the voice box would be, which is the tool the creatures use to feed. Brilliant. Also, the effectiveness of silver is explained in a scientific way, given the metal’s antiviral/bacterial qualities, as is the sensitivity to UV light. In a less impressive addition they all share a hive mind, which might not be truly scientific, but then again all one has to do is look at the legions of Beliebers in order to say, “Okay, wow, this is actually a frightening possibility.”


Talk about getting your red wings.

And then the authors go and ruin all this groundwork by instituting one of the dumbest origin stories I’ve ever read.

According to the series, when God sent his angels to Sodom and Gomorrah, there were three, not two. One of the archangels, Ozryel, apparently developed a taste for killing and drinking blood. Why an all-knowing God didn’t step down and stop this, I have no clue. Instead, Ozryel is hacked into seven pieces and deposited around the globe, and it’s when the blood from those seven pieces seeps into the ground that the worms are formed, the Ancient Ones come into being, and vampirism begins. Goodbye, science!

What was once a thought-out and researched plot then goes on to be explained in the worst way possible. Vampires can’t cross moving water because they’re bound to their origins, but they can if they’re invited, which allows the Master, the renegade Ancient One, to cross the ocean and enter New York. Not a very well-thought-out fail-safe by an omniscient deity. It’s about on par with Darth Maul taunting Obi-Wan while the Jedi’s lightsaber, and certain death, is within easy Force-grabbing reach. The method, and the mythology, is just downright silly, not to mention lazy. And worst of all, it leads directly to…

1: An Insulting Ending

After all this plotting, after characters are left rummaging through a darkened world that shouldn’t in reality be changed in the slightest, our racially stereotypical heroes (no, I won’t get into that here, it’s just piling on) end up on some islands in Lake Ontario with a nuclear bomb in tow. (There’s that magic nuclear power again!)

It seems that all our heroes have to do is gather the ashes of the six Ancient Ones who had died because of those impossible nuclear explosions, lure the Master there, and then detonate the bomb. Then the whole shebang would end and the world would go back to normal. Yippee!

So they all arrive, the Master’s there (though he should have known their plan all along and stayed far, far away), and finally, after some eye-roll-inducing action, the bomb goes off. Let’s take out the fact that the main character and his young son go up in flames, which would be an emotional sticking point in the plot if not for the fact they were so damn annoying, and the added element that another couple of major characters are stationed on an island quite close to the one that blows up and they walk away completely unscathed after that magical nuclear blast. Instead, let’s focus on the direct aftermath of the explosion.

The sky opens up. A beam of light shines down on the detonated island. Two angels appear from heaven, and a third flies up from the ashes. The three angels then soar around together like fairies and then all three shoot upward and disappear into the clouds.

Um, huh? Did I just read that?

That’s right. The angel Ozryel, who was the reason the globe was thrown into chaos and that millions upon millions of people died, was just escorted back up to heaven after his body was reassembled. Talk about a massive crock of shit. It seemed his only penance was to kill shit-tons of innocent people and then get all blowed up without ever showing an ounce of contrition. It is without a doubt the most imbecilic and indolent ending to a serious work of fiction I have ever read. I literally slammed the book shut and mumbled curses to myself for a good five minutes after reading it. Sure, his entire strain was obliterated and humanity was saved from vampiric rule, but still…why the fuck was the angel let back into heaven? It makes absolutely no sense. It’s insulting. I can’t believe talented folks like del Toro and Hogan created it.


Just like eviscerated remains, heaven is pretty!

And just think…The Strain was optioned to be a series on FX! Ha! Will I watch it? Of course! And will I enjoy it? Probably. Why?

Because I’m an idiot.


“I give Rob a boner that big.”

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Editorials, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments