Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Random Questions and Rich

Quora, the question and answer social website that I've taken a liking to recently, is continuing to fascinate me.

As of this writing, my all-time views stand at 11,100. I'm a "Most Viewed Writer" in the categories of Bullying, School Bullying and Cyberbullying, but I answer questions in other categories as well, including Overcoming Fear, Understanding Human Behavior, Writing Advice, and History.

Here are links to some of my most popular answers. Please make sure you "upvote" on Quora if you like what you see—that's Quora's equivalent of a "like." Comments are also encouraged.

My all time most popular answer was in response to What are some cases of Extreme Bullying? Hint: Elon Musk!

I cheated on my fiance with a coworker and oddly I don't regret it. Does that make me a bad person? What should I do next? 

Why are middle school kids bullied the most (including me)?

Can a 7 year old read and understand Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn? Is the content in both the books appropriate for a 7 year old?

I'm 15, Do I have any possibility of living on Mars?

I answer at least a few questions every day. If you would like to read along, you can follow me on Quora or Twitter.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Middle School and Bullying: A Look at Google Trends

Lately, as I look for opportunities to bring my Alexander Adventure books into the hands of more readers, I've been using the Google Trends tool for some insights into some of the key search terms associated with my stories. If you're not familiar with it, Google Trends allows you to track the search history for given terms, and look at historical trends for that search term going back over ten years.

By studying these trends, I'm hoping to develop a strategy and a timetable for my future Alexander efforts.

I've found some interesting results

Every September, as kids go back to school, there's a spike in searches for the phrase "middle school" as new incoming students attempt to allay their fears.
Every October, as school culture develops,  there's a spike in searches for the phrase "bullying." It's clear that some kids are maneuvering for advantage—and some are losing out.

Cyberbullying (which you will notice has little history as a search term before 2009) has a slightly different result. As with bullying, there's a spike in October, but there's also a second spike in April. We could speculate that spring vacation offered a fresh opportunity to engage in harassment. Curiously, there's no similar spike during winter vacation. Perhaps the "battle lines" aren't as clearly drawn. Or maybe everyone's just enjoying the holiday.

As I develop my plans for the fall, I'll be keeping in mind this timeline. I'll look for opportunities to talk and write about these issues during the critical months of August through October. Alexander is all about facing, overcoming and triumphing over fear. I want him to be there when kids (and their parents) are looking for answers.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Marketing to Make a Difference

If there's one thing I've learned since I've launched my Alexander series,  it's that marketing as an indie author is a long-term game. To a great extent, it's about building up my Brand. I've come to better understand the difference between a Brand and a Product. The books are my Products. Rich Samuels, the author, is the Brand. More precisely, Rich Samuels, an author who has written three books about facing, overcoming and triumphing over fear (or to be more precise exact) bullying is the brand.
Quora Logo

Bringing this a step further, because of my experience in writing about the subject, I can speak with some expertise about subjects involving fear and bullying. Drill down even further, and one could say that as a fiction writer (someone who by trade interprets human interaction) I can provide a unique perspective on the subject that is separate and distinct from (but complimentary to) counselors/therapists/psychologists who approach the issue from a more analytical perspective.

Alexander's journey is all about perception. His response to the world around him changes as his understanding of that world evolves. Fearing the worst brings out the worst in him. With growing confidence, he not only becomes a better person, but helps someone else face his own fear.

One of the steps I've taken to develop my Brand is to contribute to, "a question-and-answer website where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users." In a few weeks time, I've become a "Most Viewed Writer on School Bullying" answering numerous questions about the nature of bullying. You can check it out here. Some questions were simple expressions of curiosity. Others, it seemed, express a real crisis.

My experience with Quora, and my evolving opportunities to publicly talk about fear and bullying has become more than simply a marketing game. It's an opportunity to reach out and make a difference.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Backstory Icebergs

Backstories, for those unfamiliar with the term, are the histories of individual characters - the life stories that made them who they are "today," but aren't necessarily included in the finished novel. A number of the supporting characters in my Alexander books have fairly dark backstories.

Backstories exist so that the writer can  understand and develop believable character motivation. Hemingway called it the Iceberg Theory: The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. If the writer does his job well enough, he said, the reader will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. 

Even though my books are humorous in nature, the stories behind certain characters are serious.

I've hinted at some: Colin, introduced in Own the Scrawny, is a new student at Alexander's school; though we never quite learn the details, we know that bullying at his old school created the troubled boy Alexander meets in the school library, and in fact drove him to switch schools. We (and Alexander) learn a bit more of his past in My Epic Life, but only enough to gain a hint of the gravity of the situation, and motivate important action in the novel.

Alexander's good friend, Darrell, is in a wheelchair. The reader learns only the most general outline of the accident that put him there: Darrell was struck by a drunk driver. Of all the backstories, his is probably one of the most developed. I know, fairly extensively, how the accident happened, what became of the driver, and Darrell's struggle to survive in the months after. I'm also familiar with his lingering anger about the accident.

In the novels, Darrell is Alexander's voice of reason. While Alexander's other friends tolerate his eccentricities, Darrell confronts him. He's a loyal friend, but he directly challenges Alexander when his behavior seems immature. Darrell's more adult view of the world isn't surprising, given the trauma he's experienced.

If all of this seems pretty heavy for these books, remember that there's a close relationship between comedy and tragedy. Tending to that relationship, and thinking of characters as real people with histories, is the difference between a story that just makes people laugh, and one that also makes them care.

Follow me on Twitter @rickflix

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fear Can Make You Smile

Every book festival I've attended is a learning experience. This year, with a trilogy of "Alexander" books in the offing, I've made a point of attending as many public events as I can. With the exception of a few very local events, it's not something I've done before, so I'm still learning the ropes: I'm looking for the right physical and verbal presentation.

Last weekend, at the Palmdale Book Festival, I tried a new pitch: I asked visitors to recall their anxiety at starting a new school, joining a new group or, really stepping into unknown territory for the very first time. Usually, that initial anxiety disappears as the unknown becomes the familiar. 

In My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain Alexander holds on to that initial fear. Even though he has friends, and his world around him seems generally non-threatening, he still believes that the Unknown is still out there, right around the next corner, and he'd better live his life accordingly.

Whether I was describing the story to a teenager or adult, the idea of Alexander's unfounded fears produced the same reaction: a broad smile of recognition. 

We've all been there. At one time or another, we've all spent precious energy dreading and fearing what lies just ahead, only to discover that it wasn't so bad after all. 

I think that's part of the reason Alexander's fun to root for - the reader can see what Alexander can't: everything's going to be okay.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Fear, Bullying and My Books

Local radio here in the Santa Clarita Valley has proved to be a nice jumping-off point as I launch the third of my "Alexander Adventure" books. Coach Ron Tunick has had me on twice on his Business of Life program. On the first program, we discussed my book series, but on the second, we talked about bullying, one of the critical themes across all three books.

For the most part, Alexander isn't a bullied kid; but he is a kid who lives his life in constant fear that he'll be humiliated, pranked or otherwise assaulted by his classmates. His fears control his life, providing the basis for a great deal of the humor in his story, but also underlining the reality that fear alone can control your life. In My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain, Alexander discovers–almost too late–that in his suspicion and mistrust of his classmates, he's become a bully.

Coach Tunick and I discussed my thoughts on bullying and the idea that Alexander's skewed perception of the world around him is his greatest challenge.  I hope these three books show how Alexander meets that challenge and becomes a better person for it.  At the beginning of the first book,  Alexander is a scared, self-centered little boy. By the end of the third book, he's more confident and compassionate. I've tried to craft a relatable story about growing up.

Using Alexander's story as a platform to talk about bullying issues has been one of my objectives for quite a long time. My special thanks to Coach Ron Tunick for helping me launch this effort. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

"My Epic Life" Launches; Anxiety Follows

As of today, My Epic Life is available to the public (just paperback, initially). I'm offering it for purchase on Amazon sites around the world. For the first time, I'm also offering it for sale on, a site which will allow me to offer signed copies, the purchase of the three books as a set and, soon, other special packages.

So, everything is in place.

I have now completed what I've recently taken to calling the Alexander Adventures Trilogy. The overall concept, that of a boy's journey from fearful kid to being a self-assured teen, seems to have appeal.

I've also achieved my objective of writing a professional, well-edited work that touches readers emotionally. The books have received positive reviews - for which I'm happy and grateful.

Now I'm facing the next challenge: more effectively bringing Alexander to his intended audience. Putting aside advertising for the moment, I'm hoping to distinguish this marketing effort from those of my previous books by focusing on several areas. These are the ones on my mind right now:

  • Coverage across social media platforms, including YouTube, blogs, and podcasts. I had some success in this area with my first book, but not so much with my second. I'm hoping to increase my online presence this time around. I'll also be returning to more frequent blog updates. 
  • I need to encourage more reviews than those I have currently. As a relatively unknown indie author, reviews are a great tool, both in number and my ability to quote readers in my marketing efforts.
  • Personal appearances at book fairs, events and other venues. These appearances offer two opportunities: I can bring my books directly to potential audiences, and I can share these efforts with my social media followers, which in turn helps further develop further awareness of the trilogy.
This is a period of great excitement mixed with great anxiety—in many ways, this is an important chapter in a process I began with the publication of My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain in 2013.

I like to think of my book-related efforts as akin to kicking off a tech start-up. Right now, I need to capture the imagination of my potential readers. 

I welcome your suggestions and feedback!