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Why You Should Say Bad Things About My Books

October 17, 2017

For an author, customer reviews are like gold.  The more people review our books on Amazon (or Goodreads, Audible, etc.), the more likely customers are to take the book seriously, and — even more importantly — the more Amazon’s AI bots will promote the book and combine it with others.  (“People who bought X also bought Y!”)

As human beings with egos, however, the reviews we tend to love are the ones that rave.  (“This is the best book written this century!  I would kill my own mother just to read it again!”)  These make us feel better than reviews that mix the good and the bad, and we want to think they do a better job of convincing others to buy.  If we think that, though, we’re wrong.

Imagine you’re in the market for a new widget.  Knowing nothing about widgets, you check out the reviews.  The first one has five stars and says, “This widget is so awesome you will want to marry it after one use! Never buy another widget again!”  You roll your eyes, because this review tells you nothing.  You wonder if maybe the widget-maker’s mother wrote it.

The next review you see has one star.  It reads, “Stupid widget broke the first time I took it scuba diving.  Piece of trash.”  This is a little more helpful, because it tells you where not to use it.  Since you had no intention of scuba diving with it, however, you read on.

The next review reads, “Widget did needed it to as a casual hobbyist.  The self-cleaning feature left streaks on the chassis, but didn’t affect its function.  Great value for the price, but consider model B if you’re going to be using it every day.”  Now THIS is helpful!  You are also a casual hobbyist, so you go ahead and purchase the widget.

The same is true of books.  As authors, we admire the reviews that stroke our egos, but over-the-top praise with no substance isn’t useful to customers.  We’re afraid reviews with anything negative to say will turn away readers, but in reality, it’s the balanced reviews that are more likely to result in a sale.

So… if you’re a friend, and you’re planning to review The Genius Plague (and please do! it helps!), go ahead and say what you really thought.  The point of a review is to help readers find books they will actually like, and in the long run, that’s better for me than unrealistically high praise.


TGP in the WSJ!

October 13, 2017

Hey, The Genius Plague was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal!  Here’s the review:

I think you need a subscription to read it, but here’s the best quote: “Walton has brought hard sci-fi roaring back to life.”


The Plague Is Spreading!

October 6, 2017

THE GENIUS PLAGUE is out!  I’m delighted to finally bring this book to all of you that I’ve had only in my head for so long.  I’m really pleased with this one.  If you want to know what it’s about, I think the best description of it is what I wrote on John Scalzi’s blog.  It’s available in trade paperback, e-book, or audio book versions, so take your pick!


The Genius Plague excerpt

September 30, 2017

Only three days left before the Plague starts spreading across the nation!  If you can’t wait that long, however, you can start reading right now.  I just posted an excerpt of the novel.

“A page-turner of the highest order.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Original and frightening.”
Publishers Weekly

“Beautifully done.”
—Mira Grant, New York Times–bestselling author of Feed

“A triumph from first page to last.”
—Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Quantum Night

—Jack McDevitt, Nebula Award–winning author of the Alex Benedict and Priscilla Hutchins novels


Escape Velocity

September 4, 2017

I had a great time at the Escape Velocity convention in downtown Washington D.C. this weekend. I got to chat with Joe Haldeman for half an hour and then be on a panel with him (about Drones, AI, and Military SF). He was articulate, insightful, and brought a perspective to the topic of having fought in a war (Vietnam) because of a non-voluntary draft, because he didn’t want to go to prison. He also nailed a lot of the current issues with drone warfare when he wrote Forever Peace a good twenty years ago. (My 17-year-old daughter also got to sit and chat with Joe’s wife, who told her stories about when she and Joe started dating when they were both teenagers.)

I also briefly met Cas Anvar (who plays Alex Kamal in The Expanse), who was gracious and charming, saying how much he appreciated the storytelling skills of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck and their involvement in making The Expanse a high quality show. He also said it would be awesome to star in the Superposition TV show when it gets made, and I should tell them to give him a call. (This last was pure politeness — he doesn’t know me or the book, but it was still an awesome thing for him to say.)

I enjoyed all the other panels I was on, and those I attended, and appreciated that there was more of a serious science track than at a lot of the conventions I go to. And as always, enjoyed hanging out with old friends and meeting new ones!

Another shot at Hollywood

August 16, 2017

It looks like the SUPERPOSITION television series possibility is not quite dead yet. The big company that bought the option originally officially invested in it for a while, but ultimately decided not to renew let the rights revert to me.  However, the screenwriter who was working on the show (Harley Peyton, who was a principal writer for Twin Peaks back in the day) and the director (Jeremiah Chechik) still think it has promise, and want to take it and pitch it to studios directly. So we’re going forward with that.  Pitch season is coming up, and we’ll see if anyone bites. The chances are low, I think, but it could happen! Fingers crossed!

Historical Research Tips from Beth Cato

August 14, 2017

My friend Beth Cato is visiting my blog again, this time to share some tips on historical research! Her latest book, CALL OF FIRE, comes out on Tuesday. It’s the sequel to her acclaimed novel BREATH OF EARTH, which takes place in an alternate 1906 San Francisco. Both books required an incredible amount of research, and, well… I’ll let you tell her about it herself! She’ll also tell you how to get lost in the New York Public Library, even if you don’t live in New York. Here’s Beth:

My Blood of Earth trilogy has involved extensive, all-consuming levels of research. The first book, Breath of Earth, introduces an alternate history 1906 where the United States and Japan are allied and in the process of dominating mainland Asia. My newly-released second book, Call of Fire, takes my characters from San Francisco and into the Pacific Northwest.

I publish a research bibliography along with each book– which is also available on my website– and have now reached 70 sources, most of those being full books. I live in Arizona, so I can find the obscure books I need at the local library. I prefer paper books for research, as I can add bookmarks and Post-It notes with lists of relevant data. I buy used books as often as possible. Sometimes, though, the titles I want are impossible to find or way too expensive. This is when the internet has come to the rescue.

There are free, legally-available old books available through various sites. Amazon has a number of titles that are free Kindle downloads, though sometimes the formatting can be bizarre. is one of the oldest, most famous free book sites. I have found lots of interesting data through Google Books– but not in books, but in old magazines from the 1910s and 1920s. There are full magazines about real airship science! Look up “Aerial Age Weekly.”

However, I want to giddily share with you my new favorite site, one that proved to be a godsend as I worked on my third book in the series earlier this year.

The New York Public Library has scanned over 144,000 old titles and has them available on (Seriously, go there now: I won’t take
offense if you leave. This thing is glorious.)

What sets this site apart if the level of accessibility they have built in. You can flip through a book right on the screen, or choose among 10 download format options. You can grab a book in mobi (Kindle format) or epub (for Nook), or PDF, or full text. What I love about this is that I can conveniently read a book on the Kindle app on my iPad, and if I see a relevant bit of info I want to keep, I can search for it in the text version and easily copy/paste it into the doc files I use for worldbuilding. Mind you, the text files can be garbled sometimes, but the basic meaning still comes across. Many books are available there in multiple editions.

I’m sorry/not sorry if you now lose hours exploring the New York Public Library archive. It’s a wonderful place to procrastinate and work, all at the same time. Just like you might in any good library.


CallofFire_500x332At the end of Breath of Earth, Ingrid Carmichael had barely survived the earthquake that devastated San Francisco and almost crippled her with an influx of geomantic energy. With her friends Cy, Lee, and Fenris, she flees north, keenly aware that they are being pursued by Ambassador Blum, a cunning and dangerous woman who wants to use Ingrid’s abilities as the magical means to a devastating end.

Ingrid’s goals are simple: avoid capture that would cause her to be used as a weapon by the combined forces of the United States and Japan in their war against China, and find out more about the god-like powers she inherited from her estranged father. Most of all, she must avoid seismically active places. She doesn’t know what an intake of power will do to her body– or what damage she may unwillingly create.

A brief stopover in Portland turns disastrous when Lee and Fenris are kidnapped. To find and save her friends, Ingrid must ally with one of the most powerful and mysterious figures in the world: Ambassador Theodore Roosevelt.

Their journey together takes them north to Seattle, where Mount Rainier looms over the city. And Ingrid is all too aware that she may prove to be the fuse to alight both the long-dormant volcano…and a war that will sweep the world.

BethCato-steampunk-headshot100x150Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the new Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager. Her newest novel is CALL OF FIRE. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.