Amazon, book industry, books, historical romance, indie author, indie books, indie writer, Reviews, self publishing, stories, writing

An Honest Review Versus a Bad Review

Let me get straight to the point. I don’t like it when we term a book review “bad.” I think of it as someone speaking their honest opinion. I know we don’t like it when someone says the book is horrible. It doesn’t feel nice, that’s for sure. But we discount the person who was at least willing to leave a review.

I am more apt to leave a negative review than I am a positive review of something I like. It seems to be human nature to be critical. You have probably encountered a boss like that. Never compliments what you do well; only points out your faults.

Well, this isn’t Unicorn land. We wrote a book. Not everyone is going to like it period.

Now granted, there are those who seem to enjoy being mean, but that is their problem. We all can spot those reviews on products. They are pissed off at the world, and you just made them madder. But then we have an honest review. I love honest reviews.

Just as there are good writers and poor ones, so you have reviewers. Some know the right words to use, and others don’t. But that doesn’t necessarily make them bad. If you eat dessert all the time, and nothing else, you won’t be healthy for long. If you eat dirt all the time, the same thing goes. A balanced diet is healthy and allows you to grow.

An honest review states what a reader did and did not like. Remember, in this day and age of consumerism; the reviewer looks at your story as a product. It must meet their view of what that product should be. And it is a chance for you the author, just one chance, to make a change. It shows where you might be able to do better. Granted, you can’t please all the people all the time as I said before. And you still must consider the percentages on your reviews. For instance, if you have five good ones (and they are all family) and ten negative ones (who aren’t family and friends), there is a problem. But an honest review gives you direction.

You, as an author, know when it’s an honest review because it reveals a spot where you were unsure of like in plot or advertising. I recently had a review that showed me what I feared; I am promoting my story in the wrong genre. It gave clarity to where I need to list it and how to advertise it. I did this by overlooking the general dislikes the reviewer stated, to understanding this person was saying they had bought a product that didn’t fulfill their needs as a reader. It was not as the advertising lead them to believe. It was only one little review, but they nailed it. I want more reviewers like that. They aren’t good or bad; they are honest.

I am not afraid of hearing you don’t like my story; it grows me as a writer. That is why I send my book to copious amounts of beta readers. Then drag it through edit after edit. I want the best I can produce for those readers who are looking for this particular genre. I’m the same way about my cooking. Why waste my time and food if it’s not going to be palatable?

And yet, hell yes I’m into praise. We all are! I love the “likes” and the “wonderful job” comments. Who doesn’t like a tasty dessert? But I can’t be healthy on that diet. I need honest reviews: honest beta readers, honest editors, and honest customers.

If for you, it’s only about the dessert, the kudos, the Atta girl, find something else to do. It is tough to compete in the book field. Writing is personal, but to become a great author, you need the criticism, just as an athlete needs a good coach. Always try to take the bad and find something useful. None of us are perfect. I’m a fair writer, but I want to be the best writer I can be. I have read other people’s writings and wonder why I even try. There is real talent out there. I recognized that in my teens when I dreamed of becoming a concert piano player, it never was going to happen because I didn’t have the talent. I also feared I’d never make a living as an author, so I worked jobs that honed the skill everyone told me I had for writing. And while I may never have a best seller, that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit trying. And without honest reviews, I will never succeed.

So please readers, friends, family, editors, and customers don’t be afraid. Tell me the worst. I appreciate it. Thank you!

Feel free to leave a comment. Have you ever learned anything from an honest review? I would enjoy hearing your opinion. 🙂

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Comment on Common Sense

 

CelebrationSo this 4th of July I was thinking.

My thoughts have a tendency to wander, go around, deviate and many times end up in strange places, far from the original thought. Kind of like that sentence I just wrote.

 

Normally this blog is about my writing experiences, but today, I’m going to deviate. My original thought was about freedom of course. Freedom of governing ourselves given to us by the founding father. Freedom of choice in every day matters such as buying and choosing products. From there my thought was distracted by the news that TSA has asked for a 100% increase on what they get paid to do their job and it will be passed on to the consumer. Of course from there I began to think about why large companies fail.

Ever notice how a company starts? All shiny and new, with brand new ideas? Kind of like a new story. Then the company starts to grow, like the plot of a book. Everyone is sure it will maintain it’s growth and become great, like getting into a good read. Then, it collapses. What happened? The customer and reader become disenfranchised.

It’s simple. It is always about the money/greed.  When it becomes driven by profit, you lose service. You would think it would be just about producing a great product. Nope. I have a great product, a BlackBerry. The product continues to please me, the service does not. Now I’m considering finding another phone that when I come across a problem like why does the phone keep shutting off, I can call a technician who can tell me I need a new battery, rather than having to be Sherlock Holmes to figure it all out.

Companies lose sight of what the original plan was. To provide a product that meets the demand of the customer and service to continue to keep the customer’s loyalty. When self-service was invented it was simply a capitalistic way of the company making more money. You thought you were getting a good deal when you had to put together that shelf unit you because you saved money yet in  reality the company was saving itself in labor costs. Self-service serves only the company as they cut service to you and save on the bottom line.

Eventually, the company has to keep raising the prices to overcome falling sales. Cutting services to keep up income loses the loyalty of their customers and even more sales. Eventually, they go out of business. Why? Because another new and shiny company has figured this out and brings in a product that is better and cheaper and it starts all over again.

Look around and you will discover what products have actually lasted the test of time. If you find one, you will note they produce not only a quality product but it is backed by service and is still reasonably priced. Period.

I don’t fly anymore. Between the nickel and diming for services that were once complimentary, I also have to put up with TSA agents that treat me and everyone else guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like having my simple travel plans be suspect to a darker more sinister plan. I simply want to get on a mode of transportation, enjoy the trip and arrive safely. Instead I find hidden fees, extremely complicated rules on what I can carry on. There is nothing enjoyable about a flight crammed into a tin can with no comfort unless I pay for it.  This doesn’t even include the utterly time consuming, personal-space-invading procedure of getting on the plane.

It now is a mode of transportation that has become over-priced, service-lacking, and anger inducing. Instead, I have discovered train travel. Simple. Train travel is wonderful, you can move about, and their dining is great. Service is old fashioned and welcomed.Of course if you are trying to get anywhere in a hurry, it has it’s drawbacks.

How does this pertain to writing a book? Same thing. Plots must be shiny and new. Service must be provided by giving a good story. Don’t produce one-size-fits-all stories and then increase the price as the trilogy goes on. No cliff hanging endings to force the customer to buy the next book.

As an independent author, we are a business unto ourselves. Let’s observe the mistakes the big companies make and remember what we offer as independents. Be hungry and competitive and never forget, service drives the product.

So in my convoluted way of thinking, I guess this did end up being about writing experiences. I hope you all have a safe and enjoyable 4th of July!

 

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Don’t Baby The Reader

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So it is Christmas morning and you are excited to open all your presents, except when you get to the Christmas tree you find all the presents unwrapped and just sitting there underneath it.  

This is like a story where an author feels compelled to let you know everything that the character is thinking, saying and doing.

I wish sometimes I had just remained a reader being totally clueless to anything but what I liked or didn’t like. In the days before I studied writing I could blissfully read through a book and tell you simple things like “Great plot,” or “It didn’t keep my interest,” or “You should read it too.”  Unfortunately this has changed since I slipped to the dark side of writing.

Nowadays, after reading a book, I’m more of a critic. Before I couldn’t have told you why a particular book was boring.  I understand now it is because of simple things like the author not trusting their readers to have the ability to figure out what is going on behind the scenes without being told.

I want a story where the characters backstory comes out like a slow strip tease. I enjoy putting together the puzzle piece by piece with a final reveal that makes me think “aha!”  Take for instance the book I’m currently reading.  There is a pregnancy that has complications and they don’t have the medical set-up for it. So far five different characters have noted this and discussed it.

Or the opening of the last book where the character thinks over their entire childhood and then again, a couple chapters later, repeats certain key points of this very same childhood to their friend.

Then there are the characters that go through a scene reporting in their heads what the other person is probably thinking or feeling and all the reasons for that.

When I first heard the ‘show don’t tell’ mantra, I was frustrated as a writer. It is so much harder to show something than just explain it. But remember, humans are observers. Only 20% of communication is through verbal skills. The rest is observation of the actions, facial expressions or body movements. In order to create a feel closest to the actual experience we must write the other 80% as observation.

As a reader, ‘show don’t tell’ is my medium. I understand a furrowed brow, a wink, or a slap across the face. I want the mystery and the chance to solve the emotions or motives behind these silent communications on my own.

I hate it when I read, “She raised her hand, slapping his face with all of her puny strength, feeling really mad. ‘He deserved that,’ she thought angrily.”  I would much prefer, “Her face contorted into an animalistic mask of rage as she swung her open palm at his face, connecting with a resounding clap.”

To write an observation, or a ‘show not tell’ scene is hard. It is so tempting to make sure our reader understands what we are trying to say. As a beginner, I’ve made so many of the mistakes I now read in other’s stories. Information dumps, to many adjectives, and descriptions full of to much prose have been a challenge for me. But I know practice makes perfect so I continue to study, edit, pay attention and read.

The one thing being a reader has taught the author in me, don’t baby your reader. Allow them to go on the journey and feel, hear, see, touch and experience it through your character’s eyes.

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A Frustrated Reader

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It’s nice to be wanted. I know every Indie writer searches for an avid reader like me.  I speed read and can easily devour up to 80,000 words a day.  I’m always hungry for a good story. I will overlook a lot for that elusive plot that will submerse me in another time and place, leaving behind the troubles of this world.

I’m willing to take on any genre, although I’m not fond of horror. Even then it depends on the voice of the writer and the plot line.  It should be a dance between me and the author. I want to be treated with respect and given their finest product.

Yet, I’m finding more often in the Indie world it’s about the writer’s ego and less about my enjoyment. I’m left to fend for myself.  I flounder in poor grammar, sentences that make no sense, wandering plots and in some cases, no plot at all.

It’s like dancing with a partner who is clumsy, steps on your toes and is just plain bored with you. This is how I feel  when I run across a poorly written story. It is frustrating to see a gorgeous book cover, an enticing synopsis, and then to put down my money, only to eagerly open the first page and begin wading through a poorly written quagmire drenched in disappointment.

I try, I really do. I tell myself that there is a kernel of story in there somewhere. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at some of the “diamonds in the rough” I’ve discovered. Other times I speed through, picking up the gist of the plot, but not slowing to become engaged. It feels like a school assignment. Find the most important parts so I can maybe get something out of it.

Why do I do this? Because I’m not only a treasure hunting reader, I’m also an author.  I know the work that goes into writing. I want to reward the poor soul who spent all that time hammering out the story. Sometimes I can’t even do that.

Recently I have taken to writing to the authors in private, asking things like, “What Point of View are you attempting?” Answer, “I’m not sure. I don’t understand POV, I just write.”   Or saying to another author, “I believe there are some formatting issues as some of the sentences don’t have spacing between the words.” Their answer, “I just write what I feel and you have to take it or leave it.”    Huh?

My favorite was the response to a suggestion I made.  “Could I humbly suggest you find a friend who has some editing skills to help  refine and tighten up your story. It has a lot of merit.” The response was, “I’ve always been told I’m  a good righter and I edited it already. Why waste the money. I made this book to make money.” (And yes, they spelled ‘writer’ as ‘righter’, no joke)

I’m not trying to make anyone look stupid by flaunting my imaginary superior skills. I’m in the same boat as every writer. I have issues,  just ask my editor!  Really, I’m just trying to understand where the author is coming from. I wondered if the first author mentioned above was trying for an omniscient voice (I struggle myself with POV) and I wanted to warn the second author there were conversion problems in the manuscript (I hire someone to format for me because I’m computer illiterate!).

In the last week I’ve randomly picked and read over ten Indie stories. I have found only two of those that seemed edited and pulled in my interest enough that I actually slowed down to savor the words and delve into the story. At one point as I was slogging through a poorly written story, I stopped to read sentences out loud to my husband. He shook his head, as baffled as I was as to what the author was trying to say.

Unfortunately it showed me why Indies are getting a bad rap. As a frustrated reader I can understand why people would ask for a refund on a digital book. Though I think writing crude, nasty public reviews aimed at an author is rude and defeats the purpose of a review, I can understand the irritation behind one. How do we go about informing authors  they need to refine their product?

I suggest not damaging future sales for money or ego. For the sake of the readers, for the sake of the industry, for the sake of trying to sell our work, we need to do our best not only to put a pretty cover on our books, but to make the inside as nice as the outside.  Hire an editor as well as a cover artist. It is well worth the investment.

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Raising Books

 

 

 

SWindswept Hearts Book Covero we all know, as authors, the euphoric feeling you get the first time you hold the actual printed copy of the first book you have ever written. It’s a high like no other. That awesome, overwhelming feeling that you did it and you hold in your hands proof of that.

 

It is a precious memory, but it wears off. Then the test of whether you truly are a writer occurs. You must write again because more stories beg for your attention.

 

Having children is a similar experience. You are ecstatic when you hold your first born child. You know you are going to be the best parent ever. As the daily care sets in with diaper changes and the first sleepless night, the excitement departs leaving behind exhaustion. But for some reason a few years later nostalgia sets in and you want another one. In the meantime you continue with the business of raising your darling.

 

How does one raise a book? After its birth what is the process to build and grow it into something that people want to read? Well first, like a pregnancy, it should have had good prenatal care. Without the building blocks of a fine editor, research and solid story, it will not go far. So let’s just say you’ve already done your prenatal care.

 

After the long labor of editing,  you hold in your hands your precious child. How do you introduce it to the world? Just like you prepared for a new baby, you must think ahead and get ready. You will need to spend time on social networking, promoting and advertising. You work at developing a good author website. Create and keep a current blog. Through the exhaustion you will have to find the time to Tweet, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, Author  Guest Blog, do book signings and find any other outlet you can push your darling to the fulfillment of its potential.

 

Of course in the meantime you need to be working on bringing its sibling into the world. You must learn to multi-task and find time to write while graciously answering blog comments and promote its older brother or sister.

 

Yes, raising a book, in my humble opinion, is like raising children. You may have to wait for years to see its full potential. Some will look back on the process with tenderness and longing, while others may be glad it’s over. Either way, in the end, you have something you will be proud of and forever love.

 

So I wonder where your book raising is taking you?

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Common Sense Dictates

Common sense dictates that before one starts a project, you should accumulate all the information on how to go about it in the most productive way possible, so that you can succeed. As I pondered becoming an author I read about the process. I delved into traditional publishing, took a course on how to get my work out there, checked into how to do the best query letters, how to promote, how to find the best editing, and even took classes on grammar to brush up. But the thing that caught my eye was the new trend towards Indie Publishing.

I’m old fashioned, I thought the only good book was one that went through the traditional publishing route. I recognized though, the Indie route might help teach me more about writing and the process. I could dip my toe into the pool and test the water. So against all of my ‘common sense’, I decided to try Indie first.

The amount of information I had to absorb tested my aging brain to the max. I also learned to cuss like a sailor! I wore out a PC and a faithful laptop that I still mourn. But in the end, Windswept Hearts was born and I had the education of a lifetime.

I learned the limits to my computer skills and finally realized that, as in any business, I would have to invest before I made money. I decided that independence was over rated and I needed help. I had made a nice circle of supportive, talented friends in the various author sites I frequented. I turned to them and hired for mere pennies, massive talent. It’s been one of the best investments I’ve ever made. 

I started with Rick Carufel, to set up my manuscript for acceptance by Smashwords and Createspace. He was easy to work with and did a professional, awesome job in a timely manner. Within two weeks I had my book out in print and into a very expansive market.

I struggled with an author webpage, which every article I read suggested I have. I finally settled with Weebly.com. It seemed to be the most user friendly. Yet I struggled and grew frustrated. Again I researched the skills of my friends and when Lisa Logue offered to set up websites, I jumped at her offer. 

I can’t describe my joy every time I log into my new website. Her talents know no bounds. How she knew exactly what I liked and needed I have no idea. Now, I’m complete as an author!  

Will all of this increase my book sales? Yes, I’ve noticed an uptick in sales. Nothing major, but I’m just beginning. Of course, the entire goal of this project was simply to learn how it works and be able to do what I love to do, write. The Indie experiment has been a great success and I think has prepared me now to attempt the traditional publishing route. Why? Because I’m confident, more educated and  understand more about the competitive world of publishing. 

I wouldn’t have ever gotten here without those authors and entrepreneurs who gave me a hand up freely. To all of you, my most grateful thanks.