Friday, February 24, 2012

Negative Reviews

Everything you send out on the Internet could go from here to China in less than a minute.

Even if it is a private message to a select group of persons, what is to keep one of those persons from forwarding it or posting it to their blog? Nothing. Personally, I think there is no excuse for writing a nasty email, or tweet, or Facebook update. That's the beauty of writing. You always have a chance to go back, review and edit before clicking that "Post" button. So think hard before you click that mouse button.

No, this is not a fun Friday update, but something to think about. I was just tooling around on Goodreads and found a discussion about a book. The reviewer gave a lengthy one-star review of a novel. Some of the comments were harsh, but also valid with excerpts of the text to back up her opinion. In response, the author, who claims she intended to only send a message to her friends, sent it to the reviewer as well, calling her names and claiming she only gave the review because she was jealous and wanted to drive ratings down on the book. The email included a secondory plea to spam Amazon with five star ratings to change the overall rating.

*head desk*

This email was then forwarded by the reviewer, who was understandably upset. And the author, in the backlash, sent an apology email...too little too late.

I can understand the author's point of view. How hard it must be to go to your Amazon book page and see a bad review at the top for everyone one to read after going through the lengthy trials of writing, editing and finally getting published. But every published author is going to get at least one bad review. And there are better ways to deal with it than by insulting your readers, especially those who have a connection base of thousands.

I personally, will never read this book or another book by this author. I'm not going to say who because I'm not stupid. This is the Internet! However, if speaking with one of my friends offline, you bet I'll steer her away from the novel and not only because of the low-rating.

The best way to deal with negative reviews is to ignore them and continue promoting your book. Many authors don't even read reviews. And by God, if you simply can't keep your fingers away from the keyboard, then think hard before you send something. If I were in the author's position, I might respond with, "I'm sorry you didn't like my book, but thank you for your insightful review. I hope you'll consider reading my next book..." And I bet the reviewer will read it. (Although you might not want her to.)

I'm curious about you, though. Am I the only one who won't read a book because the writer made an Internet snafu? Or does a lack of professionalism leave a bad taste in your mouth too?

Monday, February 20, 2012


We all do it. We're writers. Our job is to use words to build a world and characters for our readers, and we can get carried away doing it. I'm going to use my husband as one example, and we'll see if he leaves a comment. Then I'll know if he even reads my blog.

He has a band, called Sweet Love, and whenever someone asks him what type of music they play, he'll say, "It's sort of stoner rock, fuzz rock with metal elements." And the people politely smile and nod. And then I add in, "It's grunge." They smile wider and go, "Oh that's cool."

My husband's description of his music is obviously more accurate, describing all of the different nuances they've worked into their sound. My description is generic, but it's easier to understand and appeals to a broader audience. Which is better?

Author Ann Hood ran a seminar at a writer's conference in Boston I attended and used this great example. She was out with a friend and he made an observation about a guy and said, "His face looks like a ham."

I don't know about you, but I immediately picture this puffy pink-faced man. Now her friend could have used more descriptive words, "His face was swollen and pink, raw around the edges and puffed out around the jaw...." or "His face looked like a ham."

Both descriptions are comprehendable. Both give you the same picture, but the original "ham" comment is more succinct and I think, gives greater insight to Ms. Hood's friend. He's got a sense of humor and doesn't keep his judgments to himself. This is someone I could spend 300 pages with just to see what he's going to say next.

So as you're writing, look closely at those places that seem to be a mile long string of adjectives and see if you can trim them down and add more personality to the piece. Maybe your character is long-winded and you decide to keep the adjectives right where they are. Or maybe you decide to give your MC more of an attitude and change it up. There's a place for both types of writing in the world. You only decide which one you want your piece to be.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Blinded by Toxic Nerve Gas

A golden rule of writing: if your manuscript is getting stale, put your heroine in more trouble.

It's great to follow, but I always loosely translated that as:
Throw some bombs at her!
Kill off her family!
Have her blinded by toxic nerve gas!

That's all well and good, and exciting to be sure, but can sometimes be a little too much. What the rule really means is to push your heroine's desires further away from her, which could be a bomb or the sudden onset of blindness due to toxic gasses, or something much less dramatic. Basically, don't give her what she wants. Make her work for it and get the reader involved in her struggle.

Some of my favorite books are the ones where I'm practically shouting at the heroine to do something different. Of course, some of my least favorite ones are books where the heroine continually makes stupid decisions. There is a very fine line between being cautious and being a moron. So the challenge is to make things harder for your heroine but have her respond to new developments in a logical way.

In my current MS, my heroine is starting to like someone who is completely wrong for her. When she finally admits it to one of her friends, the boy overhears her confession. In the following chapter he confronts her about it and I had two choices: he could profess his undying love for her OR he could give her the "just friends" speech.

I wrote this chapter twice, using both scenarios. The thing us, you WANT the two of them to hook up, but the chapter I liked better was the one where he gave her the "just friends" speech. Had I let them skip off into blissful relationship happiness, what reason would you have to keep reading?

This is what I mean by making trouble for your characters. Simple trouble. Relatable trouble. Who hasn't liked someone only to find out they're in the "friend zone?" When my heroine finds out, she's stunned. Her ego takes a major blow. This is something we've all felt, and in addition to dashing my heroine's expectations, I make you, the reader, like her more because you can empathize with her.

If I had blinded her, you might feel sorry for her sudden loss of vision, but it wouldn't be something you would understand. (Unless it has happened to you.) So if your story is starting to drag in the middle, try giving your girl some normal troubles like:

Lied to by a friend!
Dumped by a boyfriend!
The target of the mean girl's bullying!
Parents getting divorced!
Dad in jail!

And if those don't work, by all means set off a gas bomb.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is Goodreads Good?

Yes, of course it is. It's in the name for Pete's sake. BUT is it good for aspiring writers? I'm still going to vote yes, even though I think there are some potential pitfalls.

Where it is absolutely good: Groups
I'm in a couple of YA groups and not only does this connect me with folks who would be my potential readers, it connects me with books in my chosen genre. With a new book assigned every month, I keep up on my reading and while I'm reading, I think about the book in terms of writing, story and characterization because I'm going to have to discuss it all later. They don't take a vague "I liked it," or "I hated it," as an answer. You better have reasoning as to why you felt that way or consider yourself shunned from the group.

Identifying aspects of what I do or don't find appealing about a book helps me improve my writing. I might notice how an author has a lot of shoulder shrugging and nodding going on in their novel, and then look back at my own MS and see the same nervous ticks.

What other people have to say about the book is helpful too. These are my readers, and they read a lot of books. The leaders of my groups have about 700+ books a piece under their belt, and they'll be the first people to point out tired story lines, cliche characters, and all around bad writing. They'll also share what they would've liked to see, and I take some of these ideas and try to incorporate them into my own writing. Give the people what they want!

Where it can be iffy: Reading other reviews
I am certain I'm piling up some bad karma points because some of the one-star, asshole-ripping reviews are hilarious. Even the shelf designations people give to books are somewhat funny, ie, the shameful-shelf-get-rid-of-it. And after I read one of these reviews, wipe the tears of whimsy from my eyes, I gasp and think, "When I get published, someone's going to write one of these about my book." Ouch.

Of course, below that one-star review is a five-star review contradicting everything the previous reader said. This reminds me that the publishing industry is SO subjective. I need to keep plugging onward and not get beat down my the rejections.

HOWEVER, when I read a book, give it a low rating and see it has an overall rating of 4+ stars, I think, "I can do better than this. Why are they published and I'm not?" Commence pity party. And a pity party is always a bad place to be in.

One thing I do love about reviews is when I make a note of poor characterization or lack of description and read five other reviews in agreement, I know my editing eye is in pretty good form. I can apply that to my own writing.

Where it could be bad: Writing your own reviews
The first rule about being on submission is don't blog about being on submission. The second rule about submission is DON'T BLOG ABOUT BEING ON SUBMISSION.

I don't. Because editors could type my name into Google, find my blog and see that my novel has been rejected by twelve others. But then I go onto Goodreads, write a less than glowing review of a novel that happens to be on the list of one of the editors considering my book. That has to be just as bad, doesn't it?

I see a lot of five star reviews on Goodreads for everything and wonder if the reader really likes all of those books or if he's just trying to gain some brownnose points for ARC giveaways or publishing presence. I might be lighting my MS on fire, but I can't do it, and personally, as a writer I would want to know what someone hated about my book so I could fix it in the next one.

I try to make my reviews honest and personal and always point out positive and negative aspects of the book. But it's true, there have been some I wanted to refer to as a "stinking waste of trees," and held back my typing fingers. For those books I follow the rule of, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

What about you? Are you on Goodreads? Friend me if you want to share reviews!