Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How and When to Respond to Negative ReviewsIf you

Every author - traditional or independent - wants and needs reviews. A healthy dose of good reviews generates interest and excitement and, hopefully, leads to further book sales. As we all know, Amazon monitors a book's review statistics as well as its sales numbers and the more reviews a book receives the closer it gets to entering the coveted Amazon algorithm that can send it to the top of the charts, which is what we all want.

Now, we can tell ourselves that reviews really don't matter to us but we'd be lying to ourselves and it's not nice to tell lies. We tell ourselves we write because we have to - it's who I am, I can't help but write! - which may or may not be true. And we tell ourselves that the money doesn't matter - I just want to get my work out there. If only 1 person reads it and likes it then... - which, again, may or may not be true.  But secretly, or not so secretly, we crave acceptance of our art and of ourselves, our work, an affirmation that the toil we've endured has been worth it, the days and weeks and months and years corralling tens of thousands of words into just the right order, the sleepless nights, the writer's block the writer's uncertainty, the numerous rewrites and edits and rewrites and edits. And the best way to get our oh-so tender egos stroked is with reviews - unsolicited and glowing, preferably.

When those 4 and 5 star reviews start to trickle in, you can't help but feel vindicated and triumphant. You have the urge to scream I TOLD YOU SO! to all the naysayers from your past (but you don't because you're an adult so you just post the glowing reviews to your Facebook page and hope they realize the "I told you so" is implied). You monitor your book's Amazon page at least a dozen times a day waiting for the next heap of praise. You do the same over at Goodreads and Barnes & Noble and iTunes and Smashwords and anywhere else someone might drop a little love your way. It's obsessive and maniacal and painful and, all too soon, habitual, just another part of your day.

And then that first 1 star review hits. It's confusing at first. You double check to ensure you're on your book's page. Once you confirm you are you scroll back down to the review section, knowing you must have miss-seen something but there it is, that one little star sitting there all alone, waiting on his star friends that will never come to join him. Then you reach for the salt that you will rub into your fresh wound by scrolling down to read the actual review, gutting you anew. Of course, the reviewer got it all wrong, you say. They didn't understand what you were doing, what you were saying. They didn't get it at all. And now they've written the world to tell them they won't get it either, shouldn't even attempt to get it! This can't be happening, you tell yourself. This can't happen! I can't let it happen! I have to do something!

So, how do you respond? How do you correct the reviewer and stave the possible onslaught of other negative reviews and the death of your novel?

Here's the trick: you don't. You just let it sit there, that lonely little star. Let it twinkle its dull flat twinkle.

All too often artist speak of their works as their "babies": I have created and birthed and nursed this idea and project into fruition. It is a part of me and it is out there in the world toddling about recklessly in the path of all manner of dangers. I must protect it! But this isn't true. If you have sent your work out into the world, we assume you have done so because it is ready to be out there on its own. And if it's ready to be out there on its own then you think it is grown up enough to be so. So, just like any parent, you have to let it stand out there by itself, have to let it defend itself by its mere existence, speak for itself. If you feel you still need to hold its hand and explain it to people so that they "get" it then wasn't ready after all and you better bring that baby back home and under your care until it is ready. Once it's out there, just like anything else in the world, some people will like it and some will not. Some will get it and others won't - or at least they'll get something else you didn't intend. But as painful and frustrating as that may be, you must let their interpretation stand unchallenged or risk exposing your work for the incomplete baby it might be.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Less Talk, More Action

I, like so many struggling writers, can be a lot of talk an little action. We tend to like nothing more than the sounds of our own voices talking about our writing (or, in regards to this blog, writing about our writing) versus actually writing or getting our writing out there in the world. We're notorious procrastinators and dawdlers. And I am no different.

Well, I finally decided to shut the hell up and get to work on my writing career this year.

While I always write, I am negligent about getting my writing out in the world where it can be read. Sure, I acquired an agent for my first novel. Sure, when she failed to sell the book, I worked up the nerve to attempt self-publishing. But when the Kickstarter campaign to fund the book failed, discouragement and self-doubt took over and I reverted back to my old scared ways of writing in secret. But something changed this year. Maybe it was turning 50 that jolted me into action. The thought that at least 2/3s of my life had been pissed away on nothing but talk and talk and more talk. Whatever the impetus, I somehow got my act together and decided to pursue that long dreamt of career.

I turned to play writing. I'm also not sure where that thought came from but for some reason I decided to adapt a long forgotten short story into a play. The first draft was shit, of course. I had never written a play so key elements to make a successful dramatic event were lacking but there was a kernel of something in it that kept me moving forward. I farmed it out to some actor friends who gave me their thoughts and I went back to the drawing board. One of those friends helped me get a reading together with actual actors so I could hear the play outside of my head (talk about a surreal moment!) which prompted another rewrite. And, eventually, through a bit more rewriting, I produced a pretty darned good piece of theater which got accepted into a couple of New York festivals and will make it's debut in January 2016. Action!

On the novel front, the desire to publish my first novel, now titled The Summer of Jenny Wade, never diminished. So, I decided to go the eBook route via Amazon (and B&N, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.). I raked through it one more time to ensure it was up to snuff. I researched how to format for the various platforms (and eventually farmed this out to a professional when it proved a beyond my capabilities). I created a pretty nifty book cover in PowerPoint by watching tutorials online. I set a publication date for September 5th and put the word out to family and friends and Facebook and Twitter. I am researching the self-promotion methods and working to continue to get the word out and will continue to do so to ensure that the novel finally gets read. Action!

I created a Facebook author page. I created an author website (via Wix). I created an author page on Goodreads. I am creating an author life for myself. Action!

Ultimately, all lives are DIY and I finally realized that this year and, while my stress levels have never been higher, I've never been happier.

Come to find out action does speak louder than words.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Teasers

In my ongoing campaign to fund my independent publishing project (which can be found on Kickstarter, by the way), I thought a little taste of the novel would whet appetites and give you all a glimpse, not just of the novel but also my writing. Following is Chapter 1 (a sort of prologue) of the book:

Chapter One

By the time May Thompson locked the door it was too late. What happened to Jenny Wade had already happened. Brian, her youngest, was in way over his head with Mr. Barnes. And there was a lot more coming that no locked door was ever going to keep out. But you couldn’t blame her for trying.

That evening, early in the summer of 1974, the heat of the day had settled in the house like another member of the Thompson family, hanging out in the den with Brian as he stared at the television, too boiled to even notice what was on. Was the heat, dry and stagnant, that kept most folks indoors that day, which lead to the the rapid fire spread of the news of what happened to Jenny, once word got out. Not as palpable as wet heat which drapes on you like an extra layer of skin that won’t sink in or molt off, dry heat harbors a sharpness in its touch, pin needles that scratch at your prickled flesh but never seem to release the blood roiling beneath.

At the slam of the door, Brian called out “Leave the door open, Mama. Let the air circulate.”

Brian shifted in his father’s leather chair in search of any spot cooled by the box fan set up in front of him. He watched his mother pass by, heading into the kitchen. “Mama!” He called, but she didn’t respond.

Lazily, Brian trudged into the living room and opened the door again. May Thompson’s children did that on occasion, defied her, tested the boundaries she held on them. Her two oldest children had already learned this and it seemed Brian was catching on as well. But that night, May would not be defied. She returned to the living room, to where her youngest son stood in the doorway, enjoying the insignificant breeze that had shimmied its way through the neighborhood, across the yard, up the porch and through the screen door. May stepped around Brian, moving him backward a pace or two. She peered out into the hazy twilight as if expecting to find something or someone lurking out there then slammed the door shut again. A brief moment passed as she fumbled with the lock. Her fingers, tangled with emotions Brian didn’t understand, worried the deadbolt once then twice until it found its long forgotten home. She then turned to him with challenge in her eyes and her stance. Brian, wholly intent on reopening the door, intent on meeting her challenge with his own, stopped when he felt, rather than saw the tremble of her body. This was not her usual scared-mouse tremble, the kind a lot of beat women get that flutters just under the skin, keeping them alert to any physical shifts that might be occurring around them; no, this emanated from a permanent point inside her, a bone-deep tremble. Even though Brian had been doing things with Mr. Barnes for the past week or so that had him thinking he was a grown-up, just like his mother, at that moment, he felt like a little boy again.

His mother didn’t tell Brian anything that night. Of course she wouldn’t; she still saw him as a child, her child, the baby of the family to be protected and shielded by her and any door she could find to lock. So in silence, she went to bed, not a word, leaving him there at the door, wondering if she’d locked them in or locked something out.  


Saturday, September 7, 2013

And We’re Back…with a Vengeance!

Yes, I’ve been woefully remiss in keeping up the blog so let’s do a bit of a recap to catch us all up:

  1. The book did not sell (not that this should come as a surprise because if it had sold to a publisher, you would have HEARD about it by now). 
  2. A great bit of wallowing was had by all (well, mainly just me). 
  3. Post wallowing, a large amount of doubt settled in for a nice long harboring (every word I wrote, maybe still write, is second-guessed, thrice-guessed, etc. to the point that progress has been non-existent). 
  4. New works-in-progress (see previous entry) were cast out into the streets in their various states of undress to fend for themselves. 
  5. A bout of depression ensued. 
  6. Meds were adjusted.
  7. I said “Fuck it!” to the traditional publishing world!
Which brings us to this post. I am back, full of the piss and vinegar of yore, ready to take the literary world by storm.

How, you ask?

There was a time when I felt that self-publishing was admitting defeat. Of course, I, like so many others, equated it with “vanity” publishing. To some extent it still is, though the world of self-publishing, which I prefer to call independent publishing, has changed drastically in the past few years. The digital age has altered the publishing landscape, some for the bad, some for the good but altered it none the less.

  • Bad: Traditional publishing has faltered. They are no longer the arbiters of what is happening in the literary world. Sure they still have cachet and signing with one of the big houses is still a coop and a sought-after prize but they are also dwindling in scope. They are running a bit scared. They don’t take risks like they used to. Before they take on a book (or an author) they want to know that it comes in such pristine condition that it’s practically ready to print as well as coming to them with a built-in audience. They just don’t have the budgets for editors and marketing, not like they used to, so they need to know that they will recoup their monies and more. While they may have always sought that next great blockbuster that will be on every bookshelf in the world (think The Da Vinci Code), they also took chances on smaller books, those works of Literary Fiction that defy classification, that have no “true” home in the bookstores because they don’t focus on a genre formula (and therefore don’t have a built-in audience) but on characters and writing. The works like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Virgin Suicides take a lot more convincing to be snapped up by traditional publishers.
  • Good: As traditional publishing falters, the digital publishing industry has allowed writers to skip the middleman all together and produce their works to sell directly to the public. Companies like Smashwords and BookBaby make it even easier (for a price, of course). A writer can simple convert their book into an e-book format and upload directly to the Amazon Kindle site or to Barnes & Noble Nook site or any other number of e-book selling sites. They can design their own covers and set their own prices. They become the author and publisher in one. They also need to become the marketer too, which is difficult and time consuming, but it might actually be more than you would get if you signed to a traditional publisher these days. 
Unfortunately, another component of the ‘bad’ is the fact that a lot of these authors cum independent publishers don’t take the time or expend the money to put their works through the stringent editing process that the traditional publishing companies do (or at least used to when they had the money) to elevate their works to the next, professional level. Consequently, a good portion of the novels being produced is sub par and perpetuates the “vanity” stereotype of self-publishing: that anyone can publish anything. There are no guards on duty in this lawless world; no editorial Nazis with their blood-red pens slashing at your manuscript, like a mad plastic surgeon creating a masterpiece, until it is perfected.

Of course, there are writers who know their limitations, their weaknesses and seek out those who can help. I am one of those writers. I think I’m a good writer (my daily affirmation calendar would tell me to say: I AM a good writer). I can create good, well-developed characters. I can even create a good plot line and tell a decent story. What I can’t do is edit my own work. I get so mired in it that I can’t truly see the good and the bad. I know I need someone unbiased who will show no mercy and tell me like it is. I’m a big boy, I can take it if I know it’s for the good of the whole.

It’s been every exciting investigating the world and possibilities of independent publishing. There’s a great sense of control, a sense of casting off the chains of the rules of traditional publishing and just focusing on the work, the words on the page, the way that I feel they were meant to be read. No worrying if the ending is too dower. No worrying if the subject matter is too dark and therefore unsellable. No worrying about word count to bulk it up to constitute “a novel” rather than a novella. The book can be a long (or short) as it needs to be to tell the story properly and succinctly and fully.

Needless to say, my enthusiasm is renewed, my energy refilled. I am once again excited about writing, not just this novel but once again engaging my other works in progress. I’m once again feeling the dream beat inside me, pulsing through my veins as surely as my blood does. I once again call myself a writer and I am glad to be back.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Back at the Drawing Board

First, let me apologize for the lack of blogging. It's amazing how life can get in the way of actually living. After a few bobbles in my personal job market, I have landed at a good company that, while excellent for making mortgage, hasn't been conducive to keeping up with my writing projects. Almost seven months into this new job, I've finally started finding ways to carve out some much needed "free" time to work on what truly matters to me: the writing.

And speaking of my writing, as the title of this entry states, I have gone back to my first novel. It's been a year and a half since my agent started selling the book, sending it out to publishing houses and while there have been some hits, though not on target, there have been mostly misses. The majority of publishers have stated that the story is good but the writing isn't quite strong enough. Well, that hurt. Funnily enough, I always thought I was a lousy storyteller and the strength of my writing would pull me through that detriment. Always interesting when you learn the opposite of what you thought you know, especially when it pertains to yourself or your perception of yourself.

After careful consideration (and too many reference to the weak writing), I decided to rework the novel, to strengthen the writing and make the book more viable to future publishers. I worked on fleshing out the characters and their back stories. I worked on the multiple grammar issues (though that might be a loosing battle! What can I say, I like a run-on sentence.). I worked on clarification and exposition. And the novel grew from 70k words to almost 87k. Quite the growth spurt. All this time I thought the characters were done but apparently they weren't.

Eagerly I sent the refinished manuscript to my agent. And waited 3 excruciating weeks until she returned from vacation before she responded. Of course, I thought there would be nothing but praise. Of course, I had deluded myself. She had sent it to one of her readers and together they sent me back to the drawing board. Oh, there was praise. My agent loves the book. Loves my voice. Loves the story and the characters. But...it's just not there yet.

With the addition of 17k words, some portions of the book started to lag. The reader, to whom she had sent the book, thought there were too many characters. Sure she understood that they added to the authenticity of the small town world I had created but she felt that they troubled the waters too much. There were too many names to remember and, since some only appeared once in the book, they just cluttered her brain and detracted from the main story lines and characters.

And then there was the narrator's POV. It becomes clear at the end of the book why the narrator tells the story as he does but until then it might not make sense. As the writer, who knows what's happening at all times and why it is happening, you can "forget" to see your book, your story, your techniques from the outside view. After both the reader remarked that the narrator knew things he shouldn't have known, I could see how the POV was unrealistic (at least until the reader got to the ending). It wasn't the first time I had heard that observation. But to clarify in the beginning feels like it will lessen the ending which makes me apprehensive to do so, but,I suppose clarification (and less frustration) is more important than revelation, especially if there is the possibility that the reader will abandon the book before reaching the end.

So, I have begun the editing process yet again. I am approaching this editing process like a reader. I must be judicious with my cuts. It's not easy but it must be done. The reader stated that this "project should definitely be pursued." She loved the book. She loved the writing. She loved the story and the way I told it. Because of the small town feel of the book and the mysteries involved, she likened it to In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, one of my favorite books of all time. When my agent and I spoke the other day, she said she could see that but stated that the book has always reminded her more of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, another of my favorite books. She believes this could be another book in that vein, with the accompanying phenomenon, which sounds fantastic but, truly, I just want to get published.

So I am back at the drawing board and will return as often as needed to get my novel the bookshelf. It's just what a writer does. And I am a writer.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

WIPs

Hot on the heels of the "moving on" post I thought I'd offer an update on my Works in Progress. While I haven't been as diligent in my writing as I would like, I have been working on multiple projects.

WIP 1
Is actually my 2nd novel (The Reclamation of Karel Benekov) which I've written about here before. I'm just over 67,000 words along with the last 1/4 of the book to go. I'm anticipating a final word count in the 90s. I have to admit that I'm not thrilled with the structure of the novel, too linear in progression, which slows down the pace dramatically, but this is still the first draft so there will not be any starting over until I have finished getting the "story" out at least. I'm hoping I can get the structure right more quickly than I did with the 1st novel, which took upwards of 6 or 7 completely different attempts before finding the one that truly told the story properly. I feel that I have a better handle on this book (experience does help) and a better understanding of the main character, so I should be able to hit it right sooner rather than later.

WIP 2
3rd novel (The Last Messiah). This is another book I'm working on, though not as diligently as the other one. The story actually came from my partner, Carlos. He wasn't too interested in my 1st book. Literary Fiction bores him, which is fine. I know it's not for everyone. He's very much into the paranormal writing genre as is the rest of the world, it seems. One night in bed he inform me that in order for me to actually sell books I need to write something more interesting and, yes, trendy. He proceeded to tell me his idea of the coming of the "Last Messiah." While paranormal writing isn't quite the type of book I like the story intrigued me enough for me to start tinkering with it. I have a "thing" about religion, a fascination that borders on obsession and I thought: "what the hell, give it a shot." I'm only about 11,000 words into (it requires quite a bit of research into religion and how to write police procedurals (oh, it starts out as your run of the mill police procedural and then turns paranormal)) but I actually like it very much and it's a nice change of pace from when I get bored with writing the other book.

WIP 3
Stage Play (Pinched). Quite a few years ago, I read a non-fiction book entitled Sex-Crime Panic: A Journey to the Paranoid Heart of the 1950s by Neil Miller, which told of a post-child murder panic that took hold of parts of Iowa back in the 1950s. As the police couldn't find the actual murderer, or murderers, of two children, they sought to appease public fears by rounding up "sexual deviates", which mainly consisted of homosexuals. A group of these men were committed to the mental hospital for an indefinite period of time in hopes that the state could cure them.

I've always thought this would make an interesting (and still timely) stage play, so I'm working on an adaptation.

WIP 4
Screenplay (Immortality, Inc.). Okay, I've had this in the works for years (at least 10) and think I should just freaking write the damned thing! Again, this is for Carlos as it deals with vampires. At first I thought it would be a book but it's just so terribly visual that I decided to switch it to a movie instead. I've actually got most, if not all, of the research done on this, complete with character bios (full histories! I started this back when I still did such things) and a point-by-point plot outline so now it's just a matter of writing it. I just started revisiting this project in the past couple of days so I'm going to try to stoke the embers here and see what happens.

And that's it. That's what I'm working on, here and there, keeping myself entrenched in the world of words and continuing to move forward. I think I'm like a lot of writers who keep a few projects going at the same time in order to keep the mind active and the writing interesting. Often, if I only concentrate on one piece of writing, it starts to bore me and then the writing becomes stale. If I switch back and forth, especially if the projects vary widely in genre and style, the writing stays fresh and lively.

I'll try to get some more in depth posts regarding each project here in the near future.

To Let Go Is to Move On

It appears that there comes a point in this publishing process when one has to turn to that old Alcoholics Anonymous catch-phrase "Let Go and Let God" in order to move forward. I am at that point.

We are fast approaching the 1 year mark of my manuscript being "out there" in search of a home. My agent, Jennifer DeChiara, began sending it out in January of this year. As reported, we came close with one publisher but the book was deemed to adult for the Young Adult market. Since then: nothing. Not a freaking nibble. Oh, they're still tossing around the niceties: "good writer"; "interesting story"; "good character development"; and the like but ultimately they all have passed. I'm not even sure how many rejections I've had now as Jennifer has decided to shield me from them, for which I am thankful as there are just so many knocks my fragile writer's ego can take.

Each month, like broken clock work (I can never hold out a full month), I email Jennifer asking for updates. Each month the same report: "nothing yet, but I'm still trying." God love her tenacity!

And each month another dagger in the ole heart area.

Well, I think it's time to "Let Go and Let God." It's time to leave it in the hands of fate, put my head down and keep working on new projects. No more monthly updates, just let it lie and if by chance someone finally picks it up for publication and I get that call from Jennifer, well great. But if it doesn't happen then it doesn't matter because I've moved on. I've realized that I, and my writing, are entierly too tethered to the outcome of this novel. I have tied my self-worth to its publication and that's not good. I have to realize that even if the book doesn't get published that doesn't mean I'm not a good, or even great, writer. Just means that I have to continue getting my work out there so that someone will realize it. It's like casting a net instead of just one fishing line.

These are the lessons each writer must learn, I suppose.

So it's settled. One last update (what? you thought I would be able to quit cold turkey?) and then it's on its own. Time to move on fully and happily and whole-heartily, with confidence that my writing will be heard one day.