Tag: feedback

What writers want for Christmas

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Christmas is a season of giving, and what better way to show your support for your favorite authors than giving back to them? There’s one guaranteed way to demonstrate your appreciation for their books –

Write them a review!

Reviews are the currency of the book world, more so than sales, because reviews are often used as a way to get in on marketing opportunities. Many promotions, for example, require at least 10 Amazon reviews before you can participate (even many paid promotions). And reviews can let other readers know that a book is worth reading. These in turn lead to more sales, which generate more reviews, which lead to more sales….

The reviews don’t need to be five stars – while appreciated, authors like to get any feedback about their work. They like to know that their stories are being read, as well as what worked and what didn’t so they can incorporate it into future stories.

So this year, as you finish reading all the new books you got for Christmas, take a moment to write a review for the author and post it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Goodreads, your blog, Facebook – wherever you can. The writing world thanks you!

J is for Jesus’s abs #atozchallenge

Day J of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: Jesus’s abs.

A few weeks ago, I came home to this picture on a brochure for a local religious group. This guy is what is commonly referred to as “White Jesus.” It’s a well-known fact that since Jesus was a Jewish carpenter from the Middle East, he would most likely not have brown hair, pale skin, or blue eyes (you can’t see his eyes in this picture but I’m sure they’re blue). But that hasn’t stopped generations of WASPs from portraying him this way, or ignorant Americans from declaring that the Bible should be read in its original English.

Similarly, I’m pulled out of many stories I read when the author gets details wrong. Little things, that could easily be checked. For example, one story I’m beta-reading is set in Michigan, and the plow comes by and plows everyone’s sidewalks and driveways.  Yeah, I wish that was how it worked! Another story has characters stargazing in mid-summer, and they see Orion in the night sky, even though he’s a winter constellation.

It might be big things, too. Like using English terminology for a story set in Seattle. Anachronistic things in historical stories, like inventions 50 years before they were invented.

In my own stories, I try to fact-check as much as possible. For example, I recently wrote a story about guys in a small rock band. One thing my beta-readers were quick to point out was that the guys would load their own equipment, not roadies. And in a story involving a scene set in Iraq, I asked several people who’d been there to fact-check it. They pointed out terminology and protocols that would be fine to a civilian, but stuck out to military personnel.

When you read a story and come across wrong details, what’s your reaction?

And as a writer, how much effort do you put into fact-checking your own stories?

F is for Four stars or five? #atozchallenge

Day F of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: four stars or five?

Last summer, I put out an ebook on Amazon. I opted into the Kindle Select program and was able to give away a bunch of copies for free, which netted me a bunch of reviews.

Here’s the breakdown of reviews of “Tim and Sara” to-date:

(And there’s also another 4-star review on Amazon.ca).

Most writers I know want as many five-star reviews as possible. But I actually prefer having four stars mixed in.

The reason is simple: no book is perfect. Let me repeat that. No book is perfect. Not yours, not mine, not any bestseller or Nobel prize winner. So when a book has only five-star reviews, that sends up serious flags for me because it means someone is lying.

Maybe I’m too cynical. But when your reviews come from your mom, your friends, your aunt who doesn’t even read in your genre, and your writing group members, do they really think that your story is the best thing ever written, or are they just saying it to avoid hurting your feelings? What do strangers and those who have nothing to gain actually think?

I use Goodreads to track what I read, and one of the things I look at is the reviews. I actually won’t read something with all 5-star reviews, because that tells me the reviews are exaggerated.  Because if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

As a writer, how do you feel about 4 stars vs 5? As a reader?

Breakdown of my free story promotion

This past weekend I decided to offer my short story ebook, “Tim and Sara,” free on Amazon (it’s normally $.99).

Since I listed it two-and-a-half months ago, I’d sold less than a handful of copies, and those were in the first couple days.  Granted, I hadn’t promoted it much (okay, at all).  And now the problem was that it didn’t have any reviews.  Why would someone spend a dollar, the equivalent of a cheeseburger, on an unreviewed story by someone they’d never heard of?  Personally, I’d go for the unhealthy goodness of a McDonald’s McDouble instead too.

What I needed, more than earning 1/3 of that cheeseburger, was exposure.  So I took advantage of one of the features of Amazon’s Kindle Select program: 5 free days within a 90-day period.  I picked the weekend, as it coincided with Six Sentence Sunday, as well as the following Monday so that people who do all their online stuff at work would see it too.

I tried hard to get the word out:

  • Scribophile, the writing community website I use.  I started a thread about the free ebook, plus sent out a bulletin to all the people who’d added me as a favorite. Estimated reach: 50-2000 people?
  • Facebook, both my personal account and my writer account.  For my personal account, so as not to bug people who don’t care, I only mentioned it twice – late Friday night/early Saturday morning, and Sunday morning.  My Facebook account is hooked up to Twitter, so whatever I post on one automatically goes to the other.  While there’s some overlap between who follows them, they reach slightly different groups.
  • Twitter.  This was where the big push happened.  I tried to tweet something every 2-3 hours.  I noticed that after every tweet, I’d immediately get a few more downloads.
  • Appeal for the community to spread the word.  I asked people to retweet, and I’m grateful to so many who helped out – @scribophile, @MelissaSasser, @KellyMatsuura, @JessicaMLoftus, and @anthro78, among others.
  • Goodreads.  On Sunday afternoon I remembered this site and I created an event announcing the free book.  I invited all my friends to attend, but I’m not sure of the effect of this, as it was so late.  Next time I’ll do it a few days or maybe a week ahead of time.
  • LinkedIn.  I use LinkedIn for professional networking, so I’m very careful not to post anything that’ll appear to be spam.  I include fiction on my list of publications, but I don’t really advertise them.  I put an announcement up on Saturday morning; it was probably quickly buried. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but here’s what I got:

  • 151 downloads.  The majority were from the US site, with about 10% from the UK site and 1 from Germany
  • At its peak (Saturday night), the story reached #1990 on Amazon’s Free in Kindle Store list.
  • 5 reviews on Amazon (4 5-star and 1 4-star).  I’m guessing that most people downloaded it and haven’t read it yet; I’m expecting more reviews in the next week or so.

 Lessons learned:

  • Twitter is the best way to reach people you don’t know.
  • Perseverance is key.
  • My fellow writers are awesome.

I’m not sure how a free weekend will translate into sales, but it at least gained me some exposure.  I’d like to put another short story/novella on Amazon, to see what happens to sales of your other stuff when you’re giving one book away.  And now that I know how easy and exposure-getting the Kindle Select program is, I hope my next story is free in the near future.

Thanks again, everyone!

Why I write

A recent blog post on a writing site to which I belong asked, why do we bother to write? What’s the point of it all?

Sometimes I look at my novel and at what beta readers have said about it, and I just want to chuck it and move on.

Then I see this – “Based on a survey we conducted of veterans who have returned from Afghanistan or Iraq, we estimate that more than 300,000 veterans — or 18.5 percent of those deployed since 2001 — now have PTSD or major depression….Only about half of veterans who currently need treatment for these conditions seek it, and just 30 percent of those in need of treatment receive minimally adequate care.” – and this – “armed Iraq War veteran suspected of killing a Mount Rainier National Park ranger” – and read this – Aftershock: The Blast That Shook Psycho Platoon.

And this pops up on Twitter:

And I get a comment like this one – “The PTSD of the [Lone Wolf] MC lead is poigniant [sic] and it’s disturbing that so many vets go through this.”

And I think, dang it, I gotta at least try to get this sucker published.

It’s good enough, it’s smart enough…

And doggone it, people like it!

We all know the words of Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live.  But sometimes it’s hard to believe them, no matter how often we tell them to ourselves, especially when it comes to our writing.

Take the month of August, for example.  I sent out 11 submissions.  I had 8 rejections and 1 acceptance for the month.  That’s about 11%. Ouch. But if I think of it on the positive side, I sent stories off to some publications with a 5% acceptance rate.  I figured I probably wouldn’t get in, but it didn’t hurt to try, right?  And beta readers like my stuff (or so they say).  So that means it’s just a matter of finding the right market, right?

And now I’m having those same doubts about my novel.  A beta reader this week hated the chapter she read so much, she actually started cursing in her review.  But then someone else read that same chapter and said I did a great job with it.  Myself, I’m not sure what to think about it.  I like it but I think it needs revising.  Maybe.

Since this is a long weekend for us Americans, I printed out my revised novel (17 chapters=221 pages in double-spaced 11pt Times New Roman) and have been reading through it, looking for inconsistencies I might miss if I revise a chapter at a time.  Half the time, I think what I’ve written is crap.  With the rest, I’m impressed by how not bad it is.  But mostly, I have no idea.  I want to think it’s of publishable quality, but I’m too close to judge objectively.

What’s your overall view of your writing?  What do you do when waffling between good and not-so-good?  Which side wins?

Best Rejection Ever

Sometimes when I’m writing a short story, I just write and then try to find a home for whatever comes out.  Sometimes, however, I see a publication that I want to get in to, or a contest, and then I try to tailor my story to their specifications.

I was recently working on a story and didn’t know where it was going.  I’d been attempting to write it for months with no luck beyond the opening 100 words or so.  I came across an interesting anthology and BAM – story was easy to write.  I shared it with my critiquers, edited it to near-perfection, and sent it off.

And then I checked the submission guidelines only to find they’d been expanded.  Instead of just plain sci-f/fantasy/horror with an escape theme, they now required a speculative element as well.  My story was just plain horror.  Crap.  I didn’t withdraw the submission, figuring the worst they could do was ignore it.  The guidelines said that if you didn’t hear back in 30 days, consider your story rejected; there were too many entries for individual responses.

So imagine my glee yesterday when I received this email from the editors:

Thank you for submitting your story, “Tim and Sara,” to XX. We enjoyed reading it and it was well-written. Unfortunately, it did not meet our needs for publication at this time. So, although this is a rejection letter, I encourage you to submit to us in the future. I hope you continue to write and hone your craft.

And it seems that editors only say “We want to read more” when they really do want to read more, not as a way to just be polite.  Yay me!

Genre

So I have this novel I’m writing.  And as I post bits and chunks in various places for critiques and comments, I’m invariably required to give it a genre.  Easy, right?

No.

Unsurprisingly, my book reflects me in that it’s a mix of a lot of genres.  My iPod, for example, contains an equal amount of songs by Josh Groban and Slipknot.  While I love dark indie movies like Blue Valentine, I (embarrassingly enough) enjoy watching Family Guy.

And so it is with my novel.  There are times when it approaches literary fiction levels, but other times when it’s not-so-literarily amusing.  It focuses on character development, but that can’t exist in a void without a gripping plot (I like to think it’s gripping).  The main character is female, but it’s a dark tale so it’s not chick lit.  It revolves around a love story, but the ending isn’t the happiest for everyone so it’s not a romance (romances have to have happily-ever-after endings.  Blech).  It’s not going to appeal to everyone (so far atheists, Serbians, well-adjusted women, and most men aren’t fond of it), so it’s not really commercial fiction.

I won a review of the first page this week, and the editor (who’s a paranormal/fantasy person) said,

I am not sure the genre here yet either. I wouldn’t say chick lit, because it doesn’t have the voice. Nor would I say literary fiction. If I had to guess, I’d go for Women’s Fiction, as I think that this opening page would most grab the interests of that audience. The writing seems polished on the whole and the style is easily accessible, making this a read that anyone can follow along with.

I’ve been researching agents and queries and all that fun stuff, and the trend now seems to be “upmarket women’s fiction,” which is Jodi Picoult and trade paperbacks and issue-centered stories and not necessarily happy endings, with bits of writing that are so poignant that you copy them down and stick them as statuses on Facebook.  I think I’m pretty close to most of that.

But like Fight Club, you can’t talk about your book as upmarket; that’s only a marketing term that others in the publishing/marketing world can apply.

So, where does that leave my novel?  I guess it’s women’s fiction, but even if you’re a guy, or a Serbian, or an atheist, you should give it a chance.

Validation

Sometimes external validation is a wonderful thing.

One of the writing sites I belong to has contests every few months.  The latest one is the Extreme Makeover Contest, in which you retell a famous story in under 3000 words.  That leaves a lot of room for creativity, as well as scratching your head at the open-endedness of it all.

I contemplated retelling “The Little Mermaid” in a modern setting, where instead of a sea witch there’s either prostitution or the mafia involved (and I might still write that), but then, during a strategic zombie apocalypse planning discussion, it hit me:  Noah’s Ark, with zombies.  And thus “Noah’s RV” was born.

Today I received some of the best feedback I’ve gotten in awhile, and it’s from a guy who doesn’t lavish praise often or lightly:

Seein’s how I’m from the very buckle of the Bible belt, I couldn’t pass up reading this one.

Unbelievably brilliant. I’d write a critique but all I found to pick at was a sprinkling of capitalization/punctuation nits that I’m confident somebody who needs karma will point out, or you’ll clean ’em yourself on your final read-through.

My hat’s off to you! This is the best damned short story I’ve read in a while – fun, imaginative, creative, well-plotted, well-written, outside the box and definitely a cut above. I hope you already know that.

Great job!

Yay me!

Flash fiction

I tend to be very verbose when it comes to writing.  I have no problem producing paragraphs and pages when others might stop at a few words or sentences.  When writing a novel, this trait can be helpful because I’m able to write chapters (about 75k words of them).  When I edit, of course, I can make cuts to make my thoughts more concise, but if I need extra words, I can use them.

And short stories are much the same – take the words you need, because you have the space.

So I saw a flash fiction contest and thought I’d try my hand.  The task – write 500 words.

That’s all you get.  500 words to tell a complete story.  Beginning, middle, and end in 500 words.

So I tried it.  I came in at 507 but have since edited it down to the required 500.  And now editing is very difficult because to add something is to lose something.  Every word must matter, including the title.

I’ve received positive feedback so far (even got a 5-star rating from someone who writes primarily flash fiction!), so I’m cautiously optimistic about this contest.  Several of the submissions are amazingly wonderful so I doubt I’ll place, but mine is good.  Other people think it’s good.  That’s what matters.  🙂

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