Coming to Terms with Book Reviews

Sexy Games by Jeffe KennedyBy Jeffe Kennedy

This is the cover for the Italian translation of my erotic romance, Going Under. I love it so hard.

A girl never forgets her first translation. :-)

A little known fact about me (I think) is that I spent many years studying martial arts - primarily Chinese internal styles. I still practice some of the arts on my own, but no longer study with a school. It was a valuable experience on many levels and most recently fun to play with as I created a martial system for my warrior heroine, Ursula, in my upcoming release (May 26), The Talon of the Hawk. The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe KennedyWith Ursula on my mind - particularly as I'm starting the fourth book in that series - I've mulling over the metaphor of knife-throwing.

Yes, I learned how to throw knives as part of the training I did, including a shuriken, which I confess I keep on my desk and have a tendency to toy with on annoying conference calls. One thing my teacher said about knife-throwing is that it's important to learn to enjoy the moments you DON'T stick the knife in the target as much as the moments you DO.

Counter-intuitive, yes?

Now, my teacher got any number of things warped and wrong (don't get me started), but I think he had something there. A lesson I've yet to fully internalize. See, it's very easy to get focused on success. Learning to throw knives can be an exercise in frustration - all those times the knives miss the target, barely stick and fall away or, the worst, bang loudly and ignominiously flat before bouncing off. When you manage to get it right and *really* stick the point deep in the wood, it's... satisfying. Even thrilling.

But my teacher's point is along the lines of the journey being the valuable lesson, not the destination. Viewed that way, it's irrelevant whether the knife sticks, because it's the process of throwing that's important.

I think about this - especially lately - when one of my books gets a less than five-star review. And yes, I confess I'm one of THOSE people who see anything less than five-stars as not-quite-good enough. It's the grade that's not an A. It's the room for improvement. It's the knife that kinda sticks but then falls away.

A five-star review, in contrast, feels as thrilling as the perfect throw with the point buried solidly deep. Every time.

And yet... I *know* I shouldn't feel this way. In my heart I know that the reviews and ratings are just part of the destination, that it's the writing, the journey that truly matters. Most of the time this works for me - diverting myself back into the work, focusing on the writing and what it means to me, where it takes me. In fact, that this is on my mind at all right now is likely a product of having been between books for too long. I need to get Book 4 of The Twelve Kingdoms started. In a big way.

At any rate, I suppose this is my particular room for improvement. One of the many ways I need to grow and learn. I understand in my head that not everyone will LOVE my books, but I have a ways to travel to embrace the miss in my heart as much as the hit.

Time to throw some more knives.

Reading Your Own Work, Process, And Being Kind To Yourself

By Robin Owens

My very first audio book just came out, Ghost Seer, narrated by Coleen Marlo. I listened to the sample. I used a download code (worth $19.95) to buy it and I listened to the beginning. I like the narrator. But I'm having problems with hearing my words.

This isn't really anything new. I have problems reading my own work, too.

I'll point out that we all have a story to tell and our own unique way of telling it. That we should love writing it. This story will, most probably, reflect ourselves and our world views. This story should be something we would love to read.

This doesn't happen to me, nor to many of my friends, published or unpublished. We don't read our books, and for several reasons.

One reason can be that the work is old. Yes my first published book, HeartMate, won a major award (it was my fourth manuscript). People are still discovering it, and enjoying it. But I can't read it. I could write it so much better now, I think (I definitely made the world building in the first pages too steep...).

Another reason is I look at a book and just cringe at all the work I put into it, and it's still Not Perfect. I don't want to read/listen to my flaws.

Most often, though, is the simple fact of my process of writing (this is my process, and I don't expect anyone else to write as I do, yours is probably different and works best for you):

1) Write scenes/chapters
2) Take to critique group
3) Rewrite
4) Write more scenes and chapters, revising as I go (I write out of sequence)
5) Put out of sequence scenes in chapters
6) Read and revise
7) Finish draft
8) Revise draft
9) Send draft to beta readers
10) Revise
11) Send draft to editor! (usually late)

I PRAY I don't get a Hideous Revision Letter that starts "I have concerns. I think you'll have to revise quite a bit of this." Cringe.

Like anyone, I would prefer, "I loved it! You did a fantastic job!" (I have heard this twice. Of twenty-four books).

Copy edits come. Page proofs (galleys) come. Somewhere along this timeline I am so sick of the story that I can't stand it anymore. Am I changing a sentence and it's better? Or just different?

So by the time the published book is out there, I deeply know the plot, the characters, the sentence structure in the third paragraph of chapter twenty-two. And when I read the story I don't see the story, I see the technicalities. (Let me insert here that I LOVE rereading my favorite authors. I usually am rereading a book as well as reading something new).

I wasted $19.95 on that download of Ghost Seer, and I should have known better.

This is where I, and you-who-can't-read-your-work-one-more-time, must depend on others, on the reader half of the writer-reader equation, to tell you whether you did your job, and how well you did your job. Believe them when they say you did great.

Oh, by the way, don't read bad reviews.

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