On Reviews

An author friend recently thanked me for posting an Amazon review for her latest book. “How do you always know when I’ve reviewed your books?” I asked. “Because I read my reviews,” she answered. “All of them?” “Yes.”

I’m the opposite. I seldom read my reviews. I might occasionally check my star rating and the number of reviews I’ve received. Or even glance at the first few when my book comes out. But after that, I avoid them.

I’ve put some thought into why my friend and I have such different approaches to reviews. Maybe it’s because my friend is a very non-controversial writer. She writes inspirational romances, and her books are what are called “gentle reads”. They’re never going to offend anyone, or provoke strong reactions. I can be a very polarizing writer. For example, when I entered my latest historical romance in the RITA, I got scores back of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Readers' responses to my books tend to be all over the place.

Since the beginning of my career, my books have gotten mixed reviews, and I’ve come to accept there are aspects of my world view and creative vision that are a bit different from that of most romance writers. I also have a very distinctive voice, which draws some readers in, while turning others off. I can’t change either of those things. And so I seldom read reviews, because a lot of the time it’s my voice or my story vision that the reviewers are reacting to, and their opinion, good or bad, isn’t going to be helpful.

In contrast, my friend reads her reviews to discover what readers like and don’t like in her books. The idea is to figure out how to write a better, more compelling book next time. It’s great when a reviewer gives you something specific that you can process and use in the future. But a lot of the time, that’s not what happens. Many readers don’t analyze what they didn’t like. They simply express their emotional reaction to the book.

Professional reviews are another matter. I read a lot of them in my job ordering fiction for a library. Professional reviewers tend to discuss both the good and bad aspects of a book. When they are critical, they tend to criticize specific things. They will mention slow pacing or tired tropes, clichéd characters or awkward prose, things like that. They also tend to balance negative things with a disclaimer, like “Despite the over-the-top action and lack of character depth, urban fantasy readers will be pleased”. Or, “Her (the writer’s) fans will find what they’re looking for.”

In those cases, the reviewer is recognizing that even though they didn’t like the book, there is still going to be demand for it. For someone like me, who is purchasing books for a library, that’s very helpful. I can’t simply buy the books that get the best reviews. I have to buy the books that the patrons at the library where I work want to read. And trust me, those aren’t always the ones that get the best professional reviews.

Despite my resistance to reading reviews of my books, I have to admit reviews have influenced my writing. I’m currently rewriting a book that was published almost fifteen years ago. As I rewrite, I’m conscious of the fact a fair number of the reviews of the original version found my heroine unsympathetic and cold. This time around I’m trying to make her more appealing. I’ve not only tried to get inside her head more and better reveal her psychological state, I’ve actually changed the plot so her actions aren’t so frustrating to the reader. I’m trying to make her less flawed and more “heroic”.

Bear in mind, it’s taken me fifteen years to get to the point where I can do something positive with those negative reviews. And that’s the thing you have to be careful about. Bad reviews can be devastating. They can demoralize you to the point that you feel like giving up writing. Or, they can push you to make changes that don’t play to your strengths as a writer. You have to remember that for every reader who dislikes a certain aspect of a book, there may be another one who loves that very thing. There are books I find plodding and dull, while other readers see them as beautifully crafted and complex. There are books that bore me because the characters seem shallow and uninteresting. But other readers don’t care because they’re focused on the action and suspense.

Over and over we’re told that a review is only one person’s opinion. And that truly is something to keep in mind. If that opinion helps you write a better book next time, then maybe it’s a good review, even if it is critical of your work. But if it does nothing except ruin your day, then it really is a bad review.

How about you? Do you regularly read your reviews? Do they influence your writing?

Hit Me Baby, One More Time: The Art of Rejection

You think the last rejection you got was bad? Well, yeah, it probably was.

Rejection sucks no matter how you think about it. Some people put a positive spin on it, declaring each rejection is one step closer to a yes. And they’re right.

Other might look at rejection as spirit crushing. And yeah, they’re right too.

Let’s face it, no one likes being told their work doesn’t measure up or in publisher/agent speak, it’s not a good fit, whatever that means. It hurts. At the very least it gives one pause, evaluating their career choice. Which I honestly have to say is not the brightest, wealthiest, worthwhile path one could take.

I bet no one has ever told a doctor, that kidney you're putting in me...well, it doesn't quite fit. We're going to pass on the transplant. But good luck on your future endeavors.

Throughout the writer’s career rejection is a constant. Even the bestsellers get rejected. As an added bonus, once a book hits the shelves, readers start to review it. 1-star ratings appear.

How does a writer face so much rejection and not throw up their arms, screaming, “I quit!”?

Surprisingly a number of writers do quit. Finding the price far too much. Others, like me and you, continue with our delusions. Mind you, our delusions might not be all that deluded after all. Every rejection is one step closer to a yes. Every review, as painful as it might be, means a reader found reason enough to comment.

Recently I managed to get reviewed and rejected within an hour of each other. I considered quitting, giving up on my bestseller dream. Then I remembered why I do this. It isn’t for the fame, for the money, for the yes. It’s for the words on the page. The stories in my head. I write because it gives me pleasure. It makes me happy.

That’s the true art of rejection. Facing it. Accepting. And finally moving on.

How do you deal with rejection? Or poor reviews? What steps do you take to get over it?

The Value of a Compliment

So. Here we are, six months into the “New Year.” How are your writing resolutions going?  Are you getting 2,000, or 10,000, or whatever daily word counts you aspired to complete? Me either.

Have you finished that first novel and started in on your second? I’m right with you on missing that one too.

In fact, like 92% of the people who make resolutions, I have failed to meet my 2016 reading and writing goals.

And the start of my year hasn’t been all that much to celebrate either.  I entered two writing contests only to fail making it past the first round of judging.  I had one of those decade birthdays, and sometimes I feel every minute of how ancient my bones have become. Just lock me up in the museum and throw away the key. And while I started and love a new job, guess what that does to my writing time. Anybody have cheese to go with my wine-ing? Hearts bleeding peanut butter yet?

To me, there are always clouds for the silver linings in a writer’s life. We work alone, and are sometimes lonely. We’re introverted in an extrovert world. We’re creative in a nuts and bolts kind of society. If I focus hard enough, there are always things that give me the excuses for feeling bad, procrastinating too much, and generally leave me asking why I want to be a writer. Hint: if you’re in it for the big bucks, there are a whole lot of other ways to get that goal accomplished.

Then, for me, this past month happened and I have to push those gloomy clouds back. The silver linings refuse to stay closeted.

Someone told me that they liked my work.  Liked. My. Work. Really?

In fact, this generous person said, “I just wanted to tell you how much I loved your book! I couldn’t put it down and finished it in two days.”  This from a total stranger to me. Well shut my mouth and give me a keyboard. I think I can try this writing thing again.

And then a friend said to me, “My mom adores your books and wants to know when the next one is coming out.” For the first time in months, the question, “how’s the writing?” hasn’t left me feeling guilty and defeated. My friend’s face shone with being able to share this great review, and we’re talking about writing a short story just for mom for Christmas.

And this past Tuesday, Lindsay Woods of KRFC Radio in Fort Collins, replayed an interview she did with me a year ago on her Tuesday Talk Show.  What an ego boost! One full hour with no commercials (KRFC is a nonprofit organization), talking about a favorite subject—books and writing.  Lindsay read out loud some of the reviews both writer friends and professional reviewers gave my latest book.  I had forgotten them long ago.

I have a clipping file of reviews, and when I take the time to look through them, I always feel energized for writing projects.  I also like Aaron Ritchey’s advice from yesterday’s column, “write every day, as much as you can.” I like how there isn’t a specific number of words. Just write.

I also like Mary Gillgannon’s notion that writing takes energy.  She’s right.  Exercise is important. So is filling the spiritual well as she talks about.

So here’s my tip of the day – keep your compliments.  Whether or not you’re published, or a contest winner, you receive writing compliments from time to time.  Save that critique group note that says you’ve mastered the use of ellipses.  Hold onto the thank you note that says it’s no wonder you’re a writer; your last letter home was terrific. Cherish the rejection that’s accompanied with a personal note from an agent or editor.

I have a bright blue binder where I keep print out of reviews – on friends’ blogs, from the press, notes from loved ones.  Now I know where I need to look to build the kind of positive energy that makes writing what it was always meant to be – a joy.

Hey! I just realized the New Year is only 6 months old – I can get some writing done.  Hope you do too.

Wishing you a positively creative day.

The ‘Real’ Cost of Publishing: How to Publish on a Limited Budget

I’ve been rich (not really, but saying it sure makes me feel better and there’s always the lottery). I’ve been poor (stupid lottery). I’ve been traditionally published. I’ve been self-published.

Now for the big reveal…(drumroll, please).

Both options can be very expensive. No matter what my title implies.

If you indie publish, all the things a traditional publisher does are now on your head. That means you have to pay for cover art, editing, proofing, formatting, print copies, reviews from Kirkus and PW, on and on…

If you traditionally publish, marketing is on you. And often times review copies are too.

My next publishing adventure will be done all by myself (sort of). That being so, and me being a really BIG nerd with a love of spreadsheets, I created a budget for Cuffed: A Detective Goldie Locks’ Tale. Mind you, these are merely my own estimates. Some of it is on the cheap side, while other items are more expensive. Pick and choose the pieces that fit your project.

Here it is:

kazimer bannerBudget for Cuffed     Total  
Editing/Copy $25 per hour 18 hours $450
Cover design $200
Back Cover Copy $50 Since I suck at writing it myself
Formatting $150 0 Do it myself
ISBN $125 per 10 for $250 $250
Distribution
Print Copies $4.75 per book 50 $237.50
Pre- Pub Reviews
- Kirkus $425 $425
- PW $149 $149
- BlueInk $396 $396
Publicist $2000
BookBub $365 free promo $365 If accepted
Swag $200
Professional Marketer $45 per hour 10 $450
Other promo sites $300 $300
TOTAL $5,473

Now I don’t have five grand lying around, unless this Powerball ticket is a winner. So I’ll have to improvise in a lot of ways. Maybe try a Kickstarter, though I don’t have many fans, family or friends. You’re feeling sorry for me. That means it’s the perfect time to ask you, dear reader, for $5k.

If you noticed, I saved about $150 for formatting since I’ll be doing the layout myself. I possibly will save another $400 by choosing not to advertise with BlueInk or if Bookbub doesn’t accept my FREE promo.

You get the idea. I’d love to hear from other indie authors about additional expenses I missed or tips on overall budgets. Also, traditional pubbed authors, weigh in on what you budget for.

Now about that check…

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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