Category: Writing and Publishing
He’s fifty shades of WHAT?
There’s often a lot of debate whether or not certain reviews should be “disputed” on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Some indie authors, still to this day, continue to argue with those that give their books low ratings. To that I say, “What are you aiming to accomplish, here? They read the book and made their decision.”
Getting a critical, or negative review is always tough the first few times, but the fact of the matter is that you want those reviews. Not only do you want them, you need them. People are less inclined to purchase something with only glowing five-star reviews because they think someone is gaming the system. By writing a critical review, that reader did you a favor.
Although… it may not feel like it at first.
Bad press is better than no press at all. A book with only one review that is two or three stars will sell more copies than a book with none at all. People are curious creatures by nature, and want to “check things out for themselves.” Sometimes, reviews that are only negative will sell lots of copies based solely on people’s curiosity. Individuals will wonder “could it really be that bad?” There are few books out there these days that are so terrible that they warrant one star. Even I have been pulled in by a book’s mass of one-star reviews that slam a book’s god-awful writing and storyline. I too wonder “Is it really that bad? I have to check this out, and if it really is that terrible, I wonder if I’ll have a good laugh at it.”
Of course, no one wants to believe or hear that their book is “laughable.” But think of it this way: those critics are encouraging you to write something better the next time around. Show them that they can read something serious and well-written from you by improving yourself.
As an author, your job is to write, stand aside, and let people discuss it without you. Some say that you should completely ignore reviews altogether and never read them. I have to disagree with that. If the majority states that your book is garbage, it’d be good to know. You need to understand where to improve on the next book, and readers will help you by explaining themselves. Just don’t argue with them. Never argue with them. Don’t even explain yourself, or your book, to them. You cannot change their opinion. It is who they are. They have a right to that opinion as a person.
I’m not only an author. I’m also a reader. From a reader’s standpoint, I trust the author not to glom on to every little thing I say. I trust the author not to follow me around on various websites and harass me. I trust the author not to take things personally. I trust an author to not suddenly turn into a psychopath and stalk me and hunt me down like I’m a trophy for their wall. Only the truly arrogant, the narcissistic, and the spiteful do things like that. If you’re about to attack a reader for whatever they say about your novel, take a moment to think about how utterly crazy you’re about to behave. Even if you’re about to say something objective, and maybe even a little positive (“Thanks for your feedback and taking the time to read my book!”), it’s seen in a negative light. It’s seen as ego-stroking. It shows the reviewer, and other readers for that matter, that you pay very close attention to what is said about you; that you aren’t just interested in improving your writing. You’re interested in proving yourself as an individual to people you’ve never met. This rubs people the wrong way. It certainly does for me.
Me and my book are the greatest things to ever happen to you, baby.
Think about why you’re planning to do this, and ask what your real motivation is. Are you trying to get them to apologize? Are you trying to keep them as a reader? Why? If they hate your book, let them go. They wouldn’t be interested in your other ones. Your writing style just might not be their cup of tea. Are you trying to show someone, a complete stranger, on the Internet, that you’re worth the time and money because you’re so spectacularly, stupendously awesome-tastic? Look, a reader wants a good story with good characters and good flow. That’s all. They don’t want to talk to who wrote it unless they’re already a friend. They want to get something worth their money. Your job is to give them something worth it.
A book is a product, and your readers are consumers. If you owned a store, and someone purchased something in it, only to return it the next day because it didn’t work for them, would you sit there and explain to them why they’re wrong? No, because that’d be insane. Your readers expect to read something that isn’t a pile of garbage. If you take the time to polish and spit-shine your work, they will appreciate it even if they don’t like the story, because it shows that you care about them. You should care about them. They’re the ones making you money. They’re the ones making you who you are.
There’s something else I’ve seen in the indie literary world regarding readers, and even as an author, it gets under my skin– because if an author ever said these things to me as a reader, I’d be more than just a little annoyed. Authors will claim that readers should be forced or obligated to review what they read.
You have no right, even as the author of the book, to tell a reader when to review your book or how to review it.
I’ve seen many indie authors say things like: “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” Are you kidding me? As if the ones who create that rule ever follow it themselves. You know damn well that if you bought a faulty, useless, or PoS product, you’d have something to say to those selling it to you. Your ego is not as important as those who care enough to tell other readers what they’re buying. Statistically, very few people review the things they buy on Amazon. People who buy books on Amazon are even less inclined to review them than they would other products (10% of buyers on Amazon actually review things– and the number is lower for books). There are many reasons for this.
1. They couldn’t finish the book, for some reason or other. It’s not your business why.
2. They got it free, and will never even look at it, let alone open it.
3. They completely forget to leave a review (I’m guilty of this– even when the book is really good!).
4. The book isn’t very good to them and they feel guilty giving a poor review of an indie book.
5. They don’t have the time.
6. They’re afraid a negative review will result in a scary author pointing their finger in their face and telling them how wrong they are.
So… did you like it? DID YOU LIKE IT?!
I’m sure the list goes on for reasons why readers don’t take the time to give you reviews. With those in mind, it seems pretty unfair to try to “call them out” and tell them they’re “obligated” to review the book they read. No, they aren’t obligated at all. They’re free to do whatever they wish. Just as you want to be respected as an author and person, they want to be respected as a reader and person. You cannot– I repeat– cannot tell them when or how to review something. If an author constantly hounded me for a review, I’d block them forever out of my life and never read another thing by them. They soiled my opinion of them. Instead of thinking “hm, I might buy their next book, this one isn’t bad,” I’m going to think, “What an effing psycho. If I review anything they wrote, I know they’d take it really personally, and I’m not boarding that crazy ship.”
Basically… don’t be “that guy.” There are millions of different types of people out there, and they are all wonderful for even giving your book the time of day, whether it’s worth it or not. There are shy people, outgoing people, brash people, nasty-asshole people, and if they’re buying your book, they’re welcome to it! Let them have their cake and eat it, too. Don’t focus on the things said about you or your books. Focus on writing the next one, you big ol’ fancy writer, you!
And now a serious moment to the authors out there:
I know I might make it sound like your feelings don’t matter, and that’s not true at all. Just as you have no right to attack a reviewer, a reviewer doesn’t have a right to attack you personally. Sure, they can bash your book, but that doesn’t make it okay for them to get personal with you– to call the author nasty names like “effing idiot” or “moron” or “dumb whore” or any of the awful things people on the Internet for some reason think is okay to say. If things ever get way too touchy, and a review is an obvious attack on your person and not on the book itself, Amazon will look into as abusive and will probably remove it.
In that same regard, remember that just because you’re publishing something on the Internet doesn’t mean that those anonymous souls reading your work aren’t actual people. They have feelings, just like you. Some people are spiteful, and take their rage and hurt out on others. The Internet allows them to do that. But those that are objectively critical are just trying to help out– trying to help you, and trying to help your readers. Not everyone who reads something is willing to do this. It’s important to let them speak freely.
And keep giving them more, better stuff to read!
Here is where I say: Thank you, readers, for making me someone I never would have been years ago.
And keep those beautiful printing presses turning!
Happiness is all about lazing about with someone else in your underwear.
Wait, is that Justin Long?
Seven years ago, I met my husband. An adorable, bespectacled young man who I had dinner and a movie with. I’ll never forget the evening when we stepped into that cinema. The Dark Knight was a smash hit, and the theater was crowded full of people lining up to see it. As we reached the counter to buy our tickets, there was a movie I asked to see. And it wasn’t Batman.
“Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” I said. The cashier handed us tickets to The Dark Knight instead. To this day, I don’t know if it was a hint that we wanted to watch Batman instead, or if they had been so used to handing out Batman tickets all night that they were on autopilot. I like to believe it’s a little bit of both. My now husband and I sat through the latest Mummy film, cringing the whole way, not laughing once, and mostly just whispering shit to each other to get through it painlessly. I learned something that night. Okay, I learned two things. First, just because you loved the previous installments of a film franchise doesn’t mean the newest release isn’t going to be worth watching. Second, I had a new best friend.
He and I spent that entire night talking shit about the awful movie we saw. “We should have just seen The Dark Knight,” we kept saying. We did eventually see The Dark Knight together… on DVD, when we purchased it at the video store together as a live-in couple. I think I preferred the latter.
About a year into our relationship, I told him about a book I had plans for. I was not yet an author at this time, and I had never published anything before. To be honest, I had no idea that a book could be self-published for free these days. I was always told that self-publishing was a huge scam because you have to foot the bill for the copies you print. Times have changed with on-demand publishing, a method that costs you nothing and gives you nothing but opportunities. I was certain that in order to publish anything, you first needed an agent, and then you needed that agent to give a crap about you. Agents still exist of course, but they aren’t necessary.
He and I were sitting inside of a Chili’s restaurant. I remember it as though it happened yesterday. I wanted to share everything with him: my hopes, my dreams, my really, really weird fantasies, and most of all, my writing. I deemed this night important, because it was the evening I knew for sure that he would always be someone to support me in my endeavors.
“The book is about…” I hesitated. “It’s… a little taboo.”
He told me to tell him.
“I mean, it’s not really too extreme.”
He again asked me to just tell him what it’s about. He might have laughed, in that forced, awkward way. Knowing the way he is now, I wouldn’t doubt it.
“It’s about a young man named Andrew. He meets his father for the first time at age seventeen. And he falls in love with him.”
“Oh,” he said first, then, “That’s not that weird. It happens. The way you built it up, I thought you were going to mention something horrible like… raping babies or something.”
“They have sex.”
“They’re adults, aren’t they?”
It was then that I realized writing this book might not be so difficult. Of course, he would later admit that the book made him uneasy during my progressive writing of the first draft. I wanted him to help me read and revise it, to prepare it for a rewrite or republishing. I wanted his up front, honest criticism, his hard-edged truth. I always trust him with that. He never lets me down. If he weren’t already overworked, I’d pay him to be my editor. For a while, he avoided reading it. It made him uncomfortable, and he wasn’t shy about this opinion.
I kept writing it.
Soon, the original manuscript lingered on to over five hundred pages. I was hooked on this story. It was unlike any I had written or read. I no longer cared whether Andrew and his father, Kevin, would become a literary legacy or not. I had to tell their story as if it actually occurred. I was so engrossed in my writing that I took long breaks from doing anything else. I would stay up at all hours of the night, even when I had to get up early to work in the morning, to write a new chapter. Kevin and Andrew became more than characters to me. I had spent so much time with them that with each push of the plot, their personalities evolved, became more real. They were no longer some generic couple I originally wrote them as. They had good points and bad points. They were happy, and they were sad. They were more than romantically involved. They were destined to be together, and I was destined to write them.
Never Mind the Genetics was technically the first novel I ever wrote, and completed.
But even back then, I knew it wasn’t going to see light. I worked my fingers to the bone telling their tale, and realistically, I faced a fact all too consuming: that the common public might share my husband’s opinion. That it was uncomfortable. “Just read it and see them for yourself,” I’d say. He still hadn’t. I love my husband, and I respect his thoughts and emotions. I took “no” for an answer. Instead, I shared with him the plot, and plans for the future sequels I wanted to follow it with.
I let the manuscript sit, untouched, for a long time. Months became years. If digital documents could collect dust, Never Mind the Genetics would be buried in it. After a few years, my friend suggested I self-publish on digital media. On Amazon Kindle. “Wait, what? What the hell is Kindle?” She said that since I loved writing erotica, I should try it out. So I did. I wrote a short, erotic story about a step-father and step-son. Amazon banned it.
Okaaaaaaaay. Square one is a few steps back, but not far. I was more than a little livid that my story had been banned, and hundreds of other stories just like it remained living, but after Amazon gave me a half-assed “Yeah, well, we did what we wanted and you should live with it. Oh and you broke some rules or something,” I decided to give up erotica, seeing as how I had no freedom whatsoever, and Amazon arbitrarily ensues the ban-hammer on anything they deem “inappropriate” based on nothing but their own knee-jerk reaction to things that make their skin crawl a little bit. I wrote another full-length, non-erotic novel instead.
For the Sake of Happiness was probably the most depressing year of writing I’ve ever experienced. The book was, for the most part, about the consequences of abuse. It was dark, it was unhappy, it was sad as fuck. But people seemed to really love it after its publication. Seeing as how I was much better at writing novels than short, sleazy tales, and my skill had significantly improved, I put my foot down.
“I’m re-writing Never Mind the Genetics. I’m finishing it once and for all. And I’m going to publish it.”
The re-write was more than fun for me. It was an incredible experience. Both Kevin and Andrew had so many years to grow in my imagination, and since they had, I already knew who they were as if they were life-long companions. They turned out even better than before. For the first time in my life, I felt proud of my accomplishments. I’ve come a long way since the first draft– many years. I’ve gotten married since then. That’s how long it’s been. Now that it’s done, I almost want to cry. But it’s not truly over, not really. I have sequels to write now. Many of them.
You might be wondering if my husband still holds the stance of refusing the read Never Mind the Genetics. He doesn’t. He’s agreed more than once to read it for me. In fact, after all this time, he’s come to accept Kevin and Andrew for who and what they are, including how important they are to me. He has long discussions with me about my plans for the sequels. He tells me which ideas are good and which are bad. If someone asked me if he liked them as characters, I’d even say he does. During one discussion in particular, I once said, “Ben (another character in the novel, a friend of Andrew’s) doesn’t really like Kevin.” Surprised, he asked, “Who could dislike like Kevin?”
A few years ago, I showed the original first draft to someone I barely knew. I had only spoken to him for a couple of weeks. I told him about the novel, and he expressed interest in its originality, and asked for a copy of the manuscript. He devoured it, and begged me to write more. That man is now my best friend, and to this day, still anticipates reading the final print of Never Mind the Genetics. I’ve already ordered him an author’s copy, which I plan to sign and ship to him ASAP. He knows all about the sequels I plan to write as well, and how they’re going to play out. He’s still excited. Something he told me a long time ago still hovers around in my mind regarding the novel:
“I never would have picked something like this up on my own. And I would have missed out on a great story.”
Here’s to hoping the general public love it just as much.
And to praying that Amazon doesn’t stamp a “too icky” sticker on it and ban it forever. I’d do more than send a few angry e-mails their way.
Never Mind the Genetics will be available for sale in time for Valentine’s Day. Give a copy to your love… or maybe your father. Hey, it happens.
What makes you happiest?
Is it a lavender sunset just on the horizon? Is it a stop at Taco Bell late at night after having watched several seasons of your favorite television show? Is it your significant other, whose quirks are part of their lovely charm?
We all have a place in our minds we retreat to for happiness. In times of stress, we indulge in these small treasures to get by. Often times, we escape the pressures of reality with an old pastime: reading, or watching films. But there’s a trend in storytelling I find at times disturbing, and that is the ever-so-popular last-minute change to the ending– to make it more “happy” for the target audience. As you can imagine, this late switch almost never works out, because nine times out of ten, it doesn’t fit the story at all. Often times, the ending is very generic. “They lived happily ever after” is a common theme, and we laugh at it, makes jokes about it, but we have to have it. Why?
My spouse and I rented four movies over the weekend. We’re huge film-lovers (as well as book-lovers), and we love to try new things. Three out of the four films had endings that seemed abrupt, as though the director added it in after receiving complaints. The only reason I felt that way was because the endings didn’t make sense, and didn’t fit the flow of the movie. I’ll give you a guess as to the effect these endings were meant to have on their viewers. Here’s a hint: It involves “saving the day” in some manner.
We all want to feel like we can overcome disaster and tragedy. After all, what’s the point of living if we can’t? But we need to question why we seek that pleasure in all things, not just life. Why must someone who isn’t likely to attack his wife suddenly become like a serial killer the moment she finds out some not-so-surprising secret? So that she can stab him in the neck and save the day, despite it making no sense whatsoever. We will change things deliberately to pleasure our inner selves, and we don’t question for a moment the cause.
Come to find out after some research we did, each of the films we watched had “alternate endings” that upon reading about, sounded much more interesting than the one they left in. We find endings about a man coming to terms with his mistakes “controversial” for some reason. We find a woman who accepts changes in her husband and living a lie “too much to handle”. In the “happy” versions of the story, it didn’t take long for us to grasp how awful it really was– not just in our opinion, but for the characters involved. We would come up with our own endings that made more sense following the conclusions given to us in the films, ones that would definitely make the main character’s life more complicated and screwed up simply because of the “happy ending” that happened. It made us realize that we blissfully forget how life could continue after a “happy ending” happens– how just because the movie backs out of a stronger ending to make it happier doesn’t mean that it would work out realistically, that the character might end up in prison for example for butchering a rapist. We love the perfection of this imaginary universe where everything works out for everyone. It gives us a sense of comfort that if we are ever in danger, we don’t have to give up… which is why if such things in films were attempted in reality, they would end in the worst way possible.
It became clear to me that we don’t entertain ourselves with books and movies to be told a wonderful story. We do it to pump dopamine into our heads, and we don’t want anyone spoiling that. We consider it almost a personal attack that a main character dies in a tragic manner. These characters are not real. They are fictional. No one is really dying. But if they care enough, people will hate you for killing someone they liked, even if they existed only in our imaginations. We are hopped up on a drug called “the revenge fantasy” and if a movie doesn’t give us that, we feel frustrated. I for one, get frustrated when a movie ends on a sappy note. It doesn’t make me feel good, or happy, that someone saved the day if there was no day to save. Whether or not your ending is “happy” it needs to make sense.
You could avoid this ranting nonsense by saying “I’m not changing my ending because it’s good for my story, and it’s the ending that was meant to happen for my character.” And that’s the kind of author/director I appreciate. But many others will change it because they don’t want to be criticized. To them, I must say this: Let them cry, let them mourn, let them throw the book across the room and tell everyone how bitter and sad it was. Because in the end, they care enough about that book you wrote to get mad at you. They care enough about those characters to get upset that they’re harmed. You made them care. And that’s what matters. That makes you a good writer/director.
I didn’t realize this for a long time. I thought it was all about giving people what they wanted so they would “be happy.” But maybe, just maybe, we can also find happiness in the other wonderful emotions we feel. I can feel happy crying at the end of an amazing tale where suffering took place, because it was good enough to make me cry, and that’s pretty damn rare. When a film or book affects me deeply, it’s better that way. If there were two characters named Sarah, and one lost her husband to a gunshot wound at the end of a movie after he had spent the whole film trying to find ways to prove his love to her, I’d find that a better film than one about Sarah who giggles with her boyfriend and lays around in flowers and drinks tea and reads poetry from her binder. I don’t want to read about someone who never goes through any conflict. I want a story about someone who struggles with something difficult, something that may change their entire lives forever if they do or don’t deal with it.
Being happy in life is incredible. Being happy in fiction…
One of my favorite things I used to do with friends in the past was swap stories. I loved to create a scene, characters, and situation, and find out how they took it and put their own spin on it. It was also lots of fun to carry on a story they started, and to see their entertained reaction. It really allowed me to see how different everyone writes, and how they perceive you, your characters, and environment. It became so traditional with friends of mine to swap stories, that we started swapping them “in real time.” Instead of writing one large section and passing it to the other, we’d role play the actual events as they happened. It was an interesting experiment in developing story and characters, and sometimes, things would take quite the dramatic turn where you’d least expect it to, and you’d have to play along, and stay in character. It was like a form of acting, without really acting. It was all writing, and all intense.
But one thing that sometimes disappointed me was missing the opportunities to expand certain characters that never had their chance to shine or grow. Certain ones had the “spotlight” (admittedly not a fault of my own), and other ones were ancillary support of the main characters. It was, at times, a downer to sort of pack them away in a box and set them on a shelf, wondering what would have happened to them if I had let them evolve. Some of these characters I did expand, and others became something else entirely.
When I grew older, I remembered just how much I liked writing a series like that. It was a personal television show, without the show aspect involved, and developed exactly like a show would. Recently, I started to do just that, on my own, and created my own series.
This is, I’m afraid, not an easy task. With another person, they created (or in most cases, “recycled”) their own characters, and yours would interact with them. Having two people on a project was much simpler. However, there’s also less freedom. There are some situations I wouldn’t want my characters involved in because it didn’t suit them, or because it would wipe them off the pages forever, but try explaining that to someone who had an idea brewing for weeks to kill him or her off, or make them a plot device to give their own characters satisfaction. When on my own, that’s not a concern for me. I can develop story and characters at my own pace.
I’ve been planning to write the series in episodic form, perhaps have ten episodes per volume, or “season,” if you will. I was thinking of making them free to read, but Kindle won’t allow that. The minimum is ninety-nine cents. I suppose you could say that’s the new “free.” The main issue, however, is keeping it interesting. I treat my characters a certain way. I become more invested in specific ones than I do others. It’s a natural reaction. When I make characters that are major aspects of myself, I want to focus on them, of course. That’s what storytelling is for all of us. It’s finding that sweet spot with all of my characters that’s a challenge. Just like with real people, I might not give them a chance until it’s too late. Then, I’ll discover they aren’t so bad after all, and they become like a close friend. It’s just a matter of reaching out to them, putting their personality down for all to see, that can prove to be difficult at times, and others, almost impossible.
The series will revolve, mainly, around three men who live together, and who are also involved in a love triangle, which is led by a merciless, unforgiving perfectionist, who creates rules for his two confidantes to follow, or else face ludicrous punishments. It’s intended to be both very dramatic, and very comedic, though when hearing about it, it’s tough to find the humor in it. Their conflict has so far been very intriguing to write about, and incredibly fun, more fun than I thought it would be. I’ve gone so far as to write back stories for some of them, and even plan dramatic twists for later on in the series. It’s going to be named The Rules, and I’m going to be uploading sections of it onto DeviantArt and Wattpad, as well as releasing the full “episodes” on Kindle for as cheap as I can make them. It’ll be a fun an good way to gain an audience.
This also gives me something to work on aside from my novels. It allows me to go back and forth between them. It’s challenging for me to focus on one single project for a great length of time, because I get tired of things quickly. I need to have various tasks available to me, so I don’t become bored, and I don’t think I’ll ever become bored with these characters.
Unless, of course, I run out of ideas. Then where would I be?