Writing Book Reviews

I am horrible at leaving book reviews – I’ll just get that out of the way. Either I can’t leave a review because I am the editor, or I simply don’t know what to say.

BookReviewOne of those reasons is stupid.

Although Amazon has confirmed the meme going around about the “Once an indie book has 50 reviews, it gets shared on such-and-such a newsletter/list” is not true, you should still leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads for each book you read. There are a few reasons for this:

1.) The Algorithm

Although the book doesn’t get placed on some special Amazon list once it hits 50 reviews, the stars *do* determine the book’s place in line on the lists it is already on. So, if a reader is searching for Horror novels, a well-reviewed book will be listed before a book with fewer reviews. I believe number of reviews and stars have a slightly different impact on this algorithm as well (if considering reviews alone, a book with a a hundred 2- or 3- star reviews will still be listed higher than a book with fifty 5-star reviews).

2.) Marketplace Support

Marketing sucks, especially for indie writers and small presses with limited resources. Reviews are a type of promotion, not only on Amazon/Goodreads, but they can also be shared as advertisements.

In addition to this, it is moral support. The heart leaps whenever a writer sees a new review for a book, and it’s disappointing to see that number go stagnant for long periods of time.

3.) Constructive Criticism

Indie authors read their reviews, especially when just starting out. If you don’t know the author well, you don’t want to hunt them down to give them constructive criticism. A review is a good alternative: “I was put-off by the author using too many em-dashes where a comma should suffice,” “The huge cast of characters didn’t reflect the diversity of the setting’s community. I recommend researching the area’s demographics next time,” etc.

4.) Flagging Potential Issues and Triggers

The book description only goes so far, and even if it does include a trigger warning, it may not cover everything. If something rubs you the wrong way or actually triggers you, mention it in the review. Include the scope of the issue. Be vague when describing it: “Racist character uses the n-word several times,” or “Includes an instance of violence against women I found mildly triggering.” Since triggers are so personal, I don’t recommend giving the a lower rating just for that. If it’s not pervasive or didn’t ruin the book for you, don’t let it impact your stars.

There is a stomping incident in Joe Lansdale’s Captains Outrageous. He mentioned the incident in the preface, so I was braced. Had the violent scene not included stomping specifically, I would have been perfectly fine. But since my experience with domestic violence involved stomping, I had to put the book aside for an hour or so and regroup. I learned a new trigger, but otherwise enjoyed the novel.

Now, if the book IS problematic, by all means, allow that to determine your star-rating and use specific examples from the text (if you’re not specific, you’re going to have a lot of incredulous people saying, “How is it problematic?” or “I need to read it and form my own opinion.”).Review

Writing a Review

First and foremost, when writing a review, be honest.

The general rule of reviewing is: For every negative, give two positives. This rule is only a loose guideline, of course, but very useful if you’re not sure what to say. Consider plot, characters, dialogue, setting, exposition, voice, mechanics, diction, and formatting/appearance (only if indie). On top of all of these features, refer to how they made you feel.

Also keep in mind, if you want to see more from this writer, regardless of how you feel about the narrative and how many stars you gave it, be warm in your review. Critical reviews are tough, but your tone can mitigate the emotional impact.

Write your review in a way that makes it obvious you read the book. Don’t include spoilers unless you need to, of course, but use the characters’ names, cite aspects of the plot, allude to certain events. Give at least three details:

“It is full of torture – both physical and psychological. The characters invoke sympathy, irritation and frustration. The reader develops a love/hate relationship with the antagonist.” – review for COLOSSUS (excerpt)

If a book isn’t in your wheelhouse, or you don’t like the genre/trope in general, don’t focus on those aspects or related aspects when rating it. Comments like “I don’t usually like SFF, so…” are useless (“I don’t usually like SFF, but…” is generally fine).

If you enjoyed the book, but didn’t LOVE LOVE LOVE it, it’s OK to leave a 4-star review rather than a 5. I actually doubt the quality of a book with fewer than fifteen reviews that has all 5-star reviews, because it makes me wonder if they were set-ups or favors. Avoid gushing, even if you love the author/book, because that will make potential buyers doubt your sincerity.

3 stars is not a negative rating. If you’re meh about the book, leave 3 stars and specify why: it didn’t grab you, but it wasn’t bad or boring enough to make you give up on it. It had these issues, but this ultimate redeeming quality. “The plot was boring, but the characters were engaging and the writing itself was excellent.”

1- and 2-star reviews should be reserved for books you did not like, want others to avoid, are problematic, or are rife with mechanical errors that make it feel more like a first draft than a published book. Be specific about the aspects you didn’t like (“Characters were flat and undeveloped.”). I also recommend pointing out positive aspects (“Dialogue was humorous.”) in addition to the negative. Don’t be nasty or condescending. You especially want to avoid sounding pretentious.

And for the love of dogs, don’t write a nasty review and cite or tack on petty details as a reason, like the way a character takes their coffee. FFS.

DNF Reviews

“DNF” means did not finish.  If you don’t finish a book just because it didn’t grab you, I don’t recommend leaving a review. DNF reviews should be reserved for problematic books only. When I say “problematic,” I mean racist, sexist, or inciting hate in some other fashion.

This does not include “too much violence,” “too many swear words,” or “too much sex,” as – although some others might agree – these are too subjective; You can’t judge the quality of the book if you give up too early for these reasons, and there are many who might have enjoyed the narrative, but passed on the purchase because of those comments.

A note for beta readers:

I should not feel the need to say this, but here we are: if you were a beta reader for a book, do not withhold the issues you found in order to write a negative review.

If you have a special formula for reviewing a book, I would LOVE to stea- I mean, see it! If there are certain book reviews that you love or hate, post them in the comments below or @ me on Twitter with a screencap!


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Quirky Ways to “Get into the Mood”

When the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak…

Wait, no. Sorry, Gargoyles flashback. But really, though, it is more often than I’d like to admit that I have a project I’m working on, I have the time, but I am simply not in the mood to write. Although sometimes this is due to anxiety or stress (for which I recommend a walk, a nap, playing with a puppy, or a tackling the issue head-first), the lesser reasons can usually be be overcome by a few simple psychological tricks:

Music

As I related in this earlier post, I prefer to write while listening to music. I have a soundtrack for each project. In fact, some projects – such as Sweet NOTHING – were inspired by music. If you need help getting into the mood, create a playlist or look up songs that put you into the mindset of a certain scene or character.

For example, the climax of COLOSSUS was written to Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone.” The song that gets me into Avery Rhodes’s head is Modest Mouse’s “Shit in Your Cut” (while Thatch’s is “The Whale Song”).

Sweet NOTHING was inspired by Eliza’s songs from Hamilton.

If you don’t know what kind of music might help you get into a certain mood, just put something on in the background. Several people swear by the soundtracks of movies like Lord of the Rings and video games like Assassin’s Creed. I prefer EDM and dubstep.

Reread

Rereading is a simple method of recapturing the magic of your writing project. You can reread the entire draft, your best scene, or the few scenes leading up to the moment you left off.

If you think it’s all crap, that’s OK (although it’s not true). Begin to edit and nit-pick at it, which is the second-best thing to writing. Eventually, it will pull you back in.

Go back to the Source

Whatever/Whoever originally inspired you, tap back into that. If your hard scifi was inspired by Dune, pick through your favorite scenes or put on the movie. If your main character is modelled after Viola Davis, pull up some pictures or GIFs of her that fit the character.

If you want to create something you can go back to, I’ve heard of several writers creating Pinterest boards for their works or characters, using their character models, inspiring images from other works, and concept art. I have a folder on my computer I can pop open and gaze longingly at.

Reverse It

If you don’t have a clear inspiration like character models, find some! Find images to associate with your project. These don’t have to be from other works, but can be paintings or artistic photographs that capture the tone or theme.

If you don’t have character models, cast your characters! Find actors you can imagine playing your characters. Play through your next scene with those actors, then force yourself to sit and write it out.

Sensory Manipulation

If you have trouble getting into the mood with your normal routine, spice it up a bit.notebooks01 Instead of your laptop, pull out a pad of paper and pens/pencils. Take your supplies – or some portable version thereof – and go to a new setting with writing in mind: A coffee shop, your patio, a park bench.

Similarly:

Reverse the colors on your writing program. Word and Scrivener can both be changed from the traditional color scheme to darker or more colorful frames. (In Word: File > General > Personalize > Office Theme).

pensUse specific notebooks to jot notes or write scenes for a specific character.

Use multi-colored pens for scenes in different tones. (Get it out of your head that this is a girly idea – just try it.) If your scene is light-hearted, use a bright color like orange. If it’s dark, use charcoal gray. If it’s mysterious, a dark green or purple. (I used to do this, and I’m not certain why I fell out of the habit. Perhaps because I worked in an office where I could harvest supplies for free, which meant blue pens and legal pads became the norm.)

 

If you use or have used any of these methods, snap a pic of your notebooks, colorful writing, alternative writing spaces, or shoot me a link to your Pinterest board or writing playlist!

If you have any other tips or tricks for getting into the writing mood, or getting into a specific mind-set, post them in the comments below or @ me on Twitter!


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Hit Your Word Count, pt. 2: If You’re Falling Short

Adding words to your manuscript is the easy part. What’s not easy is bulking the material you already have in a meaningful way, without adding extra scenes. Yes, adding extra scenes will jump your word count, but it could also throw a kink in your timeline or draw out the narrative a bit too much (I speak from experience!). Before you resort to adding new material, build on what you already have.

Add Sensory DetailsSensory Details

Adding sensory details is one of my favorite exercises, because sensory details really make a scene spring to life. Writers focus so much on the visual, on painting a picture, that they forget that they should really be creating an experience, which includes all senses. Even if a writer includes sounds and sensations, they often neglect taste and smell.

(I’m recycling a great deal of this from an old post, in case it sounds familiar)

Let me SHOW you, rather than TELL you:

Karyn looks embarrassed as she opens the door to a filthy apartment.

What a shithole, Thatch thinks.

The author was kind enough to tell us that the apartment was filthy, but how? Are kids’ toys strewn about the place? Food containers? Are the walls decaying from a leaking pipe? Is it a health hazard, or just unpleasant to look at?

The character is crass enough to think shithole, but that tells us very little about who he is and how he feels about the resident of the apartment.

The general rule is three sensory details to one “tell” or thought. This not only shows how and why, but also to what intensity.

Somewhere down the hall, a woman was yelling. Karyn’s face fell into a tight-lipped expression of resignation as she stood before the door. She wiped her palm across her jeans before unlocking the dead bolt, then took the doorknob in one hand and threw her body against the door. She repeated the maneuver, and it shuddered open.

Thatch was assaulted by the stench of stale cigarettes, mold, and cat feces. Acid rose in his throat. He had trouble choking it back down.

“Nan, I’m home!” Karyn yelled over a TV blaring in a back room.

Thatch grabbed the doorknob to shut the door and wrinkled his nose. He wiped his hand on his coat, but still felt the grime sticking to his palm. The motion of the door strewed fluffs of animal fur across the floor.

“This… is where you live?” He bent his head back to peer at the ceiling. Black spores spotted the water-stained plaster, trailing its way down the corner.

“Mm-hmm.” She pursed her lips, her eyes on the floor. She closed them with a sigh as she caught sight of the partially-eaten corpse of a roach.

Thatch nodded. “You’re moving in with me,” he said. His tone didn’t allow any room for argument. The small smile that played across Karyn’s mouth told him she wasn’t about to protest.

I never state what the characters are thinking, but the reader can determine their feelings based on their responses. Thatch wrinkles his nose. He almost vomits. You can tell Karyn is embarrassed, even though she never says or thinks anything that would reflect that. Her facial expressions and short response reflect her emotions. You can also determine the relationship between them to some extent: It’s his first time at her apartment and he’s already demanding she move in with him.

In adding sensory details, I turned 17 words into 223.

Exercise: Add sensory details to this excerpt:

Shannon was exhausted when she arrived home after work.

“No rest for the wicked,” she said, sitting down in her home office.

Or use one of your own. Copy and paste your results into the comments below!

Characterization

Characterization“Characterization” means any details you can add that tell the reader about a character: Their quirks, appearance, background. These can be laced into existing narrative without too much revising.

For example, after I finished the first couple of drafts of COLOSSUS, I combed through it to flesh each character out. This led to Rhodes tugging at the hair on the back of his head when he’s anxious, and Heather hissing through her teeth when annoyed. This also helped me plan quirks for future characters while in the drafting stage, such as Steyer from Two Guns twisting his wedding band when deep in thought, and Remington grinding his teeth.

Adding New Scenes

Adding new scenes to an already-completed manuscript is risky for three reasons:

  • it may make the narrative drag
  • there may be voice discrepancies
  • it may cause continuity issues

If you have declared your draft completed, although the word count falls short, adding a scene or so at any point may draw the narrative out a bit too much, making the reader feel as if they are muddling through. This is especially true, since these tacked-on scenes are rarely bolster the plot or race toward the climax as each scene should.

From the start of a draft to the finish, you are learning and developing as a writer. Therefore, your voice and technique may change drastically over the course of the narrative, and especially so after setting your draft aside for a while, then revising. If you go back to write extra scenes, the writing itself may sound dramatically different from the original scenes.

If you write an extra scene, especially if anything of significance happens, you will have to comb through the remaining manuscript to accommodate any changes that were made. For example, if someone breaks their nose in a new scene, allude to its appearance or soreness a couple of times later. If you reveal something about someone, you may want to include foreshadowing beforehand, as well as reference it after.

Keep in mind, all of these issues could be resolved by rewriting the book, which I am discovering is time-consuming, but also incredibly gratifying.

 

If you have any different tips or tricks, I would love to hear about them in the comments below, or @ me on Twitter!


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Hit Your Word Count, part 1: Crutch Words and Cut Words

Last week, I alluded to the general length novels tend to be in various genres. I noted, and will reiterate here, these word counts are for finished novels, not first drafts, and not necessarily for queries, because the books are going to contract or expand (or both) with revisions.

If you are approaching the point of querying, I recommend checking out the #tenqueries hashtag on Twitter. Agents use #tenqueries to post a brief description of why they request or pass on a manuscript (there are other forms of this hashtag as well, but this is the one my favorite agents use). One of the common issues I see is “too long for genre” (it is much rarer I see a “too short,” but that will be next week’s post).

editingThe easiest way to trim your word count without trimming plot material is to target specific words or phrases that are either unnecessary or used too frequently. Strictly speaking, you should do this whether your manuscript falls into your genre’s sweet spot or not. Consider it “grooming” for your novel; Those words and phrases are the split ends of the writing world. If the word is not necessary to the meaning of the sentence, cut it. If the sentence is not necessary to the narrative, cut it.

Now, if you read the sentence and think, “I like this; It sounds better as-is,” that is perfectly fine. Remember, these are only suggestions and left to the writer’s discretion. As long as you cut unnecessary material more frequently than you keep, you’re going in the right direction.

Note: This process is not something you will be able to do upon finishing your draft, because you’re going to gloss over the fine details. Let me reiterate the importance of putting the draft aside for two weeks to a month before putting your editing glasses on.

Crutch Words

The first thing you want to do is skim your manuscript for crutch words. “Crutch words” are filler words or pet phrases a writer uses too frequently. I am not exaggerating when a cut the word count for COLOSSUS by 1500 by using ctrl+f “just” and “that” and deleting anywhere it was not necessary either to the meaning or meter of the sentence (“meter” being the length of a line – in this context, the flow of reading). L. M. Bryski’s crutch word for Book of Birds was “even.”

Crutch words are not always useless: A few of my beta readers for Sweet NOTHING pointed out my overuse of “scoffed,” “huffed,” and “scowling.” Fixing these is going to take a bit more than the find function and backspace key. And, yes, Thomas Granger really does scowl that much, but if it’s irritating the reader, it needs to be resolved.

Since we as writers are not always cognizant of or don’t always notice things like crutch words, I recommend asking beta readers to keep an eye out for them.

Cut Words

There are several words and phrases we use in everyday dialogue which we include in narrative out of habit: Flavoring particles, words to place emphasis, or elaborations that are not necessary to the understanding of a sentence. When speaking, we don’t need to worry about how many words we use, but when writing, word count is part of the job. These words and phrases also imply there is a stronger way to convey what is going on. I tend to rely heavily on Nat Russo‘s editing checklists (part 1, part 2), but here are some basics:

  • that
    • She knew that he didn’t know what she had seen.
  • just
    • He just knew the direction she had just been heading.
  • even
    • He couldn’t even understand why she would even bother.
  • quite
    • She was quite attractive for a country girl.
  • turned
    • He turned to stared at her.
  • caused/made
    • A branch caused her to trip. She tripped over a branch.
    • A roll of thunder made her jump. Thunder rolled. She jumped. / She jumped at a roll of thunder.
  • suddenly
    • The door opened suddenly. / The door flew open.
  • instantly
    • He rang a bell. A maid instantly appeared.
  • really
    • She really needed to see what they were up to.
  • fought/struggled to
    • I fought to keep from screaming. I clenched my jaw.
    • I struggled to my feet. I stood uneasily. / My legs wobbled as I stood.
  • in order to
    • She needed the recipe in order to make the potion.
  • sentences in passive voice
    • A string of swears were uttered from under the bookshelf. A string of swears rose from under the bookshelf.
  • Perception filters
    • He heard tires crunched on the gravel.
    • She watched people danceding across the floor.

Also keep an eye out for phrases like “nodded my head,” “reached my hand,” “kicked out with my foot.” These are redundant. It’s like saying, “I walked with my legs”; Unless you’re walking on your hands, which you would state some other way, you don’t need to specify body parts. Similarly, watch out for “My heart pounded in my chest” and “Tears fell from her eyes.”

Adverbs and Adjectives

You want to weigh the value of every adverb and adjective. I will not expound on cutting them all mercilessly – just weigh their value. Consider them red flags that the word they are modifying could be strengthened:

  • She closed her eyes tightly. = She squeezed her eyes shut.

Or that you are being redundant:

  • He shouted loudly.

In addition to that, verify the exposition does not already imply the adjective or adverb. A well-structured narrative will lead a reader to imagine the scene a certain way without the help of extra words:

  • Snow covered the ground thickly, glowing palely in the bright moonlight. The moment she opened the door wide, her warm breath came out in clouds and goosebumps rose visibly on her bare skin. The chilly night air bit at her exposed nose as she trekked slowly across the vast parking lot.

Said Tags

Another way to cut your word count dramatically would be to cut the majority of your said tags. These are attached to dialogue to state blatantly who spoke, and often elaborate on how the line was spoken. This includes other words that convey “said”: “stated,” “whispered,” “yelled,” “called,” “cheered,” etc.

I generally cut these and use the framing exposition to indicate who the speaker is:

“Sorry, man. Just… the thought of those kids running away or being held for ransom… it’s just…” Byron said, shaking shook his head. “It would make for a pretty funny movie.”

Remington nodded. and replied, “Well, that funny movie is preferable to the theory we’re pursuing, so I hope that’s the case.”

Byron sighed, remembering what his friends could be going through. “Yeah, man, I’m sorry. It’s just… unreal.,he muttered.

“You don’t wanta imagine your friends in pain, I understand,” Remington sympathized, “and I hope they’re not. But…” Remington looked away, nodding slowly. “The circumstances–the vehicles, the call–they send shivers down my spine; They’re that familiar.”

Here I have two speakers, but never need to indicate who is saying what, because the dialogue is accompanied by actions that imply who is speaking and how they are feeling as they saying it.

Time for an experiment:

Apply the suggestions in this post to a chapter of the draft you’re picking at, and comment with your before and after word counts! Keep in mind, you don’t need to keep these changes – simply see how it impacts your word count.

If you have a different method of cutting down your word count without cutting material, leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!


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Set Goals (however lofty)

CAS5TxjWMAAnQftWhen I was studying education – way back when – there was a lot of research supporting how setting reasonable goals and tracking progress toward those goals significantly increases one’s chance of success. Now, this led to a lot of ridiculous requirements in the classroom, but since we as writer’s march to our own drums, or find a writing tribe to march with, “setting goals” can take many different forms, and those goals are literally limitless.

If you’re just starting out (with writing or goal-setting), or want to experiment with something new, here are a few suggestions to help you set and attain your goals.

Start with the big picture.

You’re a writer. Your goal is to write *something* whether it is a short story, novel, or epic series. Whether you’re planning or pantsing, you have a vague idea of what form your end result will take.

Now, if you’re new to writing, or writing with serious intent (as Orwell puts it) you may not be aware that the length of a work is tracked by word count, since page numbers vary based on font, page size, line spacing, margins, etc. It is also useful to know the general length of each genre. Keep in mind, these are not set in stone, and should not be considered goals for a first draft. A good place to aim for if writing the first draft of a novel is 50,000 words. If you reach the end of your narrative and fall short, THAT’S OK. Say it with me: That is OK.

Break it up.

Something something building Rome, something something eating elephants…

Now that you have your BIG GOAL, break it up into manageable pieces to complete daily. It may take a while to figure out what a manageable piece looks like, as everyone’s pace is different. For some, a manageable piece is a scene, for some it’s an hour, for some it’s 500 words. Unless you have a prearranged competition, don’t feel pressured to achieve someone else’s goal.

You could even set your daily goal that day. *GASP* However, I recommend having a vague goal in mind beforehand, so you’ll have a rough timeline for finishing the project. Remember: You can always reset your goals and your plan for achieving them. Don’t view that as a step back; View it as a constructive part of the process.

Track your progress.

Have a system in place for tracking your daily and cumulative progress, as well as how much work you have left. One reason I April2017love NaNoWriMo is their tracking system (shown right). WriteAllYear.com has a similar pre-formatted spreadsheet you can download for free.

You may announce and reflect on your daily progress via social media. This is useful if you need a little boost, as others will cheer you on. If you already have a platform, it shares your progress with your readers.

I have one friend who creates spreadsheets documenting words per chapter per day, and – to add a super-dose of professionalism – keeps a timesheet (which would be useful for placing a definite monetary value on your work). He showed me his graphs and progress via this Twitter thread (scroll up).

If you handwrite your materials, I recommend tracking hours and pages. You may also calculate roughly how many words per page you write (for my handwriting, it’s a little over 200 words per page/400 front and back). Once you know roughly how many pages you can write in an hour, use that to set future goals.

If you outline like I do, track your progress by crossing out points on your outline!

Set a timeline.

Once you have a good idea of what your pace looks like, create a timeline for your project. For example, if you set aside two hours every weekday, write 1200 words per two hours, it should take you roughly 41 weekdays to achieve a 50,000 word count goal.

Put aside time for unexpected incidents, burn-out, writer’s block, or errant plot bunnies. It is always a good idea to schedule in wiggle room (“Under promise and over deliver,” as my former manager says). Therefore, a good timeline for a first draft for this example would be three months.

(Which, of course, makes me wonder what else I’m doing with my life!)

A note on lofty dreams:

Make these goals too!

If your dream is to be a New York Times Bestseller,  find out what you have to do to qualify for that. Beyond the basic qualifications (which is based on volume of sales out of overall percentages, so there’s no easy way to calculate this), research which books have been on the list and what they all have in common (I don’t mean plot or genre, but story elements). There are several books and articles on this very topic: identifying the characteristics that bestsellers have in common.

If your dream is for your novel to be made into a movie (which I know absolutely nothing at all about, I swear!), go for it! Write the novel with a more visual style, adapt it into a screenplay, rub elbows with creators you love and admire to pick up tips and make connections, and research screenwriting competitions.

Note: I’m using the word “research” quite a bit. That’s very important.

 

I want to hear about everyone’s current goals and their plans for success. How are you tracking your progress? Where are you on your current project?

I especially want to hear those lofty dreams! Despite what I said earlier, mine is to see my works made into faithful on-screen adaptations. I’m about half-way through adapting COLOSSUS into a screenplay, and I know a guy who knows a guy, who is asking for it, so we’ll see how that pans out.


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Approaching Feedback

Feedback can be rough, especially when you are first starting out. And I don’t just mean the nasty one- and two-star reviews, or snide comments on social media (I’ll get to those). I mean the constructive criticism from your beta readers, sensitivity readers, and editors.

FEEDBACK IS A DISH BEST EATEN COLD

When you first create something, it’s your baby.  Whether you are blind to its faults or overly-aware of them, most constructive criticism smacks, no matter how kindly-put. The best way to resolve this with the best results is to distance yourself.

As I suggested in a previous post, after you’ve finished your manuscript, re-read, and corrected the small issues, it’s time to send it out to your beta readers. As you receive their feedback, make any changes you fully agree on. Everything you are hesitant about or anything that smacks, let it simmer for a few days or a few weeks. This allows emotional responses to take a backseat, and rational responses to take over. When you are ready, re-read the area(s) in question with the suggestions in mind. Maybe even make the changes and save it as a different file (with a very different file name!). Test the suggestion out and see how it works. Phone a friend. Test alternatives. You may find you like it better, or don’t like it at all. You may even tweak their suggestions into something you are more receptive to.

Keep in mind: You don’t have to make any changes just because someone suggests it, even if they are a professional editor! They are simply giving you food for thought.

Aside: If you receive feedback from more than one person – or from a sensitivity reader – saying that something is problematic or potentially harmful, I highly recommend changing it, whether you recognize it as problematic or not; In most situations, you won’t see the issue, as it is outside of your scope of experience.

“Critical” Feedback
Now, time for critical feedback: Negative reviews, nasty remarks, etc. The easy, off-handed answer is: Don’t approach B9GlMoOCUAAQFGLnegative feedback. Of course, that’s not an easy or practical answer. This [lack of] approach can also be harmful, as negative feedback, however snidely-written, can have nuggets of useful criticism. It just might be a matter of translation and extraction.

A better way of putting it should be: Don’t argue with negative feedback. Then, as Mark Twain puts it, you have two idiots instead of one.

The Benefit of Critical Reviews

Besides having some salvageable constructive criticism, one critical review can prevent more critical reviews. If someone mentions something bothered them, other readers who would have felt the same will pass on the purchase. Likewise, someone may appreciate that certain thing, and invest in your book. I’m seeing a lot of this on Diversity Twitter recently (Oh, the presence of a gay man offended you? Let me have him!).

I also know a few people who will not purchase a book unless it has a few two- or one-star reviews. It gives them a fuller picture of the benefits and flaws. Keen readers know how to vet reviews; Trust them to recognize a nasty or biased tone.

Subjectivity

Feedback is, generally speaking, a matter of subjective taste. Good reviewers acknowledge this.  For example, the Immerse or Die review for COLOSSUS from @Jefficus (which is not nasty at all, just critical):

http://creativityhacker.ca/2017/01/18/colossus-by-jette-harris-626/

He has a couple of pet peeves concerning sentence structures. After reading his review and re-reading the prologue, I recognized what he was referring to. I was even able to apply his feedback as I re-read Sweet NOTHING, which I had just finished. I thanked him for his feedback and told him how useful it was. (He can pry my parrallel declarations from my cold, dead hands, though! 😛 )

I am not perfect, of course. The one time I responded to negative feedback, it was a beta-reader who hoarded all of his negative feedback just so he could write a negative review, which in my eyes made it a personal issue (but probably still the wrong move). Despite that, I still took the few nuggets of potential constructive criticism and will keep them in mind for later.

Defense Mechanisms

Taking the constructive from the negative, in my case, is more of a defense mechanism than anything else. I have anxiety, so I tend to mull over things far too long and let them cut far too deep. Convincing myself that some good can come of it allows me to put is aside easier. (I won’t lie, that review got under my skin and effectively halted my progress on the Heather Stokes novels.)

On that same note: If someone gives you a one-star review and cites the way your characters take their coffee, you have my personal permission to dismiss that review (this is not what I originally wrote, but I’m trying to make a conscious effort to keep my posts clean).

And as always, when you read that *one* negative review, it may help to go back to the *many* positive reviews you have, or speak with a mentor, or an enthusiastic reader – or all of the above, whatever it takes. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!

 

I hope you were able to salvage some nuggets of useful information! If you have an experience you would like to share, or some additional advice, I would love to hear it in the comments below!


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Meet the Book: Sweet NOTHING

Thomas Granger and his forbears have been a thorn in the Wilkinsons’ side for generations. Or have the Wilkinsons been thorns in the Grangers’ side…? Nobody knows, and that suits them just fine, until Tom comes to burn down Nathan Wilkinson’s wheat field, and is met by Wilkinson’s headstrong eldest, Elizabeth. The blood feud spanning four generations is called to court, resulting in an ultimatum: Thomas Granger must marry Elizabeth Wilkinson, or serve time for attempted arson and assault.
Now Granger is trapped with a wife he believes seeks to ruin him, so he will ruin her first. Elizabeth is trapped with a husband who refuses to acknowledge her, so she will win his esteem. They engage in a battle of wits, where the weapons are subversion, tears, as well as many unforeseen circumstances.

SNCover (2)This concept rattled around in my brain for several months before I started working on it. The original idea involved a lot of malicious coercion, and letting the idea sit for so long, and misplacing my initial notes in the process, let to those plot devices being forgotten and neglected in when I finally sat down to write. I chose it as my July CampNaNoWriMo project (the results of which you can read about HERE).

This project was different because I sat down determined to write it chronologically. All of my other projects have been written by jumping to the scenes that come to mind most prominently. I wanted to try something different, and see how it worked.

It worked splendidly when it came to the bulk of the story, but it suspect it also contributed to burning out near the end of the narrative, leading to a weaker ending. Fortunately, I had a small, strong army of beta readers attack the first draft. I will be revising soon using their feedback.

Something else different that I intend to do with this novel: Traditional publication. Since the content is highly marketable, I will be querying Sweet NOTHING. So cross your fingers for me!


Want more?

Like my page on Facebook or follow me on Twitter!

Want to support me? Buy me a coffee!

Check out my Wattpad and publications on Amazon! Click on the covers for the individual links:

colossus Flint Ranch Salvage

Want more Avery Rhodes? Check out https://becomingcolossus.wordpress.com/