Why Authors Love Reviews

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I did that thing again. That thing I said I shouldn’t do, but I did it anyway…I read a review for The Blood King.

I know, I know. I’ve said it before and I’ll swear to it most days, that authors should not read their reviews. And I usually adhere well to that rule. The issue is that The Blood King is such new territory for me that I have no idea how readers will react, so any time I see a new review, I practically trip over myself going to read it. (Long, thy name is Masochist.) So when I saw I’d hit Review #20, naturally, the first thing I do? Drop everything and run over to the review page.

This review, to my heart’s extreme delight, turned out to be a 5 star, and was the kind of review where the reader just GOT IT (yep, all caps bold intensity). I’ll share it here, not to brag (I swear), but because talking about it out of context could get confusing. Here’s the review in full:

“This book is an amazing piece of writing. It’s a tapestry of a novel that at first glance is an entertaining and enthralling dystopian adventure with a villain that is easy to hate and a heroine that you want to cheer on. Then you notice that woven throughout are thought provoking issues relevant to today such as gender equality, lbgtq rights and political differences. This author is someone that will be getting my money for years to come because reading this was all it took for me to become a loyal fan.”

Let me just go ahead and tell you, I was having a day. Work’s been slam-ass busy; I’d gotten my feelings hurt over a two star review a week earlier (eventually talking myself out of the funk; authors do too get to have political thoughts, by the way); and my headspace is just a little wonky lately. So when I read this review, at just the right time I needed to read it, from a reader who simply got it?

I actually teared up at my desk. (Not like, bawling baby sobs, but just that relieved oh thank god kind of way.) This person, who I’ve never met in my life, suddenly became my incredibly powerful reminder as to why I write at all, on why I wanted to write this particular story. I knew going in that covering themes of LGBTQ and POC, and teetering on political, readers could either love it or hate it. I know my stories aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay. But this was simply the story I had to write. (I mean, for real guys, I was compelled. This story flowed out unlike any other.) For a reader to convey exactly how I wanted it to come across, and to take the time to put it into words, hit my heart hard. I was by no means considering quitting writing or anything before reading it, but afterwards there was a sudden pep to my step I couldn’t get any other way.

I don’t speak for all authors, of course, but I can attest that we don’t necessarily want reviews because it feeds our egos. For some, sure, but for most of us, reviews are more about tangible results of connection. It’s validation. For however brief a time, we shared a creation that meant something to someone else. They not only accepted our art, but loved it. The artists’ way, right? For authors, it’s incredibly rewarding when readers “click” with our stories (which is why it’s so devastating when they don’t), and that’s why, despite all my badgering you about not reading reviews, I occasionally break my own rule.

Because you know what? I guarantee it’s going to make me sit down and get to work in some way. Maybe it’s writing another story, or marketing the one the reader loved, or whatever; in any case, you’re motivated and that’s good enough for today. A good review isn’t important just for the sake of reviews, or rankings, or algorithms. It also means encouragement, motivation, and confidence. Readers, I hope you understand just how much your reviews mean to us –one sentence, ten paragraphs, no matter what, authors are always grateful.

(PS–Thank you to the reviewer who left that kind note for me on Amazon today. You’ve made my entire month.)

An Indie Author’s Motto: HUSTLE

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I’m very excited to be speaking at the Virginia Writers Club 2017 Symposium this August! Prolific writer Jane Friedman is the keynote speaker, and I can’t wait to meet her. My topic? As if it’ll come as any surprise to you: Beating the Self-Publishing Stigma. It’s a topic close to my heart (as seen many times on my blog, such as here) and I’m always excited to introduce the idea to hardworking new writers and/or reinforce the option as a substantial career move if you work hard enough.

While I’m working on the hand out for attendees, it got me thinking about how hard so many of us work to get where we are or want to be. So, while it’s certainly not a new concept, I give you my new motto for writers:

HUSTLE

Honor the process of research, rewrites, edits, cover design and marketing so that you stand above those who don’t.

Understand your genre’s market reader demographics so you can market to them and actually, you know, make sales.

See what others are doing in the market to up your own game and make your work the best it can possibly be.

Test everything – genres, POV, keywords, categories, blurbs, to see what works for you and readers.

Love what you do – readers will see if it’s not your passion!

Enjoy your hard work once in a while (mine’s dessert or prosecco)!

What to Do After You Finish Your Series

Last weekend, I typed the final words in the last chapter of the third book in the Heroes of Arcania trilogy. I sent the draft off to my editor and betas and currently (impatiently) await their response and ways to make it even better. Books 1 and 2 are complete, uploaded for my pre-order slot and already making their way into ARC readers’ hands. The cover reveal for the entire trilogy is later this week. HoA is well on its way to being out in the world.

Truth be told, the pukey feeling never goes away. This will make books 7, 8, + 9 on my completed shelf, and despite all the positive response so far, the nerves still get to me. BUT I know in my heart that the trilogy is done and the best it can possibly be at this moment in time. That’s enough for me to know it’s ready for the world.

I’ve spent literally years with the Heroes. Nova’s story came to me 4 to 5 years ago; her first draft was completed shortly thereafter. But with my focus on Donovan Circus, Nova’s story was put in a drawer, hidden away until the time was right. And a year ago, when I finally rewrote the first draft and plotted out the rest of the trilogy, that meant a lot of time with these characters and their stories. Most of the last 365 days have been spent with Nova and Cole; when I wasn’t writing their story, I was daydreaming it, considering all the details, actions, and consequences. I have come home everyday for the last 6 months to type even just a couple hundred words; I have been in Arcania so long that it feels like home to me, too.

I was lost last week. I had a book hangover, one I couldn’t shake because I’ve spent at least four years with it. Without a trilogy to finish, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I opened up another standalone WIP, halfheartedly plucking at a few words, but I didn’t have it in me to jump to another story yet. I wasn’t ready to deal with new characters because I was afraid Arcania was still too fresh, enough that it may accidentally bleed into the wrong story.

So here’s the big question that comes after typing “The End”: What next?

And I don’t just mean the marketing that comes during and after a book release. There’s always stuff to be done there, or paperbacks to order, or conferences to attend. This isn’t what I’m talking about. Let’s go beyond the guest blog posts and ads and marketing the trilogy. For example, aside from that stuff, here’s where my brain is at:

  • Do I work on my next book? (And if so, will it be the already-35K-words-in standalone novel? Or Donovan Circus #5? Or…)
  • Do I sit on my couch and catch up on the 173 episodes of my favorite TV shows?
  • Do I read the 77+ books on my TBR pile?
  • Or do I take some time to myself to do absolutely nothing, instead focusing on naps, dog cuddles, and fruity, alcoholic drinks?

Let’s face it: I don’t have a quiet mind, and while sitting around doing nothing is fun for like, a DAY, by the next day I’m feeling guilty for wasting time or missing a possible opportunity. Sitting around might be my style for a while, but it’ll be short-lived. So yes, I can watch 3 movies on a lazy Saturday, but come Sunday, I’m itching for work in any form.

JLo and I booked a weeklong summer vacation in San Francisco, our first real vacation since going on our honeymoon over 4 years ago. I’ve got plenty of books for the flight and poolside. I’ve already agreed to leave my laptop at home (though we all know should inspiration strike, I’ve my trusted tablet/phone/journal to jot down notes) so that I don’t get sucked into work. I’m excited about vacation, even if it isn’t for another two months. I’ve timed it perfectly between the back-to-back releases and even day-job deadlines.

But I’m still feeling a little lost right now. What do you do after you finish your book/series?

The correct answer is: Whatever the hell you want.

There is no wrong answer here. Every author is different. Some can jump right into another story. Usually I can, and have, but this time feels different. Perhaps because in fun standalones, I can move on quickly; and from Donovan Circus, I always know I’ll be back. But for HoA, the story has been told and I’m not quite sure where to go from here. I know I won’t be lost forever – plot details for DC5 are already beginning to nag at me, and my standalone is fun and halfway drafted, so I know it’s only a matter of time. But I want to take my time; I want to enjoy a few nights not chained to my laptop.

But for now, for this week, or maybe even the rest of the month, my mind will take a break to soak in what’s left of Heroes of Arcania. I will read whatever book I want when I feel like it, or perhaps sketch out the first few chapters of DC5. I will catch up on my favorite TV shows or even start new ones. And eventually, I will throw myself back into writing, but as I’ve spent the last year at my keyboard, I know I’m okay taking a short break. And I hope you know that no matter what you decide to do after you finish your book/series, that it’s okay to do what you want, too. Take the time to relax between projects. I think in the long run, it helps us revive our passions for the next project, too, knowing that the previous one is completed.

Why “Write Every Day” is a Terrible Writer’s Philosophy

A few author friends and I shared the worst pieces of writing advice we’ve received. Seems the biggest offender was: “Write every day.” Some people are perfectly happy doing this, and I support you, too. But this is for people like me who simply know in their heart of hearts they can’t possibly get a novel done in a week because there’s just no time. And we’re tired of feeling bad if we don’t hit the daily word count.

For the record, I’m a fiction writer, but I’m also a magazine writer. So sometimes, my writing quota is totally capped by the time I get home. There’s just nothing left in my mushy brain and the only solution is Netflix and dog cuddles. But for the sake of this post, let’s focus on the idea of working on your books every single day. 

The struggle is real, y’all. Between full time job, side business, (minuscule) social life, and books, there’s a real balance I have to strike in order to feel successful. I spend a LOT of time on the computer and there are some days where I go home and have to ignore the bright, shiny screen in order to not chuck it out my window. And to be frank, I’m pretty tired of being told that’s “the wrong way to do things.”

I totally understand the feeling of needing to write everyday, believe me. Just the other week I admitted how burned out I’ve felt with doing ALL THE THINGS. I’ve loved every minute of it, but everyone needs a break! It’s that or risk my sanity. Yesterday (Saturday), JLo went to school to work before an afternoon memorial unveiling. I had no plans and zero desire to be productive. I have no children, had no immediate pressing responsibilities (I still did laundry!), and the week at work was busy enough that I was sick of looking at a computer. So I spent an exorbitant amount of money at Target, painted my nails, read a magazine, and watched movies. And you know what?

I didn’t feel guilty about it. And it was amazing. I couldn’t tell you the last time I wasn’t halfway attached to Scrivener or my phone. It might have even felt a little liberating. The key is not to make this my new everyday/weekend habit. (I can do the fun things once I’ve gotten the work done, but eventually I will have to get to writing the words!)

This post from Seven Scribes really hit the mark, I think, but let’s talk about why I believe “writing every day” isn’t the great advice you think it is.

I’m a a huge advocate for breaks. To me, when you force the words, your heart isn’t truly in it and that shows. Readers will pick up on it, believe me, especially those who have read your other works and can feel the difference.

It’s probably not going to be your best work if you’re rushing it. Now, there’s a difference between getting it done quickly and throwing something together. This isn’t about your edits or cover work or marketing. Some days, I’m just not feeling it. And if I just sit down and try to hit a word count, there are probably way too much of “the” and “just” and “so” (my overused fillers). That’s stuff I have to go back and edit later, things that could be avoided if I’d just allowed myself to skip a day in order to refresh my noggin.

Speaking of it not being your best work, that’s not exactly fair for your fans. They read your work expecting the wow and pizzazz that comes with a well-thought out story. And if you’re asking for their trust and dollars, you want to make sure it’s worth it, that they come back to every book you write.

And then there’s the fact that “writing every day” might not be fair for you. The guilt that comes with all of these points listed was overwhelming. I felt terrible every time I wasn’t at my computer, writing a new scene or emailing people or whatever else was on my to-do list. It was making me a little crazy.

Yes, there are days where I think, “I’m going to write six chapters today!” And if you do, that’s fantastic and you definitely deserve cookies. And if you didn’t — well, you can have a cookie, too. Just promise me you’ll try again tomorrow, okay?

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?