The Five Step Program for Book Review Etiquette

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Yes, I know.

I know you’ve slaved for the past three years on that project. I know that your agent had you revise the damned thing about five times before it was even close to being good enough for submission to publishers. I know that once you got the book deal, your editor made you revise it a further three times and then once more for good measure. I know that you have a day job and that you’ve got bills to pay, kids to raise, a life to lead with all its ups and downs. I know that you’ve been sleep deprived for three years running now and your book, having just been released, well now you’ve got to squeeze in the time to promote it in every way possible. I know that your earnings from writing total about five cents/hour from the time you conceived the book to the time you saw it for sale on Amazon or at your local big box store.

Or maybe you decided to self publish a book. You had to do all the work of an agent, an editor, a cover art designer .. you did everything everything EVERYTHING!

And then you saw your beloved novel eviscerated by some reviewers on Goodreads or on Amazon or possibly even a blog. The kind of evisceration that you’d never see on the pages of a newspaper because the reviewer would have to use their real name instead of an online persona. Your book is showing up on Goodreads bookshelves with names like “authors I’d like to torch with a flamethrower”or “WTF” or “Burn in a Lake of Fire”.

Crushing. Soul destroying. You’re battered, bruised, angry and hurt. And of course you want to lash out. But before you do, take a deep breath. Go for a walk or slap in a Tae Bo DVD and burn off your frustration because should you actually say something publicly, you’re going to be social media dog food … the cheap, non-name brand of dog food. The can that sells for thirty cents at the dollar store with a best before date of 1997.

It’s a deeply personal thing, writing a book. I get that. No author wants to see their work get slammed but that’s the price of admission when you want to be published. You took that on when you decided to make some moolah from your writing efforts. And over the past year or two, authors have been melting down with alarming regularity. Here’s a list.  I see daily Tweets about author meltdowns. I see links on my Facebook page. I hear about it from bloggers. I even did a little animated gif montage a while back so there’s nothing new here.  So what is the point of today’s blog post? I don’t know … all the author meltdown stuff is becoming like bad background noise because we’re hearing so much about it. How do you deal? Well, here’s a small guide to book review etiquette for authors who’ve just been published.

1) Suck It Up Sunshine

The Interweb is all about snark. It’s the currency of communication in social media these days. If you’re going to get a book published then dammit, someone is going to post a snarky review. So before you type off a please go fuck yourself letter to the blogger, take a deep breath and ask yourself a simple question: did you actually think you WEREN’T going to get a shitty review? Seriously? In this day and age where social media provides a daily smorgasbord of humans behaving badly? Come on … you have to be living underneath a rock not to expect someone to post a bad review featuring the this animated gif:

2: Smile and Nod Your Head:

Assuming you’ve read the crummy review, you have a choice to make at this point. Smile and nod your head and move on with your day or post something stupid on Twitter. Me? I vote for smiling and nodding your head because you’ve got no control over how others interpret your book. You can’t expect a reader to *see* what’s in your head in terms of your vision for the book. You can’t expect anything more than good reviews, bad reviews, and mediocre reviews.

3: Ask Yourself: Why Do I Write Books?

Nearly every person I’ve met who is trying to get published gives the stock answer as to their motivations for getting published: they want to hold a book they wrote in their hands or they want to see something they wrote on a shelf at their local big box bookstore. You can interpret this as either vanity or the book itself being a symbol of accomplishment because it’s so damned hard to get published. Jeebus, you have a better shot at winning the lottery than you do at getting published! And it’s because of the “against all odds” aspect of becoming published that shitty reviews can hurt like hell. So before you write a poison-filled blog post about a blogger who shit canned your book, take a damned good hard look in the mirror and ask why you write? For me, yeah there’s a vanity aspect. But in truth, the reason I write is because the very act of writing helps me deal with very deeply personal challenges that have shaped my life. That’s my motivation. For me, the act of creating a story helps me exorcise demons from my past, it helps me create a light at the end of the tunnel for myself. It gives me something to hope for. Look,  if you’re writing because you want universal affirmation that you don’t suck, my strong recommendation is to take up pottery because odds are that someone is going to flame your epic tome.

4: Social Media Sees All and Knows All

In an era where big brother is watching you … no, not the Orwellian big brother … I’m talking about the all-seeing eye of social media, you need to recognize that publishing a book is a public act in world that is linked to each other in ways that would make Marshall McLuhan’s head explode. Most of us are on social media in some capacity, so every word you write. Every inane thought you Tweet is subject to public scrutiny. And the power of social media … for an old guy like me, it’s truly staggering. Case in point: the terrible flooding in my hometown of Calgary. The power of social media has given a very human face to a disaster that is still currently unfolding. People live Tweet what they’re seeing, as it happens and holy mother of Moses, that’s just mind blowing to me. Given that social media is an unyielding juggernaut that can make you or break you, wouldn’t you rather it make you?

5: Go Write Another Book

See, that’s the best way to manage your feelings over a shitty review. You don’t know the person who wrote that review in the first place and writing a response is going to do what precisely? You honestly can’t expect to win that argument, can you? The reviewer is the dealer and they hold all the cards because like it or not, that review was their interpretation of your book. And yeah, I know there are reviews that make you go “did they even read the freaking book?” Whatever. Move on. Write something else. And if the review was a one-star e-arc snark special, of course you know that your publisher prrrrobably isn’t going to send that reviewer any other books written by you or anyone at that publishing house ever again, so chill. Relax. Have a cup of green tea with honey. Dig into your outline and write something that is freaking brilliant. Take your anger at the shitty review out on your protagonist … that’s what I do. Just write the damned book and get on with your life because twenty bucks says that reviewer has gotten on with their life the moment they clicked submit on Goodreads.

So there you have it. My five hard and fast rules for dealing with crummy reviews. You could swear off reviews all together and refuse to read them. I know authors who say they never read reviews and that’s cool. For me, I know that reviews are part of the package when you decide to see if you can get published. I know that what I write isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and even though some of the reviews made me want to punch the reviewer’s lights out, I didn’t melt down. I did something else … I wrote another book.  Oh .. and one final thought. Most of your market isn’t on Goodreads. It isn’t blogging. It’s probably on Facebook and it might be on Twitter. It’s not part of the global book review community. It’s entirely possible that your shitty one-star review won’t be noticed by the vast majority of humanity because the vast majority of humanity still likes to go to the book store and browse before they buy. That might change in years to come and to date, I haven’t seen any empirical evidence that Amazon reviews are influencing book buyers. I could be wrong.

Keep writing, dammit!

PS – Be thankful you’re not George Lucas. Now THAT’S a guy who has been through the bad review meat grinder from hell.

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Calgary Flood 2013

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calgaryflood

I’m from Calgary. Most of what I write takes place there. I’ve destroyed large swaths of the city in my books but that’s fiction and what’s going on right now is real life.  When I see headlines like this one, and this one and this one, it serious. The flooding is even the main headline on CNN’s website because 100,000 people are being evacuated and Calgarians are opening their homes to their neighbors. What a fantastic city and people.

 

This is Bragg Creek … about ten miles west of the city.

 

This is Canmore, about an hour west of town.

This is the Bow River meeting the Center Street Bridge leading into downtown.

And it’s not just Calgary, a city of a million people. It’s High River, Canmore, Crowsnest Pass … basically a lot of Southern Alberta.

Hell of a thing to behold in the city where you grew up. The Canadian Red Cross is accepting donations. If you’d like to help out, please do so. I did.

Hang in there, Calgary and everyone affected by the crazy weather this year.

*** UPDATE at 4:00 PM ***

Absolutely, utterly, mind-boggingly blown away by the pictures coming out of Calgary. It looks far worse than when I first blogged this morning. Click here to see real-time pictures from Twitter.

I’m unbelievably proud of the people in my hometown. There are reports of volunteers coming out of the woodwork to help their neighbors. So much good coming from so much bad and really, I’m starting to think that Alberta hasn’t experienced a disaster on this scale in my life time.

Keep at it Calgary! My home town freaking ROCKS!

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The Middle Aged Author

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2013-02-09 06.01.50

Me circa 1977 age 10

poltergeeks!

Me circa 2012 age 44

 I didn’t set out to become an author. I didn’t set out to become anything, really. Sure, I had dreams of perhaps one day doing something spectacular with my life, but I can honestly say now 35 years after the picture at the top of this blog post was taken that I truly did not set out to become an author. (Those dreams included driving around in a customized van with a teardrop windows, a chain link steering wheel and freaking amazing mural. The mere fact that one could actually sleep in a van they customized was prrrrrobably the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my ten-year-old mind. The notion that shaggin’ wagons were for sex hadn’t yet occurred to me at the time.)

A bit odd because my fifth grade teacher at College Street School in Sudbury Ontario Canada encouraged me to write seeing as how I won a creative writing competition where I believe I wrote something in the way of nearly eighty stories and the closest kid to me had about thirty. There was a big chart with stars for every story each student wrote and submitted. My stars went off the cart and onto the painted cinder block wall.

I could draw, though. I still can. I think I might have wanted to become a cartoonist with my own comic strip starring my Siamese but that didn’t go anywhere. (A good thing, too – newspapers are in big trouble these days and I asked a twenty year old if they ever read the funnies. She looked at me like I was from another planet.)

I was in the army after high school. Served my time. Got married. Had kids. Got divorced. Got remarried. I was too busy with life to remember that writing mattered which is why so much of what I wrote in my spare time was of the recycle bin variety.

Anyway this blog post is maybe a bit melancholy, I don’t know. It just seems that everywhere I turn now, there’s something reminding me that I am getting older. Children growing up are obvious reminders, but there are other ones, too. Like your best friend in the entire world that you’ve known for thirty years who has been diagnosed with something that can’t be cured and will eventually take him. Like not seeing a 1979 Honda Civic in every parking lot in the western hemisphere anymore. The ones I always spotted were blue, like this one – I just loved that color.

I look around at these little reminders of the distance I’ve traveled since that freckle-faced kid in the picture above to the bald, wrinkling, achy, cranky far too often for his own good guy holding a book he wrote about a teenage witch and her dorky best friend, and I’m literally blown away by the fact that I am forty-five years old. I’ll be forty six in four months.

What.

The.

Hell.

Happened?

This whole growing older thing? Yeah … nobody and nothing really prepares you for it.

You wake up at three in the morning (or at least I do) and you stare at the ceiling in the darkness and you remember the way the sun felt against your face on that first day when you just knew that winter was truly over – you did this just before you smashed a thin layer of ice on a large puddle with the heel of your boot. You think about how summer evenings seemed to stretch on forever or that people once upon a time wore these track suits as casual clothes and you wanted one more than anything in the world and you drove your mother insane to the point where she broke down and cried because we just didn’t have the money. Then you feel like the biggest shit in the known universe – only it’s 35 years after the fact. (Mental note: call Mom and apologize for being a rotten kid.)

You think about people you once knew whose faces are still clear as day in your mind’s eye but you can’t remember their name for the life of you. (This is basically everybody I went to high school with save for two or three people. There’s all kinds of people I went to school with friending me on Facebook and I have no bloody clue who the hell they are but according to their profile they’re James Fowler High School Class of 1985. I always accept because I think that it would probably bad for a guy who is a published author to not friend someone back.)

So naturally I’m in a hurry to write that incredible mind-blowingly epic novel that will cause readers to stand up and cheer, crap their pants, give nothing but five-star ratings and land me a killer movie deal. Okay, well maybe not that massively successful, but just something that is significant. To date, I have written books that feature magic, evil bad people, a hero who can sling magic or who can bloody well fly – the reason for this is because I secretly wish I was my protagonist. I wish that life’s journey wasn’t fraught with kinds of perils that will rob you of your memories like my best friend of thirty years. I wish we could cruise around in his 1968 Fleetwood Cadillac on a hot summer night in 1984 with the absolute certainty that nothing terrible would ever happen to either of us ever, ever, ever, ever. Because when you’re sixteen in the early 1980’s, you believe this how it is meant to be.

I’m getting older. I can’t stop it and I’m trying to become wise. My son asks me for advice all the time so I figure I must possess some wisdom. I’m putting aside puffy magic for a while as I start on a project that I think is important.

I’m a middle aged author who is very lucky to have been published. I have a book coming out in three months and I’m now writing something completely different from anything I’ve ever written.

Holy crap.

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Fan Fiction, Kindle Worlds, Cats & Dogs Living Together …

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Holy.
#$%@
Over!

That was my initial reaction to yesterday’s news that Amazon has figured out a way to make serious moolah from fan fiction. My second reaction was … well of course Amazon has figured it out. That smartest minds in the book business these days are hanging all at Amazon. So … what does Kindle Worlds mean? According to Amazon, you can write new stories based on featured Worlds, (read, existing books where the rights  holders have signed onto the program and who will get a royalty)  engage an audience of readers, and earn royalties.

This sounds really simple, doesn’t it?  Write a story using characters (or introduce new ones) in the worlds of Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars for starters, fire the story off to Amazon who will then acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright. You’ll get paid monthly, assuming someone buys your story (from .99 to 3.99/sale).

Hmmm … here’s what I think is going on. Amazon says that:

Kindle Worlds is a creative community where Worlds grow with each new story. You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.

Two months ago, Amazon bought another community – one of readers. It’s called Goodreads. Everyone knows that Goodreads  is a social networking site for book lovers. 16 million members world wide. Massive. That’s a lot of people to sell books to – it’s a concentrated cyber market where members aren’t going to be distracted by scented candles or groovy kitchen gadgets that you find in big box brick and mortar book stores. Amazon bought a book market. Period.

I suspect the very clever people at Amazon have spent a good deal of time looking at existing fan fiction communities online and realized that aside from being a place where people can write stories about their favorite characters in their favorite books, sites like fanfiction,net possess a social networking component. The persuasion principle of reciprocity lives there – you read my story, I’ll read your story. You review my story, I’ll review your story. Initially, I’d wondered why Amazon didn’t just go out and buy fanfiction,net – Amazon has enough money to buy anything. If Amazon wanted to start bankrolling a space exploration program, they could probably do it and they’re smart enough to figure out a way to draw a tidy profit from such a venture.

But there are more than 643,000 Harry Potter stories on fanfiction.net. There are more than 200,000 Twilight stories. A veritable galaxy of stories based on a multitude of book worlds that would all require contracts and royalties. It simply couldn’t be done. So in creating Kindle Worlds, Amazon gets to control everything and I suspect they’re betting that a good portion of the more than 9000 Gossip Girl and 1700 Vampire Diaries fan fiction writers might like to make a little coin.

Quite simply, if Amazon didn’t already realize there was a market for this stuff, they wouldn’t have proceeded with it.  My prediction? They’re going to make a killing. The fan fiction writers won’t for the same reasons that most self-pubbed authors using Amazon’s self publishing platform aren’t earning enough to by a wedge of cheese. It’s hard to sell a drop of water in an ocean filled with H2O. Who will make the money? Well obviously the rights holders will and naturally Amazon will too. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how many drops of water get sold when you own the ocean and you get a cut from each drop.

Smart. Those Amazon people are smart as hell. I’ll be watching Kindle Worlds closely because Amazon has taken innovation to a new level with this one.

 Quick afterthought: I wonder what will happen if a published author decides to write a fan fiction story and submits that story to Kindle Worlds?  Like … what if I decided I wanted to write Anita Blake fan fiction?

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Dear Published Authors – How Do You Measure Success

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I’m collecting polling information (unscientific of course) on the experience of getting published and what happens after you see your book on the shelf of your local bookstore. I did a poll last month where I asked published authors about whether they worked full time, worked part time or lived off their royalties and now I’m doing a poll to find out how published authors measure success. All of this is for a future blog post about the journey toward finding an agent, getting a book deal and what the experience is like for those of us lucky enough to hold a book that we wrote in our hot little hands. So, feel free to vote according to your experience and thanks!

How Do You Measure Your Success As A Published Author
  
pollcode.com free polls 

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