Posts tagged: writing life

SORTA-HAPPY PROGRESS REPORT #1

The brilliant and captivating cover of In Love by Christmas. Thank you, Clarissa Yeo!

THE HAPPY STATUS REPORT: Oops. Never check the facts. The MODERATELY HAPPY, BUT NOT TOO ECSTATIC, STATUS REPORT on IN LOVE BY CHRISTMAS, my in-development Christmas book.

Last Sunday, I got my complete response to my editor’s first content/developmental edit back to her. [That means: I rewrote the whole friggin' thing and shipped it off.] The first editorial pass is the one done with the golden machete. You send your manuscript in, thinking, “I’m *** ****. Boy is this good.” It comes back shredded, with little red and blue comments all over and half the text deleted. The other half says, “Show me, don’t tell me.”

Every time I send a manuscript in, I expect it to come back with, “YIPPEE! THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I’VE EVER READ. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO A THING,” on it. This never happens. When the second go-round comes back, it always looks machete-ed again. How she can find more things to put those “little notes” by, I do not understand. After taking a few days to stop being hysterical, again, I get to work rewriting. Because, ****, although I hate to admit it, my editor is mostly always right.

I originally started to write this progress report, saying, “YAHOO! I finished redoing the first chapter. I’M 1/37th of the way done with the rewrite of the SECOND EDITORIAL PASS ON IN LOVE BY CHRISTMAS.” I thought it had 37 chapters. 1/37th is pretty good, huh? In not more than a month, working at a pace a normal person might work, I could have the the manuscript really tight.

It has 53 CHAPTERS. I’m 1/53rd of the way through the rewrite. Not so good.

That’s OK. Don’t worry. I’m petitioning the Universe to move Christmas to March 31st this year. Plenty of time to get my Christmas book done. [Responding to the content edit is not all that has to happen to the book. There copy-editing and proofreading and then formatting, wherein it's turned from a Word document like all your letters to your mom and such into a real book and eBook. If you've ever wanted to be an author, you should read this and decide to be an accountant.]

Writing gives you faith. Also takes it away, sometimes. Prayers accept that this sucka gets off the ground before Groundhog Day.

Ciao, everyone!

Sandy Nathan
Sandy’s Other Website, the Interactive One
Sandy’s Amazon Author Page

Sandy’s Facebook Page
Sandy’s Pinterest Page-I’m having fun with this!
Sandy’s Vimeo Page–even more fun. Check out the Chessadors!
Sandy on Twitter-I strongly dislike Twitter. I don’t answer messages or tweets or nuthin’. Try Facebook.

The Final Type of Review in our Survey: the Stupid Review – plus – A Your Shelf Life Extra on How Reviewers can Keep Authors as Friends

IN THE PREVIOUS POSTING, I COVERED THE  GOOD, BAD, AND VICIOUS TYPES OF BOOK REVIEW. HERE WE MOVE TO THE STUPID REVIEW, OR TO BE MORE COMPASSIONATE, THE DUMB OR MISTAKEN REVIEW Phew! It’s good to get out of the province of trolls and witches into the land of idiocy. HOWEVER, this type of review really bothers me. It’s the type of negative review I’ve received most.

Tecolote and I. I thought I'd have him for ten more years.

Before giving you examples of Dumb Reviews, I’m going to reveal a treasure trove of information readers can use to select books, in addition to the reviews of other writers. It’s called the book’s Sale Page. You find it on Amazon or wherever the book is sold. You already know about it: it’s the page you went to to buy the book!  All sorts of info is on this page to help you buy a book you’ll like.

Here’s a screen shot of part of the sale page of one of my books, Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could. This is a heartwarming story of a baby horse born prematurely on our ranch. Baby horses don’t do prematurity well. A foal born two weeks premature dies. Teco was born 10 days early during below freezing weather conditions. This little horse had no chance of living when he was born. But he did, and grew up to be a wonderful riding horse. My personal riding horse.

TECOLOTE: THE LITTLE HORSE THAT COULD

What this screenshot shows you, in addition to my sub-basement level of sales, is a bunch of useful information. Right up top, Amazon tells you how big the file is. It’s 36 pages. That’s short. That’s because it’s a kids’ book. Tecolote’s reviews, the handful of them, for which I am very grateful, are very good. Amazon pulled common comments in the reviews and placed them front and center. The top one says the “story is perfect for children.”

Way down at the bottom of the sale page, Amazon lists their rendition of the book’s category. Amazon’s categories are NOT the same as the official “BISAC” versions. Amazon does the reader a disservice, when its categories are different  than what the author officially specified when publishing the book. In the case of  Tecolote, the official BISAC code was Juvenile Nonfiction. Nothing for adults at all. Amazon also places its category information almost off the page, where almost no one will know to look for it.

Maybe that’s why this poor reader was so confused and gave Tecolote this review:

Of course, it’s short like a child’s book. It IS a child’s book.

This is what frosts me as an author. Of course, it’s short like a child’s book. That’s what it IS. But three stars isn’t that bad a review and the author was disappointed.

How can an author make sure a reader sees what’s in front of his/her face?

I’m very sensitive about this book because Tecolote ended up being my riding horse. You need to know how tight that bond is. To horse people, asking to borrow another person’s horse is like asking to borrow her husband for the night. Tecolote was MY horse. While his book was coming out and winning awards, Tecolote contracted pneumonia. I’d never had a horse with pneumonia. He didn’t get better.

Turned out, he was in heart failure and the pneumonia tipped the scales of life or death for him. As the book awards rolled in, Tecolote went downhill.  My beautiful, sweet, kind horse died. What I’ve got left of him is this book and a hunk of his mane. I ended up in the hospital with chest pains induced by a broken heart.

So when I see stuff like what follows, I want to bite anything within reach.

What? This doesn't make sense. Apparently the reviewer thought the same: I noticed that this isn't the original review that blew my mind so thoroughly. The "Also a great story of survival." on the title has been added. The review after "But also …" is new. The star rating hasn't moved. Wha …?

 

While not as bad as a 1 star review, two stars is considered a bad review. The above review of Tecolote that makes no sense. The review itself is very good, but it isn’t the review that originally went up–that I remember. The original headline was: Young kids or weird teenagers are qualified. The rest was added later, presumably when the writer’s mother found it or its writer had a fit of conscience. The original review read: Good for little kids or strange teenagers who are weird. The rest is an add-on.

A review can be modified by the writer, as it was here, but the star rating wasn’t changed. Can it be? Or is that momentary click of a button the same as casting a moment’s pique in bronze?

I had so many feelings about this book that I added the following message to the book description. It’s the first thing a prospective buyer sees:

This is the first thing a potential buyer of Tecolote sees. Sorry about the quality of a screen shot. This message gives the book's official category, its page count, and the fact that it was written for children.

Did this work? Maybe. No more reviews like that on Tecolote. I did get a two-star review on the older version of my Stepping off the Edge saying it didn’t give instructions on how to do different spiritual practices and wasn’t particularly spiritual. The first review of the book, located right under the book’s title says, “Not a How-to Book.” All the other reviewers raved about it’s spiritual impacts. Its awards were for spirituality, among other things. What’s a writer to do? I put this in the book description:

This sits top, front, and center on Stepping's sale page. "It isn't a 'how to' book …"


Stepping off the Edge originally was published as a modern spiritual companion in 2006. Know what? Nuthin's changed since 2006.

I’m announcing this right here: the text of the new edition of Stepping off the Edge: A Roadmap for the Soul is virtually identical to the old version.  If you read the old version, you may want to skip the new one. Or not. Why? Because the condition I write about, the human condition, hasn’t improved since the first book. On-line addiction, infatuation with celebrities, effects of drug and alcohol abuse, general abuse, evil so bad that the devil itself could have done it: all the big nasties we have to deal with are the same. So are my remedies. So’s the book. A refresher is often good. I’m pulling the old version of Stepping Off the Edge off the market today.

THE PAINFULLY DUMB REVIEW. I’m sure it’s clear to everyone by now that authors read the reviews readers write. I try to ignore mine as much as possible because 1) I’m always working on something new and I don’t have time, 2) a one or two star review can not only ruin my day, it can throw off my current writing. Bad reviews can have such extreme effects on me (if I deem them warranted), that I’ve removed one book from sale A book that cost me nine years of my life to write. Even if the review is based on missed or erroneous information and I don’t agree with it, it will gall me, as I’ve shown here.

Either way, bad review = bad day.

Life is rough, but you could have contacted me first …

HOW TO KEEP AUTHORS YOUR FRIENDS [Special Your Shelf Life Extra!] Say you’re “friends” with an author, as much as anyone can be friends with someone they’ve met only through electronic impulses. You didn’t like the author/friend’s last book and want to let them know it. So you write a review saying that. Freedom speech and all that. This is not a wise course of action if you want to keep things copacetic with your on-line buddy.

Remedies exist for the problems I outline above, problems of “missed information.” These are remedies that reviewers can apply before dropping their bombs. One is thoroughly checking the info on the book’s sale page before initiating Star Wars. Asking questions. Amazon now lets potential buyers ask questions of past ones. They probably do it for books. You can contact other reviewers, if they put contact info on their pages.

More than that––Did you know that you can contact me and other authors and communicate about your considerations about their books? This may be harder with the big name authors, but you can get through if you’re persistent. Try Googling this name: Sandy Nathan. Bingo! One click and you can see my new author picture, get my website and every social media I’m on and all my contacts. I have a contact page on my website that sends messages right here. To my desk. You could email me in seconds if you wanted to. If you’re clever enough, you could probably march up my driveway in an hour and a half.

Contacting me is not hard. If you have a beef about something I’ve written or are planning a bad review, talk to me. Yes, I know, it’s harder than slamming around low stars. It does require some courage and integrity. But you never know what might happen. I’ve heard of authors giving back the cost of a book a reader doesn’t like. I’m not saying that I’d do that, but I might. You might also learn things that might be pretty embarrassing to you if you had delved deeper. Like the author is in the middle of writing exactly what you wanted or has just had a heart attack.

Say you don’t realize this and just want to drop your load. We live in the age of diffused blame and hostility looking for a target. Shoot first, aim later.

Leroy Watches Jr. & the Badass Bull - An Award-winning Contemporary Western. This is the original cover.

For instance, my new book Leroy Watches Jr. & the Badass Bull  has won one national award (in Western) and had all five star reviews until recently. It is a novella, a short novel. Rules exist in the industry defining the lengths of various forms of fiction.

Standard Numbers of Words by Type of Fiction

Searching through my files yielded the most recent Word version Leroy, which allows me to see the number of words. Leroy Watches Jr. has just under 37,000 words, placing it on the high side of the novella word range. Amazon clearly states its length on its sale page: 132 pages. That indicates a short book. When I uploaded the book, I added a note to the sale page about it being a Novella. This is the first text the reviewer sees, just below the book description. It’s also cheaper than any of my other books, which should be a clue.

Leroy's novella length is reflected in the number of pages reported on its Amazon sale page. Leroy is actually a ittle long for a novella; they range around one hundred pages.

I was so excited about the novella concept and the fact that writing a 130 page book is easier than writing a 454 page book, that I wrote this little note, shown at the very top of the text in the Amazon sale page.

I think the concept that Leroy Watches Jr. is a novella, which is shorter than a regular book, should be clear. Novellas are all the rage now, by the way. See this great blog article from Anne R. Allen, “Why Novellas Are Hot and How to Write One.”

All this defining material is not enough to prevent a review like this:

With all the information that should have told the buyer what s/he was buying, this happened.

I’ve beaten this to death, but I want to let my readers know that they can contact me, though any of the easily available ways. I would love it if they did before posting something like this. (Not that it’s a one-star review. Three stars is considered OK, neither good nor bad. And its tone is polite.)

If this reader had contacted me, s/he could have been among the first to know that I’m writing another book about Leroy Watches Jr., In Love by Christmas. It is full length–it’s 60,000 words right now and I haven’t even gotten to the bits about polo and fox-hunting.

Reviewers should realize a few things: writing a book is hard. Everything about the process is hard, taxing, and will make the author and all concerned want to scream and throw things, often at each other.

It takes much longer to write a long book than a short one. I wrote Leroy Watches Jr. because I wanted to give my readers a little tasty morsel to gobble down after reading the “big book,” Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem while they were waiting for the next biggie. I can’t turn out 492 page whoppers three times a year–they take time.

My writing plans for the rest of the year are ambitious. I plan on getting In Love by Christmas out in time for Christmas buying. AND I’m planning on getting another book, the sequel to Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem, at about the same time.

The brilliant and captivating cover of In Love by Christmas. Thank you, Clarissa Yeo!

In Love by Christmas is the “most badass Christmas story ever written.” Leroy Watches Jr. takes the most dangerous ride of his life as he rescues his soul mate, Cass Duane. Cass is the daughter of Will Duane, the richest man in the world and the hero (after a fashion) of Mogollon.

Phenomenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Miracles,  Mogollon’s sequel, takes the crew at Mogollon’s retreat through the week; Mogollon ends on Wednesday night. The retreat is over on Saturday. That’s plenty of time for everything that didn’t happen in Mogollon to happen. And it does.

If I succeed in finishing these to books and getting the two new books published before Christmas, I may be dead, but I’m giving it my best shot.

In other words, I’m going to be working my buns off through the summer and fall for you. For me, too, but for you, my readers.

You may say, “Well, Sandy, you’re taking this review thing pretty hard.”

You bet I am. Writers and artists are among the most sensitive creatures on the planet. That’s why we can write. I would like the people who review my work to exhibit the courtesy and commitment to excellence I try to show them in my writing.

For instance, after receiving the above review, I instructed my cover artist to change Leroy’s cover so that The Bloodsong Novellas appears on the front and rear cover of Leroy so that no one else is disappointed.  This is a good idea. Wish I’d thought of it earlier. We’ll do that for the up-coming novellas, too.

See: There it is, right on the cover: A Bloodsong Novella.

So there we have it: the most benign of the bad reviews, the Oops-missed-something review. Most people drop them and never look back. Is there a cure? Instant “check your info and get things right”? No. But talking about it feels marvelous.

Ciao, everyone!

Sandy Nathan
Sandy’s Other Website, the Interactive One
Sandy’s Amazon Author Page

Sandy’s Facebook Page
Sandy’s Pinterest Page-I’m having fun with this!
Sandy’s Vimeo Page–even more fun. Check out the Chessadors!
Sandy on Twitter-I strongly dislike Twitter. I don’t answer messages or tweets or nuthin’. Try Facebook.


 

 

A Primer on Reviews – the Good Review – the Bad Review in its Two Forms – the Regular Bad Review and the Bad Bad Review – and the Good Bad Review

This article deserves appropriate illustration. I wanted to present a sampling of truly awful book covers. I found many, some totally hysterical, but they were in use on books currently for sale and as such were very copyrighted. I had to settle for what was in the public domain.

I am treading on dangerous territory. Authors are cautioned everywhere: IF YOU GET A BAD REVIEW, SUCK IT UP. DO NOT COMMENT, EVER, NO MATTER WHAT. NEVER RETALIATE OR EXPLAIN ON-LINE OR ANYWHERE ELSE.

Why? This is the viral age. At times, authors have been so hurt, provoked, or rendered insane by bad reviews that they unleash on-line diatribes against the review’s writer(s). These diatribes show the authors as groveling, sniveling, rolling-on-the-floor crybabies with snot and tears all over their faces. Either that or they come across as fruitcakes. These reactions provide terrific fodder for those who love to see their fellow human beings quivering like the Jello-O molds your aunties used to make in the 1950s. (The green kind, with cottage cheese.) The author may explain, “I don’t do this very often, but what he/she said flipped me out.” Doesn’t matter: in the cyber age, an author’s worst moments can become the defining statements of her career, thus tanking it.

I feel pretty safe writing this, as NOTHING I’ve written has gone viral, including an important blog post about water allocation in California which should interest everyone in the state who drinks water. (Now, had it been about wine, that post would have covered the globe.)

Therefore, I feel at ease writing about reviews from an author’s point of view. I would like to do a bit of teaching, enlightening readers about writing reviews and some pitfalls they may leap into, only to feel silly/stupid later. I’m not going to teach readers how to band together in semi-feral groups, organize and attack authors with the intent of sinking books and destroying careers. Those of you prone to do that already know how to do it.

LET’S DO A LITTLE REVIEW OF REVIEWS. (DUE THE AMOUNT OF INFORMATION TO BE IMPARTED, THIS TOPIC CONTINUES IN THE NEXT POST, WHICH COVERS THE STUPID REVIEW, THE EMBARRASSING-TO-ITS-WRITER FORM OF THE BAD REVIEW.)

THE GOOD REVIEW: (Spoiler alert: This is an example of a good review, but it packs a spoiler.) “This brilliant novel illustrates what can be achieved devoting one’s life to studying invertebrates living in Iceland’s volcanic hot pools. Character development was superb, especially that of the heroine, a  Naegleria fowleri amoeba, who spent her entire life in the hot water of one pond. The way she infects the villain with  meningitis was amazing, killing him by entering his brain through the nasal passages.  This marvelous tale doesn’t bode well for Icelandic tourism, but man, it sure was a relief from those lousy vampire stories. Great plotting, pacing, use of language. An A+. I will read everything this writer produces.” (signed) A. ARTIFACT, #1 Amazon Reviewer in the Universe.

Authors scream in ecstasy when they receive reviews like this. I have only one question when I read such a review: How do I get a hold of A. ARTIFACT?

Hansi. What a gal!

BAD REVIEWS: Three types of bad review exist, the Regular Bad Review, which can be the basis of the Good Bad Review, and the Bad Bad Review:

“Stupid from it’s opening sentence to its final phrase, Fillydelphi Dreams, a period romance set in the late 1700s, is a loser. The heroine and hero are a rich plantation owner and her hot Jamaican slave. The historical research behind this book is horrendous. No rich, upper class woman would be seen traipsing around the barnyard clad in her “stays” at 2 AM, while trying to find her beloved Yorkshire terrier. Yorkshire terriers didn’t exist until the nineteenth century. That’s dumb. Dumber is the fact that the author mentions Victoria’s Secret as the provenance of the stays. Also, in an earlier dinner scene in her mansion, Her Ladyship is shown lacking in skills that would be possessed by any upper class woman in that day: she does not know an oyster fork from a pickle fork. She has nothing else to do but memorize silver pieces; she should know her forks. Back to traipsing around in the barnyard. She finds more than her dog, of course. The sex in this book is its high point, as the man Her Ladyship would have as her lover runs screaming, saying he ‘ll be flogged to death if he does what she wants. Besides, he has a wife and family and doesn’t want her. She says she’ll have him flogged to death if he doesn’t do what she wants. His whimpering cries as Her Ladyship has her way with him are the best part of this book. It’s horrible, one human being using an other so, but also realistic. Still, I’d rather read a vampire novel than this s***.”

This is a true Bad Review. The reviewer has read the book, formed articulate opinions about it’s various elements, and states them in the review. He does not personally attack the the author, only what she’s written.  Authors don’t like to receive reviews like this, but they can be a learning experience. (Victoria’s Secret incorporated in 1977 BTW.)

THE GOOD BAD REVIEW: This is a bad review, but it turns into having a good impact on the literary universe because of the author’s response to it. My first novel, Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money, was greeted with wild, over the top positive reviews. It also won six national awards, including a Silver in the IPPYs and Silver Nautilus and four more, was #1 in Mysticism on Amazon for over a year and cruised at about 1,500 in the overall Amazon ratings. Yowser, wowser! The book had some problems, but many reviewers loved its spiritual authenticity.

Years later, the other reviewers found the book. Stating their comments more emphatically than I am here, these reviewers said it was too slow and had too much back story, plus the bad guy was underdeveloped, and the book ended too quickly, making it half a book. There were reasons for all this: it was my first novel and I didn’t know what I was doing, I had the sequel written and thought it would be out right away, not knowing that I would be paralyzed by writer’s block for years. That didn’t stop the other reviewers from ripping it to shreds.

What did I do? I pulled Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money off the market. The folks who gave it bad reviews should rejoice at this. I began rewriting the novel, addressing the issues brought up by the reviewers. The part I rewrote was killer; far superior to the tortured prose and characters of the initial (now dead) version. But, when I started the rewrite of Numenon,  I the clouds of writer’s block that had prevented me from finishing Numenon’s sequel Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem for six years thinned and disappeared. The right words appeared in my brain.

When that happens, you gotta write, because those words do not hang around. And then the novella Leroy Watches Jr. & the Badass Bull and the reissue of Stepping off the Edge burst into my consciousness. I had to work on them. But, if I ever finish rewriting  Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money, it will rock. I show Will being a womanizer, instead of having his secretary tell you about it. Will is a major a slime bucket before he meets the shaman, Grandfather.  I’ve grown as a writer: earlier, I was too embarrassed to show Will’s nasty bits.

This is a case a bad review having a good outcome by provoking appropriate action in an author.

This isn't so bad a cover, but as I said, all the really bad ones were on books currently for sale. Some I checked out were ABSOLUTELY HYSTERICAL, and inappropriate for Your Shelf Life. "Games to Play with your ********," for one. Google "really bad book covers."

THE BAD BAD REVIEW: “Susan Wallawallawhoopsie is an idiot. She is so stupid that she wrote about a woman having a Yorkshire terrier in the 1,700s. Everyone knows they weren’t invented yet. And getting her stays at Victoria’s Secret? VS didn’t exist, either. Anyone who’s stupid enough to think she just went to VS to get undies is dumb. This author is so dumb, I’m surprised she didn’t say she got them at Costco, but that shows more brains than Susan’s got.And on and on.

This is a rant. Often, like-minded souls (called trolls by everyone but themselves) will band together and attack a book/author heaping one star reviews of this ilk on a book or books. I’ve read reviews of type. Some don’t sound like the above “Bad Bad Review.” Some sound reasonable, until you read the book, which is pretty darn good and bears little resemblance to the one-star wonder described by the reviewer.

We live in review wars,  Star Wars’ ugly cousin. Typically, reviews posted on sellers’ sites are permanent, smelling up the site on which they are written forever. Some review platforms, Amazon, I understand, allow authors to get such defamation down, if they work hard enough. Other review sites are bloody free-for-alls with no author recourse.

What triggers attacks by trolls? Success. If your head sticks up above the cyber-crowd in any way, swarms of virtual vipers may be attracted to your work and attempt to destroy your career. The situation is on-going and is so bad that I’m not going to say any more about it. I have a number of instances (that most writers know about) that I could cite, but the authors involved asked me not talk about them. What do these examples involve? Death threats. Professional destruction. Really nasty verbiage flung hard. Books sunk by coordinated attacks of one star reviews. Do you feel fear?  If you don’t, you’re not on the writer side of the aisle.

Those wishing to understand the behavior I’ve described can visit the Center for Internet Addiction, founded by Kimberly Young, PhD, the clinical psychologist who identified ‘net addiction in 1996. The Internet has created new forms of psychopathology: the attacks on authors are manifestations of the rage states that overtake some people on the ‘net. Flaming-–an individual or a group group exploding and heaping vitriol on a member–is one manifestation of these new mental illnesses. Dr. Young describes more. Internet addiction isn’t just piddling your life and money away on auctions. When I was writing the first edition of my book Stepping off the Edge around 2003 to 2006, I stumbled into internet addiction–my own, in the form of an eBay addiction. Dr. Young’s writings. particularly Caught in the ‘Net, really helped.

The anonymity of the ‘net fosters all sorts of behaviors that people would never indulge in person.

But if no one can see them … There’s no sanction of what they do … If they have a bunch of friends and egg each other on … A culture that says what they’re doing is  OK?

Let’s get to something more pleasant: The STUPID REVIEW, the topic of my next post.

Sandy Nathan
Sandy’s Other Website, the Interactive One
Sandy’s Amazon Author Page

Sandy’s Facebook Page
Sandy’s Pinterest Page-I’m having fun with this!
Sandy’s Vimeo Page–even more fun. Check out the Chessadors!
Sandy on Twitter

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