How To Cope With Negative Reviews #writinglife

When you’re a writer, reviews are part of life. However, for some reason, even if we have twenty-seven five-star reviews, we tend to focus on the single two-star review among them, like obsessing over a rotten apple among a basket of perfect rosy fruit, rather than chucking it out and making a lovely pie with the remainder.

This is because bad reviews hurt. Of course they do. Someone has taken our book baby and said mean things about it, about all the months and years of hard work and pouring our innermost selves onto the page. But it is a reader’s right to do so. And, if you look at it, the occasional bad review isn’t always a negative thing. How can you think that, you shriek, brandishing the offending text. Well, here’s why:

Somebody cared enough to write a review I know, I know – it would be nice if everyone who enjoyed your book left a review. However, the point of art is that it moves people. And if someone felt strongly enough about your book that they needed to leave a review, whether negative or positive, then it means you’ve succeeded in that respect.

They add credibility to your listing We all know that author. The one with ninety-seven reviews, none of which are below four stars. But out of all the people who read their book, is it really believable that the percentage who left reviews (usually 5-10% of total readers), all absolutely loved it? I mean, maybe they did. Maybe that person was just lucky, or wrote a truly exceptional book. However, art usually doesn’t work that way. There are always going to be people who don’t like what you do, for whatever reason. As the saying goes, you can please some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I’ve known reviewers who tell me they look for the two and three star reviews when buying a new book, as they feel they help to create a more honest and balanced picture of the novel.

Free feedback Okay, this might hurt a bit. However, if you’re getting the same specific element in your work flagged over and over in your reviews, or the negative reviews outweigh the positives, then you might need to consider that there’s an issue with your manuscript. If you’re an indie, you can choose to revise the edition. Or, simply take it on board as a learning experience for your next book.

(Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Reviews that troll, or personally attack the author, are a different thing altogether, and should be addressed by the platform. This happened to an author friend of mine, who was getting pretty good reviews for her first novel. However, one day she received a one-star review that attacked her personally, as an author and a person, rather than focusing on what the reader didn’t like about her book. She put in a complaint to Amazon who, after looking at the review, agreed it contravened their policy and took it down.)

However, none of this changes the fact that a bad review can hurt. Therefore, here are a few coping techniques that may alleviate the sting:

A praise journal. Someone said something nice about your writing? Messaged you personally? Sent out a tweet? Wrote a particularly fab review? Gave you some flattering feedback? Gather all these lovely morsels of goodness together into one document and create your very own praise journal. And, when you get hit with some not-so-great feedback, open your praise journal and read a few soothing excerpts. Focus on the positive, rather than the negative.

Put it into perspective. Think of a book you absolutely love, a five-stars-all-the-way, howcanyounotlikeitareyoucrazy read. Then go and check the reviews. I can guarantee you that, if it’s a bestseller, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of negative reviews. But how can that be, you might ask. This book changed my life/rocked my world/inspired me to new levels of creativity. How can anyone not LOVE it? Well, see my point above about art and take this as a reminder that your book, while undoubtedly excellent, isn’t going to appeal to everyone. If your fave writer in the world gets bad reviews, yet is still a success, the same also applies to you.

Remind yourself that you are a writer, and it’s part of the process. Like piles of rejection letters, or editorial comments about how your story is good but not quite good enough, bad reviews are simply more thorns among the roses of a writing life. Someone (not me) once said, to be a writer, you need a thick skin. We do – but only at this stage in the process. To write good stories, stories filled with emotion and drama and love and loss, our skins need to be parchment-thin, allowing all the glorious words to seep out onto the page. We only need to put our armour back on when it comes to sending it out into the world. So strap on your armour and count it as another war wound, another scar to prove your writerly worth.

Create something new. Isn’t that why we keep doing this, after all? The rush of a new creation coming to life, of words and worlds appearing on the page. Move forward, take what you’ve learned, and keep creating. Just because someone doesn’t like your work, doesn’t mean it’s not good or doesn’t have merit. Take inspiration from the words of the late great David Bowie: ‘Never play to the gallery. Never work for other people in what you do.’ Just keep writing. It’s good for the soul.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t write this post to make myself feel better about getting a couple of not-so-great reviews, or as an invitation to give me a bad review. I’ve been writing for fifteen years, and have had (several!) bad reviews already, as well as many many rejections. Instead, this is about sharing my methods for coping and moving forward, for focusing on the positive, rather than the negative. As writers we’re all out here battling – for visibility, to get that deal, to finish the story, to get a new story idea, to catch a break, to find new readers, to make a living in an increasingly crowded and low-paying marketplace. But we do so because we love it, because we have a fantastic writing community around us, and because we can’t not do it. So, let’s share the love and remind ourselves, we are not alone.

Happy writing!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Creative Flame – How Trying To Write To Market Made Me Lose My Way

I think I mentioned, when I came back to blogging, that I’d taken some time off to work on a book called The Last Raven. It’s one of the most complex stories I’ve ever written so I needed to focus on it, and also on my goal of getting a traditional publishing deal.

So how’s that going? Well, it turns out that The Last Raven, in its current state, is an ‘almost’ book. I’ve had several full manuscript requests, from both agents and publishers, but nothing has actually come of it. Lots of people have liked it, think it’s an original concept, and have given me advice and feedback. I’ve taken my story apart and put it back together again. But still, nothing.

Apparently, when you get to this point, when you’re getting feedback and requests and people are interested, you’re ‘thisclose’ to getting representation or a publishing deal. Which is somewhat heartening. But close, as they say, only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. So, after yet another rejection, I felt it was time for me to revisit the manuscript and see what I could possibly do to it to take it over the line.

A recent re-read had revealed that there were some structural problems. However, these were as a direct result of my chopping and changing scenes around to try and fit the advice I’d been given in order to make the story ‘better.’ Still following that path, I continued chopping and changing things around until Wednesday night, when I stopped, utterly convinced I would never ever get to the heart of the story and I may as well give up on it. Not a great place to be.

I woke yesterday morning, still feeling discouraged. But then, when discussing the situation with some writer friends, I had the following revelation: I’d been so busy trying to make the story into what I thought other people wanted it to be, I’d forgotten what I wanted it to be.

This was profound, dear reader. It was as though a weight dropped from me (to use a cliché). As soon as the thought came into my head, I knew what I needed to do.

The dog needed a walk, so she and I headed out into the early morning, my head spinning with ideas. I knew I needed to revisit the original story as I’d first written it – yes, it was far from perfect, and there was a long saggy middle section that I’d been wise to remove. But there were some scenes in there that I’d chopped in the name of ‘pace’, which I now realised were integral to my main character’s progression. And there were some new scenes popping into my head that made my knees buckle and fleshed things out even further. I needed to go through the story, chapter by chapter, and piece it back together again. It would mean more work, but it was work on my terms, true to my creative vision. My heart full, I headed home.

The thing with this writing game is that it is incredibly competitive. There are SO MANY BOOKS out there. Which is a wonderful thing, if you love books like I do. However, when agents receive thousands of manuscripts a month yet only end up signing maybe five people over the course of a year, getting past the gatekeepers into the world of traditional publishing is a difficult quest, at best. Of course we can watch the market and write what we hope will be the next big thing, but what perhaps can be forgotten in such a pursuit (and certainly was in my case), is that writing is an expression of our creative selves, and we need to honour that creative flame and let it burn. There’s nothing wrong in writing to market – in fact, it’s a good way to make money in this business, so if you can do it I’d recommend it. However, in this instance, when I twisted and changed my story to try and fit an ideal, it lost some integral part of its soul in the process.

My original manuscript did need work – I do recognise that. And some of the chopping and changing did bring new threads and details to the surface which were necessary to the story. However, I went too far, and lost sight of what I’d started out to achieve. To use another metaphor, I was all at sea. I’d tried to make my story into something it wasn’t, or at least not what I’d intended it to be. And in doing so, I lost the creative flame that had sparked it into being. So now I’m heading out to buy a big whiteboard and a stack of sticky notes – strange tinder, I know, but I’m sure it will get the flame burning again.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Pirates Ahoy! A Writer’s Frustration

Being a writer isn’t all lattes in coffee shops and glowing bursts of inspiration. There’s quite a bit of hard work involved too, as many of you know. Writing a novel and then getting it out into the world is a huge effort, especially for independent authors like myself. I work with a professional editor and cover designer, have a critique partner and several beta readers, not to mention the endless rewrites, edits and formatting to get it ready for the reading public. Basically, it’s a big job.

But I love to write and share my stories, which is why I do it. However, one of the big downsides, especially with the rise of e-books, is piracy on the web. I know my books are out there as free downloads or, even more irritatingly, to purchase, on various pirate sites. I tried Blasty for a while, but now just do the occasional search and destroy method, following tips from fellow authors or online trails. I’m resigned to the fact I’ll never get all of them, but finding and deleting a title every once in a while makes me feel as though I’m doing something at least.

I was recently alerted to Kiss Library (google them, I’m not going to do them the favour of sharing their link) and, when I went to their site, I found both Oak and Mist, the first book in my Ambeth series, and A Thousand Rooms, my standalone novel, available to purchase. Oak and Mist is exclusive to Amazon – I can’t even sell it from my own website – so it was galling to see both my books available for sale on some pirate site, with none of the proceeds coming my way.

Kiss Library purports to be fully compliant with copyright laws, and has a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Form) link at the bottom of their site, which takes you to a simple form. You fill in a few details, add the link to your (pirated) books – there’s even a space to leave them a message if you so desire. It all seems very polite and above board. So I filled in the form, adding a few choice comments about them making money from my work, and pressed submit.

Within a few minutes of submitting the form, I received an email from them apologising and saying they were ‘very sorry about this situation – we’ve had an influx of copyright complaints recently which we haven’t seen before. Apparently someone has found a way to work around our copyright protection mechanism.’ A quick search of review forums found that this is a standard email they’ve been sending for at least a year, so I very much doubt this influx is ‘recent.’ They also said they would contact the parties involved and make sure I received any payments outstanding. Sure…

Several of the reviewers on the forums mentioned they’ve had their credit card/bank details stolen as well, so I don’t think I’ll be giving Kiss Library any further information, even if they do offer payment. And, in the meantime, if you’re an author, check the site to make sure your books aren’t on there. And if you’re a reader… buy your books from a reputable retailer. We authors really appreciate it!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Writing With A Critique Partner

(note: I realise I’ve been posting quite a lot about the writing process since I returned to blogging. I suppose it’s because, when I was on my blog break, I spent most of it writing. However, don’t worry – I’ll still be wandering stone circles and photographing canal boats and weird doors and writing stories and generally rambling about stuff that occurs to me – I’m just taking a bit of time getting back into my blogging stride. Anyway, please enjoy this post – my critique partner is the duck’s guts, as my Aussie husband would say. Trust me, that’s a good thing…)

In my previous post, Stepping Into A Writers World, I mentioned that, when writing books, I work with a critique partner.

A critique partner is different than a beta reader. My beta readers are all wonderful people with whom I’ve shared my finished drafts, fingers crossed for their feedback. They are a vital part of my writing process.

However, my critique partner (who happens to be a kickass writer herself), works with me as I’m writing my story, and I do the same for her. We talk through plot points and help each other along when we get stuck, to a point where we know each other’s fictional worlds almost as well as we know our own. We make suggestions, edit sections of text for flow, clarity and plot points, and generally chivvy each other along until we get to the end of the first draft.

The idea behind working like this is to avoid major plot issues and ensure the story flows well before we get to the editing stage. We both work with professional editors who charge based on the number of hours they work, so providing a document that’s as polished as possible makes good financial sense, as well as, hopefully, making our own editing process shorter. Perhaps most importantly, a critique partner is a fresh pair of eyes. We can get so caught up in our own worlds that we miss important threads – a critique partner, who knows your story almost as well as you do, can help you see where you may have missed tying up a loose end, or had one of your characters do something, well, out of character.

If you find yourself a decent critique partner, tie them to you using magic spells or bribery or whatever means you have available, and DON’T LET THEM GO! Haha, just kidding.

Sort of.

Seriously, a good critique partner, one who ‘gets’ your writing and is willing to spend time working on your book with you, is worth their weight in rubies. If you can set up a relationship whereby you critique each other’s work, then all the better – the process then becomes a learning opportunity for both of you.

Of course, you can write a first draft perfectly well without a critique partner, and some people may not feel comfortable sharing their work at such an early stage. We’re all on different creative paths, so what works for one writer may not work for another. However, if you are looking for someone to work with, a good start would be within your circle of writer friends, perhaps with someone you feel has a similar writing style to your own.

Writing a book is hard work. But, with a critique partner along for the ride, you may find the journey a little bit easier.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

Stepping Into A Writer’s World

In my recent post, A Season for Writing, I wrote about the fact that I’d started a new WIP set in California, and that I could almost feel the sunshine.

And the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that this feeling of place, of inhabiting the world where my characters live, is the way I know that my story has ‘legs.’

I don’t know about you guys, but I get story ideas all the time. Walking down the street, at the airport, in the shower. Some become stories, but others, for now, remain fragments, nothing more than a few sentences.

I’m not a plotter – I don’t sit down and write detailed plot graphs and chapter plans. I tried it once, but my characters didn’t like it and decided to run off in an entirely different direction. I knew then that it wasn’t for me. I’m envious of people who can plan their books that way – though I love the excitement of flying by the seat of my pants when writing a new story, there are moments when I have no idea what will happen next, or whether I can bring things to a speedy conclusion, and a nicely plotted graph would be very helpful. However, when I can ‘see’ my characters and their surroundings clearly, I take it as a signpost that all will be well.

Instead, when I start a new story, I take one of the little fragments – an idea, a couple of characters, a key event – and I start writing. I don’t think about it too much, because if I squeeze the idea too tightly it won’t be able to race forward, dragging me along with it. It’s quite a balancing act, caring just enough that the story knows you’re interested, but not so much it decides to quit, or run off with someone else. (If you’ve read Big Magic you’ll know what I’m talking about). And sometimes it goes nowhere – I don’t get that magic tickle in my stomach and fingers, I’m not thinking about the characters when I’m out walking. But sometimes, a world starts to spring up around me. Scenes and characters appear, almost as though they’ve been waiting for me to shout ‘Action!’, one scene linking into the next. I find myself thinking about the new story world at odd times, little snippets coming to me. And that’s when I know I’m on my way.

And so it is with this new WIP. I’ve been working on it for a little while, up to almost 10K words now, and I confess I did get slightly stuck at one point, but a chat with my critique partner (which will be another blog post) soon got things going again. And now that I can hear the surf, feel the sunshine and see the streets of the (fictional) town where my characters live, I know it’s going to be okay. That the story will unfurl for me. Because that’s how it’s always been. Whether I’m wandering the green woods of Ambeth, the beach Heaven in A Thousand Rooms, or the near-future world of The Last Raven, as long as I know where I am, I can see a way forward.

And maybe that’s how life is, sometimes, too.

How about you? How do you know when a story has ‘legs’? Are you a Planner, or a Pantser, or something in between?


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

Around The World and Back Again

Getting back into this blogging thing is easier said than done, I’m finding. And it probably hasn’t helped that I’ve been away for the past three weeks on the other side of the world. Apologies for being late getting back to comments, too!

So, where have I been?

Back to my husband’s native Australia, to see family and friends we’ve not visited for seven years. It’s a trip that was a long time coming, house renovations and life getting in the way of previous plans to visit.

I confess, I was a little bit nervous about going back. Australia is a wonderful place, and there are a lot of people I love living there. But it’s a VERY LONG flight, and I’m not the biggest fan of flying. Plus, I found that, despite all the work I’ve done sorting myself out over the past few years, it turned out there was a bit of emotion to unpack about the idea of heading back to the place where I lived for seventeen years. As I said to friends when we were there, I have three passports and a lot of issues.

People often comment to me that I’ve lived such an interesting life, moving around the world, travelling and seeing different places. And I agree – I’ve been so fortunate to have lived in some wonderful parts of the world. But that has come at the price of roots, of continuity, of having a place that feels so familiar that, no matter where you are in the world, it feels like home. All the moving around I’ve done (24 different addresses, six different cities, three continents) has left me with a deep desire for a place that is mine, that won’t change and doesn’t move, where I know everyone and they know me. Returning to live in the UK seven years ago was full circle for me, both physically and metaphorically, as it’s where I was born, and where I feel most at home. Living in Australia was wonderful, definitely, but it was also tough, as I was (literally) half a world away from many of the people I loved most. Going back there brought with it a whole host of emotions and I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t going to stay there, that I was coming back.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it? As though I hated the place so much I couldn’t bear to stay there. This is not the case at all. If you’ve been to Australia you’ll know how beautiful it is, how blue the water, how bright the sky. Some of my best friends in the world live there, as well as family. It’s a country I truly love.

So, once I’d worked through all of that, I was able to face the flight with less stress and, when we finally touched down in Melbourne, I could enjoy the city for how wonderful it is. Our first day was a perfect Melbourne day – seeing family, walking through the Botanic Gardens to the National Gallery of Victoria to have lunch and see the Escher exhibition (quite a mind-blowing experience with jetlag), then dinner that evening with dear friends. And so the days unfolded, one beautiful experience after another, but each of them then tempered with goodbyes. And that, perhaps, is the key to my struggle. The endless round of goodbyes.

Well! This started out as a post to say hey, I’m back from my trip, but it’s turned into something quite different. As you can see from the photos, I had a fantastic trip in a wonderful part of the world. However, I’m glad to be back home again now (and I will be getting to comments, too!).

If you’re in the UK, here’s wishing you all a lovely holiday weekend. Also, May the Fourth be with you 😉 (Yeah, I said it.)

xx

A Season For Writing

I’ve recently, after months spent editing and tweaking my vampire novel, started a new WIP. I felt a bit rusty at first, a bit unsure. I knew I could write books, but actually doing so, letting the story pull me along, was something I hadn’t done for a while. So I started slowly, trying not to force it, trying to remember how it felt to let things just flow instead of agonising over each sentence.

A blogger friend once wrote about there being seasons in writing. A season for editing, a season for planning, a season for writing. This resonated with me (well, not so much the planning part, as I’m a dedicated Pantser, but certainly the rest of it). It seems as though I’ve just come out of a very long season of editing and submitting, the wheel swinging around to writing again. I’m very happy about it.

Another blogger friend said recently, and I’m paraphrasing slightly, that I’m at my best when I’m writing. And maybe she’s right. I certainly enjoy creating – there really is nothing like the fire and excitement of a first draft, when the words just flow from my fingers, the story unfurling in my mind. I tend not to write scenes in any particular order – I just start with an idea and see where it takes me, enjoying the revelations that come with each scene, the puzzle of knitting all the threads together.

Way, way back, at the very beginning of my blogging days, I wrote about unearthing stories. This idea was based upon something Stephen King wrote in ‘On Writing’. He described finding stories as ‘unearthing a fossil,’ and, as soon as I read those words, I could see mine. This is what I wrote back in 2014:

Can still see them, poking out from the forest floor, delicate carapaces of bone or polished wood, it’s hard to tell as I unearth even more of them. One is almost clear of the ground, the story complete, just a bit of polishing required. The others are still offering up new discoveries, new aspects every time I look at them, whether it is a change of only a few words or a whole new idea. But the important thing is that I keep looking at them, keep exploring the angles, the nooks and crevices, until the job is done, the story told.

I’ve unearthed quite a few more since that original post, with five books now published and one more written, but the lovely thing is that I’m still finding them. My new WIP is set on the California coast just near Monterey, and I swear I feel as though I’ve been there just from writing about it; I can almost feel the California sunshine.

That’s the beauty of both reading and writing, I suppose – when this world seems a bit too much, we can escape somewhere else. I’m glad this season has taken me back to California – wonder where it will take me next?

How about you? Do you find your writing also falls into different ‘seasons’? Or do you work on everything at once?


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.