Category Archives: writing

I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month, wanna join me?

Participant-2014-Twitter-ProfileI’ve known about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for just about forever. I’m fairly sure I even signed up one year. But I’ve never made a concerted effort to participate before and I’ve certainly never been successful. 50,000 words in a month is a hefty challenge.

I consider writing much like any other challenge. It’s easier to keep going once you’re already going. And this is an important point for me. You see, I have two plots bouncing around in my brain right now. They’ve been there for a while, each growing slowly as I ruminate over them. Neither one has made it from my head to my computer, however. This means they are unlikely to ever make it to readers.

Best intentions are funny things. No matter how much I seem to want to birth these stories, I’ve found myself stymied at every aborted attempt. I’m left wondering how I ever even managed to get my first book to print. (Actually, if I’m honest, I know it happened because I never allowed myself to acknowledge that I was writing an actual BOOK and therefore avoided all of the author-centered self doubt that so compromises me now.)

Then, here comes NaNoWriMo, supposedly the perfect prompt. I even live in a moderate sized city. There are numerous pre-nano workshops and kickoff parties (even a midnight affair Halloween night) within an easily drivable distance from me. There are three separate weekly write-ins on three separate days that I can attend (more if I was willing to drive a bit farther). There is a fairly active Regional Forum and even a live chat room I can visit (and hopefully not use to procrastinate). There is a lot of support in this city.

I still face challenges, even with so much local activity about though. I have children at home, which means that daytime meetings are generally off-limits. Then there’s dinner and the guilt associated with dumping said children on the husband as soon as he drags it in the door from work, making evening meetings difficult.

All topped off by my amazing social awkwardness in real life. I went to one of the kickoff parties, for example, and hardly spoke to anyone, Kickoff at The Book Housejust hovered around looking miserable and wishing I hadn’t worn knee-high boots. (Ok, I must have spoken to someone. That’s me in the yellow, with my hand anomalously in the air. I can only hope I was making some salient point and not just helplessly flailing.) Either way, I’m a mess meeting new people and I can easily see myself talking myself out of going to write with other people.

And yes, those are excuses, mental hurtles that I know I can find a way around if I just try hard enough. So I’ve taken the last week or so to get ready, to psych myeslf up.

I’m trembling in my metaphorical boots, but I think maybe I’ve got this. I’ve got a brand spankin’ new moleskin and fancy pens and pencils. (I work best when actually scratching paper.) I’ve put all the write-ins on the calendar, with popup notifications. Look, I even got the T-shirt. Because obviously one writes better when properly attired. Riiightt. Don’t argue. Just roll with it for me.

I’ve registered on the website, read the NaNo prep page (apparently I’m a Pantser, good to know). I’ve checked out the Map-of-the Month and the blog. I’ve joined a Goodreads NaNoWriMo group, liked the NaNo Facebook page and followed NaNoWriMo on Twitter.

I’ve also picked out my non-write-in, out of the house writing hole and given it a test run to make sure the lattes and Cafepastries are up to par. (If you’re a Webster Groves/Kirkwood/Maplewood/Sunset Hills/etc local and want to meet up, feel free to toss me an email to find out where I’ll be.) So, yes, while I’m still scared silly that I won’t bring the story I’ve chosen to focus on to life, I’m doing what I can to set myself up for success.

And herein lies the point of this post. What I don’t have but need is a team. I need friends and writing buddies who will not only inspire me, but nag me, needle me, look at me with sad disappointed eyes if I don’t make enough of an effort, maybe even cuss at me on occasion. In exchange, I’ll do the same for them (you?). In the end, isn’t that the whole point of the NaNoWriMo event? I’m registered under Saussy and I’d be thrilled to hear from you.

If you, like many of the visitors to this blog, are here seeking a book review, all the policies still apply. But be advised that for the next 30 days my reading will be sharply curtailed and it’s unlikely I’ll read anything new before December.

Here’s hoping for the best. Keep your fingers crossed for me.


Bad reviews are important…nay, essential to the Indie author/publisher


Bad reviews are a huge topic of discussion in the indie/self-published author forums. Sometimes it feels like a good half of all discussion board threads are dedicated to it. Of course, there are good reasons for this. They’re a big deal. Yep, they are. Plus, every new author has to go through the same harrowing experience of getting their first one or two or few and it helps a lot to have like-minded others to bounce it off of.

Sometimes these authors want to be told the reviewer is out of line. It’s a Band-Aid to the ego. Sometimes they want to have the points made by the reviewer confirmed to allow future growth. Sometimes they just need to hear, ‘Hey, yeah, I’ve been there. Sucks huh?” Camaraderie goes a long way.

I was there a year and a half ago, when I published The Weeping Empress. Academically, I knew I would get bad reviews. Theoretically, I understood that everyone likes different things and there was no realistic way to please everyone. I’d even emotionally armoured myself against any possibility of mean spirited, troll-like bullies who take a perverse joy in throwing literary bombshells at new authors. Honestly, I don’t think TWE has come to the attention of one of these yet, but I was prepared. Despite all of my mental gymnastics, I didn’t really understand the whole bad review situation, not really.

In then end, I was jejune. All I understood was that at some point I would be embarrassed because someone somewhere would think me unworthy of having published a book. This is an especially hard lump for self-published authors to swallow since they don’t have the inherent affirmation of being accepted by a publisher before presenting said book to the public. It’s a little niggling fear in the back of our heads at almost all times. But there is so much more to the question of how to mentally navigate receiving a bad review than whether you allow yourself the luxury of embarrassment or not.

Which brings me to why I’m writing this post today. I’m not claiming any expertise. I’m not even sure what would provide a person with enough experience to make such a claim, but I have two avenues of important observations that makes me qualified to write this post. One is being a self published author with a book on the market that has received rave and revolting reviews. Another is as a reader and reviewer who has written hundreds and hundred of reviews of indie and self published works. I’m looking at this topic from both directions and I’m still seeing a lot of new authors who just don’t get it yet. (The yet is important, because I think anyone who plays the field long enough does eventually.) I’m hoping this post helps a little.

I had two experiences within days of each other that brought this post to mind at this point in time. The first is that TWE just received a zinger of a review.* It now has the honour of being one man’s, who’s written 280 some odd reviews, ONLY one star review. Ouch. Like a rather hardened writer, I read it, frowned a little, shrugged and moved on. It doesn’t deserve any more of my attention than that. But it left bad reviews on the mind.

Second, I posted a review on Amazon and noticed that the rating stats of the book in question looked like this:

  • 5 star:  45
  • 4 star: 11
  • 3 star:  2
  • 1 star:  1

I’m not claiming that there is anything hinky going on with this book or its author. Even if, out of curiosity, I did click on the first three 5 star reviews only to find each reviewer gave every book they read 5 stars. Or even though there were six comments following the lone 1 star review condemning her for her opinion.

But I’m pointing out that I noticed these things because it highlights the point I’m going to eventually make with this post. So many good reviews with no bad ones looks suspicious, even if nothing suspicion-worthy is going on. Bad reviews lend credibility to a book’s good reviews. 

Readers of Indie and Self Published books are a savvy bunch and they’ve learned what a sock puppet looks like. They’ve considered that authors have friends who will boost their rating for them. They’ve seen the advertisements that guarantee 5 reviews for $90. They now go into the market suspicious, so it takes very little to raise their eyebrows. And more than a few are willing to write off an author because they think he or she is cheating the system. Can you blame them? If an author has so little faith in their own work that they need to pad their numbers, how good can the writing be?

What they may not know, or know and give less credence to, is that reviews (good, bad or otherwise) are hard to come by. Sometimes authors really aren’t trying to cheat. They’re just trying to compete. I get that. But readers really don’t have any obligation to consider all sides of an issue. They have every right to pass a book up for any reason they choose.

While I think that’s the most important point here, there are a number of other reasons that bad reviews are good for a book. Bad reviews prevent further bad reviews. It’s counterintuitive, I know. But it’s true. Yes, a bad review may dampen sales a bit. But think about who’s passing the book up.

If you gathered 45 likeminded people in a room, you still wouldn’t get 45 identical preferences (part of why the above stats looks so suspicious). It stands to reason that some readers won’t like a book. If that’s the case wouldn’t it be better for the author that that particular person not pick it up in the first place?  So, those readers similar to the writer of the bad review will by-pass the book and therefore not review it.

Contrarily, those to whom the review doesn’t resonate, who like the same things the reviewer disparaged are just as likely to pick the book up as a result. It’s true, sometimes a bad review can even encourage people to read a book. If the previous point was counter-intuitive, what should I call this point? If the issues the reviewer chooses to highlight happen to pique another’s interest, it can encourage them to read a book. This is especially true if the subject in question is a little on the controversial side to start with. I’ve also, more than once, read a book just to see if it’s a bad as people say. Curiosity is a curious beast and you really never know what might cause someone to scratch that itch.

Lastly, No reviews can often be more damaging to a book than a poor review or two. Even if someone didn’t like a book, it’s still been read by someone, thereby proving itself readable. Books with no reviews don’t have this benefit. There are no quality gatekeepers to the self-published or indie marketplace. New authors are complete unknowns to a reader and many times readers will choose not to take a chance on a book that doesn’t have at least one person who claims to have read it.

I’ve left out bad reviews are amazing learning tools for authors because I really wanted this to be about how poor reviews can benefit a book’s sales or likelihood of being read. But the list really wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include this one. As hard as bad reviews are to read, they can be chocked full of tips on how to improve future writing.

Of course, I have to concede that many of these points are dependent on the bad review being centred on a reader not liking a book or some aspect of a book. There is very little that can be gained by a review that says horribly written, badly edited, and atrociously formatted. The only benefit of such a review that I can think of is that an author knows to pull the product and start again.

I believe there is a process to learning to truly accept criticism and bad reviews as part of the writing and publishing process. It starts with the difficult and personal need to harden oneself to the harsh words of strangers, moves to being able to let such comments flow past without cringing (too much) or even not looking for them at all, then eventually comes to the point when a writer is able to look at the most vitriolic review as still beneficial to their end-goal. This is the point when those more advanced in the process can help those newer to publication. This might even be when people can let themselves think of their-selves in terms of an author instead of a writer.

I’d be more than a little interested in hearing other’s thoughts on this subject. There are thousands of new authors out there, just starting this journey and it’d be nice to hear from people at all points in the process.

*For those who might be curious, the one star review read, “I had to quit after six pages; the writing is a pretty formidable barrier, obscuring whatever story is there. Sometimes it feels like an exercise in using too many adverbs, and the choppy sentence structure makes the writing incohesive. I think Forsythe might do well to find a different medium.”
**to be honest, I should probably admit I totally snatched that header graphic from the Gotta Have Romance with a Kick discussion board. 

Interview with, author, L. S. Fayne + excerpt

L.S. FayneToday we have crossed the digital divide to speak with, author, L. S. Fayne. She writes charming fantasy novels full of familial love, magic and vivacious characters, that are generally split into two series:

19th Century Series: The O’Byrne Daughters

Budding Magic: Book One
It’s Just Magic!: Book Two
Gathering of the Raven: Book Three

20th Century Series: Druantia’s Children

Christmas in the House of O’Byrne: Book One
Druantia’s Braids: Book Two
There Can’t Be Shadows Without Light: Book Three
Book Four expected soon Continue reading