Tag Archives: reader opinion

Fan Mail from Prison and Other Milestones

I’ve heard several writer friends say you know you’ve “made it” as a writer when you receive fan mail from prison. It’s a thing. A bit of black humour, obviously, as I’ve never known any writer who seriously thinks they’ve “made it.” It’s an intriguing idea, fan mail from prison. Especially these days when ebooks are gaining in popularity over print books. Are inmates allowed internet access to download ebooks? I have no idea.

I haven’t received any fan mail, let alone from prison, but two things happened recently that hit near the top of my own personal squee-o-meter and that feel like milestones in my writing career. Mind you, this stuff is subjective. Pretty sure you could find a writer or three who would disagree.

The first thing was getting an alert that showed one of my books [How Did This Happen? Lunch with Imaginary Friends and Other (mostly) True Stories] was listed on a piracy site. My initial gut reaction was something along the lines of, “What. The. Hell. That’s my book. I created that and you– you– fuck you, man– you just took it? You stole my book and decided you could offer it up over there for FREE? You slimy goddamned bastard.”

Ahem. What can I say? Probably it’s a primal human emotion, possessiveness.

That outrage lasted for about thirty seconds. Okay, maybe a full minute. I’m surprised it lasted that long, or even existed at all, because I decided a long time ago that piracy is not a bad thing. That it is, in fact, a good thing. As a fledgling writer, my greatest enemy is obscurity. Piracy is a nice boost in visibility for someone in my position.

I’ve come to think of (free*) pirate sites as sort of like a library, only without express permission. God knows, I wish I could interest libraries in carrying my books. A Pirate Library increases my exposure to readers. Readers who, for whatever reason, might someday decide they want to or are able to pay for the books they read. And even if they don’t ever become paying customers, I’m thrilled any time someone reads a thing I wrote. That’s sort of the whole point of putting your writing out in public.

*To be clear: piracy sites that take other people’s work and SELL IT and PROFIT FROM IT are engaged in indefensible black-hearted gutless thievery and deserve every particle of bad karma and aggressive legal action aimed at them.

I found it amusing that part of their shtick was, “There used to be a book called…” Like it was no longer available and they were doing everyone a favour by finding it and once again making it available. Clever. But the icing on this particular cake was the blurb they wrote:

A First Opinion: A Book that Realistically Describes Teen Life

Imagine a book that inspires you to stand up and act out scenes at lunch to your co-workers! Imagine a book that you mark pages to read to specific people in your life: your husband, your friends, your students, your siblings …

I love that. Even though it’s the extent of what I could see without logging in.

Honestly, I can’t tell whether someone actually read the book and wrote that or whether they just have a really good algorithm that picks up on keywords and writes relevant reviews. Either way, I thought this blurb was awesome. Way better than anything I’ve managed to come up with. Do you think I could get away with posting it on retail sites as an editorial review? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind me stealing it sharing it with others.

Another thing that sort of made me go “awww” was a comment after the blurb (I can’t access it anymore, so probably someone targeted the site for takedown) that said, “Thank you so much for posting this book!” I think it was from someone named Jenny B. Or maybe Julie T. I’m so bad with names. Whichever, Jenny or Julie, you’re most welcome. I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you share it with a friend. For free.

The second thing that happened is that I finally got a two-star review. Of that same book, actually. I didn’t even need to pause to gather my thoughts on this. My immediate reaction was, “OMG! YES! This is SO awesome!!” And then I laughed — literally, out loud — in sheer delight.

I’ve been hugging it close since I first saw it, keeping it to myself, savoring it like a secret treasure. It felt too precious to share.

You think I’m kidding, perhaps being sarcastic? I assure you, I am not.

I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for someone to write a one- or two-star review of one of my books. I can’t even tell you how much I’ve wanted this to happen. I’m surprised it just now happened for a book I published three and a half years ago. Ebooks really are an equalizer of time.

This book has gotten a couple two-star ratings on Goodreads, along with one three-star rating. Those made me smile too, but those are just ratings, not actual reviews. I’ve been waiting and hoping for someone who was underwhelmed enough to bother with a review. Here it is:

2.0 out of 5 stars

ended up boring, April 15, 2014

By TMS (Texas) – See all my reviews

Verified Purchase (What’s this?)

This review is from: How Did This Happen? Lunch with Imaginary Friends and other (mostly) True Stories (Kindle Edition)

This book had some funny spots, it’s a bunch of short blog notes. But, after awhile it got really boring. I got about 75% done and just quit.

Boring. She thought it was boring! Tee hee. I giggle every time I read that. It wasn’t anything personal. She wasn’t angry or vitriolic. She simply didn’t enjoy the book. It’s ridiculous how happy this makes me.

Okay, I shouldn’t have to say this, but DO NOT go over there and harass this person or down-vote her review. I mean it. That’s not cool and I’d be very disappointed with you if you did. In fact, don’t go over there at all. Well, unless you want to buy the book.

I’m halfway convinced that every time someone looks at a book on Amazon and ends up NOT buying it, Amazon gives it a higher (worse) rating. I imagine a wizened little man wearing a transparent green visor sitting in the back room over there with a creased scorecard and a stubby golf pencil, taking note, “Another visitor, another NO SALE. Tsk. Black mark for you, my dear.” People look but don’t buy and the ranking goes higher and higher until they simply run out of known numbers and then the book quietly implodes, turning into fairy dust, never to be seen again.

I figure I’m only a half-dozen views away from that fate as it is. So. Just don’t.

How can I explain this happiness? I know darn well there are a ton of people out there who wouldn’t like that book. Or any book I write, but especially that one. If you like my blog posts, you might like that book. Because that’s what it is, blog posts. Personal essays. I think they’re some of my best pieces. I selected them carefully and I’m proud of that book, but I never expected to reach beyond a very small specific audience with what was essentially an experiment in self-publishing.

The people who enjoyed that book are people who have been following me on the internet for a while now. People who say they love my voice and who get my dry sense of humour and claim they’d read anything I write. I’m humbled by their faith in me. I am incredibly lucky to count them as friends. But they’re a minority. As they should be.

Thing is, I know those “other” people are out there, the ones who think my writing is boring or just not their kind of thing. And I love it that one of them decided to say so, publicly. It feels like a major accomplishment just to have finally reached one of those others. That one of their vast number picked up a book written by a stranger and gave it a try.

I was starting to think it might never happen. I mean, every other writer I know has one- and two-star reviews of their books. Several of them, in fact. What was wrong with me, that I couldn’t get even one?

Now, I’m not suggesting you all should go rush over there and write disappointed reviews of my books to make me happy. Well, unless you really truly feel that way. Then, you know, go right ahead.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate people who do enjoy my writing. I treasure them more than I can say. They keep me sane and motivate me to keep on writing when I want to throw my hands up in frustration and say to hell with it. And it’s not that I think they’re less than honest in their opinions. Not at all. But opinion is subjective. It should be wide-ranging.

Sure, I want people to enjoy my stories. I hope the people who do enjoy them continue to outnumber those who don’t. That’s why I write, to entertain people. Well, and also with the hope that I might make some money. So, yes, I want people to like my writing. But not ALL people. In the same way that I’d be very concerned, even alarmed, if EVERYONE liked mint chip ice cream. Or rollercoasters. Or cats. That would be disturbing as hell.

I don’t want my writing to be universally loved. The thought of that kind of unanimity of opinion makes me feel all snarly. I’d begin to suspect I was doing something horribly wrong if that happened.

So it feels like an affirmation to have finally found this person — or have her find me, whatever — who took a chance on reading something that wasn’t to her taste. Something she found boring. I’m unreasonably proud of her for taking that chance, for reading something outside the norm. I hope she tries some other new thing some day soon and really does enjoy it. Or maybe not. Maybe someone else is even now impatiently anticipating her next two-star review, just as I was.

So, there you have it. Two recent events that made me outrageously happy. I guess the next milestone will be garnering enough reviews of a book that they number in double digits. A small thing, I know. But hey, there are a lot of little steps on the way to that ultimate writerly accomplishment: having a book banned and/or burned. That would make me pretty damn happy too, although I’ll have to really step it up before that’s even a possibility. I’m working on it.

Disapprobation and piracy. Way better than fan mail from prison.



Filed under book reviews, deep thoughts, reader opinion

The Power of Three

“I’m not dead yet!”

Sorry for the extended silence over here. I’ve actually written a small handful of posts in the past two months, but they were either too trivial or too whiny or involved too much navel-gazing. So I deleted them and decided to wait until I could fit all those qualities into one post.


I’ve been busy writing. And deleting and editing and writing and deleting some more and . . . I swear, I will never participate in NaNo ever again. I suspect I’ve deleted or completely re-written every single word spewed forth in November. Mind you, I think NaNo is a terrific thing for writers if it works for them. I’d absolutely recommend that any interested writer give it a try, because you never know what might work if you don’t try it. But it’s just not a good fit for my writing process. Geez. I’ve never had to do such a major overhaul.

There, that takes care of the trivial whining portion of the post.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about marketing. Trying to think like a reader. Luckily, I am one! In fact, I am a voracious and highly experienced reader. So I’m the perfect person for me to ask about what works in terms of marketing books [just nod and agree as if that made sense].

What works for me? When I discover a new-to-me writer and read a book of theirs that I really like, the first thing I do is check to see whether they’ve written anything else. If they have, I’ll buy another book. If I like that, I’ll buy a third. And a fourth. And probably the entire backlist, provided it’s priced such that my budget can handle it.

But what happens when I read a book I really like and there are no more books by that person? Well, of course, I make a mental note to remember that person’s name. Because that works so well. Not. Sure, I could make an actual list. But I know how hard it is to write a book. I hope that person will write another, but I’ve seen dozens of writers disappear in my decades of reading. So I’m not counting on it.

Seeing an author’s name once or twice is not going to make it stick in my brain, no matter how much I might have enjoyed their writing. There are just too many other books and authors out there. And I read A LOT. But three times . . . there’s something memorable about that. Seeing something three times, searching Amazon three times, buying an author’s books three times, and — this is KEY — really enjoying something three times. That would leave a lasting impression, even with me.

Now, the importance of having a backlist is not a new concept. I’ve heard it from several sources, but probably heard it first from Bob Mayer. He has an uncanny knack for being way ahead of his time. Our time? The times? Whatever. I’m sure his prescience is a direct result of all those alien abductions. Anyway, I remember him saying there’s not much point in marketing your books until you’ve published at least three of them (there’s that number again).

I’ve decided to take that advice a step further. I’m not going to publish any of these stories I’m currently writing until I have at least three of them ready to go. Because if someone really likes a book I’ve written, I want them to be able to buy another one immediately. And, if they enjoy that, yet another. I might never get a second chance to capture that person’s attention. There are just too many other books out there.

I want that person to remember my name when future books are published. I figure three books ought to do it. I might be wrong. I have no statistics or publishing experience to back this up. All I have is my intuition and experience as a reader. But I’m pretty average in terms of remembering things [just nod and agree, humour me] and it seems to work for me. It makes sense to me.

As a writer, putting books out there as soon as they’re ready to go is a seductive prospect. Everyone does it that way, even traditional publishers. It would certainly satisfy my towering impatience. I also think it’s a mistake.

Yeah, I know, most of you reading this post already know my name (as well as my new pen name) and will argue that you don’t want or need to wait until I have three books ready. I know that, and I’m sorry to make you wait. Really, I am.

But I’m sort of hoping to sell books to more than five people. Looking at this from the perspective of an unknown reader, it just doesn’t make sense to rush to publication and do this piecemeal. The importance of seeing things from that perspective, being aware of the discovery process of the unknown reader, is something writers can’t afford to ignore in this new realm of DIY publishing.

So if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t published anything yet, that’s why. Yes, I could have. But just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should. And I believe there are compelling reasons why it would be foolish to do so.

Of course, none of this matters AT ALL if no one enjoys the books. So, back to working on that part of it.


Filed under goals, marketing, self-publishing

What’s the worst that could happen?

There has been a good bit of noise on the internets lately about book reviews. Mostly this has consisted of writers accusing reviewers of being mean and snarky or inappropriately critiquing the writer along with the book, causing reviewers to tell writers to sit down and shut up because they weren’t even talking to them. This kind of argument is unfortunate and the type I used to resolve by sending my kids to time out.

As far as I can tell, everyone is behaving badly.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” -Kurt Vonnegut

But this post is directed at all you offended writers out there. Because I think your perspective is a bit . . . off. You’ve decided you should be up in arms because your work has been disrespected or your reputation has been besmirched? That a “bad” review is the worst thing that could happen to a writer? Seriously?

You are mistaken. In fact, you’re not even close.

Here is a list of all the things that could happen out in the big bad world of being a published writer, starting with the worst:

1.  The worst thing that could happen is that no one reads your book. Ever. Write this down somewhere: Obscurity is your worst enemy.

2.  The next worst thing? Nope, NOT a bad review. The next worst thing is that someone reads your book and feels nothing. Or they stop reading somewhere in the middle because they’re swamped with “meh.” Completely ambivalent. Bored out of their fucking mind. They don’t love it and they don’t hate it. They set it down in a dusty corner of their ereader — out of sight, out of mind — and never mention it to anyone. Ever.

3.  The next worst? Again, NOT a bad review. The next worst thing is that someone reads your book and is incredibly moved — and by this I mean they either love it OR hate it — and they hoard this opinion like it’s their very own precioussss and never tell anyone, not even the cat. This is actually a very good thing, but we’re talking here about things that have an effect on you publicly. And remember? Obscurity is not your friend.

4.  And now we’re getting into territory that is more accurately described as “best” rather than “worst.” The second best thing is that someone who is full of the “meh” feels compelled to go online and post a middle-of-the-road three star review that says your book wasn’t the best they ever read, but hey, it wasn’t the worst either. Probably this person’s favourite ice cream is vanilla. Without sprinkles. But you love them anyway because they read your book and made the effort to say so. That’s a big deal.

5.  Finally, here it is: the BEST thing that could ever happen is that someone read your book and it made them FEEL something or THINK something and those thoughts and feelings were so strong that person went online and told everyone they know, and a bunch of strangers too, all about it.

You love this person. You love all their five-stars and all their one-stars equally. Why? Because you got to that person. You struck a chord, evoked a response. Your words made them feel and think and they were compelled to share that reaction with others.

“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.” -Edwin Schlossberg

It does not matter whether the things they say are “good” or “bad.” It is none of your business whether they loved your book or hated it. And it is not your job to judge or provide commentary about what people think and feel. Your job is to tell the story the best way you can and put it out there for people to read and hope it evokes a response. Period. That’s it.

You want to obsess over what people think and how they react and why? You’re in the wrong profession. Go back to school and become a psychologist.

You want unconditional love and acceptance? Get a dog. A dog will love you no matter what. You could create the worst piece of driveling dreckitude ever written and pepper it with bad grammar and egregious typos and even run-on sentences and a dog won’t care. The honey badger won’t care either, but a dog will love you. And not try to kill you. While you sleep.

Sure, you hope people will enjoy your books. Of course you do, that’s human nature. No one likes to hear negative criticism or be the target of snarky personal remarks. [And honestly, reviewers? You want to be taken seriously, review the damn work.] But as a writer, you need to be as immune to and oblivious of the criticism of readers as you should be of their accolades. Really. You can’t let the praise get to you either. That stuff is lethal.

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” -William James

Frankly, you shouldn’t even be reading reviews of your own books. That’s not why you’re writing. Reviews are not the end product of your work. Your goal is to tell stories. People are not like dogs, in case you haven’t noticed. Most of them don’t even have fleas, let alone big brown adoring eyes. No, people are difficult and ornery and unpredictable as hell. Some will love your work and some will hate it. Some will react so strongly to your stories they will decide they also love or hate YOU, the writer.

But it has nothing to do with you personally. Neither the love nor the hate. Those reactions have everything to do with each individual reader in the same way that once they read your story, once they process it through their own unique filter, it belongs to them in a way you can neither imagine nor control. Granted, the “meh” is sort of a ringing indictment of your abilities, but you’ll get better at evoking a reaction the more you write.

So go write another book. And if you happen to accidentally stumble across someone who has read your book and is talking about it AT ALL, smile quietly and congratulate yourself and be grateful. Because that’s the best thing that could ever happen to a writer.


Filed under book reviews, health and well-being, reader opinion

Who supplies your habit?

Ack! I’ve been neglecting my blog again. Been kind of busy here. Trying to turn this rough draft into something that sort of resembles that product called a book, even though I suspect the only use people are going to find for it is to line their birdcage.

But I’m trying to think positive thoughts. Uplifting confidence-inspiring thoughts. Mostly they consist of things like, “The whole entire world is not going to read your book and think it sucks and that you can’t write, because only ten people are ever going to read it.”

And along those lines, I’ve been wondering about “promotion” [shudder] and how to let more than ten people know I’ve written a book and it’s going to be published. [<—You see? That right there was a deluded positive thought.] More specifically, I’ve been wondering where people get recommendations about what to read. I started thinking about this after I read a post last week on the Lifehacker blog in which they listed what they call the “Five Best Book Recommendation Services,” and they are:

Do you all use those sites? I’ve heard of most of them, but the only one I’ve ever visited is Amazon. Unfortunately, not all of what I’ve heard is positive. Several people on twitter have complained that at least one of those sites is full of irritating self-promo and spam generated by authors rather than limited to recommendations from readers. Anyone have experience there? Maybe those are sites authors should just avoid?

I know all of you have favourite writers whose books you read (and re-read) with admirable loyalty. I have my list of auto-buy writers too. But I assume you also read books from new-to-you writers. How did you hear about them — either the books or the writers? Whose recommendations do you trust? Friends, co-workers, librarians, the guy sitting next to you on the subway? Bestseller lists? Do you read blogs or online reader forums to get suggestions? When trying a new writer, do you buy the book or get it from the library? Is your decision to try someone new influenced by format and price — that is, whether the book is hardcover, paperback or an ebook?

I can’t really go by my own experience because I’m a bit of a book slut. I’ll try any writer at least once. But I’m not always (or even often) reading for pleasure. In fact, I can learn more from a badly written book than from one that’s so good it sucks me right into the story. So I read all sorts of stuff.

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity. -Christopher Morley

I’ve probably tried 20 different writers so far this year. And my TBR pile is full of books by writers I’ve never read. Some of them I’m hesitant to read because I’ve gotten to “know” the writers online and I really like and admire them and I’m afraid to discover I might not like their books. I know, I’m a wimp and a chicken and shouldn’t be allowed to socialize at all, ever. But that’s off topic.

Let’s see, half of the last six new-to-me writers I read were the result of blog interviews, one was suggested via twitter, and the other two came from an Amazon recommendation — you know, that thing where they say, “if you like that, you might like this.” Sometimes they’re way off base. But sometimes they’re right.

I appreciate Amazon’s “try it free” feature for Kindle books that allows you to read the beginning of the book before you buy it. The vast majority of the time, that’s how I decide whether to read a book. I read the cover copy and skim the first few pages. I can tell a lot in those first few pages. Not unlike an agent or editor, I guess. Oddly, I never read the reviews at Amazon. I don’t really care to hear what some stranger thought about a book. Although that might change once it’s my book. Sigh.

What about you? I’d love to hear what influences your book reading decisions. Pro and con. For or against choosing one. Just pleasepleaseplease don’t tell me you never read anything from someone new. Because if that’s true, I’m screwed. Then again, at least that would mean I’m only going to have to worry about the opinion of those ten people referenced above. All of whom read this blog and are too nice to tell me I suck. I think.

I am SO going to notice if you all rush out and buy birdcages.

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Filed under marketing, reader opinion