Inspiration Strikes!

Today was an odd day. On the way to work this morning, I was pondering which of my “in progress” projects to continue next month during Camp NaNoWriMo. I told myself that I was going to do some outlining and brainstorming on each one, and I’d make a decision by the end of tonight.

Around three o’clock this afternoon, I was struck with a sickness that I just couldn’t shake. I had a terrible headache and felt nauseated. I popped some Excedrin, but I didn’t feel any better, so I ended up heading home early. I went straight to bed and fell asleep for almost two hours.

I had the weirdest dream that I have had in a long time. It was creepy, but more than that, it was a complete narrative. This used to happen to me a lot, but it hasn’t happened in awhile. Somewhere in the middle of the dream, I realized that I was dreaming, and it got so intense that I had to wake myself up. Then, I just couldn’t stop thinking about the idea. The narrative was too bizarre, even for fiction, but the base idea was intriguing. Within an hour, I had four main characters and a general plot outline developed in my head. This is an idea that I can honestly say I’ve never approached before, so I have no idea where it came from.

It strikes me as especially weird, since if I didn’t feel sick today, I wouldn’t have gone home, wouldn’t have slept, and wouldn’t have had the idea come to me – would it have come to me at another time? I don’t know.

Anyway, I know this is a random post, but HOORAY for inspiration. This solves my Camp NaNoWriMo dilemma! Looks like I’m headed back to the horror genre for the month of July.

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The Big 3-0: Reflections

On Thursday, I celebrated a milestone: my 30th birthday. I try not to be one of those people who freaks out at birthdays, and the truth is, I feel no different at 30 than I did at 29. But I think birthdays, like some holidays, provide a good opportunity to reflect on one’s life and goals, especially when entering a whole new decade.

My 30s are intimidating to me because I associate them with “real” adulthood. My earliest memories of my mother are when she was in her early 30s, and of course, I always thought she was a real grown-up, someone who had everything together. This next decade is going to include a lot of choices – where do we want to live long term, do we want to buy a house, are we going to have kids, and if so when, etc., etc. This is also going to be an important time in my legal career. I’ve been working for almost five years now, so I finally feel like I know what I’m doing at work. The next decade will (I hope) provide more opportunities to advance in that career, and, most importantly, I should qualify for public service loan forgiveness within the next six to seven years (seriously, it’s going to be the happiest day of my life).

When I look forward to the next decade of my writing career, I don’t know what will happen. I have one project finished, pending editing, and I have three other projects that are thisclose to being done. Okay, realistically, each one needs another solid month of work, but I could finish at least one or two of those by the end of the year. Taking that into consideration, what’s a realistic goal for the next ten years? Publish one book a year? That seems a little aggressive to me, though not impossible. Maybe one every year and a half? That would end up being between 6-7 books over the next decade. I think that’s possible. Ideas aren’t the problem. I have 11 stories “in progress” – meaning I’ve either written something on the story or I’ve fleshed out the idea. So, the problem is actually sitting down and finishing all of these projects.

I’m also trying to remind myself that I’ve accomplished a lot so far. Let’s be honest – during ages 1 through 18, I didn’t do much, but in those subsequent 12 years, I finished college and law school, had two great legal jobs, published a book, and traveled a decent amount. That’s not bad before 30.

Do you use birthdays or holidays to reflect upon your goals? Anyone else hit 30 and not freak out (or did you freak out)? 

Noooo, not Hannibal!

I was so bummed to find out yesterday that NBC is cancelling Hannibal after three seasons. I love that show – perhaps an unhealthy amount. It’s such a great show because it’s the perfect combination of substance and style. Hannibal pulled off things that I had never seen on network television before, and they did it with such lovely art direction. It’s dark, gruesome, and lovely. But beyond just the style of the show, the showrunners were excellent storytellers. They managed to weave elements of surrealism and horror into what is, essentially, a crime show. Their version of Hannibal Lecter is just as delightful as the versions in the books and films. Also, the acting–I mean, come on–Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne, Gillian Anderson–that’s a cast of fantastic actors.

I’m really hoping that it gets picked up by some other service. I can’t even imagine how gruesome this show could be if it was on Netflix or something similar. I know that the darkness of this show isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of horror, and you haven’t watched Hannibal, you’re really missing out. The first two seasons are available now on Amazon Prime, and the third season is currently airing on NBC.

Project Update: Let the review process begin

I’m excited to announce that my latest project, now titled The Travelers, has a finished first draft. It’s rough. The ending is still all messed up. But it’s a complete story. It’s about 95,000 words, which is less than I anticipated, but still more than I have ever written before.

Now, I’m beginning the daunting phase of editing. Everyone is different, but my general editing schedule is this: first, I read the draft, as if I’m just reading a novel. I don’t make line edits or other changes, though I jot down things that I feel need improvement as I go along. This is really just a pass for me to get a feel for the story. What works, what doesn’t. Where are there holes? What can I cut out? I’m currently in the middle of that phase. It’s hard for me to read the whole thing in one pass, and I was in the middle of reading a great book (Red Rising!), so I put it aside for a moment.

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(The view on my Kindle. It looks so pretty.)

I discovered with my last novel that you can send Word documents to your Kindle, and it is essentially just like reading a “real” book, even though it’s a work in progress. This is really beneficial for me, because I’m able to approach the story as a reader and not just as the creator. If you haven’t done this with your works in progress, I highly recommend it. I actually went back and re-read my three major works in progress (all under 60,000 words, so much easier to do it in a short period of time), and it got me really energized to go back to those projects.

After I complete this draft, I’ll go back and rework “big picture” ideas. I’ll work on characterization, plot holes, fleshing out awkward scenes, etc. While I do this, I’ll line edit as needed, but I won’t be looking for that. Then, I’ll read it again and do a very cursory pass for line editing.

Then, it’s off to beta readers. I need to find some this time around, but I’ll get to that eventually. After the beta readers, it’ll be ready for some legit, professional editing.

So, that’s what’s new with me. I might be posting a little less frequently, since I would like to seriously work on editing The Travelers while trying to finish at least one of my other three works in progress. And in just a couple weeks, it’s July, and you know what that means – NaNoWriMo. So much writing. So little time.

Writers, what’s your revising schedule? Do you ship it straight to beta readers? Am I crazy for reading a first draft like a real book? Leave your comments below.

6 Tips for Dealing with Bad Book Reviews

It’s every writer’s worst nightmare: after getting feedback from beta readers and your editor, revising your book, and generally stressing out, you finally work up the courage to publish your precious, finished product. You release it into the world, hoping that you gain a few readers. People start to purchase your book – hooray! But then the reviews roll in. And there’s a 3 star. Or a 2 star. Or (*gulp*) a 1 star review.

How do you bounce back from that? Here are five ways that I cope with handling less-than-glowing feedback.

1. Every book has negative reviews.

Think of your favorite book – the book that you love more than anything, that you have read and re-read so many times. Even that book has negative reviews, I promise you.

For example, Philip K. Dick is my favorite author. I checked out the reviews for Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep? (a/k/a the book that Blade Runner is based on). Though the overwhelming majority of reviews for this book are great, there are a few outliers. Here’s some complaints from 1 star reviews:

  • “The story is an absolute mess.”
  • “No new ideas and overall poorly written.”
  • “It reads like it was written for the mentally ill searching for their inner self. Strange and awkward wording was one of the many lowlights of this audiobook.”

Of course, these make me cringe. What? I think. How in the world can you find Philip K. Dick’s work poorly written?! Okay, but maybe this is a bad example. Maybe MY favorite book isn’t universally acclaimed. So, let’s check out a widely acclaimed book:

  • “I am sorry but I would rather have my teeth pulled than to keep reading this whatever.”
  • “Did not finish reading it after about 1/3 into the book. In my opinion, there was too much dialogue and the story moved too slowly to keep my interest.”

Those are two 1 star reviews for To Kill a Mockingbird.

  • “I don’t get why this is such a classic, why people seem to love it so much, really I just don’t get it. It is just a bunch of rich people in the 20’s having parties and their nonsensical conversations.”

That’s from a 1 star review for The Great Gatsby.

In other words, every book will receive negative reviews. You will never find a book that has only positive reviews (at least, not one properly distributed to a lot of people), and so there is no reason to believe that you will receive only positive reviews. First and foremost, remember that you’re in good company.

2. The reviewer may not be your ideal reader.

Look, you could write the best vampire romance in the entire world, and I probably won’t like it. But that doesn’t mean that you’ve written a bad book. It means that I’m not the person who you envisioned reading your book.

Putting your story out into the world has drawbacks. When I first published my book, I had it available for free for a few days. I had over 5,000 people download it! That was wonderful, but I’m sure a lot of those people were downloading it only because it was free and not because they are fans of my genre. I would bet that a lot of those people never even read it.

I have pretty strong feelings about reviewing a book outside of your preferred genre. For example, I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, but sometimes, I want a light read, and I’ll download one on sale from Amazon. I’ll read it in a day or two. It’s fluffy entertainment, but I wouldn’t necessarily call these books “good.” So, I try not to rate and review those books on Amazon or Goodreads. I am not the target audience, and even if I would give that book 2 stars, most people in the target audience are giving it 4 or 5. I don’t think it’s fair to the author for me to write a pointless review that says, “Meh, not really my thing.” (Believe me, I don’t have an issue giving negative reviews to books that I think are legitimately bad or poorly written books where I am the target audience).

This is not to say that if you get a review from someone who clearly doesn’t like books in your genre, you should disregard everything they say. But take it with a grain of salt. If the person has legitimate complaints about characterization, dialogue, etc, then you should consider that. However, if you write a fantasy novel, and someone’s review says, “I’m just not into fantasy, so this book wasn’t for me,” you know that the review isn’t truly helpful.

3. Learn what you can from the review.

Some negative reviews are completely unhelpful. “Eh, I thought it was boring,” is one such review. A review that criticizes character development, plot structure, etc. is more more helpful to a writer’s long-term success. I had several people read my story before publishing it, and there have been a couple reviews that have pointed out things that none of my beta readers did. This shouldn’t surprise me, because everyone reads with a different perspective. Some people may love your protagonist, while others may find her frustrating. Does the review explain why the reader had a problem with characters/plot/etc? It’s tempting to just write off the negative comments, but especially if more than one person has mentioned something, sit down and really think about it. How can you take that criticism and use it to improve your next story?

4. Ignore jerks.

As stated above, use the reviews that are helpful. If someone is vague or downright mean about why they dislike your book, push the review out of your head. There is a difference between someone providing a critical review and someone just being a jerk. There’s no reason for a reader to write something cruel, especially on Amazon or Goodreads, where they know they’re affecting future sales. Unless there’s something constructive in the review, ignore it. Otherwise, you’ll spend your time dwelling on why this reader thought your book was the worst thing they’ve ever read.

5. Criticism doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible writer.

Sometimes, when we hear criticism, we overreact. I’m definitely guilty of this. But a negative or quasi-negative review of your work does not mean that you’re a terrible writer or that your dream of being a writer is stupid. It means that this reader had issues or concerns with aspects of your story. If the person gives you a 2 or 3 star review, that means that something worked for them. Despite any issues they had with the story, this isn’t the worst book ever. Even if someone gives you a 1 star review, look at the reasons they use in their review. If someone hates your story for valid reasons, that doesn’t mean that you should give up on writing.

6. Read the positive reviews!

For every negative review your book gets, I’m sure there will be more positive ones. Go back and read those. Remember that even if someone didn’t like your book, there are readers who LOVED it! I think reading a positive review of my book is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life. One reviewer commented that she hoped I wrote another one, and I was just floored. Someone wants me to write more?? I couldn’t believe it. Reading the positive reviews will help remind you why you published in the first place. You wanted to connect with people and to give readers a great story, and for a lot of people, you accomplished that goal.

(Side note: readers, take note of this. If you read a book and love it, please rate and review it on all the platforms you can. Writers thrive off positive feedback. When I see a four or five star rating on Goodreads with no accompanying review, I want to beg the reader to write something on Goodreads and Amazon, but I feel like that’s a little too stalkerish.)

Writers: How do you deal with negative reviews? 

May Recap: Plugging Along

In retrospect, May was neither a great month nor a terrible month, in terms of productivity. It was okay. “Okay” is not the measuring stick that I would like, but it’s better than February or March.

I wrote 23,873 words during the month of May, which averages to about 770 per day. 19,956 of those words were on Repetitions. The remaining 4,000-ish were split among two new projects. I had no intention of starting new things at this point in Repetitions, but I found that sometimes I just could not bring myself to write on that project. Total project size is somewhere around 85,000 words, and it should be quite close to completion.

On the reading side, I finished 9 books, which was more than my goal. I’m currently in the middle of 4 books (including Anna Karenina – readers, this might take me the whole year. It’s impossible). I did finish 11/22/63, which was excellent. I highly recommend it.

Sadly, I did not meet my goal of finishing Daredevil on Netflix. I got sucked into The Americans on FX which is phenomenal.

June goals: Write at least 30,000 words OR finish Repetitions, whichever comes first, read at least 9 books, and finish Daredevil.