I’m looking forward to speaking at their April 2014 conference. It’s a fantastic conference ”” educational, fun, and incredibly friendly. I’ve been to a dozen of them, both as an attendee and as a speaker, and never fail to meet fantastic people who nurture my career as well as give me personal joy. I come home after four days, drunk with information and new ideas to move my writing and my writing business forward. If you’re not going this year, start making plans to go next year. It’s in a gorgeous setting, nestled at the base of Pikes Peak, always in the perfectly delightful month of April.
This year I’ll be doing a 3-hour workshop with the always charming DeAnna Knippling called THE FIVE Ws OF INDIE PUBLISHING: Who, What, When, Where, Why and WTH?!
The second workshop I’m doing is Support Your Fiction Addiction – How NOT To Be a Starving Artist
Looking forward to both! Also looking forward to meeting bestselling authors and new BFFs Chuck Wendig, Gail Carriger, Hank Phillippi Ryan and Jim C. Hines. (Just don’t tell them. Wouldn’t want to spook ’em.)
If you’re there, let’s hang out in the bar or have a meal together! Be forewarned, though. I really love the Marriott’s cheesecake and am not above stealing yours.
There’s been a conversation in one of my book marketing groups that I’ve been finding interesting. Authors have been discussing their Amazon reviews.
They’ve told some ridiculous, hilarious, and infuriating stories about getting 1-star reviews. Things like, “I bought this book by mistake so I’m giving it 1 star.” Or “I don’t like thrillers” even though the description clearly said it was a thriller. I even heard of one outrageously negative review because the author’s name was similar to her ex-husband’s. Not the same, just similar. The entire review was an ex-husband rant.
My favorite ballsy review starts, “I didn’t read this book, but …”
I wouldn’t be surprised if some poor schlub got a 1-star review on his masterpiece because a cranky reader “missed the bus today.”
Scuttlebutt is that Amazon is clamping down on egregious reviews like these. Hope so. But that’s a topic for another day.
The conversation the last few days swirled around 3-star reviews. Some authors hated getting 3-star reviews, others didn’t much mind. And it led to the question of how authors rated books. Some are brutally honest and will give 1 star to a BFF. Others never review books at all. Ever.
But most of us fall into that hand-wringing middle ground. Much of what we read is written by people we know and we want to love everything with the white-hot intensity of ten thousand suns. But sometimes we don’t. Then what do we do? Many of us, myself included, fall into the ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’ category. Plus, just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean that you won’t. It doesn’t even mean there’s anything wrong with it.
Personally, I don’t think a 3-star review means it’s a bad book. It entertained me for most of the allotted time, didn’t require heaving it against the wall, perfectly solid. Fine. Okay. Average.
But I never give 3-star reviews to people I know.
First, because it will probably bring down their average. No way, no how do I want that on my conscience. It’s hard enough to be a writer without your friends sticking their foot out when you’re lugging packages up a steep hill. Or some writing metaphor.
And second, I don’t know how they view a 3-star review. Everyone knows that five stars means spectacular and one star means craptacular, but what about those pesky middle numbers?
I read the restaurant reviews in the newspaper and am flummuxed. They only have a 4 star system and much of the time the restaurants only earn a one or a two, so I don’t think the food is very good. But when I look closer, one star means it’s good. Two = very good, three = great, four = exceptional.
The nuance is as subtle as their house Chardonnay.
But the book review discussion roused my curiosity. My world revolves around books, authors, reviews, and Amazon in a million different ways. Yours probably doesn’t. So, I want to know …
What are YOUR definitions of the five stars in an Amazon book review? Do you even read book reviews? Do you assume all 5-star reviews are written by the author’s besties and family members? If you were contemplating buying or reading a book and you saw it had a 3-star average, what would you think? Would it be different if it had a lot of reviews and a 3-star average, or just a few reviews and a 3-star average?
That reminds me … must go see if I have new reviews!
My new book is finally in print. It seems like it took forever ”” I guess because it freakin’ DID ”” but I can take a breath and reflect on the journey, now that it’s over.
First, if you have a hankering to publish a book, do it. Do it, do it, DO IT! There’s nothing quite like the joy of seeing something you created right there in your hand.
I know what you’re thinking. “But Becky, what about kids? You can hold newborn babies in your hands too.”
True. But you can’t hold ’em forever, you can’t give them away, and you certainly can’t sell them. At least nobody ever wanted to buy mine, no matter how much I lowered the price.
I joke, of course, but honestly? It’s a similar feeling. And frankly, a book is more of an achievement. I mean, any dope can birth a baby, but not everyone can write a book. Getting pregnant takes ten merry minutes ”” twenty if you’re lucky ”” but a book takes real effort!
Over the last 20 years or so, I’ve published lots of articles, six digital non-fiction books, three or four large-format ‘How To’ manuals, and a fiction paperback for kids. You’d think it would be less exciting to get this paperback in my hand. But it’s not.
It never gets old.
It’s a wild and giddy thrill to see tangible proof of all your hard work. You hold in your hands not just your words and ideas, but the white-hot optimism that complete strangers will appreciate what you’ve done, and the absolute conviction they won’t.
Pretty powerful stuff for 247 pages and a glossy cover.
I guess that’s what publishing a book gives you … power. Not brawn, not skill or mastery, but energy. Courage. A way to steam ahead, full of peppy faith in yourself.
I mean, if you can publish a book, who knows what else you can do? But you’ll never know until you try. So get busy … quit playing in BeckyLand. Get outta here and seize some power for yourself!
I read this article in Time Magazine about Harry Potter and all the associated fan fiction. (It’s well worth your time to read it, whether you’re a writer or not.)
Pardon me if I’m being too technical with this definition, but fan fiction is fiction written by fans. They take the characters from Harry Potter or Twilight or Star Trek or Bewitched or Glee and put them in scenarios of their own imagining. What if Kirk and Spock were gay? What if Harry Potter went to school at Hollywood High instead of Hogwarts? What if Luke Skywalker went to the Dark Side? What if Quinn kept her baby? What if Larry Tate wasn’t so stupid?
Sometimes there’s sex in the stories. Sometimes they project the characters into the future. Or the past. Sometimes the authors are amateurs, but often they’re other published writers. Regardless, each story they tackle answers that age old question all writers ponder … “what if?”
There are many authors who are very proprietary with their characters, never wanting anyone else to touch them. Other authors are thrilled that fans love the characters so much they want to manipulate them into scenarios of their own.
I’ve never written fan fiction, nor do I have characters that other people want to write about ”” yet. Honestly, I don’t know what I think about this. But I sure would like to see a story with Spock and Larry Tate teaching Luke Skywalker the advertising business at Hogwarts. Of course, their neighbors, Kirk and Quinn, would keep their baby and it would grow up to be Sue Sylvester. They wouldn’t invite the neighborhood vampires to their backyard BBQs, though. It would only lead to heartache. And indigestion.
So which is it? As Lev Grossman asks, “Do characters belong to the person who created them? Or to the fans who love them so passionately that they spend their nights and weekends laboring to extend those characters’ lives, for free?”
Occasionally, I’ll say something stupid out loud. (And, yes, I’m defining ‘occasionally’ quite liberally.)
Here are three recent examples:
1. “Which one is the old timey guy, Henry Cabot Lodge or Adam Clayton Powell?”
2. “No, it’s that cheese with the Mexican words on the label.”
3. “I love paying bills.”
I will take my lumps for the first two, but I really do love paying bills. My friend mocked me, but I stood my ground, retorting, “It’s better than paying dues!”
I’m fairly certain I won that argument, but it was hard to tell, what with all the laughter and finger-pointing.
What I meant was, I’m no Pollyanna ”” wait. I am a little Pollyanna-ish, but I draw the line at saying, “I’m thankful thorns have roses!” In fact, now my keyboard feels sticky from all that syrup I just typed.
But I would always rather pay bills than pay dues.
I’m thankful I have money every month to pay my bills. I’m thankful for clean water, electricity, magazine subscriptions, blazing fast internet, and the ability to pick up the phone and talk to my kids scattered all over the world.
Bill paying feeds into a ”” I’ve come to realize ”” unique (some say ‘weird’ or ‘crazy’ but that’s probably because their vocabulary is limited) part of my personality. I love plastic storage bins, sharp crayons, lists, and balancing my checkbook, too.
Sometimes I even get the satisfaction of actually paying a bill off ”” owning a car outright, no more college loans, finally paying off the remodeling, burning the mortgage.
Dues, on the other hand, never get paid off. Well, not for me, anyway. Not my publishing dues.
I’ve spent many years now without much tangible to show for all the effort I’ve put into writing. The intangibles are many, however ”” lots of like-minded friends, better writing skills, the ability to dabble in many different genres.
But there are self-esteem issues and frustration ”” mostly low-grade, but also mostly constant. Another rejection?! Am I good enough? Why won’t they buy this? Why don’t I know how to plot better? Shouldn’t I know more words by now?
And then I remember what Sue Grafton says: “Writing is a craft that takes many years to develop. The publishing world is full of talented, hardworking writers who’ve struggled for years to learn the necessary skills. I counsel any writer to focus on the job at hand ”” learning to write well ”” trusting that when the time comes, the Universe will step in and make the rest possible. Writing isn’t about the destination ”” writing is the journey that transforms the soul and gives meaning to all else.”
Frankly, I love this journey so I guess I’ll keep paying my bills and paying my dues and trusting that the Universe knows what it’s doing. And, of course, I’ll continue to say stupid things out loud.
How ’bout you? Do you like paying bills? Have you “paid your dues” yet? Will you confess to saying stupid things out loud?
For everyone worried about kids and reading and books and publishing … and for those of you who are just awed by ridiculously excellent marketing campaigns …. Watch this!