Reading you under the table since 2012

On Handling Criticism

by

Alex Bracken

Alex

On Saturday morning, as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across an article written by another author, describing the great lengths she had gone to to track down and, I guess, expose a reviewer she felt was too harsh and inaccurate in her review of this author’s work. The author describes the supposed harassment she received from this reviewer in the weeks that followed, and, after some “light stalking” (there is no such thing as “light stalking,” just stalking) of this reviewer’s social media, she ultimately showed up on the reviewer’s doorstep to confront her. I think we are all in agreement that this act was 100% unacceptable behavior and terribly, horribly frightening for the reviewer who had every right to protect her identity online. I’m fairly certain you all know what I’m talking about, but rather than link you to the essay, I will point you in the direction of posts from Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for a better, balanced discussion.

What I want to talk about today are ways to cope with negative criticism as an author. We all receive it. We all see it. And if you haven’t reached that step of your career yet, well, you should expect it and start conditioning yourself to handle it now. It’s easy to think that you can take a rational stance when it comes to getting feedback about your work, but there are so many emotions at play here, that I think many authors are surprised by how gut-deep they feel negative words (and how easy it is to ignore the positive). I’ll be the first to admit that I was not great at coping when my first book was published in 2010. I stalked my Google Alerts and the book’s GoodReads page. Every good review was like a hit of wonderful sunshine-y rainbows, and I’d keep coming back for more… but then I’d see a critical review and it would smack me down into this dark “maybe I do suck” place. So what formed was a cycle and I knew I was going to have to break it if I wanted any sort of career.  Here is what has helped me:

1) Don’t read reviews. Plain and simple, do not read reviews, good or bad. This is the only thing that has ultimately saved my sanity and allowed me to be productive. It’s obviously easier said than done, especially when a book is first coming out and you’re dying to hear what people think. You will never be able to stop with just one review. I recommend staying off GoodReads entirely, but I actually do think it’s important for authors to have a presence there so they can update their books’ information pages and respond to questions and messages. If you find you need a hit of GR, I recommend bookmarking the Readers Questions page for each book or your author dashboard and really keeping to just those pages. You can also add books you’re currently reading without looking at your own books’ pages–don’t sneak a peek. If you find yourself with a crippling addiction to checking on the average or seeing if anyone new is reading it, block GoodReads on your browser.

My one exception to this rule is that I do read professional reviews from trade publications like PublishersWeekly and Kirkus Reviews, because those publications are used by librarians to see if they should purchase the books for their libraries. But you can always ask your editor to hold the reviews back if you really don’t want to see anything.

2) Remember that not every reader is on GoodReads. GR is a fantastic community of book lovers, but if you were to ask the average person on the street what they thought of it, a lot of people would just blink at you in confusion. Bad reviews may feel like someone is trying to mock or humiliate you (they’re not) for public consumption, but that public is actually just a fraction of the number of people reading your books. Don’t believe me? Check your royalty statement against the people who have marked the book as ‘read.’

3) We are all students. The goal of any writer should be to improve and grow with each book. No matter how perfect you think the story is, there is always room for improvement. Embrace that idea, and, if you must-must-must read reviews, learn to recognize a real critique someone is giving you versus a statement about their personal taste, the latter of which is completely out of your control. (eg “This author didn’t spend enough time developing the secondary characters.” versus “I didn’t like XX character. I thought they were annoying.”)

4) Trust reviewers to know their tastes. One thing I’ve learned over the years of getting to know book bloggers and reviewers is that they know what’s going to work for them and what’s not going to work for them. They can read another reviewer’s negative review and recognize, oh, s/he doesn’t like this element in books, but I do, and still purchase or request it. They can even recommend a book they, personally, didn’t like to another reviewer/friend who they think will.

5) Bad reviews are better than no reviews. Trust me.

5.5) THREE STARS MEANS “I LIKED IT.” THEY LIKED IT. THEY DID. IT’S NOT LIKE GETTING A “C” GRADE. THEY LIKED IT. GETTING THREE STARS IS ACTUALLY NICE, OKAY? REMEMBER THAT.

6) Keep the old adage in mind: taste is subjective. Think of your group of friends and family. Think about a movie you all saw, or a book you all read that you, personally loved. Not everyone agreed with you, right? Everyone found their own problem with the story or characters that they fixated on. Readers bring their own world with them to a story, and that informs how they read it and how they enjoy it. I think it was Dita Von Teese who said, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, but there’s still going to be someone who hates peaches.” I will repeat that to myself over and over if I have to until it clicks in my brain. My epiphany moment came, again, with my first book. I was deep down into the GR rabbit hole, torturing myself by looking at all of the negative reviews, and had a moment of, “Well, what else has this reviewer hated?” Reader, this reviewer hated a lot of books that I myself had given five stars to.

7) Don’t respond to reviews, good or bad. Do not respond. DO NOT RESPOND. If someone includes you when they tweet out the link to the review, you can say thank you, but do not leave comments on their blog, do not leave comments on the GR review. Reviewers are reviewing the books for other readers, not for you. Not even for your publisher. Other readers.

8) Know that you can still be friends with bloggers, even if they didn’t like your book. You are not your book(s). You are an awesome person, and awesome people can be friends with other awesome people. Much like you can be friends with other authors never having read their books or not liking them very much. A negative review isn’t a sign that you’re being shunned, just that your book did not work for that reviewer. But, hey! You both love Sleepy Hollow, so why not chat about that on Twitter instead?

9) Make it so the people who love your work can find you and you can banish the negative voices. The best thing I ever did in this regard was set up a PO Box and an author email account for readers to contact me. Because the ones that are taking the time to write to you are the ones who either are thinking critically about your story enough to have pressing questions or because they love it. You might occasionally get a message from someone who has strong beliefs that contradict what you’re saying in your books, but those will always be fewer than the chorus of sweet, awesome voices of the readers you reached and affected on a personal level. If someone is being a troll on Twitter to you, block them. Done. If you track Tumblr tags of your name or book title, install an extension or plug-in like Tumblr Hatred that lets you hide posts you’d rather not see each time you check the tags.

10) Shake it off. Yes. Like TSwift is telling you to. One of my favorite lyrics in that song is Just think while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world/You could’ve been getting down to this sick beat. Basically, your energy is WAY better spent thinking and caring about the people who like your book. As I said above, don’t ignore a hundred voices telling you they like your stuff in favor of the one or two voices who are basically just saying “eh… not my cup of tea.” There are certainly going to be reviews that are way harsher than that in your lifetime, ones you think go too far. The best response is still no response. It’s getting up from your computer and going to do something you love. Or, you know, turning off the internet and writing. Anything that affects your productivity isn’t worth your time.

Alex lives in New York City where she writes like a fiend and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade. You can visit her online at her website, Tumblr, or Twitter.

Posted in Writing Life | Tagged | 2 Comments

Holding Yourself Accountable & Staying Motivated

Writing Life Banner

by

Susan Dennard

I’ve talked about productivity in great detail before. I’ve discussed how BICHOK is a sure-fire way to get your writing where it needs to be, how endurance can be increased, and how fear can often hold back your writing.

But what about those times when it’s just plain ol’ laziness that’s keeping you from the productivity you want? What about those days where you spend four hours at the computer and write all of 4 words because OMG! Look at all the pretties and shinies on the internet? And ungh, I’m hungry…and hey, when did that squirrel move into the tree outside my window?

Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

On those distraction-heavy days, my friend, it’s time to seek help elsewhere. It’s time to find SOMEONE ELSE to hold you accountable.

I mean, think about it: when you were in high school, you got your work done (or I hope you did…). Maybe it was at the last minute or maybe it wasn’t always your best work, but you finished. Why? Because someone else expected you to.

I’ve talked at great length about this with my author and solo-entrepreneur friends. We have no bosses! We have NO ONE to look over our shoulders and make sure we’re getting the work done.

Another thing we don’t have are people to validate us when we do make progress. So what if you had a great day writing–there’s no one there to be impressed or to pat you on the back or to say, “Great job! You deserve a raise.” We simply slog on, all alone.

But what if we put a dose of SOMEONE ELSE in our writing lives? What if we find (or start) a Twitter hashtag so we can make accountability partners? Or cheerleader/validation partners? Or what if we interact in forums or via email chains or Facebook groups? Writing is solitary, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

I think camaraderie is one of the reasons that NaNoWriMo is SO successful for people! They’re all writing together, interacting, sharing, and keeping each other motivated.

So if you’re finding you need a bit more motivation in your life, I challenge you to find another writer who’ll hold you accountable and send you lots of smiley faces when you need ‘em. Heck, come join me in my forums–I’m definitely in need of some writing buddies!! Or add me as a friend for NaNoWriMo!

You tell me: Is this something you would ever do? Or do you already have someone like this in your writing life?

If you like what you read here, consider signing up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamers or swinging by my For Writers page!

SusanDennardBefore she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor, Susan Dennard traveled the world as marine biologist. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the forthcoming Witchlands series (Tor, 2015), and when not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, exploring tidal pools, or practicing her tap dance shuffles. You can learn more about Susan on her blogTwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.

 

Posted in Inspiration, Writing Life | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Book Recommendation: The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours

Book Recommendation banner

By

Biljana Likic

So you’re writing that sweeping historical novel full of war and political intrigue, and you maybe need some inspiration. Where better to turn than to history books? Only problem is that they can be a bit dry, and at times the forced impartiality (“I must present this as facts uncoloured by my opinion!”) can make the prose frustratingly ambiguous. Then there’s the whole “history is written by the victor” thing. The phrase reveals the difficulties readers face when approaching historical writing. Not to mention, it’s practically impossible to write about a historical event in a completely detached way without it sounding like a recipe.

Honestly, it makes me glad I write fiction. The pressure of writing a history book is terrifying. What sources you include, and where you include them, and why…no matter how you organize them, there will always be an expert disagreeing with you.

Enter Gregory of Tours. He was a 6th century bishop of (you guessed it) Tours, France, and is our best contemporary source of the Merovingian dynasty in modern-day France and Germany. He wrote history, but it’s only in very recent times that we started giving him more credit as an actual historian. Why did it take so long? You only need to take a gander at all the wild stuff he says in his most famous work, The History of the Franks.

Here’s the deal. Remember the whole “no such thing as no bias” spiel? This is very apparent in Gregory. A lot of people read the Histories assuming they’re a moralistic work about how those who aren’t Catholic will suffer the demons of hell, and those that are will be saved in heaven. To be fair, it’s not a hard conclusion to reach. There’s one story of a priest conspiring against his superior, and as alleged punishment from God, on the morning the priest is getting ready to betray him, this happens: “He went off to the lavatory and while he was occupied in emptying his bowels he lost his soul instead.”

Lost his soul on the can. He quite literally shit himself to death. There are fewer effective ways to teach someone a lesson about going against a saintly authority.

But then, in another story, Queen Deuteria is afraid that her husband might “desire and take advantage of” their maturing daughter so she puts her in a cart drawn by untamed bulls and the daughter crashes into a river and dies. And this happens in like three sentences with no moral. No ceremony, no “The shadow of sin is cast upon the loveless mother!”, no “Don’t lust after your own daughter or else your wife might kill her (and also, sin)!”, only a few nearly parenthetical phrases, perhaps just to explain what happened to the daughter when the King later takes a new wife and refuses to take Deuteria back. I wonder why he’d do that.

So you have this one priest’s story taking up a few sizable, memorable paragraphs about him conspiring against his bishop, and then you have this other one of a horrific filicide told in a measly three sentences. That’s the fascinating thing about this work. It’s a bunch of to-the-point recitations of facts mixed together with wildly moralistic tales where common sicknesses and coincidences are explains away as God’s doing. In some sections it even reads like fantasy. It’s as full of people having prophetic dreams and being warned about the dangers ahead as it is of short side notes about a perfectly Christian king being poisoned just because…well…he was king, and he was poisoned.

But the reason the Histories are so valuable today, aside from being a long and spectacular feat of story-telling, is because there really is a genuinely massive amount of historical information within them. Every so often you’ll find entire letters Gregory directly transcribed so he could give us the primary source rather than rephrasing an event in his own words. Some of these letters survive in different forms and can be used to cross-reference events in the book. Others only survive through his writing. There is a ton of specificity about the Church, and especially about the history of the bishopric of Tours. There’s stuff in there about the actual daily lives of people living in the 6th century, their traditions, habits, and gossip, written by a person living in the 6th century. That is absolutely invaluable.

Not to mention a freaking amazing read. Merovingian kings and queens meant business. The backstabbing, the stealing of territory, copious amounts of regicide, broken alliances, queens abandoning their husbands for other kings because others were manlier and held more promise as conquerors… These people were ruthless. Contrast that with the general thread of what it means to be a good Christian weaving through the work, and you’ve got some damn awesome dichotomies going on.

So move this baby up your to-read list. Not only is it full of events that actually happened, making it an excellent book to read for personal research, but it’s also a great literary window into the workings of 6th century Continental Europe.

biljana new picBiljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and has just started her MA in Medieval Studies, from which she can’t wait to graduate so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.

Posted in Beginner Resources, Book Recommendations, Inspiration, TGIF, Writing Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

by

Jodi Meadows

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much my other creative pursuits influence my writing — and even help me get through tough problems when I’m working.

There’s something about knitting, for me, that allows me to keep my hands busy and focus juuuuust a little, but frees the rest of my mind to work out a plot tangle or a question about character arcs. I’ve found the same thing in spinning (yarn, not exercise — ugh), and even calligraphy.

IMG_9478IMG_5766IMG_0286
(Click to enlarge.)

I started wondering if some of my fellow Pub Crawlers had other creative outlets, as well. And yep. When I put out the call, they delivered.

JJJJ: I’ll start! When it comes to other creative outlets (or as I call them, other procrastinatory outlets ;-)), I tend to play my piano or guitar, draw, take pictures, or redesign my website. I think they all fulfill different functions; for example, I often redesign my website when I’m stuck or between drafts because fiddling with CSS and other types of code is soothing. There is something about typing one thing and have it show up as a concrete THING on the other end that is very, very comforting (especially when writing fiction, which is anything BUT concrete sometimes). I find it kind of mindless in the way algebra is mindless: simple enough to keep me occupied and let the subconscious wander free. (Which is why I am often redesigning my website when I am stuck.)

Music is less mindless to me, and I often play when I need to completely shut off and do something else for a while. I studied piano for 15 years, but when I play now, it’s less the classical stuff and more the “I just the heard the latest pop song and I want to do a cover” type of thing. Usually I cheat and figure out the chord progressions on my guitar first (I am a terrible, terrible, terrible formal musician. 15 years and I know fuck-all about theory.), or sometimes look up the tabs. Then I transfer the work to the piano. (Luckily, 99% of all the pop songs are the same four chords I-V-vi-IV.)

Sometimes, I doodle drawings of my characters. But that’s usually when I’m doing something ELSE and unable to write (that’s often at the day job). Doodling sketches of my characters keeps me in the right frame of mind for my story, but it also helps me figure out what they look like in my head. (I often post my doodles to Instagram and Tumblr. My doodles can also be found on my blog and Deviantart.)

I also take photographs.

If there’s a procrastinatory technique, then I will do it. ;-) Are you sensing a theme here?

SusanDennardSusan: I enjoy tap dancing, sewing, and blogging/newslettering. They all demand really different kinds of creative energy.

One thing that I started doing this year (and that I do a lot of now) is making my own body products and makeup. It’s like cooking crossed with chem lab. Lots of stirring and weighing and melting involved. Plus, you have to really understand how various butters or oils, oxides or clays interact–otherwise the consistency of the cream/lotion/lip gloss won’t be right. Or you might end up with a blush that’s TOO red or a pressed powder that’s so pale you look like a corpse. :) I find that all that mixing and melting and measuring requires just enough focus that I can’t totally zone out, but it also frees up enough headspace for my subconscious to work through story knots.

Erin BowmanErin: As most of you know, I was a web designer prior to jumping into writing. Design is still a huge outlet for me. Even though it’s related to writing, I absolutely love designing my own promotional materials (bookmarks, stickers, postcards, etc), as well as maintaining my website. I’m a bit type nerd, too, so I tend to collect (read: buy) way more fonts than I should.

Another huge distraction for me, while not necessarily creative, is getting outdoors. Walks, hikes, camping, canoeing . . . you name it. I find being outside, totally away from the computer/technology is one of the best ways to give my brain a break and reset the creative well, if you will.

Kat ZhangKat: I love all kinds of art, and I get really inspired watching people dance, or put on a play, or things like that. As for as things I actually do myself, though, I paint (mostly watercolor at the moment), and I’ve gotten into digital art (“painting” with a wacom tablet and photoshop) this past year or so. It’s a great creative outlet that’s not word-based.

I love photography as well, but since I’m mostly interested in portrait/lifestyle photography, my ability to do it is limited to the times when my friends are willing to play model ;)

I post a lot of both my art and my photography on my Tumblr :)

Janice HardyJanice: I’m a graphic designer by trade, and I think that’s helped me a lot with being able to handle feedback without taking it personally. Clients always ask for changes and comment on my “art” and it’s helped me be able to see my creative work as a product and not just an expression of myself, and how the creative process can be a group effort to great success.

The last few years I’ve been drawing and painting for fun, and crazy as it sounds, I’ve been painting Nerf guns and toys. All of the guns were bright orange and yellow plastic when I started. My husband gave me a huge AT-AT toy for my birthday that I’m dying to paint. It takes hours, but it’s a lot of fun and very absorbing. It’s a combination of spray paint, fine detail hand painting and dry brushing.

red space pistolsteampunky shotgun blue space gun
(Click to enlarge.)
I’m not sure how “creative” this is, but I’m a gamer and I’ve feel having to make decisions about what to do it games and thinking about what that character would do (their motivations) has helped me plot my novels easier. It forced me to think about cause and effect and how character choices created effects and consequences. There’s also a lot of creativity in designing a game for friends and running one, almost like writing a book where you have no control over the characters, hehe.

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

Posted in Inspiration, Writing Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Great Debate: An Agent and Editor Discuss the Latest in Contract Negotiation

Industry Life
by Joanna Volpe

I had a chance to sit down with an editor friend recently to discuss one of the least fun (but most important) parts of the publishing process: the deal/contract negotiation. And lucky for me, Editor agreed to let me share some of that conversation with you here on Pub Crawl. We talked about a number of topics, but the one I’m going to focus on today has to do with three clauses:

1. Competitive Works (a.k.a. Non-compete clauses)

2. Option

3. Next Work

These are 3 different paragraphs somewhere in your book contract, but they are all intertwined, especially in this day and age of hybrid publishing and author branding.  Before I get into the conversation, let me break down what these are right quick:

Competitive Works clause – this clause has to do with any work you write after the book you’re being contracted for, and specifically on whether or not it would compete with your contracted book for sales in the marketplace.

Option – this is the next book the publisher has the first right to review, before you submit to anyone else.

Next Work – this clause states rather explicitly that the book you’re being contracted for is going to be your next book, and that you can’t publish another book until (usually) 6 months after the contracted work.

Does that all make sense?  I sure hope so.  If you have questions, leave them for me in the Comments and I’ll do my best to answer. For now, I’d like to get into the highlights of the conversation I had with Editor….

Editor: The trifecta of non-competes/option/next work drives me crazy because I have to narrow down what I can work on next with the author.  What’s happened a lot recently is that I’ve bought a book–very clearly a stand alone–and then the option becomes….

Me: Let me guess–the next book “in the world of the Work or featuring the same characters”?

Editor: Right.  And I’m thinking “No, because this is clearly a standalone, and that takes away my option.” And so then they get into Competing Works and request that they can publish anything as long as it doesn’t include the characters in the book. And so we get into sticky situations because I didn’t offer for this book as a series, I want to buy it as a standalone, and I want to have a first crack at your next book. I don’t want my authors writing an unnecessary sequel for the sake of satisfying their option with me. And the tough part for me is that a lot of this is happening during the initial deal negotiation, not the contract stage anymore.

Me: Oh, yeah–it has to. I can’t tell you how many times a contracts department will come back at me with “we can’t agree to that language, you should have discussed it with the editor at the time of deal negotiation. It’s too late now.”  So it’s forced us to have more complicated and complex negotiations with editors from the get-go.

Editor: (Nods) I get that, too. One of the difficult things to navigate is how to make the offer if there’s suddenly going to be a sequel later.  When a submission comes to me with an outlined sequel or sequels, the offer is very different than if it’s a standalone. And when the option is narrowed down simply to sequels, it feels like they’re just trying to get out of the option.

Me: I don’t think it’s that they’re trying to get out of the option. I think it’s actually that we’re trying to give our authors an option.  What if their editor leaves? What if their publisher gets bought out by another house?  I’ve had publishers take the full option period they have, just to say no in the end. And when that happens, it’s like, man–you just put the author’s career on hold for 4 months.

Editor: Yeah, that’s not a good situation either. It’s true that editors move all the time.

Me: Do the agents you work with typically give you a look at the work first anyway, no matter what the option says?  Out of professional courtesy?

Editor: The agents I work with consistently do, yes. I feel very strongly about the authors I work with, and I’m hoping to cultivate a career and a brand with them, not just one book. The agents I typically work with know that.

Me: We do. (smiles)

Editor: And sometimes there are agents that push for a multibook deal when it might not be the best decision to.  If I’m acquiring a book that comes out in 2016 today, and the sequel in 2017–it makes me a little nervous, too, about what the future might bring.

Me: Especially with all of the industry changes and upheaval.

Editor: Exactly. Do you often push for a multibook deal?

Me: It depends entirely on the book, the author, the editor, the publisher, etc.  Sometimes a multibook feels necessary because it means that publishers will….

Editor: Commit.

Me: Yes!  And it gives the author a chance to grow without losing momentum. It often guarantees a certain amount of investment from a publisher.

Editor: It’s frustrating because publishing is so fast and so slow at the same time. For me, I’m very focused on the author, their project and the brand. I want to go beyond the book and cultivate a bigger brand, but I don’t always have the ability to hit the go button.

Me: It sounds like what we need to do is all work more closely together than ever before–the author, the agent and the editor as a trio.

Editor: Yes. I think we all want what’s best for the author in the end.

You heard it here, folks! Getting to be a fly on the wall of some publishing industry folks.  This is what we’re discussing all the time!  And there’s more where that came from.

Joanna Volpe 
 Joanna Volpe is a literary agent who represents all brands of fiction, from picture books to adult. When she’s  not reading, she’s either cooking, playing video games, or hanging out with her husband and chihuahua.
Posted in Industry Life | Tagged , , | 2 Comments
  • About Pub Crawl

    We're a group of authors and industry professionals (formerly known as Let the Words Flow) who blog about all things writing, publishing, and books!

  • Recent Brews

  • Brews on Tap

  • Past Brews

  • Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts.

  • Book of the Month

    Story of Owen
  • Grab a button!

  • Current Homebrews!

    Quantum Coin Infinite StrangeandEver jkt hi-res Echoes of Us Never Fade These Broken Stars Darkfall