Book Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the WTH???

Attractive Woman with Her Books

Book reviews. Every author wants them. Every author fears them. They can be the shining star used to promote your work, or the one thing holding readers back from deciding to one-click and add to their growing collection. Over the last week, both of my books have received reviews: a 3, a 4 and a 5 Star review, and each has seen the dreaded 1 and 2 Star reviews. Each reviewer has had something different to say and it made me think…

What good can a review do for the author? How can you read through the lines? And when do you ignore them?

The first rule to any book review is: everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Easier said than done sometimes, right?

The fact of the matter is, no matter how well your book is written, no matter how clean you edits are, or how many people sing your books praises, somebody out there is going to hate it.

What’s that old saying, “You can’t please everybody?” No truer words have been spoken.

Above all things you must remember readers have different taste, like different types of storytelling, or crave a certain type of drama, fantasy, or escape from reality. If your book doesn’t hit the mark for them, chances are they will not like it. A good example of this is the romance genre. There are many ‘heat’ levels out there. Everything from Hard core BDSM, to the tame ‘bedroom door shuts in your face’, and where I fall, somewhere in between…not erotica, but definitely erotic. (I recently had a reader tell me my scenes made her blush, lol, and they are in no way close to what makes me blush!)

The flip side to this is if your book is intentionally written to draw on a readers emotions – depending on their personality type – they may dislike your characters because they cannot or do not sympathize with your characters decisions. They get so upset they are personally offended or pissed off and no longer read the full story.  They base their opinions on the characters actions and what they feel should have happened, thus the bad review.

As an author, what can you take from this?

For starters, learn to read between the lines. Once the emotional sting is gone and the tears have dried, or you stop using the ‘f’ word, whichever comes first, try to decipher what the reader is trying to say. Did they dislike the character, the plot, or the writing? Was the character unrealistic or did the decisions they make just piss them off? As the author, only you know what motivates your characters and what emotions you want to draw from the reader. So the questions you must ask yourself are:

  • Did I do too much or too little?
  • Was enough back ground information given?
  • Was the scene or reason behind the decisions made explained clearly?
  • Were questions/goals asked, defined, and reached?
  • Were there enough unanswered questions to keep the reader interested without boring them?
  • How well thought out was the plot?
  • Are there gaps in the story that leave the plot line open?
  • Was a resolution found and satisfying?
  • What about the pacing? Too fast, too slow, or just plain boring? (you’ll know the answer to this if a majority of your reviews say the same thing)
  • What can I take from this review to make my next project better?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Some characters are meant to piss people off, but you want your main characters to pull the reader in, keep their attention and have them rooting for them to reach their goal. One of the most important things to remember, no matter what genre you write, pleasing the masses (lovers of your genre) is the key, not the people who don’t or won’t agree.  In other words, if you write Sci-Fi Erotica, don’t expect a Historical Romance lover to go crazy about your book. That’s not to say readers won’t cross over to different genres, but some are more comfortable with what they know.
  • If your book is getting an influx of negative reviews, pay attention to the market your promoting to. If book lovers of your genre continue to say the same thing, you may need to step back, re-evaluate your style of writing, learn more about storyline structure, and find honest beta readers or a writing group to help you find out what went wrong. Revamp, rewrite, try again!
  • Like TV shows and movies, there are various book genres that have a different style of pacing. Some readers want the satisfaction of a full ride that has them hanging on from the beginning to the end with no breaks. (Think roller coaster ride, 0-60 in 2 seconds). They want if fast, hard, and with a sudden stop. Other readers like the slow walk on the beach, long conversations, the romance, staring off at the sunset, and a satisfactory ending. And then there’s the in-between reader who likes the road trip. They want to leave the house doing the city speed limit, but when they hit the highway, they cruise with the traffic, enjoying the twists and turns and the fast pace. They like to visit the rest stop and stretch their legs before merging with the flow of traffic again. A well written story has the mixed pace of fast, slow, and cruise control to keep the ride interesting.

What does all of this mean?

As writers, we know what our comfort zone is when it comes to telling our stories. We know what our intentions are and what we want our character to see, think, and feel. We view our work as our babies and it’s often hard to put down the laptop and share it with the world. Will we ever be able to win over the masses? No, because there are too many genres which means readers what different things. If your book doesn’t deliver for them, chances are it’s not your story, but your style of writing or vice versa. Either way, don’t let a bad review get you down. See it as a learning tool. If you can find room for improvement, make it! If it’s more of a personal issue for the reviewer, ignore it and move on! In the end, YOU, the writer, know how much time, effort, and work you put in to make your ideas hit paper. Don’t let the negative stop you! As a good friend and fellow author says, ‘you have to put on your big girl panties and get over it!’ – Carmen DeSousa

Finding Inspiration: Part Three- Characters Close to Home

Building Real Characters: How to Bring Them From the Page and Into Your HeartWriters find inspiration anywhere; at the grocery store, the bank, even the activities of driver sitting next to you at the red light, can get the muse flowing. Then of course there are my favorites: family and friends.

If you have a Facebook account, I’m sure you have seen the pictures posted by someone at least once a month that says: (in a nutshell): BEWARE, I’M A WRITER, ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED IN MY NEXT BOOK.  I was at the bank the other day and had a lively conversation with my banker. Upon completion of my transaction, she asked me, ‘is this going to be in one of your stories?’ I laughed and said quite possibly.

It seems no matter how hard I try; my Muse is always working, always observing and cataloging the statements and actions of others, especially when it comes to my kids.

In the last few weeks, my children have shocked me with their ‘Remember when…’ tales. Being an only child, it never ceases to amaze me what  my four kids get into when they are unsupervised in their bedrooms. First, there was the ‘broken-glow-in-the-dark-stick incident’ that led to fluorescent yellow liquid being splashed over bedroom walls. (According to them, it wore off withing minutes, thus leading to doing it again in order to illuminate the room.  No evidence was left behind. Imagine my horror!!!) Of course a lot of sibling smacks upside the head, and then the sneaking to cut hair or trim their eyebrows disasters that ended with bad results. (Those I knew about, but it still makes me laugh to remember the results.) Funny stories that made my eyebrows shoot into the hemisphere and start to give the ‘you know better’ speech. But then I realized the issues happened months, even years ago. What’s the point?  All that’s left is ‘don’t do it again.’

Once the kids go about their evening activities, my Muse sorts through the information, while not inspiration for my adult characters’ lives, they make great character back story.

***Back Story: Insight into the protagonist nature or history through reflective flashbacks, scenes, or dialogue. This information is used to show how a character will react to certain situations.***

There are various ways to use back story.  Some authors like to use flashback during a scene or as a scene to show an incident that explains the reason for their character’s actions during the course of a story. (Think about the show LOST, whose episodes focused on the back story of a character’s life, decisions, made, and how they related to the present situation). In novels, the most common use is having a character allude to their past through dialogue, thought, or peppered in by the omnipotent voice. (Dialogue is the best way to share this information without slowing down your prose and boring a reader.)

How do you know what your characters back story will be?

By writing character outlines.

If you have  followed my blog, you know a large portion of my writing begins with focusing on deep character development. I love writing characters my readers can relate to either through their own personal experiences or someone they know. Creating well-developed back story can do that. Knowing where your characters have been, what experiences have affected them – good and bad – will give your characters a strong voice that makes them stand out.

Even if it starts from when they were kids.

In a nutshell, a well-developed back story lets you know your characters. Knowing and understanding your characters will explain their motivations. Motivations are what set up a plot. Reactions to plot twists/turns are what provide scenes. Scenes mixed with reactions are what create drama.

Whew!  Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is, but as with all things in life, you get what you put in. Taking the time to sit down and understand your characters will show in your writing. It will help you understand why they interrupt your writing, and no matter how much you want the story to go one way, they hijack your manuscript.

For more on writing character outlines and finding writing inspiration, visit my previous posts:

M.J.’s on Writing- Helpful Advice for Aspiring Authors

MJ

Finding the Correct Genre For Your Prose

 *The original post was done June, 7, 2011, but I felt the need to share it again. Since this post, things have changed. I have found an editor which I love dearly, and the series itself has changed from a three book series to a six book series, The Butterfly Memoirs. Also the ms title has changed from The Healing Heart to A Heart Not Easily Broken. It fits the theme of the story so much better. Please feel free to post your thoughts!*
  
This week I started edits for chapter three of The Healing Heart. This is going to sound weird, but after learning about the craft of writing, I’ve done what a lot of writers swear never to do: re-write my first story.

*Audible gasps of horror from hundreds of writes as I type*

“Why on earth would you re-write your first story?????”

Good question. I’ve read interviews and blogs of various authors – both published and non-published – who say they will never touch their first story again. Many felt their writing sucked, or because the story line wasn’t strong enough. Most said it was due to rejection letters from publishers, or because their agent kept wanting to change what the story was about in order to fit their personal tastes.  That’s something I refuse to do. Don’t get me wrong, if an editor or agent had suggestions on what to change to make it a stronger sale, and I felt it would stay true to the story without taking the heart out of it, then yes, I would do it. Since I don’t have an agent or an editor,  I’m relaying on my amazing critique partners to point me in the right direction. But change it completely? I don’t think so. That’s a decision I will make on my own.

And I did.

The reason why had nothing to do with fitting inside the neat little box of traditional romance stories. I am confident about the stories theme.  It originated as a form of personal therapy because of issues my family dealt with at the time. It was a way to keep my sanity without loosing it. My desire to write it and do it justice  inspired me to learn about writing. My determination and enthusiasm for this project has far outweighed my other creative form, floral design. I’ve studied the art of floral design for several year, it’s a talent that I can do with my eyes closed. But now my love  of reading and storytelling has completely taken over. I feel so strongly about the story and the characters that what started out as therapy turned into a three book series.  All three books were written in a nine month period from start to finish, each a minimum of 350 pages.  And those were all typed without an outline. I’ll never do that type of writing again.

Once I joined a critique group, I just knew I was well on my way to becoming a published author, whether by traditional means or self publishing.

Boy was I wrong.

The first and biggest thing I learned from my new critique partners when the began reading my story was this:  they had no idea what genre I was trying to be in.

‘ROMANCE!’, I replied.

I mean obviously. I said I wrote romance so I was, right?

Nope.

I was told my book came across as YA/Romance/Multicultural Romance/Chick Lit/Woman’s Fiction. I needed to pick one in order to establish my genre.

My mind was completely blown. My writing spirit crushed. I didn’t want to write YA because my story was going to contain adult romance themes. I wanted to write a maturation plot about an eighteen-year-old female who was learning life lessons about love, heartbreak, friendship, surviving tragedy and becoming a stronger woman because of it. But I needed to keep the theme of romance. And if this was YA, I would have to edit the love scenes down or out of the story because they’re a key part of this young ladies road to discovering herself. Her emotional attachment to the hero and what devastates her in the key part of the plot. YA was definitely NOT what I wanted.

So, diving deeper into the many, many facets of the romance genre, I discovered Chick lit/Women’s fiction.  I figured my story would definitely fit in here. But what grown woman would want to read about and eighteen-year old discovering her independence? (Okay, I admit, as a grown woman, I’ve been caught up in the Twilight Saga, have read all the books twice and own them all and can’t wait for the last movie to come out, but that’s definitely YA.)

SOOOOOOOOO…. what to do, what to do.

The first thing I did was put that story aside and went to work developing a whole new series. This one specifically for the Romance genre with Multicultural themes and adult h/h. It took a few months to write the story, but I struggled along. I fell in love with the h/h, brought the characters setting closer to home, but I still struggled on finding strong goals and conflict to catch the reader.

But then I did something that changed my writing career. I took a Writing Workshop.

Author Valarie Clark gave a workshop at the local Community Collage back in February. I had seen the advertisement for the class a year ago around the same time. But my budget wouldn’t allow it. And I’m glad it didn’t. I don’t think I would have appreciated the significance of the class as much as I did this go round. One of the biggest things I learned from her was finding your writing platform, the over all theme that made my story stand out from the rest. And lets face it, there’s a ton of wonderful, and not so wonderful, romance story’s out there. Where could I possibly fit in?

And then it hit me. My first MS. The story that motivated me to begin writing. The Healing Heart.

I spent an evening FB chatting with one of my critique partners, discussing story themes, (remember that night Erin? lol)  All of a sudden, I’ve got it. Woman’s Fiction/Romance with Multicultural characters.

Or at least that’s what I think it is. LOL…. stay tuned for more updates!