Posts filed under writing

day twenty seven: when to respond to the critic

Your book is out and people are reading it. One day, you stumble on a review that misses the point of the story entirely. They're marking you down for clarity and they haven't even read the first book. Or they're misreading a character's place. Or they're reading too much into a scene. You fill in the blank. Whatever it is, they hated your book and they're letting everyone know.

You feel your pulse quicken and you shake your head. They're just mistaken. You come up with a plan to respond to the review (on Amazon or Goodreads or a comment on their blog or — oh! even better! — a post on your blog) and this person will see the light. They'll be so thankful you took the time to respond in order for everyone to reach a deeper understanding.

Right? 

WRONG.

Please don't feed the critic.

I know you want to — they're talking about your baby, after all. I get it. It hurts when someone twists your words and work into something pliable and simple. 

Resist the urge to engage.

Nothing good ever comes of it. Ever. It's why Goodreads includes the following suggestion in their author portal: 

Do you see what they said? Others read your response. Even if you email the critic to engage in a civil discussion, I guarantee there will be forwards and screenshots and private messages. Regardless of how you approach this person, there will be someone who sees it as hostile.

Listen. There will always be critics. Always. And critics are not horrible people. I'm even going to go so far as say a huge majority of them really do know what they're talking about when they read a book. They know what they like. If they didn't like your book, there won't be much that will change their mind.

And that's okay.

Because you have a group of people who do like your book. Focus on them. Build relationships and conversations with them. 

Don't be the cocksure author who assumes everyone will know and love you, even if it takes a few conversations explaining WHY your book is so amazing. Be a human who understands that not everyone will get why you're doing something and that's okay because you're gonna do it anyway. You know what you love. You know what story is burning in those bones of yours. You spent weeks and months and maybe even years getting it out on paper.

Listening (and engaging) with critics will cause you to doubt that story. It will anger you, frustrate you and belittle you. Why? 

Because if someone doesn't like your work, they're not going to suddenly like your work after you comment about their criticism. It will be the circle of doom trying to figure out why someone doesn't like your art.

And that will drive anyone crazy. When we're driven crazy, we do crazy things

Remember: focus on those who are with you in the arena. Focus on those who want to hear more of your work. Forget the rest. Not because they aren't important, they are — their thoughts and feelings are valid. Forget them because focusing on them will cause you to doubt your core. 


Need more inspiration? Introducing Hustle & Flow: a weekly letter with artistic visioning for the everyday creative. I would love it if you signed up, and I won't ever spam you. Promise. 

You'll get hints and anecdotes about getting unstuck and living your most artistic life within the midst of your every day poetics. AND, if you sign up during October, you'll get some special extras dealing with indie-publishing.

Posted on October 27, 2014 and filed under indie publishing, writing.

day twenty six: critic's math

Sometimes, creativity and desperation drives us to do things we wouldn't normally do.

A few years ago, breathing in the fumes from a publishing relationship gone sour, I partnered with a service that would offer my book for free in exchange for reviews. That wasn't the mistake. 

The mistake came when I made the decision to take back my content and revise Come Alive. I would retitle it, recover it, re-release it. 

Blank slate. 

Have I mentioned how much I love new beginnings and blank slates? The possibilities are endless. I had a few hundred emails from people who downloaded the original book for free and I decided to make new out of the mess I was left with when my publisher shut down and my agent dropped the contract. 

I turned the mailing list into beta readers.

"You get to help with the rewrites!" I said, full of naïvety and hope. "As you read through the book, let me know your thoughts. What do you want to see developed? What pieces of the plot didn't make sense?"

And the big question — the one that kicked me in the pants before I even knew what was happening: 

"How can I make it better?" 

The emails were almost immediate, some good — some okay — others rather opinionated. But it was one email that nearly knocked me off my feet. 

I was at a local coffee shop when I got the email. Outside in the cold February air, I scrolled through the words and felt the immediate sting of tears against my cheeks. 

No wonder you're editing it, the email said. I couldn't even get past the first two chapters. Horrible book. Waste of my time. So glad you're fixing it.

There were other words, each more hostile than the first. I didn't know this person. I had no idea why she felt the need to attack me. I backed out of the inbox as quick as I could and fought to breathe as the gremlins made their case. 

She's right, you know. Why do you think the publisher closed? Why do you think your agent left you? You're no good. Your writing is stupid. Horrible, even. You shouldn't even try and edit because it would be a waste of your time....

I didn't write for weeks, and I didn't really jump into editing Come Alive (now Every Shattered Thing) until that summer. 

.::.

A few months ago, I was introduced to Critics Math. Basically, critics math does not care about the glowing reviews. You can receive 100 5-stars and one 1-star and what will you remember? 

The one star. 

When I sent out the email, I wasn't expecting everyone to love the book. I wasn't even expecting all good things waiting for me in my inbox. I knew there would be some criticism, because I knew the story had work that needed to be done to make it great.

I did get good things. I have plenty of emails with responses that included phrases like it's the best book I've read in a long time and I couldn't go to sleep until I finished it and thank you for being brave enough to write this story.

But once I received the email that hit me in the gut, it was the only email I remembered for a long time and it would reappear in my mind when I considered what to write. 

Maybe I should just dabble in nonfiction. Forget the whole literature thing. 

You know. Doubt. 

But there are two things I missed in this situation that I cling to now. 

You Get to Choose Who Will Keep Your Attention 

Brene Brown keeps a list of names in her pocket. These are the people she'll receive criticism from — they're her people. The ones she knows she can trust. Anybody else? It's not that they don't matter, because they do — it's just that the weight of their opinion is minuscule compared to the ones who have her back and are fighting alongside her. 

My friend Kathleen won't read any reviews under 4-stars. She only reads the good ones. This isn't because she isn't willing to know her weaknesses. She has editors and beta readers and critique partners for that and they are not slow in challenging her to become a better writer. She writes to the 4 and 5 star reviewers. She writes for the ones who know her and love her stories. 

You know the people who have your back. Keep them. Listen to them. 

Not Everyone Deserves Your Story

In an attempt to connect with readers, I opened up a very wide net of trust. I believed that because they downloaded my book off a site, they would take care with my words and offer criticism and suggestions with the same amount of care. 

Nothing gets the doubt gremlins going more than when I overshoot boundaries and share deeply when the story will not be met with care and gratitude. Not everyone on that list deserved my time and attention. And yet, by emailing them my intent to listen, I unlocked the door and the crazies came a-knockin. 

Doubt will try every which way to knock you down. Resistance is real and most days we feel him breathing down our neck, working hard to stifle the story that is building in our chest.

Don't let it happen. Don't let the critics win. You know the story you're meant to tell. Cling to the ones who will hold your hand while you get the words out and challenge you to find the language to tell it well. They're the ones who matter. 

And when the critics come knocking, point them to the stands. You're too busy getting dirty in the middle of the arena to pay attention to them anyhow.


Need more inspiration? Introducing Hustle & Flow: a weekly letter with artistic visioning for the everyday creative. I would love it if you signed up, and I won't ever spam you. Promise. 

You'll get hints and anecdotes about getting unstuck and living your most artistic life within the midst of your every day poetics. AND, if you sign up during October, you'll get some special extras dealing with indie-publishing.

Posted on October 26, 2014 and filed under indie publishing, writing.

day twenty five: how to let your writing go.

When you work on a story for months — years, even — it can be difficult to let it go and allow the public to make their own decisions about it.

But you must. 

You can't stand over the shoulders of those reading it and wait (im)patiently for their review. You can't respond to every misconception of plot with the real story behind why you made this character do that action (no really. Please don't respond).

You've done the work. You wrote in the early morning hours when the sun was coming up and while the moon stood watch above you. Those are your words people are reading. I get it. 

Resist the fear. 

There will be critics. We'll talk about them later.

Resist the fear. 

.::.

When I taught poetry, I often encouraged my students to take what they would from what we read. 

"Every poem is different," I told them. "You may think you don't like poetry because of what you've read before — what you know of rhyming stanzas and rhythm. But trust me. You never know when a line will knock you off your feet." 

There were a few who would hold tight to their assumptions. Almost every time though, the collection of a few lines surprised them. Immediately, they found words resonating with their life. Before I knew it, they would be carrying around a poetry collection of this artist's work because "they just get me, you know?"

Yes. I do.

.::.

I doubt when Pablo Neruda wrote his poems, he thought of the hormonal high school students reading his work and applying it to their latest crush. I also doubt that when John Donne created his personas, he considered fifteen year old boys would giggle about a mosquito being used to coerce a woman into sex. 

And as we write our books, we may not know the specifics of how they will be received. 

There will be hopes. There will be visions of interviews with Oprah or invitations to TED or movie rights. But there is no way for us to know how our words will be received. 

Do not give into the fear. When you're done writing, when you've placed the last edit in your manuscript and you've clicked the publish button on Amazon, breathe deep and let those words go. 

Because now? They belong to the reader. And this is where the connections are made and your words come to life. 


Need more inspiration? Introducing Hustle & Flow: a weekly letter with artistic visioning for the everyday creative. I would love it if you signed up, and I won't ever spam you. Promise. 

You'll get hints and anecdotes about getting unstuck and living your most artistic life within the midst of your every day poetics. AND, if you sign up during October, you'll get some special extras dealing with indie-publishing.

Posted on October 25, 2014 and filed under writing, indie publishing.

day twenty four: knowing how to price

One of the questions I get the most from people who are beginning their process of indie publishing is how do I land on a price for my books?

I wish there was an easy answer. 

It's not science, although there are articles about how an eBook priced at 1.99 would be the death knell for your manuscript since that price doesn't really scream CONFIDENCE. Strangely enough, 99 cent eBooks sell like hotcakes, and so do those priced at 2.99. 

For me, I look around and take notes. What are other indie authors in my genre charging? You can't base your cost solely on what everyone else is doing, but you don't want to undercut or overcharge, either. I do know this: you want to have a reason for the price you've chosen.

When I released EVERY SHATTERED THING, an eBook price of 2.99 seemed fair to me. It felt good. I sent it out into the world, and then a week after publication, we bumped the price to 99 cents for a promotional sale and to see how high we could push the book on the charts. The higher the number, the more lists you find your book. Bestsellers within the subtopics of your genre, hot new releases, movers and shakers — Amazon keeps tabs of all kinds of movement within the books sold and so any jump is great. 

But you want to be careful with promotions. 

I only ever dropped the price twice after that initial promotion. Readers don't appreciate purchasing a book only to find the next day it's dropped price willy-nilly.

The two times I dropped EVERY SHATTERED THING's price? One was for Super Bowl weekend, one of the highest ranking weekends for human trafficking in the United States. The other was this past July. I never bumped it back up to 2.99. SOMEWHERE BETWEEN WATER AND SKY would be out within a few months, and I planned on shifting the price. I knew people new to the series would be more likely to purchase book one if it were 99 cents than if both books were 2.99. Cost analysis. 

(I also dropped the paperback price of EVERY SHATTERED THING so now you can purchase it for under 10 dollars while SOMEWHERE BETWEEN WATER AND SKY is set at 14.99)

You may also consider a release week promotion. This makes sense to a lot of readers, and it boosts sales because it provides a sense of urgency. The risk here? People question why you're setting your book at such a low price. This happened to me with SOMEWHERE BETWEEN WATER AND SKY. 

Also? Pay attention to royalties. With Amazon, if you price your book at 99 cents, you receive a small royalty set at 30%. If you price ABOVE 99 cents, you can change the royalty option to 70%. Huge difference. 

Most important thing: what's best for you? You know your audience. You know what they'd be willing to pay. It may seem like an impossible decision, but I've found that if you think about it, the right price really does sit easy in your stomach. The wrong one? You feel dissonant. Confused.  Pay attention to those feelings. You don't want to appear to the public as if you have no idea what you're doing. Stay confident. Own that story you've bled over and show others it's worth reading.


Need more inspiration? Introducing Hustle & Flow: a weekly letter with artistic visioning for the everyday creative. I would love it if you signed up, and I won't ever spam you. Promise. 

You'll get hints and anecdotes about getting unstuck and living your most artistic life within the midst of your every day poetics. AND, if you sign up during October, you'll get some special extras dealing with indie-publishing.

Posted on October 24, 2014 and filed under indie publishing, writing.

day twenty three: teasers + Instagram

While writing SOMEWHERE BETWEEN WATER AND SKY, I did something different. I started sharing teasers of what I was working on in that moment, tagging it #realtimewriting. Every week in Story Sessions we have Teaser Tuesday, and it was a natural progression to begin sharing bits and pieces of my work as I wrote.

Some weeks I forgot, others I shared a few quotes, but really I just wanted to keep a steady reminder in front of people that not only am I writing a book, it's going to be available in September. I'd place this in the caption area available on Instagram. 

The tools I used? For a few, like the two below, I used canva.  The more I work with Canva, the more I understand it, and I love they send you tutorials after you sign up. Mostly though, I used Wordswag and Instagram. 

Teaser created in Canva and then shared on Facebook.

Teaser created in Canva and then shared on Facebook.

Teaser created on Canva and then shared on Facebook.

Teaser created on Canva and then shared on Facebook.

Soon, I began finding the style I wanted to stick with and most of my teasers looked the same (outside of the quote). 

Teasers do a few things. They allow your reader a chance to see into your book before you publish. They remind others your book is coming. They create tweetable (and shareable) images + quotes for your words to spread. And, if you take full advantage of hashtagging (#amwriting, #indieauthor, #instawriters #instagood #instaquote and so much more), you can harness a simple means of marketing that works. 

Pro tip: If you're using Instagram to promote your book, change the URL in your profile to the amazon link. 


Need more inspiration? Introducing Hustle & Flow: a weekly letter with artistic visioning for the everyday creative. I would love it if you signed up, and I won't ever spam you. Promise. 

You'll get hints and anecdotes about getting unstuck and living your most artistic life within the midst of your every day poetics. AND, if you sign up during October, you'll get some special extras dealing with indie-publishing.

Posted on October 23, 2014 and filed under indie publishing, writing.