Tag Archives | self-publishing

Two Years and Counting

My two-year anniversary as an independent author passed a week or two ago. Woot. (Not that there is another team to own in this instance, but you get the idea).

It doesn’t seem like that long, but then again, so much has happened. I currently have eight titles published, four of which are novels (and another on the way very soon). Somewhere in there I went from selling tens of books per month to selling over a thousand per month (roughly. I tried counting for a while and eventually I concluded… life is too short). I am making enough money right now to continue devoting most of my time and attention to producing new fiction, which makes me very happy indeed.

I’m not sure quite how I arrived at this point, but I’m grateful for it. It’s been a difficult couple of years in some ways: I moved overseas at the same time as I started publishing my work, and the dual challenges associated with those two things have definitely taken it out of me. But it’s worked out so well, I don’t regret a moment of any of it.

I have a lot on the agenda for years three and four: a new Draykon Series, more titles in the Malykant Mysteries series, and hopefully more Drifting Isle or Aylfenhame books as well. So I’m going to hope all continues to go well, and I can get on with writing these new books with all possible speed. I’m also hoping these next couple of years will be a little more… relaxed, shall we say? With fewer of the heart-clenching terrors and more of the peaceful, happy writing hours.

Thanks so much for following me through the early part of my writing career. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the books as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them, and here’s to a lot more where that came from :)

 

 

11

10 Things I Love About 2013

I’m working on my first (novel-length) piece of historical fiction right now (history stuffed with plentiful fantasy and fairytale shenanigans, of course…). Sometimes, delving into history leaves one feeling a little starry-eyed about the past: something about the slow pace of life compared with the modern rush, perhaps, or maybe a degree of sentimental attachment to the days when people used to write long, thoughtful letters to each other instead of dashing off three-word texts during lunch break.

Not this time! Much as I am enjoying skipping around in Regency England, the effect is more the opposite overall: I find myself reflecting on all the things I’d miss about 2013. Here’s my top ten–in no particular order, honestly, because I couldn’t decide on a system of relative values. I love them all more or less equally.

1: My Smartphone

I was a relatively late adopter of the smartphone. I only got my first one in 2011, and I quickly began to wonder why I’d waited so long. At the moment I have a Galaxy Note, and we are the best of friends. Completely inseparable. How could I not love it? It does everything. EVERYTHING. From communication through to music, audiobooks, games… I could go on, but I’ll stop there.

2: Online Communication

I wasn’t sure what to call this because it’s quite a big bucketful of stuff. I’m talking about Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter… all things I particularly learned to appreciate after I moved away from my home country and all the family and friends I had there. These things keep me in the loop, deliver me the home news every single day, and allow me to share just about anything I’m doing with my sisters at any time (and vice versa). Also, I have quite a few friends in far-distant parts of the world, and I remain electrified by how easy it is to send notes and pictures to anybody, anywhere, anytime. Okay, sometimes I miss the long, thoughtful letters thing, but mostly I just love the ease of communication we have right now.

3: Online Games

I’ve been a gamer since I was a kid (though it was harder to accomplish in those days, since I often wasn’t allowed anywhere near a computer). For the last ten years–eh, more than that even–I’ve played games a lot, especially online text-based games (commonly known as MUDs, MUSHes and many other similar titles). These have impacted my life in so many ways, I don’t even know where to start; but I can certainly say they’ve had a lot to do with my becoming a writer. I’ve also had a lot of fun with graphics-based MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Everquest II. Who knows what the next generation of online games will be like? I can’t wait to find out.

4: Digital Books

Given that I now make my living out of selling digital fiction, this had to appear in my list, right? Although I’m not just speaking as a writer here. I got my first e-reader in 2010, and I was completely enchanted with it the moment I realised two things: firstly that I could download just about any piece of classical literature for free, and secondly when I realised that people were self-publishing their own fiction. I was at that time growing very bored with the same old stuff being published every month, so when I found the highly unusual book Confessions of a Gourmand by Tom Bruno, bought it, read it and loved it, I realised right away that my options as a reader were about to explode. And they have. Keep it up, world! I like this!

5: My Elliptical Trainer

For various reasons into which I shall not venture, I have seriously been advised to get as much exercise as possible for the foreseeable future. But gym memberships cost a fortune, and I live in a country with less-than-ideal weather for outdoor sports most of the year round. What can I possibly do? Why, dust off the slightly creaky elliptical trainer I have lying around in my own house of course. We are spending some quality time together almost every day, and I look forward to feeling much better in all possible ways quite soon (I hope). Me and the trainer and my Note make a fabulous team altogether.

6: Blogging

Five years ago, I had hardly even looked at a blog. Then I discovered such various magics as Google Reader (soon to go the way of the dodo, alas) and Delicious, and suddenly it became viable to follow loads of blogs, all the time. I still do. Then, of course, I began blogging myself. A couple of years down the road, blogging is a major part of my life; while I do sometimes neglect my site (see: last November through to about February), I can’t imagine abandoning it altogether. I even started a new baking blog this year.

7: Digital Photography

I like taking pictures. I like having pictures. Tons of colour and shiny at my fingertips, any moment of the day. I have a decent camera on my Note, but I recently upgraded to a proper digital camera and it is FABULOUS. Teamed with things like Picasa and Irfanview, the thing is unstoppable. It does give me yet another gadget to drag around with me practically everywhere, but it’s worth it.

8: TV

I never used to watch TV much, if at all, but in the past few months that’s changed. Anytime I feel homesick, I switch on the BBC–especially if there’s anything to do with cooking going on. It works. I do it a lot. And that’s not to mention such occasional gems as the Great British Sewing Bee, which reminded me why I love to sew, and the brilliant programme a couple of weeks ago wherein a number of intrepid souls recreated the Netherfield Ball with all the historical details. This stuff brightens up my life. Really.

9: Travel

As things go (you know… in the world), the distance between here and home isn’t that bad. At least, it isn’t when it’s 2013 and a flight home is short and reasonably affordable. Not to mention the ease with which one could (and will) dash off to the other side of the planet, say, just to have a look around. There are downsides to this–how small is the world all of a sudden? And how shockingly environmentally costly is air travel?–but some of these downsides will improve in time, and others… well, the upsides are great.

10: Sewing Machines

I’m somewhere in the middle of making a set of Regency-era short stays right now. It’s quite hard. Fiddly and full of traps and pitfalls–like most sewing, only magnified. Imagine if I had to make them the way people used to make them two hundred or so years ago! By hand, every single bit! Heavens, no. Gimme my lovely electronic sewing machine, that sews anything–anything at all–in its smooth, enviably stylish way with never a whisper of complaint.

11: On a related note… the sneaky, hidden 11th item on my 10-item list is computers in general for one particular reason: the ease of typing a novel as opposed to writing by hand. As you may remember from a previous post, I started writing Miss Landon and Aubranael by hand. It worked beautifully for a while: I appreciated the relaxed pace, gliding through about 25k words over a period of five or six weeks. And then I got impatient. I’m used to typing–and typing very quickly, due to all those hours spent playing text-based games–and the relaxed pace finally began to feel… slow. Slow. So I’m back to typing, at the rate of about 4-5k words a day right now. And the book will be done much sooner because of it, which will leave me free to move on to my next project and and… and so on.

I could go on, actually, but I won’t because I’ve said enough for one post. Maybe your list is similar to mine, or maybe it’s a lot different; share thoughts, if you feel like it, below.

Disclaimer: I know there are lots of crap things about 2013. Tons of them. I could rant all day about that, in fact, but I’m trying to be more positive here (not just here-here, on my blog, but in general), so we aren’t going to do the “10 things I hate about life (in 2013)”. At least, not this week.

1

My First Anniversary (as an author)

Yesterday was Draykon’s first anniversary. A year ago yesterday I uploaded the files to Smashwords and Amazon, swallowed my nerves, crossed my fingers and clicked “Publish.” A lot’s happened since then.

In October of 2011 I published Leximandra Reports, a short story collection featuring the Draykon characters.

In December 2011 I published Lokant, my second full-length novel and the second in the Draykon series.

In February 2012, I published The Rostikov Legacy, the first in a new series of supernatural mystery novellas.

In March, Draykon became a featured book on the Wattpad mobile reading community, and immediately began to gather a very encouraging following.

In April, Orlind (Draykon #3) was published.

In June I published the second Malykant Mystery (sequel to The Rostikov Legacy).

In July, all three Draykon books were updated with a stunning new map, and immediately afterwards I set the first book to free everywhere.

I wrote a lot for Spindrift, our online fantasy graphic novel (you’ve seen that, right?).

In that time I’ve also set up a new website (this very one, in fact); blogged a lot, here and in other places; established a social media presence across Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads (which I am great at neglecting); given away a lot of books and gained a lot of readers.

As of the end of the first year, the venture is profitable, going well and looking very promising.

HUZZAH.

So firstly: thanks, oodles of them, to everyone who’s been involved this past year – readers, reviewers, bloggers, friends, everyone. You’re all terrific.

Secondly: I am an obsessively goals-based being and therefore I have to have Plans. Plenty of them. Here’s what’s on the cards for Year Two:

Autogyro

This is the steampunk adventure novel I’ve been doing as part of the Drifting Isle Chronicles project (previously blogged about here). I finished writing this in July, and it’s going into editing soon. The scheduled release date for this is sometime in December – not far away!

This book is completely different from anything I’ve done before. There’s steam-car racing, shady villains, talking pigeons, floating islands, kidnappings, mildly crazy flying machines, superfuels, and kind of a romance. I’m looking forward to releasing it (on which note I’ll be looking for test readers in a few weeks – let me know in the comments if you’d like to help out).

Draykon paperbacks

It feels as though I’ve been talking about this forever. The reasons for the delay were:

– I wanted the map to be done first, or I would’ve had to republish them all afterwards. The map took a while, since we did the whole Crowdfunding thing.

– The fabulous Elsa found time in her busy schedule to do beautiful full-wrap covers for them – back, spine, everything. They look amazing.

I am uploading the cover for Orlind as I write (okay, I personally am not doing that. Internet Explorer is doing that. Who knew IE could be better at both Firefox and Chrome at… anything?). The interior files are almost complete; once a slightly tweaked black-and-white version of the map goes in, they’re ready to be approved.

After that I just have to order proof copies and wait the three or four weeks it’ll probably take for them to get here. If they look all right… then they will go live right away.

Let’s all hope it’ll all be done by the end of October, okay? That’s my tentative target. We’ll see.

Aubranael

At the end of July, after I finished Autogyro and before I took a couple of weeks of holiday (at last… phew), I was suddenly smitten with a new idea. By smitten I mean the seed appeared from somewhere and I was intriguied and it grew and after a few days of fleshing it out I was totally in love. So, I have to do it – right now.

Aubranael is the working title and the name of one of the main characters. This book will be a stand-alone novel, a work of fantasy employing considerable material from fairytale/folklore and set in the Regency period. I’m locating it in my beloved Lincolnshire, and structuring it as mostly a romance.

Is this possibly the most self-indulgent book I’ve done yet? Totally. And I can’t wait to get started.

I want to release it early next year, so I’d better get on with it.

Malykant #3 (and eventually #4 and maybe #5)

So it’s taking longer to build an audience for the first two Malykant books than for my novels, but novellas don’t tend to attract as much attention.

Having published two, however, I’ve had enough encouraging feedback from readers-who-want-more to add a third installment to my agenda. I want to write it before the end of the year, all being well, though I’m saving the draft phase for autumn and winter: somehow the foggy and dark weather does something great to my brains as far as creepy Konrad stories are concerned.

The setting for #3 is going to be a ghost circus. Just so you know. I can’t wait to get going on this one either. I’m doing Halloween in England (hopefully) and then when I get back – brains suitably creepified – on I will go.

Draykon Series #2

…which will not be called Draykon Series #2, I haven’t yet decided on the series name. But it will be the second series set in my Seven Realms world and featuring some of the same characters as before.

This is pencilled in to begin in January or February of next year (depending on how long it takes me to get through the above titles). I haven’t done it earlier because I wanted to take a break from Draykoning first: I think it helps to do that, moonlight in other worlds for a while and then return to it with a refreshed mind. Or something. Anyway, I’m tentatively planning either two books or another three-book series.

Spindriftery

The prologue for Spindrift was finished a while ago, and it’s now nearing the end of Chapter One! Woot! Which means that writing for Chapter Two is pretty high on my agenda at present. Lots of exciting stuff planned, and new characters incoming. It’s going to be colourful.

… and when I factor in all the work that goes along with all of the above, that’s probably enough to keep me busy for another year.

Probably.

 

13

Orlind (Draykon #3) is Released Today!

Dear all,

I’m happy to announce that the third (and final) book in my Draykon Series has just gone live on Smashwords and Amazon! Woo! You can find it at Smashwords, Amazon US and Amazon UK so far. Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo and Apple will follow in the next few weeks, all being well.

This marks the end of this sequence, though as I’ve said before I have plans to write a follow-up series in due course; stay tuned for more details on that later.

The reviews have already been very good, I’m delighted to say (many thanks to my ARC readers!). I hope that it will prove a satisfying and entertaining finale to those of you inclined to read along.

And if you haven’t yet seen the cover… here it is!

14

Orlind (Draykon #3) Release Events!

I’m back from England, having had many adventures… more about that later this week. For now it’s time to talk about Orlind, when it’s out and what are we doing to celebrate?!

The release date, all being well, will be April 30th. Gracious, that’s next Monday! Seven days! This will mark the completion of my first fantasy series and I’m terrifically excited about it.

To launch the book in style, we have a week of events going across three excellent book blogs ahead of the release. The bloggers are:

Ritesh at Ritesh Kala’s Book Reviews

Beth at Ebook Apothecary

Kate at Urban Fantasy Reviews

The schedule:

First of all take note of the giveaway being held at Ritesh’s blog. This includes chances to win the first book in the series or even all three, yay. It’s easy to enter, too. If you know anyone who might like these books, do pass on the details of this giveaway – it’s a great chance to give them a try for free.

The week at Ritesh’s blog:

23rd April: A biographical post by me.
24th: I introduce the Draykon Series in another guest post.
25th: Ritesh’s review of Orlind!
26th: An extended interview with me.
27th: I talk about how self-publishing is changing the way we read.
28th: A short story about Tren.

The “Rikbeek” week at Ebook Apothecary:

26th: An interview with Rikbeek!
27th: An excerpt from Orlind, featuring Rikbeek.
28th: A short story about Rikbeek.
29th: Beth’s review of Orlind.

The week at Urban Fantasy Reviews:

26th: An interview with Llandry and Eva.
27th: A guest post by me, about fantasy heroines.
28th: A short story about Llandry, Sigwide and a bunch of birds.
30th: Kate’s review of Orlind.

I’ll be updating this post with links to individual posts as we go through. I’ll also be linking to each post and event on twitter and facebook – do follow me there if you want an easy way to keep track! These bloggers are terrific and tremendously supportive of the indie author community so they deserve plenty of love and attention; please share their posts and blogs with any interested parties that you know.

Enjoy the events! I’ll be off to format Orlind for Smashwords… almost there!

 

4

The Draykon Map Project is underway!

I notice that people sometimes use the word “kickstarter” as a synonym for crowdfunding in general. Kickstarter.com is certainly the big name in crowdfunding websites, and I can see why. It’s bigger, slicker and a lot more flexible than many alternatives.

Unfortunately, it’s also US-only. So instead, I’m giving crowdfunder.co.uk a try for my first ever crowd funding campaign. This is my test run, I suppose, so I’m sure I’ll make some mistakes this time around. But I’ll be learning the ropes, too, and experience all spends.

Here’s the project link: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/investment/the-draykon-map-project-702

As I talked about here, the purpose of this project is to raise the funds necessary to get a map done for the Draykon Series. Not just a map, but a glorious, beautiful map done by Ms Elsa Kroese, one that will serve the whole series-of-series that I have planned for the Draykon world. The map has been low on my priority list up until now, because unlike the text (duh), the format and the book cover, it isn’t absolutely vital that I have one in order to publish the series.

But such things are so worth doing, even if they aren’t easy to acquire. Now, I have a bunch of extra challenges to get past as a non-US resident, one of which is that it takes me a lot longer to get paid than many of my fellow indies.  So this is an alternative to waiting any longer (potentially much longer) to get the map done. I’ve done my best to make some interesting rewards available for participation, including some exclusive stuff I won’t be offering anywhere else.

The project got started a couple of days ago (just in time for the weekend, oh yes. That was beautifully planned). It’ll run for 28 days more from today, so there’s quite a lot of time to participate if you’d like to.

Rewards include:

Ebook packs containing ALL my titles, for every contribution of £10 and above (between you and me, I’m happy to give that out for donations of less than £10 as well, only Crowdfunder wouldn’t let me set a reward threshhold beneath that minimum level. So unofficially, all contributions get the book pack). The pack will include all three Draykon novels in the 2nd edition, which will include the new map plus a glossary and a couple of other extras. It’ll also include my Malykant Mysteries titles: #1 (The Rostikov Legacy) and #2 which isn’t out yet. These will be DRM-free and therefore shareable, and in any format.

The Map, in digital. Desktop-sized, digitally signed by both author and artist.

Prints of the cover art, or the new map. Signed by hand, by me.

Paperbacks. Also signed and personalised by me.

Any and all contributions are welcome, and I’ll do my best to ensure that everyone participating gets plenty in return for the help. Even if you’re not interested in contributing (or simply can’t right now), any and all help promoting the project will be much appreciated also. Many thanks to those who’ve already helped to spread the word, and/or made contributions! Let’s hope we can make it work between us, and then see what Elsa can do with the Seven Realms world.

I’ll have a bit of news to share later this week. In the meantime, have a great few days – especially if you’re getting the same unseasonably warm spring weather we’re enjoying in Holland right now.

0

On Crowdfunding. Oh, and Read an Ebook Week

Dear all,

I bring you this missive – so soon after the last one (at least by my standards) – to discuss two totally different topics. That’s right, I’m mixing and matching today in a perfectly nonsensical way, because really, Read-an-Ebook-Week and Crowdfunding have nothing to do with one another.

Oh well.

Read an Ebook Week

is a Smashwords event. I had a moment of nostalgia, or something like it, when I realised it was coming up. I first heard about Smashwords through last year’s event; I couldn’t possibly have imagined at the time that a mere one year later, I’d have four titles on Smashwords and I would be participating in it as an author.

But so it has proved. Read-an-Ebook-Week is (surprisingly enough) a week-long event encouraging people to try digital reading. Loads of Smashwords authors, including yours truly, have allowed deep discounts on their book for the week of March 4th to 10th – and many books are free! How cool is that. Draykon #1 and my new title, The Rostikov Legacy, are both available to download for free until the end of the event. Huzzah (click the titles to go to the Smashwords pages. The freebie code is RE100).

So… if you know of anybody who might like to try those books, now’s a great time to mention it =)

Moving on.

Crowdfunding

I mentioned in my last post that I want to do a map for the Draykon world. I also said that I’ve been planning this for a while, but I’m finding it hard to work out the best way to do it.

That wasn’t entirely true. The fact is, I’ve worked (and am working) very hard to make the books as good as I can, and I’ve been lucky enough to get some magnificent cover art for them. I don’t just want any map to go alongside that: I want a magnificent map, something of the highest possible quality that’s worthy to stand alongside Elsa’s book covers.

The obvious thing to do, then, is to ask Elsa to do the map. Only, I don’t mind admitting that my funds are about tapped out for the present; and being an international indie author (by which I mean, not a US resident) means I get the privilege of waiting quite a lot longer to get paid.

So I was staring at my screen on Saturday morning in that weekend-haze sort of state, trying to figure out how I could reasonably fund a map project in the next couple of months, when Fate intervened. Or something. A crowdfunding project called Kickstarter popped up in my daily internet-and-blog rounds no less than three times. Here’s what happened in my sleep-fuzzed brain.

How can I get a good map done?

+

Ooo kickstarter how interesting

+

Kickstarter again

+

Oh look, more crowdfunding

=

lightbulb

Aaaannd most of the rest of Saturday went on researching this option.

What is Crowdfunding Anyway?

It’s a way of raising a given sum of money through a large(ish) number of small donations. The really good part is that it isn’t charity per se. It’s not about someone (say, me) asking people to donate to a project and other people (say, you) generously agreeing to do so. In a good crowdfunding campaign, every donation, no matter how small, earns a prize related to the project – and the best campaigns offer exclusive goodies that you couldn’t get any other way. Sounds interesting? I thought so.

The idea has huge possibilities. For example, I’ve been dreaming for a while about doing a companion book to the Draykon world, featuring some new fantasy art by Elsa Kroese along with loads of world-and-background material to go alongside the books (by the way, the Draykon Series you’ve been reading and hearing about ends with book #3, but I don’t plan to abandon this world – there’ll be more Seven Realms books in time). Such a project would be glorious-beyond-belief but it would also be very expensive, so I put it on my “maybe someday” list. But if crowdfunding can work, perhaps it could be done rather sooner.

Going back to the map. This would be a relatively small project, and therefore an ideal way to test the waters and see if it can work. I’d need about £300 (approx. $470) to get the map done, and that would include a black-and-white version to go in the books, plus a more beautiful and elaborate colour version for, um, Other Things.

What Would You Get?

The way it works is, the larger the donation the bigger-and-better the reward. So smaller donations might net you a few ebooks and some other digital-fun-stuff, while larger ones could get you some juicy physical merchandise.

I have a few ideas for possible prizes. The obvious ones include: digital copies of all three books in the new edition (with the beautiful new map and the glossary); digital copies of the new maps, both black-and-white and in colour, possibly signed (digitally of course) by both author and artist; hard copies (i.e. prints!) of the new maps with a real signature from yours truly; prints of the cover art, personalised and signed by me; maybe even signed print copies of the books, though there would be a delay on those since it’ll take me some time to get them ready (another way in which not being a US resident bites me).

Here’s the big question: if I launched a crowdfunding test campaign to get a good map done, would you be interested in participating? And if so, what other goodies would you like to see? I’m interested in any and all ideas.

7

Draykon Series: News!

It’s been nearly three months since I published Lokant, book 2 of the Draykon Series. Quite a lot’s happened since then, and I have lots more planned, so I decided to share some updates.

Nice Things: Reviews and Sales

Firstly, I’m happy to report that word  is spreading about the series. Reviews are coming in more frequently, and the great majority have been enthusiastic. Thank you for those! They are a huge help – not only in encouraging others to try the books, but also in keeping this author going.

This is also allied to an upswing in sales. It”ll be some time yet before I can say I’m making a living (let’s hope that happens at all), but so far 2012 has brought me a lot more copies sold. Interestingly, many authors report 90% or more of their sales coming from Amazon, but in my case that isn’t happening – mine are much more evenly distributed across most of the major ebook vendors. I don’t know if that pattern will hold, but it’s interesting so far.

Draykon #3

Now, about the next book! The third Draykon novel is going to be titled Orlind. The draft is complete and editing has begun. The series will end here, though I do have some vague plans to return to this world in the future. At the moment everything is on track for an April release, though it’s likely to be nearer the end of the month before everything is done.

I’m planning to send out ARCs (advanced review copies) this time around, which should be available a couple of weeks before the book is published. I have a few names on my list already; if you’d like to be added to it please let me know (leave a comment, or send me an email!). These will, of course, be e-books.

Paperbacks

I do in fact have plans to get paper editions in print for the whole series. My fabulous cover artist will be expanding my e-covers into print covers after the art for Orlind is done. That means I hope to be able to set this process in motion sometime in April. I’m not sure how long it will take to get all three books available from Createspace – since I live in Europe, it could take a while to get proof copies mailed out here. But I’m hoping they’ll be ready by summer.

Maps & Other Goodies

A few people have said that they’d like to see a map of the Draykon world. The problem I’ve had with this is a total lack of artistic talent… and I do mean total. But I’m exploring options and have hopes of working something out.

I’m also working on a glossary of terms for the series. When both of these are complete, I’ll be releasing new editions of all books with map + glossary (if you want these but have already bought the books, not to worry – I’ll make free copies available for you).

Compendiums

My final Cunning Plan is to create a compiled edition of all three books once the series is complete. This will be ebook only at present – I’m not sure how it’ll work out in print. But if my first Createspace adventures go well, this may be an option for sometime in the future.

That’s it for my list. Now back to the editing… which I hate  which is such a wonderful, satisfying process.

 

7

Things Writers Stress About: Reviews

Lately it seems like everyone’s got something new for writers to stress about. A few weeks ago I talked – at some length – about dogmatic writing advice; the sort that has new writers terrified to use so much as a single adverb, or any dialogue tag other than “said”. (If you missed it, that rant was here).

Another thing I’ve noticed in recent months is a rising hysteria about book reviews. Now, worrying about getting bad reviews is natural enough. I stress about this myself. There are all sorts of fairly convincing arguments abounding as to why it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but even so it still hurts when one’s very personal work is rejected. I’m never surprised when I hear writers lamenting the latest one or two star review they’ve received.

What’s puzzling is when I come across people stressing about the good reviews. The good ones! Am I getting too many five star ratings? Am I getting too many four star reviews? Why hasn’t anyone left a one or two star review yet?

Is it just me, or is that weird?

Here’s why it happens. With the advent of easy and affordable self-publishing, lots of people have put books out into the world. More are joining the party all the time. And sadly, human nature being as it is, a percentage of those people have employed some very shady methods in order to get their review ratings up. These range from Moderately Shady - asking all your friends to leave 5-star reviews – up to Seriously Shady: paying people to leave 5-star reviews (some of which are even written by the author).

Of course, some readers got wise to this. And some have got very, very suspicious as a result.

Now, I get that some things have the definite appearance of shadiness. A first book by an unknown author should not have twenty five-star reviews and ten four-star reviews within two weeks of publication. Especially if all those reviews are one sentence long and say nothing more useful than “I loved this book!”.

But the sad thing is that the spirit of suspicion seems to be widening – or at least, it’s believed to be widening. Some readers have (most unfortunately) been burned with self-pubbed books that had masses of great reviews and then turned out to be awful – of the “surely a ten-year-old wrote this” style of awful. That’s a shame. But now? Any book with a lot of four-or-five-star reviews is sometimes – or often? Or only occasionally? – viewed with suspicion, even when the reviews are thoughtful and detailed. People go to curious lengths to try to discover whether reviews are legitimate or not. I can’t understand it when wariness is carried to this extent: surely it’d be more productive to spend that time reading the free sample than digging up the credentials of everyone who’s reviewed the book to decide if they’re “real” or not? But that’s what some people are doing. And there’s some rather vicious satisfaction visible in some readers who uncover what they think is a shady review.

I don’t think too many people are doing this, but a lot more are getting sadly wary about books with ratings that are considered to be too high. Many new books fall into this category. A (quality) book requires a wider audience and larger fame before it seriously starts gathering poorer ratings; in its early days nobody will hazard money on an unknown author unless they feel a strong interest in reading the book, and in most cases those people will like it well enough. It’s only when a book becomes more famous that people start trying it “just because everyone is talking about it” or “just because someone said it was good” and you get more casual readers who don’t like it.

All those new books, then, are (allegedly) having a harder time because they have too many good reviews and not enough bad ones. Crazy, huh?

And this leads to writers stressing about the good stuff almost as much as the bad. Great, now we have to worry about every single review we get, good or bad! Are my ratings too high? Are my ratings too low? Just what is the optimum average rating anyway?

I’m inclined to think this is another disproportionately inflated scare. Writers are an anxious bunch; it isn’t hard to make us worry. Let’s ask a question.

How many people are seriously influenced by reader reviews anyway? I don’t know the answer to this question. For myself, I glance through reviews looking for the slew of feedback about innumerable typos that might put me off; but even those can’t be entirely trusted. In a world where writers are assailed with difficulties on all sides, writers are sometimes capable of sabotaging each other. Some authors have seen strings of bad reviews go up which were later proved to have come from disgruntled “competitors”, so you can’t trust those too much either.

For those who are incurably suspicious of reviews, there are loads of way to check out a book before buying. If you’re in a bookstore you can read the first couple of pages. If you’re shopping on Amazon you can use the “search inside” feature to read the beginning. If you’re buying ebooks you can download at least 10% of the book for free – and usually it’s possible to tell within 5% whether the book is of sufficient quality to be worth reading. It takes only as much time to read the sample as it would to slog through the reviews. How easy it is, then, to avoid being caught out, without paying the smallest attention to what the reviewers said! Anyone who’s seriously interested in the book will do this. Anyone who is put off by the reviews being too low or too high or whatever are not that interested in the book in the first place. So why worry about the small percentage of wary readers who think a high rating is a reason to doubt?

I’ve found the panic beginning to infect my mind on occasion: I see a fairly new book with 35 reviews and a 4.9 star average and I think, can this be real? But I hate that and I refuse to think that way. A few shady characters should not succeed in overthrowing the whole system of honest and fair reviewing. As a reader, I refuse to doubt books that have earned their high ratings, and start looking askance at perfectly honest authors who have done nothing more questionable than write a terrific book. And as a writer, I refuse to worry about the possible readers who are (maybe) dissecting my book’s reviews and drawing all manner of unfavourable conclusions about my book and my character as a human being. Reviews are a useful option: they can be read or they can be ignored, but they don’t single-handedly destroy a book either by being too low or too high.

So let’s cross that off the long and tiresome stress list. Great reviews and high average ratings are to be unreservedly celebrated: we earned them through hard work!

On with the writing!

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Why I’m Tired of Advice

I’ve a suspicion that there’s no set of people in the world more anxious to give each other advice than writers. Oddly enough, there’s also no set of people more anxious to slavishly follow other people’s advice.

Now, before anyone readies the rotten tomatoes, let me add that I’m convinced most of it is given with the best of intentions and taken in good faith. That doesn’t prevent me, however, from saying that most if it is bullshit. And that’s because people are far too quick to lay down Incontrovertible Rules that Must Never Be Broken – never mind that they’re frequently contradicting each other.

Let’s have a mini-rant. Ready?

 

Writing Advice Atrocity #1: Adverbs are the root of all evil

This is one of those that keeps cropping up in the writing world, Because A Famous Writer Said It. Adverbs should NEVER be used. Let’s get something clear right at the outset: we all know perfectly well that sweeping statements are just begging to be contradicted, because how can a single dogmatic statement ever apply to all cases, under all circumstances?

I am perfectly ready to admit that a weak verb followed by an adverb is a poor way to express oneself. He/she ran quickly is a drab alternative to he/she sprinted or dashed or charged or any of a number of more exciting verbs. But at other times, an adverb is the perfect way to make a subtle alteration to the meaning, or interpretation, of a sentence – especially a line of dialogue. Excise them all? Atrocious thought.

It’s interesting to note that it’s always writers who criticise each other for using adverbs. I feel just the tiniest whisper of suspicion that readers, for the most part, Do Not Care.

 

Writing Advice Atrocity #2: “Said” is the only acceptable verb to use with dialogue.

Same issues as above. What’s really wrong with “replied” or “shouted” or “whispered” or even “spat” or “snorted”? Imagine if all books never used anything but said. Imagine of none of them used adverbs either. Shudder.

This is another one of those lines that originated with A Famous Writer. Let me state for the purposes of clarity that I don’t know, and rather doubt, whether the original source actually intended for these rules to be Laid Down As Law For All. One of the many offences committed by Advice is its tendency to be taken up by others and promptly (adverb) distorted and then exaggerated out of all proportion.

 

Writing Advice Atrocity #3: YOU MUST HIRE AN EDITOR.

I write that in capitals because I frequently (adverb) encounter it in capitals. It’s a trifle alarming.

What I do think is important in all areas of life – not just in writing – is to try to be honest with oneself about one’s own limits. Many of us can write very creditable novels but do a less sparkling job of editing and proofreading them. In which case, it is undoubtedly (ADVERB) advisable to hire an editor before thinking about publishing. But if you happen to be a good editor as well as a good novelist? What’s to stop you? If you’ve got a few good test readers to check for those blunders we all fall into, then great. Doing your own editing isn’t going to break the world. No… really, it isn’t.

Want to hear the most fatuous thing I’ve ever heard in connection with this rule? Here it is:

“It’s insulting to professional editors to think you could do their job as well as your own.”

Zuh…

Let it be henceforth set down as an Immutable Law that to be multi-skilled is a crime against one’s fellow man. Let no individual ever presume to be capable of more than one single thing in this life, or your presence on this Earth shall be strongly (ADVERB) objected to. And Rightly (ADVERB!) So.

 

Writing Advice Atrocity #4: YOU MUST HIRE A PROFESSIONAL COVER ARTIST.

As with the above, this one is mostly (…) directed at aspiring self-publishers and is, therefore, mostly (there’snohopeforme) written in screaming capitals.

I love professional cover artists, because I am Crap (yes, with a capital C) at art. I couldn’t produce a good cover if my life depended on… oh wait, that’s a cliche which is also Proscribed. Anyway, I can’t do covers, so I get someone else to do them. I rather doubt, though, that every other writer in the world is the same as me. If you can produce a good cover for yourself, then why the hell not? It amazes me that people seem to lose sleep over this stuff. And you know, people talk a lot about the Supreme Importance of professional cover art, and I’m not unswayed by this attitude because I myself am much impressed by great covers. But plenty of books with bad covers seem to sell fine, so who knows? Maybe there’s more in the world than my own point of view. Astonishing thought.

I could go on, but WordPress is currently counting my 786th word and I promised myself I would stop writing 1000+ word posts because someone somewhere said it’s better to be brief on a blog. Having already soundly broken the widely accepted (and widely repeated) 500 word maximum rule, I’ll finish the rest of my ranting in a quiet corner.

Don’t feel constrained, though. The rest of you still have 500 words of free ranting space to go, so make the most of it. Any other dogmatic writing rules to share with us? I’m all ears. (cliche)

PS This blog post is late, which also breaks the Blogging Law of the Fixed and Predictable Schedule. I can only apologise. I was busy… writing fiction. A lot of it. I know there’s no better way to kill my career than to vary my posting schedule (People have Said So), so I don’t know what possessed me.

 

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