Dealing With Bad Reviews: 5 Dumb Things

TL;DR Don’t.

Now for the longer version, and a few specific examples of who and what tribulations await you, the writer.

  1. The Hater.  They’re out there, and in another life, you’ve personally kicked their puppy. They’re going to get every ounce they can out of a punitive review, and by all that’s holy, no one will wonder where they stand by the end of it.  Example– from one of my actual reviews– I have to say this was singlehandedly the worst story I’ve EVER read (and I read quite extensively). Ouch. How, you might ask, do I deal with this? Simple– you don’t. Ever. It’s a no win situation to engage someone who has an extensive desire to write bad things about what you do. It might irk you, but it’s not personal. It’s the Internet.
  2. The Frustrated Writer. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on how they view your work. Simply stated, they take time to write a review that is clever, sometimes mean, thorough, and often scattered with personal attacks. These are, for me, the most troubling, because so much of me goes into my stories. In effect, they attack your history, which can evoke a powerful reaction. Example– I haven’t seen such blatant yet backhanded anti-Semitism in a very long time. In this case, the reviewer refers to a character changing their name to be a YouTube star, which is common in the entertainment industry and– here’s the kicker– what my Grandfather did for his music career. He was a big band leader in the 1930s, prior to going off to fight Nazis. With a last name like Grabowski, he chose Gray for his performer name and we’ve used it as a family tradition for restaurant reservations ever since. In essence, the reviewer made an incorrect assumption and branded a fun tradition in my family as something sinister. What did I do? Nothing. And that is, once again, the right move.
  3. The Crusader. Oy vey. These are among the most difficult to deal with because they have an agenda prior to even reading the sentence of your book. They’re taking a square peg and hammering it into a round hole and damn the consequences. Using magic? You hate Pagans. A man makes a decision? Misogyny. Not enough Lithuanian characters? You must hate Lithuania. You get the picture. Example–Terry Maggert manages to subtly insult every single practicing Pagan in the world and maybe some atheists and other religions as well. This is radioactive. Back away, forget it ever happened, and keep writing your novels. I’ve written stories about the Pope being a vampire and zombie sex, but reactions like that one are best ignored. This also speaks to the issue of censorship. I’m against it. Period. I can’t allow exterior forces to shape a narrative in a fictional place. This is my policy, and as I tell people at conferences, “Your world, your rules.”
  4. The Scholar. *Heavy Sigh* Some people could take the fun out of a naked demolition derby, and they will invariably show up in your reviews. They’re experts on virtually any topic you choose to write about, and they’re going to let you know. They will chide you for perceived errors, and in some cases even reach out to you personally to do so (I’ve had it happen at signings). I write fantasy and science fiction. Therefore, I operate on the principle espoused by Mark Twain, “Get your facts straight, then you can distort them as you please.” This ties in to #3, but also stand on its own as a cautionary tale about the immediacy of “expert opinion”. Example–The Adirondacks were named by the Mohawk, not the Huron, so Maggert doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Setting aside the concept that original cultures moved around, this is a shining example of The Scholar. They’re angry, they don’t like your book, and they’re going to make it a personal attack based on their perception and bias about your intellect. If they paid for the book, sally forth, I say. If they got it for free, well, you should be warned that NetGalley is where dreams go to die (more on that at a later date).
  5. The Soul of Brevity. Often cross-pollinates with the Compulsive Cusser,, these reviews can be as short as two words, leaving no doubt as to the position they’re taking about your book. I actually like these, because more often than not, they strike me as honest. Example- Totally sucked. Attaboy. That’s at least honest, and it leavens the other windy reviews. There are varieties in which the reviewer channels a soldier or stable hand’s language, but that’s okay too. If nothing else, it pumps up your total and gives you data about who is– and isn’t– reading your books.

The common theme here is this: there is no scenario in which engaging a bad review can end well. In point of fact, I’ve personally watched two NYT best-selling authors nuke their career by clapping back at bad reviews. If they can’t withstand that kind of pushback, then I know I can’t. *

At least, not until I have my island filled with giraffes and rocket launchers.

See you in Frankenmuth, Michigan this weekend. I’ll be the guy eating. All the time.

Cheers,

Terry

*I can, however, have someone I dislike die a horrible death in my next novel. I’ve done this four times. True story. Be careful, change their name. 🙂

 

“That’s SO funny” means it isn’t. 5 Dumb Things about writing.

I’ve always said that making people laugh is one of the hardest things to do. Writing books with humor is a challenge to even the most nimble authors, and making a character who is genuinely funny even more difficult. I reference the people in my books, who, be they witch, vampire, asshole at the bank, or good hearted truck driver, are all real people to me when I write them.

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Now, let’s break that down– genuinely funny— as it contains two of the most important parts of your main character.

  1. Genuine. I have a single goal when I create a character, and that is for the reader to think, “I know this person.” I want my readers convinced that the character is someone they might meet the next time they leave the house. That’s critical.
  2. Three Dimensional People. I use this term to describe the characters because they should exist in every plane; you should feel their personalities, their voices, and the background of their lives. All of these make them have a weight on the pages. Don’t skimp on background. Don’t use background instead of dialogue. Here’s why.
  3. Dialogue Is Good Voyeurism.  I’m not talking about watching your neighbor through their window, you dirty little critter, although if they’re leaving the curtains open while they dance naked to Bon Jovi and you have a box of wine and nothing to do on a Friday night hey who’s fault is it anyway I mean– sorry. I meant to say, dialogue– good dialogue– is the single best method to get inside the head of your characters. For readers, one page of dialogue is equivalent to an entire chapter of exposition, because it tells you why they act as well as how they will act in the future. This is how we bring readers with us to the last page. They must burn for the Great Reveal in which all becomes clear.
  4. Real People Are Hilarious.  Don’t think this is true? Go to the returns desk at any major retail store on the planet. Then wait. Within fifteen minutes you will see: Thieves. Liars. People with sweaty ‘bra money’. Flimsy excuses. Glorious expressions from the employees. Anger. Resolution. You might even see an adult in a onesie, given the state of our planet. It’s all there, and it’s free. My point is: real life is a fountain of hilarity, if you observe the right places. If you want unlimited rage, go to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you want funny, go everywhere else. Then– write it down.
  5. Read Aloud. Let me repeat this: read. your dialogue. out loud. You should laugh, or cringe, or feel. . . something. What you should not feel is nothing. If that’s the case, the dialogue is flat and it needs to die. Start over, keeping the best sentence you have, then ask yourself. What would your character do if they were at the returns desk at Walmart? It’s a great start, and you might surprise yourself by learning more about your own characters.

I know Carlie, Ring, Saavin, French and Wulfric inside and out because to me, they are real. I can hear their voices, see their walk, and imagine how they might deal with an overcooked steak  (steak cannot be undercooked, fight me!) or  flat tire. You know, life. This is why I’m able to make Carlie more than a Quirky Girl Doing Cute Things.

You know what to do. Keep your eyes and ears open, take a few notes, and write people who you every day. But, you know, with dragons and swords and stuff. That’s what I do.

I’ll be in Frankenmuth, Michigan for Once Upon a Book (Aug 11-12). They claim to have the World’s Best Chicken Dinner. My body is ready.

Cheers,

Terry

Writer Tips: 5 Dumb Things

This is year four for me as a professional author. Naturally, I find new and amazing ways to make mistakes, but my “rate of dumb” is slowing.

Eventually, it might even stabilize or stop. #ThoughtsAndPrayersYall

With that in mind, here are five dumb things that new writers shouldn’t do, because I’ve done them for you already. You’re welcome.

  1. Slow down. Look, I know your friend is a romance writer who coughs out a book every five weeks, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Any skill can be honed over time– maybe they can write quality books at a shocking rate. Maybe they’ve been at it for ten years, too, meaning that it’s more important for you to get your book correct out of the gate, rather than simply in the race. You can speed up your process as you learn and grow.
  2. Don’t Waste Time. Obvious, right? Look, I love shiplap as much as Joanna Gaines, but seven hours on Pinterest looking at her houses isn’t helping you write your novel. Schedule your social media in a ratio of 8 to 2– eighty percent is planned, twenty percent spontaneous. Use apps like Crowdfire or Hootsuite to plan your social media. As a writer, you need to connect with your friends and readers. As a human, you need to have a plan. Apps can help you share yourself without getting lost in the tides of the internet. Having some discipline about your social media results in the most wonderful things of all– more books, and FAR better connections with your friends online. You learn to value the interactions, and they have more punch.
  3. Get A Plan. Your writing is a business. Businesses need a model. Write. It. Down. Mine was a three year plan borrowed from someone far more successful (thanks, Denise!). It makes all the difference to have, in writing, a model with goals that explain where you want to be as a writer. It can be simple or complex. Mine was one page– six goals– and gradually expanded as I became more savvy. I’m an author coach, and I’ve yet to find a young writer with a written business plan. Start it today, and you can have it done in the time it takes to brew another pot of coffee.
  4. Protect Your Work. Look, we’re all thirsty when we start, but that’s no reason to give your work away– and expose yourself to loss– in an endless stream of contests, awards, and vanity publishers. Here’s a simple test: if someone asks you for money to read your work, tell them to go to hell. If they want your work for a contest that costs money to enter, tell them to go to hell. See the trend? Professional agents don’t charge a reading fee. Ever. Real publishers (including YOU, if you’re an Indie) pay for work. Your stories are yours. Protect them with a dose of pragmatism, and you’ll thank yourself down the road.
  5. Exposure Is A Lie. If you can’t eat it or spend it, it ain’t worth your time. Period. Exposure is a seductive lie and nothing more. “Bring your books to give away at our event; it’ll be great exposure.” No thanks. That’s predatory, and not worth my time. One of my passions is giving books to people. I know, I just got done stating the opposite (in a sense), but there’s a key difference: I give people books on my own terms, and because I love books. I also like people. Books are meant to be shared, but artists are meant to be paid. Use your books as gifts for people who believe in you, not people who see you as something to be exploited.*Note: I also give away books written by other authors I admire, simply because I think they’re amazing and their work needs to be shared. Who doesn’t love getting a new book by an unknown voice?

That’s my top five dumb things– hits I’ve taken that I would spare my fellow writers. If you have any questions, fire away. I’ve got a lot of dumb to share.

Cheers,

Terry