Holier Than Thou – The Dark Side of Writing Communities

As you know by now, I’m in love with J.A. Konrath’s blog. One of the things he suggested to do a few years ago is to join writer’s groups, particularly ones online.

So, wanting to make use of the advice, I did it.

There is a boatload of information on these sites, especially KBoards. However, one thing I’ve noticed:

Most of the successful authors go by anonymous names. They don’t want you to know who they are.

Why is this so?

A.) A PR nightmare could emerge from one of their posts. See my blog about bad reviews if you want some insight into how this could happen.
B.) Other authors see success on a forum and can get pretty twisted about it. It’s common for an author to get slammed with one-star reviews because of jealousy or something they said. Authors have even hired spammers to make careers go up in flames.
C.) … Aside from jealousy and pissing people off, these forums are wonderful places for authors to see who their competition is and what they’re doing. A fake name adds anonymity.

From what I’ve heard, a lot of great authors don’t even use these sites anymore because they’ve actually hurt their careers. Instead, they lurk in the shadows, taking notes on what people have to say.

I’m really disappointed by this.

I’ve primarily used the #amwriting and #amediting hashtags on Twitter to connect with other writers. I’ve never had a problem connecting with people in positive ways there. The big difference, I think, is that a lot of people active on social media are millennials or very Web savvy. We seem to band together more. I love cheering on other writers and for the most part, we’re a good bunch. I’ve also had some lively debate with people there and come out of it feeling respected and better learned. Moreover, a lot of us just talk about life and non-writing topics because we’re not trying to be sleuthy.

I can get why some writers hate Twitter, though. There’s a lot of self-promotion there. I read somewhere that Twitter marketing is most effective when you self-advertise 1 out of every 10 posts or less. That’s a lot of posting… But no one wants to see the same post 500 times.

Serial self-marketers are really easy to unfollow and never hear from again.

Being a member of a forum can feel like Hell. You make a new post and… Oh! There’s Grouchy Debbie again, saying something to put someone down or start a fight. After a while, you honestly start to wonder if it’s you.

But look into Grouchy Debbie’s profile. She’s never published a book, she’s written thousands of posts, and Google her real name? She works for the IRS doing admin work and spends her nights flaming people.

But yes, my friend. She is the utmost expert in publishing. She’s upset a lot more people than just you. I imagine my Grouchy Debbie sipping tea, cackling over her keyboard as she tries to snuff out posters’ self-worth.

What I’m finding about these claims about writer’s groups is that they’re true. There are wonderful people there who want nothing more than to help you, but these forums can also place a target on your back. In general, the vibe I get is that there is a lot of cattiness and most people are out for themselves. Many people want you to click their signatures and buy their books.

A lot of the people who are using their real names are paranoid about every word they type and every word everyone else posts because it can go back on them and ruin their reputations. In many cases, they don’t even believe what they’re saying. Because of how people used to feel about self-publishing, those who do it tend to be a bit on the insecure side; some take it too far and it becomes a pissing contest in regards to who is more professional. If I was a customer reading some of these threads, I’d probably say, “Wow. What dinks. I’ll buy that new King book instead.”

It’s all incredibly spineless. It reminds me of high school writing club and why I quit that writing group growing up.

In my previous post, I mentioned how some writers got upset with me for mentioning the word “troll.” It’s not a nice word. It definitely refers to a rare, specific kind of customer, and I don’t feel so bad about using it when applicable (abiding to very strict lines) because “trolls” will never buy a product from you again – not because they think you think they’re a “troll,” not because your product sucks, but because they’re not the customer for your product and never will be. An opinion is an opinion and everyone is entitled to that, but there is a line that can be crossed beyond normal negativity and for most people, the line isn’t hard to distinguish. I posted a Twitter poll to prove I wasn’t alone.

Never call a troll a troll, but learn to recognize one.

I was left pretty flabbergasted when the conversation evolved into how the customer is always right.

Huh?

If I walk into a Mediterranean restaurant and give it one star because I don’t like Mediterranean food, is the restaurant to blame?

Sometimes the customer is flat out wrong.

It doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in what they’re saying, but it does mean it’s pretty safe to disregard them and not lose sleep over their review. Sometimes their thoughts aren’t logical or justified. Their reviews will have an impact on star rating, which can be a big deal if you don’t have a lot of raters, but that’s all. We need to use our common sense to prioritize which reviews to actually take seriously. We essentially work our own businesses and there’s too damn much to do to focus on nonsense reviews.

And yeah, if I keep going to Mediterranean restaurants even though I hate Mediterranean food, you can call me a troll. I troll, you troll, we’ve all trolled. Some more than others. I personally try not to.

If you ask me, the writers in these communities who secretly backstab each other and act holier than thou are also trolling.

I’m so thankful for Twitter – I feel like a welcome part of a community there. I’m sure some of you were sent here from a link on my page. Thanks for supporting me and keeping it real!

Bad Reviews

I want to talk about bad Amazon reviews today.

When I was in college, I studied Communication. It was an interesting time – early 2010s, research being done about social media, the potential for sales online well known.

We talked about Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and how people tend to review.

The short of it is, people who review tend to give a lot of biased opinions – one-star reviews or five-star reviews influenced mostly by their attitudes as human beings and having little to do with the business or product itself. The reviews don’t usually offer a lot of substance, just a “This restaurant was amazing! Delicious food!” or a “This book SUCKED. Waste of money.”

As a business owner, these reviews aren’t going to give you enough depth to actually apply those comments to what you do.

Moreover, when you look into these users’ other reviews, they are all going to rest on the same plane.

There are three types of reviewers:

1.) The Praisers. They rate everything 4 or 5 stars. They’re easily satisfied.
2.) The Meh-ers. They rate everything 3 stars or average. (I personally fall into this plane)
3.) The Criticizers. They rate everything 2 stars or below. They’re never satisfied.

The Internet developed the term “troll” for the third group because they tend to complain a lot, but there are no terms that I’m aware of for the first and second groups – probably because they’re not divining to hurt anyone. So many people fall into this third group that Yelp (among others, I’m sure) had to create an algorithm that makes these sorts of reviews drop or not automatically show, IF the reviewer proves that they have an issue giving too many bad reviews.

On Amazon’s KindleBoards, a high-profile user called me “unprofessional” for labeling the third group “trolls,” and for being dismissive about a reviewer who roasted an author because she thought the book was going to be longer. The author made the book’s length public and broadcast it wherever possible in order to avoid issues regarding what the customer was actually getting.

Bottom line? This customer didn’t do research into what she was purchasing. When she realized she made a mistake, she took it out on the author. Her other reviews were all one and two star. She is, almost by definition, a troll.

It’s not unprofessional to recognize that not all reviews are equal. While this customer’s one-star review may have had a small impact on the product’s rating, it isn’t the end of the world. There’s no need to respond to attempt to vilify her. It won’t work, anyway.

Reviews are important. They impact a customer’s decision about whether they should purchase or not. The reviews are ultimately for the customer, but customers know well enough to look past reviews like this. It’s not reasonable to think that customers will all look into a reviewer’s past ratings to determine which of the three planes they fall on (if any), but think of previous times you’ve looked into reviews before purchasing something…

You focus on the detailed reviews, don’t you? Not the star counts. If someone is really passionate and inspired to review something, they’re going to offer some substance – whether they loved something or hated it.

Rating something one-star or five-star and then disappearing one sentence later does not mean they’re passionate. It’s more the opposite, really.

If my best friend were to do this and ask for my opinion on it, I’d be nice. I’d say, “You’re justified, at least you gave input.” As someone considering releasing a product who also scours reviews as a consumer, I think these types of reviews are lazy and unhelpful and should be disregarded. If the consumer isn’t going to care about them, why should I as an author? No one was helped.

People are busy, that’s the world we live in – but it’s not hard to scale a review down: “Plot disorganized. Too fast. Choppy language. Don’t buy.” See?

Don’t make excuses for your reviewers so that you can read more into their opinions. As writers, there is only so much we can do to improve ourselves, and knowing what  feedback to take seriously is critical. Once we publish something, the reviews are mostly beyond our control.

I’m shocked that someone could find this logic unprofessional. How does one sleep without distinguishing between trolling and legitimate gripes? If you’d like to see what people had to say about reviews, you can read the thread here.

A lot of authors don’t even read reviews because of these factors. Personally, I wouldn’t go as far to be that dismissive. How do you assess reviews, either as a consumer or as a business owner/author?

EDIT: As this thread has gone on, it seems as though many authors don’t legitimately believe in every word their reviewers utter, but feel they have to publicly pretend to in order to prevent developing a reputation. The customer is always right, but *whisper* the customer isn’t always right.

The Internet is searchable. It’s probably best to avoid being an ass online as a general thing. But the whole point of KBoards and other author forums is to help each other, and that includes dealing with review angst, right?

… Or is the whole point of these forums to subtly market our books?

I would never call a *specific* customer a name online, but I’ve seen authors give it back to their reviewers publicly without being offensive or hurting themselves. In some cases, it’s probably helped their sales. It shows confidence. It’s a matter of personal choice, honestly. I don’t think anyone needs to be crucified for doing the taboo thing, but it’s not wrong to play it safe, either.

Distractions

… we’ve all got them.

Currently, I’m supposed to be talking to my boyfriend about book cover designers – I’ve emailed roughly a dozen in the last week, and responses are now trickling in – but I’m busy clicking away digital coupons for a grocery store. This is important to me, because my family likes to save money. Not that talking about designers isn’t important.

But life gets in the way of business.

I’m okay with this because all too often business gets in the way of life.

I sacrificed a lot while I was writing and editing If I Let You Go:

  • I regularly got 6-7 hours of sleep a night, less the closer I got to reaching a milestone. For a lot of the writing process I worked 50+ hour weeks at my day job, then came home to write. It felt masochistic at times.
  • I didn’t exercise a whole lot, even when I had the motivation. It was like, “Okay, do I feel like writing with what energy I have, or torturing myself with the Nike Fit Club app?” I can write a book faster than I can shed my donut.
  • I stopped reading much. I was able to keep with my one book a month goal up until recently (I’m 2 books behind). I have a stack to read that’s going to take me into my early 40s.
  • I’ve parted with about $500 or more in cash just buying ISBNs and setting up my god-awful website. I’m bound to part with about $500+ more just in designing the cover. I pray that I can format everything myself.
  • My search for job opportunities significantly slowed. Now that I’m taking a brief intermission, I’ll be keeping a better eye out. It’s a matter of personal interest and security. I’m looking to buy a house in the next year – getting laid off would be devastating.

There are authors out there who sacrifice a lot more than I do. Some have kids they spend less time with, spouses who feel jealous about the dedication of time… I met one person who quit their day job, rented a cabin in the woods, and went to town on a book while doing a podcast during downtime.

I’m so thankful to say that I’ve never seen anyone competing for who sacrifices the most. The stereotypes about the author ego might not be true, after all.

It’s okay to take a break from writing to go out or work out or read a few chapters of a book. Honestly, real world experiences will probably make you a more worldly, knowledgeable person with the perspective to write more effectively. Being glued to one task can burn you out. This is something I need to keep in mind when working on my next project.

In the time I’ve spent clicking grocery coupons and writing this blog (an hour), I finally narrowed it down to three designers. More realistically, two. Several haven’t responded yet, but that’s okay – there’s time.

One issue I’m struggling with – do I hire an illustrator, or just go for a designer with advanced photo manipulation skills?

Do you guys prefer illustrated book covers?

#ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear

If you’re on Twitter, you heard about this trend today. It started as a way to reveal sexism in the writing industry and quickly developed into a firestorm. Need an example? People were in an uproar over this story of two female scientists being told to include a male’s name on their work. As if two women’s names aren’t good enough.

As a biology student, I was warned about this kind of behavior in the workforce – the science field in particular. I was told by a scientist that many of her peers were forced to use sex as a way to move up the career ladder because there was no hope otherwise. If you were a prude, well, the hell with you. Plenty of men who will do an adequate job in the field – with the benefit of the community taking them more seriously.

But I’ve only just realized in the last 6 months how much sexism exists in the writing community.

In my own experience, some pig private messaged me on Twitter calling me sexy, beautiful, commending me on writing a book… He asked if I needed help publishing my first novel. He winked. The implication was very clear. This guy probably hasn’t sold 100 books in his career; why would I even want his help? Why do so many men think they’re more special than ladies? Women are not damsels.

I’m in construction sales. I could go on and on about sexism. I experience it almost on a daily basis. To save everyone the pain of what I’ve already explained in past posts, I’ll just go over some of my favorite tweets from the hashtag:

“You write books? Ah, bless. I wish I had the time to do that. @TerriNixon

“‘I’m so glad I didn’t know you were a woman. I never would have picked up your book.’ @veschwab

@jonesing4words “‘Have you considered using a pseudonym so people don’t know you’re a woman?’ Because it’s 1842 & I’m a Bronte.

@jenny_trout “‘So, is it a real book or is it like, a Harlequin?'”

@joannechocolat Premiere of CHOCOLAT. Famous (male) author pushes past me without a glance to congratulate my (male) publisher.

I encourage you to check out the hashtag for yourself. It’s disturbing. There is apparently a trend of literary reviews being written mostly by men, featuring more male authors than female ones. Women are being shut out of the industry by being excluded. This isn’t accidental. There are a lot of people out there who despise women, especially successful ones or ones who could become successful. They’re threatening – if not as competition, then to the male ego.

What are your thoughts about sexism in the industry, and in the workforce in general?

 

 

I Finished Draft 3… Now What?

You ever get so wrapped up in something that you lose track of time, or just don’t care about time at all?

I stayed up late last night to finish draft 3. I was in a tense point in the story and just couldn’t stop. One of the things that draws me to writing so much is that sometimes I find it hard to believe that I’ve written what I have. The last time I read the end of my story was four months ago; I loved it even more this time around. I tied up a lot of loose ends. Now it’s time for those close to me to read the story and tell me what they think. There are, frankly, a couple parts that are totally fucked (think blood and bodily fluids – no, If I Let You Go is not torture porn) and I’m anxious about what people will think of them. Thus far no one has viewed these scenes negatively. They play roles in characters’ transformations.

While my friends and family are taking their time reading it – and really, three days is too long to me when I’m waiting on their opinions – I’ve got some work to do…

1.) How do I format this thing? A cover designer needs to know how many pages are in it so they can get the spine right. I need to know for paperback and hardcover – their book covers will be slightly different. But if my book isn’t edited to finality, how can I nail a solid page count down? I’m sure I’ll have some minor tweaks to make.

I also need to format for e-books, potentially in multiple formats. I’m sensing a task that I think should be easy that will give me headaches.

2.) I need to write up marketing/cover text. This includes jacket text if I do a hardcover book, so I’ll need a bio and a nice picture. I need a nice picture for Amazon no matter what I do. My Twitter picture is still of me at 22 or so – I’m not good with photos.

At minimum, I need to write up a rock solid description of the book. It’ll be used on Amazon among other places, and it’s what’s going to make readers want to buy the book, so it’s important.

3.) I’d like to come up with a list of people to ask for blurbs. They’re welcome to receive an ARC (advanced reading copy) so they know what they’re putting their stamp on. I’m sure that if I ask Stephen King or James Patterson they’ll tell me to pound sand, but another indie will give me a chance.

4.) Contact cover designers. Get quotes. Possibly sob at the cost. Or maybe not!

5.) Contact bloggers to review the book based on an ARC, or just do an interview about writing in general. I’m not an established name, but I think I can reach some indie bloggers. I’d also like to start asking people to guest post on this blog, so keep an eye on your Twitter feeds, my friends!

6.) I should probably create a Facebook page. Grumble grumble, huff huff. Someone else can write my Wikipedia page someday. It would be tacky to write one myself. Just don’t tell anyone I was born in East Rumphump, Massachusetts.

I’m sure there’s a lot more I need to do. Looking back to December, I wanted this edit done in January. I didn’t realize how difficult it is to work full-time, have a healthy life, and manage an intense revision. This edit took four months.

There’s going to be some dead space in my schedule between organizing the above. I’m already mapping out my next story in my head. It’s going to be a lot different, but I won’t say much about it just yet. I will be trying out the Snowflake Method. I’ll let you know if it helps me!

Before I get into outlining, though, I’m going to finish reading Justin Cronin’s The Twelve and possibly another book. It’s not a bad thing to wipe the slate clean and read someone else’s work for a change. I’ve missed reading, and reading more makes you a better writer.

The Elements of a Good Cover & Publishing Fears

I’ve never been very into art, but I will say this: I love me some 80s-style imagery.

That’s why this book cover post by J.A. Konrath took me by surprise.

Konrath worked with author Lee Goldberg to optimize his titles and book covers. He scaled titles down to one word and created one central image to use across the series. Frankly, I hate Konrath’s versions. They look amateur-ish. But I have to admit…

The book covers pop.

1.) Each book in the series has its own color scheme. No need to sort through titles.

2.) That stupid silhouette is a great branding feature and it helps declutter the images, making the thumbnail more visible. I hate it. I love it. I hate it.

Goldberg’s sales shot up because of the changes. In one case, his sales tripled.

It’s times like these I try to remember:

  • The cover of my book isn’t the subject of an art contest. Its function is to reel people in, get them looking at the book’s description, and buy the dang book.

I’m afraid to shell out money for professional services because I want a mix of both worlds – something with artistic integrity, but something also salable. I have a few businesses in mind. Konrath’s book cover designer at Extended Imagery is one of them (sidenote: that Prisoner cover is badass. I might want to do something similar).

I’m trying to look at it this way, as well: we all spend money on our hobbies. How much money have I wasted on equipment and software to make YouTube videos? I only ever earned about $280 (and $80 of those dollars are held up until I earn out $20 more, but I privatized most of my channel because I got over it… Thanks, Google!) and spent over $500. If I had to do it all over, I’d have kept recording on my cell phone or webcam the way Glendon Cameron does.

In my heart, I also struggle with the fact that my books may not make money. They may not break even.

The difference between this and my YouTube past life? I’ve been passionate about writing since I was in the first grade. This isn’t going away. This isn’t a get-rich-quick gig. I actually love writing. Worst case?

I’ve spent $500+ on a hobby I love, trying to turn it into a career. And everyone hates me for it, whether they find my books offensive, my choice of profession questionable, or whatever excuse people need to get a little red in the face.

But you can’t make everyone happy, even when all else is perfect.

 

The Blog Tour

It used to be that when authors released a book, they’d travel the country, visiting every bookstore known to man to sign their books and meet and greet with prospective readers.

Nowadays, authors still tour, but they never have to leave the couch to do so. Hell, they don’t even have to put pants on.

Blog touring has been common for about eight or nine years. The longer the Internet exists, the more crap people have to sort through to get to the good stuff. In SEO terms, the more you are linked to (and the more quality links you provide without becoming a spammer), the more seriously you will be taken in search results. When someone posts your blog to Facebook, for example, that post gets a boost on Google’s search page. Theoretically, the more people you get to visit your blog, the more people will become aware of your work. Visibility leads to sales. Eventually. There’s more to it than that, but that’s for a different post.

(As a side rant: I tried launching a business some time ago offering social media services to businesses. This was a year ago. People responded, but they wanted me to do it for free. I’ve noticed a trend where employees are actually *starting* social media accounts for their companies without approval because young people recognize the power of visibility. Without guidance, support, and collaboration, these sole, sometimes blind operators can’t function to max potential. This tends to be a war of Millennials versus everyone else, but guess what “everyone else?” There are more Millennials than any other generation now and once we recover from this hellish economy, we will have the buying power. Those who take us seriously first will reap the most benefits. Businesses of the world, get with the program!)

I will be launching my own blog tour in the next couple of months. If I Let You Go is very close to being finished and I want people to be more aware of it – not just that it exists, but what it’s about and what I think people will get out of it. I also know that there are a huge number of indie authors out there who aren’t getting the exposure they’d like. I can’t guarantee a huge spike in sales, but I can promise a friend who will help you reach new people.

You may either guest post on this blog or we can have a web interview. In return, I ask that you also feature me on your blog or website. Leave a comment or reach me on Twitter for details.