We need to talk about feedback

 

Or I do, anyway. The three of you who are human and read this site are not necessarily the object of this rant, but I’m sure every writer has run into this at some point.

 

So, you’ve got this writer friend, someone who has been working on their novel for three-plus years, four-to-eight hours a day on it. They’ve finally reached a readable state with the piece and they’ve asked you if you’d like to read it.

 

Say no.

 

Seriously. Say no.

 

If you don’t have the time, or you think you’ll read it only after the next five books on your kindle, or you’ll get to it in a year, say no.

If you think you’ll just glance at it, say no.

If you think you’ll probably hate it, or you just don’t want to hurt their feelings, say no.

If you don’t feel like writing more than a couple of sentences of feedback, say no.

If you aren’t willing to answer more in-depth questions about your reaction, say no.

Look, a writer isn’t giving you their book for you to tell them how great they are. We’re not looking for a pat on the back and words of encouragement (well, maybe deep down we are, but the ones who are serious aren’t) and to be told we are a precious snowflake. We’re showing you this work because it took us thousands of hours to put together and we’re hoping, just maybe, that someone else whose opinion we respect, will care enough to read it and help us see the flaws we’ve been blind to.

When an author asks you to read their work, they’re taking a huge risk. They know that you may very well hate it. They may be asking you to listen to a long, boring tale that right now, is special only to them. It’s like that guy who wants to tell you about that really weird dream he had, only in this case, that dream took three years to refine.

If you don’t think you’ll have the time, say no. Resist the compliment that they want your input. Say no. You don’t have the time, you wish them luck, you’re flattered, but you just can’t commit to writing more than a few sentences. Your feedback won’t be helpful.

Suppose you said yes.

Here’s a list of ways to break that author’s heart:

1. Say you “liked it” or “It was fine.”

2. Be vague. Toss them a couple of sentences saying what you liked, but don’t go any actual detail. Refuse to answer any further questions.

3. Never get around to reading it. Tell them all the other things you’re doing that aren’t you reading their novel. Talk about other books you are reading. Talk about movies you saw. Talk about all the things you did while they’ve been waiting.

4. Say you didn’t like something, but don’t go into detail.

5. Say “It sucks.” Shrug.

6. Tell them all the ways they aren’t like your current favorite author.

7. Say you haven’t finished, but don’t say why. Talk about the next book you’re reading.

8. Awkwardly avoid them. Avoid all texts and emails. Pretend like you never got the manuscript.

9. Suggest changes that would turn it into a completely different book (by your favorite author).

10. Say “I’m really impressed you put so much time into this.”

 

Feedback is a discussion, folks. It’s a conversation. If you aren’t ready to talk about the book (no matter how bad it is) please don’t string us along. No book is complete until it’s been read, and unless we know what to improve, we’re dead in the water.

 

 

 

 

 

On the feeding and caring for your favorite authors VERSION 2

Because it’s the internet, and because we just can’t leave good enough alone, Amazon has once again changed the way they go about letting you support and interact with your favorite authors. It used to be you could actually Like individual books, then for some reason (maybe it was too much like Facebook) Amazon took that away, making it so you could only Like the author. Now that Like button has been replaced by a big yellow Favorite button right underneath the author’s profile. Sometimes you have to actually search for the author to find this.

 

amazon favorite

See it? That big yellow button with Favorite on it?

You click that now. This lets Amazon know the popularity of their authors and can sometimes open up opportunities for the lesser known writers, like myself.

So, if there’s an author out there whose work you really enjoy, be sure to swing by their Amazon Page and show your appreciation. It takes only a click or two.

On the caring and feeding of your favorite authors

THIS INFORMATION IS NOW OUTDATED Check instead this version

Amazon changed the way you “Like” authors. I’ve updated this method and it’s a little easier now.

So, there’s this cool little thing you can do if you have an author you like. It only takes a few steps to do and it makes a lot of difference when it comes to Amazon’s algorithms and whatnot. I’ll show you:

1. On Amazon, search for their author page. Mine looks like this:  http://www.amazon.com/Martin-Kee/e/B007D53P8O/

2. In the upper right corner you’ll see a Like box. It looks like this. Amazon Like page3. Click Like.

You’re done! And you just told Amazon that this author is important to you and if enough people do this, sometimes Amazon takes note when suggesting titles and whatnot.

Anyway, it’s a really nice thing to do for an indie author because exposure is something we often have difficulty coming across.

Things I do when I am not writing

So, I’ve been feeling a little guilty lately. As you have hopefully heard by now, my sequel to A LATENT DARK is up for pre-order on Amazon. This is all great, and while it sort of puts the publishing side of things to rest to a degree, I still have to sit each morning at my computer and make words, because one of the things a self-publisher cannot afford to do is simply lay back and throw money into the air, rolling around on cigarettes and fresh kittens. This is because most of us do not have money to throw in the air, nor do we have a fresh supply of kittens.

I am working on a new project, which is still in its this-is-pretty-good phase but not in its holy-shitballs-I-love-this-book phase. It’s an ugly awkward, teenage phase for my books, where they show me a little promise, but still fall short. It makes writing feel like work.

What I end up doing, are a lot of things that are not writing, while I think about what I am doing wrong, where I need to change direction. Maybe Ethan needs to not simply do that thing he was going to do, and maybe he needs to do this other thing, and maybe that other character is flawed beyond repair, and maybe this whole premise is just one huge cliche trope and maybe I need to broaden the scope a little. Also more gunfights. Zombies?

These conversations are endless in my head when I am gnawing on a story that just isn’t there yet. It lingers like some canker sore you can’t stop chewing on. The only really good comparison I can think of is that it’s a lot like being in love when you’re a teenager and you just can’t stop thinking about that other person. You think about them pretty much every waking moment, when you’re doing the most mundane things, trying to figure out how to make it work. If I could just say the right thing. THen they’d like me back. Then I could ask them to the prom.

But this also means that I am not making words when I am thinking about this. Because sometimes the writing does its own thing. It’s a wily horse that just can’t be tamed some days, and you could sit down for an hour and come up with 2000 words that go a completely different direction. Once that word count is met, I sometimes have to take care of real life things, and then try to figure out what I wrote, was it good, where it goes from there.

So here are the things I do when I am not writing (in no particular order). Because some days everything is easier than writing.

working out

biking

cleaning litter boxes (2 cats and a rabbit)

dishes

laundry

Reddit

Facebook

Feedly

all the distractions that come with Feedly

movie trailers

sweeping

staring out the window

chat with friends

reading books

reading articles

critiquing other writers on Critters.org

critiquing other writers in my own head

critiquing TV shows

critiquing comments

reading comics

reading about science things

realizing how hard it is to write science fiction in a world where science fiction happens every day

get super depressed that I can’t think of an idea that won’t be invented next week, or has just been invented last week

pound head on desk

hate my project

wish it could be better

try not to read about writers my age who are hugely successful

look at artwork

look at porn

look at the trees outside my window

read some more

think about my favorite movies and what I like about them

think about my favorite books and what made them great

hang out with my wife

buy groceries

pet the cats

pet the rabbit

consider playing video games

decide that games would be a waste of time

tweet something

post an article I like

pimp my books a little

research self publishing resources

contact reviewers

consider outlining the current project

change my mind; it’s better if it’s organic

eat

poop

go for a walk

go back to the gym

OMG SUCH A GREAT IDEA AT THE GYM–WRITE A NOTE AND USE IT WHEN YOU GET HOME

put another 500 words into the draft

pick up wife from school

talk to wife some more

run an errand

read more

nap

email

vaccuum

refill birdfeeder

watch any of the shows with the wife while we eat (currently into The Knick, Boardwalk Empire, Bob’s Burger, Doctor Who)

talk about what I love/hate about the episode

do game writing stuff when needed

landscape the yard

update blog

 

All these things are like background noise when I’m in the middle of a project.  They might add up to an extra 1000 words, or they might add up to nothing. Maybe I barely make my wordcount that day. Maybe I go way over. Either way, they are all accompanied by a crushing sense of guilt. I should be writing. I should be pushing ahead, I should be exceeding all that wordcount. It’s not going to write itself. Look at all this squandered time. I hate myself.

In reality, the work is the writing. It’s fine and all to think about a book all day–it’s fun!–but it isn’t going to write itself. At the end of the day, I am still adding up my wordcount and if it isn’t at least 2000, I get my ass in the chair and make it add up. Because even 2000 bad words are better than 0 words. Even when doing all these non-writing things might lead to the muse tapping you on the shoulder and pointing to a great idea, you still have to get your butt in the chair.

Writing is work.

Sometimes everything seems like more fun that writing.

Sometimes it is.

But that book ain’t going to write itself.

So get writing.

 

Audio shorts

So, my friend Russ is getting into voice work.

This is great on a number of levels. He never has time to read as much as he’d like, and prefers audio books. He’s not alone.

I loved audiobooks when I used to commute. A great audiobook is, in some cases, better than the read version. There’s nuances and inflections that you might not have even imagined with your eyeholes. To have someone read these things aloud not only exposes certain angles of the prose, it also provides a flavor you might not always get when reading silently. Take for example, Stephen Briggs narrating any Terry Pratchett novel. Or take the audiobook of THE DIAMOND AGE.

Reading aloud is also one of the go-to suggestions when editing your own work. Your brain picks up things your eyes miss when you hear the words aloud.

The last and best part was that Russ chose one of my own short stories to read, my most recent one, in fact. This story.

You can check out his fledgling voice narration here.

So I curated a story bundle at StoryBundle

 

I got approached a few months back to not only participate in a horror bundle but to curate it as well. Seeing as I’ve never done bundle curation before, I found the task somewhat daunting at first. Where do you even start? We received dozens of submissions, some of them amazing, many of them difficult to choose from. We managed to narrow it down to these nine books, some of them by authors you’ve no doubt heard of.

http://storybundle.com/horror

All Covers Large

A couple of great things about storybundle is that the books are all DRM free, meaning you’re free to move them from device to device, or share them with friends–though it would be awesome if they bought in as well. The bundle also gives you the option to donate a portion to charity, which makes everyone feel good about capitalism.

 

So swing by if you want to take advantage of it and get yourself some really great books.

A new review for A LATENT DARK

Patricia Eddy of Author Alliance gave ALD a 4.5 star review, which makes me feel all fuzzy inside. Or it could be the whiskey.

Read it here if you like.

In other news, things are moving along. The space opera novella (currently titled PATCHER) is due to be back from beta readers and into the hands of editors in the next few weeks, and ALD2 is heading off to an editor hopefully by the end of the month.

In other other news, this current project is killing me. KILLING. ME. I am at the point now where I see very clearly that I will need to once again, re-outline and rewrite from the beginning, perhaps throw out the current world as well, just like I did with BLOOM at around revision 8.  I’m on the third revision of this one, and yeah, I can see the signs. So no I’m torn between the feelings of “I have to finish this no matter what” and “I know now what I have to do to make it better, so do it.” And it’s not a fun place to be.

This book also covers a lot of familiar tropes as well, which I think, is part of the problem. I don’t want this to be “another science fiction book about X that reminds you of that other book that did it better.” I want to break some new ground on this, and that birthing process is often painful and destructive. But my wife is gone all this week, so I might find myself with nothing to do but write. Which could be fun, assuming I can stay away from the video games. Maybe I’ll play DISGAEA and just call it research.

Misadventures in social network PR

 

 

There’s a misconception among non-writers, that we writers simply make a book, put it up there on Amazon and watch the millions roll in. Now with the AuthorEarnings site up, there’s even more speculation over numbers. I’ve posted before about how there is no one path and that even if you write a great book, nobody may ever read it. That’s where social network marketing comes in, and there’s a lot of it.

So I decided after flailing a little on this one novel I am in the middle of, that I would bite, and check out some of these social media services, since I myself, am not nearly as gifted at gaining a following on Twitter as most people, and that seems to be the one thing all authors need to do these days. And don’t get me wrong, even if you are a traditionally published author, they still expect you to do this, promote yourself on the Twitters and Facebooks.

Now granted, I understand, and believe in the capitalist law that you have to spend money to make money. That being said, I tried two small experiments (now, keep in mind that with my lack of experience, I could have possibly done these better).

The first was a Twitter shotgunning site. These are where a twitter user has thousands of followers, who you can reach by paying them to tweet your book. In this case, it was a bargain for my shoestring budget. 500 tweats for somewhere in the neighborhood of $10, which for a starving, obscure author, seems like a deal and a half. So I signed up. It was pretty much as easy as a paypal signature and linking my book. They aggregated everything else from the link and my author profile alone. Easy!

Within a day I had an author page up on the site, linking to BLOOM, and I decided to try a second approach as well. I posted a link to the author page on Facebook, then decided to boost it using Facebook’s ad engine. Again, I went cheap, and maybe that’s part of my naivete here. I paid for a boost of about 10,000 views, which, to me seems like a lot. Again, this was all very tentative on my part. For the next 24 hours I watched my page views go from the tens to the tens of thousands. Yay me!

Meanwhile the twitter shotgun was firing every day, perhaps several times an hour, “Magnificent Fantasy Dystopia!” with my tag, and the link to the book. People retweeted, people tagged me, people posted this over and over… until I realized that they were all pretty much tweeting the same thing, all of them “Magnificent Fantasy Dystopia!” Every one of them. Word for word. It was, in essence, an echo chamber, all of the twitter accounts following one another, all of them giving the impression that they had thousands of followers, when in fact, they were the followers.

End result? One sale.

That’s it.

One.

I gained maybe 5 twitter followers, but there’s no direct correlation there. Now, this isn’t really a cautionary tale, or a warning or any of that. Maybe with a wider net, it’s possible I could have sold as many as TWO copies of BLOOM. That’s almost a latte at Starbucks worth of profit!

All this being said, and all joking aside, the thing that sells books is word of mouth. If you love a book, you tell people about it. I buy books because people reference them on Reddit, or they tell me about them, or they buy me that book. For indie authors it’s the same thing. And this all goes back to the same old saying again and again: word of mouth is king. Because books are a commitment, and nobody wants to waste their time.

It also makes a good case for traditional publishing houses. Why? Because like it or not, they vet their books. You can argue till you’re blue in the face about “But TWilight!!  BuT FIFttY SHADES OF GREAYYY!!!” all you want. Fact is, trad-publishing houses know how to market. Most of us don’t. It’s still by and far the one reason I will never stop sending queries to agents and publishers as my first choice.

I’m proud of my books. I treat them with all the professionalism I can. I invest in them, but nobody is going to read your book if they don’t know it exists.

Oh, and the shotgunning site is still tweeting me, by the way.

It ain’t all bad and it ain’t all good…

As I sit here procrastinating revision of a new book, I find myself looking through my favorite guilty pleasure.

You see, there is this website called Reddit, and in this website, there are a number of what are called subreddits, little mini forums where people vent, share and generally contribute to the community of heir choice in the way of their choosing. My two favorite subreddits (when I am feeling particularly self-indulgent) are /r/writing and /r/writingcirclejerk. I won’t give direct links to these, because, well, it’s like jazz–if you have to ask, you don’t get it.

/r/writing has been through a lot of changes over the years. When I began work on my first novel, I found the subreddit to be a font of useful links (I discovered Chuck Wendig’s site this way), clever insights (Oh! Show, don’t tell), and generous advice for new writers. Maybe it still is. Honestly, writing is like that. After a while you don’t need to hear “show don’t tell” or “remove your passive voice” over and over. And for some people, this is still valuable information, and I love that about the subreddit. Somewhere down the road however, there came a point where /r/writing became silly. I don’t mean this in a bad way… or maybe I do… maybe it’s the whiskey. Let me explain.

Writers love to talk about writing. I mean, we fucking LOVE it. WE. FUCKING. LOVE. IT. Don’t believe me? Ask any writing question to any writer in any venue and you’d better have a comfortable chair handy, because we will talk your fucking ears off like a rat on a corncob about whether we are pantzers or plotters, morning or evening, drunk or sober. ASK ME ABOUT MY PROCESS! DO IT! ASK ME!

I am guilty of this, as are all writers. Please, for the sake of our friendship, don’t ask me about my process, because I think there are few authors out there who love anything more than talking about writing. And it’s only interesting to us. And therein lies the problem.

/r/writing has become this: writers talking about writing. And it’s fucking addictive to writers. We’re like little bees, buzzing around our little hive, shaking our stingered asses to show everyone how WE found the nectar and how to make the best fucking honey money can buy. It is a downward spiral of self-indulgence that I think, sucks almost very writer down into its nether-realm, myself included. Why else would I be venting about this instead of revising this book?

Enter /r/writingcirclejerk, the irreverent silent goth kid in the back row, who loves nothing more than to make fun of the English majors sitting at the front of the class, trying to be Hemingway.  /r/writingcirclejerk is hilarious, and cruel, and clever all at the same time, and it has been a saving grace for me during times when the drain-spiral of self-indulgent writers has become too much to bare.

So it is with this post that I salute you, /r/writingcirclejerk, for making me remember to stop talking about writing and just fucking write this damned thing, because that’s what writers do. We fucking write.