Writer Words

Q&A Sunday: Reviews, part one

Well, welcome back to Q&A Sunday! A few questions landed in my inbox this week so I’m going to break them up over a couple weeks so I can really dive into them. Are you ready?

Lupita asked…

Do you read your reviews? If so, how do you deal with bad reviews? How do you deal with good reviews?

Sometimes I think reviews are the bane of my existence! Good ones always seem to carry less weight than bad ones, but reviews are so important for an author that we have to have them.

A little background… When a reader leaves a review on Amazon, or another retailer or site like Goodreads, it affects the ranking for that book. A good review will move the book up and it will become a little more visible to other potential readers. A bad review, obviously, does the opposite. Enough bad reviews and a book is essentially invisible.

In addition to that, if you want to offer a deal on a book, and want to list it on sites like BookBub, they will check out reviews. They want to know if reviews are overall good or bad. If you have 100 mediocre reviews and another book has 100 good reviews, the other book is going to get the listing.

Obviously authors want good reviews, but if you’ve ever read reviews, you know no one can please everyone!

So my reviews… For the most part, no, I don’t read them. I write my books the way I feel they need to be written, irritating characters and all. I know my characters aren’t perfect, but neither are any of us, and that’s what I’m always after – authenticity.

It’s hard to write, and read, a character that you want to shake and tell to do something different, but there’s a reason all the horror flicks show people running into the basement to hide from the killer. It’s instinct to hide. It’s instinct to be somewhere you think you can predict what’s going to happen. You might know the killer is coming, but you can see him coming instead of wondering if he’s going to catch up to you if you’re running through the woods. When you’re the third party looking in, it’s easy to see that it’s not a good decision, but when you’re that person, instinct and fear and, in the case of my books, other sometimes irrational emotions take over and control you. You do things that don’t always make sense. We all do it!

But readers don’t always like those decisions. So they leave reviews that say they didn’t like a character or something about the book.

Because of that, I frequently don’t read my reviews.

When I do, I do it in small doses. Maybe I’ll check in on one book and only read a couple reviews. I know myself enough to know that if the reviews are negative, it’ll bother me, so I usually only read reviews when I know they’re going to be positive.

But how do I deal with them?

The good ones make me feel really good. They make me smile and keep me going. Knowing readers like my stories keeps me writing more of them. Reading a good review from someone I don’t know always makes me so happy.

The bad reviews are tougher to deal with. I’m the kind of person who only likes to put positive things into the world. I definitely grew up with my mother saying if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. A lot of people never got that lesson! But that’s for them to live with. Bullying is accepted when it’s done in the form of a book review, which is sad. I can’t imagine saying some of the things I’ve read on reviews (mostly others since I rarely read mine). I accept and understand that not everyone will have good things to say, but a constructive bad review is much better than an emotional one that tears the author apart. I don’t see any reason for those.

I’ve judged a lot of contests. In a way, it’s reviewing the work of someone else. I also have a critique partner that I work with and friends who’ve asked me to review their work. In all those situations, my criticism is strictly about the work. In many judging situations, I’ve read stories in genres I don’t frequently read, but I removed my personal opinion from it and evaluated the story based on the story. I know reviews are opinions, but I would love to see people being kinder. You don’t have to only leave good reviews, but make sure your reviews are about the actual story and not the author, or you the reader.

I’m sure this answer will make some people angry. You’re absolutely entitled to leave scathing reviews. If you feel that strongly about something, I’m not going to stop you. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, that’s all I ask.

Come back next week for another question from Lupita about reviews!

If you have a question, about writing or anything else, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

Writing Tips: Finding Time

Time is such a valuable commodity. We all have the same amount. None of us gets more hours in the day, unless you have one of those cool necklaces Hermione had. If you do, can you send me one?

So assuming you’re an ordinary person without magical powers, you have the same 24 hours I do. Most days it doesn’t feel like enough. Especially when I’m on a deadline and anxious to get a few more things done before the school bus gets home. Or before the kids wake up. Or before my favorite show comes on.

We have to have priorities, right?

If you’re adding writing in as one more thing to do in your day, you’re probably wondering where you can find the time to write.

Here’s the secret… you don’t need much!

Yes, a book is not something you can finish in a day. It’s going to take you a while. But you don’t have to kill yourself to make it happen.

Personally, I like to write in thirty minute blocks, or longer. But this is my full time job, so I have all day. If you’re looking for some time, you can find it in small places.

Can you get up thirty minutes earlier? Trust me, I hate this suggestion. It’s one I balked at for years and years and years. I’m not a morning person. At all. But I decided over the summer that I was going to do it because I wanted to. Because I wanted more time to dedicate to my work. I’m not as tired as I thought I would be, and I’m getting more done.

What about at night? Can you stay up a little later? Again, same rules apply. You don’t need much time, and if you think this could work for you, turn off the TV (my big issue with it because I never did) and write.

What about, you’re going to laugh, in the bathroom? Let’s face it, we all have longer breaks in the bathroom at one time or another through the day. Can you write on your phone? Not a whole book, but for five minutes? You won’t get much done, and you’ll take a really long time to finish a book if you only do this, but it’ll add up. Just make sure you don’t lose track of time!

Waiting, for anything. Just like above, there are going to be times in your day when you’re just waiting. Doctor’s offices, grocery lines, carpool, commute, anything. Can you, again, pull out your phone for a few minutes and write a hundred words or so?

Can you write on your lunch break? Some people can’t, but if you have access to a computer during your lunch break and your company will allow you to do something non-work related, write for thirty minutes. You’ll be shocked how much you can get done in that amount of time.

Try it!

I think the best thing is to give yourself a week or two and try a few different options. Try getting up early or staying up later for a week. Try sitting in your car on your lunch break with a notebook or a tablet and writing. Try five minute bathroom breaks. See what works for you, then keep doing it.

For me, I have to have a schedule. When I first get up, I check my email so I know there isn’t anything sitting there waiting for me to answer it. After the kids are on the bus, I start writing. I write until lunch, and then get back to it afterward. But if I need to do something during the day, like a doctor’s appointment, I like to schedule it in the morning so I don’t mess up my flow. Figure out what works for you and start writing!

What tips do you have for finding time to write?

If you have a question, about writing or anything else, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

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Writing Tips: Find Your Niche

Welcome back for another tip for you as a writer!

I want to talk today about your niche. It’s common in business to look for a niche. A small section of a market you can serve. You want to be able to set yourself apart so people can find you.

Writing isn’t much different.

I write contemporary romance. That’s not very specific. There’s well over 100,000 contemporary romances available for sale.

I write small town contemporary romance. That’s not much better.

I write small town contemporary BBW romance. We’re getting a little better.

When I tell people what I write, I tell them I write small town contemporary romance based on ordinary people you’ll want to be friends with doing extraordinary things for love that will give you hope.

That’s kind of a mouthful, but it gets the point across.

When you write a book, you need to be able to tell people what you do quickly. You’d be surprised how many people lose interest when you say you are an author. They insist they don’t read, so you need to hook them before they assume your book isn’t for them.

Which goes back to your niche.

What books do you love? What books grab you? What books have you walked away from knowing they changed your life?

Harry Potter, all of them, were books that changed me. But I knew I didn’t want to craft an entire world.

Emily Giffin was one of my favorite authors when I was younger. There was something about the emotions and the way she drew me into a story that I loved.

Jill Shalvis is a favorite now. She’s basically my idol for romance novels. I taught myself what a good small town contemporary romance novel was by reading Jill Shalvis. I knew that was what I wanted to do.

The only problem was my niche was really a mansion. There’s nothing tiny about it, but I found my niche when I started writing about women I could relate to. Women who were overweight. Women who wanted love and friendship and cupcakes. Women I wanted to be friends with.

BBW romance is still a huge niche. But like I told a friend recently, if you go too small, you won’t have enough readers.

How do you find this though? How do you know when you’ve gone small enough? Or not small enough?

Unfortunately, I think you just have to keep trying.

Write a book. Write some more books. Never stop writing. Advertise, promote, and tell everyone you know. The right readers will find you. When you start to see that happening, you’ll know you’re in the right niche. That it’s the right size for you to be found.

Here’s my warning… Don’t go into a niche that you can’t get out of. You might love to write single dad romances, but you might not want to write them forever. Or food romances or military romances or any other different kind. It might be a niche that’s popular now, or that you like, but make sure it’s something you’ll still want to write if the popularity diminishes. Or in ten years. Maybe you won’t know, but at least think about it before you jump in.

If you want to write, at the end of the day, write. You will find your readers. They will find you. But make it easier on both of you by finding a niche that you love, and it’ll come across in your writing.

If you have a question, about writing or anything else, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

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Happy Labor Day2017

I’m taking a few days off to spend time with my family. The kids start school on Wednesday so we’re enjoying the last little bit of summer! I’ll be back next weekend with more advice and questions!

If you want to check out past questions, go here.

Have a great day!

 

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Be Brave

I’m back with another tidbit of advice for all you aspiring authors out there. Be brave!

I was trading messages on Facebook this week with a reader. She shared with me that she’s a writer also, something I didn’t know. I asked about what she writes and if she used a pen name and she shared that she’s not yet published.

She said that she’s anxious about sharing her writing with people. I told her I am, too.

Every. Single. Time.

My lesson for you this week is to be brave. I’m an introvert. I’m also a people pleaser. I want people to like me. And yet I chose a career that requires me to put myself out there and accept criticism from everyone!

It’s not easy!

But every time I get an email from someone who loved something I wrote. Or read a review (the occasional reviews I read) that says something about the book that was amazing. Each one that offers a suggestion. They all mean something to me. Even the reviews that aren’t positive are an opportunity for me. Something that can help me be a better writer.

But I still hesitate when I finish a book. I still wonder if anyone is going to like a book when I hit publish. I don’t think that’ll ever go away. After thirty-four published books, I still get anxious.

But I do it anyway.

If you’re thinking of becoming a writer, or you’ve written a book but haven’t taken the leap yet, find a friend or close family member. No, a friend will not be the best person to give you criticism, but they will give you a bit of confidence. That person will tell you your story is good, hopefully, and encourage you. When you’re starting out, you need a little bit of that.

No, you don’t want someone to lie to you, but you want someone that you know will be gentle with your feelings. Or at least will be able to deliver suggestions gently.

The first person who ever read a story of mine was / is my best friend. She gave me a bunch of notes, but I knew they were coming from a place of love because she wanted to help me. Yes, an editor will want to help you also, but an editor is a paid professional. She won’t hold back. Your friend might just enough not to hurt your feelings.

 

No matter what, at the end of the day, you have to be brave to share your stories. You have to let a piece of you out into the world. To give other people permission to say something you created, something you worked hard on for weeks, or months, or years, isn’t any good. And to give them permission to say it changed their life.

Because when it’s all said and done, those are the emails, the reviews, the comments you remember. Those are the ones that will change your life, not just theirs.

If you have a question, about writing or anything else, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!