Friday, August 26, 2011

Attitude and Negative Reviews: How to Take Negative Reviews (1 of 3)

When I first started writing online, it was fan fiction, most of it in the Star Wars section on I was MistiWhitesun for quite some time, and I was a bit notorious for being "rude and a little mean".

Not that I intended to come across that way. But I didn't mind receiving forthright critical reviews, so I gave them, too. After my feedback left an in-person friend offended and hurt, I approached her to figure out why she was upset. I realized:

  1. Most folks don't see 100% negative feedback as an implied positive. Me, I knew how much time that took to create, so I knew the critic had to see something worthwhile if they bothered to spend their time reviewing.
  2. Folks take negatives better if you couch them between positives. Open with a positive, put the negative in the middle, and close with a positive.

Yes, I actually had to learn that. I'm from the North (of the US), a region that's renowned for being blunt. If someone doesn't like you, they're mean to your face. They aren't all sweet to your face before they backstab you with gossip later. (Yeah, I live in the South(east), now. Talk about culture shock.)

So when folks told me point-blank that a story sucked, I was more inclined to take it as honesty (as they saw it) than meanness.

I have a point to this rambling. A lot of advice online says "Don't read the negative reviews" and "If you must read them, don't reply—and definitely don't agree."

But here's the thing. Negative reviews can be anywhere. Even if you actively try to avoid them, someone will helpfully send you a link to a lackluster review. Someone will send a poorly-formatted rant into your inbox. Your fans may comment on your social media site about this terrible review that they lambasted.

You'll get negative reviews. You'll see some of them, whether you want to or not. So why not learn from them?

Think of negative reviewers as critique partners in a writing group. Some will be wrong. Some will misidentify a problem. And some will be spot on.

What if someone reads your short story and is squicked by the characters who are cousins and lovers? In some regions, that situation doesn't bat an eye. In others, it's legally incest. (And no, the Bible does not have any regulations against first cousins marrying; I mention that because some folks assume it does.)

A reader might be so grossed out by the cousin-lovers that they can't enjoy anything about the story and leave a 1-star review. They may harp on the (presumed) illegality of the relationship. They may call you a pervert and say all sorts of unnecessary things that makes your blood boil.

But what's the actual problem? They can't handle the cousin-lovers. That is not your fault.

I fail to see what's wrong about replying to that person to say "I'm sorry that those characters disgusted you so much. Just so you know, sexual relations between cousins of the first degree is legally permissible in the state of South Carolina." That way, someone else who reads the review gets both sides of the issue.

Now, what if a reader sometimes couldn't keep track of who was speaking? The reader gives the story a 1-star review, saying you don't know how to write, need to take some classes, etc.

A retort "I DO know how to write! I've written professionally for years!" wouldn't help matters. Their opinion of your writing ability isn't the problem. The problem is that one of you wasn't paying attention: either the reader missed some speech transitions, or you didn't put them in. That could be your fault.

So take another look. Maybe the reviewer is way off-base, or not your target audience—or maybe you did screw up the speech transitions. There's even a line in Black Beauty where the wrong name was attributed to the speaker in a conversation. Confused the heck out of me when I was in grade school, until I figured out what had happened.

And then there are the 1-star reviews that complain that the story was a complete waste of time. Those bite, and I've gotten two of them. (I also earned those, and we'll get into why in my next post.)

But consider: What makes someone consider something a waste of time?

When what they get doesn't match what they were expecting. And that, folks, likely is your fault. You (or your publisher) screwed up. The cover, the description, the blurb, the excerpt—something mislead the reader. The reader feels cheated, and you've wasted their time. The chances of them intentionally reading anything else you ever write are slim.

Are there exceptions? Certainly. I know some folks were furious upon getting a graphic novel when they ordered Homecoming by Patricia Briggs, even though it was clearly marked and marketed as a graphic novel. That was their fault, not the author's or publisher's.

Then there are the hateful trolling reviews that are just someone's attempt to tear you down to make themselves feel better, but we'll get into how to approach those in post 3.

Do you read your negative reviews? Why or why not? Do you respond?


Saturday, August 20, 2011

5 Reasons Every Indie Author Should Attempt Cover Design

Every self-published author should try to make their own e-book covers.

Note that I did include try in that sentence. You may not end up using the cover. In fact, you probably don't want to use your first several tries. I've been doodling with cover design for a few NaNoWriMos, now, and while I still think that one of those is good, the rest…

Well, there's a reason I make myself fight with Gimp (a free Photoshop alternative) once a week. I'm learning. Slowly, but I'm learning.

Some authors outsource all covers because they can afford it, or because they want hand-painted covers and have a graphic designer friend. That's fantastic! I'm glad for you—

But you should still try designing your own covers, sometimes.

My reasons for saying that are fivefold:

  1. It will help you better appreciate what goes into making a nice one.
  2. You might discover that you actually like doing it.
  3. Making a cover mock-up (for a "stuck" story) can help your subconscious figure out how to get the story finished.
  4. The more you practice, the more you'll improve.
  5. You'll develop a better eye for what makes a good book cover—which will help you figure out who to hire.

In keeping an eye on others' opinions of book cover creation and making my own, I'm learning about what makes a book cover work, on a technical level. One factor is that it must catch the eye; another is that it must be legible.

My short story "Romeo & Jillian" has had three covers: the one I originally planned for it, and then the two I've actually used. One I bought from Dara England's clearance section. The other I made.

Here are the 3 covers. I did something silly on the two I made myself—but a silly thing that's actually common once you think to look for it. Can you see what I did wrong?


*ETA: Added link to Gimp. Fixed a typo. Clarified ending question.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How to Serialize a Novel (or Not)

Yep, I messed up when I serialized A Fistful of Fire. My screwup wasn't that I serialized the book, but in the details of how I did it.

I even researched before jumping in, but information on web serializing is hard to find. In particular, the model I wanted to follow did not fit much of the advice I was reading. Certain things translated, but not everything. Many serializers are writing in chunks and posting a WiP (Work in Progress).

I already had the novel completed. I just wanted to serialize it as a variation on the "offer first work for cheap" method of indie author promo. I knew from experience how helpful web novels could be when needing to de-stress on a 15-minute break at work.

And, well, hindsight is 20/20.


  1. Get "cutesy" or "cool" with your text. Goal is to be read. Don't make that tough with huge sections of hard-to-read text. Sadly, I had to be conked on that one.
  2. Jump the gun and get started before you have a pleasant easy-to-use blog ready. If you're not sure if the site's any good, don't shrug and figure it's "Good enough". Get it critiqued.
  3. Use Blogger. There's no way of making the posts show in reverse order, that I've been able to find (short of doctoring the posting dates). Use a blogging service that will let posts show in reverse order.
  4. Wait until the story's about to end to start advertising and actively promoting. (Yes, this is a "DON'T".)
  5. Use that cool widget that says how many page hits you get. Took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize how useless that widget is for a blog whose goal for visitors to start at page 0 and read all the posts to the present.


  1. Pick a URL that's based on the world of the book being serialized. I didn't, instead choosing a URL based solely on the book itself. Now I'm regretting it. The novel's done. I'm stuck with a blog URL that's specific to that book; what if I later want to serialize something else in the world? Many folks will miss the announcement for the new place to go, and I'll have to pretty much restart my audience-building.
  2. Set up your Table of Contents in advance so you can figure out its size and how you need to put it on the site. (Note: there are ways to set up even Blogger so a widget will show on some pages but not on others. Take advantage of that.)
  3. Have a setup and plan for "announcement/news" posts. I hadn't planned to do them. What was I going to do, change sidebar text? Yeah, because that gets noticed.
  4. Use Feedburner from day one. No, really. And have one of those "plug in your e-mail address to have the feed delivered to your inbox" widgets on your site. I was downright embarrassed when I realized I'd forgotten that, and I was halfway through the posting schedule…
  5. Include the Google "Follow" widget from day one. (See above for my embarrassing story.)
  6. Include the FeedBurner widget for how many subscribers you have. Adjust it to match your site layout.
  7. Prepare the novel and schedule the posts all before going live.
  8. Have your cover ready in advance, and base your site appearance to match that cover.

With me the stubborn little thing I am, I suspect I'll serialize something else sometime, to do it right, this time. (Or, more likely, find new ways of doing it wrongly.)

I have one project in particular that'll probably end up serialized, though I doubt I'll start it until late next year. I'd like to finish the Chronicles of Marsdenfel quartet before I jump full-tilt into that series, though.

I hope anyone who hopes to serialize their novel finds this post useful.

Have you serialized a novel online? Are you planning to?


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