A Review By Any Other Name…

I have noticed a trend in book “reviews”, especially by independent bloggers such as myself: they aren’t reviews so much as puff pieces: PR-worthy paeans of praise for prose that is possibly putrid.

(that alliteration just rolled off my fingers. Yay, me!)

Seriously, folks: I was a professional (read: paid by legit publications & recognized as such) book reviewer for some years. While individual writing style may vary, a proper review always–ALWAYS–includes the good and the not-so-great things about a book. And make no mistake, there is always something not-so-great about even the most bestselling and/or popular book.

I would never have gotten even one review published had I just focused on how great (or not) I thought a book was; that’s how I learned to write a review, by having my drafts sent back and rewriting them to accurately reflect concrete, objective issues in a book versus my personal feelings about the book (there is a difference, but people often confuse the two under the guise of a “review”).

The people who paid me wanted balance, as that balance was what lent legitimacy to the reviews by both authors and readers alike. And yes, I have caught hell from authors when a review wasn’t as glowing as they’d prefer (“What…what do you mean, you didn’t like XYZ in my book? How could you find fault in it? Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews loved it! It’s on the NYT Bestseller list! It’s got over 500 five-star ratings on Amazon!  HOW DARE YOU?!”), but in the end they had to (grudgingly) admit that while the review wasn’t to their liking, it was at least fair. Plus, if an author is a true writer who wants to further hone his or her craft, the constructive criticism is necessary for future growth.

(if you’re a writer and you can’t handle folks telling you your writing sucks in some way, you’re in the wrong line of business.)

There is nothing wrong with giving a shoutout to an author when you’re digging her or his work. Our egos thank you for it. But keep it real and call the praise-only blurbs what they are: acknowledgements of fandom better suited for personal blogs and big-ups on social media, rather than a “(professional) review”.

Thanks for stopping by.

Ego Check

I was honored to have a book club in Maryland choose my first solo book, The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille, as its September selection. Unfortunately,  I was unable to participate via Skype, but the coordinator (a fellow Hoya who was a year behind me in undergrad) gave me comments from the club.

Me: “So, how did your book club like the book?”

Hoya: “There were mixed reviews.”

Me: :/

As Erykah Badu once said, “Now keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my sh**.” ūüėÄ

It’s been a long time since I¬†participated in a book club, so I had forgotten that if a book club is truly worth its salt, it will take a book apart.¬†¬†It’s just about liking or disliking the book so members can move on to the potluck meal. They¬†will get into a book’s character development , plot pacing, editing and grammar, and plot weaknesses. Anything that is the least bit tight about a book, will become exposed. Book clubs are better than reviews by singular people because you get a larger sample group, the book feedback is in real time (reviewers often get copies of books way ahead of a publication date, and review accordingly), and you get a reader’s perspective instead of a professional one. But don’t sleep: the opinion of a book club¬†can be twice as brutal. If an author can survive his or her book being a book club’s monthly selection, then you’re doing something right.

The feedback from the book club was immeasurable, although my mental reactions ranged from ¬†“Hmm…I thought that was pretty good” to “Yeah…I probably shouldn’t have done that” to “I see your point, but I wrote XYZ this way for a reason.” ¬†Only one other person has done this so far, but he was an old writing partner, so I expected his critiques to be harsher and more detailed. Ain’t no critiques like fellow writer critiques. ūüėÄ

But yeah…the ego was a bit black and blue after hearing what the book club had to say. They also had some questions that would better be addressed during my upcoming Twitter chat about the book on October 7 (save the date! #TheCamilleChronicles #BFC)

No author wants to hear that their book wasn’t great, especially when receiving positive feedback overall, as I have so far (and since my sales are steadily increasing, readers are telling other readers about the book, for which I am appreciative and grateful). ¬†Still, it’s a bit of a gut punch to hear that there was room for improvement–even though, as a writer, I¬†know that there is ALWAYS room for improvement, and that the first book is usually the worst, comparatively speaking. ¬†The constructive criticism validated¬†that little voice that kept second-guessing some of my writing choices for the published version. (“See? I KNEW I should have kept X scene in!”). Still, I wouldn’t have known any of this had I kept the book in its unpublished form, constantly rewriting, putting off publication because I needed to change one more thing–and I was afraid of what people would say about my writing.

The lesson here? You usually aren’t as good as you think you are. ūüėÄ The best way to get better at writing is to keep writing, keep putting your stuff out there, keep getting feedback, listening to it, and applying it for future reference.

An author’s book will never be good enough in his or her eyes. The best we can do is to keep trying, and put out the best product we can…but we must put it out there for public consumption. The only way we can grow as writers is to take the good, bad, and indifferent criticisms–all of which should be legitimate. Comments about editing, plot, grammar, etc are one thing to listen to; but for someone to say “it sucks” or “I didn’t like it” for no good reason, well…I wouldn’t suggest paying attention to those unless concrete reasons are given. Some people won’t like your work just because you did it. ¬†And that’s okay.

The book club’s comments have helped me, and I thank them (and asked that my thanks be passed on). At least they expressed interest in when the next book in the series is being released, so I didn’t do too badly. ūüėÄ ¬†I will apply their critiques¬†as I work on the next books. The author who ignores constructive criticism on some “they don’t understand me/I’m an ar-TEEST” ish is a stagnant writer, and one who won’t succeed very much in this writing game. And if you can’t take criticism, then you’re in the wrong business.

Now, excuse me while I nurse my bruised ego and work on my next book. Thanks for stopping by.




“That” Author

Here we are, two days past the official release of my first solo novel, The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille (informally known as The Camille Chronicles), and I’m trying not to be “THAT” author. ¬†You know, the author who scours the internet for any mention of his or her name, book title, Facebook posts, Tweets, blog posts, Pinterest pins, Instagram pictures…anything.

Nope, not trying to go there. Even though I took a peek at my royalty statements to see what kind of activity my book is doing. And Googled myself (there are a LOT of people with my name…including a woman in San Francisco, where I used to live, who is also a cook, as I used to be. At least we look nothing alike !). All of which I’d told myself not to do, for the sake of my sanity.

I had to breathe, stop, and write this blog before I lost myself in tater tots and back episodes of NCIS, before Graceland comes on .

It’s not the writing that will drive you insane, though it is a close second. What drives a writer insane is the afterbirth, if you will, of the book being published. The postpartum depression, for most of us, that sets in when our books aren’t flying off the shelves like those of our favorite bestselling authors…most of whom have been writing books for many, many moons and are at the point in their careers where they can phone it in, if they choose (and some have done it. *Sigh*). ¬†The realization that you can get the word out there via every social media venue known to man, but that’s about all you can do. You can spread the word to every warehouse, outhouse, doghouse, foxhouse and henhouse (to paraphrase US Marshall Gerard in the movie The Fugitive), but short of forcing people to click the “Buy Now” button, you can’t make people buy your work. Even if you think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, your opinion no longer matters. What mattes now is the court of public opinion, which is fickle on a good day.

Not to mention any reviews given. The positive ones are always great to get,but what about the not-so-positive ones? The ones that pretty much feed that voice in your soul that you managed to still, the one that whispered, “see, I told you this wasn’t going to work.” The internet makes it easy for people to spew invective behind aliases; e-gangsterism is the new black. It doesn’t matter if it’s a reader who just couldn’t connect with your work, or someone you slighted who sees this as a means of revenge, or someone who just wants to see you fail, for whatever reason.

Trying to keep up with all of this, AND continue writing, will make you lose it. So try not to do it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, time for tater tots. Thanks for stopping by.