What To Do With a Bad Review

I once stated that I thought it was possible to respond to a negative review in a positive way (see the first footnote of this post). I am now rethinking that theory. Here's what happened to an author I know.

(Names and most specifics have been wiped, just cuz I don't want things to get worse):

1. A Reviewer posted a bad review of the Author's book on a popular book site.
2. In the comments, Reviewer picked out a couple users who liked the book (and had little or no other activity on their accounts), suggesting these accounts were sock puppets -- created by the author to artificially boost the book's rating.
3. Reviewer's readers agreed and mocked Author for such "obvious" fake accounts.

Before I go on, I want us to stop and think about what we would do in this situation. Assume the review counts (the book hasn't actually come out yet, so any buzz might count). For myself, it is taking every ounce of strength to take the high road right now and get to my point, rather than argue about Internet Immaturity and Spurious Evidence.

Oops. Moving on . . .

4. Author left a comment in the review thread -- not to comment on the review itself, but to mention that none of the accounts were fake (one of the accounts was actually her daughter).
5. Author was told somewhat bitterly that Reviewer is entitled to write whatever she wants about the book (note again, though: Author said nothing about the review).
6. A couple of people who liked the book spoke up in Author's favor (some in the thread, some in their own reviews).
7. These people were accused of being trolls, sock puppets, or both.

Then things got worse.

Friends of Reviewers left multiple 1-star reviews after not reading the book. Hateful comments were left on the reviews of the "fake" accounts. At one point, Author thanked a different reviewer for reading the whole book and being impartial, at which point two commenters blasted her for "dictating" what makes a review fair or not.

It's like this particular group of people has experienced other authors acting badly and assume Author is doing the same thing. They've seen authors with fake accounts and assume that any suspicious account is, likewise, fake.

To user-reviewers then: This is not (always) the Bad Author you're looking for. Sometimes people mean what they say, with no other agenda. Best not to assume.

But this whole thing just proves to me why commenting on bad reviews -- or trying to prove anything on the internet at all -- is generally a bad idea. Authors, don't comment on negative reviews. Yes, there are thousands of user-reviewers who will act professionally, even toward authors whose books they don't like. But it's not worth risking the ire of those who will misinterpret everything you do.

Professor Internet is right: it's better to just chill out and eat a sandwich.

What do you think? Would you have stayed out of it? (I don't know if I would have). Is there a way to step into this without making things worse?

Want a Critique? Let's Talk

We're gonna start something new here on Author's Echo. And it pretty much involves only good things for you.

FIRST, you can get a critique. I will accept:
  • Query Letters
  • Back-Cover Copy
  • First Pages
  • 1-page Synopses
  • Basically anything under 300 words that is used to answer the question, "Do I want to read this book?"
These are your first impressions. Agents look at query letters, readers look at back-cover copy, and everybody will read that first page. You want to make an impact right from the start, and I want to help you do that.

Send your first impact material to firstimpactAE@gmail.com. Tell me WHAT IT IS (query letter, back-cover, etc.), the TITLE, the AUTHOR (that's you), the GENRE, and then no more than about 300 words.

Every Wednesday, I will post one of these to the blog along with my thoughts. Then I'll open it up for critiques from Author's Echo readers (who, by the way, are really smart and talented individuals themselves).

But wait, there's more!

The SECOND good thing is for those of you who will be critiquing. Not only do you get to experience all the goodness of giving a critique, but every month I will randomly select one critter to win EITHER:
  • $10 at Amazon or B&N
  • A 20-page critique from me

Seriously, I can't see a downside for anybody here. First Impact posts start going up next week. If you have any questions, read the fine print or ask away in the comments.

  • I will try to critique everything sent to me, but I make no guarantees. What if you guys send me like a thousand query letters? What if I go blind from awesome? What if the Mayans were right? YOU JUST NEVER KNOW!
  • I will accept any genre, though keep in mind sci-fi/fantasy is my thing.
  • Critters will receive one entry for each week they offer a critique. Most months, this means you can earn up to 4 entries for the drawing.
  • Only actual critiques will be entered for the monthly prize. They don't have to be long, just useful. "This rocks!" or "This sucks!" won't cut it.
  • You may comment multiple times on a single post, but you'll still get only one entry for the drawing.

Books I Read: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Title: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian
Published: 2009
My Content Rating: PG-13 for violence
Cliffhanger Ending: YES

Thomas wakes up in a dark elevator with no memories of who he is or what he's doing there. He emerges in the middle of a giant maze, surrounded by boys who have likewise been stripped of his memories. They've spent the last two years trying to escape, while struggling against the creatures that live in the maze. But Thomas is different. Things feel familiar to him, though he doesn't know why. He has to figure it out fast, though, because his arrival -- and the surprise arrival of the first girl the next day -- is about to change everything.

I completely fell in love with the world-building of this book. I mean, shoot, a giant maze with moving walls? What's not to love! And then when you start catching pieces of the mystery behind it all: HOOKED.

The characters made me happy too. They were smart (mostly; see below), brave, and stubborn (in a good way). I wouldn't mind being stuck in a maze with most of these guys.

The one thing that bothered me through most of the book was how slow they were to pick up on things. I didn't like that they seemed to be withholding information from each other, and I didn't like that it sometimes took Thomas a few tries before he remembered/believed something somebody did tell him.

The fact that I'm telling you about the book, however, should tell you just how much more I love the secrets and the world-building. I should be mad, but I'm not (though I do hope they're quicker to pick things up in the sequel), and I'm pretty sure I have to finish this series.

Leviathan Fan Art

This is probably my favorite thing I've ever drawn for Anthdrawlogy, and not just because Scott Westerfeld posted it on his blog.

Okay, yeah, maybe it is because of that.

What's your favorite mythological monster? I think mine's the kraken, but I bet one of you can name one I like even more.

Blog Growth: 2012

About a year ago, I took a look at the growth of this blog, what I thought was working and wasn't. It looks like a heck of a lot has changed in a year.

(1) Google Bait
I don't intentionally write Google bait, but the vast majority of daily hits come here from Google. They come looking for images of steampunk, board games, Lord of the Rings, Dune, and various classic novels (assuming those last two are students looking for an easy book report: let me know what grade I'm getting, m'kay, guys?).

(2) Getting an Agent
Writers who read blogs are interested in a couple of things, and one of them is seeing other writers succeed. I started this blog as a narrative of my journey, and though the narrative is really slow and plodding, people notice when critical plot events happen. (Well, mostly. Note the lack of growth when I got published in BCS.)

(3) Content People Talk About
Before I got an agent, blog growth jumped around September 2011. Sometimes posts just hit a nerve, and then people link them so they can hit more nerves. For me, some of those posts were: Why Haven't You Self-Published Yet, What Do Agents Owe You, and Writing When You Hate Writing.

Hits don't mean readers. All those folks who found me on a Google image search are unlikely to stick around for more. I think the Google hits from that one steampunk post prove that.

Even hits from getting an agent don't automatically mean readers. Honestly, a lot of the growth since December is due to other nerve-striking posts: The Offer I Turned Down, What Makes a Query Letter Awesome, The Thing About Rue and Racism, etc.

So what do I think gets readers? Content People Talk About.

But how to write content people talk about . . . Heck, I don't know. For every post that got retweeted, there were a dozen or so that only you (my loyal readers) noticed. If I knew how to hit a nerve every time, I'd be rich.

I do know this:
  1. Know your audience (from the post titles, clearly my audience is writers).
  2. Write stuff nobody else is writing.
  3. Write you.
As I said in last year's post: "Honestly, this is stuff anyone can do."

What do you think? How did you find this blog, and why do you stick around?

About E-Readers and Free Books

One of the interesting things about the e-pocalypse is the proliferation of free books. Plenty of smart authors -- self-published and otherwise -- are releasing free books into the wild as a promotional effort.

In theory, this is a great idea. Heck, in practice it's probably a great idea, but I've noticed something about the free books on my Kindle.

I forget about them.

Seriously. I mean not all the time, and not forever. But yeah, most of the time: I hear about a free book; if it sounds like my thing, I have it sent to my Kindle; and then I forget.

Why? Well, partially because downloading it from the laptop and remembering that it's on the Kindle are two separate events. When I'm on my Kindle, I forget about wherever I was surfing that morning.

Mostly, I forget because I didn't pay for it. I'm sure there's a psychological term for this, but I value something more if I pay for it -- even if I only paid a little. It means I made a semi-difficult decision (knowing me, it was a long decision, probably involving lists and a flowchart), so I put more value in that book. I'm more likely to make time for it.

And I'm less likely to put it down. I can't tell you how many Kindle samples I've downloaded, thought "this isn't bad," and then never thought about again.

Does that mean giving away free books is a bad thing? Well, no. There's strong evidence that they work, and I do get around to them eventually (and it's kinda nice too, like, "Oo! I forgot I had that!").

There's no question free books will get more downloads. But I wonder if you couldn't get more readers overall if the price point was just a leetle higher. Low enough to be a steal, but high enough to make the buyers value the download.

I dunno, what do you think? How do you treat free books?

Books I Read: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian
Published: 2008
My Content Rating: R for violence and effing language (except he doesn't say effing)

Todd has grown up his whole life being able to hear everyone else's thoughts, and having everyone else hear his. A germ that hit before Todd was born killed all the women, and the men who survived couldn't keep their thoughts to themselves. But it turns out you can keep secrets even if you know everyone's thoughts, and the men of Todd's town have been keeping a lot of secrets. Todd's first hint of this is when he finds a spot of complete, impossible silence in a world filled with Noise.

If you feel like there's a lot I'm not telling you in that summary, then you understand the one thing I didn't like about this book. To me, the withholding of information felt artificial at times, and was put off for so long that I'd basically guessed all the answers already.

But don't take that the wrong way, because I LOVED this book. The world, the narrator's voice, the frigging dog . . . it was all pretty amazing. And it says a lot that, even though I felt almost cheated by the secrets, I didn't care. I was willing to let the story drag me along anywhere it wanted.

Fair warning though: the story is dark and leaves it wide open for the next book (gah, I hate book-ending cliffhangers). Still a good story, though, if this sounds like your thing.

When Characters Are Too Safe


So, you're watching The Incredibles. You get to the part of the climax where the giant robot knocks Violet out and is about to crush her. Is it tense? Are you afraid Violet might die? Well, a little, but deep down you know that something will happen at the last second to save her. Why? Because she's safe. She's a major character -- and a child at that -- in a movie in which nobody has yet died on-screen.

For The Incredibles, that's no big deal. We don't need the added tension of "somebody might die." It's enough to wonder if they'll win, and how. But what if you want your reader to truly believe that anybody could die at any time, even the protagonist?

If you want the reader to believe that anything could happen, that the stakes are real, you need to build a reputation. Some authors spend multiple books building that reputation and carry it with them in every book they write, but you don't have to be a multi-published author to let the reader know that nobody is safe. All you have to do is kill safe characters in this book.

What makes a character safe? There are many contributing factors. How important are they? How likable? How innocent? The safer the reader believes them to be, the more tension is added when they die. Kill enough safe characters, and by the time the climax hits the reader will believe that nobody is safe.

A great example is Joss Whedon's Serenity (SPOILER WARNING; if you haven't seen it, skip to the last paragraph). Coming off a well-loved TV series, and with serious sequel potential, it was easy for me to believe that none of the main cast would die. Normally this would result in a final battle that -- like The Incredibles -- is totally fun but not very tense because I know everyone will be okay in the end. Then Joss goes and kills my favorite character.

When he did this -- in such a way that it was clear Wash was really, for real dead -- it made the rest of the battle more intense than any adventure film I can think of. Zoe gets slashed in the back, Kaylee gets hit by poison needles, Simon gets shot, and the whole time I really believe they could all die. And while I still think Mal is going to accomplish their goal, I'm fairly certain he's going to die in the process too. If Wash had lived, I wouldn't have felt any of that. (END SPOILER)

Today's tip, then: If you want the reader to believe the main character could die, kill a safe character or two before the climax. The safer, the better. Your reader might not like it, but maybe it's for their own good.

So You're Thinking About Quitting Your Blog

Every time I see a blog shutdown, or hear someone lament how nobody reads blogs anymore, I get all worried. "Is my blog a waste of time? Should I focus my energy somewhere else, like Tumblr or Pinterest or dear-God-anything-but-Google-Plus?"

I don't think this blog is a waste (and your response to our family's emergency a couple of weeks ago just proves it to me). Blogs are basically the same as all the other places online. It's just a matter of how people interact and whether you prefer to express your thoughts in pictures, words, or 140 characters.

So really, whether you're on Blogger or Twitter or MyFutureLiveSpaceBuzzFeedJournal, this post applies to you, too. If you're thinking about quitting, remember these things:

1) You love to blog. (Oh wait, you don't? Maybe you should quit. If you hate it, social media's like the worst job ever, and then you don't get paid.)

2) You blog for you. We all know you can't please everybody, but the good news is you don't have to. Write what you want and get the word out there. You won't collect people just by sending them to your blog, but you will collect a percentage. That percentage is your people.

3) You blog for your people. We read blogs (and tweets and Facebook statuses and everything else) for information and/or entertainment. Do your best to give them what they want.

What do you think? Is blogging a waste of time? Why or why not?

The Downside of Critiquing

Critiquing others' work has a lot of things going for it.

It helps you identify weak points in your own writing. You know that whole plank/speck thing? All those things you can't see in your own writing are easier to see in someone else's. And the cool thing is, the more you do it, the more likely you are to catch them in your own work.

It helps you learn from people's strengths. Like, I'm terrible with the descriptions. So when I'm critiquing for someone whose good at them, I'm all, "Oo, how did she do that!" And because I'm in critiquing mode (instead of reading mode) I actually pay attention to the answer.

It helps you make friends. People like it when you do something for them, and they almost always offer to pay it back. It's an easy way to build solid relationships, which for an introvert like me is critical.

But the downside to critiquing is this:

Getting Unstuck

I've been working on revisions for Post-Apoc Ninjas, and it's been taking way too long. I once again have questioned whether I really should be writing, whether I deserve an agent, whether Air Pirates is some kind of one-hit wonder. I keep thinking if Air Pirates doesn't make it, Ninjas will be my next shot. Which means it has to be not just as good as Air Pirates, but better. And it's not.

But that's totally unfair. Of course it's not better. I've been working on Air Pirates for 4 years. It's been through dozens of beta readers and two or three major revisions. Post-Apoc Ninjas has only been through one very rushed draft.

But that didn't help me get unstuck. Here are some of the things that did, eventually, get me through it:
Pen and illustrations
courtesy of K. Marie Criddle
  • Read books on writing.
  • Think about the story 24 hours a day.
  • Create a dozen text files full of brainstorming and trying to work things out, with titles like "Random Revision Thoughts," "More Revision Planning (Invasion-Focused III)," and "Revision, Take Whatever" (You think I'm joking?).
  • Write plot points on index cards and shuffle them for no reason.
  • Use Awesome Pen of Power.
  • Make ridiculous, masochistic Twitter bets.
  • Make even more ridiculous punishments.
  • Take really long drives alone, like say: drive your daughter to her mountain village 2 hours away.*

I did finally get unstuck, and though all of these things helped (especially putting off reading BEHEMOTH), the only way I got through it was to never give up.

Who knew?

How do you get yourself unstuck?

* For the purposes of this post, driving "alone" and "with a teenager" are the same thing.

Books I Read: Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain

(For those of you wondering how our daughter is doing, here is the latest update. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.)

Title: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Con't Stop Talking
Author: Susan Cain
Genre: Non-Fiction
Published: 2012
My Content Rating: G

If you are an introvert who grew up in America, you very likely felt like there was something wrong with you. Like you should speak up more in class, make more friends, be more popular, assert yourself to get what you want.

I know this is how I've always felt. What I love about this book is that it points out that introverts are not wrong -- with a ridiculous amount of psychological studies to back it up -- but we feel that way because American culture subscribes to the idea that extroverts are where it's at.

The thing is (according to the book, though I found very little in the book that I disagreed with) extroverts and introverts have different strengths, and different weaknesses. Studies show that, in general,* extroverts are better under pressure and better at motivating the unmotivated (for example), but they're not always good at sticking with problems or treating warning signs with caution.

Introverts, on the other hand, are pretty terrible under pressure, but excel when given the chance to observe and contemplate. They have a tendency to focus on things they're passionate about, stubbornly following it through to the end (sound familiar?).

This book did an amazing thing for me. On the one hand, it helped me realize that I'm not stuck being who I am. Introverts can be every bit as friendly, social, and even extroverted about subjects they're passionate about, especially when given the chance to observe and prepare (and provided they carve out spaces to recharge themselves).

At the same time, it helped me realize that, hey, this is who I am. There's nothing wrong with introversion. It's just a different style. And it comes with its own strengths (focus, preparedness, higher immunity to groupthink) to make up for our weaknesses (small talk, public speaking, overstimulation).

The numerous statistics and psychological studies might be too much for some (though I loved them). But I'd recommend this book to almost everybody: introverts for sure, but also the extroverts who love them, and especially the extroverts who think we need to be fixed.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? I'm a ridiculous introvert (if you haven't figured that out), though it didn't stop me from being a worship pastor for two years. I'm still trying to find that strength in me again.

* This "in general" is very important. Everybody's different, and introversion/extroversion is a spectrum, rather than two sides of a coin. Susan repeatedly points this out in the book.

"I now pronounce you Doctor and, well...Kaylee."

"Now kiss the gorram bride."

So what's your favorite Firefly episode? Mine's the one where this happened or, if we're being serious, "Objects in Space."

Sketch from Anthdrawlogy's weddings' week.

(Note: If you follow me in other places, you probably know something's going on with our family. I've decided to let the posts I've already scheduled continue as planned (largely because I don't have the time/inclination to change them), but if I'm slow or unresponsive with the comments, this is why.)