When the Bad Reviews Come {And They Will}

 

bad book reviews

“She needs to have more respect for the process . . . trying to claim that everyone should heal like her.”

The words pierced my heart.

Until then, I had enjoyed a couple good months of positive feedback, those heartwarming days after the release of my debut nonfiction book, When A Woman Finds Her Voice. The book hit #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases charts and then walked the Amazon {paid} bestseller list {in its genre} for a couple weeks in the top five. It also won some literary awards. But more importantly, my words were reaching the hearts of readers as comments like “inspiring,” “introspective,” “encouraging,” and even “life-changing” peppered online reviews.

That sort of feedback overwhelms a girl with God’s goodness, giving value to this shy writer’s words. To think He had somehow exchanged these primitive ramblings of one who simply longed to spread hope and had used them as encouragement for others, that’s humbling.

I’d finally felt the freedom to say it above a whisper: I am an author.

But then that two-star review hit my screen, attacking my sense of worth. It shouldn’t have, I know. Mentors warned me it was coming; they’d suggested I not even read it.

I didn’t listen.

I determined to mentally counter the negativity and then quickly return to my illusory sense of fulfillment. After all, I welcomed reviews—good or bad. Perpetual student that I am, I’m known to {relentlessly} solicit constructive criticism as an opportunity to learn. And here it sat, this chance for free education, this two-star review therapy.

But in a review-driven culture where we allow others to determine what we read, watch, eat, and even where we spend the night, how can we not be impacted when someone misunderstands our heart?

The judgement sliced soul deep, challenging insecurities I’d long ago buried.

This is the sort of vulnerability we open ourselves up to when we cast our words, our heart, into a public arena that holds potential for not just admiration and esteem but also misunderstanding.

You see, there’s nothing I’m more compassionate about than reaching the heart of a wounded woman and leading her to the restoring, redemptive feet of Jesus. But this particular reader didn’t know that, didn’t know me.

So how do we filter through these words when they come?

  1. We anchor. It’s crucial to anchor any negativity with perspective. We can’t allow disapproval to overtake our thoughts. For the one poor criticism, I had 49 positive reviews from folks who had been uplifted by my words. I worked hard to focus on those. {Very hard.}
  2. Bounce back. To feel defensive at first is natural, but if you find yourself wanting to respond negatively {as in hunt the person down on social media to blast them back}, walk away from the screen and refocus. Immediately.
  3. Consider truth. Ask yourself, “Is this true? Is the criticism valid? Did I somehow fall short?” If so, use this information in a positive manner and seek to write with excellence. However, if the negatives aren’t well-rounded and constructive, the point baseless, you simply have to let it go.

As word-weavers, this should become our default: in the face of bad reviews, let’s practice our ABCs to rebuild our confidence. Anchor. Bounce. Consider.

Okay, I’m curious now: How do you handle criticism?

What the Apostle Paul Might Have Said About Marketing

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Looking for marketing help, dear writer? Why, you’re in luck! Step right up to the Internet and tell old Google what you need, but be prepared to stay a while. A plethora of reading material and marketing advice abounds online, addressing the subject from every imaginable angle–and then some.

Except, perhaps for this one: Don’t overlook the value of marketing your neighbor’s work.

Hear me out before you write me off (weak pun apology). I’m convinced that this would be the type of advice the Apostle Paul might have offered had he ever taught a class in Marketing #101. In God’s School, the way up is down. Or, as Paul said in Philippians 2:3,”Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

Yes, it’s challenging to understand how to apply those holy words to our writing lives. Especially when we’re constantly reminded that our platforms are everything and publishers find us only as attractive as our last sales numbers. But if God’s word doesn’t apply to all of our lives, it applies to none of it.

Selfish ambition is building our platforms with tunnel vision to the work of everyone around us.

God’s way is to step away from my work long enough to value yours.

It’s a valuable principle of marketing. I once thought I stumbled across it accidentally, but I now believe it has been entirely by God’s design. He orchestrated it through my work as a radio talk show host when I began reserving a segment of time to interview other authors. In the early days of All Things Southern LIVE, these were authors I met during my travel– until publicists began discovering this new venue and pitching their clients’ work.

I need to say this: I don’t promote everything that comes across my desk. Sadly, this is often a matter of pure time constraints. I don’t have the air time to interview even half of the authors whose galleys find their way to my desk. At other times, it’s a matter of my personal reading preferences or my understanding of the reading habits of my listeners. However, for these very reasons, when I do read something that entertains me, challenges me, encourages me, or flat out stretches me, I’m able to bring it to my listeners with authentic excitement. My audience knows this, so they trust my recommendations.

So, how does this help my marketing efforts? Well, that’s the beautiful thing. God’s way is always a win-win. Over and over I’ve seen how celebrating the works of others rebounds to bless my own career.

We’ve all been told to build a reader base and encourage that connection by staying in touch. We also know how distasteful it is to promote our own work. Introducing other authors to our readers–when we’re genuine about their work–allows us opportunities to stay engaged and interact with our communities in a natural way. In turn, our relationship with those authors invariably leads to our introduction to their readers.

Now that is marketing we can all manage. Can I get a witness?

Hugs,
Shellie

7 Writing Tips We Learned From Our Dogs

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We have always loved dogs. Over the course of our lives together we have owned over 27 dogs. It is not surprising that some were our best teachers. Here’s what our four-legged friends have taught us about writing:

1. Sit and Stay. These are the two most important commands for writers! If you don’t sit down and begin, you will never get started. Staying is important, too. No, you don’t need another snack.

2. Dig!  Sometimes the facts that we need are buried deep, like a good old bone. The best writing requires some digging–in the library, on the internet, in your heart. Sniff it out. Then dig. If you don’t find it, dig another hole.

3. Know your territory. Writing takes good boundaries and good boundaries mean saying no. One important lesson for both of us was to protect and guard our writing time. We put the time on our schedule and then we protect it. Remember: Growl, don’t bite!

4. Expect treats. It is hope that keeps us going. Hope of touching a reader. Hope of one day holding your book in your hands. Excitement and anticipation is an important part of writing. Sit down to write expecting something good to happen.

5. Be kind to the postman. It’s not his fault. Rejection is an important part of the writing process. Keep it in perspective. Shake it off and start again.

6. Stay in the moment. Don’t get ahead of yourself and start worrying about the future.  Don’t stay stuck in the past. Worry is not your friend.

7. Play! Some of the best ideas come to us away from the desk. Stop work to chase a few ideas. Dogs love any distraction from a tennis ball to a squirrel. The work will still be waiting when you come back.

Has your pet taught you anything about writing?

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers  www.WritingSisters.com

 

Bio: The Writing Sisters, Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers were born into a writing family, and began critiquing manuscripts at an early age for their mother, Newbery winner Betsy Byars.  They went on to become authors of more than thirty-five children’s novels. Their first book for adults is  The Shepherd’s Song,  Howard Books, March 2014.

Dandelions and Spiritual Gifts

dandelionhand1 Peter 4:10 (NIV) Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

When my children were little they’d run into the house, their knees scuffed, their cheeks smudged with dirt, and their hands stuffed full of dandelions. A gift for me. They’d smile when I’d pull a vase from the cupboard and treat those weeds with the same care as I would a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses.

One day, one of the neighbor girls came in with my daughter and handed me a fistful of flowers. After hugging my daughter and adding yet another vase full of yellow blooms to my collection, I tried to encourage the neighbor child to take her bouquet home to her mommy. She pouted, shook her head, then proceeded to stuff her fist toward me again. “My mommy just throws them in the trash.” Stunned and not knowing what else to do, I took the flowers from her and gave them the same special treatment I’d given the bouquets from my daughter.

It made me wonder how many times, like her mother, we have refused the gifts God has given us. How many times have we missed the blessing God wants to bestow on us? When we’re asked to be a substitute for a Sunday school class, do we turn away? Do we shrink back from an evangelistic effort because we’re afraid? Do we refuse to sing in the choir because we question our ability?

How often have we thought of someone, even felt led to call them, encourage them, and perhaps utter some of God’s truth in their ear? But we never do. Aren’t we missing the blessing–the gift that comes back to each one of us when we do God’s will?

Do we miss out on what God has in store for us by doubting our faith? Do we ever wonder if God is in control? Do we doubt His ability to meet our needs? Do we question His ability to perform miracles (through us and for us)? Faith is a gift.

How many times, like my neighbor, have we thrown God’s gifts into the trash and never looked back? Because of our disregard for the gifts He wants to give us, we’ve never witnessed the joy on God’s face—the same joy I saw on that little girl’s face when I took her flowers and set them in a place of honor at my kitchen table.

From that day forward, until the little girl’s family moved away, she brought me dandelions. If God sees He can trust us with one gift, He will provide another, and another. He will multiply our blessings because of our faithfulness and willingness to step out in faith. Sometimes this means having to face our fears, but remember, if God has ordained it, He will help you achieve it.

Your First Writers Conference? Things to Know Before You Go!

This is conference season for writers! Not just the national conferences like RWA and ACFW, but smaller, regional conferences. There’s probably a writing conference or retreat somewhere in your area this summer or fall.

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation.I’m planning to attend the ACFW conference in St. Louis in September, and it will be my second. As I’ve been signing up for classes and preparing my wardrobe (comfortable shoes are a must!), I’ve been thinking back to my first ACFW conference two years ago. I hope what I learned will benefit you.

  • Don’t be afraid to go. You won’t be the only newbie. Not only will you find other first-timers (at ACFW you learn to look for the tell-tale ribbon on other attendees’ name badges), but the veterans will welcome you as a new member of the family.
  • Don’t retreat to your room. Writers are prone to enjoy our solitary existence. We like to be alone. But conference isn’t the place for it. You paid a lot of money to meet other people who speak your language, so make sure you meet them. Introduce yourself. Sit next to strangers. Join someone who is standing alone. Strike up a conversation. You never know who you might meet. Two years ago, I ended up eating lunch with the most charming veteran author who writes in the same genre I do. What a treat to talk with her in that non-threatening environment!
  • Don’t sweat it if you can’t attend all of the classes and workshops you signed up for. Buy the sessions on the MP3 download or CDs and listen to them when your mind isn’t filled with the busyness of conference.
  • On the other hand, try not to skip the sessions you signed up for. There’s nothing like the immediate, in-person teaching by an industry professional to spark your enthusiasm.
  • Enjoy your appointments with editors and agents. Be confident, relaxed, and friendly. And if they ask you to submit something, do it. Since they really want to see it, email it to them as soon after conference as possible.
  • Exchange business cards with the new friends you meet. It’s helpful to have your picture on your card, if at all possible. You’ll be meeting so many people, it will be hard to connect names with faces a week later.
  • Most of all, have fun! Enjoy the meetings, the down times, the after-hours sessions with your new friends. Meet new people, become inspired, and get fired up!

Are you planning to attend a conference soon? Will you be in St. Louis in September for ACFW? If so, be sure to look me up!

Making Connections

Publishing is a funny beast. The author wears many hats – writer, editor, marketer, publicist, sometimes frazzled human being (all right, maybe it’s most of the time). There are moments when the load seems overwhelming and I feel incapable of wearing every hat with excellence.

Kariss' teamMarketing tends to be my weakest link. I’m passionate about my books, love to talk about them, enjoy sharing the story of God’s faithfulness. But when it comes to selling the idea of why others should read them, I prefer to let people determine the quality on their own.

I know. I know. I’m still learning how to do this well. But the key is that I’m learning. Guest posts, social media, contests, etc. are all great tools that I am adding to my belt, but the most powerful tool in my arsenal is my network. These people fall into multiple categories, and every group is important

  1. Close friends and family.
    You’ve got to love this group. They are your biggest fans and cheerleaders. Occasionally they may be more biased than constructive with their feedback, but enjoy the affirmation. They’ve watched the journey, battled the insecurities and joy with you, and want to celebrate the finished product.
  2. Fringe friends and acquaintances.
    These are the people familiar enough with you to ask about the book every time they see you. They are also the ones who bought the book out of curiosity and support and are excited to watch the journey from a distance. If they love the story, you better believe they will share with their friends and family.
  3. Unknown readers.
    These are the people whose constructive opinion you can count on most. If they love the book, then job well done. They hail from all over the country, sometimes out of the country, and their word of mouth is powerful. They don’t know you, but love the heart in your books and will shout it from the mountaintops and anxiously wait for the next book. I love networking with this group. Their excitement fuels my own.
  4. Critics and commentators.
    These are your influencers, bloggers, Amazon comment critics, etc. I don’t necessarily advocate taking their opinions as gospel. But often, they have a powerful voice in their particular online spheres. Learn what they love and what they don’t, filter it to see if there is truth, and build on these admonitions in your next book.
  5. The unreached.
    The good news is that with all these other groups on board, the unreached are now reachable. Diligently work to add this group to the fold. Build relationships with your readers. Write stories that people can’t ignore. And don’t grow discouraged. This is a journey, not a short-distance sprint. Growth happens over time, and it’s exciting to see.

Shadowed_AUG 1 (1)But there is one connection that is the most important. Talking to the Master Storyteller. He knows your story intimately, and He alone can weave your network into something beautiful.

Prayer is powerful. In moments of frustrated marketing, I’ve prayed that the Lord will get Shaken and Shadowed into the hands of people who need to read them, despite my best efforts.

And He has.

Some of my favorite interactions from readers come from those who never heard about the book but wandered into a bookstore, loved the story, laughed, cried, and found hope in Christ. Every time I read one of these messages, I praise the Master Marketer. In spite of my best efforts, He is still placing these books in strategic places.

More than spinning a great story and growing my craft, I want to make an impact. And that only comes through surrendering my ideas in marketing to the One who knows best. I figure with Him at the wheel, I’ll do what I can and let Him do the rest.

How to Create Walk-On Characters Who Are Memorable (But Not Too Memorable)

The Water Cooler is pleased to host guest blogger K.M. Weiland.

Every character is the hero of his own story.

V8374c_JaneEyre.inddThat bit of popular advice is a marvelously evocative reminder to breathe life into even minor characters. However, chances are you’ve also had the sometimes-charming, sometimes-frustrating experience of a minor character who decides he’s not just the hero of his own story, but the hero of the story. He tries to take over, usually with mixed results.

So how can you go about hero-izing your minor characters into memorable and realistic personalities without letting them derail your story? Charlotte Brontë’s masterful novel Jane Eyre (which I analyze in-depth in my book Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic) offers some excellent examples on how to deftly bring to life any type of character—without letting them run away with you.

The Four Types of Characters
First, take a moment to consider the various types of characters you might find in your story. Which category your character falls into will determine how he should be introduced.

1. Main Characters
Main characters are protagonists. They will be on stage in all or most of your scenes and will probably be given the primary point-of-view narration. Their goals and character arcs power the plot. Without them, there is no conflict and no story. To find Jane Eyre’s main character, we need look no further than the title.

2. Major Characters
Major characters are those who figure in the story almost as prominently as the protagonist. However, they act in roles that support the protagonist. They drive the story only in ancillary ways. Antagonists, sidekicks, love interests, and mentors are all examples of common major characters. In Jane Eyre, St. John Rivers acts as one of the antagonists, Helen Burns appears briefly as a sidekick, Edward Rochester is the love interest, and the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax sometimes functions as a mentor.

3. Minor Characters
Minor characters fill out the rest of the cast. They are characters who recur throughout the story—sometimes only once or twice, sometimes frequently. They fill in the gaps in the story world, allowing readers to believe the setting is populated with the multitudinous faces we find in our own world. Minor characters may dramatically affect the plot, but only in comparatively small ways. They are not as integral as major characters. In Jane Eyre, her cousins the Reeds, the nasty Blanche Ingram, and St. John’s would-be wife Miss Oliver are all important, but decidedly minor characters.

4. Walk-On Characters
Walk-on characters are those who appear only once, fulfill a necessary role, and exit the story, probably never to be mentioned again. They are rarely named and exist only for background color or plot functionality. The many servants at Thornfield Hall and Jane’s fellow students at Lowood School are all walk-on characters.

Use Your Character’s Introduction to Signal His Importance (or Lack Thereof)

Identifying which group a character belongs in will help you understand how to introduce him. No matter his role, you want to bring him to life in your readers’ minds. You want them to clearly visualize him—and not just visualize him, but see him as a unique and vibrant human being.

This is where we sometimes get tripped up. We don’t want readers to dismiss our walk-on taxi driver as a cardboard cutout, or, worse, a cliché. So we spend several paragraphs describing his appearance, his accent, his personal tics, maybe even a little of his backstory. There! Now, he’s three-dimensional!

Problem is he’s also now giving readers the wrong signal. The more time you spend introducing a character, the more you foreshadow his importance within the story. A walk-on character who gets three paragraphs of intro, only to never show up again, will be at best a niggling loose end in readers’ minds. At worst, he’s a gaping plot hole.

Save your paragraphs of description for main and major characters. Weigh carefully how much attention you give to minor characters. The time you spend on them should never outweigh their roles in the story. As for walks-on, you’ve already guessed it: they deserve only a sentence or two of your attention.

How to Bring Characters to Life With No More Than Three Details

So riddle me this: If you’re not allowed to give walk-on characters (and some minor characters) more than a sentence or two, how in heaven’s name can you be expected to bring them to life?

Details are the key. Choose the right details, and you won’t need more than a few. Choose the perfect detail, and you might not even need more than one. Charlotte Brontë offers a fabulous example of this in her introduction of a walk-on postal lady early in the book.

The character appears only in this scene and affects the plot only because Jane needs to get her hands on that fateful letter from Thornfield Hall. Brontë expends just three sentences on the old lady, which introduce a sum total of three important characterizing details (see bold phrases below). But that’s more than enough to bring her to life without implying she plays a larger role in the story than she does.

“[The post office] was kept by an old dame, who wore horn spectacles on her nose, and black mittens on her hands…. She peered at me over her spectacles, and then she opened a drawer and fumbled among its contents for a long time, so long that my hopes began to falter. At last, having held a document before her glasses for nearly five minutes, she presented it across the counter, accompanying the act by another inquisitive and mistrustful glance….”

The next time you write a walk-on character, challenge yourself to come up with three—no more, no less—precise, pertinent, and enlivening details with which to describe him. Then evaluate the effect and see if your brief description hasn’t provided your story with an unobtrusively vivid new character.

************************************************************************************************K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.