How to survive the book review blues

roses I have a love-hate relationship with book reviews.

Every time I get a good review, I’m happy. When I get a stellar review, I’m ecstatic. I feel like I’ve done what I hoped to do: I’ve connected with a reader and given them a journey they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. When dog-lovers tell me they laughed, cried, and were inspired by my memoir Saved by Gracie: How a rough-and-tumble rescue dog dragged me back to health, happiness, and God, I feel blessed that my story reached and touched them. When reviewers rave that my supernatural thriller Heaven’s Gate: Archangels Book I made them want to stand up and cheer, I get goosebumps of joy.

All those multi-starred reviews on my books’ pages at amazon.com, Goodreads, or barnesandnoble.com reassure me that the hours I pour into my writing are worth it: my books entertain, educate, and illuminate, and, gosh darn, people like them.

wilted-roseAnd then there is the flip side of my love-hate relationship with book reviews.

When I get a review that says “this book wasn’t what I thought it would be about, so I stopped reading it after the first two chapters,” and therefore receives the lowest rating possible, I want to bang my head against a wall. “Then why did you bother to post a review?” I want to ask the disappointed reader, and then explain that because she mistook the book for something it wasn’t, my overall rating has plummeted, which will dissuade some readers from even reading the synopsis, let alone buying and reading the whole book.

I’ve also seen reviews that rate books poorly because the author’s basic premise contradicts what a particular reader-reviewer believes. Again, those low ratings may prevent the book from reaching the hands of readers who would appreciate and greatly benefit from it; because many people (and I’m one of them!) choose books based on others’ reviews, authors are at the mercy of those published reviews, even when they make no sense at all, or are based on the personal bias of the reviewer.

So what’s an author to do about that oh-so-necessary-but-can-be-disastrous need for reviews?

My answer can be summed up in one word: relax.

Then remind yourself of these three things:

  1. You wrote a book! So many people say they want to write a book, but you actually did it! AND it got published. Congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment!
  2. You can’t please all the people all the time, and that’s especially true of readers. Some people just won’t ‘get’ it; others won’t like your writing style or your treatment of plot or subject. Some readers might be experiencing difficult life situations while they were reading your book and some of that negativity gets transferred to their reviewing. Bottom line: reviews are subjective, even when they intend to be objective.
  3. Your words will reach at least some of the people who need to read them, and they will bless you for it, whether or not you ever know it.

What do you do when you get the review blues?

The Joy of Writing

I’m not sure what surprised me first — the fact that my business coaching client turned non-writing friend answered the question intended for me, or how he responded.

Lake Superior Anita Brooks Photographer

Anita Brooks’ Lake Superior Reflection

From the dining room table, I glanced through the picture window at the full moon reflecting over Lake Superior in the distance. After finishing three days of intensive review with the four partners of my latest business coaching project, the mood was relaxed, while the five of us savored plates piled with steak and king crab. It was in this moment of celebration when one of my coaching clients leaned forward and asked me, “Do you enjoy writing?”

My mouth opened, but his partner’s voice sounded before I had the chance to speak. “Not anymore, now that you have to work at it. It’s different when it becomes your profession.” A sheepish blush crept across his rounded cheeks. “At least, that’s what I imagine.”

An awkward pause followed his interjection, but I didn’t allow it to languish long. I smiled to let him know we were okay — after all, I’ve made the mistake of answering for others.

Then I turned my attention to my other client. “Actually, it is different now that I write professionally, but I still enjoy it very much. I’d be lying if I said every minute felt good, but it’s like any difficult thing we accomplish. There are times I think about walking away, when things aren’t going smoothly, when I get bored, when I feel overwhelmed, when I despise the way my words come out on a page, and when I think about the investment cost of time, energy, and money. But the negative emotions don’t last. I can’t imagine doing anything else. A soul-deep, intrinsic drive pushes me to write, I’m compelled to do this, despite my finicky feelings. And reader responses make it all worth while.”

Intrigue was obvious on my client’s face. “So people actually contact you?”

I chuckled, but it echoed off as my thoughts turned to some of the specific readers I’ve heard from. I could feel a hot glistening around the edges of my eyes as I began to answer. “It has surprised me at how many people have emailed and sent private social media messages. Nothing compares to the power of knowing words you penned touched another human being.”

“What’s the best thing a reader has told you?”

Anita Brooks Plane Wing in Flight

Writing and Reading Are Uplifting Experiences

I dipped a piece of crab in melted butter and slipped it in my mouth before answering. “Probably not what you think. A lady emailed to tell me she bought a copy of Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over in an airport on the east coast. She started reading on the plane, and said it hit some tender spots, so she closed it and vowed not to finish. But when she got home, she said, “That book kept calling my name.” That’s when she picked it up and began reading again.

In her email she said, “PLEASE forgive me, but a couple more chapters in I threw your book across the room, but only for a few minutes, because I couldn’t help myself, and had to go get it. I just finished reading the entire thing for the third time. THANK you! Your book saved my life.”

As I heard myself telling this story to my clients, I realized something afresh.

Goodreads Review Getting ThroughYes, the writing is hard at times. There is no doubt my emotions can lead me temporarily astray. However, as a professional author, I DO still enjoy writing as well as having written — because I understand the impact my words can make.

The greatest joy of writing comes from knowing I was made to do this, and that others are helped because I act despite my fears and insecurities. Many think, dream, and fantasize about writing books, but there is no greater joy than realizing I am an honored member of the club that says, “I did.”

Have you discovered the joy in writing?

You can only eat so much eggplant.

eggplantI’ve rediscovered the joy of vegetable gardening, thanks to our move to a warmer clime that allows for gardening year-round. As a result, I’ve acquired some hands-on experience with how my garden grows…or not. And, being the reflective person I am, I can’t help but apply those lessons to not only life in general, but also to life as a writer. So whether or not you’re a dig-in-the-dirt kind of person, I hope you’ll find some gems in the guidelines I’m culling from my veggies.

  1. Sow liberally and see what comes up. For my first crop of lettuce, I ignored the seed packet instructions and laid seeds thickly the whole length of the row. I wanted to be sure something came up, and my confidence didn’t match the packet’s. The result: I had all the lettuce I could eat, and then some. The next time I sowed lettuce, I followed the instructions and spaced fewer seeds farther apart. The result: nothing came up and my work was a wasted effort.

Writing take-away: when you’re new at writing, try it all. See what develops for you. It’s better to produce more than you can use than have no success at all.

  1. Thin the rows to get better results. When I noticed that the new plants were crowding each other, I pulled out the smaller ones to let the bigger ones get the full advantage of soil, sun, and water. I got healthier plants that produced more and for longer periods of time.

Writing take-away: Capitalize on what’s working for you. If your fiction isn’t doing well, focus on the self-help material that’s popular with your audience and helping your platform grow. Put your energy where you’re seeing the strongest results.

  1. Some seeds just won’t sprout. Get over it. Plant something else. For some reason, I couldn’t get snow peas to grow despite two tries. Instead of letting the soil lay unused, I planted beets, which turned into a bumper crop, forcing me to try lots of new great recipes using beets.

Writing take-away: If you just can’t find an audience for something you’ve written, it’s time to try a different approach, treatment, or subject. The new material you produce might prove an easy winner.

  1. You can only eat so much eggplant. I didn’t think I could get tired of eggplant parmesan and mixed veggie grills, but after this summer and fall, I know there really is a limit to how much eggplant I can eat. Next year, I will plant only one plant, or make a habit of giving excess produce to my neighbors much earlier in the season.

Writing take-away: You can get tired of writing in the same genre. When you just can’t face writing another devotional, or romance, or even a blog post about writing, take a break. Write something else. Binge on reading books. Watch all the movies you missed in the last year. Then a day will come that you really want to write in your genre again. You’ll feel fresh and your writing will benefit.

By the way, if anyone wants eggplant, let me know…

The 15-Minute Writer: Book Marketing in Life’s Margins

woman writer

Photo by Bench Accounting via Unsplash.com.

We writers wear many hats these days. In addition to writing proposals, queries, and manuscripts, we’re expected to market and promote our books through social media, speaking, radio/television interviews, and book-related events. Whew! What’s a busy author to do?

First, don’t get too overwhelmed. No one can do everything, so take that expectation off your shoulders. Take deep breaths. Now…don’t you feel better? Let’s do our part, and leave the rest in the hands of the Author of our life stories.

Second, after you write it but before your book releases, experiment with different marketing ideas to find out what you enjoy and are good at naturally—Facebook parties? Speaking engagements? Library visits?—and concentrate on those things. The fun you experience will come through, and you’ll sell more books (and even if you don’t, you’ll have more joy. And who doesn’t want that?).

Third, pray for wisdom, discipline, and creativity. After all, God gave us the idea and the opportunity to write a book, and He cares about the people who will read the message we’re sharing.

Finally, clear a few minutes in your schedule and write “marketing” on your calendar in a small window of time. This way, you’ll do a little bit every day. (It’s like the old question, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!)

To help you get started, here are a few book marketing tasks that take 15 or 20 minutes, tops (just make sure each is related in some way—via a hashtag, link, or text—to the volume you’re promoting):

  • Write a short blog post
  • Draft a newsletter for your email list
  • Brainstorm a free resource to offer your list
  • Update a social media profile to reflect your new release details
  • Write a Facebook status or Twitter update
  • Take an Instagram picture and upload it
  • Read a blog post on another author’s site and comment on it (thanks to Michele Niefert for this idea)

    A photo by Alejandro Escamilla. unsplash.com/photos/N7XodRrbzS0

    Picture by Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash.com.

  • Rate/review a similar book you’ve read on one of the major bookseller’s sites
  • Ask friends on Facebook or Twitter to review your book for you
  • Share another author’s book, which is related in some way to yours, on a social media platform
  • Update your website or blog in some way
  • Draft a query letter to a magazine on a subject related to your book
  • Ask other bloggers to review your book (Elizabeth Evans shared this tip with me)
  • Create an image on Canva or PicMonkey with a reviewer’s blurb on it and Tweet it (a terrific idea from journalist and author Simran Sethi)
  • Write a thank-you note to a book reviewer, librarian or bookseller
  • Follow-up with a meeting planner or editor you pitched but haven’t heard back from
  • Set up an Eventbrite page for a future workshop or seminar you’ll lead on the book topic
  • Read a book marketing article on line or in The Writer, Poets and Writers or Writer’s Digest

Now it’s your turn: share in the comments. What are your favorite—or most effective—quick marketing tasks?

Writing with Personality for Extroverts

Be YouLast month, I shared some simple insights on Writing with Personality for Introverts, so this time, I want to speak to their counterparts. Some misinterpret the definitions for these contrasting temperaments.

An introvert is not always quiet, and an extrovert is not always loud. As a certified personality trainer with over twenty-five years of experience, one of the best determiners I’ve found is this: An extrovert does their best thinking out loud, and an introvert’s most effective ideas take place in solitude and silence. They need to think before they speak.

As a bona fide extrovert myself, I often hear myself say something to someone else that I don’t want to lose. Then I have to stop, dig out paper and pen, as I tell them, “I’m sorry. I need to hurry and write that down before I forget it. Some of my best ideas come from conversations with other people.”

I usually receive an understanding nod along with a statement like this: “Go ahead, I’d hate to be the reason you lost a great idea.”

Sharing & IlluminationThe truth is, sometimes too much solitude hampers my creative flow. As an extrovert, I’ve learned that lunch with a friend or two, calling someone to go for a walk and a talk, or a brief phone call with a colleague, client, or family member releases fresh thoughts that enrich my writing.

Another thing I’ve learned is to use an audio app, so I can speak my thoughts out loud, and capture the concepts that flow from my loose lips. Sometimes I pretend I’m talking to another person, but whether I imagine a human face or not, my rambling, audible monologue releases many interesting pieces of prose.

Guilt used to smother me, because I felt stifled by sitting in solitude for too long. Now I realize extended periods of silence drain my energy, while intentionality in human exposure lifts my spirits and infuses my creative zest.

Nelson Mandela Know YourselfThe key to making any of us more effective in our endeavors is knowing who we are, and giving ourselves permission to operate in our natural giftings and preferences. As long as we are careful to do so in balance.

Whether introvert or extrovert, all writers require a healthy amount of time spent in study, interview, and interactions with other people. We equally need quiet moments with our thoughts and computers. Depending on our personality, some of us require more on one side of the spectrum or the other. Simply realize this — it’s okay to be different, we’re wired that way.

Are you an introvert who needs to think before they speak, or are you an extrovert whose best ideas pop out of your mouth while in conversation?

 

Praying for the Armor of God: A Prayer for Writers

4c62df84a873982a7e0d7d5ea11ce3a4 (1)Dear Lord,

As I come to write today make me bold and fearless. Give me words to make you known in the world. Protect me with the armor you promised in Ephesians as I pray the words from scripture.

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Give me your strength which is so much more powerful than my own strength. And your words which are so much more powerful than my own.

 

Put on the whole armor of God

Give me your whole armor to protect me as I write today. As I make myself vulnerable to others by sharing my heart and mind, take down my walls and let your armor be my protection.

. . . having fastened on the belt of truth . . .

Help me to stand firm with your belt of truth buckled around my waist. Truth protects me and gives my life and writing integrity. Help me to focus on your truth, not the world’s lies.

. . . having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . .

 Protect my heart with your breastplate of righteousness. As I strive to put my thoughts and ideas on paper I can doubt myself and feel unworthy. But with your righteousness in place over my heart, I have the authority to write.

. . . as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace . . .

 Make me ready with the firm foundation of the gospel of peace on my feet, ready to go places in my mind or places outside my comfort zone.

. . . take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;

 Lord, negative thoughts assail me like flaming arrows. “What ifs” fly at me. Critics wound me. Give me you shield of faith to stop them before they pierce me. Faith makes me strong and gives me courage to stand firm in my convictions.

 . . . take the helmet of salvation . . .

Protect me from my own thoughts. Let me meditate on things that are worthy and good. Transform my mind and give me the words that you would have me write today.

 . . . and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

Teach me to take up your sword, Lord, which is Your Word. Your stories encourage me. Your wisdom guides me and gives me discernment. Your promises strengthen me. Your love empowers me.

Thank you for the great honor of writing for you. Thank you for your armor and protection for me.

Amen

Ephesians 6:10-11, 14-20

Be Strong In The Lord Front Cover lores FINAL

Praying from scripture has been a powerful tool in our lives. Our latest series of books takes passages of scripture and guides parents and other adults a child’s life to pray God’s promises for them. Our latest is Be Strong in the Lord: Praying for the Armor of God for Your Children, September 2016.

Betsy and Laurie

www.WritingSisters.com

Writing with Personality for Introverts

Writing With Personality

Five Fresh Starts for the Living

I’ve studied, trained on, and spoken to audiences about human personality for over a quarter of a century now. But one of my favorite ways to use my education is to help my writing friends.

Recently, one of my author pals described her struggle. “I can’t seem to find my motivation. This summer has flown by with my visiting children and grandchildren. By the time they leave, I’m exhausted and don’t feel like doing anything creative.

“Having a recently retired husband under foot isn’t helping either. I’ve tried moving to several different rooms, but the noise of the TV or his honey-do repairs, not to mention his unrequested input or endless questions, disrupt my thoughts. When I write, I need quiet time to reflect, organized space to prepare, and a break from other people. I also need my family to take what I do seriously — most of them don’t think writing is real work.”

My friend is definitely an introvert. And what she was voicing was permission to work according to her intrinsic, soul-deep needs.

I replied, “It’s okay for you to feel this way. Have you told your family how you feel?”

“Not really,” she said with a sigh. “I don’t want to offend them.”

“I understand, but do you realize they may not grasp what they are doing to you?”

“They should.”

“We often assume other people know what our needs are, but the truth is, unless we tell them, few even think about it. One thing you might consider is coming up with an assertive, yet respectful way to let the people in your life know what’s bothering you. For instance, you could say, ‘I think my writing might have caused some confusion. I know most people don’t realize I’m working, especially since I do it from home, even I forget sometimes. But this is part of my job. I hope you understand if I put a few guidelines in place, to hold me accountable, so my work gets done and I meet my deadlines. It might mean I’m not available as much as you are used to.'”

“I could probably do that,” my friend replied.

I chuckled as I remembered when I first created my Writer’s Cave guidelines with my own family and friends. I had imagined all kinds of reactions, but once I shared my plan, they took it in stride and quickly adapted. It freed me from much writing angst.

I commiserated with my friend. “Dealing with your husband is a different matter — since he does live in your home too.”

Her soft laughter had a tinge of nervousness to it.

“Have you tried scheduling yourself in a closed room for a period of time and asked your husband if he could keep the volume down? Have you requested he wait to do repairs or ask questions until your allotted time ends?”

“Well, no.”

“Silencing ear muffs are another great alternative. I’ve got a set you can borrow.”

Her laughter had a relaxed ring this time. “I’ll have to check into those.”

“If neither of those options work, or if it offends your family, then maybe you could find a quiet coffee shop, restaurant, or other location away from home to help you concentrate. One with few people, since company drains your creative juices.

You can honestly tell your family and friends, ‘I won’t be available from this time to this time, I have a writing appointment.’ They don’t need to know the details, or that your appointment is with yourself.”

“I like that last option. Thanks.”

My introverted friend needed emotional support more than anything. She needed permission to be herself, someone drained of creative energy after an extended period of time with other people, even those she loves deeply. She knew what was necessary, but was afraid to act, she needed a third-party voice to set her free.

It must have worked. The last I heard, she was making good progress.

Know Thyself -- SocratesWriting with Personality is helpful for introverts, and their counterparts, extroverts. (I’ll share some insights about the latter next time.) But wherever you fall on the personality spectrum, as Socrates reminds, know yourself, and allow you to be and do as needed — otherwise, you will struggle to get your writing done. Another great writer and natural introvert, Karen Jordan, shared her insider’s perspective recently — it’s a great read, especially if you don’t want to feel alone.

Are you drained or energized by extended periods of time spent with other people?