Wednesday

For Writers - 8 Lessons from The Hunger Games' Worst Reviews

I finally got around to reading the Hunger Games, just to see what the hype was about, and got totally sucked in. The writing was great, story compelling, and characters very real.

A lot of other people thought it was great, too...at least the first book. Let's take a look at the statistics:

Hunger Games got over 13,000 5-star reviews out of over 17,000 total reviews.

Catching Fire, book 2, got over 8,000 5-star reviews out of over 10,000 total reviews.

Mockingjay, book 3, got over 6,000 5-star reviews out of over 11,000 total reviews.

Having more reviews for book 1 than books 2 and 3 is not abnormal, considering a series almost always has a lot more reviews for a first book than the following. However, what is abnormal is the ratio of good reviews to total reviews, and particularly the fact that there were more 1-star reviews for book 3 than books 1 and 2 combined.






This is particularly significant because most people decide about a series on the first book. If they don't like the topic or genre or writing, they won't bother reading the rest. People who go on to book 3 likely really enjoy the story and want to know how it ends. They feel emotionally invested in the characters and have a high opinion of the writer/writing.

In other words, book 3 disappointed loyal fans. Here's what two readers had to say on Amazon:

"Unbelievably disappointing."

"Too many possibilities for a better ending and the fact that we were left with emotionless / depressing / rushed garbage I just can't give this book a good review because I don't see myself ever reading it again."

One word or theme I kept noticing was that readers felt "betrayed." It's a harsh word for a fiction story, but readers had come to care for these characters and felt the author let them down in the final third of their story.

There was so much more that should have developed in the end, particularly with Peeta.

What does this have to do with us and our writing? Here are a few lessons to be learned:

1. Set the bar high with great writing on your first book, but know that means the bar is set for future books as well.

2. Don't be in a hurry to finish. Better to write something great than get something out on the market quickly.

3. Care more about your characters than writing memorable plot. Great stories are made by great characters, not intense scenes.

4. Developing a huge fan base is great, but know it comes with accountability. Authors need to earn respect and then keep it.

5. Don't ever decide you've arrived. Keep learning, stay humble, utilize and learn from what your readers have to say.

6. Create an ending that leaves your reader smiling or contemplative when they close the book, not confused or disappointed.

7. Develop your ending as much as your beginning. Leave a good taste in readers' mouths.
 
And the one I consider the most important:

8. Get reader feedback. Had book 3 been sent to 100 readers, I think the author would have been informed about the major holes that would disappoint. She might have even been given a few ideas on how to fix the problems, or at least be aware of what they were.

What do you think? Have you ever been disappointed by a favorite author? Why? Share so we can all learn from their mistakes rather than making them ourselves!

Thursday

Taking a Break

We authors aren't allowed to be just writers these days. We have to learn to be savvy in social media, marketing, building a platform, getting an agent or publisher, etc., etc. It can get overwhelming, and sometimes we find ourselves so busy doing the non-writing things, we don't have any time left to write!

Right now I have several writing projects waiting, and my health problems are flaring up, meaning trips to doctors and medication changes and needing more rest. All those things take time. Sometimes life just doesn't go as smoothly as we like, and our ideal schedule doesn't work.

If you came to me with the above scenario, I would recommend that you step back, look over the things you spend time on, and see what can be cut for a season to focus on what is most important. Can you take a break from blogging for awhile, cut back on social media, check your e-mail less, or not accept certain promotional opportunities?



And, as I should practice what I preach, I am currently doing just that. I've recently had several potential promotional event opportunities, both in person and online, that I have (with a cringe) passed by. They might have produced outcome and sold some books, but right now I cannot give my time to them. I need to get healthy again and I need to write and make my deadlines. That has to take priority.

I'm also going to try to check my e-mail and social media accounts less often, and not feel responsible to respond as much. And, since I need to write instead of writing about writing, I'm also going to take a break from this blog for awhile. If writers have questions, I may do a post here and there to answer them so others can benefit as well, but I will place this blog into the category of a useful resource when people come to me with questions rather than a regular required posting each week. Not having that responsibility--to write posts and market them--will free up more time for the priorities I need to have.

We can't do it all, and some seasons we need to taper down to the essentials. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, like pruning a plant, it can prove very helpful for future growth. Narrowing down priorities helps weed out what feels urgent from what is truly important.

So I shall say goodbye for now, with my best wishes for you and your writing. Feel free to add about a time when you had to step back, and how that went. Was it good? Bad? Ugly?

Wednesday

Are Great Writers Born That Way? You might be surprised...


When you meet an author, you may think they started out great, or just have amazing natural talent.

That might be the case, but usually isn’t. It’s like music. Every once in awhile you come across a prodigy—someone born with a musical gift that surpasses the rest of us mortals. I imagine there are authors out there like that, but not as many as you might think.

For most, learning to be a great writer took plain old hard work. They started out simply, like a kid learning to play an instrument.


Piano Stock Photo


For us writers trying to work our way toward great, what we started with was likely pretty terrible (maybe not for you, but it was for me!). We had to learn and fail and take constructive criticism, and keep learning. And if we stuck with it, like that kid learning the piano, one day we’re good. Maybe someday we'll even hit great.

Like musicians, each person has a different level of natural talent. It helps, but there are times when a person with natural talent refuses to learn the skills to turn that natural ability into excellence. 

Sometimes the person without natural talent who is willing to work at it and keep learning surpasses the one who believes what they were gifted with is all it takes.

I wrote my first novel in high school. It was about a girl whose parents died and she had to leave the big city to go live in the country with extended family. The father was a pastor, the daughter was rebellious and ended up pregnant. The book dealt with the issue of abortion, forgiveness, and adjusting to a new life. Of course the main part was the romance.

And it had horses in it, too, on a ranch. I know zilch-o about horses, but I had a whole section where the main guy was breaking a wild horse. I shudder to even think of how much my ignorance showed through that whole book! Not only was it terribly written, it was cheesy, and I didn’t even think about researching things I was writing about.

A couple of years ago, I actually found a paper copy of this travesty in the garage. I thought maybe I could revamp it and make it good, but after reading through just the first page I knew that was out of the question. The writing was terrible. I threw the whole thing in the trash. I’m kind of sentimental about such things, but the fear of someone discovering it someday and reading it was bigger than my nostalgic feelings!

So all that to say, if you feel you haven’t arrived yet in your writing, that’s a good thing. Most of us haven’t arrived, and the day we feel we have, we stop learning and stop our potential to become better than we are now.

And don’t let a lousy piece stop you, or make you think you can’t be a great writer. Think of it, rather, as a step in the right direction. Just like a kid on the piano, the more you practice the better you’ll be.

Happy practicing!

Tips for Sending out Writing Submissions

Maybe you've accepted that rejection is part of writing, but you'd still rather get more acceptance letters than rejection ones. We all would!

So here are some practical tips that might help you end up with less "no's" and more "yes's".

1. Send your story to more than one place. If a magazine or publisher indicates you should, mark it as a "simultaneous submission" or if not you can just see who says yes first.

2. Try to have 5-10 articles or pieces out at once. If one gets rejected, it's not the end of everything. You've got more out there.

3. If something does get published, unless they bought full rights, send it somewhere else! You already know it's worth accepting, so keep it going to another market. (My favorite stories have been used 5 times or more.)


 

4. Rearrange your piece for different markets. For example, I have one story (about Milo in Bangladesh--the little boy I based one of my book characters on in the Stolen Series) that has been published in a kid, teen and adult version.





 5.Do your homework. The Writers Market Guide is the book you need to know what publishers are looking for, who to contact, word count, etc. I get a new copy every year (of the Christian Writer's Market Guide) to keep it up to date, and use it all year long.

6. Do more homework. When you do find a magazine or publisher you like, look up their website and see if they have submission guidelines. Follow those to the letter. A lot of rejections come from simple failure to follow guidelines for format, word count, etc.

Ideally, if you're a writer for magazines or devotionals, you want to get a few markets that you write for regularly. If you can do that, to the point the editor knows you, and you know what the editor is looking for, that's a huge step toward a lot more acceptance letters than rejections ones. Also, if you write for assignment, then you already know it is accepted, which takes away the risk of spending time writing something that will never get used.

Happy submitting!

Finished a New Book? The 10-Step Process from "Done" to "Published"

This past week I finished my new book, Shredded:

A prostitute, a new pastor, and a dying church...the collision will change them all.

I'm really excited about this book and would love to have it out there tomorrow! (I'm sure you know the feeling.) However, that moment when you finish writing a book is just the beginning. There is a lot of other work that has to be done to get that book to the world.
Shredded, the manuscript
If you self-publish, it will get out sooner, and I've gone that route and really enjoyed it. (See my Stolen Series trailer on the right side of this page, or my post about how to use Createspace.) If you want your book traditionally published, it will be a longer road.

I have books self-published and traditionally published, and I want Shredded published by a mainstream publisher. So...since I'm thinking through all this anyway, might as well share the timeline with you, right?

Here's a rough list through what happens after a book is finished:

1. Celebrate. You accomplished something big!

2. Edit. Very, very important. Find those words that bog the manuscript down. My worst ones are "just" "really" and "very." I go to the FIND button on Word and look up every single time I use either of those words, and see if I can change them or delete them. "That" is another one that is usually unnecessary (like in this sentence!).

3. Have a trusted group of initial readers. I have a group of readers who notice details better than I do. I send my manuscript to them and they find my typos, errors, and point out things that might have been unclear. It has been a huge benefit to me and my writing, because you get a sneak peek at how readers will respond to your book. On one of my books, Stolen Future, I had so many of them mention a scene they had been hoping for at the end, I wrote that extra scene and it made the final product so much better.

4. Create a book proposal. This is like an interview on paper. If you don't know how, see Getting Your Work to an Agent or Publisher-What to Do and How. Most writers find book proposals intimidating, because you have to put the message of your big, wonderful book into a tiny space. However, it's worth taking time on. No matter how great your book is, if they never read it because your book proposal was weak, you lost your opportunity.

5. Send the proposal to your agent if you have one. If you don't, either get one, or start sending your proposal to publishers. I'd highly recommend sending a query letter first and seeing if they are interested. But before you do that, check the publisher's website for their guidelines. You don't want them to remember you as the writer who sent 3 attachments when they put in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS NOT TO SEND MORE THAN ONE!

6. Your agent, or you, sends the book proposal to publishers. If you're doing this on your own, I highly recommend sending it to multiple publishers at once. Ten is a good number. This way, when you get three "no thank you's" the following week, you're aren't devastated, because you know there are still publishers out there who haven't said no yet. Also, it doesn't have you waiting months to hear from a publisher that never gets around to saying yes or no.

7. Then you wait and pray. And wait some more. This is the hardest part for me. I want to make something happen, but the truth is, you just have to get in line. If a publisher has 100 slush pile manuscripts, several hundred query letters, and ten book proposals to consider, it's not an insult that he won't get to yours the moment it crosses his desk. (Though we all secretly hope he will!)

8. Sometime, hopefully, you'll get a response that a publisher wants to see your entire manuscript, or that they are considering your book. You get super excited, go celebrate again (because you've passed a mega hurdle that's hard to do), then settle down to...

9. Wait again. The last book contract I got came months down the road. As horrible as it may sound, give it six months, then you can be pleasantly surprised if it's sooner, but you won't be biting your nails to the quick expecting something a week down the road. If you do that, your nails are going to be in seriously bad shape after three or four months!

10. You finally hear something. Hopefully, it's a yes! If that happens, run around the house screaming that you got offered a book contract. =) Now you get to wait some more, until you get edits to work on, then marketing to do, etc., etc., etc. until finally...one day...a box shows up at your door and you hold that book in your hands. That is a wonderful moment. Congratulations.

If you got stopped by a no before number ten happened, don't despair. This is an opportunity for you to learn more, improve, and have at it again. I got two major rejections by agents that turned out to be gifts. Their one common comment let me know what I needed to work on in my writing, what I was weak at. I did and became a better writer for it. So turn the situation into a free learning experience, and get back to writing!

So what number are you on? Or did you think of one I missed? (No, you aren't allowed to make a whole number out of eating chocolate while you wait! ha ha)

Related Posts: Getting Your Work to an Agent or Publisher-What to do and How

How to Use Createspace, Amazon's Self-Publishing Option

How to Write a Query Letter, and How NOT To!

What's the Benefit of getting on the Amazon Bestseller List anyway?

This morning someone asked a question on my blog post about how I got on the Amazon bestseller list by only selling 33 books (How the Amazon Rankings can Work for You). He wanted to know if there was any benefit to getting on the bestseller list, other than bragging rights. If it actually increased sales.

Since some of you may be wondering the same thing, here's my answer:

agold-seller

That's actually a great question, Bill. There's not much use in all that effort if it's just for our egos! =) Here's what I've noticed on how being a "bestselling" author has helped me with sales.

1. Credibility for my book. People see that bestseller word and it gives them a higher sense of trust about my book/s. If that many people liked it, it must not be terrible (that's the idea anyway!). That ultimately ups sales because people are less hesitant to give my books a try.

2. Credibility for me as an author. Same concept as #1, but applied to me. When I'm at book signings and that's on my banner, again, people see something they like--it's kind of like a big fat good review for your book and your writing.

3. Better speaking invitations. I speak a lot, and it looks like you do, too, and again, people see you as more of an expert if you can say such-and-such a book on the topic they are interested in is a bestseller. You must know what you're talking about.

4. Your readers get excited with you and for you. If you market on social media, it's fun asking fans to help you get on the bestselling list, and then they get excited with you when you do, and that gives them a sense of ownership in you and your book, which is just good all the way around.

All of the above result in more sales. The more people want to try your book, the more people buy it, read it, then talk to other people about it, who buy it, read it, and hopefully that formula repeats itself till you've sold as many books as they think you did to become a bestseller! =)

Hope this is helpful. Your thoughts or questions?

Related Posts: How the Amazon Rankings can Work for You

What are Your Options? 13 Tips from an Author who has experienced Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

How to do a Book Launch

What Are Your Options? 13 Tips for Writers by an Author who has experienced Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

What are your options as a writer? Here are thirteen tips I've learned along the way...

 13 Tips for Writers

1. If you want to be a writer, you have to be willing to learn, be rejected, and work hard.

2. Wherever you are at in your writing expertise, you have a lot more to learn. Be teachable!

3.There is an overwhelming amount of information and options on the internet. Find a few resources/blogs/people you trust and stick with them for most of what you need to know. It gets very overwhelming doing random searches for information, so do it sparingly.

Business Lady Biting Laptop Stock Photo
It's not that bad. Lady, put the computer down...put the computer down...
4. Major publishers are harder to get in than ever. If you don't have a following of thousands of people already or some really amazing idea, expect it to be nearly impossible. I know that's disappointing, but I'd rather tell you now than tell you that after you waiting 6 months for a rejection letter.

5. Subsidy publishers are eager for your book, but that's because you will be paying them and so they will make money whether you do or not. I have not heard of one yet that has worked out to an author's benefit. Be very careful about any publisher that makes you pay them first--and that's not for printing books, it's for the actually publishing of your book (and possibly some "marketing" on their part, usually this runs in the thousands of dollars before you ever see your first book).

6. Self-publishing is easier, cheaper, and you get a book a lot sooner than other options, but know that you are the 100% sole marketer responsible. If you are self-motivated, have a great message, and believe in your book, this can work great for you. Self-publishing is also good for someone who only wants to run a few copies rather than ordering hundreds up front (if you do POD--Print On Demand-- rather than one that starts the print run in the hundreds of copies).

7. If you choose to self-publish, PLEASE create a good product. I can't tell you many books I've seen and read from amazon that have typos, grammatical errors, very homemade covers, or just aren't good writing. Kindle and POD have helped make self-publishing not the stigma of lack-of-quality it used to be, but books like that put the whole group down again.

8. Whatever you decide about publishing, get an editor, or have lots of people read the book before you ever put it out there. You can have 50 people read it, and the 51st will find that elusive typo everybody else missed. Believe me, it happened to me, except the person was about the 450th and the book was already on the market! Find people who will give honest feedback. This is one of my favorite parts in the process because I get to experience my book from a new reader's eyes. What was confusing? Did I get a fact wrong? Can I make this clearer? Is it age-appropriate?


Typos can really change your storyline...

...and they lived sappily ever after....oops, I mean happily ever after!

Let's eat grandma...or rather Let's eat, grandma.

He was doping...I mean hoping.
 

9. Print-On-Demand is the cheapest way to self-publish. I'd recommend Amazon's Createspace. They are user-friendly, have great customer service, and are connected with Kindle, so you can put it up easily on e-book as well. I sell about 3 e-books for every paperback, so getting in with Kindle is important.

10. Spend time on the extras. You may have a fabulous book, but if the two paragraphs on the back are boring, people aren't going to read it. Why spend so much effort on the inside and then fall short on your author bio or your back cover or the one sentence you put on the cover?

11. Invest in a great cover. People say you can't judge a book by its cover, but we all do. With Amazon especially you're not picking books off shelves and looking through them. People are scanning pages and pages of covers and if yours is boring, or worse, looks cheap, there are millions of better ones to choose from. If you don't know what I'm talking about, just go to amazon.com and check out the covers.

Product Details
If you're a famous classic, you can get away with this. If you're a new author with a book nobody knows about...I wouldn't buy it. Would you?


12. Don't let rejection stop you. When I used to write a lot of articles for magazines and such, I began to expect 9 rejections for every 1 acceptance. Once I got the hang of who to write for and how, that number got better, but it was a realistic way to start. There are lots of reasons for being rejected that don't mean your work is bad. Keep going till you find the right readership. (Unless your work really is bad, in which case, learn and improve!)

13. Don't use God as an excuse for poor quality. That may sound mean, but agents and publishers get real wary when someone says, "God gave me this book," or "The words are God's so..." and then proceed to say that's why the publisher really should want to publish it, or they won't take suggestions for improvements. If God had called you to build houses, He would still expect you not only to learn how to build houses, but to build them well. If you just started nailing boards together, telling people God told you build houses, you would get a bad reputation and actually dishonor your testimony rather than honoring God. So if God has told you to write, do so, but work at becoming the best writer you can be so your work honors Him.


There you have it. If you've learned some good lessons along the way, add to my list! It's always great to learn from someone else, especially someone a few steps farther up the path than we are.

Oh, also, if you have a question about any of this, please add it below and maybe it will show up as a future blog post! (With the answer, of course.)

Happy Writing! And may you live sappily ever after. =)



Related Posts:   Getting your work to an Agent or Publisher-what to do and how

 How to NOT look Self-Published

Should you ask God for success in your writing?

How the Amazon Bestselling Rank can work for you