Observations

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Reviews Blog part 1: for the Reader

Reviews are something every writer fears, loves, needs, wants, and often begs for. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to reviews lately, and two separate ideas started formulating, so I’m going to do two separate blogs. One for the readers, and one for the writers. This one is for the readers…

It started when I was looking around google and did some quick math. Scary math. Terrifying math that made me want to curl up in a corner and rock for a bit.

According to Statista—about 50,498 new fiction books were published in 2013.

That’s 138 books a day.

So the day a new book comes out, it is immediately competing with 137 other books.

137.

And that’s just the day it came out.

The next day, it’s now competing with 274 new books (previous day, plus new day—because *new release* is longer than a twenty-four hour period). And then on the third day, it’s competing with 411… and by the end of the first week alone it is competing with 959 other *new releases*.

959.

Absorb that.

Not to mention the 4,000 books that came out the previous month, but the readers hadn’t had a chance to grab them yet. So now do they buy one of those 4,000 they were thinking about, or one of the new 959, or yours?

Keep in mind, that data is from 2013, because the consensus among the pollsters, librarians, and other book nerds since then is that there is no longer any way to come up with a true number due to the sheer amount of self-published books which have no ISBN or other way to track them.

Which means the number is actually higher than 959 at the end of one week. 1,000 maybe? Probably more?

And this is why the authors you know, love, follow, stalk, read, etc. literally beg for reviews. Because we need to somehow hold our book a little higher than the other 959 that week… and those reviews help more than you can imagine.

But what is a review? First of all, for the purpose of this blog, I’m talking about them as if they were a product review for that new toaster you got—whether it was on Amazon, B&N, etc. Secondly, we’re not looking for in depth literary reviews. We’re not looking for a book report. We’re not even looking for a breakdown of what did and didn’t work. David Wilson actually just brought this up on facebook recently.

Sometimes I wonder if readers don’t leave book reviews because they think they need to write something like you would read on a review site, or in a magazine. Reader reviews on Amazon are more likely to be considered useful by sites like Bookbub if they are short, just say something like “great story line, loved the xxxx character…” Or mention very briefly a theme. If it looks like someone sat down to write a formal review, it also looks either paid, or like it came from a friend trying to outdo themselves.

If you’re interested in the comments and conversation spurred off that post, check out the thread.

Regarding the reviews themselves—he hit the nail on the head (hehe, there’s a pun in there if you know him). We are literally looking for, hoping for, asking and begging for, nothing more than a number of stars (as you see fit), and a single sentence.

A single sentence.

What did you actually like? Was it the characters? Was it the storyline? Or perhaps the twist at the end? Without giving anything away, say something short, sweet, concise, and toss some stars at it like shiny yellow punctuation.

That’s it.

Why? Because yes, we want to know if you liked it or not—especially if we’re debating a sequel or using a character elsewhere. But we also want to somehow hold that book a little bit higher than the other 959 people who released their books that week… and your single sentence and smattering of stars can actually help us to do that.

So please, care for your favorite author enough to give their work a (brief, one-sentence) review.

I recently changed the information on my Amazon account so that I, too, can leave reviews when I finish reading. Because I read a lot of books, and it’s horrible to ask for reviews but not leave them. So if you’re worried about someone knowing it was you, change your info. Remove your last name. Use only initials. Do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable enough to share your opinion.

I’m leaving reviews. Are you? Have you read something of mine? Did you put a sentence and some stars on Amazon? Could you? How about that other author you just read? They could use a little one-sentence love, too…

Rejections and Reactions

If you’re a writer, you should keep this word in the back of your head at all times: Grace.

If you’re a reader, the writers who don’t understand the definition of that word will be very easy to spot.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about how people respond and react to rejections. Because whether you’ve published one story or one hundred stories, there’s never a reason to not be professional. To have grace.

You see, there are those who write, and then there are those who submit. That first group is quite content to scribble volumes for their own eyes and never ever become published. And then there are those of us who are mildly sadistic at best and may actually enjoy torture at worst. We submit our words and then pace, while waiting to hear back from an opinion we purposely asked for.

Are we always happy with that opinion? No. Should we have a tantrum, whine, bitch, piss and moan? No. The golden rule of rejections? You absolutely should not, under any circumstances, ever ever do either of these two things:
1. respond to the rejection
2. whine about it publicly

That first faux pas? Responding? No. Just no. Why would you? You do nothing to change the mind of the editor who sent you the rejection (and keep in mind, on some level you should be thankful for receiving one in the first place, since many publications only contact you if you’re accepted). The editor had to read a lot more than just your story. If you respond, even to say thank you, you are wasting their valuable time. And if you think they won’t remember that, you’re wrong. If you think they won’t tell their editing and publishing friends, you’re wrong. Slowly, for those in the back, do not—do (period) not (period)—respond to a rejection.

And that second one? Seriously? Let me just remind all of you of one tiny, very very important fact: the Internet is forever. Don’t believe me? Waybackmachine.com. But also, and more immediately, screenshots have become the law of the land.

Recently, there was an amazingly bizarre call for submissions. You may have heard about it—they were asking for pizza stories. I saw the guidelines and I giggled, and then a little voice in the back of my head said, “Heyyyyy, don’t you actually have a story about pizza. You put it in the trunk because, well, pizza.” I did indeed. I had written it several years before and never ever thought I would publish it, so I literally trunked it without submitting. (Not something I would necessarily suggest anyone do.)

I hemmed and hawed for all of twelve seconds and then got curious. It had been a while since I’d seen it. What the heck, I thought, and I pulled out the story.

I read it. I read it again, out loud. I even read it to my daughter (you should know, she’ll be the first person to tell me something sucks… well, right after my mom gets done telling me why it sucks). And I thought, huh, this isn’t bad. The language was a little out of date, and you could tell it was an older story by my archaic style and voice, but with a little polishing… who knows, right?

I polished it. Sent it to my prereaders. Edited it a final time. Submitted it. And waited.

And it got rejected.

Why? It was a form rejection, so I’m not sure. Truthfully, I’d be willing to bet the stories they kept leaned toward blood-fest, scary, or more “traditional” horror veins, rather than my normally quiet, chilling or unnerving style. Nothing wrong with that. It just didn’t work for them. It doesn’t mean I can’t write. Remember, a rejection isn’t a statement on you as a person—it just means that one story, at that one point in time, didn’t work. It doesn’t even necessarily mean the story sucked. And it certainly didn’t mean I should do either of the items above: respond or react.

But others out there were either never told, or they outright chose to ignore the golden rules. Suddenly there were people posting online, openly, angrily, about how they were going to make their own pizza anthology out of their rejected submissions from this one.

Re-read that. Slower.

Yeahhhhh… you read that right. And the editor responded beautifully—telling them to feel free to do so, as it will be the worst thing no one’s ever read. I laughed. Oh my god, did I laugh. I mean, I gasped at the balls and willingness to knowingly damage their own careers. But then I laughed, because wow. Then I went to KillerCon and hung out with said editor for a good chunk of the weekend. We laughed and laughed about all those souls having little hissy fits online.

Once more, for those in the back: the Internet is forever.

And what else? Do you remember? Yes, those you annoy with less-than-professional behavior will tell others, sharing your foibles with all their editing and publishing friends. As I write this, there are currently three different threads on my various social medias discussing someone who reacted poorly in public. Three. Today. And that’s just in my little corner.

This world we call a genre is a small little island of misfits. It’s not a family, though parts can feel like it. The circles can be tight, but most are welcoming. And at the end of the day, it’s far too small a community to think you can do anything remotely close to responding or reacting, and not have it become a scary lesson whispered to newbies—to frighten them as they’re tucked in at night.

Grace, people.

Find it. Hold it tight. Never let it go.

If you are rejected, look at why. If they sent a form letter, it may simply be that it didn’t fit the theme or feel or gore factor or whatever other thread there was connecting the accepted stories. If they were kind enough to tell you why and there’s a critique or suggestion, look at it, consider it heavily, and then adjust and/or edit as you need. Either way, with or without comments, your job at this point is not to say thank you, it’s not to whine on your social media, it’s to resubmit the story. Get it out the door. No rejected story should ever spend the night. They are not welcome company, but rather relatives who don’t know when to leave.

Except when they need to be grounded. This particular piece needed to stay home. Not because it was crap, but because it was very specific. Pizza. And I know what happens to the market after an overly specific anthology sends out their rejections—because once upon a time, many of us giggled and some gasped in horror, as every open submission call out there received rejected stories about “pirate cats from outer space.”

No, specific themes need to sit for a bit—maybe forever. Some can be reshaped into something more generic, some cannot. Either way, I had a pizza story and it got rejected. What did I do? I didn’t respond. And I didn’t react.

Dallas (Jack Ketchum) once told me the most important words ever when it comes to a rejection, “Move on. They have.” Wise wise words, from a wise wise man.

For those who need it, maybe put a post-it note on your screen, keyboard, wall, whatever—wherever you’ll see it and remember. You can write his words if you want. Or you can write “don’t respond, don’t react.” Or you could even write “be professional.” Or you can reduce it to just that one really important word. Say it with me… Grace.

 

Last Rites

The Occult Detective, Bob Freeman, asked me to play along and I gladly agreed.

He said, “The premise is simple. My guests face their final rest, but before Death claims them they are granted a few earthly pleasures, the memories of which will travel with them into the great unknown.”

Last rites, the last wishes… your last meal, last book, last movie, last song. And then the twist I didn’t see coming, the first ______ after the fact. Interesting…

Come check out my answers

 


 

Passages

butterfly-wordsWriters write. It’s what we do. Whether it’s a coherent tumbling of sentences that happen to fall into a pile of paragraphs and make sense, or it’s just a random thought bouncing along a breeze like a flitting butterfly—we write. We jot ideas onto postie-notes and the backs of envelopes. We scramble for our voice recorders and voice-to-text apps. We will stop talking in the middle of a sentence, eyes glazing over, as we wander off to some thread of the muse’s whim. We may or may not always come back from that last one, and we do apologize for the interruption. But it’s what we are and what we do.

And we have to react. We have to jot it down and get it out. Whether we’re exorcising it or just sharing (there is a difference, “Blood Type” blog coming), the snippets must go or we’ll go crazy. You can only have so many voices in your head before you snap—just ask Sybil.

The following is one of those moments. It has been sitting, untouched though often thought of, in the “Random Passages” folder for years. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it will ever be anything. But it’s there, like a lost child in an overcrowded department store. So for #throwbackthursday #tbt, I’ll toss out some ancient words originally scribbled on the back of a napkin…


CHILDREN OF THE GODS

The most dangerous things in the history of the world have been children playing with things they don’t understand. A child’s imagination was responsible for the original flood, as he pulled his hand through the mud and drowned the little pile of ants he had collected. A little girl’s whim toppled a mountain and destroyed a town when she wished fire would rain from the skies. And possibly most unknown, but with the most impact, was the little boy who made an entire civilization disappear with a handful of straw braids and his mother’s ink pots. By twisting magic together into one braid, and declaring what each was capable of, Carson destroyed Atlantis. And changed the future of the Earth, forever.


Thursday has become about sharing. Today I share with those who read my drivel, and nod to others who have the disease. But hey, you can all play along. Think outside the box for #tbt. Put the pictures away and share something else from the past. Here’s mine. What are your mental hallways harboring? Do you have ancient unheard words in your hard drive haunting you?

Something’s Missing

blacksquare2My dreams often feel like warped, twisted, versions of some sort of reality television show filmed by those who failed therapy, ignored their court-appointed rehab, and haven’t been to AA for so long they think it stands for And Another. My camera man is drunk and my special effects crew is on crack. I’ve said both of those things before. After the last week, I believe it wholeheartedly. Because now it seems the set director is on vacation and the intern doesn’t work fast enough.

But I can’t seem to figure out why, what it means, or even how fast Freud would just give up and lock me into a nice safe room with a snug jacket and fluffy walls.

For instance… See the image for today? How many times did you refresh thinking there was something wrong with it? Nope, there’s not. That’s actually just a plain black box of nothing. And the star of my dreams lately.

I don’t remember the dreams themselves most of the time, which is normal after the first cup of coffee, but I do remember the little black squares. I remember they’re not important or even really noticed during the dream, but afterward I could tell you where they appeared. Very strange. See, these black blocks are speckled throughout and simply provide a nothingness instead of details, in a freaky two-dimensional cut-out construction paper kinda way. For instance, I’ll be able to see everything in the room and talk or move around or do whatever it is I’m doing, but the black blocks will be where the detail isn’t finished. Like on top of an end table, instead of knickknacks, lamps or books. Or on a wall, in lieu of pictures. Or even on a menu, rather than actual choices.

It’s very bizarre and seems to be completely acceptable in the dream. Oh if only I could do the whole lucid dreaming thing and pause all the action while yelling at the design crew to finish up.

Of course, my dreams are still wonky, don’t get me wrong. Just this morning I woke from being out for a drink with the girls, in a restaurant located in an old western clothing store where they never took the clothes off the wall or removed the racks of boleros and cowboy boots. Nikki was pissed off because she was enjoying a cigar in the wrong part of the restaurant, and her boss told her she had to put it out and go stash it in her office—for whatever reason I decided to bring it there for her and set it in a dish on her desk, only to have the maid service ask me if they should dump it or keep it. Drew was in the bathroom milking lab mice and using it for some explosive experiment to get his students to pay attention. And of course, the sewage accident that shot dirty water out a port on the wall—the water retaining the shape of the pipe and chasing people around ala the water worm from The Abyss. Yup, perfectly normal dream for me… except the black squares in the bar at the restaurant, on the fishtank, obscuring portions of the bathroom lab, hiding the other items on the desk, and filling in for the faces, clothes or hands of the people at the next table.

Yeah… welcome to my dreamworld, here’s a black square—just put it anywhere.

 

Paper Dolls

paperdollToo much death lately.

First it was my nana. Nana was tough. Is still tough some days. Then we lost a women I once called Ma who’s son I never married but who’s grandchildren I used to plan in swirling hearts on school notebooks—I still don’t know what to call her twenty-five years after her son and I broke up. (What the hell do you call the mother of your first love, whose house you basically lived in for several years? I haven’t even seen her since we unexpectedly buried one of the gang fifteen years ago.) And now…now my aunt Jean.

They come in threes. I can be done now, right?

I told you about Nana. I started a blog about Ma B, but I can’t figure out what to feel, let alone say. My aunt, though? Shock. Tears… followed by the numbness of denial, then on to anger, and back to tears, all happened in the span of the phone call from my mother Saturday. I spent the rest of the day just trying to absorb the reality, bombarded with memories.

As I sit here, in the stillness of insomnia’s hours, I am realizing now how lucky I was to spend as much time with family as I did when I was growing up. I had sleepovers with Aunt Jean much like I did Nana. And the strongest memories of her and Uncle Jim are from those times, not just the visits. While there are many memories, there’s one that seems to jump up and yell for attention, repeatedly haunting me throughout the weekend. The paper dolls.

See, my aunt gave my sister and I paper dolls to play with. For those who don’t remember or just don’t know, these are thin cardboard cut-out figures in underwear with tabbed clothes you hang on the body (see picture). My first attempt to over-analyze why this memory seemed so needy was the innocence of it. We used to actually play with paper. No cell phones, iPads, Xbox or internet. Paper. There’s something about generational innocence there that seems to want to be said, but doesn’t really need to be, because everyone knows it, gets it, sees it. It just is. Times change, entertainment changes, blah blah change. So I let that analysis fade away and went back to the memory itself.

My aunt didn’t just hand them to us and walk away. They weren’t something to occupy us. They were something to do with us, to broaden our imagination, and explore our artistic side. She gave us the dolls and clothes, but then she pulled out paper, and colored pencils (I remember her having to sharpen those over and over with a knife—ah the old days), and sat with us. She showed us how to make our own tabbed wardrobes. We spent hours doing this, on many sleepovers, for several years. I remember thinking how artistic we were for getting to use the colored pencils instead of crayons. I remember tracing the dolls and designing—from clothes to shoes to even the hair, we could dress them up fancy or down to earth, give them blond hair or brunette, hanging down, in a pony or under a hat. We could change their appearance, and with it, the two dimensional illusion of personality, wants, desires, hobbies and habits.

And that’s where the little analyst in my head jumped on board and latched on.

Paper dolls were an introduction to the various masks we would wear throughout our life. We were just learning to put them on something else first, before testing the waters with our own naked selves. As we grow and evolve, our fashion changes, our outward appearance changes, our public attitude and persona change. What we show the world is nothing more than a tabbed piece of paper, lovingly cut out of our imagination and hung precariously from our shoulders. Some outfits we keep until they yellow with age or get torn or lost in the mix of things. Others we try out and shed as quickly as a new divorcee plays dress-up to find herself in the lost pieces of wardrobe. But they’re all just that, outward appearance. The paper doll underneath remains naked, fragile, vulnerable to the elements of time.

I’m going to miss my aunt horribly. For so many reasons. She was the record keeper for our lineage (the last blood gypsy of her generation), the maker of paper dolls and sharpener of colored pencils, and a champion of the arts (she was a rosemaling master, and her eldest an artist). And as is with all who pass on, I will cherish the memories, and take from them the lessons they offer…

Which, in this case, means I need to make new outfits for my paper doll self. I need a knife to sharpen the colored pencils, and with that, maybe a band-aid.

 

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