Monthly Archives: October 2014

Reflections on Reviews

Two stars. Most writers look forward to their first reviews with a mix of excitement and dread. Will they be glowing? Scathing? Seasoned authors caution never to read reviews of one’s own work — even the good ones. But how many people can really resist that temptation?

As a writer, I understand the desire for good reviews, and how devastating the bad ones can be. I understand the frustration of reading a one- or two-star review by someone who clearly hasn’t even read the book. I understand that there are some reviewers out there who are mean-spirited, who will say terrible things about wonderful books.

But.

I think there is still a place for negative reviews. Not the kind that insult the author, but the kind that offer constructive feedback and start conversations that we need to be having. A blogger on Teen Librarian Toolbox addressed this more eloquently than I could ever hope to, so I’ll let you read her thoughts on it first.

Now for my own two cents. If a book glosses over a subject like rape or abuse, or if it fails to address these topics when they occur, I think reviewers can and should point this out. Especially if these books are written for teens, who may see those characters as role models. When characters don’t really consent to something, or when there’s confusion over whether consent is given, we need to address this. Following Teen Librarian Toolbox’s #SVYALit Project (whose tagline is “using young adult literature to talk with teens about violence and consent”) has made me more aware of how these topics are presented in the books I read. I don’t think getting something wrong makes a book terrible — in fact, I’ve read and enjoyed some of the books mentioned in the TLT post — but I think it’s important to be aware of that and able to talk about it with teen (and adult) readers.

The same thing goes for reviews about books with diverse characters. If a reviewer doesn’t like the way a minority is represented, I think he has a right to *respectfully* point this out. I don’t mean he has a right to attack the author or the book (I’m all for free speech, but I’m also a big fan of respect and common decency); but if the review mentions why the reader didn’t connect with the characters or the book, I see nothing wrong with that. Not every book is right for every reader.

And if writers only get good reviews, how will they know they mis-represented Hindu culture or depicted a less-than-healthy sexual relationship in a positive light? It’s easy for us to miss our own mistakes — that’s why critique partners are so wonderful. When our books are out there in the real world, they are affecting real people. We write to tell stories, and start conversations. Some of those conversations may be difficult to have, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them.

Again, I’m not championing Goodreads bullies or mean-spirited reviewers. But I do think people can — and should — say when something about a book upsets or doesn’t resonate with them. A negative review doesn’t mean I won’t read a book; sometimes I’ll read the reviewer’s thoughts and recognize that the things she didn’t like are exactly what I’m looking for in a story.

So, yes, those one- and two-star reviews hurt. But if we eliminated all negative reviews, we’d eliminate the chance for readers and writers to have some important and thought-provoking conversations.

What are your thoughts on negative reviews?

NaNoWriMo from the sidelines

Come Write In! Last year, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo mainly because I wanted to connect with other writers and try my hand at writing 50,000 words in one month. While I enjoyed and definitely learned from the experience, I ultimately decided NaNoWriMo isn’t right for my writing habits. I typically draft at a fast pace, but I write all my first drafts longhand, which makes counting words a lot trickier. I found myself focusing too much on finishing a scene so I could transcribe it and add it to my word count and not enough on the writing itself and the (for me, vital) process of editing as I typed up my first draft.

But I love encouraging fellow writers, and NaNoWriMo gives me the perfect chance to do that as people around the globe all work toward the same goal. This year, my library will be an official Come Write In location, and I’ll be using our social media pages to encourage and advise my community’s writers. I’ll also have a display with useful books and handouts, and a program halfway through the month to give those who are stuck a bit of a boost. If it goes well, we may host more events next year.

And as a writer, I still plan to be a part of the NaNo community this year, but I’ll be doing so from the sidelines. Rather than count my own words, I’m going to cheer on others who are counting theirs, offering prompts and advice on Twitter using the hashtag #nanopepsquad. I’ll still be writing every day, but I’ll be measuring my own success in a way that works better for me. And hopefully I’ll be able to help fellow writers as they work their way to 50k. Because whether we NaNo or not, we’re all in this together.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? If not, want to join me on the sidelines?

Time management for multiple projects

Clock and schedule. I firmly believe the advice that one of the best things a writer can do for her career while querying or on submission is to write another book. I’ve thrown myself wholeheartedly into a new novel while I wait to hear back from agents I’ve queried. The downside to this is that I’m not devoting much time to my polished, complete novel right now.

I’ve been sending out queries in small batches, so that I can respond to any feedback I receive and improve my chances of getting requests for pages in the next round. But lately I’m so focused on my new project that I’ve neglected to send many queries. I tell myself I’m still waiting to hear back from some agents, but some of them say “no response means no,” and if I’m being honest, I’ve just been too caught up in writing new things to get excited about queries. But I need to get excited about queries. No one will read my books if they’re never published, and they won’t be published if I don’t send out queries. (Yes, I know I could self-publish, but the reasons why that’s not the right choice for me is a topic for another post.)

So if, like me, you’re easily drawn in by the next shiny project, how do you make sure you give other projects the time they deserve? I’m making a conscious effort to carve out time to devote to queries and contests. When I’m drafting, I like to sit and write in long stretches, and I don’t want to interrupt that time with queries. Instead, I’ve decided to work on queries before I start those stretches, and use drafting as a reward for getting through the business side of writing.

Another good time to query is during get-togethers with other writers. I’m fortunate to belong to a group that meets bi-weekly at a local coffee shop. After updates on each other’s work, we usually sit around and write for at least an hour. I have a hard time writing in coffee shops — too many distractions — so this is a perfect opportunity for me to send out already-written queries, research new agents to query, and check all of the writing-related blogs I follow. The other writers will hold me accountable, and I won’t feel frustrated by unproductive (or under-productive) writing time during our gatherings.

What about you? How do you balance querying one project and working on another?

Where do you get your book recommendations?

This post is inspired by my recent impromptu decision to pick up a book that sounded exactly like the kind I would hate (maybe even mock) because I needed a new eBook, it happened to be available to check out without a waiting list, and a colleague whose recommendations I trust gushed about the series. And wow, am I loving it. The premise and the cover completely turned me off (I know we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but come on, we all do it), but I’m so glad I decided to give the book a chance. Thank you, fellow librarian!Smile.

One of my favorite parts of being a librarian is reader’s advisory, or talking with a reader about books she liked and recommending similar titles or authors. I’d like to think everyone gets their favorite recommendations from their librarians, but I know that’s not always the case.

The most common source I’ve heard others cite for recommendations is friends and family members. That’s probably true for me, too, though my go-to people to ask for suggestions of what to read next are my co-workers (friends and librarians). After that, people often turn to online sources, either because they don’t want to talk to a librarian or they don’t have the time to go to the library. (Though we’ll do reader’s advisory via an email form, chat, or by phone at my library.) I’ll admit to using these other sources sometimes, too. If you have a Goodreads account, you can see recommendations for books you might like based on the books on your “read” and “to-read” shelves. Usually these are books I’ve already got on my radar, but the more suggestions I see for a certain title, the more that title will stick with me. Amazon (which also owns Goodreads) has a similar “frequently bought together” feature if you search for a certain book, though I find this to be the least helpful recommendation source. It’s particularly frustrating if you’re looking at a book that was made into a movie, because then Amazon will just recommend a bunch of other books that were also made into movies, with little (if any) filter as far as genre, writing style, pacing, etc.

A fun tool I use that I think doesn’t get the recognition it deserves is NoveList Plus. This is a database that my library (and I think most public libraries) subscribes to that allows you to search for genre keywords; title, author, and series read-alikes; themes; target audience; and more. They recently added a feature for audiobooks so you can search for recommendations based on narrator preferences and even the length of the book. I use this a lot to tackle reader’s advisory questions when the patron asks about an author or genre I don’t read a lot of.

I’m curious, though, where do you get your recommendations? Do you have certain go-to people or websites?