Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Guest Post: Donna Migliaccio on WRITER, KNOW THYSELF

If you've been around the comments section here, you may have seen the lovely Donna Migliaccio commenting. Maybe you've seen her on the various writing forums she participates in, from Absolute Write to NaNoWriMo. Or maybe you've seen her on Broadway, because Donna makes art and talent into an art form. Or maybe you haven't have to opportunity to see her at all, in which case buckle up, because today we have a guest post from the most multitalented writer I know. Please give Donna a warm welcome!


There’s a game that writers play on occasion that I’ve never been able to work up any enthusiasm for, and that’s the “Cast the Movie of Your Book” game. The game bugs me for two reasons: 1) I’m superstitious and it feels like a jinx, and 2) I don’t strongly identify any of my characters with any actual person, living or dead.

And I don’t want readers of The Gemeta Stone series to be force-fed any particular “look” for the characters, either, especially the photo-shopped models that appear (often simply as bare torsos) on so many book covers. I want my readers to have the experience of reading the characters’ descriptions and imagining those characters for themselves.

That said, there are certainly elements of family and friends that I’ve incorporated – sometimes deliberately, sometimes unwittingly – in my characters. (A fair number of them have physical characteristics in common with certain of my nieces and nephews, along with similar names.) I think it’s also safe to say that most of my characters have quirks that resemble my own, or traits I wish I had.

For example, my main character, Kristan Gemeta, values kindness above all and has tried his whole life to do what is right. It’s a theme that has always fascinated me, which may be why I find the endings of Babe and Sense & Sensibility to be so moving and satisfying. Both Babe the Pig and Elinor Dashwood struggle to do what’s right, even though “what’s right” may not be easy and actually stands in the way of their own happiness. Kristan’s innate decency is what I like best about him. His female counterpart, Heather Demitt, has a brave, impulsive nature that I envy, and it’s the thing I like best about her. Even my bad guy Daazna has a trait I admire: a ferocious desire to learn and to master new skills.

If I was to pick one character from the series who is most like me, it would probably be Ariphele, Daazna’s mother. She’s a middle-aged magic user of limited skill, a little on the lazy side, but very observant. She’s also sarcastic and has no qualms about goading her son, sometimes to incite him to greater achievements but more often just for the sheer pleasure of getting under his skin. Ariphele not only serves as a stimulus for Daazna, but she also humanizes him. She allows the reader to see him, not simply as the “bad guy” (although he can be very, very bad) but as someone with frustrations, doubts and desires just like the more heroic characters.

And that’s my main job as a writer: to create characters that are not just stock “good guys” and “bad guys,” but who are as fully-fleshed, as contradictory and as intriguing as the people who inhabit our real lives.

Fiskur by Donna Migliaccio
November 7, 2017
The Gemeta Stone Book 2
Fiery Seas Publishing, LLC

With his family's talisman in his possession, Kristan Gemeta is ready to face the Wichelord Daazna – but he has no inkling of the scope of Daazna's power, nor the depths of his hatred.

With the recovery of his family's protective talisman, Kristan Gemeta has found hope, courage – and perhaps even the first stirrings of love. With the aid of Heather Demitt, her band of rebels, a shipload of Northern brigands and the legendary Kentavron, he readies himself to face the Wichelord Daazna. But neither he nor his comrades realize the strength of Daazna's power and hatred. The Wichelord's first blow comes from a direction Kristan least expects, with horrific, lasting consequences.

Buy Links:

 Amazon  ~  Barnes & Noble  ~  Kobo  ~  iBooks

About the Author:

Donna Migliaccio is a professional stage actress with credits that include Broadway, National Tours and prominent regional theatres. She is based in the Washington, DC Metro area, where she co-founded Tony award-winning Signature Theatre and is in demand as an entertainer, teacher and public speaker. Her award-winning short story, "Yaa & The Coffins," was featured in Thinkerbeat's 2015 anthology The Art of Losing.

Social Media:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dear New Novelist: How to be a Better Beta Writer

This is, unfortunately, a topic that many eager new writers need to be sat down and told. Settle in, newbies, cause this is a long one.

Just to get some definitions out there before we start:

Beta reader - A person who has agreed to read and give detailed commentary on a draft that is as clean as the writer can get it. Often solo.

Alpha reader - A person who has agreed to read and give detailed commentary on a rough draft. Often solo.

Critic/critter - A person who volunteers their time to comment, as detailed or vague as they like, on an excerpt. Often a member of a group.

Dear New Novelist, a good beta reader and trove of critics is something to treasure. They're people you can trust to be honest with you about what needs fixing in your novel, people who are willing to dedicate their time to helping you improve it. A good critter can become a good beta. A good beta can become a good friend. The thing is, a beta reader is a business relationship. A good one will not be gentle. They will be honest, and honest can hurt. And just as they can hurt you, you can hurt them. The thing is, you asked for the pain. They didn't, and if you keep it up, you risk losing their good will, their experience, and worst, their friendship.

So, how do you avoid this?

1. Don't send more than one draft without prior agreement

This one's more for beta readers than critics and critique groups. Critique groups have an understanding that you bring what you bring and you crit what there is to crit. Beta readers, though, are different than a critique group and shouldn't be treated like one.

When people volunteer to be your beta readers, unless discussed otherwise in advance, they're only expecting to do one draft. Even if you're best friends, there is no assumed "I will beta every version" or "I'll read the next draft." There's not even an "I'll reread chapter 1." It is "I will read and help with this draft." Once they've done that, the metaphorical beta contract is done. If you want them to have another go, you have to ask first. If you don't ask...

Let's flip places. You're going about your day. You have work to do for, well, life. Your job, homework, cleaning the house, whatever. You know what's on your to-do list and you know what to expect coming down the line: an essay for English class, that project your boss talked about, the kitchen needs a good scrub and laundry needs attention, you have edits for your own novel, and you finally received that novel you offered to beta to Writer B. You finished Writer A's beta last week and are glad to have it off your ever-growing plate. You got the wonderful feeling from marking something off your to-do list. And then your email chimes. It's from Writer A.

Thanks for your help! it says. Here's the next draft!

This was not on your plate. You DID this already. You put your work in, whether it was hours or minutes, and it was done. But now, Writer A has dropped it back on top of your plate without asking if you would take it. They just assumed you would. Maybe they say what they want from you in more detail late in the email ("Can you get it back to me within a month?") or maybe there's nothing more, no explanation of what they expect from you. Whatever the case, you suddenly have more work that you never agreed to on top of everything else you did. That thing you felt so good getting off your plate is back on it. How do you feel?



Taken advantage of?

Yeah, probably all of those. They're not asking if you'll volunteer your time; they're expecting it, and putting it on your shoulders to either accept it and do it or say "no" and come off like a jerk. You know they don't mean to be rude. They're just eager. They trust you. But all the same, they've done it, and there's no taking it back now.

For this reason, some beta readers outright say, "I will only do one draft," but that's not everybody. Some of us enjoy seeing stories progress and improve with our input. The ONLY thing you have to do first is say one little sentence before dropping the manuscript in our inbox.

Would you mind taking another look? 

A please helps too. Just show us that you remember your beta has limited disposable time, just like you. Asking first is just a sign of respect.

2. Don't send rough drafts

Let's trade places again, now as a critter. Someone posted a chapter on a forum that's attracted your attention. It has a good title and it's your favorite genre. Let's give it a look.

First paragraph: they used their instead of they're. As you go, there are too many commas, the dialogue tags are off, a lot of saidisms, a few more homophones, a character changes names halfway through, and there's a plothole at the end of the excerpt.

Okay, you go ahead and point out all the issues. It takes you time to write it all up. Fifteen minutes to half an hour for one excerpt's line-by-line.

You go back a little later to see a response from the author.

"Yeah, I knew about the homophones and the grammar. I didn't read it over yet so thanks for catching the name change, and thank you pointing out the plot hole!"

They posted it without looking it over themselves, without trying to find basic issues. They gave you a rough draft that they couldn't even read first because they were so eager for feedback. And what does that mean?

It means you just wasted your time telling them things they already knew and could have fixed themselves.

It means that deeper problems with the manuscript were missed because your focus was on the obvious ones that should have been fixed already.

You wasted your time, and the author didn't get as good feedback as they could have because they didn't fix the problems they were capable of fixing.

Now imagine if it had been the entire manuscript and a beta reader.

"Well, they're just an alpha reader then, right?" Except being an alpha reader, like betaing more than one draft, is something that needs to be agreed upon beforehand. Unless stated otherwise, the expectation is that the reader is going to be a beta, reading something you've done your best on. That's hours and hours of work telling the author to fix things they already know how to fix. When a beta reader receives a manuscript, the unspoken expectation is, "This is as good as the author is capable of doing on their own and now they need the beta reader's help." As the author, you're doing yourself a disservice by not sending your best, making a bad impression regarding your own abilities, and you're doing your beta reader a disservice by making them spend those hours fixing basic problems. If you're using beta readers, you need to have cleaned every issue you can find yourself. Then and only then should it be up to the beta to help you the rest of the way. Otherwise, arrange for an alpha.

3. Don't make too many changes too fast

As a beta writer, it is not your job to make the changes your betas and critters tell you to.

"But Maxwell, isn't that what we're supposed to do?"

Nah. Even when you get a publishing deal and an editor tears into your novel, it's not your job to make all the changes they say. Your job, beta writer, is to assess the RECOMMENDED changes, understand WHY the changes are recommended, decide which to apply and which to ignore, and apply changes as needed. Not every beta is a good match for your work. Everyone who's been betaed or edited has received comments that don't work for their image of their novel.

"You need to make your MC a man. Women don't act like that," someone will say of your MC who acts very much like your female best friend.

"No one knows what a five-and-dime is. Change it," someone will say of your 40s historical.

"You'll never sell this with a POC MC," is a sadly common complaint from editors, evidently.

All of those comments? They are not good comments. Your 1940s black woman does not need to be a 2017 white man, and you do not need to change her because a few people said so, no matter how much you trust them. If you just take every comment at face value and rush through, you're going to make changes your manuscript doesn't need.

You're also going to miss making the changes it does need because you're rushing. Say someone recommends you remove a week where nothing happens. It's a good idea. You apply it. But do you realize that the part you cut will affect the timeline after? You need to go through and remove references to "last week," changing them to "yesterday." If all you do is make the changes the beta tells you to, you won't catch these sort of things. You need to take time after a beta comes back to think about the beta's comments, apply them, and reread the entire thing, making sure the changes flow smoothly and are applied through the entire manuscript.

How does this apply to beta readers? Well, beta fatigue is a thing. The reason you as a writer need a beta reader is because you get too close to your story. It gets hard to find the problems because something you may not have explained to the reader is obvious to you the writer. The stuff in your head doesn't always make its way to the page. If your beta reader has agreed to look at multiple drafts and you send them two or three in a week's time, they're going to get worn on your story and start to become too familiar to see the problems.

A common issue we see in the critique section of Absolute Write, especially for query letters, is people popping up edits after an hour or two and only one or two critiques, to the tune of three to four versions in 24 hours. Usually, these don't actually fix the issues because the writer isn't taking the time to slow down and consider what's actually being explained by the critters. The same core issues will be in the query or excerpt from draft to draft, just with slightly different words. This isn't a race and you're not on a time limit (well, unless you have a deadline that you've put off until the last minute. Don't do that.) Slow down, absorb what betas and critters have to tell you, and don't overload them with drafts until you're certain you've fixed the real problems.

And finally, this one may feel obvious, but you'd be surprised how many beta readers have reported encountering this:

4. Don't be ungrateful.

So many beta readers and critters have the same story. "I did all the work, gave so much advice, and they never even said thank you." Yes, as a beta writer, your beta reader has probably hurt you, but like I said earlier, that's something to be expected when you ask for a beta. You've put a full-time job's worth of effort into your novel, a final exam's worth into your query or synopsis, and now people are telling you, "Not good enough yet. Fix it." Ouch. But you know it was coming. You know it needed work. You don't get beta readers or critics expecting them to tell you, "This is perfect." Or you shouldn't. That's not their job. If that's what you want, tell them at the start and save everyone involved the time.

It doesn't matter if they've put in five minutes or five weeks of work. It doesn't matter if they've read a page or a thousand pages. It doesn't matter if every single word of the commentary is golden or useless. You say, "Thank you so much." It's okay to wait a few days while the sting goes down. It's okay to do it immediately, before even opening the file. It's okay to do it in private for every individual critter or publicly as a group. Just say it. Because I guarantee, if you don't, that person will never read for you again, and they'll make sure all their beta friends know not to help you either. This is the fastest, easiest way to sever a beta relationship... well, next to complaining about their comments online. If they go to your blog or a thread and find you shittalking their hard work behind their back, no matter how bad or good it really was, well, that's over and done. If you have to complain to someone, do it in text messages or a private chat or even face-to-face. If you go public with it, just know that if they find it, whatever relationship you had with them is over. The only thing your beta should see from you is gratitude, even if you don't feel it.


These are the stories that every beta reader and critic has. These are the stories that set their boundaries and wear them down. These are the war stories they tell their friends who are in the beta trenches with them. I have them. All my beta friends have them. All my own betas probably have them. Don't become someone else's war story. Be a good beta writer.

And readers, if you have any of your own beta war stories, feel free to share them in the comments!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dear New Novelist: Do Your Research

It's a big publishing world out there. When you have your finished novel edited and ready to go, the question becomes "What do I do with it?" We live in an age where the options are more and more every week. You could self publish, and you'll have a dozen choices for platforms and formats: Amazon-exclusive, wide-net (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc), ebook only, Print-on-Demand (POD), both? You could submit to one of hundreds of small indie publishers who have open submissions. Or you could aim high for one of the big publishers who can get you into physical bookstores, but then you usually have to start with an agent, and there are hundreds more to choose from there.

It's a daunting, overwhelming selection no matter which path you take, and that's why today's lesson is important.

Dear new novelist,


It's a big publishing world out there, and in any big world, you're going to find people taking advantage of the newbies. Anyone can hang out an agent or publisher sign and tell a newcomer anything they want, and without doing research, who's to tell them otherwise? It can be so exciting to get that first "yes" that you'll miss or ignore all the red flags, and the worst scammers will tell you "this is how it is." Vanity publishers, places that take your money to print your book for upwards of ten thousand dollars, will tell you that paying to publish is totally normal (it's not. There's a writing law about it.) Lazy publishers will tell you, "Even the Big Five expect you to do all your own advertising and marketing" (they don't.) Scam agents will tell you that you need to have your book edited first (probably true), and they know this editor who will edit your book to perfection for a few thousand from your own pocket (probably their spouse,sibling, or shady business partner. Expect your money to be pocketed and your book never sold.) Even honest publishers with good intentions but little experience can fail, taking your novel and your money to bankruptcy with them.

What I'm trying to say is, not all agents, publishers, and publishing options are equal, even on the same level. Some small presses are more stable than others. Some larger companies can have issues behind the scenes that are leading then on a quick ride to closure. Even some vanity presses are more legitimate and better values (because there are cases where vanity publishing is acceptable or beneficial, often things like coffee table books with lots of pictures or books by public speakers who sell at their speaking engagements). The only way to learn all this is to do your research: before, during, and after.

Before submitting anywhere, look them up. The Absolute Write Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check forum has hundreds of publishers and agents, along with peoples' input on them based on personal experience or website evaluation. Sometimes the company or agent being evaluated will give their own input, which can also be eye-opening to their public behavior (and door-closing if they're behaving badly.) The Writer Beware blog (supported by the SFWA) also keeps up with the publishing world and reports on trouble brewing. Other things to look up at this stage:
  • How publishing works on all levels, from start to finish
  • What agents and publishers do for you to earn their share of the cover price, and how much their share typically is
  • The pros and cons of a big publisher, a small publisher, a new publisher, an old publisher, an old agent, a new agent, and self-publishing. 
  • The difference between net and gross in contracts and how not knowing this can screw you over
  • The difference between being able to order a book in bookstores and finding it on the shelves
  • The difference between an agent and a contract lawyer or literary attorney
  • The difference between a new publisher/agent with previous publishing/agenting experience and a new publisher/agent with no previous experience or only experience being published
  • The difference between Print-on-Demand and print runs 
  • The red flags to look for while vetting agents and publishers
  • Anything and everything that anyone tells you is normal or typical in the publishing business
During submission, it's easy to miss some of those aforementioned red flags and submit to someone who may not be as on the up-and-up as they seemed. When you get that "we'd like to publish you" email or "I want to represent you" call, it's not too late to do some in-depth research. Dig around the internet, or at least Google "[Publisher] scam." If you find out that this isn't who you want, you can always say "no." You should also be allowed to reach out to the people who will be your fellows with the company or agent and ask some questions. Do so. You may find out some things going on behind the scenes that aren't public yet, like withheld payments, illness causing delays (a major issue with small, one-man companies), or just slow response rates. There have been people who've signed contracts with companies in the middle of collapsing who hadn't paid their writers in months just because that failing company said, "Yes". Don't let that happen to you.

After you've signed the contract, it's still good to keep an eye out for what's going on and act appropriately to preserve your stories and ask questions. Publishers going under can be quick, or a slow crawl, and if you don't act in a timely manner, you might lose any books with that publisher for years. Agents can get sick, retire, quit, or move agencies with little notice, and you want to know what will happen to you under those circumstances so you can plan accordingly.

Basically, the more you know, the safer you, your novel, and your wallet will be. And trust me, in this business, you want to be safe. How many potential shining stars have died out unnoticed because they went with a bad publisher? Answer: lots. Don't let yourself be one of them. Do your research. It's for your own good.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Good News, Everyone! The Dream Is Real

Good morning, dear readers, and a happy Monday to you! How was your weekend? Good, I hope. Relaxing. Fun. Full of adventure and happiness and good news.

Speaking of good news, I'm getting published.

That's pretty much been my life the past two days. The high is real, y'all. Call me the Wicked Witch because I am defying gravity, and nothing's gonna bring me down.

My short story "Like I Need a Hole in the Head" has been picked for the Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good anthology for release in early 2019. I am unbelievably honored and thrilled to be a part of this anthology, and I can't wait to be able to share more information as the table of contents and release dates come out.

My OTHER short story, "Tuna for Bast", is coming out in the STRAEON 2 anthology edited by my friend and critique group leader M. David Blake. Currently there is no set release date, but I can say I am sharing the anthology with several other great talents I've had the pleasure to hear on a regular basis at the group.

So, yeah, this is happening. This is my life now. Sometimes I kinda forget how to breathe when I think about it. The best thing, though, the greatest feeling ever, is the every-so-often pop-up thought of, "I'm good enough. I'm actually good enough." Y'all, it feels really, really good.

Now that I actually have things to announce, I've set up a mailing list for anyone who might be interested in keeping up with occasional updates as I get them and as they pertain to you getting access to what's coming from me. If that sounds good to you, then all you have to do is enter your email in the box on the upper right and click Subscribe. And of course, thank you to those of you who have already signed up. Whether you're signed up, not yet, or never will, I'm grateful to all of you readers for sticking with me and giving me the encouragement to keep trying. I hope this is just the first of many announcements to come, and I hope you'll all come along with me for the ride. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

What Are You Afraid Of?

When I came up with the concept for this post, I started up a list of fears, went to see if I could find more, and discovered that someone has done years more work than me, and there are many more fears than I initially imagined. I mean, I know some of them. Trypophobia, for example, the fear of clusters, which, by the way, if you HAVE it, don't Google it.

"Hey, guys, what kind of pictures should show up in Google Images for people who have a fear of clusters?'

"How about a bunch of clusters?"


Anyway, if you're looking for a fear for your character, take a look at The Phobia List, which is exactly as described on the tin. While it actually doesn't have trypophobia on it for some reason, it does have things like:

- Alliumphobia - Fear of garlic.
- Chronomentrophobia - Fear of clocks.
- Euphobia - Fear of hearing good news.
- Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia - Fear of long words. Yes, the person who named it is an asshole.
- Omphalophobia - Fear of belly buttons.
- Soceraphobia- Fear of parents-in-law.
- Zemmiphobia - Fear of the great mole rat

But those are, at their core, "common" fears, fears that have been written about and named in reference books. It doesn't quite look at irrational fears. Those can get very specific. For example, aichmophobia is the fear of needles or pointed objects, including knives. For a time, on top of a fear of needles, I was outright terrified of being accidentally impaled by someone using a knife in the kitchen. Absolutely irrational, but I spent the better part of a decade excusing myself whenever someone else was cutting anything because I could just SEE the knife slipping out of their hand and flying at my skull like a ninja star.

So, since general fears have been done well beyond my means, let's have some fun with irrational ones, or ones that aren't on the list.

Irrational Fears
Fear of a children's TV show
Fear of a specific song
Fear of accidental impalement
Fear of being late or early
Fear of being murdered in a hotel room
Fear of being stalked by internet trolls
Fear of celebrities
Fear of chihuahuas (or any other small dog breed)
Fear of closed cupboards
Fear of clowns in unlikely places
Fear of conspiracy theories
Fear of cracked doors
Fear of crossing train tracks or standing on platforms
Fear of desserts
Fear of emergency or construction vehicles
Fear of escaped zoo animals
Fear of falling in public
Fear of finding unnatural things in food
Fear of flickering lightbulbs
Fear of getting kicked in the face
Fear of getting locked out
Fear of getting lost in a big city
Fear of hotel rooms or any room that's not their own
Fear of knitting needles
Fear of knowing other peoples' secrets
Fear of manual labor
Fear of mythical creatures
Fear of ocean debris (seashells, seaweed or flotsam)
Fear of open windows
Fear of other people being paranoid
Fear of oversized bags (purses, trash, etc)
Fear of rain puddles
Fear of rainbows
Fear of reflected light spots
Fear of shaved or hairless cats
Fear of the internet
Fear of the naked mole rat
Fear of uneven terrian
Fear of unpaved roads
Fear that everyone is talking about you behind your back

Thanks to my dear friend Kat for coming up with several of the ideas on this list. Check her out on Twitter: @_Almost_

So, dear readers, tell me, what are YOU afraid of?

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Rubber Duck Method of Plot Fixing

Have you ever heard of the Rubber Duck Method of Coding?

There are offices where computer programmers, on their first day, are given, among other supplies, a rubber duck. It is to sit on their desk until its needed.

In the words of Arthur Weasley, "What exactly is the function of a rubber duck?" Why would programmers keep a bath toy on their desk, and why would they ever need it?

Let me ask a different question: How often have you gotten stuck on a problem and been unable to progress because you just can't figure it out?

Feeling stuck? Talk to the duck.

What? Maxwell, have you gone mental? No, I'm quite sane, as are the many computer programmers with rubber ducks on their desks. Because when you run into a problem, you can spend hours, days, weeks running it around in your head and get nowhere. Come on, writers, hands up if you have. If there were an audience here, I'd probably be seeing every hand up.

Now think about this: of all those problems, how many times have you solved it ten seconds after you started talking to someone about it?


And I'm willing to bet, many times, the other person in the conversation didn't even need to say anything. You could have practically replaced them with... a rubber duck.

Some programmers have used this technique to solve coding issues for years: talk to the duck, explain what you're trying to do, and you'll figure out your logic error. In extreme cases, they'll bring in other programmers and THEIR ducks until three, four, five people and their ducks solve the problem.

In the same vein, tell a duck your plothole, and maybe, while explaining why it doesn't work, you'll figure out what can fix it. Or, if you feel silly talking to yourself aloud, you can type it out like you're chatting with the duck. Compose an email to the duck on why your main character is being frustrating and dismissive with the love interest (epiphany: she's actually in love with her best friend) or how this secret door's mechanic is stupid and doesn't make sense (realization: Why not use a remote control instead of the classic 'pull a book' method?) If you've got writing buddies, they make fantastic ducks, because they understand, and they've brought their duck, too. I have never once encountered a plot hole that couldn't be fixed by talking to the duck. Sometimes the ducks are named Kat and Bobo, and they've got a duck named Maggie. But whatever the name and whatever the technique, it works. It always works.

And that, Mr. Weasley, is the function of a rubber duck.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dear New Novelist: About That Bad Review...

It's a difficult pill to swallow, but when you're done with your short story, your novel, your poem, anything, and you get it out in front of the world, not everyone is going to love it. Go take a look at your favorite book on Amazon or Goodreads. It's got 2 and 1-star reviews. My own husband can't stand Harry Potter (I married a hater? I know, right? But he introduced me to Terry Pratchett, so I can get past it.) There is no single book or story that's universally loved, and there never will be. Some people won't like the genre, others will hate the writing style or plot, and some will just be around to troll because they think it's fun to rile up fans. Inevitably, when you put your hard work out for public consumption, the day will come where you'll get... a bad review.

It's going to stab you in the heart, and how that makes you feel depends on you.

Maybe you'll feel like a failure, even if you have a hundred other reviews that are 4 and 5 stars. You'll pour yourself a glass of liquid comfort (wine, hot chocolate, one of those huge-ass milkshakes that's got a whole slice of cake on it), have a cry, and enjoy a good pity party.

Maybe you'll get mad. How dare they? Haven't they ever heard "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?" How could they have never watched Bambi?

Or maybe you'll laugh it off, shrug, and go about your day. But no matter what you do, the words will still be there, circling around in your head, popping up unbidden like a Jack-in-the-Box and slowly eating away at you. 

You'll go back and read it again, and you'll notice something. Maybe they misunderstood what you meant in a scene they say they hated. Maybe they're talking about something that never happened, like they reviewed the wrong book. Maybe they're mad they bought the wrong book entirely. Whatever the reason, you'll read it through, and then, when you're done, your eyes will linger on the little option below it.


Brake brake BRAKE. Slam those pedals to the ground and pray to God you're not hitting the accelerator, because this is where you need to STOP

It's time to talk about the Author's Big Mistake. That is, replying to comments. 

How are you supposed to handle bad reviews? Well, you've got three options:

1) Ignore it. After all, a handful of bad reviews don't cancel out the good ones. One person saying, "I didn't like it" is one person's opinion. Eventually, it'll be just one review among many, and if it's factually wrong or trolling, it'll probably be downvoted by other reviewers.

2) Kill them with politeness. "Thank you for commenting! I appreciate your honesty and will take your thoughts into consideration in the future." It at least makes you look like the bigger person, but it also opens you to conversation with them, which can lead to #3.

3) Try to argue your perspective. Or just argue. After all, writing is your business. Bad reviews will cost you sales, right? Probably. So it only makes sense to respond and tell them "No, see, here's where you're wrong. Please correct your review." Right?

Note: I'm being sarcastic. Have you ever seen what happens when a business responds to a bad review with negativity? It ain't pretty. And this applies to authors too. When a person leaves a bad review, if the recipient ignores it, then its just one review among reviews. Some people will read a bad review and not buy it. Others will read the same review and be convinced they need to try it themselves. In the end, it'll probably balance out.

But when the recipient responds with criticism of the reviewer, it gets out. The reviewer mentions it on their blog or posts about it on Facebook or on a forum, and then it's like a high school fight: everyone's gotta see it and get in. Then the reviewed has to defend themselves from the flood of negativity and voices going "Dude, stop" because they're wrong too, right? You have to save your business! Everyone has to see that you're not the bad guy! And then you're too far gone.

Even if you manage to avoid the flood of negative PR from responding defensively, you've still put evidence out there that you have thin skin, or that if someone doesn't like your work, they'll get spoken down to or yelled at. Your own bad behavior will cost you more sales, reads, or reviews than any negative review ever could.

So stop and look at that reply button. Sip your wine, tea, hot chocolate, or crazy-ass milkshake. If you absolutely must write a response, write it in a separate document, not the reply box. And then, when you're done, delete it.

Because no bad review could ever do as much damage to your career as you can do yourself with a reply.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Dear New Novelist: The Paycheck Isn't Always Worth It

Dear New Novelist,

Getting paid to write sounds amazing, doesn't it? That's a lot of our goals. Whether it's enough to live and work full-time as a writer or just enough to buy a pizza and maybe a celebratory milkshake, the fact is that we want to get paid to do something we love. So if someone came to you with an offer to write for them, for pay, why would you ever say no?

I got an email this morning. Right to my inbox. In summation, it said, "Write a blog post for us, and we'll pay you."

I should be excited! I've never been paid to write.

And I will continue to not be. Because while the idea of money for words is lovely, sometimes the cost isn't worth it.

To expand on that email's summation, the sender is a foreign wedding and prom dress website. They want me to write them a blog post, in German, advertising them, and if I make the post, share their banner, and advertise the blog post on all my social medias, they'll pay me $30.

I could be living out of a paper bag and I still would not take that offer. Because, new novelist, pay is not always worth it.

It's not worth surrendering your integrity or going against what you stand for if they want to pay you to write something you would normally never say yourself but must portray it as your own thoughts.

It's not worth loss of reputation and dependability if they want to pay you to become a walking spam advertisement.

It's DEFINITELY not worth the risk of malware to your readers or you.

Honestly,  not worth learning another language either, in this case. I know, like, three phrases in German: Ich bin ein Berliner, schmetterling, and schadenfreude. And you know, some random stuff about Heil and Fuhrers and a few insults I picked up in The Book Thief.

I am not even going to trouble myself with writing them a response, unless they're actually reading this blog, in which case, my answer is "No." No, I will not be your shill. No, I will not destroy my reputation across all my social media platforms for you. No, I will not waste my time with you more than sharing a few laughs with my friends at your audacity.

But thanks for the inspiration for the blog post.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Reading for Research: Suddenly, I Understand Omni

In the latter quarter of 2016, I was slowly working my way through The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, sneaking a chapter here and there until a road trip encouraged me to finish. The chapters are short, so they were easy to sneak, and by the time the road trip started for me, the book was too engaging to put down like I had before.

If you don't know about The Book Thief (I know, you probably do, but I keep running into people who don't, so just in case. Bear with me. I'll be brief), it's a story about a young German girl living in Nazi Germany at the start of WWII. As the title implies, she steals books. The interesting this is, the story's told from the perspective of Death. It's used as a framing device, a character who has seen many stories, met many people, and is pretty much the world's greatest neutral force, becoming fascinated with this one girl he keeps encountering.

While I was trying to think of how to explain this choice of framing device to someone to whom I recommended the book, I realized it: this is how you write omniscient POV.

You don't know how long I've been trying to understand omni POV. I've tried studying it and failed. I've grasped the idea of it, but the overall puzzle eluded me. I had the pieces, but I couldn't put them together in a way that made sense. "There's a narrator and they know everything" just didn't work for me, especially as someone who generally writes in close perspective. But it finally clicked here, because there's literally a narrator instead of just some unnamed force telling a story. Imagine Death as a storyteller. If you sat down in front of them and asked for a story, what you will be told is Omni. Someone who knows everyone, who knows their stories and what happened, but maybe not necessarily their feelings. I actually get it now. I just needed that skeletal face to put that damn puzzle together. Thank you, Mr. Zusak.