Monday, April 25, 2011

Confessions of an Introvert

So here’s the thing: I have danced with my dog on stage in front of three thousand people and a television crew. Swear to God. I have been featured on television talk shows, news broadcasts and documentaries dozens of times. I’ve stood before audiences in aggregate of the tens of thousands over the years to give speeches, workshops and key note addresses, and my heart never skipped a beat. I am not shy. In fact, some people might even say I shine in the spotlight.

Most of the time.

You see, I am at heart an introvert. That means, among other things, that I spend more time thinking than acting. That I value my privacy. That I give one hundred percent of myself to every experience and because of that, I choose my experiences carefully. And that I suck at social media.

I have to point out that I am not talking about the comfortable, day-to-day interaction with my readers through e-mail, my blogs and discussion groups.  I  could not live without the encouragement from  and contact with my "people".   If I don't hear from readers daily I desperately start dialing tech support to see if the server is down.  Seriously.  Don't stop writing to me.  I'm referring here to all the time consuming extraneous things writers are expected to do to promote their books that most of us, myself included, simply are not suited for.

Shrinking Violet Promotions did a wonderful post on dispelling myths about introverts, and I don’t think I can improve on that. Basically, what it boils down to is that introverts can dance on tabletops (or onstage in a top hat with a dog), give knock-dead speeches in front of stadiums filled with people, and host our own reality television shows if required, but at the end of the day we really just want to close the door, take a deep breath, and gather ourselves. Alone. We don’t want people all up in our biz-ness every single minute of every day.

I became a writer, in part, because I am in introvert. I can work for long periods in isolation without ever hearing the sound of another human voice. I can create something out of nothing, all by myself. I am comfortable with my own thoughts. I enjoy keeping to myself.

I recently read that in order to be successful at promoting a book, a writer should update his Facebook status 2-3 times a day, Tweet 3-5 times a day, blog once or twice a week. Minimum. Additionally, of course, said writer would also be expected to reply to all relevant tweets, post on everyone else’s Facebook wall, and comment on 12-15 blogs a week. In order to do that, it seems to me that the writer would spend half his life just thinking of things to say!

Here are my status updates:

1) Woke up

2) Walked dogs

3) Wrote some stuff

4) Wrote some more stuff

I’ll be back with more updates when I have something to actually report.

I’m not shy. I’m just a writer. Please buy my books anyway.

Friday, April 15, 2011

In Review

Long, long ago book reviews were an elite art form. They were written by professional journalists and established writers who were considered masters in their field—Mark Twain reviewing James Fennimore Cooper, for example, was a masterpiece in itself—and carried an appropriate amount of weight. The majority of book reviews appeared in newspapers, magazines and trade journals, and most readers never saw more of the review than the pull quote placed on the book cover by the publisher.

The internet has changed all that. Today the self published or small press book is likely to be reviewed by the same blogger who reviews top selling hard covers from major publishers. A hundred great customer reviews can easily overrule one mediocre review in the trades—and let’s not even talk about what a hundred one-star customer reviews can do. So in this time when everyone has an opinion about everything, and anyone with an internet connection has the means with which to express it, it might be a good idea to keep a few Rules of Responsible Behavior in mind before you sit down at the keyboard.

For Reviewers:

Be Honest. Don’t write a review on a book you haven’t read. Don’t give a book a one-star review because you thought the price was too high, because the author snubbed you at a conference or failed to answer your e-mail. An honest review takes the book as a whole, measures the positives against the negatives, and concludes with an overall impression of the reading experience.

Be Fair. Personally, I will not give any book less than three stars out of five. The reason is that if it was a two-star (hated it) or one-star (barely readable) book, it clearly wasn’t worth finishing, and as mentioned above, no review should be written on a book you haven’t read. If you feel you must post a review on a book you hated, be very specific about why. It’s fair to say, “the heroine was shallow and unbelievable”, not so helpful to say, “I hated the heroine so much I want to throw the book across the room”. I know, we’ve all felt that way. But sometimes it’s best to keep our feelings to ourselves.

Be Concise: A book review is not a book report. You can always tell an unprofessional review because it reads like a story outline: This happens, that happens, then something else happens and in the end other things happen. Never give away the ending. Never give away crucial plot points (also known as spoilers). The worst review I ever got was actually a five-star review that gave away both the unexpected plot twists and the ending of my book. I repeat: Don’t do that. Writers will hate you for it, and so will readers. A good book review gives as much information about the book as the back cover copy does, or no more than could be discovered if the reader downloaded a free sample for her Kindle (about 30% of the book). The rest of the review should concentrate on your reaction to the book—what you loved, what you didn’t—and why.

Be Quotable: This of course only applies to those of you who are doing professional-caliber reviews for blogs or print, or if you are an author asked to review a colleague’s work. The reason writers and publishers submit their work to you for review is so that they can quote you. This would seem to be self evident, but I am frequently amazed by reviewers who genuinely seem to like a book but whose writing style is so clumsy, or who are simply so rushed or careless, that there is absolutely nothing we can use to let readers know they liked it. We like pithy quotes. “This book reminds me of the long lazy novels of Jane Austen, in which the much-besieged heroine is pitted against the dark brooding hero in a deeply complex and troubling way” is nice. Who doesn’t like being compared to Jane Austen? But there is nothing, absolutely nothing quotable there—unless we want to try to pull “complex and troubling”, which might not portray the book in its best light. Why couldn’t you just have said, “Wonderfully reminiscent of Jane Austen” or better still, “The new Jane Austen!”. Toss us a crumb, guys.

For Authors

There really are only three rules for authors regarding reviews

1)Do not respond to reviews

2) Do not respond to reviews

3) Do not respond to reviews

I don’t care if the reviewer was so stupid he got the name of your protagonist wrong and misspelled yours. I don’t care if he reviewed your SF novel as a romance. I don’t care if he thought your techno-thriller was non-fiction. Do. Not. Respond. It’s unprofessional. Period.

Okay, here’s one more rule: If you submit your book for endorsement (which is different from a review request) to another author, or if your agent or editor does, and if that author takes the time to actually read your book and to craft, in his or her own inimitable prose, a publishable quote and allow you to use his/her words to promote your book—send a thank you note, or an autographed copy of the published book at least. Even if you get so many quotes from big-name authors you can’t possibly use them all, even if this author’s quote was the least memorable of them all… send a thank you note. It’s only good manners.

And one last note: If you think customer reviews don’t matter, think about the last time you considered purchasing a product you didn’t know much about. Chances are you looked it up on the internet, and were directed to a page filled with customer reviews (probably from!) designed to sway your buying choices. How likely you are to buy a product that no one has endorsed? Customer reviews do matter, and writers—and readers—depend on them. So if you’ve read something you liked recently, by all means, take the trouble to leave a review on one of the internet sites. If you read something in which you were disappointed, it’s okay to let us know that too—but do it in an effective, professional manner.

So go forth and review. We’re waiting to hear what you think.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Then and Now

I hardly ever use this blog to promote my own work-- well not much, anyway! --but I have had such an interesting experience preparing SANCTUARY for release that I thought it was worth commenting on.  Briefly.

A few years back (quite a few, actually!)  I sold what is called a "breakthrough" novel (THE PASSION by Donna Boyd) at auction for a great deal of money.  I had been a hardworking, steadily selling midlist author until this point for ten years, and I understood that what I had written was  really, really good.  I thought it deserved all the attention it was getting.  But when my editor said to me, "It must feel wonderful to write such an extraordinary book!" I remember replying, "Yes, it does.  But this isn't the first extraordinary book I've written.  It's just that no one noticed the others."

SANCTUARY  is one of the books that no one noticed.

In the early nineties, I sold the manuscript for Sanctuary to a  somewhat cheesy publisher for a set of outrageous promises and  less money than I had ever been paid in my life. Said publisher then changed the title, insisted upon changing some essential elements of the story, slapped on a cheap cover, and printed probably 2000 copies.    I'm sure I was heartbroken at the time.  To tell the truth, I've been heartbroken so many times I can't remember.  I know I moved on.  I wrote twenty or thirty more books, some of which were even extraordinary.  And no one noticed.

Fast forward fifteen years. The rights have reverted to me (believe it or not there was a TEN YEAR license in that contract) and we live in a new and glorious age in which authors can actually control the fate of their own work.  I found an old copy of Sanctuary (its original title, not the one under which it was published), dusted it off, and began to read. I discovered something wonderful, and terrible.  The wonderful part was that I couldn't put it down.  I was the author, I kind of (but not entirely) knew what was going to happen, and I was rivetted. There were places where I honestly couldn't believe I had written that book.  Which leads us to the terrible discovery: I was a much better writer then than I am now.

I don't know what happened.  Too many heartbreaks, too many capitulations to an industry in which field  salesmen  had more input into a writer's work than the editor with the MFA degree did; too many rejection letters condemning me for writing exactly what the publisher announced at last month's conference they were looking for.  Too many print runs that didn't even cover the advance.    Too many vampires.

There is a technique of behavior modification in which a negative reinforcer (i.e. electric shock) is paired with the undesirable behavior (i.e. smoking) to create such an unpleasant association in the subject's mind that the behavior is extinguished.  The pain simply isn't worth it.  I think that, over the years, that's what happened to the spark of passion that drove all of my best work: writing a novel, and submitting it for publication, became so associated with pain that it just wasn't worth it.  Clearly, I continued to write and to sell.  But I think that, as I grew more and more enmeshed in the publishing industry, I put less and less of myself into the process of creating the work.  I stopped being extraordinary.  The pain wasn't worth it.

But that was then.  This is now. 

I currently have three proposals under submission to print publishers.  If I receive an offer on any of them, I will accept it, because print publishers pay in advance and I need to survive.  But I have just realized that, after these proposals have run their course,  I will not  go knocking on New York's door again.  Ever.   The reason is not  because I can make more money self publishing(J.A. Konrath and  Amanda Hocking nothwithstanding) because at my current rate of return I will starve to death on e-book royalties.  But if I am going to be a writer, I need to be  that. I need to write my best.

Stand by for something extraordinary.