Bad Reviews and Bad Reviewing

Okay, I admit it, I do get a certain perverse pleasure from writing scathing reviews of books that I find to be utterly terrible. Not just bad, not “Fifty Shades of Grey” bad, but really, really terrible.

A review can be ‘bad’ because the review describes why the book isn’t worth reading, but it can also be bad by being unhelpful. Or, it can be both. It can be hard for authors to see the wood (the quality of the review) for the trees (the reader’s reaction), as I mentioned in an earlier blog post. So, when you don’t like a book, but you’re compelled to write 250 words about it, it’s difficult to stay on the right side of the good/bad review line.

I recently started using Inkspand, a site that will pay you $10 to ‘beta read’ novels. It seems too good to be true: getting paid to review books and you get to choose the books? In some ways it is, the book selection is limited & you generally have to be on your toes to get one of the few available slots, which go exceptionally quickly on the better books. But, if you enjoy inspirational non-fiction, boy have I got a deal for you! There are usually several books with open slots if you’re a How to Win Friends and Influence People meets Chicken Soup for the Soul reader. You could make a mint if you read swiftly.
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Illegitimate Research

For someone who spends so much of their time writing, drawing, painting, and dreaming, I seem to lack a certain creativity. Ideas come to me, on occasion, and I carry those ideas out to the best of my ability. But, when it comes to actually trying to ply my craft – to think of something to decorate a blank canvas or decide where a story is going to go – I am an empty vessel.

In light of that, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I’m not much of a planner. My characters do what they want to do, how they want to do, & I let them. In my early endeavours I was often surprised by the things my protagonists got up to & never asked where my tales were going, I just went along for the ride.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. Research is essential to good writing, so many details – from tiny throw-away lines, to great over-arcing world-building – to pinpoint & refine. Authors need to have answers to questions asked & questions unasked – by the story, by the characters, by the readers. The bigger the world, the more science in the premise, the more work a writer needs to do, & it can be a lot of work.

For the most part, I do my research on the fly – I have a question, I go find the answer. If I’m lucky I’ll find it quickly enough & everything proceeds the way it’s supposed to. When I’m not so lucky I get distracted by wikipedia links & end up finding out a lot more than I intended & writing a lot less that I should have.

I am embarking on a new story idea. I’m not sure if it is by accident or design (probably a little of both), it involves far more research before beginning than I’m used to. But some types of research are worth more than others.

This new story touches on a genre that I love, but have never tried to write before. So with the excuse of needing to “research”, I’ve been spending hour upon hour reading TV Tropes, all the clichés to avoid, & the ones I can touch on without making my story awful. It’s been fun, but it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing, that’s for sure.

On the other hand, I have been trying to read more – reading is an essential, probably the single most important – weapon in the writer’s arsenal. With work and games and sleep and movies and TV shows and writing, it can be amazing that I have any time to keep up with just my favourite hobbies, let alone all the fringe hobbies I like to indulge in.

So, here’s to stopping procrastinating & actually getting the writing part done!

Building an eBook

When I was preparing Speak for the Dead for publishing, there was no question that I wanted to make it available as an eBook. Unfortunately, my desire to do so wasn’t one of the things I considered when I formatting the manuscript for print.

Having the freedom & the skill to do so, I decided that I wanted to make the interior of Speak for the Dead a little more interesting than “1. Chapter text goes here”. If you’ve read the book or the free preview, you will have seen this:
Prologue Colour

All of the chapter headings in Speak for the Dead are done in this style, & I think it looks pretty darn fancy pants. But, when it came time to convert my print-formatted manuscript for digital delivery, things started going wonky.

I know half a smattering of html, & I don’t really understand how it works, I’m a bit like a dancing bear in that respect. I can do some basic markup, but I don’t really have that connection to why it works, only that it does. No more than a dancing bear knows why standing up on his hind legs earns him a treat, but so long as the fish keeps coming, he’ll keep dancing.
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Speak for the Dead Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

‘Speak for the Dead’ is Bringing Justice to the Streets

New author A. M. Harding is setting a dark scene with her self-published novel ‘Speak for the Dead’.

Brisbane, Qld (February 11, 2012) Everyone has their tipping point. The point where the loneliness and frustration get to be too much to bear. Then, something has to give.

Living in the wrong end of town, living alone, life is hard for Jade Taylor. ‘Speak for the Dead’ (165pp. $9.95) is her story, the first in what will be a series of short novels about her struggles and victories as a vigilante on the streets of Haven Bay.

“I was specifically vague about when or where ‘Speak for the Dead’ is set,” comments author, Angell M. Harding, “I feel it makes the world easier to identify with, no matter where you’re from.” ‘Speak for the Dead’ has a captivating atmosphere of loneliness that will draw readers in, compelled to turn every page.

Angell M. Harding is a restless artist who is always in the middle of making something, be it writing, drawing, painting, or sculpting. She also blogs about her writing experiences at LingusticAnarchy.com – so named for her belief that grammar rules should first be followed, and then be broken.

The paperback version of ‘Speak for the Dead’ is available on Amazon, with eBooks available on Amazon and iBooks. More information is available at her website.

ISBN 978-1-481994-02-6

Free copies are available for review, please contact Angell M. Harding at LinguisticAnarchy@gmail.com.

Contact:
Angell M. Harding
URL: LinguisticAnarchy.com
Email: LinguisticAnarchy@gmail.com

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Press Release: ‘Speak for the Dead’ is Bringing Justice to the Streets
More about ‘Speak for the Dead’

Precious Snowflakes Melt Under Criticism

You know what sucks? Being told that something you made is horrible.

Creating is a difficult process & it’s hard not to feel precious about the final result. Especially when that final result is the sum total of weeks of work, late nights staring into the screen, forgotten meals, agonising over minor changes, careful refinements… you get the idea. Artists work hard.

So I get it. After all the time I spent on Speak for the Dead, some of the initial comments I got back made me feel pretty defensive. I’m pretty sure the first thought to go through my head was that’s not a valid criticism, give me an example.

I held my tongue though, because it might be hard to hear, but that doesn’t make it untrue or unfair.

What I do find harder to remain silent about is people looking for validation over the “outrageous” and “undeserved” negative feedback they’ve been given. Is someone pointing out that your book has a full stop instead of a comma nitpicking? Hells, yes. Is their pointing it out “abuse”? Aw, hells, no.

Even though it feels like shit to see a small-minded commenter refer to your writing as puerile, at the end of the day it’s a numbers game. For that one person who left an overly-long & frankly dull rant on your Amazon page, how many people read your book & simply responded with “meh”? How many read it, liked it, but never thought to leave a review? How many read it & wouldn’t know what to say beyond “it was good”, so didn’t post? By this measure, you’re still coming out on top.

But, let’s be frank here. Who really looks like the fussy tantrum-thrower in this equation: the negative-review ranter, or the author who makes comments like this in reply –

Dear reviewer,
Thank you so very much for the review, but it looks as if you posted it on the wrong book. This clearly can’t refer to mine. I sincerely wish you to read, “My Book,” which I’ll send if you reply with your address–free. After you read it, please be specific as to how it can be improved and I’ll be forever in your debt.

Update: Self Publish? What About Self Editing?

Last week I wrote a blog post about the trials of editing my first complete manuscript ahead of submitting it to be published on CreateSpace.

What a hectic week it has been since then.

But, I thought it might amuse you to know that I ended up having to resubmit my manuscript three times before I was happy with it. Yes, after all that soul-draining & exacting work I did, it still wasn’t perfect!

In fact, as I settled in to read the PDF proof, the very first thing I noticed was a typo: I’d accidentally inserted the wrong correction during that final spell check, leaving an error in one of the early chapters. Disaster! I’d been so excited to hit that “approve” button & declare myself a published author (in a fashion), and here I was, staring down the barrel of another 24-hour review period.

In the end, it was worth it. I adjusted the margins outwards so the side margins (the outer edge of each page) was nice & narrow, & widened the centre. Today, I received the very first print copies & – holding them open – it was the right choice. To think: if I’d been too stubborn to resubmit, my book would have looked terrible.

It was a long journey, with an astounding amount of hard work, but it was a labour of love & I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. In fact, for this November, I’m planning on using NaNoWriMo to draft the sequel: Following Suit.

NaNo 2012 – Speak for the Dead

50,846 words

NaNo 2012 Graph2

I’d spent a good part of the year leading up to NaNo excited about the idea of writing a zombie story set in Australia where guns and crossbows are much more strictly controlled and finding weapons for the zombie apocalypse would be significantly more difficult. I had a folio of ideas that I wanted to explore, and I think there was a lot of potential. But during 2012 I made the mistake of reading Fifty Shades of Grey and any inkling of motivation for writing I might have had evaporated.

I couldn’t not do NaNo, it was an institution in my life, to skip it would just be wrong. Eventually I decided to pick an idea out of my folder of story fragments and run with that. I settled on Picklekin, Kindlewisp, and the Dragon and I started NaNo off with a bang.

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Self Publish? How About Self-Editing?

Recently, I’ve been writing about self-publishing. I’m relatively active in the CreateSpace community space, reading previews and answering questions here and there, but mostly reading other people’s questions & answers to add that knowledge to my mental database.

One of the things that no one talks about is just how… tiring the process of editing will prove to be. Maybe I’m a perfectionist, & maybe I lack patience, but when handing out tips on how to make your layout look as professional as possible, they don’t mention just what kind of ordeal you have a head of you.

Editing is Hard

I’ve just spent the last two days going over my copy of Speak for the Dead with one of those super-fine metal combs used to find lice & nits. Having finally submitted the final version for print approval, my eyes burn & I’m ready to spend a week away from the computer. I think I was lucky, that I’d finalised a lot of the parameters in the weeks leading up to this monumental proof-read of doom, or there might have been even more work ahead of me.

With my trim size & margins set up; my preferred font selected, sized, & line spacing set; my manuscript pasted & formatted into chapters; and my front matter written and positioned; I was ready to begin the process of laying out the copy exactly how it would print. Continue reading

Reading Three Ways

I’ve never been one for patience, so as soon as the manuscript for Speak for the Dead was drafted, I wanted to get it ready for submission. But, I have my pride & there was no way I was going to send something as poorly edited as Fifty Shades of Grey to be published.

Reading the First Way

The first step was, simply enough, to read what I’d written. This comes with it’s own problems, namely that, as an author, I am far too “close” to my own work & it can be difficult to see certain flaws. I know that I have a bad habit of skimming when I read, even when I think I’m trying to read closely, & my brain just skips over minor errors as if they weren’t even there. To combat this, I’ve been putting the manuscript through a spell checker every single time I make an edit. Probably excessive, but the readers <strong?are going to find every spelling and grammatical error I make, so the more I can catch now, the better. Continue reading