Reviews…and how to write them

I just finished writing reviews for two books I recently read. I don’t bother writing reviews for best-sellers or established authors, but I do for friends and acquaintances if I’ve read and enjoyed their stories. I hope they help.

I know writers, myself among them, who have asked, begged, and bribed friends and relations to write a review. Some say they will and never do. Some do, God love them. And some say, “I don’t know how.”

My response is, “Just write one sentence: I liked the book. Or hated it. Whatever.”

I know it’s hard if the only thing you’ve written lately without relying on emoticons is a thank-you to Grandma on a pretty note-card because she doesn’t have a computer and still uses a land-line phone. I concentrate on what it is about the book that makes me keep reading. What do you enjoy most in a book? It might be the plot, or it might be the characters. Maybe it’s the quirky humor. There has to be something noteworthy about the book or you wouldn’t have read it in the first place. So start with, “I enjoyed this book because…” and fill in the blanks.

Do people read reviews? I do. I realize not everyone is going to  like every book written, but I try to find a middle ground between gushing praise (written by the author’s mother, perhaps?) and crushing criticism (which may well have been penned by an envious fellow writer). I read a few five- and four-star reviews and then one or two one-stars before making up my mind to purchase the book.

Okay, in a stab at honesty, to download the free or 99-cent book.

Do reviews help the author? I think they do help people make up their minds to click the “Buy” button, but no one is going to read them unless they’re at least curious enough about the book that they’ve visited the site, be it Amazon or another distributor, the publisher, or the author’s web page. How do they find out about the book in the first place? Ah, that’s a subject for another blog. And when I find out the answer, I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, if you’ve complimented a writer you know and she asks, boldly or hesitantly, that you repeat your kind words in a review, please do it. It isn’t all that difficult, honest. Just say what you said aloud to them.

And if you don’t know the writer personally, but liked their work enough to recommend it to a friend, you might do the same. Writers love it if you buy their book, but they love it even more when you tell them–and the world– how much you enjoyed it.

 

 

Start ’em early

One of the goals of our local writers’ club is to promote literacy.  I guess we’ve said this so loud and so often, it wasn’t a surprise when someone actually took us up on it.

A summer camp for kids needed someone to lead a class on story writing. Guess who they called?

So Kaye and I set out last Monday morning for the camp, which was held indoors. Given the 90+ temperatures we’ve had lately, I considered ‘camping’ in an air-conditioned room a perk.

How did it go? We had a blast. We had two groups of kids, the first from 4-8 years old and the second from 8 to about 14. Talk about enthusiasm! Once they grasped the idea of creating a story from scratch, the kids were falling over themselves to contribute their ideas.

They  knew the basics of story writing: Beginning, middle, end. They knew there had to be a problem and a solution. They knew a story was better when it contained details to set the scene. So our job was made easier because we just had to build on what they already had learned. We tried to steer them away from retelling Hansel and Gretel or The Parent Trap and get them to thinking on their own.

The first group’s story was imaginative even if it didn’t make a lot of sense. It didn’t have to follow a perfect story arc, it just had to entertain. And that it did.

The second group of older kids had a rocky start as the tweens and teens argued about the plot and where it was going. I had some doubts, but I needn’t have worried. They settled down and began backing up each other’s ideas, cooperating beautifully. Their story was heartfelt and had a satisfying conclusion.

I took my notes home and wrote down the stories they envisioned. I’ll print them out, a copy for each camper and a few extra, and take them back to camp next week.

I think the kids had a good time. I know Kaye and I did.

Who knew giving back could be so much fun?

 

 

 

 

The necessary break

This past week, I was at the beach … St. Simons Island, to be exact. Shopping, eating sea food, walking on the beach, floating in the pool, exploring historic sites, and enjoying the company of my oldest son and daughter-on-law. Also the three granddogs.

And not even thinking of writing.

Bruno loves the beach. So many new friends to meet, so many birds to chase, and lovely water to wade in.

I didn’t check my sales, do any  searches for publishers or agents, or even plan out my next book.

Nope, I relaxed. Read a little, talked, walked the dogs.

And I didn’t feel even a little bit guilty.

We all need to take a break once in awhile. I’m pretty sure even those writers who stay at their desks for 8-10 hours a day, seven days a week, take a break.

Otherwise we would stagnate. We can live in our imaginations only so long before we need to refuel, and we do that by re-entering the real world.

We see things that spark our creativity, see people who could be characters in our book (and  maybe we don’t  jot the details down, but that hairdo, or tattoo, or outfit may just find itself in a description), and overhear conversations that pique our curiosity.

And don’t forget the wonderful sounds and scents we encounter. The tang of salt air, the fragrance of roses, the gentle roll of the surf … all add grist to our mill.

I am home now, ready to get to work. I’m energized when only a week ago I was busy finding excuses not to move my project forward.

If you find yourself bogged down and can’t find the time for a week or even a few days away from your WIP, you can take a mini-break by going for a walk, seeing a movie, or calling a friend and meeting her (or him) for  a glass of tea and conversation. A few hours away from your desk (or wherever you write best) won’t detract from your work.

It might even make it better.

 

 

the not-so-fun part of writing

I finally finished my WIP.

I can’t write that with a straight face. I keep tweaking my stories until I send off the final galley proofs. I never feel it’s done as well as it could be. But we all have to call quits at some point and get one with it.

Now comes the part I hate: writing the synopsis and query letter.Image result for finished meme

I wrote a synopsis and my critique partner told me gently it needed work and then lowered the boom: “I love the novel, but, sad to say, I would not have read it if I had to depend on this synopsis to learn what the story is about.”

Maybe I wasn’t sure what the story was about. I had to re-read it to see where it was going. So I spent several days re-writing the synopsis.

Then I started the query, and believe me, it has taken a LOT of time to come up with three paragraphs that set the hook, tell a little about the plot, and leave the reader panting for more. I honestly think I could write a whole new book in the time it’s taken me to write those paragraphs. And I’m still not satisfied.

Once I am, though, the next step is to start sending said query and synopsis to agents/editors/publishers (I’m not choosy). I decided not to self-publish this one, although Riverbend is doing better than I thought it would on Amazon. I checked today and there are two new 5-star reviews and one is not from a friend or relative, but a perfect stranger. I want to hug her.

And, I forgot to mention, it took me days to come with a title. I had a working title, but it didn’t work. I created a list of titles and then sat down and looked them up on Amazon. Some were taken, several times over. I know titles are copyrighted, but I didn’t want to duplicate another book. For example, there are several Riverbends out there, and quite a few Angels Unaware. I wanted one that no one else had taken. If you are are curious, the title is To Love a Liar.

So it’s going to be a busy summer as I try to find this book a home.

 

 

 

 

 

The journey to “the end”

Our writers’ club instituted a new challenge about a year ago. We make goal for the next month and throw in 25 cents each. Winner of the draw, if he or she accomplished their goal, takes the pot.

No one has won in the last six months. Maybe our goals are too lofty. I’ve had to confess I missed my goal (but I don’t confess by how much) the last few times.

Image result for goals, the end

In May, I wrote that my goal was to finish the edits on my WIP.  I was fairly confident I would be able to do this. I’m pleased to announce I did.

I will be even more pleased to announce it when we meet this afternoon.

It seems that when I begin a a story I procrastinate. I can find more excuses to do something else — anything else –than sit down and write. It’s achingly slow. I delete more words than I write. I moan and groan and decide this story was a mistake and I will never finish.

But somehow, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter, it grinds its way to the end.

Then I start the second draft process. The bare bones of the story take on a new life. I add conflict, flesh out the characters’ backstory, add a few twists just for the fun of it.

I’m not creating the story any more. I’m just hanging on for the ride. Instead of forcing myself to sit down at my desk, I am looking forward to it. Phone calls are no longer a welcome interruption, but a distraction. I love how my characters lead me down new paths of discovery.

I know this is the opposite of what I hear from other writers. For them, it is the first draft that comes easily, and the re-writing that becomes the chore.

The trick is not to become so engrossed in re-writing that I spend the next 10 years rearranging paragraphs and adding and subtracting plots and characters. I have to know when I’m done.

So when I’m asked if I reached my goal, I can say yes. But the truth is, the goal was never the point.

It was the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best-laid plans…

I decided that while the weather was a little cooler I would paint the front deck and ramp.  I should have realized that if it took four

My son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons busy painting the deck and ramp. I had the trim on the house painted last year, so now I’m painting the deck to match.

people a full day to paint it, it might take me a little longer. So I painted for three days and then today I ran out of paint. So I’m taking a break and writing this.

You may think painting has nothing to do with writing, which is what this blog is about unless I digress (as I did last week), but it really does.

 

Painting, mowing the yard, ironing clothes … that’s when I do my writing because that’s when my mind is free to imagine.

I promised a few weeks ago I would let you know how my Amazon advertising campaign went. The truth is, it never started. I signed up for their marketing plan in which they put an ad for your book on other sites so that when people are searching for something they see your ad and think, “Hmm, maybe I’ll click on this.” Then they go to your page, fall in love with your book description, and buy it. The idea is that you pay so much for each click.

 

I am not out a dime. No one clicked. Not even me when I saw the ad for “Riverbend” while searching for summer sandals.

Maybe it was the cover. Maybe it didn’t appeal, or get anyone’s attention. Maybe people looking for shoes don’t get sidetracked and think, “Oh look! a book!”

 

 

Who knows why it didn’t work?

I did submit the book for a review in InD’tale magazine and a review was recently published in Uncaged magazine. Reviews help but it does take a long time to get them.

So as far as marketing, I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. Sometimes something works and sometimes it doesn’t.

As I said, I”m not looking to spend a heap of money because I don’t have heaps of money lying around. So I have to do the free stuff, like annoy all my friends with posts on Facebook and Twitter.

And the second best thing, which is write another book. Each time I put a book out there, I think this is the one that will get noticed and then people will look at my others books and then I will be a NYT’s Best Seller and…

Pop! See that daydream vanish in mid air?

 

Seriously, I do have a small coterie of fans and they are already asking when the next book will be ready. So maybe I should be content to be a big (well, middling-sized) frog in a very little pool.

It’s not a bad place to be.

 

 

Author Interview: Sandy Bruney

SandyBWho doesn’t enjoy reading interviews about other writers and what they reveal about their process? We all come from such diverse backgrounds, embrace words and tell tales. I’ve also throughly enjoyed the Q&A James Lipton asks on the Inside the Actor’s Studio TV show; so, I thought I’d add these same set questions from Bernard Pivot to the end of the Interview. The questions were originally asked on the French series: “Bouillon de Culture” hosted by Bernard Pivot and James Lipton added them to the end of his show. What the answers reveal can be insightful, amusing, intriguing or simply brilliant.

I met Sandy in Charlotte, NC in a writer’s group over four years ago. Sandy is also my blog partner. She is hardworking, disciplined and reliable –traits I have lost over the years and I appreciate her always enjoyable Sunday posts. This week Sandy is on a well-deserved vacation and her Interview takes the place of her usual post. Enjoy! More

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