Tag Archives: writers

A Folder Called ‘Bollocks’ – Why Authors Should NEVER Respond to Reviews

Regular readers of my blog may recall I celebrated the much anticipated landing of my first one star review as an author, with a light-hearted blog post and a nod to fellow authors to try not to take them too seriously.

In the last month I have seen a few knee-jerk reactions to scathing reviews and am almost always saddened, especially when I find one very talented author I greatly respect saying, ‘I just feel like giving up’. But today I began to read this response to a book review from an author on Goodreads, and found I couldn’t read on. To say it felt like watching car crash TV was an understatement.

The first and most obvious thing that occurs to me here is how the author has succeeded in spending what must have been hours alienating a community of book lovers he will have spent hundreds more writer hours trying to reach – 131 of whom ended up liking the bad review even though I suspect many hadn’t read the book. But also, I mourn for the time lost when this author should have been doing what he clearly feels he was put on this earth to do – some actual novel writing.

I am now indoctrinated in to the world of book publication with a few bad reviews of my own. I say a few, because I haven’t counted and have stopped reading them, particularly on Goodreads, where I find they can be at their most brutal for almost all authors I have read and loved. I made a conscious decisions to quit doubting my ability to write when it became clear that the good reviews far outweighed the bad for my debut novel; only if the opposite had been true was I going to allow doubt to sink in. Only then would I question whether I was in the right vocation, which is just as well because I cannot imagine ever doing anything else. I don’t dwell on bad reviews because that would stop me from working and almost certainly stifle me creatively. I only recall my first on Amazon, for the fact that it was the first, and the last one I was gifted with on Amazon UK, because it stayed at the top of my reviews list for what felt like an age after being posted on the very day of the release of my paperback from my new publisher:

one star reviews

I don’t mind sharing it and have spared outing the writer by blanking out her name. It’s not important; nobody died and everyone is entitled to not like my book. I have very good friends and relatives who I know would not like, ‘The New Mrs D’, yet they remain good friends and the rest can’t do anything about being related to me. The review here only became a momentary annoyance for me because this was the day of my traditional publication. Would this person’s thoughts affect my sales? My livelihood? With hindsight though, I think not.

There is always going to be the understandable worry that in trashing your work the reviewer has affected your business and, more annoyingly, without a second thought. It can also be painful to know someone hated your book – not you, remember, your book – enough to feel the need to try and put everyone off buying it. Okay, it hurts. So if you need to, take a few seconds to acknowledge that then move on. But don’t respond. Don’t, don’t… just don’t.

Writing is a business and vendors on sites like Amazon, Google+ and Trip Advisor are always answering bad reviews, because it is considered good for business for them to state their side of the story. If an author does so, it is up for sharing across social media and blogs as a lesson to us all. So think of this from the point of view as a consumer.

As an occasional frequenter of hotels, I would worry about bad reviews but feel heartened to see the hotelier acknowledge the complaint, accept its relevance or explain how it may have been inaccurate and suggest ways forward for change and improvement. As a reader, I have pretty much decided on whether or not I’m going to buy a book after a recommendation, reading the blurb and briefly glancing at the ratio of good reviews to bad. One ‘this is tripe’ among sixty ‘I loved it’ comments isn’t going to stop me visiting Paypal for another ‘buy it now’ trip. (Nobody tell my husband, okay?)

I have thought this way about reviews since day one of my decision to publish, but I understand more than ever why no author should go down the road of responding to reviews after reading the Goodreads thread above today, which is why I have brought the incident to my blog, not as a seasoned pro with twenty published novels, but as a new writer looking in, sucking in my cheeks like a plumber about to give you a very large quote for your leaky boiler and saying, ‘ooh no, don’t go there. Please.’.

Read it and weep. Answering bad reviews is a waste of your valuable, creative time and readers are always telling us they are rarely swayed from buying a book by the appearance of a couple of stinking reviews.

Yes, it is early days for me and no, I haven’t suffered the joys of a scathing public review yet. But I know this much: if and when that day arrives it will be because I made it to a place that was beyond my wildest imagination when I first set out to write a book. Maybe I might need to come back to this post to remind myself where my head was today when dealing with this. I think we all need a nudge from time to time because writing is hard and putting your work out publically feels beyond scary. But I want to write and if you’re still here this far down, I suspect you do too. Enjoy it as much as you can. Hell, why can’t we have some fun with our poor reviews? I even stuck one of my most cutting ones in the middle of a marketing video for a Kindle promotion I ran last year:

Think on, writer pals, think on. If I’ve learned anything in the five short years since I set out to chase my ambitions it’s this: With inordinate passion for writing comes inordinate rejection and criticism. If this succeeds in making you quit, then perhaps you’re not supposed to be a writer. And if you are supposed to be a writer, focus on the parts you love; all the things that bring you to your writing desk each day. And file every ill-thought out, scathing review you happen upon in a mental folder called, ‘bollocks’.

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Conquering Writer’s Block (Without Your Head Falling Off)

One of the questions posed on my Goodreads author page, was ‘how do you conquer writer’s block?’ I said I didn’t believe in it. I said, ‘just push through. Keep writing. Write anything, even if it’s drivel.’

I think the best thing you can do is allow yourself to write nonsense and all of a sudden, breakthrough occurs.  Simply put: speed write.

I must just point out that speed writing isn’t anything at all to do with drugs. No, that’s called ‘I’m going to prison now writing.’ Speed writing is where you simply blast out all your thoughts in one long, stream of conscious flurry not stopping to worry at all that you might be writing garbage. And yes, you’ve guessed it; this blog post is a speed writing exercise. Thank you for noticing.  And look out, it may be somewhat unpredictable. One minute, I can be telling you something and then (oh look, a new pencil that needs sharpening) I can go off at a tangent because, wow, (my nails need biting some more, hold on a sec), my brain is off the charts odd.

But I believe this is an incredibly effective way to break what you perceive to be your writer’s block and using your blog to do so is the perfect place. This is where I put all my lesser edited, stream of conscious writing, so it’s perfect. But I do think writer’s block is your perfection obsessed self simply stalling you. Stop it and write!

Having said that, I have become a bit of a new-age hippy lately and taken up meditating. But not before I spent an age trying to teach myself how by searching for YouTube videos for guidance and practice. I’ve tried listening to and watching so many bizarre things on there, but keep finding myself side-tracked by my own, zany thought processes that don’t ever seem to switch off when I’m watching or listening to someone else.

‘Now,’ says meditation guru number one. ‘Imagine your whole body is loose and limp.’

I sink down into my pillow, not being able to help imagining I’ve fallen off the top of a tall building and everything is broken. Hmmm, this might not be good…

‘Imagine your hands are loose at the end of your arms.’ What? Like coming off, loose?

‘And your head is loose on the end of your neck.’

Holy hell, now I’m decapitated. Next!

Then there was the ‘ASMR Ear To Ear Whispering’ video, where I plugged in my earphones and listened to a young woman ‘awakening my creative self within’ by leaning in to whisper ‘you are wonderful. You are creative,’ into each of my ears at a time.

‘Ah, what a lovely, hypnotic voice,’ I thought. ‘This could work.’ Only, WAIT! Is that a penis under the chin of the sun behind her?

youtube

Next!

The soft, male voice on my little free meditation app says, ‘imagine yourself on a beautiful, tropical beach.’

Ah, this is better. Yes please.

‘Now, you see a small rowing boat on the horizon and it’s heading towards you.’

I really hope it’s Gerard Butler with a case of champagne, wearing a thong. Do they make thongs for champagne cases?

‘When the boat reaches you, you climb aboard and sail away.’

Oh, Gerard Butler is wearing the thong. Okay, now I’m really not relaxed.

‘And then you come to a small, uninhabited island and disembark. Then the boat leaves.’

What the…? Gerard has left me marooned on a deserted island! How is this helping again? *panic panic*

So you see, I can’t do it… the whole ‘switch off your mind and relax’ thing. Even downloading the famous Paul McKenna’s app for my mobile phone didn’t work:

‘Do not listen to this tape whilst driving or operating machinery.’ (Puts down the chainsaw) ‘Wait for a time when you won’t be disturbed. Get into a comfortable position and switch off your phone.’

Okay done. Why has he stopped talking…?

So now I simply sit in silence for ten minutes twice a day and empty my thoughts to only focus on my personal mantra. Which I cannot tell you, as it is very personal; but I can reveal that I changed it from ‘I am’ to stop my mind wandering further as I attempted to finish the sentence with a comedy retort.

‘I am… probably asleep.’

‘I am… missing Coronation Street.’

How have you conquered writer’s block?

Exciting Project For New Women Writers

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I’m delighted to share some information about the exciting new WoMentoring Project, a scheme which seeks to help new women writers in their quest for publication. Their new website has been launched today! Good luck to all involved.

Below is some more information for any women writers, or interested mentors who may wish to get on board to use or support the project.

About?

The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project – from the project management to the website design to the PR support – is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project.

Why do we need it?

Like many great (and not so great) ideas, The WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers – largely writers, editors and agents – who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson and all of our mentors are all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.

Applications

In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn’t possible. So instead we’ve tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time.

Why our mentors are getting involved

The reason I’m doing this is simple: mentoring can mean the difference between getting published and getting lost in the crowd. It can help a good writer become a brilliant one. But till now, opportunities for low-income writers to be mentored were few and far between. This initiative redresses the balance; I’m utterly delighted to be part of the project. – Shelley Harris, author of Jubilee

I have only achieved the success I have with the help of others, and now I am keen to pass on that help. I particularly want to reach out to those who don’t have the privileges of wealth, status or existing contacts, but who have so much to gain and to give. – Marie Phillips, author Gods Behaving Badly

I’m so pleased to be involved in the WoMentoring Project, and I can’t wait to meet my mentee. I know from my own authors how isolating an experience writing can often be, especially when you’re just starting out, and so I really wanted to be involved. I hope that knowing that there is someone on your side in those early days will give writers courage and confidence in their work. – Alison Hennessy, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker

The WoMentoring project is the kind of opportunity I would have relished when writing my first novel. It’s founded in the spirit of paying it forward, and I’ll take real pride in sharing whatever experience I’ve gained with a mentee. I’ve benefited from the advice and encouragement of some truly inspirational writers, the right voice cheering you on can make all the difference when you’re in your solitary writing bubble. The formality of the mentoring arrangement also gives a sense of responsibility and focus – something that’s invaluable when you’re lost in the sprawl of a work-in-progress – and it’s beneficial to mentors too. – Amylia Hall, author of The Book of Summers

My career as an editor has been immeasurably enriched by working with inspiring women writers, yet the world of publishing would have been inaccessible to me without the time and support I was given when first starting out.  The WoMentoring Project is a wonderful, necessary thing and I’m very proud to be taking part in it. – Francesca Main, Editorial Director, Picador

I wanted to get involved with this project because I’d like to help authors feel that whoever they are, and wherever they come from, they have a right to be heard. – Jo Unwin of The Jo Unwin Literary Agency

Why female writers feel they need this opportunity

I’m interested in being mentored because although I think you have to make mistakes to learn, having someone who’s been there help you work out the ones with no value can be really useful. Most of all I’d like to have someone to push and challenge me on what makes me and my writing tick. 

The idea of women sharing their skills and experience in a dynamic, nurturing way is a really important one given the lower profile given to female writers. Even though the mentoring is one to one a collective voice and resilience is still being built up – I think it’s a great idea that, for writers like me, will help get rid of some of the layers of doubt and creative loneliness that come with being a beginner. – Clare Archibald

I’m on my third novel; I’ve had good notices from Faber, HoZ etc. but still not quite there. What I need is that final push. I especially need guidance on pacing, keeping the action pulsing along. I feel a mentor could be hugely beneficial in this process. – Suzy Norman

Find out more:

Twitter: @WoMentoringP on twitter and to find the latest buzz, follow and use hashtag #WoMentoring