Scary author tasks: Asking for reviews

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“Excuse me, if you like me, can please you tell everyone how awesome I am? If not, you have my permission to punch me in the face.”

Asking a book blogger to review your novel is a little like approaching a stranger on the street and saying: “Excuse me, if you like me, can please you tell everyone how awesome I am? If not, you have my permission to punch me in the face.”

Okay. Maybe that’s a little melodramatic, but that’s what it feels like to me. And it’s that time again: book review request time.

Every couple of months, I sit down with a spreadsheet and a copy of the Book Reviewer Yellow Pages, take a deep breath, remind myself that it’s too early in the day to start drinking, and start writing emails.

When I put it like that, it  doesn’t sound that difficult, but it is. It’s one of my most demanding tasks as an author, both physically and emotionally.

Physically demanding, because I like to send out several requests in a day, but the requests can never be one mass request. That would be disrespectful.
Every blogger has her own review guidelines, and those review guidelines have to be respected. So if I’m sending out 12 emails to 12 bloggers, I’m typing an individualized email to each, trying to follow their instructors to the letter. (Sometimes bloggers will slip something crazy into their guidelines, like a math problem, or a random phrase, just to make sure authors are paying attention and following directions.) Then there are typos. I worry about typos, and when I fret about them, I create more of them, so each email takes a while.

Emotionally demanding, because basically, I’m spending a lot of time and effort to very politely ask a stranger to give me what could be a horrible review.
Asking people for opinions is a gamble. It’s hard to say “Here, I wrote this thing. Please, tell everyone on the Internet what you think of it.”
Part of the reason it’s so difficult is because I start writing the bad review I expect to get in my head as I’m writing my request to the reviewer. I have to be careful to not write disclaimers or apologizes for the work into the request. I also have to be careful to avoid false bravado.

It’s not my favorite task, but my fears are often unjustified. Many of the reviewers who have responded to my requests have been kind (the insane review guidelines are just so that they are not overwhelmed by authors who mass email them) and have given me wonderful reviews.

But here’s the thing: word of mouth is still the best way to sell a book that doesn’t have the publicity of say, Go Set A Watchman. And on the Internet, book blogs are word of mouth. So if you want to be read, requesting reviews from people with an audience in your genres, you must ask for reviews.

And sometimes, you will get punched in the face. (And remember, you gave that person permission to punch you in the face, so don’t complain about it!) But sometimes, the book blogger will turn around and tell everyone within earshot that you are awesome.

 photo credit: 40+117 Sucka Punch! via photopin (license)

That time a celebrity friended me on Facebook

Several years ago, a celebrity friended me on Facebook. I’m not saying who. In fact you probably won’t recognize his name if you scroll through my contacts, but, for some reason,after I wrote an article about someone he’d worked with, he started following me on Twitter. Then sent me a Facebook friend request. Then, I think, we forgot about each other.

Every once in a while, though, he posts something, and it is always so inconsistent with the other posts I see regularly that it shocks me out of my Facebook daze. It’ll be Throwback Thursday, and I’ll be looking at photos of my friends’ proms, and all of a sudden I’ll see a wedding picture from the ’90s with an Oscar nominee as one of the groomsmen. I will be reading someone’s rant about whatever is going on in the world to day, and then I’ll scroll down to find details about a new project this guy is working on with my high school self’s favorite band. And the front man of that band will have left comments on the status. It’s all a little surreal.

I don’t know if this guy realizes it, but his posts were a godsend last year, when I was home, dazed by the first year of motherhood, no sleep, worried about bills, fighting postpartum depression, upset about my physical appearance and sad about moving. Every time he posted a status, I got a little snapshot of a world much more exciting than mine was at the time. I don’t think it’s world I’d like to live in, but it made me feel better to see it, maybe because even as I was changing diapers and dealing with colic, and not writing nearly enough, I felt like I was a part of his world, just a little. It was like a little glitter from his glamorous world drifted out of the computer and onto me.  And also, seeing celebrity faces in my Facebook feed, right next to photos of a friend’s cat, jolted me out of my depression for a few minutes.

I know we’re told as kids that we shouldn’t strive to be cool, and that we should just be ourselves, but I didn’t want to be myself at that point, and dammit if his posts didn’t make me feel cool. And for whatever small reason, that helped me. Thank you, Hollywood celebrity guy, for friending me. You make my Facebook feed a fancier place, and you made a very hard year a little bit easier.

I signed books this weekend in the college bookstore where I once bought a lot of books.

Trinity book signing

Alumni and faculty book signing at Trinity College.

And now from the department of Hey, Guess What I Forgot to Announce:
I was part of a book signing at Trinity College’s Reunion Weekend on Saturday. I loved it, but not gonna lie: it was also very strange. (I never thought I’d be signing books in the store I spent so much money in as an undergrad.)

I’m just posting one photo here, but the rest are over on my Facebook page.

I was there with A.J. Kohlhepp, Todd Coopee, Peter Swanson, Jennifer Prescott, Paul Sullivan, Paul Assaiante, and Lucy Ferriss, Trinity’s writer-in-residence. It was a good mix of veteran writers, new writers, fiction, nonfiction, YA, adult, New York Times best-sellers, self-published and indie writers. You should obviously check them all out.

My main character swears, and other confessions.

Cursing in fictionIt’s always a little awkward when relatives read my books. A couple of years ago, one of my in-laws bought copies of my books for everyone on that side of the family as Christmas gifts. It was a really wonderful gesture, and I was flattered. I was also terrified because oh my god, my in-laws —  lovely people I share a meal with maybe once a year when we are all dressed up and on best behavior — were going to read a sex scene I wrote. They were going to be exposed to my politics. They were going to read ALL the swears.

I’d been through this with my own family. In fact, I always feel compelled to warn my relatives about my fiction. When I’m writing, I try not to worry about what anyone thinks, because that would cripple the work itself. When I release my work to an editor, I’m ready for the public to read it. Once it’s out, I don’t care so much about what strangers think. But family? I care. Oh god, I care. Because I don’t want them to think that I am my characters.

Take swearing, for example. In life, I don’t swear all that much.
Which is not to say that I don’t swear at all. I do. But our child is learning to talk, so the big curse word in our house right now, when we stub a toe, or drop something, or get an unpleasant email, is “Benedict Cumberbatch.”

But when I’m writing? I swear a lot. Case in point: Beware the Hawk is 48 pages long. You can get through it in one sitting. But if you took a drink every time the main character says “fuck,” you’d be passed out by page 30. That’s just the kind of person that character is. She swears like a Big Lebowski cast member.

That’s who she is. But that’s not who I am.

You see this concern a lot in writing communities: often readers assume that works of fiction are about the author. There’s a little bit of truth in that. My political beliefs do inform my political thrillers. And all authors do put something of themselves into every character they create. But that doesn’t mean the protagonist is always a stand-in for the author. I’ve found that characters have to be built out, so that they make sense, fit into the framework of the story, and interact believably with the other characters.

I can actually think of one author who was writing a biographical novel. The main character was originally an author stand-in, and the novel wasn’t working. One day, the author realized that was because both the story and the protagonist had evolved. The character could no longer continue to parrot the choices the author had made.The character had to be allowed to do what the character would do, not what the author had done. After that, the story worked, but the character was no longer a substitute for the author.

This sort of transformation happens a lot, but readers don’t always know this. I’ve had people think that Beware the Hawk is about me (it’s not) and a even couple of readers think that it’s about them (guys, no.) So naturally I get freaked out when people I want to impress (my in-laws) read it.

Will I ever get over my in-laws reading my fiction? Probably not. Will I be okay with my son reading my books someday? Oh, Benedict Cumberbatch, he will, won’t he? Well, I’ll leap from that bridge when I come to it. Will any of this stop me from writing unlikeable heroines who cuss and fight and make bad choices? Nope. I was born to write fiction, and I believe in writing characters who are hot messes.

Looks like there’s nothing to do but write another chapter, and watch my language at the next family gathering.

 

photo credit: Fuck via photopin (license)

A room of my own.

Virginia Woolf is famous for saying that a woman needs money and a room of her own if she’s going to write fiction. This week, I finally have a room of my own again.

It’s been almost a whole year since I packed my office up.

My son was no longer a newborn and needed to move out of our room and into his own space. So I packed up my writing books, my notes, 80,000 drafts of my novel, my office supplies, my Gandalf and Obi Wan Kenobi action figures and everything else I’ve managed to accumulate over the last 15 years of my career and moved my desk to a corner of our bedroom.

Then we moved, and I had my own room again, but since we moved during the holidays, all the boxes we didn’t want people to see got hidden in my office. Then my son’s playpen got moved in. And while it was a room, and mine, it was filled with crap, and I could find nothing in it.

Oh, you need to use the printer? YOU SHALL NOT PASS.

Oh, you need to use the printer?
YOU SHALL NOT PASS.

After a few months of working in this disaster, I took some time this week to find all the boxes that contained my office. I still don’t know where about 20 percent of my things are, but I found and unpacked most of them. (Including Gandalf. I losy Obi-Wan, but I like to think there’s a little blue action-figure Force ghost floating around in here.)

My office is back. I can find my notes. I can find my stapler and the extra ink for the printer. And most importantly, I have a room of my own again. It’s not perfect. The walls in here still need to be plastered and painted, which means I will have to move everything again. (I refuse to think of that right now.)

Now I just need some money.

Seven things about my writing that readers might want to know.

So, there’s this status going around writing circles right now on social media: “Seven things about my writing that readers might want to know.” I was tagged by a friend this morning, so I thought I’d do this here, on my blog, instead of Facebook.*

I’m not tagging anyone, but if you want to share your seven things after reading this, please do. Feel free to comment with a link to them, so I can read them. I’m curious.

Here are mine:

  1. It is difficult for me to complete any piece of writing. In fact, I have this irrational belief that it’s impossible for me to finish anything. I think that was one of the reasons I went into a newspaper job where I had to complete at least two stories a day.
  2. I resisted outlining for years, until recently, when I had no choice because I couldn’t afford to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike.
  3. I used to write 500 words of fiction a day. Now I schedule the days I will dedicate to fiction and which I will dedicate to journalism in advance.
  4. I can’t write fiction and non-fiction on the same day. My brain won’t do it without a fight.
  5. you-should-be-writing

    Shut UP.

    I hate it when other artists think they can tell you how to create. If someone tells you “writers write” or “you have to write every single day” or “you should be writing”  they’re probably well-intentionedly repeating their own mantras to you. They probably beat themselves over the head with those mantras, but that doesn’t mean they get to beat YOU over the head. Don’t listen to these people. No one can tell you how to make art.

  6. My fiction is always the richest when nothing exciting is happening in my own life.
  7. My son will probably be hearing the words “Just wait until Mommy finishes her chapter” for the rest of his life.

What are your seven things? Share them in the comments.

*I have strict rules for myself about chain letters and memes. I don’t usually participate and for 20 years, I’ve been guilt-free about ignoring them. Why? Because in my sophomore year of college, someone sent me the anti-chain letter and now, just by virtue of having read it, I am absolved for life of all guilt for not forwarding emails, not scrolling to the bottom of messages, not reposting statuses, not tagging people and not nominating people for online awards just because I was nominated.

Read ‘Undertow’ for free on your Kindle this week

undertowHello everyone. Happy Easter week! To celebrate the alleged start of spring, I’m making my short story “Undertow” free on Amazon this week.

The promotion starts tomorrow, March 31, and ends Saturday, April 4.

What’s the story about? It’s a supernatural horror story about a young woman who falls in love with the ocean. But then the ocean loves her back, and that’s kind of a problem. There are mythological creatures in it, and it’s creepy. But then, most of my fiction is on the creepy side. It’s part of my charm.

If you like supernatural horror, please check it out. Here is the link.