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)

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Do you know of a great book reviewer? I want to know.

Eagle & The ArrowThis is a crowd-sourcing kind of post. I want you guys to tell me where to send my book.

Yesterday I started sending review copies of The Eagle & The Arrow to a few fantastic book reviewers with whom I have relationships, and also to an elite group of super-readers. (I like to call them The Resistance. Because why not.)

But now it’s time to open things up and start sending review e-copies of my book to reviewers I don’t know. So I thought I’d open this up here: Do you know of, or really like a book review site to which I should be sending The Eagle & The Arrow? Or are you a book reviewer (for this effort, I’m looking for people who write reviews for either book review sites, blogs or publications)? 

Let me know. Leave a comment with the name of the site or shoot me an email or tweet me or Facebook message me and tell me where you think I should send my review copies. Or fill out this form (I’m all about options):

You send me a recommendation and I will send an e-book galley to that site. I will write them a note and mention you by name and tell them that you loved them so much that you recommended them to me.

So tell me, who should I be emailing? I want to know.

Writers, do you have tips for revising a novel or memoir?

Last night, I blogged about my horror of revising something as sprawling as a novel. Revising Beware the Hawk wasn’t so bad – it’s a novella. But a 300 page novel? That’s a project.

Now I want to ask the writing community: How do you go about your revisions?

Do you revise chapter by chapter? Do you look at the whole story? Do you print it out? Do you graph it?

I’m thinking of putting revision advice together for a future post. I would love it if you’d share your own tips. You can do that in two ways: Either leave a comment or emailing me at annjoconnell(at)gmail(dot) com. If I get a lot of good advice I will put all the tips up in an upcoming blog post, with attributions (so if you have a blog, also send me the url so I can link to you.)

I know that I might be blogging to an empty room here, since many of my writer friends are headed to the AWP conference in Chicago to chill with Margaret Atwood for the weekend. They are not checking their blog readers. They are running wild though tables of MFA programs and lit mags, tweeting writing advice gleaned from panels as they stuff swag into AWP tote bags.

But why should our AWP-bound buddies be the only ones to have a little knowledge dropped on them this weekend? There are plenty of us who are not in Chicago and who have wisdom to share. So let’s have our own online writers’ panel. How do you revise a long piece of work? Let me know.

National Novel Writing Month (and dinosaurs)

In two hours, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo to those in the know) will begin. In two hours, people all over the globe will start typing furiously in an effort to complete a 50,000-word manuscript by the end of November. So will I. It’s pretty insane; the goal is to write 1667 words every day for a month. You don’t agonize over them, you just type. The goal is not to produce a work of stunning literary genius, but to simply force oneself to start writing.

I started participating in NaNo in 2003, I think. A group of my friends enticed me into it with promises of camraderie and boozy write-ins. It was that during that November that I made two happy discoveries:

1.) I cannot write under the influence of alcohol. One glass of wine invites the muse to come a little closer, but any more than that? She flees from me faster than a reality tv star fleeing a marriage.

2.) Peer pressure is my best friend as far as churning out words. My group had long, hilarious email  conversations. We sent each other the best and worst sentences we’d written each day. We commiserated about our low wordcounts, lack of plots, and work getting in the way of our noveling.

Most Fridays in November we got together for dinner and cocktails and tried to write. That first year was glorious, so we did it again. And again. And again.

I was active until about 2008, after which I went to grad school to study creative writing. I figured that getting my MFA in fiction was incentive enough to write like a demon every day. But now that my writing program is over I’m NaNoing again. My project this year ain’t the Great American Novel. It can’t be – there are dinosaurs. Hell, it’s not even the Great American Novel With Dinosaurs, because Michael Crichton already wrote that book. It is, however, a promising manuscript I’ve wanted to finish for  years. I started it during NaNoWriMo three or four years ago.

This is the year I finish it.

Out of the woods

"Freeze, Protagonist. Freeze for seven years."

This isn’t going to be a super-long post. It’s not going to be like my criz-azy long essay on Home Ec class, or how the story of the immaculate conception used to terrify me. This is going to be a relatively short, Phil Lemos-like post about what I did this evening.

Tonight, I finished a writing project that I started, and then abandoned, in 2004. It was an big project for me at the time, because it was the first story I presented in my very first writers’ group, and it was also the piece that introduced me to the three ladies who would become my longest-running writing group and some of my best friends.

I think I’ve mentioned that I have a problem finishing my stories. This particular piece was the poster child for all my aborted projects. I wrote it right to within an inch of the end. The heroine was in the woods. The gun was pointed at her. She had a lot of feelings about this. And then…  I stopped writing. I just left homegirl in the woods, at gunpoint, just like that, and closed the file for seven years. Sorry, protagonist. It’s been fun. Hope you like nature. Hope you like it a lot.

That piece has been bothering me ever since I closed the file in 2004. It became symbolic of all the projects I abandoned for no good reason. Well, no more. Prompted by a friend, I reopened the file, and spent a month revising and rewriting the thing. I did the last edits tonight. It’s done. My protagonist is finally out of the woods. (Literally. I changed the ending.)

None of my unfinished projects are safe now. I could tinker with any one of them at any point in time. You never know when I might strike.

Novels – they grow up so fast.

I’m still struggling to bring my novel to a close.

Tonight, for some inspiration, I dragged out the short story that eventually became my novel. I wrote the story last spring, and a year ago, turned it in as a workshop sample for my MFA program.

It’s a strange little piece. I’m not exactly sure when or how the idea for it hit me, but I was watching a lot of Rupaul’s Drag Race at the time, and as an arts reporter, had been writing a series of stories on summer Shakespeare productions. I must have also picked up a bag of JaVaNa coffee beans at the grocery store. Somehow all of this churned together in my brain and came out as a short story about a drag queen named Javana who desperately wants to play the Lady Macbeth in an amateur Shakespeare on the Green production.

The story is 16 pages long. That’s it. Sixteen pages. My manuscript is, at this point, 260 pages long. Good lord – that’s a lot of pages. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that long. They funny thing is that the 16-pager is almost a miniature of the novel; both pieces cover (more or less) the same material and the same amount of time. Both attempt the same character arc. It’s amazing to me that I ever thought I could do that with a short story.

Novels. They grow up so fast. This one has been my baby. I’ve loved it and nurtured it and given it the best I could. That said, I can’t wait until this one is fully grown.  After graduation, I’m kicking its lazy butt out of my house so it can go out into the world, get a job and hopefully support me in my old age.