Thursday, 12 January 2017

On forums.

I am an inveterate forum hopper (I am including my regular facebook groups as forums, simply because they have the same feel). I have about four I'll post something every day in and another eight or so I'll bounce in and out of.

Why? I like forums. I like getting to know people (except the odd arsehole you meet) and I type fast so can interact smoothly on them. But I like some better than others and - because this is a blog about writing - I find some more in tune with me as a writer than others. And that's all perfectly normal.

I will admit to getting lucky. The first forum I tried - the sffchronicles.com - is still my most central one. I met my writing group there, my first publisher, my editor, my first readers. I got hooked right about then.

Forums are about culture. They're about a particular mix of people who make a particular little community. You can't predict what you'll find when you first join - I've been surprised in both ways about a community - because that cultural mix only becomes overt when you've been there a while. In fact, one of the fun things I find is that I have about 10 mates who all frequent multiple forums. We meet each other in all sorts of places. Yet, despite that I'll be known on one forum, have been read and reviewed by members, and another author -adored on another forum - will barely make a dent there. And that's to do with so many things - the interest of the forum (I tend to enjoy ones that either cover both sci fi and fantasy or, where it only does one genre - two of my main facebook groups are genre specific - they have fun with lots of silly memes and the odd interesting article. But spacecat memes are hard to beat....

So, what do you do when you first get to a forum? How do you work out if it's for you?

1. Post an intro thread. Most forums have either a dedicated thread for this or are happy for you to post one. Admit you're new and might not be good at knowing your way around. Keep it short about your books - this is not the time or the place (see point two) - and try to come back to any comments.

2. Don't walk in the door bragging about your book. Chances are, even if you're the bee's knees on other forums, you won't be known on a new one (this happened to me tonight, exactly like that). Most forums have strict rules about self promoting - or all forums would turn out to be nothing but buy-my-book-fests. But newby authors are the worst - or most ingenious - a finding ways to circumvent that. Obtrusive signatures, bringing every thread round to your book and never letting go.

Look, I know it's hard. They've asked a question about something your book does and readers like and you want to shake someone and say 'what about mine!' If the community gets to know you and some give your book a chance, they might post that they liked it. But self promotion is mostly the guaranteed way not to get noticed.

3. Spend a bit of time assessing your likes against a forums. I finally joined Reddit fantasy last night - despite knowing I won't be a big poster. I've dragged my feet because I am not a big conventional reader. I read a lot of magical realism and have tried most of the major authors at some point or another, but fantasy isn't my favourite genre. And that's Reddit's strengths. But they also have great thought-provoking links and a very active community and I will enjoy being there - I just know I won't have as much go contribute there as in other places. And that's fine - like any community there will be central members and occasional ones and that's what keeps things vibrant and fresh.

4. Keep an open mind. I'll be honest when I found Best Fantasy Books on a google search I wasn't at all sure (see above about my reading tastes - and this was a reading focused forum). But the forum members and admins were very welcoming and friendly and I stuck around. Now I'm there most days, have made quite a few online friends there and like it an awful lot.

5. Give back. Even if you're not a regular on a forum try to give more than you take. Answer other people's questions with thoughtfulness and good manners. If you critique, give more than you take. Communities thrive on people's goodwill - help them thrive.

Friday, 6 January 2017

right. You wrote it. Now sell it.

This a rant. A complete and utter rant on a Friday night. It's a rant to all my lovely, kind, clever author frienda who aren't natural sales people (so, Dan, walk away now. Or, better yet, comment with some tips!)

1. You have one big chance to promote your book unless you're with a big publisher. Your e-book. Your paperback will be lucky to shift 50 copies - your ebook will shift ten times that and more. Amazone start assessing your sales potential the minute you are live. Wait two weeks and you have lost your chance. Their algorithms will have you labelled as a slow seller and you have a mountain to climb to get thst back. Don't wait.

It is too late when the ebook is out. It is too late when the paperback arrives days, or weeks, later. You need to promote before it comes out, when it is out, when something happens with it. You need to hit All the chances.

Fun fact - it takes about seven mentions for a person to register a product. And no one will see all your posts. So you need to mention your book every legitimate chance you can.

2. That doesn't mean you need to spam! Just a tweet saying 'here's my book, it's live!' 'Here's my paperback copies!' 'I've dropped some signed stock into **** , go check it out!' Not buy my book, let me tell me about my book, let me bore you, but just ... Here is is. If you like. If not, move on. Drop twenty other tweets between that one and it's not even vaguely spammy. Same goes for forums, for facebook, for anywhere.

3. Local coverage. Everything is on line now! Get a three line column in your local paper - who always want stories - and you can tweet it, forum it, facebook it. It's fun, it's interesting and if you only do it every so often, it's not spam.

4. You don't owe anyone anything for promoting your book. Not Even your publisher. They will make money from your book. If you need a copy of your cover, ask. If you need a quote for an article, ask. If you need access to their forum, ask. If you want to know what they're going to so for you when, ask. They are not doing you a favour. This is business. You are their customer. Ask to be treated as one. You don't have to be rude, or difficult. But you can and should ask for what you need, when.

5. Suck it up. Yes, it's horrid if you're not a natural promoter. But you only need to do it sometimes. Get up, shout it out, and get down. Blitz two weeks of promo and slink off. But do it. You worked hard to get the book out. Selling it is not a dirty word. And if you don't, someone else will sell theirs instead...

Some ideas:

Blog tour - got a friend who is a blogger (waves at every sodding writer mate I have) - ask them for a spot.
Interviews - ask if anyone fancies one! Know anyone who does them - ask. Interviewers need people to interview as much as you need the coverage. It's not a favour, it's business.
Media packs - ask your publisher for one. Keep asking. Don't stop. You need it - and so do they.

All right, rant over. Stop vacillating. Tell me about your book. I want to know. Readers want to know. Don't spam, for sure, but tell me. We want to support you - readers need writers - but we can't if you don't tell us what you have for us to look at.

A WAY THROUGH THE MIRE

This started as a jokey little blog that might raise smiles, a caricature of writing journeys and paths that, as I typed, became less funny. Why? Because those caricatures were me and my writing mates, and we're facing a quagmire.

This game used to be easy. We used to need to get an agent. We used to have to keep writing books until we wrote one that got us an agent. And then we needed them to find us a publisher, who gave us an advance which mostly went towards writing the next book for the agent.

And some people still go that route. They want a Big 6 publisher and nothing less will do. Worse, anything less equals failure. No matter how many stats appear showing this route is harder than ever, no matter how much that writer understands the market dictates what gets interest just as much as talent does, they hit for the big one. They try agent after agent (but only those who have a record of Big 6 sales). They enter open windows and sit for months. They trunk perfectly good manuscripts while they go off and write a new masterpiece that might be the one.

But, let's be optimistic! Let's assume they get the agent! What then? Honestly, it's only part of the equation. Getting a publisher is the next. And then selling the book follows - and, believe me, your book being taken by a Big 6 and failing is one of the most dreaded scenarios out there. (But it's not a disaster. Nothing can ever finish you as a writer, except stopping writing.)

So, that's fine. That model sucks, say we all! (And, actually, I don't say that at all. The whole point of this blog is pointing out that there is no model that stands out, that we're all caught with no definitive answer.)

But, anyhow, instead of getting an agent, let's stick the book on kindle and watch the money roll in! After all, we've read books all our life! Ours is just as good. So, okay, the first ten agents we sent to didn't ask to see more (in fact, 5 of them never replied) and we've never had a critical reader at it (but Mum adored it!), but anyone can publish a book now! They just need to photoshop a cover and chuck their document on Kindle and whay-hay!

You appear in forums to ask people to buy your book. You join every discussion on *insert facebook group of choice* and bring it round to what you wrote a book about. You wonder why you get barred from group after group and realise they're as against you as the agents were. And then the reviews come in and they say your grammar is poor and you haven't edited the text (you did! You read through it twice before popping it up!) And you slink off, sure the writing world is against you.

Which does, of course, do a disservice to the many professional self-publishers out there. And I do mean a disservice - because the above still happens all the time and their professional product is tainted by unedited manuscripts that clog up Amazon and make yours hard to find.

Of course, some hit the jackpot. The concept is a good one, or the timing right for that type of book, and jackpot is hit! Bingo! You're a kindle bestseller. You'll still struggle to get an agent, mind (you've saturated your market, or the print sales wouldn't merit it) but you have audio books in production and you're killing the kindle charts. Frankly, you probably don't want an agent but, if you do think you need one, and you get one who hits the Holywood deal for you, you've likely made it. The day job can go. It happens to the very odd writer. Just like a lottery win hits the odd household.

So, okay. Trad publishing is a rotten model and so is self publishing (and, again, being clear, I'm not actually saying either is), so you can go with the small publisher who says they love your book and will do it for you without all those pesky up front costs. They produce the book. Some do it well. Some know less about publishing a book than you do. You get less money, sure, but it's not all about the money, is it? And at least you don't have any costs to cover - you're in profit right away!

If you're lucky you'll find a publisher you work well with, who gives you reasonable autonomy in what you write, and you'll build a following. The day job most likely stays (but, frankly, it does under all these models for the majority of authors). You'll never be in many book shops and you'll stay mid-list, unless the magical word-of-mouth happens and you find yourself doing a Time-Traveler's Wife and thumbing your nose at all the big agencies who rejected you and doing a celebratory dance with the people who loved your seemingly-niche book and published it.

And that's where we are. On a roundabout with multiple paths, mostly aiming for the same destination, and none of them are sure to be the right one. So what to do?

I really don't have the answers. I don't think anyone does. For every author who's happy with their agent, there's another unhappy. For every writer who lusts after an agent, another would hate to give away 15% of their sales. For each writer who finds a small publisher they love and work with, another finds a shyster who doesn't know the first thing about books - and doesn't care.

For me, again, it comes down to the old mantra. Do what makes you happy and focus on what you can control. You can never control what will be a hit. Forget about that. If it happens, it happens. Just take the path that feels right to you and follow it, cautiously, keeping the control of your rights in mind. So long as you have that in hand, you can always return to the roundabout. It's just hellish that we might have to.

Good luck to all my writer friends (and those I don't know). Let's at least try to get each other's back.














Sunday, 1 January 2017

New year, new focus (and a first sneak peak...)

The mince pies are done. In a couple of days the kids are back to school and I'm back to the desk.

2016 was the year of Abendau, with the final books of the trilogy released (and gaining great reviews, thankfully - many of which mention my maturing as a writer over the books - which is a relief after 4 years between writing book one and book three). But for now, Abendau is finished. It is a world I may return to sometime. But not yet.

2017 has a new focus - in more than one way. Firstly, it will be a slower year. I have a release in July but nothing before. I might, time allowing, have another later in the year, a sf collection, but, really, I'm in no hurry.

Why not? Me who is normally hell for leather? Well, firstly, my job must come first for a while - it pays while writing, frankly, does not. There is something in this, perhaps, a message to those who love books. Writers get a tiny amount of the book's value (even on Amazon, where 75% sounds great but where overheads must be met or a publisher's cut taken). Consumers look for books as cheaply as they can seek them. As long as writers - especially debuts - struggle to attract the price of a coffee for their work, the less likely it is that they have the time to write.But, also - I no longer feel to succeed volume is key. Quality is key. And for me, that means editing time and maturing time. I have four books out there for people to explore - for now, that's plenty and gives me time to enjoy my next release and not race frantically for the finish line (and time to write something new.)

Secondly, my debut fantasy book comes out in July. Set in the Antrim Glens, it follows Amy who, when she was five, was stolen by the fairies - now, they want her back. I call it a fairy-fuelled roadtrip through the Glens, an area I know well and the very essence of fairyland but it's about more than that - it's about the land and its people, the shaping of us through our past, about secrets and fragilities, about trust and hope.


Writing fantasy is different from sci-fi but I've really enjoyed it. It gives more room for me to delve into the characters and world, and I've really loved the process of combining our own world with another, one perhaps seen only in the corner of our eyes.As perhaps expected, my fairies aren't cute, glittery things but darker, more malevolent. The Irish sidhe aren't gentle, as those who live near them will attest - and I do love to explore the dark little corners of our world.

Have a look at the prologue below - I'd love to know what you think.

PROLOGUE - WATERS AND THE WILD

I never knew panic could make ice jump into my throat and cold fingers crawl up my spine. That it could change me from a rational, normal mum, unpacking in the caravan at the start of our holiday, into a harridan who screamed at my husband for losing our daughter; at my young, stunned son for needing me; at the police to do something – anything – to find her.

That was the first time, the time when everything changed, and the memory never fades: Phil running through the site, Mark beside him on coltish legs, struggling to keep up. Phil’s panicked eyes meeting mine, Phil who’d always been strong. He ran up to where I was, standing on the caravan’s step clutching a pair of tiny dungarees, just perfect for a five-year-old girl. Before he spoke I knew he’d been away too long and … I knew.

“Amy’s gone,” he said, his words strained. He sucked in a breath. “We need to call the police.”

“Gone where?” I didn’t scream or yell. Not then. It wasn’t real yet.

“From the little glen,” he said. “The one at the top of the site.”

Amy’s glen, where she’d spent the last summer enchanted by ‘fairies’. We’d encouraged her game, not knowing, then, what it was really about.

Mark had been the one with the sense to run to the rangers' lodge, and the ranger on duty called the police. All Phil could say, over and over, was that it wasn’t possible for her to be gone, that he’d been watching her, that there was no way out of the glen. Mark agreed and the bile rose in me because – it was possible; they had lost her.

The search went on all night. Helicopters droned over the forest. Floodlights swept the glen. Voices shouted: “Amy! Amy!” An officer gave her description on the radio; they thought someone had taken her. Another asked for a photo, and when I didn’t have one they called my parents. I watched lights dance over the forest, back and forth, and couldn’t focus on anything except the creeping knowledge that I wouldn’t see her again.

They found her after dark, in the glen, curled under an overhang of trees. Someone came to the van where we were having another cup of tea – I’ve never drunk tea since – and I ran across the site, the grass whipping my ankles. I climbed the stile into the glen beyond. A policewoman helped me over; she was shaking her head, saying it was a miracle, that no one knew how they’d missed her. I heard Phil ask where she’d been found, heard him say he’d bloody known there was no way past. Clever Mark checked it really was Amy.

I left all that behind and walked into the circle of police. There, in the middle of the officers, her face dimpling when she saw me, Amy waited. The ice in me broke – shattered – and I ran to her. I picked her up and spun her round until she laughed.

“Where did you go, sweetie?” I asked when I put her down. I crouched in front of her and gave her a box of raisins – I knew she’d be hungry. As she went to take the raisins I saw something in her hand; a golden acorn, perfect except for a crack in its side, its metal catching the moonlight.

“Where did you get that?”

“From the fairies,” she said, her eyes solemn. “I found it.”

My heart stilled. Amy never lied. Phil, now beside me, bent in front of her and stroked her hand. I watched, tense, as he said, “Tell the truth, honey.”

“I did.” She gave a little smile, a dancing one, and said, “I was with the fairies.”

Mark stared at his sister. I saw him taking in her eyes, her hair, the cunning smile. He looked her up and down, and then grinned, an eight-year-old’s grin that wasn’t scared like mine.

“Cool,” he said, drawing out the word. “Can I be their prince?”

But he wasn’t their prince: he couldn’t be anything to them. They only ever wanted Amy.

Monday, 19 December 2016

On Publishers

I don't want to talk about contracting - I'm not a contract expert and would never give any advice except to take advice, or know contracting enough to be confident. Instead, I want to talk about some of the practices I've seen and, perhaps, give a heads up to those who are trying to decide if a press is for them.

(Suffice to say, checking the press seems solvent, pays royalties, isn't known for screwing its authors, is business like and has been in business long enough to be confident* is good. (*Or, if not, they have experience onboard. I went with a new press and it worked out fine, but I knew my editor had a lot of experience and was giving great advice).

However, (this blog is going to need a Get-out-of-jail contract of its own, soon), what press is right for which author will vary from person to person, circumstance to circumstance, and book to book.

But here's some of the questions I think it's worth asking before signing.

1. What editorial support will you be getting? If you have a book that's good to go, you might be happy with a copy edit and leave it at that. But for debut authors, or those who feel they'd benefit from more guidance, the experience of the editor might be important.

For me, my books always mature because of the searching questions my editors ask, and I like the whole works, thanks. Being told my book would  be turned around without editing time would be a no-no for me.

2. The finish. I always, always check what a publisher's book look like. I download the sample of a couple and check them for formatting and errors. I check reviews and see if any mention a lack of polish. If they're in bookstores, I go look at the paper copy and explore it. I want my books to be of good quality.

3. Reputation. Does the publisher have a good rep? Do they treat their writers fairly? Any complaints on Absolute write's Bewares and Reccommends? Any compliments? If so, is there a reasonable balance? Few publishers go through the business without engendering the odd bit of dissatisfaction. But if there are serial problems, how are they being addressed - and are you happy to live with them?

4. How big a management team does the publisher have? Enough editors that should one leave, the publisher can keep going? Enough to manage the output of the publisher? Enough that if the person at the centre breaks a leg and is AWOL for a few weeks, things can keep going?

5. How many books does that publisher bring out a year? Some publishers bring out book after book, hoping to hit jackpot and willing to allow books that don't do so well drop out of sight. Usually they will get the books out according to a formula that controls costs. For writers who follow the high-volume, get the books out model, this might be perfect.

For me, it doesn't work. I'm work and juggle writing amongst it. I want to know what I'm expected to do, in what month, so I can manage my time. I don't want to be trying to do high-volume work-work in June (I work in education), and have an edit to turn around in 6 weeks at the same time.

I'd rather be a little slower in releasing books and have more time for all the stages. Especially promotion. Time to get ARC reviews out, and feedback in. Time to ask reviewers - and for them to have time to review. It takes so much longer than you expect, that part of it.  

6. What is the publisher's expectation of you? How much promo will they do, and how much you? Will you be expected to attend conventions - and if so, will they set it up? It's better to know these kind of things in advance to avoid confusion later. (And shocks when they tell you you've got a book tour to do and you're subject to social anxiety. Or whatever.)

7. How much say will you have in the publishing of your book. It's one of the reasons a writer goes with small publishers over big - to have a little more bespoke approach.

My covers have all been agreed with me before they're released and, if I've been able to speak up. I'd find it hard to discover I hated one and couldn't say anything about it.

Ditto pricing. Peter Newman's The Vagrant ran the gauntlet of some pretty harsh reviews over its kindle price. Big publishers seem to be able to sell a kindle for the same price as a paperback. The average debut or small-press author will struggle to shift any volume at a high price.

If you don't get any say, that's not neccesarily a no-no. You're back to point 2 and the checking of other books released by them. Did they get the pricing about right? Do you like the covers? If so, you might be in good hands and have the luxury of not worrying.

8. Who does what? Useful to know, this. Who chases blurbs on the front cover? It should be the publisher but you might have the contacts to ask a dream blurb-er. Are the publisher okay with that? Or, if they don't seek blurbs, can you? And if they seek them, do they consider it unprofessional for the author to do so? Who contacts the media? Which brings me to point 9:

9. What stands behind you? A media pack at the very least, I hope, ready for you to share around. A publicity team (unlikely, but not unknown)? A publisher forum or website? This is all so important. We all know writers have to pull their weight these days - but they don't need to be alone in doing so.

10. Does the publisher feel right to you? This is, for me, just about the most important equation. How do I fit in? For this, I like, if I can, to chat with the publisher or editor, at least over skype. I like to know we're aiming for the same goal and going the same way. I like to feel I belong. And, once that happens, being with a small publisher can be an incredibly rewarding experience, where you feel valued and that you have room to grow. If you can get to that, smile, count your lucky stars, and enjoy the ride. 

That's me signing off for Christmas and I hope you and yous have a peaceful and happy few weeks, whatever you're doing, with whom. And a big thank for all the support this year.

Jo Z


Friday, 16 December 2016

VOICES IN MY HEAD





Inish Carraig audio is live, and I’d heartily recommend it. Last week I started, at last, work on the sequel (in between a few other active projects, so it will take a while).

Inish Carraig 2 (working title - Culchies I Spas – country bumpkins let loose in space), isn’t schelduled until next year at the earliest. Actually, schelduling makes the process seem a little more formal than it is – it’s vaguely in my mind as suitable for coming out around then. But there will be no publisher driving it: I will self publish it.

But I’m struggling with my newest work in progress – specifically, I’m not yet hearing the voices in my head that I need to write it. Which means I need to give a little more time for them to grow.

When I wrote Inish Carraig, it was to give me confidence that I could write something other than Abendau. I knew I wanted a writing career and I knew it would take more than one book and more than one world.

I did not expect Inish Carraig to be as popular as it is, and I didn’t expect people to ask me about a sequel and keep asking. In fact, I nearly trunked the project. At around the 20000 mark of draft one, I wailed to one of my critique partners that I could not write this book. I knew everyone in Abendau so well, I could write their voices. But these guys, this angry teen from Belfast and posh landed-gentry cop. Nope. It would not work.

This week, when I started typing the sequel, I had no such problems. Straight away, I was into John’s voice, knowing his thoughts about Carter and Neeta. I had her voice in my head, too, and Henry’s. I knew each intimately and in a way that makes writing them easy.

How then, I wondered, do I get from one place to the other. How do I come to know my new characters as well as my own? (I do know that Amelia, my shiny protagonist, likes to use brackets, which none of my other characters have ever wanted.)

Time, I think, is critical. Characters are shy to begin with. I’ll find out about them only as I write them. As I do, their little mannerisms will become clear – Henry being messy, for instance, or Kare cracking his fingers to bring sparks of pain when he needs to refocus. None of those traits existed when I started.

But, also, being them. I’m about to take a quick walk to avoid getting DVT from typing all morning. I’m going to take that walk as Amelia. She’s a painter, and I’m not. She’s psychic (although, bless her, she doesn’t know it yet, so shhhhh…) and I’m assuredly not. What would she notice on the walk that I won’t? What would she think about? Another time, I’ll walk as Joe, her boyfriend, and try to see the world through his eyes.

Slowly, slowly, their voice – their mannerisms, their life view and the way in which they communicate it – will become clear. Only when I get to that point, will I be able to write their story smoothly, as if they were telling it.

I’m not sure there are many masterclasses about finding your characters’ voice, as opposed to your author’s one. Certainly, I thought I only needed to find the darn thing once, and then I’d carry it from book to book. And I do, a little – in the length of my sentences, in my use of semi-colons, in the rhythm and pace. But I also use my characters’ voices and each is different from another’s.

Here, for instance, are four of those voices:

The cold deepened. The steps were close now, and he knew whose they were. He wanted his power back. The thought came to him, raw with anger, immature in its simplicity. If he had his power, he’d hurt the Empress like she’d never been hurt before. She couldn’t do this to someone from the tribes. It wasn’t right.

(Abendau’s Legacy, Tickety Boo Press, 2017)

(In that excerpt Kare changes to Baelan’s voice partway through. The thoughts become more direct, less considered. The language becomes plainer. In my head, I hear this as two separate voices.)

Compare that to:

She watched him leave, and pursed her lips. He thought she was going to give him cover so he could play at being a rebel soldier? If he were ten years older she’d blame a mid-life crisis.
(Abendau’s Legacy, Tickety Boo Press, 2017)

(That can only be Sonly. So waspish, yet smart. Prickly, if you like, and a little prim.)

If I move to my Irish work, this is how the voices change:

His stomach churned, loud in the empty room, and Taz didn’t even take the piss out of him for it. Carter would only lie if is was bad news.
Bollocks; they were in trouble.

(Inish Carraig, 2016)

(That one is John. The casual curse words he uses without thinking are part of his internal narrative and make him distinctive.*)

I can see, within those examples, that some of my voice is constant. The blend of action and visceral feeling. The closeness and the lack of filtering (Sonly watching Lichio leave is not a filter – it’s a deliberate action on her part), the pattern of 3-cadenced sentences, and the balance of long and short. But I can also see where I adapt it for nuance, to make it sound right in my head  - and especially when I read it out loud – to make it into the character’s voice.

Having written this, I’m now in a better place than where I was. I can see that my process for writing the new book is slightly changed – in the past I would have worked on something new along with something older that needed to be edited; this time, I’ll work on two new things, but one with voices I already know. Perhaps that was, actually, what I was doing before. Because the two processes are different creatively. I’m also going to be more confident in allowing things to sit for a while if needed, until the voices fully develop. I can’t force this process. I can only sit back and enjoy the ride.


Jo Zebedee is the author of four books to date and numerous short stories, all unashamedly character-led. More about her can be found on www.jozebedee.com, including links to her blog jozebwrites, which she updates weekly.

The audio version of Inish Carraig can be found here: 
 




Friday, 9 December 2016

On Reviews

I have several friends whose first books are coming out in 2017 and a few with recent launches, too. More and more the success of a book appears to be reliant on Amazon reviews - and, like it or not, many new authors spend a fair bit of their time obsessing over them. I certainly did.

Note that. Did. I think, as time goes on, a bit more balance comes into the whole process.

Anyhow, for the sake of this blog I went and looked at my review stats. Over my four novels I have 269 reviews (some of which will be duplicates as a few people are kind enough to post their review in more than one place) with an average 4.52 ranking. Which is very nice. (Thanks to anyone who took the time.)

My highest ranked book is Sunset Over Abendau (which is my fav, so yay! Good author taste), then Abendau's Legacy (but it is a very new book so has fewer ratings.)

My most popular book looks like Inish Carraig, which doesn't surprise me. It has a lower overall average at 4.54 but an awful lot more reviews - and only 1 is less than 3 stars. Abendau's Heir is the most challenging book with the biggest range of reviews from 'I loved it' to 'Not for me' and I think that's to be expected, given the challenging subject matter.

But, whilst stats and numbers are very interesting,  they're not what motivated me to write about reviews. No, I wanted to share what it was like to get reviews, and the stages I went through moving from obsessive to something more sanguine.

(Note, this is based on my experience only. I'd say I'm mid-level - a reasonable amount of reviews, but not outstanding. But I'm not a review-chaser, by and large (but if anyone has read something, why not leave a review? ;)) Some authors do better at getting review numbers up. Although there is the risk that being too aggressive about asking for them might bring in some reviews - but it will lose you others.

Others, especially established authors, have excellent networks that mean they get a load of early reviews and Amazon takes note. This is harder, I think, for debut authors.) 

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FIRST REVIEWS - GOOD TIMES!

These will be, by and large, good ones.  They come from early, bought-in readers, they will often be from an ARC copy (and no matter what we say about being honest - a free book is harder to be critical about, I find. Also, I don't accept ARCs unless I very much like the look of a book anyway.) These reviews will also come from family and friends - few of whom will leave an awful review.

This is why readers aren't swayed - and nor is Amazon - by 5 stars over your first six reviews. They know who is leaving them.

The first reviews come quickly. Most authors will have their advance readers primed to leave them on the day of release, or over the first week or two.

I found this part both exhilarating and terrifying. People were reading my book! (terror, and it hasn't got any better with each new release. But, delight! My world was real now.) People were reviewing - and they might not like it! Or they might not like all of it! Now, I do read my reviews. But it's hard. For those of a more artistic temperament a filter between you and the raw reviews can be good - that's very much up to the individual author.

OTHER AUTHORS

Authors tend to be supportive of each other. But! Be warned.  Amazon will move on reciprocal reviews and pull them down. Daringly, I still leave some. But, more and more, I avoid it because it will bring the other author's book into question and could cost them more than just my review.

If I do review, I always read the book first. If I don't leave a review, please don't badger me. It may be that I haven't got to it - your book is probably on my kindle somewhere. At the moment, I'm beta reading two full novels, reading an ARC for someone else and occasionally get asked to read to provide cover blurbs. These will all take priority because I've committed to them. Considering I also like to read for pleasure, that's a lot of reading. I know it's frustrating ('but I reviewed yours!') but really, really, don't leave a review just in the hope of getting one back. You'll be disappointed. (And in a few months time when you're trying to keep up with everyone who helped you out, you'll be equally swamped and not able to keep up.)

THE SECOND WAVE

This tends to happen a few weeks or months down the line when the first rush is over, and people who don't know you pick up the books. I find this is when rating-slippage starts to happen. These reviews are the genuine ones. These are the ones that will say they couldn't get into it, or they couldn't put it down (often for the same book) and it will all be true. These reviewers don't know you - they aren't trying to save your feelings. They don't care if you never talk to them again. This is where it gets tough. During this stage you may also receive your first

TROLL REVIEWER

Some people just love to leave bad reviews. If you get a 1 or 2 star have a look at that person's average review and, if they have a review average of 2 or less, that's just what they do. Arguably, they could just be hard to please (but, really, if you hated every book you picked up, wouldn't you at some point stop reading them or choose a new genre?) but, also arguably, they do it for a bit of what passes as fun.

Move on. Mutter to trusted writer friends in non-public places, get some virtual cake and ignore the review.

In fact, on that, and before I go to the next milestone: NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, ENGAGE WITH A POOR REVIEW. EVER. It never comes out well for the author. Take it on the chin and move along.

YOUR FIRST ONE STAR REVIEW

It will happen. I currently have six. The first one stung a bit, for sure. But, as Joe Abercrombie (IIRC) said - if you're not getting them not enough people are reading you. Not everyone will like your book. Some people will actively hate it. That's okay. It's a big world - there are readers for just about every writer.

Some authors I know share their low-starred reviews and that can be very funny. Another - Stephen Palmer - puts them on a naughty step. Either way, don't let them destroy you.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEW SITES

For me, these are the most nerve-wrecking of all. These reviewers are experienced, they read a lot, their role is to provide criticality. Up to now, I've done okay but... a bad one will happen. It has to. When it does, I guess it goes back to sucking it up, taking it on the chin and eating cake.

That's all I had to say on reviews. We've all been there. It's not one of the fun aspects of being a writer (especially if you've written an absolute stinker) but it's part of the role. Do what you can to mitigate things, make sure you've produced something professional and try not to leave yourself an easy target. After that, it's all down to the readers.

My Goodreads profile is here, if anyone wants to check that I'm not telling porkies and am really on 2 stars for everything. The stats above incorporated both these, amazon.co.uk and amazon.com

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13696082.Jo_Zebedee