What The H*ll Do You Want???

What do you, as a reader, want on author blogs? I see all kinds of things, and some pretty nonsensical advice from gurus claiming to know what readers want from author blogs and websites. So, as usual when I want to know something, I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth. BTW, if you’re a reader, that’s you. So, here goes.

Not All Readers Are Created Equal.

A large percentage of the visitors to writers/authors blogs and sites are other writers. What they want may be vastly different from what the non-writer reader wants. As a result, we each have to decide which reader we want to target. Do we go for other writers, and have a pretty much guaranteed audience? Or seek out people who might actually buy our books and enjoy them?

Or, do we perhaps try for a mix, other writers and regular readers? If we do that, how do we achieve some sort of balance, or even separation, so that everyone gets what they want, without the parts they don’t want? Separate blogs/sites, one for writers, one for readers, aren’t an uncommon solution. The writer has to split her time and efforts, often inefficiently, and often leading to one blog being of far inferior quality than the other. If we take that course, which side gets sacrificed?

Other Writers As Readers

See, while writers tend to be voracious readers, we also tend to be 1.) very selective in reading material, and 2.) often, many of us are on a pretty tight budget. We often read extensively in our own genre, sometimes with a very narrow focus within it, but not much else. Or we read lots of writing craft books. Or only authors we wish to emulate. Or… Anyway, often, we don’t look at all the carefully placed marketing materials on author blogs.

With frequently limited reading time, as we push to write our own material, we look for blogs and sites that have materials that will help us improve our writing, find an agent, get published, and sell our books. Word quickly gets around about blogs that provide such useful materials, and they develop large followings.

So, if we’re aiming our blog or site at other writers, we need to focus on materials that will help other writers be more successful.

Readers As Readers

Here’s where things get tricky. What if we want people who are looking for books to make our blog their favorite online hang-out? Of course, we’d love to have the avid reader, the one who consumes multiple books per week, reading our blog. What does she look for in an author’s blog?

Our avid reader might be up for an occasional day-in-the-life sort of post, if she’s a little curious about how and what writers actually do. Writing craft posts aren’t too likely to catch her attention, though. She might like reviews, to help her choose other books to buy, but do we want to send her to buy from the competition?

How can we keep her focus on our work? Cover art, blurbs, and buy links should probably go without saying. How else will the reader know what books we have, and how to get them? I also see excerpts on quite a few author sites, of all levels, so the conventional wisdom would seem to favor excerpts. Give the reader a little taste of the product, as it were. But where do we go from there?

Leave It To The Imagination

One author (I’m sure there are many more doing this, too.) has a page on her website dedicated to artwork related to her books. That sounds good, on the surface. The problem is, she uses these computer drawn images of her characters, which can be gorgeous, when well done. Hers aren’t. They’re very took-one-class-and-now-I’m-a-professional-artist looking, with uneven proportions and colors that resemble dog-puke together. Such things, done purposely, can work, but not in this case. It ends up making her look like an amateur, almost childish, instead of a professional author.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but even before I came back to writing fiction seriously, that sort of thing really turned me off as a reader. If the representations of characters aren’t extremely well done, I greatly prefer my imagination.

Involving Readers?

I know of one mid-list author whose fans sometimes sent her original, professionally done graphics, just to share their enthusiasm for her books. She, with the artists’ permission, used the graphics on her website, and when the collection grew, on merchandise. She has gorgeous hoodies and tees with the graphics, and short quotes and slogans, for sale on her site. I have no idea how well that’s going, but with fabulous artwork, reasonable prices, and good quality, I’d be surprised if it weren’t successful.

How that can translate to other authors, I have no idea, but it seems worth exploring.

Other authors involve readers in various ways – giveaways and contests, responding to reader questions publicly, social media interactions, interviews, blog tours, reviews, newsletters, and etc. The problem with these things is that everyone is doing them, making it tough to stand out from the crowd. We’re told by all the experts that these things will translate to book sales, and they probably do for some. But isn’t there more we can do, without wasting effort and money?

The Question, Then, Becomes:

What can writers/authors do to draw actual readers to our blogs/sites, and keep them involved and returning? Even those of us just starting out, perhaps not even published yet? What can we do to build a loyal following of readers, eagerly anticipating the release of our (next) book?

Do any of the methods listed above catch your attention as a reader, bring you to our blog/site, and keep you coming back for more? Or do they all just get lost in the shuffle? What kinds of things writers do to promote their work annoy you? Would you buy their books even if you’re a little put off by their marketing?

What can authors do to make you feel special, and valued, as an individual? What can we do to convince you to be our reader?

 

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Writer Wednesday: How on Earth?

Welcome to Part 5 of my Critique Series. If you haven’t already, check out the earlier posts in the series: Fresh Eyes, 10 Qualities Of The Perfect Critique Partner, Where, Oh Where, Has My Little CP Gone?, and Match Made In Heaven, Or Hell?

With all this talk of crits and CPs, some of you have to be wondering exactly how you’re supposed to learn to critique someone else’s work. You might assume that if you can write, you can crit. Not so. Critting is an art in itself, and takes practice to learn to do well. A good crit is as valuable to a writer, especially one who’s still learning, as a good dictionary. We aren’t talking about your cousin’s “I loved it! Great job! Keep it up!” sort of crit.

Many beginning critiquers feel they have nothing of value to offer, but this far from the truth. Any reader who makes the effort can give tremendously valuable feedback. A beginning critter can tell you what worked and didn’t work for them, how the passage made them feel, if there were parts they didn’t understand, their impressions of characters, etc, just like any reader can. Never feel as if you have nothing to offer just because you aren’t an expert with grammar, or don’t know how to spot intrusions of authorial voice. Honest feedback from a lay reader can help the writer more than an expert crit with some issues.

Learning to crit as a writer, rather than strictly as a reader, takes time and practice. There are so many levels and elements to learn that it just won’t happen overnight, or by osmosis. If you want to get good at it, you have to do the work. I haven’t found any shortcuts – and since I’m lazy, I’ve looked. 😀  There are several things you can do to learn, and IMO, they work best if you do them all in conjunction with each other, not just concentrating on one at a time.

First, find some websites where writers share work for others to crit. Familiarize yourself with the site, then get to work. Read a passage, and as you read, take notes in a word processor document about your impressions of different parts of the writing. Does the grammar seem okay? Are details consistent? How do you feel about the characters? Why? And so on. Keep your notes to yourself. Read the other members’ crits of the passage, and compare them to your notes. Did you spot any of the issues the other critters did? Copy and past the crits into your document, and go through them carefully and find what they’re talking about in the passage. This will help you learn to spot issues, and no what the problem is. If you like, you can offer your input as a reader. As you become better at critting, offer your feedback.  *A word of warning: Make sure you’re tactful with your feedback and crits. And be aware that even if you are, some writers are only interested in hearing how lovely their work is, and may argue with your crit, or try to begin a flame war, etc. You don’t want a rep for arguing with the writers you crit, so your best bet is to just say “Sorry you didn’t like my crit” and bow out. If you see that writers on a particular site often attack critters, or vise versa, you might want to move on and find another crit site, rather than risk appearing unprofessional.

Practice critting your own work, just as you would another writer’s. When you’re comfortable your work is as good as you can make it, post short passages on crit sites for others to to crit. Remember to thank those who take the time from their busy schedule to help you. If you have questions about the issues they point out, ask for clarification in a way that doesn’t imply resentment on your part. If a critter engages in a personal attack on you, or is rude, keeping your response to a simple thank you is probably the wisest course. Also, remember, not everyone is going to like your work, and most won’t think it is as brilliant as you do. Part of being a writer is developing a thick skin. It’s fine, and normal, if your feelings are hurt or if you’re angry. Cry, vent to an offline friend, write out everything you’d like to tell the critter, then DELETE it. You don’t want a rep for being precious or speshul about crits.

Read everything you can get your hands on, particularly in your genre, both good and bad. Analyze what you read. How does the author deal with the issues that you struggle with? What works and doesn’t work? How could the author have improved the work? Rewrite passages to make them better using your crits.

Work to improve your own writing, and to understand and use all the tools and techniques possible. Don’t depend on just writing for that improvement. You need to learn new techniques and methods, and how to use them well, in order to improve. Find a couple of *good* writing websites or blogs and follow them closely. Use sites like AbsoluteWrite.com to understand different aspects of writing. Be careful whose advice you follow. Someone who has read a great deal about writing, but hasn’t been writing long, or hasn’t written much, won’t have as much to offer as someone who has been writing a few years and reads good writing info, etc.

Keep at it. As you learn, crit work  you’ve already critted, to see if you can spot elements you didn’t see earlier. Revise your own work from crits, being careful to use just what works for your story. Constantly challenge yourself and your skills. You’ll grow, both at critting, and at revising your own work.

Are there other ways you know to improve your crit skills? Other tips for dealing the giving and receiving of crits?

Next week, we’ll look at some ways to communicate your crit with your potential CPs. We’re nearing the end of the series, with two more posts planned, unless someone wants more information about a particular aspect of critiquing. I may not have the answers, but I might at least know where to look. The last post of the series will have a number of links to resources with more info about crits, and sites to post work and critique others’ work. If you know of a crit site, or another site with  helpful info, please post the link in comments.

Writer Wednesday: Match Made In Heaven, Or Hell?

Welcome to Part 4 of my Critique Series. If you missed the first three posts, definitely check them out. Fresh Eyes, 10 Qualities Of The Perfect Critique Partner, and Where, Oh Where, Has My Little CP Gone?.

So, once you’ve found someone you’d like to try out as a CP, what do you do? Unlike a good crit, I’m only skimming the surface here, but maybe it will help a bit. First thing, you’ll probably want to exchange work for a trial crit. If you’re writing a novel, exchange opening scenes, or even the entire first chapter. Beginnings make good first exchanges because the other person can see your work as a reader would, and be able to tell you if something is confusing, or if you’re revealing too much or too little.

How do you know what to crit in the other person’s work, and how do they know what to crit in yours? This is a detail that needs to be worked out either before, or as, the work is exchanged. Personally, I prefer to have the other person do an in depth, extensive critique. That allows me to gauge the person’s skill in critting, and whether they’re at a similar level in knowledge of writing technique. It also lets me know if they’re going to be nit-picky, or if they overlook a lot of errors. I can also figure out whether they pay attention as they read, or if they just skim, and whether they have decent reading and language comprehension. Sometimes, I’ll even “salt” the work with problems of varying complexity to see if the person is able to pick them out and make viable suggestions for fixing them.

What are some of the things to ask for, or expect, in a critique? When you specify what you want in a crit, specify any, or all, of the following, among other things.

  • Mechanics: Grammar, punctuation, spelling, verb tense, pronoun use, sentence construction, word choice, typos, etc. Let the other person know if any of these are a particular problem for you, and if you simply want errors pointed out, or if you want suggestions for fixes.
  • Narration and Description: Is everything understandable? Have you given enough, or too much, information? Are there info dumps? Is your description over done, is it too sparse to give the reader enough to approximate your vision? Any purple prose? Do metaphors and analogies work? Is narrative balanced with dialog and action? Is all the narrative necessary to move the story, or have you gone of off on tangents and self-indulgent info dumps? Any characters staring at themselves in mirrors in order to describe themselves to the reader? Are details and characteristics consistent throughout?
  • Dialog and Action: Is your dialog realistic, the way people speak, or have you given all your characters the same voice? Any talking head syndrome? Are dialog tags or beats effective, overdone, impossible? Can the reader visualize what the characters are doing as they move around the scene? Any extra body parts or physically impossible movements?
  • Pace and Flow: Does the story move along, or does it drag in places, or halt entirely? Are some areas simply too fast for the reader to follow? Does one scene flow smoothly into the next? Is the order of events logical?
  • Voice: Does your voice as an author intrude on the story? Is your message or agenda interfering with plot? Is the narrative voice consistent, reliable or unreliable? Does each character have his or her own unique voice?
  • Character: Any flat, cardboard cutout characters? Are all the main characters unique, well rounded, three dimensional individuals? Do main characters grow or change, or remain static? Are character motivations clear and logical, or at least justified? Is there enough info given about minor characters for the reader to have a hint about who they are? Are any of the characters stereotypical? Any Mary Sues? Is the point of view clear and consistent?
  • Plot and Arc: Does the sequence of events move logically from beginning to end? Is there enough conflict? Is the story working toward a resolution of conflict? Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end? Plot holes? Have you skipped or glossed over events the reader needs in order to understand? Have you given too much, held the reader’s hand?

There are other elements to crit as well, but there isn’t enough space here to go through everything. Both you and your potential CP need to know what elements the other wants and expects to be critiqued. You need to be very clear about whether you want suggestions for fixes, and you both need to understand that such suggestions are not an attempt to rewrite the story. Both of you also need to understand that trying to take over, rewrite, or make significant changes to the other’s story isn’t okay.

When you do a crit, it’s important to read carefully, and analyze the writing, both in detail, and in a “big picture” view. You both owe it to the other to do the best crit you are capable of doing. If the other person just does a rushed, half assed crit, just skimming the surface, be aware that’s probably what they’ll do each time.

In order for this potential partnership to have the best chance of succeeding, you both need to be clear about expectations and needs, as well as scheduling and level of commitment. Don’t take advantage, or allow yourself to be taken advantage of.

Are there other issues you would need to clear up at the beginning? Other specific elements to a good crit? Things to look out for that signify a  potentially poor match?

 

 

 

Writer Wednesday: Where, Oh Where Has My Little CP Gone?

Welcome to Part 3 of my Critique Series. If you missed Parts 1 & 2, here they are: Fresh Eyes and 10 Qualities Of The Perfect Critique Partner. Both are Writer Wednesday features.

This week, I want to give you some pointers on the different places good CPs often lurk. Of course, they’re quite elusive creatures, and great care must be taking while stalking them… Oh, wait. Wrong critter. OK, OK, I get it. No more stupid jokes. For a while, anyway.

When it first occurred to me that there might be writing forums and resources online (I’m not the brightest crayon, OK?), I stumbled across a tee-tiny little writing forum, with roughly a dozen or so regular posters. Over the next few weeks, I learned a great deal, met some wonderful writers, and made a couple of friends that I figure will be my friends for a long time to come. The little community had a sub-forum for sharing work and receiving feedback. There, I read work of all levels, and learned to crit, and receive crits. One of the members had posted passages from an incredible story, and immediately hooked me. I messaged her and asked to see more of it. That writer was Azure Boone.

When she sent me more of her work, Azure asked to see mine as well, and we ended up exchanging chapters. We liked each other’s writing, and were at similar skill levels, and we gave each other useful feedback. We continued to crit each other’s work, and grew and learned together. We became close friends, and still are, nearly two years later, and we still work very closely together. We’ve worked together with other writers short-term, and we both seek other feedback on our work.

So, writing forums, especially those with Share Your Work sections, can be a good place to look. There are also many writing communities where the central focus of critiquing each other’s work. Book Country is a relatively new one, Critique Circle has been around a while. There are tons more out there. Just explore and find one that suits you, then start your search. Another site, Ladies Who Critique, helps female writers find CPs.

Don’t overlook social networking either. Facebook has more writing groups than I’ve been able to even read the entire list. LinkedIn also has a LOT of writing groups. You might even find a CP on Twitter. If someone writes your genre, and you like their updates and the links they post, see if they have sample material up on a blog, etc. If they do, and you like it, contact them and start talking. If you post on a social network that you’re looking for a CP, be prepared to either be bombarded, or ignored, depending on who sees it.

If you’re like me, and make a habit of surfing writers’ blogs, and you land on one where the writing appeals to you, start a conversation with the blogger. You might luck out. If you post on a blog, whether yours or someone else’s, that you’re looking for a CP, be prepared to turn down anyone who doesn’t seem like they will work out at first glance. A local writing group could offer up a potential CP, or a chance meeting at the library, bookstore, or coffeeshop might be where you get lucky.

Wherever you look, have a plan. This could be one of the most important decisions of your writing career, and you don’t want to go in unprepared. When you meet a potential CP, online or in person, remember – Safety First! Use the same precautions you would when interacting with with anyone else you don’t know. Also, protect your work by only sharing small portions until you’re more familiar with the person. Make it clear up front that you don’t want your work shared with anyone else, online or IRL, and that you aren’t giving them permission to use it in any way. Also, let the person know that if either of you don’t wish to continue, there’s no obligation. Go slowly – don’t just jump in without looking.

When you receive the other person’s first crit of your work, look it over carefully, and objectively evaluate it. Does the crit reveal qualities that tell you the person might make a good CP? Is it useful? Objective? Knowledgeable? If both of you agree, revise based  on each other’s crits, and have another look. On the other hand, if you don’t want to continue, be tactful – you don’t want to make an enemy of a writer who might be a valuable asset to your career one day.

Don’t just accept the first person willing to work with you. Be patient and selective and make sure you’re compatible. A bad CP can be *much* worse than no CP. Your writing could be derailed, you could be discouraged to the point of quitting, you could acquire an enemy motivated to ruin your career. And those are the nicer things that could happen.

Do you know of other places to find potential CPs? Other things to look out for?

Next week, a bit about the art of critiquing another writer’s work.

Writer Wednesday: Fresh Eyes

As writers, we should all be aware of the importance of feedback on our work. Over the past couple of weeks, it’s become obvious to me that some writers have no idea of how crucial constructive criticism is, or how to find it.

I see it over and over on writing communities. A new member posts about how everyone loves their writing so much, so why won’t agents agree to represent it, editors agree to publish it, readers buy it, and myriad other such questions. After a few pointed questions from others, the new member reveals that the readers who loved her work were all friends or relatives.

There’s a secret that takes some of us a while to learn – friends and relatives aren’t usually the best people to listen to for honest opinions of our work, for several reasons. They like us – or they should – so they’re likely to say they love it no matter what, to keep from hurting our feelings. They may not be readers of the genre we write, so the brilliance, or lack thereof, of our writing might escape them; they may not even read very much at all. They probably aren’t writers, so the finer points of writing craft will escape them – which is perfectly fine when we no longer need feedback that tells us why things aren’t working and how to fix them.

What’s a writer to do then? Find a way for other writers to critique your work. For some of us, it’s a real-life writing group in our local area, with regular meetings, where member work is critiqued by the group. The method has limitations, but is perfect for some. Getting a large piece of writing can take a very long time this way, as each member has a turn to have work looked at. It can be several weeks between having a chapter critiqued, and the group seeing the revisions. And your work may not be compatible with the group due to skill level or content.

If you’re like me, you might have to drive 2 or more hours to reach a group that will consider your work. The ladies group of the local church encourages its members to write, but I just can’t see them comfortably critiquing my Paranormal Romances with explicit sex scenes. “Mrs. Jones, how do you think Ardrianna will react when King licks her … you-know-where? Would she moan, arch off the bed, bite her lip… Mrs. Jones, are you okay?” as Mrs. Jones slumps from her seat onto the floor. Riiight. Not happening.

In that case, you’re pretty well limited to the internet – which is a fantastic limit to have. Imagine having no access to anyone outside your immediate community for feedback. The opportunities are extensive online to find readers qualified to critique your work and help you improve it.

I started out by posting a short passage on the Share Your Work section of a tiny little writing community, and read and commented on other members’ work. They returned the favor. There was one writer whose work I really liked, and she liked mine. We decided to exchange a few chapters and critique them for each other. It wasn’t long before we were established Critique Partners (CPs) working closely on both our stories. A couple of other writers occasionally joined us, then went their way when they had helped us and we had helped them. Now, A. and I are best friends, and still CPs. Both of us have grown exponentially in skill as writers and as critiquers – we often crit other writers’ work. Our skills, both in writing and critting, complement each other. We both seek other feedback as needed, but we always return to work together.

That path is but one of many possibilities. When you’ve found someone you think you might like to work with as CPs, how do you approach it? And how do you critique another writer’s work? In the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring these questions, and more, about giving and receiving constructive criticism, and putting it to work. Keep checking back for updates in the Writer Wednesday Critique Series.

What’s your experience with constructive feedback, giving or receiving? Have you found someone you can work with on a regular basis? What works best for you, if you’ve tried more than one way? If you had the opportunity, would you change anything?

Book Reviews

In the coming weeks, I am going to add twice monthly book reviews to the blog. I’ll review Adult fiction of any Romance sub-genre, Urban Fantasy, Horror, basically anything with paranormal, occult, or supernatural elements. I’ll also consider Adult non-fiction dealing with paranormal, occult or supernatural subjects. I will consider books that haven’t yet been released, but have a release date, as well as already published books, new releases or backlists. Traditionally published, ePublished, and self published (Indie) works are all fine. Short stories, novellas, and novels, all considered. Any heat level, any kink, or any degree of violence is okay, though I refuse to review works with pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, rape as positive, bodily waste as erotic, or other content I consider objectionable.

** Note:  When I first decided to do reviews, it didn’t occur to me that I’d be asked to review Young Adult books because my own writing is adult, but I’ve had several requests for them. I don’t want younger readers coming here because the content isn’t really appropriate, and thus far, it’s been pretty tame. But in the future, I’ll be putting up excerpts and hosting guest posts, and other material that may be sexually explicit. I also don’t think it would be appropriate to follow up a YA review with one of an erotic romance, and, given my stated preferences, that is entirely possible. After a great deal of thought, I’ve decided I can’t, in good conscience, review Young Adult works. My apologies. ***

Reviews will be posted every other Monday, 8am EST. Authors can contact me directly with an email to kenradaniels AT gmail DOT com. I reserve the right to refuse to review a book, with the decision based on the back cover blurb or other information provided by the author. Reviews will be my honest opinion of the book, but will be tactful. No snark. Authors can schedule their review to be posted on the Monday of their choice, as long as the date is available.

The author (or their representative) is responsible for providing the book for me at their expense, in digital or print form, though digital is preferred, a minimum of one month before the review is scheduled to go up. Exceptions to the one month reading time will be considered on a case by case basis. The cover image, buy link, link to the author’s website or blog, and back cover blurb will be included in the review, as well as author name, genre, publisher, release date if applicable, and length. Authors are welcome to do short (750 words or less)  guest posts to go up with the review of their book. Longer guest posts can be scheduled independently.

Comments I consider abusive, derogatory, or offensive will be deleted, no matter who they’re from. I reserve the right to close comments if things get out of hand. Authors who pitch tantrums will not be considered for future reviews. I will not take down reviews because the author doesn’t like them. My reviews are targeted to readers, and not meant to be constructive criticism for the author’s benefit.

Okay, I think that pretty much covers it. Suggestions are welcome. These guidelines may change at any time and will be posted at the bottom of the Reviews Page for future reference.

So, if you know anyone who needs a review…

Coming Soon

I really wish there were more hours in a day. Or that I needed less sleep. Either would be helpful. There just aren’t enough hours to do everything I want/need to do. Besides writing related things, I’d like more time with hubby, and lots more time with my little grandsons. Plus, my house seriously needs spring cleaning. There are just too many things on the writing related list to mention them all here, not the least of which is getting everything here the way I want it.

In the near future, I’ll add pages about my weredragons and vampires, their governing agency, and the people who want to exterminate them. I’m also planning to put up excerpts from some cut scenes, and maybe a couple of short stories. Eventually, I’ll also put up pages about the other books I’m planning for the weredragons/vampires. I’m developing two entirely new paranormal creatures, and when I have more details worked out, I’ll put up pages about them, as well.

Occasionally, I’ll do a review of whatever I’m reading, and put that up as a blog post. I have a ton of links to both blogs and websites, for readers and writers, so when I have a couple hours uninterrupted, I’ll add those. There are several other widgets/features I plan to add. There will be guest posts from other writers along the way, too. I’m also going to put up some artwork, mainly original acrylic paintings and charcoal sketches. Most will be weredragon related, but some will relate to the vampires, too. I may put up other artists’ work, too, that fits my vision of my creatures – with permission, of course.

I’m sure there will be other things to add as I put more thought into the details. If there’s a feature you’d like to see here, PLEASE leave a comment! I’d appreciate the input.