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Posts Tagged ‘feedback’

Authors often hector their readers for reviews, which seems strange.  What?  You have no idea if I even like your work or not, and you’re asking me for my opinion?  OK…here goes!  There actually is a method to this madness.  Reviews are important to an author.  I wrote my newsletter subscribers about the importance of reviews.  I thought it important enough to post here, as well.


At the end of all my works, there’s a request for a review.  Reviews are, quite simply, your opinion as to whether you would recommend my work to another reader.  I have no doubt that there are some of you that would not recommend my work.  That’s fine–my kids don’t eat some of my cooking.

But if you do like what I have served up, please leave a review.  You don’t actually have to give your name in the Amazon system if you don’t want to.  I also won’t give you grief about your review.


Why am I asking for reviews?  Am I that desperate for an ego-stroke?  Isn’t the royalty enough?  There are very prosaic reasons that authors want reviews.
  1. Feedback Mechanism:  I need to know how my readers feel about my work. Do you want more of this and less of that?  If you don’t email me (by, for instance, replying to my newsletter) and you don’t write a review, how am I to know what you want?  Now, while I prefer that criticism is in email, and praise is in reviews, I really do want to know what you all like.
  2. Promotional Eligibility:  Many promotional services (like Book Barbarian, InstaFreebie, and others) require a work to have at least 10 reviews, and a certain average rating, in order to make the work eligible for their particular megaphone.  There are other criteria, too, but without reviews, I’m shut out of those ways of promoting my work.
  3. Industry Notice:  Industry awards are also dependent, at least in part, on reviews.  It would be nice to win an award.  I was nominated once for an award from the British Science Fiction Association, and I can’t describe the lift that gave me.

“Bill, why are you bugging us?  Why not just pay to get a bunch of click farm critters to crank out a bunch of five star reviews?”
This is going to sound corny as hell, but here it is:  I want reviews of my work to be honest feedback by my readers.  The reason for this block of text is to inform you why I want reviews, to explain their importance, and to ask you for your honest feedback.  I know other authors have a lesser punctilio in their dealings with the indie ecosphere.  Me, I want to sleep at night knowing that I did everything with honor.

“OK, then, what about ARCs?  You ask for people to read copies of your book in advance of launch in exchange for a review.  How is that not ‘paying for a review’?”
Interesting question, and one I know is on people’s mind.  It all goes back to the idea of feedback.  ARCs or ARC-like behavior is an accepted practice amongst nearly all the arts.  How many movie commercials begin with the words “Critics rave about <movie x>”?  How can those critics rave about a movie that hasn’t been released yet?  Simple–they attended an advanced screening, the movie version of a ARC.

Here’s where I differ.  I cannot  control what is in your review, or whether it appears on the book page.  Sure, you get a free book.  I don’t penalize you if you don’t write a review.  I don’t penalize you if you write a thoughtful negative review.  You are under no pressure to even write a review, although I wish you would.

I think I’ve beaten this dead horse enough, don’t you?  So, here’s a list of my works and their review links.  If you have read any of them, I am interested in your comments.  If you have not read them, please don’t write a review–that would be dishonest.


The Paradisi Chronicles Stories

God’s Sandbox 
Nuking the Noomies
Live Wire
Eye of the Needle

The Family of Grifters Stories

The Longest Con
Ownership

The Legacy Fleet Stories

Gauss

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Third in the Brainstorming Series

TL;DR:  I am brainstorming with an acquaintance, at her request, about a novel that she is trying to write, inspired by several dream sequences.  This writer is having a tough time formulating a story line.

OK—time for some tough talk.  From my point of view, you are going to have an exceptionally difficult time crafting this work to completion, because you may not have formulated an essential story line.  I get that [redacted], and gets captured by the rebels, but that’s all I know.  What are the rebels trying to do?  Be left alone?  Take over the government?  I have already given you a whole lot of plot-related questions that should be considered.  [see The Beginning post]

 

Much of the [shiny objects] are not central to the essential plot—the human story of X and Y.  Sometimes, the best way to work forward is to minimize, initially, all the [shiny object] stuff.  You have a whole lot of moving parts.  Yes, they may be integral parts of the story, but they are secondary to X&Y

 

Consider this:

 

Act I:  [here, I write a generic plot line that I cannot reproduce for a public blog] 

 

First, outline your story in completely banal, general terms like what I did above.  It will vastly clarify the story.  Up to now, we have been discussing the gargoyles and finials on the cathedral façade….and I am trying to get you to concentrate on the foundations and columns that will hold the whole thing up.  It is only against this backdrop of essential story that you can judge such details as the [redacted].

 

OK, here’s a concrete example from one of my stories.  I needed a ball of neutronium, one meter in diameter, traveling half the speed of light, to hit the Moon.  I spent a lot of time and effort writing a prologue  of a long-ago war between two alien species, exactly how the aliens consumed asteroidal rubble, compressed it, and made their neutronium balls for ammunition.  There was a great scene about how the battle raged, and a bunch of salvos cut loose without the stasis cut-off timer being set, meaning the neutronium was going to travel forever until it hit something, like the Moon.  The alien war was never referred to again.

 

I’m tired just writing that synopsis.  Instead, I trashed the entire segment, employed Authorial Fiat, and just had the ball hit the Moon.  I realized that, from the point of view of the human race, they would never know or care just WTF happened to the Moon, just that there was some kind of massive explosion on it..

 

So, why tell you this?  I get the feeling that the several aspects of your world, like [redacted], are a lot like my ball of neutronium: essential to the story, but whose origin is besides the point.  You, as the author, must absolutely have the backstory worked out so the continuity works, but you must never burden your readers with it.  If Y is never going to open the [secret item], does it really matter HOW it works?

 

One of the hardest aspects of SF is the sheer desire to ‘make research pay’ through writing pages of exposition on the thermomagnetohydrodynamic origins of artificially compressed neutronium ammunition, the stasis field that keeps it stable, how the mass driver flings the ball free of the alien battleship, and the safety systems that allow for the ammo’s eventual self-destruct capability.  Does it really matter where it came from?  No.  The only thing that mattered in my story is that it blew a big chunk of Lunar crust into Earth-Lunar space.

 

The [backstory].  Does it really matter?  Sure, it [made something happen in the past].  But I get the idea that the humans have been there for a generation or two.  X and Y don’t seem to have any memories of Earth or the desperate flight to the new world.  They merely take the world as it is.  They’re born on this new planet, that’s all they know.  The reader should be afforded the same—and discover their world through the X&Y story, not through a history lesson.  Yes, I know the urge to do a little datadump will be inescapable, but if it must happen, make it as a side conversation during something else that’s going on.

 

If you were my student, I would give you the following homework assignment:

Three paragraphs, no more.  I’ve already written a chunk of the first one above (it starts with “Act I”).  Round it out, then write Acts II and III.  When you find yourself getting specific about something, step back like it’s kryptonite.  Resist mightily the urge to go down side streets.  Just lay out the bare, essential tale.  That is your building framework.  We’ll get to the finials and gargoyles soon enough.

 

This is a good assignment because in the end, those three paragraphs will form the core of your eventual pitch, query, and cover letter.  That is why I always ask for them whenever someone wants to brainstorm with me.  Know your story.  It always comes back to the story.

 

 

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Second in the Brainstorming Series.  Read Brainstorming: The Beginning where this all began.

Whenever we first conceive of a work, there’s something that grabs our attention.  The central conflict, or a great battle scene, or the microblackhole that passed in front of his eyes, distorting the world as it passed.  (hey……!)  Whatever it is, it’s shiny and wonderful, and we’ve got to have it in the story.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  Most of my works retain the SO that triggered the entire plot exercise.  Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle once rearranged the entire orbit of a planet in order to keep one line with which they both were smitten.

However, shiny objects can have a deadly allure.  they cause you to forget plotting, or do poor plotting, just because they are so shiny.  Worse, like that microblackhole, they begin to accrete other SOs towards them.  Suppose that you have a five-legged alien that runs off of an organic atomic battery.  Sounds way cool (and theoretically possible).  But you can’t leave the idea alone.  Where does the shielding come from?  Well, the alien has to ingest rock to get lead for shielding…but maybe they have the equivalent of cows that also run off of atomic batteries.  Hmmm…maybe the process is cumulative throughout life, with death occurring when the atomic battery finally generates so much energy that the organism is cooked from within.  Yeah–go with that!  Scenes of aliens walking (how do you walk with five legs?) down the street and very occasionally one bursts into flames.  Heh!  That’s a shiny scene–how can we incorporate that into the work?  Wait, they’re in space.  Maybe a flashback?

Then the guy in the striped shirt runs out, blows the whistle, and signals ‘delay of game’.  After all, there’s supposed to be a PLOT happening, and all we’re doing is wondering if we should glue this chromed bike sprocket or that blue flower onto our shiny object.

Here’s how I put it to my brainstorming partner over the course of a few emails:

Consider this:  Perhaps you don’t have to include everything from your dream sequence.  Dreams are, by their very nature, somewhat chaotic.  Maybe you could discard aspects that are difficult to fit into the remainder of the narrative (“Yes, doc, but in my dream, I had a colander strapped to my head.  It doesn’t make sense, what does that mean?”)

Resist the lure of the shiny object.  Sure, it’s fascinating, but the story is always more important than technology.

Cool technology is like cake icing: it’s the last thing considered when crafting the story, but the first thing often imagined.   What’s the story?  Worry later about the tech, craft the story.  Bake the cake first, THEN ice it.

She had been trapped by the lure of the Shiny Object, and was neglecting the creation of the central story.  It reminded me of the Epic Death Scene for one of my 3 Day Novel entries.  I have the evil alien thrown against the busbars of an electrical substation.  Fun!  Sparks, sizzling, epic deathedness.  But the compressed timetable of 3 Day does not allow a writer to wallow around in a vat of shiny–you have to be writing the rest of the story!  It was a point I have not forgotten.

The lesson here?  Love your shiny object, then put it away and concentrate on the story, the plot, and those essential questions I asked in the previous post.  Or you’re never going to get the essential stuff done.

 

 

 

 

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It occasionally happens–someone contacts me for brainstorming or plot assistance.  No false modesty here–a writer whom I respect highly refers others to me.  This time, though, someone contacted me because of the answers I was posting to others’ questions in the Reference Desk forum on the NaNoWrimo.org site.   She asked me if I could assist her with her Work In Progress (WIP).  We have been corresponding for a couple of weeks now, and I thought some of the things I wrote back would be applicable to others.

So, it’s the beginning.  I will not reveal the person’s name nor the specifics of the WIP.  However, some context is necessary.  The story was originally sparked by some dreams the writer remembered upon waking.  Not bad!  I don’t often remember my dreams, and I am amazed when others do.

The WIP is in the SF/dark fantasy genre, and thus will have some fantastical elements.  Again, nothing odd there.  The plot is nothing outré–a human set in a universe of vast forces, inimical or friendly towards man.  But the writer has some questions, and some of them are rather specific (and hence not going to appear here)  So, here’s my answer to her (pardon the redactions)

Before we start crafting the scenery in the story (figuring out why he has slits in his ankles, for example), you have to really lay the story itself out.  The shiny object of the Darter Operator is very compelling, but you have to get the central arc locked down first, before we start talking about the rest of the work.  It does us no good to build a great framework for your world if there’s an unstructured story taking place therein.

These questions should be answered in one or two sentences.  It’s OK not to know something these questions address.  For example, if you don’t know how [the main character] is going to get out of his dilemma, then say so.  Be brutally honest with yourself.

Act I:  The current status quo is that he is [redacted]

  • What is his dilemma?
  • What punctures that equilibrium [the ‘inciting incident’]?
  • How does it lead him to feeling X?  Is there a way out of his dilemma?
  • What makes him decide to accept the challenge (of solving his dilemma)?

 

Act II:  Here is where most of the action lies.  This part runs from the acceptance of the challenge all the way to the climax.  The climax is tricky and not always clear.  A climax is not necessarily the hero standing over the fallen foe.  Sometimes it is when the reluctant hero takes up the sword.

  • How does he plan to go about solving his dilemma?
  • Can he give up the occupation for another?  Or is it one of those occupations that leads to social shunning?  Perhaps he owes the government a certain number of years of service in return for [redacted].
  • Who is his antagonist?
  • What is the agenda of the antagonist?  Here, I am talking about [redacted]
  • What must he sacrifice in order to achieve his goal?
  • What is the climax?

 

Act III:  Here is where the various story threads are tied up.  It is NOT the final two pages of the book – it’s about 25%.

  • What happens at climax?
  • What does the antagonist lose?
  • What does the protagonist gain?  At what cost?
  • How do the actions taken at climax affect the remainder of the characters in the story?
  • The book should wind down to a new status quo.  What is that?

 

Here’s your mission:  Answer all the questions that you can–one or two sentences should be enough.  If you don’t know how to answer one, then we know where to concentrate our brainstorming.

 

 

And that is how we began.  I’ll continue posting how things go, as long as they are relevant to a larger audience, like you, Dear Reader.

NOTE:  Your Mileage May Vary!  There is no guarantee that my comments apply to your WIP, nor that you will benefit from them.  I present them here for thought and entertainment only.

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They tried hard. But they should have known, from Comic-Con, how packed out these kinds of events could get. When you get top YA authors, A-List personalities, and good old Stan Lee in a venue, you have to expect chaos–even if it’s about books.

Book-Con ’14 was one crowded place. There was a time when I had found myself at the back of the hall and thinking, “What if there was a incident, and everyone had to get out?” It would be like that Who concert in Cincinnati–people getting crushed.

However, some lines were worth it: like the one for the NYTBSA Said author looked up, said “Hi, Bill! How’s the work going?”, then graciously signed a book for me. I was floored–this famous author remembered me! I discussed THT for the ten seconds I had in front of him, then exited the line to allow others to get books.

Still bemused, I walked across the aisle to Mid-Sized-Press-Company. I guess I was grinning, for one of the people behind the table said “Ah, got a book from [NYTBSA]?” Her badge labeled her as “Chief Poo-bah”. I related the story of how THT came to be. She said, “What is this project? Tell me about it.” I did so. At a certain point in my pitch, I always get goosebumps. I happened to glance down, and she also had goosebumps. Whaaaa?

She looked me dead in the eyes. “If [NYTBSA] passes on your project, I want it. This is a verbal request for a full submission of your manuscript. If the website says our submissions are closed, put in your query letter that I personally asked for it.” I’ve never seen anyone look so intent, and I’ve pitched a few folks on my work, though not necessarily this one. So…wow.

The next week, I related this to one of my trusted associates while at a writers meeting. One of the people there overheard me, and said “If I had any capital, I’d option that concept right this second.” He is a screenwriter with some solid credentials in the film industry, and he was saying that if he could, he would offer me cash, that minute, to grant him exclusive development rights for my concept for the screen.

Again, double wow. Just a single paragraph of pitch, and three industry pros (writer, editor in chief, screenwriter) are not just mildly interested, but absolutely possessively interested. Color me stunned.

After some major thought, I came to this conclusion: I had always wondered whether the NYTBSA was either humoring me, or mildly interested, or something along those lines–encouraging while not really sold on the concept. Now I know. Validation. It’s a wonderful word.

After BookCon, I had an excellent meeting with Grant Faulkner and a few Municipal Liaisons from the Tri-State area.

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 As you know, I have been writing and submitting works to various unnamed markets for a couple of years now.  I always politely ask for feedback when I get rejected.  Asking for feedback is like taking a polite note, slipping it carefully in a bottle, and tossing it into the ocean.  Sometimes, the very next wave throws it back to you, other times, the bottle disappears, and you have no idea what happened to it.  Then, occasionally, a different bottle shows up on your desert island, with a reply.  This happened to me two days ago. 

 There’s one market I submit to rather often—it’s a pro mag, and I very eager to be published in its pages.  So far, I’ve submitted five stories, and have gotten to the final round at least twice.  But…well, here’s how I put it to the editor:

 I just keep missing.  […]  Do I show some consistent area where I fail?  […]  I remain stuck in the last couple of rounds of judging, and continue to come up short.  If you can recall why my stories fail, I will definitely fix it, for I want to submit quality work.  I know I am asking a lot here—if you are far short on time, I completely understand.  However, if you could show me where I come up short, I would really appreciate it.

Also, I am quite aware that I might just not have what it takes.  If so, please tell me.  I’m not one of those idiots that abuse the editor.  I value all of your feedback, even the harsh bits.  Again, thank you for all of your time with my submissions.

 I put that in the bottle, tossed it in the ocean.  And waited.  Four weeks.  I had figured it was long buried.  I wasn’t really worried.  I had a hunch I was OK in my craft—not great, but not ‘reject before reading’, either.  Then I got this from the Editorial Director—the toppest of top cheeses.

 How can I answer this? It’s not so easy to explain why a story is rejected; it’s much easier to explain why a story is accepted. 

She then went on to describe in great detail how she selects stories for the magazine.  Then came this gem:

 […] getting to the final round out of hundreds of submissions doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing something wrong.  What it means is that sometimes, your story just doesn’t work with the other stories I’ve already selected.  […]  So you see, there IS no quick or ready answer as to why your stories were rejected.  […] each issue is so different there’s not any sort of standard that you should be writing to.  If you’ve made it to multiple final rounds, then I’d expect your stories to continue to do so–and eventually, you’ll break through. 

 Just…wow.  I immediately send back an email of thanks, both for her time, and the 400 word answer to my original question.  I also asked if I could blog the email chain.  She agreed in a further email, and added this.

 To be honest, I really appreciated not only the question, but your reply tonight., having just had a personalized rejection thrown back in my face by an author who apparently feels an editor should overlook copious grammatical and spelling errors in a submission. 

 Say what???  Look, this editor gets ‘several hundred’ submissions per issue.  If she takes the time to send a personalized rejection, it’s the height of arrogance and stupidity to burn a market the way this author appeared to do.  Besides, these folks network.  Names almost certainly get around—do you really want to burn so many of your bridges?  The only proper response is a humble thanks for their time and guidance.  Where’s “Politeness Man” when you need him?

 She concluded with this:

And keep submitting. I went back and took a look at some of your stories.  When you and [the magazine] meet under the right theme, you’ll make it in. 

 Thus, I am looking at an unusual mythological construct (the currently open theme) to get inspired.

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I’m not going to be listing every single submittal to an agent for this work. That would run to the several dozen, if I am even averagely competent.

However, the first one is noteworthy. The agent for the First Test Flight was kind and gracious.  She wanted to read the first 25 pages, although she didn’t work in the genre.  She even farmed it out to a couple of agents in her agency, but they passed on it, as they also didn’t work in the genre.  So, she rejected it.

But in her rejection email, she said this:

Have you tried someone in [Agency A] yet? She has a wonderful agency with several agents who represent sci-fi/fantasy. [Agency B] is also a good one for your work.

You’re a terrific writer and I’m sure you’ll find a good home for this.

Now, if the very first agent you query gives you feedback like that, how can you do anything other than keep plugging away at getting representation?  Thank you so much for your faith in my work!

Test Flight #2 has commenced.

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