Read what sells: Write what sells

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I was reading one of those “How to Write” books when I came across some interesting advice. “Read what’s currently selling.”

So I got on Amazon to check out the best selling books and here’s what I’ve deduced.

Fantasy readers want:

Vampires, shape-shifters, assassins, time travel, forbidden magic, and dragons.

Ok, my book has . . . none of those things.

I know I’m not selling myself now. On the plus side, some of the top selling books were more like Game of Thrones or Fools Quest, books mine might be comparable to.

You know what I saw none of in the top 100 list. Elves. I guess people aren’t reading about elves anymore. I guess I can see why. The books I’ve read recently are just dreadful and hokey.

For those of you who thought the vampire fad is dying out, go check out this list. It seems like the logical thing to do would be to turn my elves into vampires or shape shifters and–tada–I’d have a best-seller.

But I can’t do that. I don’t like to write about vampires.

So what’s a girl to do.

Time travel is big now with Outlander and The Winter Sea.

So … a time-traveling vampire falls in love with a shape shifter.

But that’s not enough.

This is the book I should write.

9734da2af1e6154e709fc711dca5e25dA vampire, hired to assassin shape shifters (because their power is forbidden), falls in love with the shape shifter he is hired to kill (using dragons that travel through time.).

 

There you go.

I wouldn’t read that, so why would I write this.

This is why I believe in write what you want to read. Hopefully at the end of years of hard work and the birth and death of many words, someone will be interested in reading it too. So if you like the vampire assassin, traveling through time on his dragon to assassinate a shape-shifter, my book is not for you.

But if you like adventure, epic fantasy, battles, dynamic characters, romance, epicness, and awesomeness, you will like my books when I’m finished.

For those of you who haven’t checked out Amazon’s best seller rankings, I encourage you to do so. You won’t find my books on that list … yet.

Back to the Beginning

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What’s worse than starting at the beginning? Starting all over again.

Beginnings are hard, usually because they start at the ending of something else.

This year marks the beginning of my 30’s and the end of my 20’s. My original goal was to publish a book by the time I turned 30, but alas, I am only starting–or rather starting over yet again.

How could I not finish a book in a decade? Well, I did, actually. I completed a draft for book one and two. I spent hours outlining, researching, writing, re-writing, falling in and filling in plotholes.

So why is there not a completed MS?

I believe your twenties are for discovery and learning.

What I discovered: There were a lot of plot holes in my writing.

What I learned: This story was good but it could be better. I also discovered that my major supporting character should really be my main character. That changes everything.

So after starting all over on the outline, yet again, I finally began the first chapter for hopefully the last time.

So I didn’t accomplish my original goal. I thought I’d be finished by now, not starting over. I didn’t publish, but I did accomplish something. With diligent research and outlining and planning, I think I will be able to write the best book I possibly can by the time I’m 40.

 

Yes! It’s A New Book by Tolkien! ‘The Story of Kullervo’

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Good news for Tolkien fans!

A Tolkienist's Perspective

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In what seems to be a yearly tradition, the Tolkien Estate is treating us to a new book by our favourite author.

If you’ve done some reading about the Professor (beyond Middle-earth, that is), you may have encountered many references about Tolkien’s love for the Finnish epic tale of the Kalevala.

Well, turns out when he was a young man – already teeming with ideas and exquisite writing skills – he decided to write his own version of the book.

Here’s what an excerpt of what Harper Collins had to say on their site:

Kullervo son of Kalervo is perhaps the darkest and most tragic of all J.R.R. Tolkien’s characters. ‘Hapless Kullervo’, as Tolkien called him, is a luckless orphan boy with supernatural powers and a tragic destiny.

Tolkien himself said that The Story of Kullervo was ‘the germ of my attempt to write legends of my own’, and was ‘a major…

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Writer on a Warpath: Dylan Saccoccio Rampages against Reviewer

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There’s only one way to respond to a negative review: DON’T

Authors who challenge a review do nothing in the way of damage control. Quite the opposite, actually.

This is a major writing faux pas. At best the author comes off defensive or childish. At worst, the author comes off psychotic, especially when they threaten to post revenge reviews or even file a lawsuit.


On the offenders registry are authors Stephan J. Harper, Carroll Bryant, Emily Giffin, Chris McGrath, and now Dylan Saccoccio.

Today, I’d like to focus on Dylan Saccoccio (author of The Tales of Onora) for going on a rampage against a recent reviewer.


dylanDylan is an author I’m rather familiar with, having purchased his book based on the number of reviews, comparisons to Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, his impressive Amazon Best Sellers Rank, and the fact that I’m a sucker for an attractive cover.

You’ll note I did not determine my purchase based on the number of positive/negative reviews.

Similar criteria attracted the recent reader who left a less than positive review.

How Dylan responds is absolutely cringeworthy. See for yourself. If you’d like to see a train wreck, follow the link here.

His arguments aren’t even valid. He accuses negative reviews of being damaging to his novel’s success and a reflection of the reviewer instead of the author or book.

What I find funny: It’s his response to the negative review–NOT the negative review itself–that risk damaging his book’s success and his reputation as an author. So essentially he’s causing the very thing he is afraid will occur.

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With over 100 reviews (60% being positive), a large twitter following, a loyal fan base, and a high Amazon ranking, it’s petty and ridiculous that he would even hone in on this one review.

He is so afraid of others threatening his writing career, he isn’t even aware he is committing career suicide. That’s like worrying about getting West Nile from a mosquito bite while smoking a cigarette.

Let’s look at the damage, shall we?

The review did no damage whatsoever; however, his response could cost him fans (new and old), damage his reputation, hurt sales, and lose followers.

Case in point. I used to follow him on twitter, but I simply can’t follow any author who behaves this way. Will he notice the sting of one bee? Maybe not. But if enough bees sting . . . you start to feel the venom.

So what did he accomplish in the way of damage control? Nothing but assuage a bruised ego.


So why did he respond to this review? The simple reason would be a lack of logic. He wanted the reviewer to remove his review because he worried it would damage sales. So in truth, he wasn’t trying to be a defensive man-child. He was responding to misconceptions of the dreaded negative review.

Misconceptions

Negative Reviews Discredit Your Book or Writing

Negative reviews add legitimacy to a book’s reputation. Case in point, I almost didn’t purchase The Tales of Onora because it had too much praise. Without a negative review, I’m led to believe that his friends and family (or paid people) were a majority of his reviewers.

Negative Reviews are Slander

Slander and opinion are very different things. Can anyone tell me what a review is? Yes, for those of you who said opinion, you would be correct. We live in ‘Merica where everyone has a right to an opinion–whether informed, well-constructed, or biased. Does the latter describe this recent review. Hardly. He simply didn’t like it, and to be honest, neither did I. And for a lot of the same reasons as this guy, I might add. I guess I’m glad I didn’t review it. I’d hate to be the target of damaged pride.

Reviews are Personal

Youve_Got_Mail_20917_MediumHere’s where he really lost it, accusing the reviewer of having no sympathy or humanity. As if the reader’s goal was to bring down his career. Most of the time, reviewers don’t know you. Your success or failure isn’t their concern–and it shouldn’t be. This isn’t heartless, it’s just a fact. They are interested in finding a good book that they will enjoy. You are not their focus when they leave a review. Reviews are for READERS, not authors. They are telling other readers why they liked/did not like a book and whether they think it is a worthy read. Their opinions can be hurtful, but it isn’t an attack.


For the record, the ONLY good way to respond to a negative review is to NOT RESPOND.

You could try NOT READING THEM, though I think an author interested in growth should read and consider all their reviews.

Instead of going on a rant, consider these alternatives to take the sting off.

  • take a shot for every negative review (non drinkers can substitute shots for chocolate)
  • frame them on the wall of shame
  • burn them
  • put a hex on the bad reviewer
  • determine if their negative response is in fact positive criticism and use that to improve your writing in the future
  • whine to a friend
  • re-read positive reviews
  • sing Let it Go
  • go online and distract yourself with cat memes

Well there you have it. I’m a firm believer in learning from other’s mistakes, so let this be a lesson to the rest of you. When you get a review–good or bad–be gracious, be humble, be prepared, and most importantly be quiet. Whatever your response is, keep it out of the spotlight. In the end, your success or failure relies more on you than your reviews and readers.

Speak Friend and Read Tolkien

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Happy Tolkien Reading Day! Today is the day to celebrate with your favorite passages and works by the late and great J. R. R. Tolkien.

MV5BMTkxNDQ0MjQ3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDE1NTE1MDE@__V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_The theme this year is friendship, which I think is really appropriate considering friendship is an important theme throughout his works, not to mention the movie about the famous friendship between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis comes out April this year.

The theme of friendship in Tolkien’s works has been studied by critics who have debated whether or not his friendships are based on his own personal relationships and if there is homo eroticism in his works.

When I think about friendship, the Fellowship of the Ring immediately comes to mind, but the theme of friendship appears in Tolkien’s other works as well. You don’t have to read an entire book to celebrate Tolkien Reading Day (impossible to do in one day). Just read passages that focus on friendship. Here are some of my favorites.

Sam & Frodo

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This is probably the most famous and controversial friendship in Tolkien’s writing. A friendship founded by loyalty and love, this friendship could easily have been based on the bonds he formed during his military career.

This friendship stands out because of the extreme devotion Frodo and Sam have for each other, but also because of the accusations of their relationship being homoerotic (a theory that was made even more popular after the release of Peter Jackson’s adaptations). Stroking and kissing doesn’t necessary mean they are romantic, though the idea they are romantic is supported by the philosophy of C.S Lewis as outlined in his book,The Four Loves. Without going into great detail about the four love types, Frodo and Sam fall into the romantic category.

I think it’s open to interpretation whether or not their relationship is platonic or homoerotic. I like it either way. The friendship is based on values that we can all agree relationships should have. To borrow a little from Thorin’s quote, I think if we all valued friendship as much as Frodo and Sam, the world would be a merrier place.

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The Fellowship

Fellowship Another friendship that may or may not have been based on personal friendships. Critics have argued that the Fellowship is based on the Inklings, a literary group Tolkien was a member of with C.S. Lewis. The group was founded in friendship instead of the goal of gaining power (cough, cough Boromir). The members of the group became friends through the shared quest of writing. The members of the fellowship become friends through the shared quest of destroying the one ring.

Like the members of the Inklings, the members of the fellowship divulge very little information about themselves. Hence why no one knows for the longest time that Strider is the lost heir Aragorn. They focus on the common goal, not personal commonality.

Legolas & Gimli

picProbably one of my favorite friendships because they start off hating each other. If you want to read about their friendship, it really doesn’t start until after they leave Lothlorien. By fighting with each other Gimli and Legolas form a bond out of mutual respect. This friendship could also have been based on his military relationships or even his Oxford days.

Thorin & Bilbo

tumblr_nfal4rNEIF1sns9vwo1_1280You have to love the friendship of Bilbo and Thorin. Their’s is a friendship founded in trust and loyalty. I’m still reading The Hobbit, so I haven’t gotten to the end. I like how Peter Jackson’s films portray the friendship, but I wished he would have played it up a little bit more like he did with Sam and Frodo. I wanted more of that.

 Túrin & Beleg

doriath___beleg_and_young_turin_by_ekukanova-d55u100A lesser known friendship. This one is from the Silmarillion. It’s about Túrin, also known as Neithan, Gorthol, Turambar (you get the picture). While he was known as Túrin, he was the adopted human son of the elvish King Thingol and brother-in-arms with the warrior Beleg. Essentially Túrin is accused of murder and is exiled. His friend Beleg is extremely loyal to him. He gets permission from Thingol to go in search of him. In a series of reunions, he begs him to return, but Túrin won’t go back with him. Since Túrin won’t return, Beleg ultimately decides to stay with him. Eventually Túrin is captured by orcs during a raid that leaves Beleg gravely wounded, but he is a great warrior and an even better friend, so he goes after Túrin. His loyalty, love, and devotion aren’t exactly repaid when Túrin accidentally kills him while he tries to free him from the orcs. If you think this friendship sounds one sided, it’s not. Túrin does love Beleg. He grieves his loss and sings a song for him called “The song of the great Bow” in honor of his friend.

My sister, the C.S. Lewis to my Tolkien. The Frodo to my Sam.

My sister, the C.S. Lewis to my Tolkien. The Frodo to my Sam.

This Tolkien Reading Day, celebrate the friendships in Tolkiens works as well as the ones in your personal lives. My best friend is my sister. We do everything together, even write together like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. We often joke that we are Lewis and Tolkien reincarnated because of our bond and our writing styles. Today I will celebrate with my sister by watching The Battle of the Five Armies and reading The Hobbit.

Whose your best friend? What is your favorite friendship in Tolkien? How will you celebrate Tolkien Reading Day?

 

Tuesday Tip

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This Tuesday’s tip is about something we all, not just writers, struggle with: How to be positive.

It’s hard to be positive; after all, our brains are innately hardwired to be negative. That doesn’t mean we can’t be optimistic, it just means it requires some effort.

I’ve always considered myself to be a positive person, but the last couple years (weeks even) have really proven it.

For those of you are negatively inclined, Here’s a quick course in optimism.

Tell yourself it will be OK

This sounds like a placating lie you tell to children, but consider repeating this to yourself when you feel down. Remember the last time you felt this way. Everything probably worked itself out or wasn’t as bad as you thought it was.

Rate your problem

On a scale of mole hill to mountain, how big really is your problem? Did you spill your coffee? Break a shoelace? Smear some lipstick on your face? I’d file these in the mole hill category.

Start your day in a positive way

How you start your day sets the tone. Repeat positive affirmations, set your alarm to play your favorite song, call your favorite person on your way to work.

Like a good story, the end is just as important as the beginning. Think of only the good things that happened that day. Don’t dwell on worries before going to sleep.

Fine something positive in any negative situation

This can be difficult. How do you find a silver lining in a bad situation?

Here are some examples from my personal life.

Mom has cancer: Our family spends more time together. She is responding to treatment. We have more time than we were told initially. We don’t take things for granted.

Office closed: Found a job that pays more and has benefits.

Ended a relationship: I live with my sister (it’s like a sleepover every night). I see my son more. I have more money and time. I have more freedom and control over my life.

Remove negative influences

Who is the most negative person in your life?

Divorce them, block their number, break up with them, remove them from social media, avoid them like the plague.

What are you doing when you feel the most negative?

Facebook? Watching TV? Stop doing those things or limit your time doing them.

Don’t stress the small stuff

I cannot stress this enough. Pun intended. Going back to the rating scale, if your problem is a molehill, don’t make a mountain of it. If you lost a five dollar bill. Move on. You dropped some food on your shirt. Deal with it. Some toilet paper followed you out of the bathroom on your shoe. Carry on.

Make a list

If negative thoughts are swimming around in your head, get them out of your mind and put them on paper. Listing your problems helps you sort them.

Be a positive influence

Negativity spreads like the flu. Luckily so does optimism. I’ve had customers enter my store with a frown and leave with a smile because of my sunny disposition.

Have a laugh

Laugh until you sound and look like a seal.

Watch a comedy, go to I waste so much time.com or ifunny. Spend time with people who make you laugh. Heck, my mom makes me laugh about cancer.

Enjoy this funny video that sums it up the message of this post.

Ask An Author

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It’s the first Friday of February (alliteration not intended), which means it’s time for another Ask an Author: the guest feature that puts the author in authoritative.


whit-mcclendon-95-1410798997This month’s author is Whit McClendon, author of “Mage’s Burden,” owner and instructor of a martial arts school, writer, husband, and father.

I first learned about Whit from a blog. I then found him on Facebook where I learned he is a multifaceted man whose interests include training, teaching, lacrosse, running, and reading in addition to writing. Between family, writing, and a martial arts career, Whit has to keep a lot of plates spinning at once. So I asked him to share some advice about the nefarious balancing act: writing and life. Here’s what he had to say.


Balancing Writing with the Rest of Your Life

How-to-Find-Balance-between-Work-and-Life

I own and run my own martial arts school, so I have a very tight and busy schedule. I get up at 6 a.m. to feed my son and drop him off at school; then I head to my own school. I generally get home around 8:45 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I have classes off and on all day, so I generally have less time to write while Tuesdays and Thursdays are easier since my classes don’t start until the evening.


Balancing Writing with Work

Running a martial arts school involves not only personally teaching up to 7 classes a day, but there are also a thousand little daily administrative tasks that are always screaming for attention. I also need to squeeze in my own training time, so time is a precious commodity. No matter what day it is, I seem to write more effectively when I can block out an hour at least with little distraction. Sometimes, I may only get an hour in a week, but other weeks I manage far more than that. I occasionally get some impromptu writing time at odd moments when the opportunity presents itself, and it seems that I often get into a decent groove only moments before one of my classes is supposed to start. This is frustrating because I have to suddenly stop writing (something I thoroughly enjoy) to teach (which I also thoroughly enjoy)!

 Balancing Writing with Family

 My family has been extremely supportive of my writing. I have pretty long work hours during the week, so I don’t often write at home because I prefer to be more present when I’m there. With a wife, son, and two pugs, there’s generally something going on, and I like to be in on it, whatever it is. I occasionally dig into my writing on the weekends, when things are more relaxed.
Whether at work or at home, I block off as much time as I can, when I can, even if it’s a small amount. It’s hard to be consistent on a daily basis, but at the end of the week, I’ve usually found a few opportunities to write, and that works for me.

Tips and Techniques for the Time Challenged

I really disappear into my writing when I get going, so I do my best to avoid distractions. When I’m at my school, I occasionally put on some quiet Celtic/New Age music to set the mood.  I have a basic outline of the overall story on which I’m currently working, though my characters often run off into unforeseen adventures.
One of my favorite editing tools is to simply read everything aloud at some point to see if it flows properly. Dennis L. McKiernan (favorite fantasy author) suggested that technique to me many years ago, and I’ve used it to what I hope is good effect.
I occasionally write my chapters out of order, depending on what I ‘see.’  I may write up to a point in one chapter and then something from another chapter occurs to me, so I switch over to work on that for a bit. I often write notes directly on my document in red, green, or blue as I need to, then delete them when I integrate those elements into the story. My approach may seem a bit scattered, but it makes perfect sense to me.

915iXUbRrsL__SL1500_No matter how busy Whit gets, he always has time to connect with readers, fans, and fellow writers.

Join him on Facebook

or Twitter @whitmcc or @whitmccauthor

Check out his blog here.

You can find his book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
And don’t forget to be on the lookout for the sequel, “Gart’s Road” projected for release this May.

A Great Debate: E-Book or Paperback–Which Do You Prefer?

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ebook-vs-printI used to work with a girl who never bought books–NEVER bought books.

Before you light your torches and sharpen your pitchforks I should probably mention she does READ books–she reads all the time; however, she only reads e-books, and only if they are free.

I’ve known people on both sides of the spectrum: those who only read e-books (old coworker) and those who only read paperbacks (my mother).

I’m sure most of you, like me, fall somewhere in the middle.

My personal philosophy: It doesn’t matter as long as you read.

Let me make a confession: I was once one of those people who used to touch, dust, and eye-caress my paperbacks, swearing to them I’d never betray them by downloading an e-book. Yeah, well I also swore I’d never join Facebook and twitter, so . . . (cough, cough)

Life changes and so do we. Granted, I didn’t buy my first e-book until last year. The invention of the e-book was an ancient time long ago when cell phones were first climbing out of the primordial ooze so to speak. Downloading an e-book required a fancy expensive reader or your computer. I just didn’t like reading books on my computer–still don’t. Everything changed when I got my iPhone and my tech/phone savvy coworker (who only reads e-books) showed me how to download them.

I was hooked.

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Downloading e-books has certainly taken a load off of my bookshelf, which is struggling to hold 50-100 paperbacks. I now have roughly a dozen books to read on my phone. This does not mean I will be snubbing the traditional format, however.

So how do I decide what format to buy? How do you decide?

When to Purchase Paperback

  • If I own part of a series in paperback, I’m going to purchase the remaining books in that format or else it looks like I have a (gasp) incomplete set. I’m sure Terry Brooks fans get this.
  • If it’s a really, really, really gorgeous cover. ‘Nuff said.
  • If it’s a classic. Sure, you can read “The Hobbit” or “Pride and Prejudice” on your Kindle, but to me, that just feels wrong. It’s a personal hangup. Personally I love to read the old books in a velvet tufted Victorian high-back chair–which I used to have until my cat destroyed it, so now I just read them in bed.
  • If you want it signed, I really recommend the paperback. I don’t even know if signing an e-book is an option. Does anyone have the answer to that? For instance, I really wanted to get a signature from James Alexander Thom on my copy of “Panther in the Sky,” but I had to work that day.
  • When the book is your own, you’ve got to have a paperback copy. Am I right?

When to Buy an E-book

  • When your bookshelf looks like this . . .

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  • Ugly cover. ‘Nuff said.
  • So you can read where you aren’t supposed to e.g., work. It’s much easier to hide your phone during a meeting than an entire book.
  • If you want your book to be more portable. It’s easier to carry your phone or tablet than a book. Think of it, you can carry hundreds of books instead of one. If you forget your book at home, chances are, you did not forget your phone.
  • To save money. It’s not always but it’s often cheaper to get an e-book.
  • For the instant gratification. You want to read that book now? You can. Click download and the book is yours within 60 seconds. From your couch! At any hour! If you wake up at midnight hankering for a book, you can have a book. If you wake up hankering for McDonalds–ignore it, that is an unhealthy food craving. You’re just wanty. Get a book instead.

Well, those are my reasons. What are yours? How do you choose?