Writing Update

While I begin the nerve-wracking beta process for January Snow, I’ve leapt head-first into my next projects.

Back in July 2017, I wrote the first draft of my first science fiction novel, Earthbound, which was basically borne of wondering what would happen if a superhero failed to save the world from destruction. While that premise is still very much a part of the story, it’s not a superhero story. (Then again, I’m also writing a time-travel novel that contains no actual time travel within its pages, so maybe I’m just a super contrary author)

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look, I made a meme

Instead, this story became a space adventure with some of my favorite characters I’ve ever created–think “retired and bitter superhero becomes a father figure to four unpredictable (and also a little bitter) space kids.”

It’s also basically the “bickering group of diverse individuals have to work together for a common goal and become a family in the process” trope that I would live and die for. So I’m very invested.

just right
I know I overuse this meme, please don’t come @ me for it.
via ArtStation

Said story also decided to take a page from its characters’ misbehavior and refuse to be a single book. It’s going to be a duology (!) BUT it’s also screaming for a prequel novella that you all will probably get for free. Right now I’ve split the first draft in half, and I’m re-writing and expanding each part into its own book.  I should have that done by the end of the year. (I’m shooting to have the draft of book #1 finished this month, but we’ll see). I’d like to finish both books around the same time–more as two halves to the same story rather than two separate novels–and then release them close together. Mainly because I know I’m very bad at waiting for books in series to come out, and so I’ve always had the idea if I wrote a (short-ish) series I’d want to publish the books close together.

Will I be writing any more fairy tale retellings? You bet! I’ve got a “The Little Mermaid” retelling coming next, followed by “Little Red Riding Hood.” (which, pssst….is this month’s featured fairy tale on FTC). I’m never entirely sure how long these novellas are going to take me to finish. Because each one is set in a completely different time period and location, it means my research pretty much starts from scratch for every book. The first draft of the LM retelling is about halfway done, but I haven’t even started on my research for RRH. (It’s also a lot more intimidating because it takes place in Japan, and I’ve never written a story with a non-European or non-American setting before. The amount of research, therefore, is going to be brutal).

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Historical fiction fans–I haven’t forgotten about you either! Like my fairy tale retellings, these take a lot longer because of the research. But my next historical novel is set in 1830s Cheshire. It’s heavily inspired by Cranford, Persuasion, North and South, and just a bit of Oliver Twist. It doesn’t have as much action as Hidden Pearls, but it does have some espionage, so maybe that makes up for it? The entire story (at this point) takes place in one village, and I think this may be the first time I’ve ever written anything that doesn’t involve travelling! That’s an odd thing to realize, but I guess it’s true.

“And what about that time travel novel, Hayden?”

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(one day I’ll tell you about it, but today is not that day)

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Stealing Fiction (The Good Way)

Nothing is new under the sun.

This was written in the Bible thousands of years ago (when there was, presumably, less fiction in the world than there is now) and it’s certainly true today.

Sometimes that can be disheartening, because everyone wants to believe that they have something original to contribute to the world. But it’s also a gift: we don’t have to re-invent the wheel, do we? By utilizing other people’s research and ideas, we can come up with our own distinct creations. I like seeing how other people do things, because they can give me good ideas, too. Sharing ideas is a quick way to progress, and I think that’s especially true in writing. STEAL ALL THE IDEAS!

via pinterest

One thing I’ve noticed about my own writing is how I like to jump off of fiction -whether it’s movies, TV, books, or even songs- that I already enjoy. When I come up with a plot, characters are usually vaguely formed in my mind. I usually know what “feel” I’m going for in the story, but to sharpen my focus, I like to look at works that share something similar, and use that to further the goals in my own story.

When it comes to characters, I usually use this method as a learning tool when I want to take a specific characteristic and figure out what makes it *work* in other fictional characters that already exist. (For instance, say I want character #1 to be sarcastic- but still likable. What are some characters who already exist who use sarcasm, and use it well? What makes it work within their character? On the other hand, which characters don’t use sarcasm well, and what should I avoid?) Taking bits and pieces of different fictional characters (or even real people!) who already exist, you can use it as a framework to create your own character. By taking specific aspects of different individuals–even hugely well-known ones–you can still come up with a distinct character that stands completely on his own two feet. I tend to get into conversations analyzing characters and movies anyway, and those have always helped me in understanding the art of story and what makes good stories work.

For instance, here’s a handy-dandy chart that shows you one example. Would you ever believe that such an iconic, distinct character could be such an obvious mix of three other iconic characters?

Badass of all Badasses fromnerdsfornerds
via pinterest

Like Sherlock Holmes, Batman is brilliant, and has honed his skills for his specific calling in life. He’s not just decent at what he undertakes- he is the best. Both characters are known as the World’s Greatest Detective for good reason. You could also argue that Bruce’s small army of children is his version of the Baker Street irregulars. He even has a “Watson” character (Robin was actually created so kids could see themselves fighting alongside the caped crusader, in the same way Dr. Watson serves as an “everyman” for Holmes readers). You could even argue that he has a Mrs. Hudson in Alfred Pennyworth (although Alfred is by far the better developed, well-rounded character. And depending on the version of Batman, sometimes Alfred takes on a more Watson-like role).

Meanwhile, Batman is also clearly influenced by Zorro. Now, I could go on to how you can really trace this back to The Scarlet Pimpernel (since Zorro has basically the same premise, just set in a different time, location, and culture) but since canonically Batman is actually inspired by Zorro, I’ll let it slide. Both Zorro and Batman are rich, with flippant personas that hide their identities as masked heroes. They’re in it for the justice, not fame, glory, or money.

Like Dracula, Batman is mysterious. When we think of Dracula, we think words like dark, reclusive, frightening. We think of bats and blood and old money. In some ways Dracula is an entirely different case than the previous two characters. Unlike with Sherlock Holmes and Zorro, Bruce Wayne doesn’t resemble Dracula in personality or situation. Yet this is a good example of taking an abstract idea, mood, or look of another character and modifying it into something new. This inspiration is more superficial, but it’s no less important: after all, what would Batman be without the bat?

It’s no surprise that I love all three of these characters. (Okay, maybe not Dracula himself, but I love the book) So then, is it really a surprise that Batman happens to be one of my all-time favorite fictional characters? We like things for a reason…and if you study what you like, why you like it, and what makes it memorable, it makes it easier to capture that same feeling in your own work.

One thing you’ll notice when you combine character traits like this is that you don’t usually need to worry about creating something original, because it will come. If you create a character with the roguish charm of Flynn Rider but the backstory of Hamlet, and then add in the insane brilliance of Victor Frankenstein, you’ve already got an intriguing combination ripe for exploration. And then set the story in a Lost World-type island with dinosaurs and, well, my friend, I would want to read that, because it sounds awesome. The possibilities are endless. By mixing and matching to create a basic skeletal structure, you can then fill in the gaps to create a well-rounded, solid figure. It sort of is playing Frankenstein.

Don’t be afraid to analyze what you like and why you like it. I think one of the easiest and most efficient ways to craft a good story is to take those things and make them your own.

What are some of your inspirations for your characters?

 

maximizing productivity

1: don’t get distracted by your brothers watching movies in the next room. Not even if it’s Paddington. This, I stress, is the most essential. Try to block out distractions! They are the thieves of productivity! (obviously, you can’t get rid of some distractions. If you have smol children, please don’t leave them alone for long periods of time. They may wreck havoc throughout the rest of your home and then you’ll have a real distraction)

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(they’ll probably have fun, though.)

2: I’ve never been able to write with music going in the background (even instrumental tracks are too distracting for me). However, I do like some sort of background noise, and I’ve recently discovered noisli.com, which helps you create a combination of your own. When I’m not in the mood for a thunderstorm (which isn’t often 🙂 ) I particularly like a mixture of wind, rustling leaves, and a faint train in the distance. My favorite part about noisli is that you can control how loud each element is, so if you want loud ocean waves crashing nearby with just the faintest of birdsong in the background, you can do so.

3: I don’t know about you, but the surest way for me to kill any inspiration is to open a blank word document. I just stare at it for twenty minutes and get nothing done. Dredging up those first few sentences are like pulling teeth. However, one thing that I’ve learned about myself is that it’s always easier to begin writing if I start hand-writing first. I don’t know what it is about putting pencil or pen to paper, but it’s much easier for me if I start that way and then don’t move to the computer until later. When I get frustrated because my fingers simply won’t move fast enough to get down all of my ideas, then I know it’s time to make the switch to my laptop.

4: I read this one on tumblr and thought it was ridiculous, but I decided to try it and…it kind of works? I’ve always known that changing the font of your document helps during the rewriting and especially the editing stage, but writing that first draft in comic sans? Like I did during middle school? But somehow, when everything looks cringy anyway, it unlocks that self-conscious block that can prevent writing–even if it’s terrible–and allows me to move forward.

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5: When I’m in the middle of a scene and I’m struggling with what happens next, I’ve been known to pace. Sometimes, as I walk back and forth, I act out the drama in my head. Or even literally act it out. It helps me set the tone of dialogue, and if I’m acting, what seems natural in the moment usually is. It helps especially in crafting arguments, I’ve noticed.

6. Sometimes–and this is more a school paper-writing habit than a fiction writing one–rewards work. When I get to five hundred words, I’ll have a Hershey’s kiss! One thousand words and I’ll go downstairs and get a snack! Yes, most of my rewards are food. And yes…it does take a bit of discipline to stick with it. But self-discipline is a Good Thing and this helps me practice it and helps me to get work done. (plus, I get food, so wins all around).

And, as always—

-pray ( a lot )

-drink ( a lot of ) water. Or coffee. Or tea.

-relax. You’ve got this.

a talk over coffee

I really haven’t updated on here very much, have I?

I’m sitting here, coffee in hand (yes, I drink coffee now and I hate myself for it, thanks) while we prepare for a hurricane that may or may not force us to leave. I’ve got a pile of college assignments to keep me occupied, although if the power goes out I’m in trouble, since most of them are submitted through the internet. Basically this means I’ve spent the last five hours doing every assignment I can, just in case. Yet strangely, this is one of the few moments where I find I actually have a couple minutes to spare to write a blog post.

élégance noire

School was rough last month–the entire first week I was shocked at how hard it was to get back into the swing of things. I was depressed, tired, and cranky, and then just as I finally acclimated to the stress of my final fall semester, I came down with a bad cold that’s only now lessening. I’ve also been incredibly slack with my writing: the entire summer was a struggle. I’ve barely written a word since July and felt drained, as if I didn’t have anything to offer. Also, like a lot of us, I struggle with writer’s guilt, that pesky thing that can motivate but more often just nags at me when I spend my leisure time doing anything that isn’t writing. I knew that January Snow, which I had hoped to release in December or January, would definitely not be ready on time. That’s one announcement I have to make–Jan is pretty much going to be put on hold until after I graduate in the spring. Lord willing, it will still be a Dec/Jan release…only in 2019/20 instead of 2018. I apologize for that, but I feel so relieved about it. I’ve got a lot to handle this year (Senior Thesis time!) but for the past few months I’ve also been feeling hopelessly dull about my writing. In fact, Christine’s most recent post encapsulates a lot of what I’ve been feeling lately.

Legit me right now. My characters are fully developed, my world has been built, I have plot... And nothing.

About a month ago, I came up with a story idea that I really, really liked. It was more contemporary, but had lots of elements taken from a bunch of things that I love. The only problem? It seemed better suited for a comic that a novel. Three days ago I decided, “What the heck- I’m going to plan it out anyway.” I’m not sure where it’s going to take me, but since it takes place in a fictional city, I’ve been playing around with it. Naming buildings and my characters’ workplaces, fleshing out my heroes’ backstories and just, frankly, having fun. Brainstorming is always one of my absolute favorite parts of the writing process, and I’m running with it. Today, after I read my allotted chapters of Pride and Prejudice (I’m in a Jane Austen class–yes, be jealous!) I’m going to spend some time mapping out this city. Writing mostly historical fiction, I haven’t done this since my long-abandoned fantasy attempt six years ago, and I hadn’t realized how much I’ve missed it!

☽p i n t e r e s t : kgfamilyg☾

Dealing with disappointment in my writing, I’ve been watching a lot more TV- perhaps a little too much, but some good has come out of it. I’ve recaptured my love of story. In some ways, my recent TV viewing habits have prompted me into writing again by inspiring through a different medium of storytelling. Instead of dreading writing, I’m looking forward to it–because I’m excited again by the stories I have to tell.

Basically, I’m changing the way I write (or rather, the way I go about writing). I have a bunch of short story ideas I’ve never pursued because I always wanted to finish my “big” projects first. Now? I’m going to tackle them. Additionally, I’m taking a break from the publishing/advertising side of the indie author scene. Instead, I’m going to start writing for enjoyment again, and finish a handful of first drafts that I’ve never completed before entering into the publishing world again. It’s a break I need. It’s not that I’m becoming less motivated or slacking off in the self-discipline department; if anything, I’m getting my act together. But right now, that means focusing on school (and later, getting a “regular” job). In the meantime, I’ll be discovering the joy of writing again.

On the go. Write anywhere & everywhere.
Also on the list? Embracing my tendency to write things down quickly–even if it’s only a sentence–whenever I have a burst of inspiration or a spare moment, instead of trying to wait until a block of designated “writing time.” Because right now, designated writing times waiver between “rare” and “never.”

For instance, the project I’m working on now? I don’t have any snippets for you yet (obviously) but I can share the description for it that I have on my secret Pinterest board…

A tale of science-y conspiracies, heists, and superhero shenanigans. Like if you put the x-files, batman, and leverage in a blender…but added cinnamon rolls. Lots and lots of cinnamon rolls.

(Did I basically just combine a bunch of my favorite things? Of course I did! What else is writing for, after all?)

That’s another change I’m making–to be brave enough to tackle the weird projects I have, not just my historical and fairy tale retellings. To, you know, work on that time-travel spy novel, that fantasy trilogy, even that middle grade book that I abandoned after half the story I’d already written got eaten by my computer.

It’s all got me rather excited XD

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me. And now? Well, now I’ve got a hurricane to protest–er, prepare for.

 

 

Introducing January Snow

This is how I see January. Accessories shot
pic via pinterest

Ah. January Snow. The story that started on a car ride six years ago during an animated family discussion on our favorite Disney princesses. That story idea went through multiple revisions and complete plot overhauls, and was inches away from being abandoned all together. But January Snow managed, much like its eponymous heroine, to escape death once again.

So here it is, January Snow: Snow White. 1920s. New York. Mobsters, mediums, and miners. Sin and vice and sacrifice and redemption. And even an action scene or two. Here’s the official blurb:

January Snow has blood on her hands.

Never the obedient daughter of her father’s expectations, she nevertheless thinks she’s finally found a way to earn his respect. But when her plan to take down her father’s rival ends in disaster, her stepmother is convinced that the tragedy that ensues is January’s fault- and she might not be wrong. Maria d’Angelo has spent her life communicating with the spirits, and now she’s certain they’re telling her one thing: January needs to die.

David Brendan has been searching for his brother’s killer, but the only witness to Jon’s death is the runaway daughter of one of the city’s most notorious crime bosses. Suddenly thrust from his high society world into one of mob violence, shadowy spiritualism, and political conspiracy, he realizes that he’s not the only one looking for January Snow- and if he doesn’t find her first, she won’t be the only one who ends up dead.

Coming Winter 2018

add on Goodreads

 

 

Beautiful Books: How’s The Writing Going?

I’m sooo behind on NaNo, guys. But I just finished one major research paper and I’m 1/2 done with another paper, so maybe after I get those out of the way I’ll take a day to…I dunno…write 10,000 words in a day. (*laughs because that will not happen*)

beautiful books

I actually should be finishing the other half of that paper, but I need a break from that, so I’m tackling Cait and Skye’s Beautiful Books tag.

Overall, how is your mental state, and how is your novel going?

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My mental state is…exhausted? I was keeping up with NaNo really well that first week, but we’re on the last leg of school, and it has worn me out so much. My poor baby brother has been trying to get me to read over his story, but I haven’t yet because every time I come home I just don’t want to look at words. At all.

What’s your first sentence (or paragraph)?

I’m actually a little annoyed, because I originally had a great opening for January Snow. But, alas, when I reshuffled the story the scene -while not scrapped entirely- was inserted a couple chapters in rather than at the beginning. I’m not particularly satisfied with my current first sentence. Which, predictably for me, is also its own paragraph:

January Snow had long ago decided that the public’s preference for alcohol was stemmed from two things: one, their own inability to face up to their problems; and two, to disguise the fact that without their liquid crutch, they would all be exposed as very tedious, very boring people.

Who’s your current favourite character in your novel?

January Snow herself has given me so much trouble over the years that I never would have guessed that I’d grow to love her. But once I discovered who she is and what makes her tick, she’s become dynamic and interesting, and I love writing her.

What do you love about your novel so far?

I love my theme and the feel of it- at least what I have in my head, anyway. It’s been very difficult getting that down onto paper.

Have you made any hilarious typos or other mistakes?

Nope. I did make a name change to one of my major characters, though, but I still forget that from time to time, so his name isn’t always consistent.

What is your favourite to write: beginning, middle, or end — and why?

I love writing beginnings, because there’s something great about starting out on an adventure. I love writing endings even more because I love seeing everything come to a conclusion and wrap up. But middles? They are my nemesis.

What are your writing habits? Is there a specific snack you eat? Do you listen to music?

I usually divide my writing into word count chunks, or on occasion time chunks, and then treat myself with something every time I accomplish one of these smaller goals. For instance, I might take out three Hershey’s kisses and line them up where I can see them, and every time I write 500 words I treat myself to one, or something similar like that. And I always take small breaks after every hour of writing, to stretch or close my eyes or check social media or something. It keeps my brain from frying.

I can’t listen to music while writing, though. It’s too distracting.

What time of day do you write best? Feel free to show us a picture of your writing space!

Well, during the school semester, I usually like working as soon as I get home. When I’m not in school, anytime from 10 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon is usually a sweet spot for me. I’m fully awake, but the day hasn’t had the chance to exhaust me yet!

I don’t have a good picture of my writing space. I have a vintage 1920s-ish dresser/desk in my room that I write on, underneath a messy bulletin board.

How private are you about your novel while you’re writing? Do you need a cheer squad or do you work alone (like, ahem, Batman)?

(Well, first of all, Batman has like 10 kids and a cow (and Alfred!) so I’m not sure he’s the best example of working alone.) But yes, when it comes to writing, I do work alone- especially with that first draft. Every once in a while I get the need to talk something out, but I don’t necessarily need another person to do that. Like Sherlock Holmes, I find skulls work just as well. Thanks to my biology-major sister, we actually do have a skull in our room. It’s fake, but it’s a skull nonetheless.

What keeps you writing even when it’s hard?

The Hershey’s kisses I mentioned. Sometimes, they are all that keep me going. Chocolate is a powerful motivator.

What are your top 3 pieces of writing advice?

  1. Be fearless- don’t be afraid of making mistakes or risky plot and character choices. You can always go back and tweak things later, but sometimes those crazy choices turn out being the right ones.
  2. Remember that revision and editing is a thing. That first draft may be absolute trash now, but the thing is to get it written. You can transform it later, but first you have to get all those ideas down somewhere.
  3. T A K E  B R E A K S. Your body needs them. Drink lots of water! Do some jumping jacks and stretches! Pet a cat! Defeat the Joker in a surfing contest! For me, taking small (even just 5 minute) breaks helps clear my mind so the time I do spend writing is more productive.

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The 5 Types of Bad Reviews Authors Get (and how to deal with them)

As any author can tell you, bad reviews aren’t fun. But…you will get them. It’s pretty much inevitable.

Reviews are weird things anyways. Some people think you should only write reviews if you liked the book…but if no one ever wrote any bad reviews, how would you know if a book was really good, if only favorable opinions were allowed? And then there are the time-traveler reviews, rated months before the book even comes out. Once on Goodreads someone went and in one fell swoop rated all of my books one star. I still am a little puzzled over that. (If you didn’t like one of my books…why did you keep reading them? Even more puzzling, why would you keep spending money to read them?)

Some authors don’t read reviews of their books. SO MUCH RESPECT FOR YOU GUYS. Alas, I’m too curious. Maybe I just like torturing myself? As someone who writes a lot of reviews, reads a lot of reviews, and has gotten a fair share of reviews, these are some that I’ve noticed pop up often. I haven’t received all of these types of reviews, but I’ve gotten at least one of most of them.

1. “There was nothing wrong with it, I just didn’t like/connect with it”

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Don’t get me wrong: I totally, totally get these. About 70% of all my 2 or 3-star reviews are this very thing. Sometimes, a book just doesn’t connect with a reader, and that’s okay! It’s a little sad that you couldn’t connect with someone, but it’s not anything to be ashamed of. (although if you get a bunch of these types of reviews on a novel, it might hint at a deeper problem with your writing.)

How to deal with it: remind yourself of all the readers who did like your book and related to the characters! Everybody is different and we all relate to different characters and situations. Even the best of characters aren’t appreciated by everyone.

2. Here’s a Novel-Length List of Everything You Did Wrong

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These are always a little wince-worthy. For a historical novel, they can be a list of every historical inaccuracy in the book. Sometimes it’s a bullet point list of every grammar mistake or typo you’ve ever made. Those last ones are a double bummer because one, it’s embarrassing, and two, YOU END UP BANGING YOUR HEAD THAT YOU MISSED ALL THOSE EASILY FIXED MISTAKES.

But sometimes these types of reviews cross a line into unkindness. Sometimes, these reviews list all of your plot holes…make fun of your characters…quote lines from your story in mocking derision….

….and make you feel like you want to cry.

How to deal with it: Make a pillow fort and watch a favorite childhood movie. Maybe bake a cake. Or two. Or a batch of cupcakes.

3. The Social Justice Tirade

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Most of the time I hate, hate, hate these. Now, sometimes books do have legitimate problems that someone should mention in a review. But these types of reviews can also be an organized “crusade” of reviewers who haven’t even read the book in question, but someone told them through the grapevine that the novel was racist or sexist or something and so they think it’s their sacred duty to get as many people as possible to load down a site with as many one-star reviews as possible. Seriously, these things are like campaigns, and they’re nasty. I’ve seen them for books that haven’t even been released yet, but “oh no! A white person is writing a book about a non-white person, and that’s cultural appropriation! We must drag this book through the mud even though we don’t know anything else about it!”

Nothing ticks me off more than these (or, in general, just people rating/reviewing books they haven’t read). Thankfully, this has never happened to me (and usually these campaigns are carried out for more mainstream, publicized novels anyway) but I’ve seen them on review sites before, and I get upset for the author, because nine times out of ten, the rumors have blown up something in your book way out of proportion and usually have tried to destroy your name in the process as well. It’s a form of bullying, and it’s just not okay.

How to deal with it: Gather your army. Avenge your honor. Defeat your foes.

(okay, okay. Occasionally, a review is right in pointing out something you may have dealt with in an inaccurate and stereotyped way. But if it’s truly unfair, there’s not much else you can do than rant to your friends and open that container of ice cream. Shake it off, y’all. Sometimes the haters are just going to hate. )

4. Did You Even Read The Book?

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I recently got one of these on one of my books. They’re basically reviews that are so off you wonder if they got your book mixed up with someone else’s. I was really upset about it because I thought it would be misleading to other readers and even asked for advice on what to do. In the end, I decided to not to respond to the review and just eat some chocolate.

How to deal with it: Do what I did. Eat chocolate. Complain to your friends. Acknowledge that the world is unfair, people are strange, and hey…maybe they made a mistake and really did in some strange twist of fate post the wrong review.

5. The Hit-and-Run

“One star. I didn’t like this book.”

That’s all.

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Okay. *shrugs* BUT WHY DON’T YOU LOVE IT? WHAT’S WRONG?

(some authors really hate these kinds of reviews, but I actually don’t??? Sometimes it’s just easier to see one of those reviews without hearing a list of everything they didn’t like.)

How to deal with it: These ones actually don’t bother me overmuch, so I can’t give you much advice, to be honest. I just shrug and move on with my life.

There are other types of reviews as well…the ignorant reviewer, who complains about something being “inaccurate”…when you were actually being accurate. The accuser who is positive you’ve plagiarized another book (which you haven’t read or even heard of). As an avid reader and writer of fairy tale retellings, I come across those reviewers who are upset that said retelling isn’t close enough to the “original” fairy tale…because they only know about the Disney version. (In particular, one Five Enchanted Roses review complained about something in particular that most of the stories didn’t contain that was “in the original tale”…when what they wanted in the story was actually an invention of Disney’s.)

But when all is said and done, for the most part I’ve been blessed. No, not all of my reviews have been good, but generally, they have all been respectful. We all have different tastes, and every reader isn’t obligated to love your book.

But really, the bad reviews don’t matter half as much as the good ones. Because in this world, if you’ve managed to touch a reader’s heart- well, that’s what matters, isn’t it?