Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Month-End Update: October 2016

With a productive October behind me, I can feel the wintry winds of November nipping at my heels. Despite how much I accomplished in October, I don’t really have much to say about it. The month revolved around finishing up my nonfiction prompts series, which I did, with the writing and publication of 100 Horror Writing Prompts (Fiction Ideas Vol. 10). I also had a great reading month and blazed through quite a few titles on my to-be-read list.

As November begins, I feel like a race horse prancing at the starting gate. It’s NaNoWriMo season, and for some reason, I’ve decided I have time to take on the challenge. I’m out of excuses, and I will finally (with much anxiety and cautious excitement) be returning to the world of fiction with Desertera #3. Wish me luck – and feel free to add me as a writing buddy @KateMColby!

Writing & Editing

  • Blog Posts Written 7 and one guest post
  • Fiction Words Written  0
  • # of Days I Wrote Fiction  0
  • Nonfiction Prompts Written 100 prompts (plus work on the prompts anthology)
  • # of Days I Wrote Nonfiction 20
  • Drafts Revised Proofread of 100 Horror Writing Prompts
  • # of Days I Revised  1
  • Outlines Written – 1 (upcoming prompts anthology)
  • Days Without Creation/Production  11


  • Books Begun/In-Progress

*Remember, I review every book I read on my Goodreads page.

Author Business Activities

Goals for November

  • Participate in and “win” NaNoWriMo 2016
  • Finish and decide on publication date of the prompts anthology
  • (Beta-)read and review books on TBR list

What did you accomplish in October? What goals are you working towards in November? What is your NaNoWriMo project? Share below!

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How to Handle Book Reviews: Good, Bad, and Ugly

read-1702616_640.jpgBook reviews are the lifeblood of books. A healthy rating encourages potential readers to buy, makes an author eligible for merchandising from retail sites, and improves a book’s overall ranking on those sites. However, if enough readers read your book, eventually you’re going to get a bad review (probably several). Those dreaded one-star ratings are the cost of exposure.

After hearing a few author horror stories on the subject of reviews, I wanted to provide a public service announcement of sorts. Sure, several other authors have written on this topic already, but just in case mine is the first you read (or you want another opinion), here is my advice for how to handle your book reviews: good, bad, or ugly.

First, it is important to remember that you are not your book. Reviews are a subjective reaction to your creative work and not you as a person. (We’ll get to the 1% in which this is not the case in a bit.)

Personally, I try not to read reviews (good, bad, or ugly). This is not to say that I don’t try to cultivate them, or that I do not appreciate them (Seriously, if you’ve reviewed one of my books, thank you!). However, I know myself. A bad review can temporarily shatter my confidence and ruin a whole writing day. That’s not worth it to me, my work, or my readers.

My solution? I have my husband check my reviews for me (once a week or so). If there’s a good review, he lets me know. If there’s a bad review, he distills it down to only the constructive criticism (and leaves out any rudeness), so that I can learn from the review, without being upset by it.

You have to decide what’s best for you. If you’re a sensitive soul like me, try getting a spouse, friend, or family member to be your review buffer. If you’re a tough cookie, read all you want. As long as reviews don’t over-inflate or deflate your ego, there’s nothing wrong with reading them.

So, that’s my general policy. Now let’s drill down into the specifics. For the purpose of this article, “good” reviews refers to positive reviews, “bad” reviews refers to critical reviews, and “ugly” reviews refers to hateful or personal reviews.


Good Reviews

Good reviews tell you two things: what readers like about your book and who likes your book. When you get a good review, take note of the reader’s praise and try to keep those themes in your writing. Also, do a little research on your reader. What other books have they liked or disliked? From their profile, do they fit within your target audience? These will tell you if your book is reaching the right market and give you an idea of where to advertise or how to promote your book in the future.

When I published my first novel, I checked my reviews often and responded to the positive ones (That’s all there is when only your friends and family are reading your book!) with a ‘like’ or comment on Goodreads. Now, I don’t respond to any positive reviews. It’s not that I don’t appreciate them (Again, I totally do — thank you!). It’s that A) I don’t want to offend anyone by accidentally skipping or not commenting on their review, B) it sets a precedent that I might also respond to neutral or bad reviews, and C) I really don’t have that kind of time. Note to my readers: if you want to have an actual dialogue about my books or receive a personal thanks, just shoot me an email via the contact page.

It’s worth noting that I have never responded to any reviews on Amazon or another online retailer. As a social network, Goodreads muddles the line, but on retail sites it is clear: do not respond to reviews. It’s unprofessional and the retail sites are likely to frown on it.


Bad Reviews

We all know these. They’re the ones that make us want to crawl under the covers or throw the laptop out of the window and never write again. But bad reviews can be good. Beyond providing you with constructive feedback, they tell other readers what this person did or didn’t like about your book, so that they can better judge for themselves. Your target audience can be persuaded by bad reviews (Is it full of cursing? Sounds up my alley!), and your non-ideal audience will be warded off (Sex? No way!), thus preventing another bad review in the future.

It is my policy to never respond to bad reviews. First off, I respect the reader’s right to their own opinion. Second, they’ve already “wasted” enough time with my book, they don’t need me saying anything to them.

Some authors make exceptions for this. For example, some will jump to defend a concept the reader clearly missed that could change their perspective of the book. Others will respond if a reader makes a factual error in the review. My professional opinion is to stay silent. Most times, you will only irritate the reader more, or never receive a response to your rebuttal anyway.

Here are a few other ways to react to bad reviews:

Remember, you are not your book. The conception of bad writing (or actual bad writing — let’s be honest, it happens) do not make you a bad person or unworthy creator. It just means you have more to learn. We all do.

Take comfort in that even the best books have bad reviews. This may come as a shock, but there are people out there who hate Harry Potter. I know, but it’s true. Go to the page of your favorite author and check out some of their book’s most scathing reviews. If they can survive it and have their work admired, so can you.

Go read some of your five-star reviews. Or social media comments or emails or whatever. Focus on the readers who get and love your work. They’re the ones that really matter.

Really need to respond to that disgruntled reader? Write a response and destroy it. Do this by hand so there is no temptation or possibility of posting it online. Craft your elegant defense or your childish slew of insults, then rip it up and throw it out. You’ll feel better without doing any damage to your professional image or online relationships. Venting to a trusted friend — NOT in online writers’ groups or forums — is another idea. Seriously, though, don’t put your gripes online. A) It can be found by readers. B) It still makes you look bad. C) Negativity will just bring other writers down. Don’t be that person.

If all else fails, I like to get existential. You are only certain of this one life. Is one person’s dislike going to keep you from pursuing your passion? I didn’t think so.


Ugly Reviews

These are reviews that make personal attacks on your character, threaten you, or which are given to your book because the reviewer has a personal vendetta against you. Luckily, these are super-rare, but they can happen. Again, I strongly encourage you not to respond. Instead, contact the website administrator and ask for the review to be removed. If the review is not about the book or makes explicit insults or threats, this should not be a problem. It cannot prevent the reviewer from repeating the attack from a different account, but it is the safest and most responsible course of action.

No matter what praise or criticism, your books receive, remember that you are not your books. Their success or failure does not reflect your character or personality. While writing ability is very personal, it can be improved over time with patience and practice. Whether in book review responses (don’t do it!) or anywhere else online, always be respectful and courteous to readers. And most importantly, never let anyone else keep you from writing. 

How do you handle the different types of reviews? What are your best practices for authors? Share your advice in the comments.

Fiction Blog, The Desertera Series

The Cogsmith’s Daughter by Kate M. Colby: A Review

Charles provided the first (and 5 star) review of The Cogsmith’s Daughter! Check it out!

charles french words reading and writing

The Cogsmith's Daughter - 3D

I read The Cogsmith’s Daughter by Kate M. Colby, and I loved this book. Ms. Colby’s novel is a combination of steampunk, dystopia, and social critique. Her antagonist, Aya Cogsmith, is a well-drawn and rich character, full of the strengths and weaknesses of a human being. We see fully developed characters in this novel, in addition to careful plotting and a well-thought out world that not only shows the characteristics of steampunk but also illustrates the problems with class and privilege in our society.

The pacing of the story moves quickly, and the plot holds together very effectively. At no point did I think–that wouldn’t have happened; rather, I was delighted with the deftness of hand that Ms. Colby used in crafting this excellent tale. In many ways, I was reminded of the novels of Charles Dickens as well as contemporary authors.

Ms. Colby has a singular authorial voice and…

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Author Business & Publishing, Musings & Bookish Things, Writing & Publishing Articles

The Pros and Cons of Offering Book Reviews

My blog is not a “book review” blog. It did not start out that way, and it will not end up that way. However, like many bloggers and a few authors, I opted to include book reviews as part of my blogging/author platform. Why?

  1. I love to read.
  2. I want to help out my fellow indie authors.
  3. I hope that one day those authors will return the favor.
  4. It’s an easy way to generate blog content and gain readers.
  5. It engages with both bookworms and my fellow authors.

For the most part, my reasons for reviewing books have proven true. I’ve engaged with the indie author and reader community, made several business connections (and even some friends!), and been “saved by the review” when I do not have a regular post prepared. However, as many book review bloggers and authors will tell you, offering book reviews isn’t all free books and fun times. There are definite drawbacks to reviewing books.

Today, I want to share with you all the pros and cons I have experienced over the last nine months by offering book reviews. If you have ever thought about incorporating book reviews into your blog or platform, consider these items carefully before making your decision.

booksYou will receive a lot of books.

Pro: If you love to read, you will be set. Even when my blog had minimal traffic, I received quite a few review requests.

Con: You will receive A LOT of books. Reading all of these books is very time consuming, and if you’re an author, it will (obviously) take away time you have to devote to your own book.

You will receive free books.

Pro: You can support your reading addiction for no cost.

Con: (I know, I know, how could this be a con?) For some individuals, getting the book as a “gift” creates a sense of obligation to follow with a good review. (For the record, you should always strive for objectivity — being untruthfully kind prevents the author from learning from his/her craft.)

You will receive “good” (4-5 star) books.

Pro: You will enjoy your reading and reviewing experience.

Con: (I know, another toughie.) My biggest issue with receiving several good books is that sometimes I end up comparing them in my head and rating them on a curve against one another. I know that this is not the fairest practice, but sometimes, if I’m on the fence with a star rating, the comparison will help me determine between 4 and 5 stars.

On a different note, if you are an aspiring author and are easily discouraged by reading books that you judge to be “better” than yours, prepare to have your confidence occasionally dashed.

You will receive “bad” (1-2 star) books.

Pro: These books offer a great learning experience. They test your skills as a reviewer and can provide lessons in what “not” to do as an author.

Con: These books can be rough to read. Some reviewers will simply stop reading and tell the author that they cannot go through with the review. However, it is my personal practice to push through the book and offer as much constructive criticism as I can.

bookshelfYou will receive “meh” (3 star) books.

Pro: Somewhere between the pros for “bad” and “good” books.

Con: Again, these books can be rough to read. I try to avoid three star reviews, if possible, and provide a more “definitive” rating, but sometimes, you just have to split the difference.

Even if you write a book review policy, someone will ignore it.

Pro: This makes it easy to turn down a request if you’re feeling bogged down by your review list.

Con: It is annoying, and if you choose to work through the issue with the author, it can be time consuming.

Authors are trusting you with their books.

Pro: Many authors think of their books as their “babies,” so getting the chance to review one is quite an honor. Plus, you do a great service to the author by helping their book gain visibility and traction on book-selling websites.

Con: If you give a negative review, you run the risk of upsetting the author and/or harming his/her sales. While the author chooses these risks in soliciting a review, some authors can be rude when this happens and/or it can make you feel like a bit of a jerk (Assuming you have the same kind of bleeding heart I do.).

You will make business connections and/or friends.

Pro: Reviewing books helps cement you as a part of the reading/writing community. As an author, it is a great way to earn favors. As a reader, it is a great way to get more books and connect with authors.

Con: When you make these connections, you may feel obligated to give people you know/like good reviews. Again, you should always aim for objectivity, but this can happen with some reviewers. Also, if you are an author and your first interaction with another author is as a book reviewer, you run the risk of your connection thinking of you first and foremost as a reader/reviewer, which may not be what your platform is really about.

readingIt is a commitment.

Pro: Reviewing books helps hold you accountable to your reading goals. It is a valuable contribution to the book industry/community.

Con: As previously mentioned, book reviewing takes time. If you offer it as part of your platform, it can grow into a rather large piece, and it will become part of your online reputation.

So should you offer book reviews? Easy answer: that is entirely up to you.

If you do decide to offer book reviews, here are a few best practices for you follow:

  1. Create a book review policy. Establish from the beginning what you will and will not read, what you expect from the authors, and your rights to cancel a review agreement.
  2. Use a contact form. This helps organize a system for your reviews and keeps a level of privacy between you and the author.
  3. Be polite — in your exchanges with authors, in your review, on social media. You can give a negative review while still being respectful and helpful.
  4. Only advertise if you want to make a big commitment. This is the most I have ever discussed the fact that I do book reviews. Unless you want to be a “book review blogger,” trust me, you do not need to advertise. Authors will find you organically.
  5. Know when to say “no” and don’t be afraid to do it. Sometimes, you just don’t have time to review a book. Sometimes, you just don’t feel like it. Sometimes, you get halfway through a book, and you know it is not for you. That is all okay. Do a service to yourself and the author and know when your plate is full or palate dissatisfied and speak up.

All this being said, I’m not sure how much longer I will offer book reviews on my site. While I enjoy doing them, they take time away from my own writing and books that I want to read for my own selfish interest. I might keep them around for a while longer, but I anticipate leaving them behind when my own novel is finally published. However, no matter when or if I stop doing them, I appreciate the lessons the practice has taught me and the connections it has brought. (And if you are reading this and your book is sitting in my to-read list, don’t worry — I always keep my commitments. I’ll get to it, slowly but surely!)

Do you offer book reviews? What are your personal “pros” and “cons” to book reviewing? Share your experiences in the comments!

Book Reviews, Writing & Publishing Articles

Feedback Friday, Review: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is full of fantastic writing craft tips, but the “life” instructions are unhelpful, and in many cases, toxic.

For years, I have heard the praises of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life sung by my fellow writers. Therefore, I will admit that I began reading the book with exceedingly high expectations. While this likely biased my reading of the book, even after a few weeks of reflection, I still have mixed feelings about it.

On the whole, Bird by Bird is packed with useful writing advice. Reading it felt like being back in my university creative writing classes, with an eccentric and slightly hair-brained professor. Most of the wisdom Lamott shares is evergreen and can be extremely helpful to writers. In fact, the piece of advice from which the book gleans its title, to take writing one small bit at a time (“bird by bird”) is incredibly helpful. Likewise, Lamott’s insistence that it is okay to write “shitty first drafts” is reassuring to writers and no doubt helps many get over their writer’s block.

Where Bird by Bird loses traction for me is in its advice on publishing, interacting with other writers, and living the writer lifestyle. I realize that the book was published in the mid-1990s, before the onset of professional independent publishing and the modern technological era. Therefore, I can forgive the obvious bias toward traditional publishing as the “only” form of publishing and the ultimate measure of a writer’s success.

However, what I cannot forgive is the way Lamott describes her relationships with other writers and her daily life as a writer. Lamott over-exaggerates the stereotype of writers as competitive and jealous, and if her references to mean-spirited daydreams and therapy are meant to be humorous, they fell on deaf ears here. Just because many writers are competitive and jealous does not mean that a writer needs to advocate this thinking (or encourage writers to stop being friends with another writer rather than work on their jealousy issues).

Likewise, Lamott relies heavily on the stereotype of the “suffering artist.” She describes her life as a writer as one filled with self-loathing, procrastination, and writer’s block. While it may be true that artistic professions are difficult, both creatively and financially, romanticizing the struggle only furthers these antiquated writing stereotypes and does not accurately reflect the experience of most writers.

If you are looking for time-tested writing tips and the reassurance that your writing, even if “shitty” at first is worthwhile, Bird by Bird will deliver. My advice is to soak up the craft tips and take the memoir-style musings on the writing life and how to interact with other writers with a dump trunk full of road salt.

View all my reviews

Bird-by-Bird-image1If you are interested in reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.