Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Reviewer’s Dilemma

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time for another Insecure Writer’s Support Group post.

This month isn’t about a writing insecurity per se, but more… an insecurity surrounding being a writer online.

Recently, I changed my posting strategy both for my blog and for my YouTube Channel. I realized that my blog content was more suitable for seasoned writers, while I could use my YouTube Channel to draw in new readers by posting tips for new writers (most are readers, no?) and by talking about books I’ve enjoyed reading.

The latter does have the extra benefit of encouraging me to read more, but it’s coming with a huge potential landmine:

 
What if I don’t like the book? 

In all the years I’ve been blogging (eight this year, btw), I’ve consistently refused to post reviews, simply because I never know what to do in the event of having a meh reaction to a book, or worse. I can’t lie and call it okay, because meh is not okay to me. Especially if I paid for said book.

Also, if people requested me to review the book, especially if we’ve built a relationship over the years, I could foresee that me just not being subjectively into their book would do damage to said relationship.

All in all, the issue of a writer reviewing other writers’ books felt like swimming in shark infested waters, and I had always refused to wade in.

Until now.

So why did I change my mind?

Short answer is I want to attract readers and grow my following, and my lurking for two years on YouTube and Tumblr has revealed that talking about books to readers is the way into their hearts. Also… really… I just really want to talk about the books I’ve read. Especially when I liked them. And since this year I have a goal of reading every day, knowing I need to whip up some content around my reading is doing a lot to act as an incentive so I don’t move my reading down my priority list the way I’ve done lately.

And I guess I thought that it’ll be okay. I read so many books that I love that I didn’t really think I would bump into one I didn’t enjoy.

And of course, I did just that in this first week after deciding to post my opinion on books I read.

Which means I’m firmly in chum-filled waters now. Do pretend I didn’t read it? Do I acknowledge reading it with a meh, moving on attitude?

I’m kinda thinking of going with the latter. Especially for this book. It wasn’t bad. It just had flaws. Explaining those flaws would make readers cry with boredom, though, so that’s not an option. Writing a post about those flaws for this blog without naming names, however, is.

Thing is, I still don’t know if acknowledging a book as being mediocre is a good idea. So maybe if I did a quick “what I liked, what I didn’t like” segment on it…

Sigh. 

I need to stew on it. Three more weeks before I have to make a call.

Any suggestions? Do you review the books you read? What do you do with the ones you don’t enjoy?

Advertisements

Eef Lenaerts on Writing a Book About Traveling through Africa

One of my first freelance jobs was to do the editing, formatting, and cover design for a book about traveling through Africa from Egypt to South Africa. It was a great book for me to read, because the idea of traveling over Africa has always intrigued me. (Although I’d do it in reverse from how the writers Eef and Dries did it, seeing as I am in South Africa already.)

But because I enjoyed working on the book so much, I thought I’d invite Eef to do a guest post about what it was like for her to write it.

Hi all,

Like many of you here, we wrote a book! But we’re no writers, we’re travelers and we had absolutely had no idea how the hell to write a book, so we got some help from Misha.

The book is finally finished (thanks to Misha) and she asked us to write a guest post about the process of writing a book while traveling, so here we go!

Four years ago, we left Belgium with our car. Two years later, we reached South Africa. It was an adventure, with many ups and downs. We loved it, but at times we hated it. It was hot, it was cold, it was amazing, it was dreadful…but it was the adventure of a lifetime that no-one can take away from us.

We left as total dummies with our Toyota Landcruiser. We drove from Belgium to Turkey and took a ferry to Egypt to start our way down along the East Coast of Africa, with South Africa as our end goal.

We were total dummies. Young and eager to go, we couldn’t wait. We packed up our house, sold our belongings, and bought a 4×4 to go on the adventure of a lifetime!

We didn’t take enough preparations, so of course we ran in problems along the way, getting stuck in the dessert with a hi-lift jack, but no points to use the jack, having a spare battery for the fridge, but having a warm fridge, applying for a visa, but no USD to pay for it…

These were all small things that we could sort out, and they make some great stories now, but we could easily have avoided these issues. So after the umpteenth time of thinking “Oh really? Wish we knew this before!’ I decided to write a book for the other dummies in the world!

With a good mood, I started writing down things that were important to prepare before you leave home, ways to act in certain countries, hidden treasures along the road, etc. Gathering this information was easy, but making it into a book was way more difficult than I thought.

It took me two years to finish the book. One reason was because we were still traveling, so we had a lot going on. The other reason was simply that things change constantly in Africa! So the information about a border crossing from two years ago was absolutely out of date. This meant that apart from the actual writing, the book required A LOT of research. In the end, I had read the content so many times, I just couldn’t cope anymore.

So for me, it was a horrible experience. 😛

I don’t think I’ll do it again in the near future, but the book is finished and I’m very proud of it!

So if you’re interested to have a look at what I made of it, or just need the final push to start an adventure (the big aim of this book is to give the people that push they need to get out the house and go and see the world), feel free to look it up! Part of this book’s profits will also go to the Rhino Fund Uganda, so the rhinos will thank you.

All the best,

Eef

Two years ago, Dries and Eef decided to throw caution to the wind. They packed up their house, sold their belongings and bought a 4×4 to go on the adventure of a lifetime, traveling over the African continent. It was a life-changing experience, filled with amazing sights and wonderful people, but it was also challenging because when they started, they had no idea about what they were letting themselves in for.

So to help others who want to share in this amazing adventure, Eef and Dries decided to share their experiences and advice learned the hard way, just to make things a little easier for new adventurers.

The tips range from what you should wear to what you should bring along, how to get through the borders to where you should camp and what you should do while you’re there.

Which means that Into Africa is a fun read for armchair travelers, but especially useful as a guide for adventurers out to experience Africa for themselves.

A portion of proceeds from the sales of this book will go toward The Rhino Fund Uganda, an organization focused on saving rhinos from extinction.

Available on Amazon

Anyone else ever dream of traveling through Africa? 

I’m Honestly Tired of Literary Writers’ Complaining

Lately, I’ve been reading a slew of articles featuring quite a significant amount of hand-wringing about and bemoaning of the fate of literary fiction everywhere.

The reason for this, it seems, is the fact that statistics have uncovered that fewer literary writers can make a living off their writing these days.

And sure, this is a cause for sympathy. I personally don’t like that I don’t make a living purely off my writing either.

But.

Every single one of the articles, featuring various literary writers, share a few commonalities between them, and these traits have been ticking me off beyond measure.

I figured, as this does fall under the industry/business side of writing, I’d write this post to give air to my feelings.

So here the biggest sources of irritation, plus my reasons why, in no particular order.

1) Every single literary artist bemoans how “inferior writers” like E.L. James, J.K. Rowling, and other genre writers can swim in money when the real artists, i.e. literary writers, don’t. 

Ahem… Not that I’m an E.L. James fan (she’s just not my jam, y’all), but how exactly can one compare apples and oranges and call the apple inferior, when the apple happens to be the one that’s selling more?

How inferior, exactly, is a genre writer to a literary writer, if the former is the one so beloved by the masses that they can make a living off their writing?

2) They’re bemoaning the loss of the art of storytelling as if genre writers aren’t continuing in the tradition of some great literary classics like Oliver Twist, The Three Musketeers, Jane Eyre, etc. 

This point they’re making makes me livid. Why? Simple statistics. This whole culture of “You must read this in order to be considered worthy/smart/intelligent/well-read/whatever” and then forcing readers to follow an arcane, often arbitrary approach to “appreciating stories” has turned away readers year after year.

In school, when readers are supposed to be created, they’re being told they’re not good enough when they can’t or just don’t appreciate literary fiction.

When there is, in fact, absolutely nothing wrong with not liking any particular thing.

Especially when the most obscure amount of nonsense is touted as the truth, man, just so students can make sense of what’s going on, instead of being told that it’s okay to just enjoy a story for what it is… namely a good story… or… you know… not… simply because said student isn’t into that sort of thing.

What exactly is the sign of a good story anyway? Some arbitrary gate-keepers calling a story a piece of art? Or readers wanting to read books that don’t have the stench of elitism attached to them?

You can’t hold your genre (and I hate to break it to you, but literary fiction is a genre) up as the standard of excellence, treat people as idiots for liking something else, and then expect those same people to turn around and buy your books as a reward.

I mean, what are we even supposed to do when you bemoan readers following trends and reading “inferior” genre stories, Mr. Literary Artiste? Clap our hands? Give you a cookie? Are we supposed to be sorry for you? Because right here, I personally can’t even say I like you.

3) They’re bemoaning diminishing returns and the threatening implosion of the publishing industry. 

Both of which can in fact be blamed not on the reader, but on the decisions made by publishing houses themselves. Instead, literary writers blame the readers for (rightfully) following their tastes away from their books.

Here are two things I’ve learned when it comes to being in public as a writer.

1) You don’t resent readers for not liking or not wanting to read your book.  
2) You don’t resent readers for not liking or not wanting to read your book.

Why? Because it hurts your business Mr. Artiste. You’re literally harming your book sales by coming off as a clueless, self-aggrandizing asshole. While you’re bemoaning your decreasing book sales. I’m only a lowly genre writer, so I can’t be expected to understand figures of speech, but is that ironic or just stupid?

4) The entitlement. 

This right here is what probably gets to me the worst. Everyone I’ve encountered as a writer, ever since I started writing fiction, told me that I shouldn’t expect to be a bestseller, that I shouldn’t even bargain on a lowly goal like making enough to buy food every month with the money I make from writing.

So uhm… why exactly do you expect it, Mr. Artiste? Did someone who was selling you something tell you lovely tales of fluffy bunnies and unicorns? Or is it because you think that it’s just not right that you literary artistes don’t make a living, while us genre writers do deserve to starve?

But let’s talk about just desserts for a second. I admit that I know exactly two literary fiction writers (one of which is actually a poet and my Gran). I do however, know that the genre writers in my networks are busting their backsides, often doing at least one other job while writing, always learning, always thinking about what will make a good story, and in what ways they can deliver a story that will please their audience.

And so, they increase their chances of actually finding an audience that will enjoy what they did. Some don’t, though, and I find that unfair, because publishing can be harsh on us all. Even those who did everything to deserve kindness from it.

But in none of these articles I read did I once see talk about the need to innovate, to learn, to inspire readers to want to read literary stories. Nope. All I saw was some form of, “Oh woe is me. I was born in a generation where people are too stupid to read my books, so they read inferior books instead.

Of course, you don’t say that outright, Mr. Artiste, but here’s the thing. You might not believe me, but genre readers are incredibly good at reading subtext. And they do not like being called stupid.

That’s another basic of writing genre fiction, come to think of it.

Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience.
You might want to try it.

Instead of… you know… beating us all over our head with how little respect you really have for your potential readers, who might not have heard of you before, but who will now forever associate your name with “Ugh. No. Let me go find a writer who actually likes their readers.”

In Conclusion

Look. I don’t like to generalize, so I know all literary writers don’t have their heads this far up their backsides. And if you are a literary writer of a different ilk, I really would love to hear your thoughts on the subject of earnings, the industry etc. same as everyone else.

But what I just can’t stand is that in the past weeks and months, all the articles about literary fiction seem to focus on these arrogant prigs with zero self-awareness or even less respect for the people they were trying to address.

I don’t want literary fiction to fail any more than I do the big publishers. But is treating everyone around you like they’re stupid because you couldn’t make them read your book the way to fix your problem?

No.

And really, the lack of logic to this approach is what irritates me the most.

Thoughts? Do you guys think that literary fiction will go extinct? If so, do you think there’s any way to save it? 

Interview with Joylene Nowell Butler

Hey everyone! Sorry for my absence on Monday. I was going to post, but it was just one of those days, where everything that could delay my writing happened. :-/

Anyhow, I’m taking a quick break from my writing to host one of my old blogging friends, Joylene Nowell Butler, who’s here as part of a blog tour for her new book, Mâtowak: Woman Who Cries.

The follow-up to Broken But Not Dead, an IPPY Award Silver Medalist
 
A murder enveloped in pain and mystery…
 
When Canada’s retired Minister of National Defense, Leland Warner, is murdered in his home, the case is handed to Corporal Danny Killian, an aboriginal man tortured by his wife’s unsolved murder.
 
The suspect, 60-year-old Sally Warner, still grieves for the loss of her two sons, dead in a suicide/murder eighteen months earlier. Confused and damaged, she sees in Corporal Killian a friend sympathetic to her grief and suffering and wants more than anything to trust him.
 
Danny finds himself with a difficult choice—indict his prime suspect, the dead minister’s horribly abused wife or find a way to protect her and risk demotion. Or worse, transfer away from the scene of his wife’s murder and the guilt that haunts him…
 
Welcome to The Five Year Project, Joylene! Why don’t you tell readers here a bit more about yourself? 

I’m a long-distance grandma, which makes me cry sometimes. My babies are 3000 miles away. We live on the west coast and they’re on the east coast. I keep busy so as not to miss them as badly. I have been writing since I was eight.  Storytelling is in the blood. Can’t imagine what normal people do for inspiration. (grin) I’ve been fortunate to have three books and one anthology published. I never take that blessing for granted.

What inspired you to write this story? 

Mâtowak is the sequel to my second novel. I thought I was finished with the characters, but Sally Warner (minor character) began to haunt me. Finally, I stopped and listened. She was scary at first. Could I write a story about a woman losing her mind? Turns out I could!

What do you love most about your story? 

I love that they are decent people in extraordinary circumstances. I love that no matter how much money or prestige you have, happiness is not a given. I love that no matter how many times Danny gets kicked (metaphorically) he keeps getting up. I especially love that Danny has compassion for Sally despite the huge differences in their lives. Sally is privileged. Danny has had to work hard for everything he has.

What was the most challenging thing about writing it? 

The most challenging aspect of writing Mâtowak: Woman Who Cries was staying in the perspective of a woman losing a grip on reality. How to do that and stay credible was an on-going challenge. I didn’t want her to be dismissed or laughed at. I wanted my reader to find Sally interesting, sympathetic, and appealing, while at the same time able to understand why she was mentally unstable. I’m thrilled that the reviews so far comment that I was able to pull that off. Thank you, Reviewers!

Where can people find you and your book? 

The ebook Mâtowak: Woman Who Cries is available at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com and Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C
The printed copy is available at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

Thanks and have a great rest of the week.

Thanks for visiting, Joylene! And all the best with your book! So, ladies and gents, don’t you also think Mâtowak: Woman Who Cries sounds like interesting reading? 
 
See you on Friday!