What A ‘Critical Review’ Really Means.

How to respond to a review that you see as less than ideal.

Advertisements

Ignorance is, for some people, bliss.

However, when that translates into comments in their book reviews, it can also be rather revealing.

I’m not talking about the nasty trolls who leave one-star ratings with hateful comments that demonstrate no evidence of even having read your book. Those are in a class all of their own, and way beyond anything I could logically explain.

I’m talking about the reviewers who buy and read a book, then leave a review that leaves you with more questions than answers.

Consider these examples. In the interests of brevity, I have paraphrased them.

 

Facepalm 1

What they wrote: “A mix of Romeo and Juliet with Rapunzel… too much like spoiled five-year-olds instead of sixteen-year-olds. Sex on the first day? 2 stars.”
What I thought:
Have you even read Romeo and Juliet? Or watched the movie? Those were Shakespeare’s ideas, not mine.
Oh well. Some people don’t like his writing, either. I’m in good company.

 

facepalm-6.png


What they wrote:
“I didn’t expect a horror story.”
What I thought:
But it clearly says it’s a horror story! Did you read the product description? Did you check the categories in which it’s listed? Obviously not.
Wait.
Does that mean you “one-clicked” me? Awesome!

 

Facepalm 4

What they wrote: “I don’t read poetry. I don’t like it and I don’t understand it. So I didn’t really understand this book of poetry. But it was OK I guess.”
What I thought:
If you don’t read poetry… and you don’t like poetry… why would you buy a book of poetry?
Wait.
You “one-clicked” me, didn’t you? Alright!

 

Freakin’ A! I have two fans who buy my books, even though they don’t like what I write. Brilliant. Now I just need about a million more and I’ll be set.

To be honest, I actually very rarely read my reviews. Those are there for the benefit of other customers who need to know if they want to read my books (they do) and if they’ll enjoy them (they will).

Oh No Raccoon 2014-09-12 18.07.36

I certainly don’t respond to them. That’s like hanging a target on your own back, and can cause far more heartbreak for an author than any review ever might have done.

Of course, the stores like us to get reviews, too. Amazon say it’s to inform other customers, but every Indie author I know thinks it’s so that they have something to feed their algorithm monster in the basement, and so they have something to take away from us when it appears we’re doing a little too well. Thankfully, other stores let us keep the reviews we get.

I don’t worry about the occasional baffling review. Reviewers are so rare that I’m reluctant to complain. Besides, it balances all those lovely shiny five star ones and makes everything look much more realistic. I don’t think any writer can reasonably hope for their work to be loved by everyone.

If your reviews are consistently negative, it’s fair to assume you probably have some work to do. The best way to avoid that happening is to ensure your book is properly proof-read, edited, and has been given a thorough working over by beta readers. You’re not doing yourself any favours by skipping those things. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth doing it properly.

Squirrel 2014-08-14 21.04.23

A critical review here and there doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, nor that your book is terrible. It just means that your book, like any other author’s book, isn’t to everyone’s taste. And that’s perfectly okay.

The best response is to ask yourself if there’s anything useful you can take from it, make a note, and walk away.

10 Authors Who Have Inspired Me.

These authors have left their fingerprints on my life… and on my writing.

A couple of friends on Facebook tagged me in this challenge last night:

For those authors out there, list 10 other authors/individuals who’ve made an impression on you or who have helped influence your writing in some manner.

This is the sort of tag challenge I enjoy, because it gives me an opportunity to acknowledge some of the influences who have helped me to become the writer that I am today.

I’m a total bookworm, and I know I’ve read many, many magnificent books in my time. They’ve all contributed to my imagination, my understanding of the world, and the wellspring of ideas that flow through my brain and into my words.

The ten I’ve listed here are authors whose work I have consciously aspired to honour in my own writing, either stylistically or in the themes and ideas I regularly explore.

None of the names on this list will surprise anyone who knows me. Those who have read my work probably won’t be too surprised either – not because I have copied them, but because of the “trace evidence” in various poems or stories I have written.

This list is presented in no particular order, because I couldn’t possibly rank them. I wouldn’t even know where to start.

Emily Bronte

L.M. Montgomery

Charles Dickens

Mary Shelley

Edgar Allan Poe

Alfred Noyes

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

William Shakespeare

A.B. “Banjo” Paterson

Harper Lee

I’d love to know…

Are any of these authors a favourite of yours?

Who has inspired you?

Whose books have you loved reading?

 

Quiet, But Not Idle.

In the absence of a note from my parents explaining where I’ve been, this blog post will have to suffice.

2017-09-10 14.23.24 To Do List

It’s been rather quiet on this blog lately, and for that, I apologise. Life has been demanding, and I’ve been working to meet some other deadlines and goals that are coming up quite quickly.

As I mentioned in a previous post about having to juggle different priorities, I’m directing another musical. This year, we’re doing H.M.S. Pinafore, which is a really fun show, and rehearsals are well under way. I have been delighted with the way the cast have committed themselves to learning their lines and their songs. The soloists are already proving to be amazing, and the chorus sounds incredible. The show opens on September 13, and if past experience is anything to go by, that’s going to be something that dominates my waking hours for the next six weeks.

It’s also been both busy and exciting in terms of my writing and publishing. I changed my strategy and schedule this year. My plan was that the first six months of the year would be focused on writing, and I would aim to release three new books in the second half of the year.

A Poets Curse eBook 6x9That has turned into four new books, but I’m right on target. A Poet’s Curse, a collection of dark poetry, was born at the end of July. Lac Du Mort and Other Stories is a collection of eight mid-length short stories that is set to release on August 24. Curious Times, the sequel to Curious Things, will hopefully emerge in late September, just in time for Halloween. A poetry collection which currently has the working title of ‘Masquerade’ is pencilled into the timetable for November.

All of that means I’m in the midst of editing, formatting, preparing covers, and setting up the preorders for Lac Du Mort, so that it’s ready to go. It will be available in all digital stores and in paperback. I’ll be sure to let you know where to find it just as soon as the preorders go live! And in between all of that, I’m still writing.

So, things are busy, but they are also very satisfying. It’s a great way to be.

A Poet’s Curse.

A Poet’s Curse: a dark collection that will appeal to both my poetry readers and those who enjoy my horror stories.

I’m excited to announce a new arrival.A Poets Curse eBook 6x9

A Poet’s Curse came to be on the morning of the blood moon, a total eclipse with six planets in retrograde. It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to “take out some trash” and it did, in fact, prove to be quite the cleansing detox I had hoped for.

I had, over recent months, written some very dark and angry poetry in response to awful people doing reprehensible things. Some of their actions were directed at me, others were things that caused significant damage to people I care about.
I had stowed these poems in a file with others I had written for my next poetry collection. However, I didn’t feel easy about that. I felt they were too angry, too dark, too vindictive for a general literary collection, and the last thing I wanted was for the light and shadow of those other poems to be overwhelmed by the darkness of a few.

Then an idea came to me: a separate, smaller collection of dark poetry that explored my observations of horrible people and my responses to their actions. I had written a few of those in the past, and they can be found here and there in my other poetry collections. Combining those with the new, darker poems would create a very powerful collection that would appeal to both my poetry readers and those who enjoy my horror stories.

So, on July 28, A Poet’s Curse was released.

I’m proud of this collection, and in a somewhat nerdy way, I’m super excited to have a book of my own that fully deserves the raven on the cover. I feel as though I have unlocked an author achievement that is wonderful and macabre at the same time.

I know some will judge me as unforgiving or lacking in grace. To be honest, that doesn’t bother me at all for one simple reason: because the people who inspired these poems are, to this day, completely unrepentant and defiant about the unconscionable things they have done. For far too long have people turned a blind eye to such behaviour, talking instead about grace and forgiveness.
As is clearly evident when reading these poems, I’m not someone who can do that.

People often say, “Never annoy a writer. She will put you in a book and kill you.” These poems don’t kill anyone, but the reader is left in no doubt whatsoever of my feelings about them.

Uncomfortable truths, observations about life, and unashamedly honest responses to hateful people make this collection of poems highly relatable and deeply, darkly satisfying.

They say there is a special place in hell reserved for those who prey on others, especially those who cannot defend themselves.
Until then, there is A Poet’s Curse.

When The Difficult Falls Into Place.

It’s exhilarating when something you’ve been working on starts to come together.

Any author will tell you that some works are much more difficult than others to write. This is true in every genre and every style of writing. It’s true for other artists, too, and in most walks of life.

As a poet, I deliberate over every word choice, I measure the rhythm and listen to the music of each poem. They’re all different. Some rhyme, some don’t. My poems vary in length, subject, tone and style. They all demand to be written. And some are really challenging.

There is one poem I’ve been writing since May 2nd this year. I knew when I started it wasn’t going to be easy – it’s a medieval fantasy narrative poem, for crying out loud, so that was never going to happen overnight. It’s not ‘The Lady of Shallot’, but I suspect I may have a fair idea of what Tennyson might have experienced while writing it. It has developed in bits and pieces, sometimes just one or two lines at a time, while at other times it’s just been a matter of reading through what I’ve written and changing one or two words, while the rest remained incomplete.

It really has been like doing a complicated jigsaw puzzle. I had an image in my mind that I wanted to create through the narrative of the poem, and planning the stages of the poem was a little like finding all the edge pieces and joining them together to form the frame. Then it was a matter of finding pieces that matched and fit together, and bringing the story to life bit by bit. It’s been slow and steady work, but it’s also incredibly exciting when the different sections link up and the whole thing starts to take shape.

Today was the day that the “big picture” of my poem started to come together. That which has been difficult and frustrating is now exhilarating. My motivation has had a boost, and I feel as though I am cheering myself – and my heroine – on from the sidelines.

It’s not finished yet, but it’s getting closer. I can smell victory in the air. And it’s fair to say I’m more than a little in love with this poem.

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

My friend Helen and I completed this puzzle together on a rainy Sunday afternoon,a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the completed image.

2018-07-08 18.21.10

 

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

If you appreciated this post, please click like or leave a comment below, so that it becomes more visible to other people. Thanks in advance. 

Indie and Proud!

Indie Pride Day 2018: A Fantastic Way To Celebrate Being Indie!

July 1 was Indie Pride Day, on which Indie authors  worldwide posted selfies with their books to show the world what we have achieved. Posts were made with key hashtags to get those tags trending and get attention across all social media platforms.

2018-06-29 17.37.27

It’s just one way we can stand up and say “we’re here!” to a world that still focuses on traditional publishing and looks down its nose at Indie authors, even though Indie artists and musicians are almost revered as  artistic heroes – which, of course, they are.

The encouragement I’ve received from other Indie authors today has been incredible. I’ve seen people following other writers on social media, sharing other authors’ pictures, leaving encouraging comments, and cheering one another on. It has been an enormous wave of positive reinforcement, friendship and camaraderie that any other industry would, and should, envy.

So, while my social media posts for Indie Pride Day  may at first glance appear as though I’m trying to sell my books, that’s not my intention. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think putting my face beside anything is going to help sell it.  Those pictures of me with my books are intended to be an encouragement to others to be loud and proud about what we do, and to encourage writers to embrace Indie as a viable and legitimate route toward getting their work read by audiences worldwide.

It’s also fair to say that, having made a mission of going out to take themed photos, I had quite a bit of fun doing it. These shots didn’t make the final cut, but they’re actually some of the ones I like best.

And all you readers out there? If you choose to bypass books because they’re Indie, you’re missing out on some truly excellent reads.

Why All My Books Are Not In One Basket.

Wide distribution is a boon for Indie authors and for readers.

I’ve never been a believer in keeping all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. I use more than one bank. I store my important files in more than one place. And I have always had my books available in more than one place.

In recent months, I’ve become more and more thankful that Amazon is not my sole venue for book distribution.

kobo

All my books are available on Kobo Nook, iBooks, and a number of other stores in addition to Amazon. You can find all the links for each book at jvlpoet.com/books.

 

Like the kindle app, the Kobo, Nook and iBooks apps are completely free.
And from an author’s point of view, there are significant differences:nook-icon
  • Those stores don’t remove readers’ reviews – but Amazon does.
  • Those stores don’t insist you spend $50 before you can leave a rating or a review – but Amazon does.
  • Those stores don’t care which country you live in – but Amazon does.
  • They don’t want to know who your friends are, or mistrust you because you might know some people. Amazon does, though.ibooks_ios_7_icon_update_by_hamzasaleem-d6stc29.png

As far as I know, I am the only Joanne Van Leerdam selling books in any of those stores. If you search for me, you’ll find me.

Amazon doesn’t necessarily make life as an Indie author smooth sailing. Sure, they’re the biggest beast in the eBook zoo… but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one that should be fed.

So, I’m going to start favouring different distributors when I buy eBooks, and still give the same support to my fellow Indie Authors through buying, reading and reviewing their books.
I’d love to see more people doing this, just to show we’re not reliant on a company that thinks it can do whatever it pleases, without consequence.

Let’s face it, if a dog bites your hand enough times, you’ll stop patting it. And if that dog doesn’t learn not to bite, it’s likely to end up very lonely. The only people who can teach it that lesson are the people with the option to pat the dog or not.

Personally, I think I’m going to make Kobo my first choice. Some may see it as the proverbial runt of the litter, but that just makes me want to support them. And in 24 months of working with them, I’ve never had anything but excellent service.

I’m also going to try to encourage others to buy my books somewhere other than Amazon.

In addition to adjusting my advertising and promotions, I think I may create a slight price advantage for those who buy from a non-Zon source. That’s easily achieved through my Draft2Digital account, and it might just drive some increased interest in my books on the other platforms. An additional advantage of using Draft2Digital is that their payment threshold is $10, not $100 as it is on Amazon.

On a final note, please don’t think I’m single-handedly trying to bring Amazon down. I’m not, at all. I’ve had good sales there and I’ve bought many, many books there, too.
I’m just very disappointed in some of their “developments” of late, and happy to find alternatives that don’t screw myself or my fellow Indie authors over at all.

Staggering Over The Line.

Patricia Flavel (AUS) finish line Athletics 2000 Sydney PGWe’ve all seen those images of the long-distance runners at the Olympics who can barely move their limbs, and have to keep jerking their arms and legs to get over the finish line, where they fall into a sobbing heap, barely able to think or breathe.

That was me this week, although not in any track and field event. With a final burst of grim determination and a fair degree of operating on ‘autopilot’, I staggered over the finish line of an 11 week school term. Exams done and graded, reports written, special reporting for students with disabilities completed, and reporting software glitches dealt with, it was all I could do to get home without actually falling in a heap.

Then I was reminded by my very extroverted husband  that we had to go out for dinner to farewell a friend who is returning to The Netherlands.  The very last thing I wanted to do was move, let alone have to talk to anyone.

“Do I really have to go?” I asked. I’d like to say there was hope in my voice, but it was more like desperation laced with the abject misery of the tears I was blinking back.
“Yes!” replied favourite ‘social butterfly’. “We won’t stay long.”

I can’t believe I fell for that – again. Why do I always believe him when he says that?

Anyway, I went along and made a valiant attempt to both stay awake and wear a happy face. Despite the fabulous array of food on the table, I managed to eat some potato and a sausage. I was too tired to contemplate chewing anything, so not even the marinated steak managed to tempt me.  I had reached the point when I just didn’t care.

It was after 9pm when we got hom. I went to bed and, surprise surprise, found it impossible to  fall asleep. Instead, I just lay there in a fuzzy daze of not-quite-asleep limbo for hours, occasionally weeping a little when I had to move one of my limbs.  I had my regular talkback radio shows on, and I know I listened, but I don’t think I took anything in. Of course, given that the last time I went to bed and fell straight to sleep may have been when I was about three years old, this is completely normal for me. But oh! how I wanted to sleep.

2015-12-13 15.45.01 Five Days Of Sleep

Today, I feel like I’ve been hit by an even bigger truck than usual. My Fibromyalgia is keeping a constant check on my pulse and my dodgy spine is being a drama queen every time I move.

So far, I’ve managed to avoid taking any codeine, which I wouldn’t have been able to do before my conch piercings. Despite enormous temptation to overdose on coffee, I’ve only had one, and am focusing on just drinking water and resting as much as I can today so that this doesn’t continue for days and eat up half of my term break.  I have writing that I want to do, and work for school that I must do, so that’s not an option.

Today is a pyjama day. Tomorrow, I’m going to dress up, put makeup on, and go out to take bookselfies for Indie Pride Day. Trust me, you wouldn’t want me doing that today, even with makeup and proper clothes.

For now, I’m going to snuggle in my comfy chair and cuddle my enormous sense of satisfaction at having not only survived, but also having met every work requirement and deadline, rehearsed and performed in a play, and then auditioned, cast and started rehearsals for HMS Pinafore in September. And all of that without killing anyone – other than fictionally, of course.  Go, me!

A Protest.

Some people think you can write any old thing and call it a poem.
That’s not how it works.

IMG_4945

This
Is
Not
A
Poem.

This
Is
A
Protest.

A
Word
On
Each
Line
Does
Not
Make
It
A
Poem
Unless
Each
Line
Means
Something
In
Itself.

Wouldn’t
It
Be
Ironic
If
This
Became
My
Most
Popular
Piece
Of
Writing
Ever?
A
Bestseller,
Even!

©2018 Joanne Van Leerdam

Confirmed: I Am A Very Poor Juggler.

Life is demanding… and sometimes, something’s got to give.

lego-clown-juggling

I’ve been reminded of something important over the last few weeks: I can’t always actually do everything that I think I can. Well… at least, not all at the same time.

The past few weeks have been like someone who started juggling three or four cute, colourful hackey-sacks that could be dropped occasionally and picked up again without causing any trouble, and ended up trying to juggle five or six chainsaws that were both running and on fire at the same time.

Something had to give. And logically, that something could neither be my work, the show I was performing in, nor my mental health.

I knew things were going to get busy, so I tried to get extra work requirements out of the way early. As it turned out, it was actually a really good thing I did that, because it enabled me to find the time for the extra stuff that I hadn’t anticipated.

The show went off brilliantly, thanks to the efforts of cast, crew and a fabulous director who all worked incredibly hard to deliver a production that made showbiz look effortless. Even though last night was my first Monday evening at home in months, I spent most of it feeling sad that there was no rehearsal to go to, and missing my fellow cast members.

Even so, it’s a good thing ithat particular flaming chainsaw has finished it’s run, because the music director and I have already been running auditions for our school musical for the past two Thursday afternoons.
Rehearsals for that start in two weeks – at about the same time our semester reports are due to be ready for proofreading. No pressure, though.

All of this is why I haven’t blogged, read anything except my students’ assignments or written any book reviews. My social media has been reduced to that which I have planned and scheduled in advance, and I am very conscious of my poor engagement with others on those platforms. For that, I sincerely apologise.

Still, it’s all I can do to keep my head above water, so it is what it is. Those things will resume when I get my other priorities under control.

This week, I am going to attempt to conquer the out- of-control pile of papers on my desk that need to be graded, recorded and commented on in writing as constructive feedback for my students.
I’m also going to try to get one of my priority reads finished and reviewed.
I may even finish a poem that I’ve been working on in dribs and drabs when I’ve had a few spare minutes here and there.

Those may not sound like significant achievements, but each of them will be.

Here’s to setting goals and hopefully achieving them.