#AugustReviews

Discovering a lovely review, written by a total stranger, of one of my books on Amazon fills me with a warm glow. That someone has found my book out of the many millions out there, read it, ‘got’ it, liked my characters – and taken the time to post a review – is hugely satisfying and uplifting. I want to hug this discerning reader but, as I don’t know them, I celebrate with a little happy dance at my desk.

best way to thank an author

I am sure most authors feel much the same level of delight when someone leaves a good review on Amazon – and probably the same level of pain when they suddenly come across a nasty little 2*.

I admit I’m not good at putting reviews on Amazon even though I want other readers to find and enjoy books I’ve read and loved. It’s partly because I don’t feel confident about writing a review, finding it difficult to precis a plot in a couple of sentences. I worry someone will look at what I’ve written and sneer at it or someone will buy the book I’ve raved about and hate it.

At the end of July, Rosie Amber, one of my favourite book review bloggers (though she and her team of reviewers cost me a fortune!) put up a post urging readers to post reviews on Goodreads or Amazon.  She gives short shrift to my excuses – seems I’m by no means the only reluctant reviewer – and gave tips on how to write a review.

A couple of days later, author and blogger Terry Tyler, came up with an idea to encourage readers – and surely all authors are readers? – to write a review on Amazon. Her blog post is here.

When someone  puts a review on Amazon this month they can tweet it and, if the hashtag #AugustReviews is used Terry then lists those on her blog.

As for my worries about not being good at writing reviews I found something Terry wrote reassuring. She says: “Remember, this isn’t the Times Literary Supplement, it’s Amazon, where ordinary people go to choose their next £1.99 Kindle book.  No one expects you to write a thousand word, in-depth critique; I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to read one short paragraph or a couple of lines saying what an average reader thought of a book, than a long-winded essay about the pros and cons of the various literary techniques used.”

I like that ‘ordinary people’ and I’m further encouraging myself with the reminder that a review is my opinion – so it can’t be right or wrong.

I think reviews do help people decide whether or not to buy a book. I certainly have a quick read through before I make a decision and hit the buy button. If I have enjoyed a book, I do want to let other people know about so I’ve started to take part in #AugustReviews. I’ve only done three or four but it’s a start.

How about others? Do you put reviews on Amazon for books you’ve enjoyed reading?  If not, why not?

Does a good review for one of your books make you happy? If you have enjoyed a book, how about making another author feel as happy as you?

There are still a few days left in August – why not make an author smile (unless it’s a dead author, obviously) and tell other readers about a book you enjoyed? And don’t stop in September – carry on sharing the love.

 

PS This is NOT about giving your writer friends 5* reviews, which can make for uncomfortable feelings all round.

A double whammy…

Just two days after sharing my news about being shortlisted of an award in the US – guess what? The Wild one has done it again.

It is now a finalist in the Aspen Gold readers Choice Award – sponsored by the heart of Denver RWA chapter. Wow.
the first book in the series, Flight to Coorah Creek won this award last year, so its doubly exciting to be shortlisted again.
I’m still afraid this is all a jet-lag induced dream.

Both awards are announced in October – please keep your fingers crossed for me (although that does make typing difficult).

Pretty...

Pretty…

Excited and honoured

The Book Buyers Best contest is held in California. I wonder if I can go out for the award announcement.

The Book Buyers Best contest is held in California. I wonder if I can go out for the award announcement.

Having just flown back from Australia and the RWA conference, I am slowly emerging form a fog of jetlag – but got an unexpected boost this morning to discover I have been shortlisted for an award in the US.

The Wild One is a finalist in the Book Buyers Best contest – sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Romance Writers of America.

What a thrill it is to be on a shortlist with some pretty fabulous authors – some of whom I read myself on a regular basis.

You can see the shortlist on the Award website here…

The winners are announced in October – so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a while.

But win or lose, I have to say it is so wonderful to know that people are enjoying The Wild One – enough for it to earn this sort of accolade.

Thanks everyone.

The second book in the Coorah Creek Series. I am still a little in love with the hero.

The second book in the Coorah Creek Series. I am still a little in love with the hero.

 

The second time is the charm

Six years ago, I did a half day course with Michael Hauge. Who’s he, you ask. Well he’s the guy that most of Hollywood goes to for help to improve their scripts and storylines. He’s worked with the likes of Will Smith and Julia Roberts and Morgan Freeman. His credits include everything from Sci Fi epics like I am Legend to more character based films like The Karate Kid.

Two very different films but the same rules of storytelling apply to both

Two very different films but the same rules of storytelling apply to both

He is now primarily a teacher – and what a good teacher he is. Although he has worked mostly on feature films, he also works with authors and he has a lot to offer to offer on the subject of story structure, character arc and plotting. His great ability is to distil a complex book of 100 thousand words down to the key elements. To make it simple.

That half day course I did six years ago opened my eyes, and I have been drawing on things I learned there ever since and I still pop in to his website from time to time to read articles and advice.

I have written six novels since I did that first course. This week, as part of the Romance Writers of Australia conference, I was back in his audience again, for a full day seminar.

The Romance Writers of Australia conference - always a good place to learn more about my craft.

The Romance Writers of Australia conference – always a good place to learn more about my craft.

So it seemed a good idea to nominate six important things I took away from this day.

  1. The primary goal of every story is create an emotional experience for the reader.
  2. The hero or heroine is not someone who is heroic… they become heroic during the course of the story.
  3. Emotion arises from conflict, not from desire.
  4. A book should give a before and after picture of our key protagonist and their life… and we should be able to see the differences clearly.
  5. The reader needs to empathise with their key character and we need to create that empathy before we start showing the character’s flaws. That way, the reader will cut the character a little slack.
  6. Most Hollywood blockbusters (and the same can be said for successful novels too, I think) are based on five visible goals….
  • To stop (something happening). This includes a lot of crime, sci fi, thriller horror and superhero films)
  • To escape (from somewhere or some person). This would be a disaster film and some thrillers and horror films.
  • To deliver (someone or something to some place). This is not common – but the best example is Lord of the Rings.
  • To retrieve (someone or something). This is a film for Indiana Jones. It’s also any kidnapping film or heist story.
  • To win (a contest or sports event or to win someone’s love). This is the most common form of film.

I have to say some of the concepts he raised made me struggle a bit – but that’s good. Struggling to understand what we do only makes us better at it. I guess I’ll be applying what I learned today to the next six novels I write.

The session in full swing.

The session in full swing.

In gratitude of the short story

short stories pic

If it weren’t for short stories, I doubt that Pam and I would be novelists today.  Although some people might transition through journalism, advertising careers, or even just launch themselves at the computer with a brilliant light-bulb idea – oh, how we envy those inspired geniuses – it was having success with shorter fiction that let two cowardly creatives dare to tackle our first novel. Together.  Trembling and encouraging each other every step of our path through publishing.

typewriter, short storyI was 23, newly-promoted as assistant to an encouraging literary agent, when my boss hired a new secretary who also aspired to be a writer.  I quickly saw that if I didn’t rally the nerve to produce my first piece of work, I’d be choking in her dust. Luckily my disastrous love life gave me plenty of material for ‘chick-lit’ type stories – i.e. a mostly cynical, humorous look on modern London romance or rather lack of it.  I became a regular contributor to women’s magazines using the modest proceeds to fund holidays and later backpacking adventures.   More importantly, I started thinking of myself as a writer.  Sort of.

While I was faffing about South America Pam got into the scene. She had three young kids and her much needed escape became a creative writing class.  Her stories were more of the twist-in-the-tail variety.  And isn’t that the beauty of short stories – that you can experiment with all the different forms – mystery, romance, science fiction – to discover your voice while building confidence and skills?  You don’t have to spend a year or more of your life writing an entire book, only to throw away the whole rambling mess in disgust.  Tossing aside a few scrambled pages hurts a lot less!

Meanwhile we learned valuable lessons.  When your clever tale has to be tied up in 1,000 to 3,000 words, that first sentence had better throw the reader smack into the dramatic tension from the get-go. Your main character had better be instantly likeable, distinctive, and facing a clear conflict or crisis with no rambling detours to dilute the reader’s interest.  You’d better find a good resolution or punchline to end on.  You learn to aim for dialogue that’s witty and original and advances the story.  The same with description, finding the details that matter. We envy poets or songwriters like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison who can evoke whole worlds in just a few lines.  Now there’s something to aspire to…

Even now, writing full-length novels, it’s easy to get lulled by the fact that there are seemingly endless pages to fill.  It’s noticeable that our first two novels are much longer than the subsequent ones, partly because we jumped right in with not one but four main characters – hard to write about the dynamics of sisters, we felt, without offering the different points of view.  But more and more we’re coming back to our roots, rediscovering the value of editing out those fascinating, heartfelt or humorous paragraphs or diversions that amuse us greatly but add nothing to the plot.  We’ve just slashed 20,000 words out of a manuscript and discovered that much as it made us ache at the time, not only was the book not hurt, it was greatly improved.

And if you’re interested in seeing more of our writing roots, we’re offering a free short story in our next newsletter. Sign up here or through our blogsite at www.chicklitsisters.com.

onceupon a time the end