Guest Post: Author Rona Simmons Explores How Bad Book Reviews Can Help Writers

PFW cover 1Authors often tell each other: do not read reviews. The reviews that rave about your book go to your head. The reviews that pan your book go straight to your heart. No good comes from either. But author Rona Simmons has another thought. What if we used bad reviews to challenge ourselves? To figure out what works and what doesn’t? What if some of those bad reviews had something valid to say? It’s an interesting thought — and Rona has some great tips and examples below.

Please welcome Rona Simmons back to WFW, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Amy xo

Our Love/Hate Relationship With Books

Can understanding what readers “hate” improve your writing?

by Rona Simmons

PFW cover 1Have you ever wondered what it takes for a book to make a best seller list—whether New York Times, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon?  I have.  I thought an understanding of what sets best sellers apart would lead me to the “secret sauce” that captures readers and keeps them reading to the last word.  But, after perusing several best seller lists, I found myself bleary eyed, empty handed, and still searching for the magic ingredient.

Until that moment, I’d given little thought to the other side of the coin.  What books do readers dislike and why?  Why do they lose interest after reading a few pages or even most of the story?  Why do some develop such strong dislike they rush to post a scathing review and anoint the object of their loathing with a devastating, single star?

Did a list of “books readers hate” even exist?  It did.  In fact, contrary to what I thought, finding one was easy.  But once again the lists alone provided little instruction.  They included obscure, poorly written works and works forced on readers at an early age.  Much like the green peas they had to finish before leaving the dinner table, those readers hated them still.

I returned to the list of best sellers, a new approach in mind.

Insights from “one star” ratings

I paged through one of the best seller’s many reviews, tapping at full click speed.  Past the Amazon.com five-star ratings.  Past the four star-ratings.  Then, at the three stars, my cursor hovered.  I read a handful of “it was okay” entries.  The samples seemed timid, the readers’ comments too polite or too fearful of expressing an honest opinion.  I paged down, going deeper and deeper until my PC binged.  I’d hit bottom.

The number of one-star reviews was surprising.  The same held true for the next womens fiction title on my list and the one after that.  Hundreds of one-star ratings and in one or more instances, thousands, sullied each book’s reputation.  Some, to be sure, were hate mail.  One writer denigrating another’s work, I asked myself?  To what gain, I could not imagine.

After compiling, sorting, grouping, and tallying the comments, I found the reasons for low ratings fell into five groups.  In rough order of the number of mentions, they were:

·      Characters:  one dimensional, stereotypical, or wimpy women, protagonists with whom the reader did not identify, or stories with too many characters to follow

·      Plot:  unrealistic plots with far too many coincidences, predictable plots, or stories that jumped back and forth in time

·      Skill:  poor writing, sloppy editing—editing that failed to catch spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors, anachronisms, unintended repetition, and factual inaccuracies

·      Style:  most often, the offense was dense writing, prose containing too much description or so much description the story became secondary or even irrelevant

·      Series:  works failing to meet the standard of earlier works in a series, or works retelling too much from earlier editions

Lessons learned:  whatever book I love is on someone else’s hate list

The insights were to some extent merely the inverse of what experts suggest produce a good book.  No surprise there.  But then, a few titles on the “books we hate” list were books I had read and rated four or five stars.  That too should not have surprised me.  Like most things in life, I had learned, there are two sides to the coin or story.

Consider the books you’ve lost interest in or left unfinished or, perhaps, rated poorly.  What did you find to be the culprit and how can that knowledge improve your writing?

WEB-DSC_6354-SIMMONS-HEADSHOTRona Simmons’ new novel, Postcards from Wonderland, is the story a young woman who comes face-to-face with a Prohibition era mob boss in a fight to save her husband’s dreams, her marriage, and even her own life.  The book is due out in March from Deeds Publishing and though she’s waist-deep in promotional activities with the launch, Rona’s already talking about a third novel and looking forward to reading her five star reviews.

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Dating

…in book publishing.

Don’t roll your eyes. It’s not THAT kind of blog. But if you are here looking for a match to keep you busy at night (or in the morning), why not look through some of the books I’ve featured on WFW since 2011—and take your pick?

GoodNeighbor_2B (2)

***THIS POST HAS BEEN EDITED BECAUSE THESE ARE NOT GLADIOLAS (as I said they were) BUT GERANIUMS! THANK YOU BETH HAVEY. As evidenced below, I am NO gardener! 

As most of you know, I was able to share the cover of my second novel last week, just a day after my birthday.

The Good Neighbor boasts a beautiful teal door (no, it’s neither gold/white OR blue/black) with an endearing mail slot and blossoms of fuchsia geraniums poking in from the side. I can just imagine the rest of the scene (of course I can!) — but can’t you? And when you read The Good Neighbor I hope you’ll picture Izzy Lane and her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Feldman, when you see this cover.

I hope you’ll imagine stepping inside their homes and lives.

What you can’t imagine though, is that until a few days ago, the pub date for The Good Neighbor was not mid-October, but the end of December!

I’d gotten used to the idea of a holiday book launch, except for one thing.

How on earth was I going to have fuchsia geraniums at my book launch at the end of December? Yes, folks. This is what plagued me. So, not only am I thrilled that now I almost taste my launch date (8 months is NOTHING) I now only have to keep geraniums alive through the fall! If I can write two novels (and I’m working on the third) I can certainly do that. Right? If I can raise two kids into adulthood on my own, as well as four dogs, I can certainly keep plants alive, right?

Don’t count on it.

deadplant

 

But I’m going to be determined with the geraniumss. (I’ll keep you posted!) I’m also considering painting my front door teal. And if you know me at all, you know, I’m not kidding.

I guess what I really want to share here is that there is so much about publishing that is out of the author’s control. Like a publication date.

You think that one or two people wave their publishing wands and the decisions are made. It’s more like forty-seven people, their marketing teams, their financial gurus. And their mothers. Not to mention some folks who actually sell books and have opinions. (YAY for them!)

I lucked out with this switch-up. I’m thrilled. Giddy. But had the pub date remained in the midst of holiday season, I’d have made the most of that as well, alas, without gladiolas.

People ask when is the best time to publish a book? Is there a benefit to summer, spring, fall, or winter? Perhaps. Or maybe not. I think the best thing to remember is that we can only control our own writing and then, how we react to and capitalize on EVERYTHING ELSE THROWN OUR WAY.

Including that pub date.

I’m ridding my thoughts of holiday tie-ins (and there’s a big one) and coming up with all the long-lead time publications that might be interested in a story set in Philadelphia. Or about blogging. Or a single mom. Or about lies, as the consequences of secrets and lies are a big part of The Good Neighbor.

As is hope. And friendship. And love.

Seems to me those could possibly be things people would read about any ol’ time of year. Don’t you think?

But mid-October sounds especially good.

Unless it changes again! ;-)

As things move along with production and promotion for The Good Neighbor I’ll keep you updated.

And yes, it’s just as exciting the second time.

Amy xo

PS I’ve had fuchsia geraniumss on my FB author page for months. I saw the cover ages ago but wasn’t allowed to share. Now I have new FB cover photo. What? You’re not part of my author page? You can fix that by clicking here: OMG I’M GOING TO FIX THAT NOW! 

 

Book Cover Reveal: THE GOOD NEIGHBOR!

Hi everyone!

I’m thrilled to finally be able to share with you (if you haven’t seen it on Facebook or Twitter) the publication date and cover for The Good Neighbor!

The official pub date is October 13, 2015 but you can pre-order now on B&N and Amazon! Right now it’s just the paperback (ah, technology!) so I’ll let you know when the e-book pre-order buttons go live!

Let me know what you think!

Amy xo

GoodNeighbor_2B (2)

(The Glass Wives blurb is a placeholder, folks. I have some wonderful blurbs for The Good Neighbor I’ll share soon!)

Author Interview: Susan Meissner Says: Reading Good Fiction Really Does Prepare You To Write Good Fiction

SecretsOfACharmedLifeCOVERIt’s not often we get insights and advice from an author who has published seventeen books! Well, here’s our chance!  Susan shares with us her thoughts about publishing today, writing with some structure, and how reading good books leads to really good writing!

Please welcome Susan Meissner back to WFW!

Amy xo

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Author Interview: Wendy Lee Say If You Don’t Take Your Work Seriously, No One Else Will

across a green oceanAuthor Wendy Lee weaves Chinese culture, past and present, into her new novel, ACROSS A GREEN OCEAN. As Wendy notes, it’s important to weave our personal stories into the threads of our fiction. That’s what makes the universal, personal. That’s what makes stories matter to their authors. And like Wendy says, “If you don’t take your work seriously, no one else will.” Please welcome Wendy Lee to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Wendy Lee Say If You Don’t Take Your Work Seriously, No One Else Will

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If You Give A Mom A Memory…

A few days ago when I was driving home, I saw something walk across a lawn right around the corner from my house. My thought was vague, yet concise.

That is not a dog.

So I pulled over, made sure my doors were locked, and called the police. I mean, really. I live in SUBURBAN CHICAGO.

The response to my claim that I’d seen a wolf?

“Oh, you mean a coyote? Yes, they’re everywhere.”

I’ve lived here for fifteen years. Never seen one before. Bunnies? Feral cats? Raccoons? Yes. Wolves? Coyotes? No.

Just another reason I’m moving when my daughter graduates college.

But, this blog post isn’t about the safety of my senior dogs in our backyard or even the fact that I’m living here with one foot far out the door. When I was repeating this story to my kids late at night, I remembered another story of unwelcome wildlife. And then I had a realization. With a mouse it might be cookies*, but with a mom, it’s memories. Once you get started, you just can’t stop.

So I’m sharing an old story here (and maybe more in days to come), and a reminder to watch where you step!

Amy xo

Killer Sandals

By Amy Sue Nathan

4f35fb88d580dd6bbddd7d34a251ac55“I killed it with a Birkenstock ,” I said, beaming, as l described having whacked a light brown fuzzy tarantula, the size of half a tennis ball, in defense of the bathtub toys. Then I explained how brave with the fortitude of motherhood, I scooped the still beast with a shoe box lid into a shoe box and threw it over the wall into the wash – the wildlife area behind our house in Tucson that was supposed to keep creatures out, not let them in.”You’re not supposed to kill them,” my neighbor said slowly, as if to scold me.She had her hands on her hips and very well may have said we weren’t allowed to kill them, but I tuned her out after “not.” If anything besides my two-year-old and six-year-old were going crawl around that bathtub, I was going to have something to say about it.

When I saw that tarantula in the tub, I knew Tucson was not the place for me.

It had been our fourth interstate move in eight years. I relocated with ease – packing and unpacking boxes, driving cross-country, finding schools, kids’ playmates, dry cleaners, take-out Chinese — but acclimating to the desert mentality was a different story. It wasn’t so much the tarantula as the fact that I wasn’t supposed to have killed it. That brought me face to face with reality. I was indifferent to the wildlife around me, and not only was I at odds with nature, but with my neighbors.

I grew up stepping on ants and over cracks, squashing spiders, and spraying bees in the brick cityscape of a Philadelphia row house neighborhood. The view consisted of attached rooftops, telephone wires strewn with Converse sneakers, and a limited sky. In the desert Southwest it was still all gray and brown all around me, but it was nature, not construction. Above my faux adobe home was where the sky wrapped around the world – I was sure of it. Every night magenta and mandarin sunsets cascaded over the western horizon and looked like a water color painting. It took my breath away in much the same way as a childhood game of hide and seek. I knew what was coming, but each time met it with excitement and authentic surprise. If I could have lived there and never looked down to the ground  it would have been close to perfect.

Backon the ground ,my neighbors — all transplants from other states — adopted the Southwest as their home. It was never clearer to me than one winter weekend afternoon when from behind the safety of my double-pane, locked windows I watched as the lot of them stood on their driveways in their non-arachnid killing Birkenstocks, riveted, watching as a six-foot snake wriggled up the road. It was not a garden snake. I shook my head as one man swept it to “safety” with a kitchen broom. I swept a dead field mouse – a gift from the dog – out of one of my kitchens years before – but I drew the line at serpents.

While the nights were cool enough for merely a sweater, even in January, we took walks with flashlights, not only because there was nary a streetlight in the Santa Catalina foothills, but because snakes like to take walks at night too, as did the javelina. The black wild pigs also liked to eat out of trash cans and made a mess that would have brought my faraway friends’ suburban raccoons to their knees.

Wildlife sightings were like candy to the adults I knew. They collected their stories of mountain lions sightings on the way to Safeway, and doled them out carefully. Like treasured war stories they were embellished for effect, with the animals getting bigger and closer and more wild in each telling. I always wanted to ask if they drove faster or slower when all that happened, because I knew what I’d do.

Growing up in a city I imagined that “making it” meant you had a front lawn and a back yard and a lawn mower — two other things that eluded my childhood. But the desert landscape twisted my perception. The most expensive homes were the ones with the most rocks and the most varying shades of gray, white and brown. And these desert dwellers adored their sodded quilt square of grass just as we, on our stoops, adored our own measly patches. To me the color of opulence was green. Not dollar green, but grass green, and that didn’t change no matter how many neutral rock gardens I encountered.

I did develop an appreciation for the beauty around me when I learned to see it — the way the dessert bloomed in the fall with orange and yellow flowers sprouting from the gray green saguaro cacti, so in contrast to its smooth skin and verboten spines. The way wildflowers scattered themselves magically across the brown mountainside, emerging from rocky dry soil. I often had to remind myself what month it was, because the desert did not have the same calendar as the rest of the country. The jagged tips of the bordering mountains met the blue sky every day of the year.

But even with the emergent and subtle splendor, I never got used to geckos darting out from nowhere to run across my path, or having an exterminator once-a-month to keep the tiny clear deadly scorpions at bay. It was their home I’d invaded, I realized. How I longed for the familiarity of a crawly black ant to scamper across the sidewalk, and not the microscopic red ones that nipped once at my daughter’s feet and kept her in shoes the entire time she was two.

Living there was a beautiful dream, but I was ready to wake up.

And along with a passion for wildlife came a casual essence that saturated the desert community in an equally ardent way. I realized over and over again, as I dressed my daughter in coordinated outfits to play outside on the playground in late December, that other toddlers looked as dusty as the desert floor and their moms were more hippie than PTO. God, I yearned to be someplace it wasn’t always ok to wear flip flops. I did not see my own reflection in any mom I’d met in the two years we lived there. I began to forget what I looked like.

I raised the white flag. As much as I enjoyed watering flowers in January I was just not the lizard or insect loving kind. I preferred my nature in a vase in the middle of the dining room table. What surrounded me in the desert did not feel natural to me at all.

Months later, while packing boxes for my family’s recoil to life with a fenced-in backyard and snowy winters, a three-inch curled tail reddish-brown scorpion raced across my Saltillo tile foyer. With half of a five-dollar pair of flip flops I smashed it, and then flicked it out the front door to its final resting place among the sandy white rocks. It epitomized my life’s brief desert backdrop.

I told no one, and packed faster.

Slightly edited, but originally published on The Imperfect Parent
*If you don’t know the book If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, you should, whether or not you have kids.

Holiday Flashback: A Jewish Mom’s Christmas Poem

You might remember this, you might not. I wrote it quite a few years ago and post it every year, when I remember to do so. And I’m remembering! Hanukkah doesn’t rival Christmas on the holiday scale. Jewish “big” days are Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and I’d add Passover. But it’s hard to ignore a holiday that’s everywhere, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s not your own. It’s also hard to ignore a holiday that shuts down publishing for weeks.

I’ve always loved the secular Christmas hoopla that surrounds me. And yes, sometimes I covet it. (I don’t have any way or reason to be involved in the religious aspects.) I delight in Christmas in the malls, on the radio, on houses, on plates. I love to drive around and look at Christmas lights, and if someone says, “Merry Christmas,” I say, “Same to you.”

In my opinion, there is nothing bad about this time of year, except that all my network TV shows are on hiatus.

Amy xo

 

The Gingerbread Mensch

The Gingerbread Mensch

A Jewish Mom’s Christmas Poem

I’ve never had Christmas, it’s to my dismay
As I love all the lights, and the trees and the sleigh

I long for the red and the green M&Ms
There’s a hole in my heart, where a caroler stems

I have a bay window, where a tree would look grand
And not one but two fireplaces, where St. Nick could stand

I would cook up a dinner, put Thanksgiving to shame,
I would revel in guests, endlessly entertain

Yet my heritage dictates, and beliefs coincide
That memories of Maccabees, bring December pride

It’s not a big feast, it’s a festival just
But celebration and eating, are a Hanukkah must

It’s not Jewish Christmas, it celebrates light
And a small and strong army, that fought with much might

Though I love all the fuss, that is Christmas each year
I hold my own holidays steadfast and dear

I do not miss, what I never have had
So when others are puzzled, thinking I’m sad

I assure them I’m happy, it does not take a toll
To watch Christmas pass by, while eating egg roll

I’ll unpack the menorahs, make a final gift run,
Hanukkah here, will be nothing but fun

But I’ll stand at the window, on your Christmas Eve
And watch out for Santa, because it’s good to believe.