I try not to obsess. Really I do. When I look at my reviews it’s my like my son when he was young opening up birthday cards. He checked for cash first. I look at the number of stars, first. I concede, there is a difference between one star and five, but what about those twos and threes? What do the stars tell us, and should we as writers pay attention?
I have received two and three stars. Luckily, not many. And yet, when I get a three-star view, my eyes widen. My head starts asking questions. What did I do wrong? What didn’t they like? Should I keep writing?
In order to stop my head and continue putting a pen in my hand, I did some research. I looked up Nobel Laureates in Literature, and found many have received four stars. A couple received even three stars. And, they received a Nobel Prize for their volume of work. I have checked out New York Bestselling authors. Lots of them have been given four stars. And yet, they became bestselling authors.
What to do?
How to wrap my head around all those stars circling.
Yes, of course I read each review. But, I have to be truthful here. Seeing the ratings star number taints my analysis of the review. I am either groping for one word or phrase, just one, that will allow me to think the reviewer just made a personal judemental error: 3-Star, “I look to reading more of this author’s work. Or I obsess on how I failed in the writing: 3-Star, “While it was an interesting story, it read a little slow.”
I cannot complain. In fact, I am grateful for each and every star I get, or to the reader who has spent their time to give me a review.
My answer to my thesis question is…all the star ratings inform us of what we can do better. If we thrilled the reader, how? If we connected somehow with their life, how? And HOW can we do it all better?
That’s the Three-Star reviews. I think I have come to learn they are the most telling in how I can improve my craft. But, to do so, I need to read the review carefully. Try to connect with the type of reader giving the review. Are they used to the genre I am writing in? Even if not, where did I miss keeping their attention or interest? As an instructor, I teach my students that you need to give attention to both the good grades and the bad. I have come to the same conclusion. Acknowledge what did I good and build on it. Where I faltered and work on it.
Writing, whether fiction or non-fiction is communication and an artistic construction. As a communicator and artist, I need to continue to glance at the stars, wish for good ones, while being aware that it is the reader, good star or bad, that I am wishing to connect.
But I don’t want to market my work!
I just want people to buy it.
Yeah, right. That doesn’t exist. In long ago boomer years…in other words, centuries ago, the rich wrote because they had trust funds or inherited money and could share their work with others of their like who had time on their hands. Forward to the 19th and 20th Centuries, authors wrote who weren’t rich and did not accumulate riches or notoriety during their lifetimes:
Famous after death--Lovecraft (At the Mountains of Madness); Poe (The Fall of the House of Usher); Emily Dickenson (Poetry); , Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God); , Kate Chopin (The Awakening); John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces); Stieg Larrson (A Girl With a Dragon Tattoo).
Those who died poor: Edgar Allen Poe, Nora Neale Hurston, Lovecraft—see the connection here.
Those who had a job to support their writing habit: Agatha Christie (apothecaries' assistant); Charles Dickens (factory worker); Arthur Conan Doyle (surgeon); Fyodor Dostoyevsky (engineer); Harper Lee (ticket agent for Eastern Airlines); Kurt Vonnegut (house painter, car dealer.)
Get my drift…
Most authors, especially those who haven’t hit the New York Times Bestseller List several times, have a day job to support their writing addiction. And whether you are published through a traditional publishing house, small publisher, or self-publishing, you are expected to become a marketing guru.
For many of you, Marketing is like standing in front of a black hole. The air is sucked out of you. But to begin, or as a reminder for those who already do, knowing the first 5 Steps in marketing is the trick:
Product: It goes without saying, write a good book. Read those who write the same type of book you do and figure out which their books you liked and why. Which books you didn’t like…or couldn’t get past page 20 and why. Like Stephen King in his book ON WRITING said. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Or be brave…write something with a new twist: Harry Potter
Audience: Know the person who is going to read your book. And, p.s., not everyone will want to read it. Start there.
Places to promote you work. Try a few, and continue with those that bring you the biggest rewards. Either choose one that will free up time, low money, or bringing about readers.
Get help with managing your social networking with apps like:
Hootesuite (free or little money)
Buffer (free or little money)
Tweetdeck (free or little money)
MeetEdgar (money but Free Trial)
Marketing Companies and Services:
Create your own marketing by establishing:
Website: Do this even before you publish your first book. Get yourself out there and let people know you.
Newsletter: Develop an email list. Don’t bother buying lists, make contacts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Linkedin.
If Amazon Prime offered a two-day delivery but got each order to its customers whenever it had the time, it wouldn’t be one of the giants today. Make your deadlines in writing your book, the publishing times listed on your website, the promises made to your audience in offering a newsletter.
The thing to remember with a black hole is that in marketing if you work the 5 steps above, you won’t be torn to shreds but will eventually come out the other side with those who look for the release of your next book.
Home: a place where one lives; at the place where one lives; or returning by instinct to a place. A setting is home is many ways and has probably one of the first and most valuable functions.
The obvious type of setting is place. Where the characters of the story reside. But setting is not always as simple as just a place and shouldn’t be decided without careful thought. The setting of a story creates atmosphere. And atmosphere promotes a reader’s understanding of what kind of story the reader is going to read as well as establishing how the reader may settle into the experience. Thus, setting produces mood.
The aim for any writer is to extract an emotional response from the reader: sadness, joy, empathy, bouts of giggling, tension, love, rapid heartbeat, or the pain from a thumb having quickly turned pages. The right setting is the tool. Take for instance the Star Wars movie. On entering the Mos Eisley cantina, the viewer finds himself in a dimly-lit tavern offering strange patrons from other planets, alcohol, up-beat tunes, and an overall tension for possible violence. Immediately, curiosity sharpens. Where is this? The viewer most definitely feels like they have been drawn into a place few have experienced. What is going to happen?
A movie can instantly take a viewer to a place. But what about a non-visual narrative? Words need to accomplish what the camera can more easily bring about. When thinking of books by John Steinbeck, especially Of Mice and Men, on the first chapter the reader is given a visual setting of where the characters have first arrived: in the woods near Soledad, California. Always remember, writers, a setting in the woods means something is going to happen…pay attention readers!
Right away, Steinbeck offers a feeling of wilderness, animal behavior, including human-animal behavior, the wilds of the past, the barren hope of the main protagonist George, and the wasteland awaiting both characters as George and his antagonist Lennie discuss their future from the employment at a new ranch.
Of Mice and Men is a textbook for experiencing the Elements of a Story. Each chapter opens with the setting and establishes the mood for that segment of the plot.
Of course, if you haven’t read Of Mice and Men, I strongly encourage you to do so. Steinbeck is one of the great writers of the 20th Century and a 1962 Nobel Prize Winner in Literature for his volume of work. Most of it set in the Soledad area.
But consider other novel settings that once they were read continued to remain in memory: Courtroom scene in To Kill a Mockingbird; Hogwarts in Harry Potter; Overlook Hotel in The Shining; the solitary room and St. Petersburg in Crime and Punishment; Wonderland in Alice and Wonderland, Oz in the Wizard of Oz.
Oh my! And in listing these stories, a reader of them will also remember from the setting its characters, plot and important scenes. For reflecting on setting triggers memory.
Remember this trigger when developing a setting for your own work. Instead of merely giving a report of where the story is taking place, offer enough detail that your reader renders it—bring it to life.
TIPS ON ESTABLISHING THE
7 ELEMENTS OF A STORY:
SETTING: It’s important that your setting matches the atmosphere of your story. Don’t make it heaven if the atmosphere is hellish. Take the readers somewhere they would enjoy going, and you are familiar with. Or take them somewhere exotic to grab and keep their interest. This might mean more research for you, but it can be a market aspect for the book. Example: Murder in Budapest, who wouldn’t enjoy traveling vicariously to India. Or like in the Lillian Dove Mystery Series, my familiarity with the state and its citizens made this setting a natural for me. I know the people of Iowa. In fact, I could walk down the streets of Oxford, Iowa, and say hello cousin. Many would be a direct hit. Plus, no one ever goes to Iowa on vacation, so it still clicks the exotic notch.
CHARACTERS: Protagonist and Antagonists-- The protagonist is your hero or main character. The antagonist is what motivates the protagonist’s movements or needs. Know these two main characters as well as your BFF. Do deep interviews with both. Know what they want and need and what stops them from getting it. It is also good to do interviews with other characters as well. The better you know the character, even if a minor one, the greater chance your reader will have to relate to their action or dialog. If you need questions to interview a character, just email me. I am happy to send you some I use.
POINT OF VIEW:
Omniscient point of view: Think of yourself as God.
Detached observer: Narrator telling what happened.
First person: The hardest point of view to write well. A single character is telling the story, “I”.
THEMES: There are so many and there is such little time to talk about them all. But generally, a good story has three or more (depending on the length). A theme is the major idea the author wants to get across with the book. Minor Themes then work to project the major. Example: Slaughterhouse-Five, even though it is a book about WWII, it is an Anti-War themed book. The minor themes which give the reader an Anti-War opinion are: Absurdities of War; Freewill-Determinism; Death; Meaninglessness of Life; Darwinism vs. Christianity; Authority to Blame. Okay an easier one. The film and movie Wizard of Oz. The major theme is happiness is where you find it. Minor Themes: Childhood; Self-Sufficiency; Virtue; Friendship; Good vs. Evil; Family; Value of a Journey.
PLOT: Conflict- The dispute or struggle the story engages in exploring.
Inner Conflict: Emotional or Psychological. In Wizard of Oz, Dorothy needs to find a way to be happy.
Outer Conflict: Physical Events. In Wizard of Oz, Dorothy needs to do the journey, destroy the witch.
Climax: The peak or apex of the conflict. Dorthy melts witch.
DENOUEMENT: This is the resolution or conclusion of the story. For Dorothy, the climax was in defeating the witch and getting rewarded by the Wizard. Only, she finds the Wizard is of no help and she could have had what she wanted at any time—click those red slippers! In a mystery, the climax is generally finding the solution to the mystery. The Denouement is the happy detective after having had such a success.
FOR FURTHER READING:
Good Books on Writing to pick up:
I have personally read and taken tips from all these books I am recommending.
Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Powers of the Story by James Scott Bell
Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel, by Elizabeth George
13 Ways At Looking at the Novel, by Jane Smiley
How to Plot and Write A Brilliant Story from One Powerful Question, by Susan May Warren
Creating Compelling Characters from The Inside Out, by L. M. Lilly
Thinking Theme, The Heart of the Matter, by William Bernhardt
Writing Your Story’s Theme, by K. M Weiland
Shirley Jackson, author of the short story The Lottery, is said to have been walking her baby in its carriage through the neighborhood when the story “The Lottery” came to her. She said it came to her all at once.
A moment of grace.
So far, that moment hasn’t ever happened for me.
And, I still teach for a day job. I read and edit quickly. Move on…
The process I use to write is probably very different than another author’s. We come about the words in different ways, but eventually, we are the same in needing to get those words down on paper.
The point of any process…getting it done.