*This is a good day to run this post of Christopher’s. Normally I’d run it at Mad Genius Club, since it’s mostly about writing and how to constructively critique a work. But it runs deeper than that.
Today is the 29th of February, aka blogger appreciation day. This year I’m not doing badly or in financial trouble, unlike four years ago. I do however put in at least three solid blogs and a bunch of hosting a week, and if you average it out with what I get from the blog it’s about $5 a blog.
Not complaining. I’ve not kept up with subscriptions, and though health is coming back it’s really slow so I’ll try but no promises on the subscriber space. (Today my publisher suggested someone upload me, and we replace me with a cyborg to get around the health issues. It was at a party and I THINK she was joking.) (I will btw ship stuff off before the next move which looms a month off, and that’s before the hopefully last move three months off (in case you wonder why I said I have a million troubles and a blog war is not one of them.) I certainly don’t want to move a ton of books and stuff twice. I haven’t done it so far mostly due to time. I’m not driving — car needs fixing and we haven’t had TIME — and coordinating with the guys to take me to the post office requires they have… yeah, time. BUT it will happen. One way or another.)
Anyway, it’s the 29th of February. If you enjoy someone’s work from Instapundit down to the most obscure blog I can’t think of — because obscure — send them the price of a cup of coffee. They and you will be glad.
AND if you like an indie writer, give them a good review. If you got a free book, give them a review and/or a tip. It’s a difficult world out there for anyone living from freelance. You want more work from them in the future? Keep them in the game.
Oh, and a PSA- I’m told (again I don’t have time for this, am away from home and net time is very limited and mostly on tablet) someone is claiming I tweeted offensive/blog-war stuff. Look, even if someone annoys me, they just annoy me. I don’t have time for wars. If they REALLY annoy me, I GIF-post them but the last one was someone accusing me of being racist, in my professional circles. And even then I only answered because the someone had annoyed me before.
More importantly though, I don’t tweet. I echo my posts, and instapundit echoes posts, automatically. BUT I don’t tweet. (I think maybe I retweeted someone’s post once or twice, and I tweeted at Milo once, because I’d gone to twitter due to a blog link. BUT that’s the extent of it. I don’t like the platform.)
And seriously, I don’t have time for cr*p like that. I’m finishing books, I’m moving, probably twice before summer, and right now — the next few days — I’m at a space conference. I’ve got a million problems and none of them involves a poo-flinging contest over fundamental disagreements. People are allowed to believe whatever they want. Unless they physically come after me and mine, I won’t do more than slap them down in my blog comments. Because it’s my blog. In their own home they can do any crazy thing they want to. I don’t care.
And now I’ll get out of the way and let you read Mr. Nuttall’s excellent post.*
Encouraging a Writer -Christopher Nuttall
Before I start, I should note that this is NOT a cry for help. This was provoked by a response to one of my earlier posts, which inspired me.
Being a writer requires, as Eric Flint said, to practice a form of double-think. On one hand, the writer must believe that his work is worthy of great awards; on the other, he must consider it a piece of garbage that needs heavy revision. Good writers strive hard to strike a balance between the two extremes. A writer who believes the first rapidly declines in quality (as he is convinced his work doesn’t require an editor) while a writer who believes the second tends to give up (as he is convinced he will never make it.)
The responses a writer gets tend to drive him (or her) towards either of the extremes. Praise can drive a writer towards the first extreme, particularly when it isn’t tempered with thoughtful comments and critical advice. Criticism, however, can push a writer in either direction; it’s easy to give up, but it’s also easy to believe that your critics are merely trolls. (You can probably guess who I’m thinking of here.)
Ok, you may ask. What’s the point?
My recent twin articles on piracy attracted a comment from a reader who complained about book series being left in limbo for years (David Weber’s Multiverse, for example) or simply abandoned altogether. In the case of the latter, two indie authors were mentioned, both of him had one or two books and then vanished from the scene. I took a look at one of the books and I noted that some of the critical comments were actually very savage; indeed, they were not useful critical comments. I have no way of knowing for sure, but what I think happened is that the author simply gave up. He didn’t see any value in continuing when he made no real headway.
This is a particular problem for indie authors that is just coming into the light. Traditional publishing (say what you like about it) did a reasonably good job of grooming authors, ensuring that new writers were edited before their works saw the light of day. Obviously, a few howlers were published, but by and large the quality was reasonably high. Indies, however, have neither the encouragement of a contract nor the support of an editor. It results in authors either putting up books that are not ready for online sales or simply losing heart and vanishing from the scene.
Looking at the author in question, that may seem a little odd. A four-star overall rating isn’t bad, is it? But negative comments impact writers far more than positive comments. (We’re like that teenage girl who obsesses because some jerk called her fat, even though everyone else says she’s pretty.) It’s easy to fall into despondency when our work gets a bad review. I know, that makes us sound like prima donnas. And yes, that’s exactly what we are. No one starts writing without a very high opinion of themselves.
So, how best to encourage a writer?
First, write good reviews.
I’m not talking about merely ‘great book – five stars’ although such comments are warmly welcomed by all writers. I’m talking about detailed reviews, a paragraph or two, that prove that the reader actually paid attention to the book. Writers love hearing specifics, if only so they know what to focus on next time.
Second, if you must be critical, be constructive.
It is a regrettable fact that books, particularly ones without a proper editor, tend to have everything from plot holes to spelling errors. But it is also true that indie books can be edited on the fly. (I edit the documents of every indie book of mine, when someone emails to say they’ve spotted an error, and re-upload the document.) A decent critic is the writer’s best friend.
For example, a reader of Harry Potter might take issue with Harry being entered into the competition in Book 4 against his will. He might write “I have problems accepting Harry being forced to compete, as we know he didn’t enter his name. This opens up a whole series of questions – if Harry can be forced to compete, why can’t the Dark Lord be forced to stop being evil? It might be better to make it clear that Dumbledore was forced, by the terms of the contract, to force Harry to compete, as the original agreement didn’t make any provisions for a fourth competitor. A line or two would close this loophole and give Harry a better reason for taking part.”
Don’t engage in personal attacks, of any kind. Writers – particularly new writers – are learning their trade as they go along. Calling them ignorant idiots will merely turn the writers against you, leaving them unwilling or unable to deal with your comments. Maybe you know better than them about [whatever] but treating them with contempt for basic ignorance isn’t helpful.
(And if you meet a writer who isn’t inclined to listen to gentle critical advice, just don’t bother.)
Third, help to promote their books.
Most writers, particularly new ones, don’t start out with a huge fan base. They certainly don’t have vast amounts of money to spend on publicity campaigns. If you like a writer, please tell your friends about him; join their Facebook page, share their posts/tweets/whatever as far as possible. It does help, both to convince the author to keep going (because they’re selling more books) and to encourage more people to read his books.
Fourth, join their forums/blogs/etc.
Authors love attention. People writing comments on their blog posts boosts their morale, which keeps them going. (There’s nothing more annoying for a writer than putting a blog post online that garners no comments at all.) If you enjoy something they write, say so; if you want to take issue with it, do so gently (see point two). And while you’re at it, you can ask them when the next book is coming out. <grin>.
Fifth, don’t blame the author for something beyond their control.
This really applies to both traditional publishing and indie, although in different ways. It isn’t fair to blame a traditionally-published author for the price of his eBooks because there’s a very good chance he isn’t setting the price. Writing a bad review on the grounds the eBook costs more than the hardback will merely frustrate the author. For indies, making fun of their covers is rarely productive. A new author will probably not have the money to make something really spectacular – covers like the Ark Royal books cost $300 each – and it isn’t fair to complain about them using a stock image, even though you’ve seen it before.
Any others? What do you suggest?