Category Archives: Reviews

EVERYONE’S A CRITIC

by Amy Finnegan

simon thumbs down

We all do it.

Whether or not we are the mean-spirited type, we judge other people. We judge music. We judge food. We judge books. We either deem them worthy of our praise, or deserving of our scorn. Sometimes we just give our targets a “meh” and move on.

This topic has been discussed a few times here on EMU’s Debuts lately, which has led me to think more and more about it, especially as the launch of my first novel approaches. But a recent experience helped me view the compulsion to not only notice, but share what one considers a shortcoming, from a different angle . . . one that doesn’t involve the book that I spent several years writing.

It involves my new home instead.

Two and a half years ago I sat down with a piece of paper and sketched out what I envisioned as my dream home, inside and out. Everything I’ve ever wanted. Then I took it to an architect, and over the next 18 months, we pared and pruned, designed and redesigned. It was a very long process and involved much more work than I ever could’ve imagined (much like writing a novel, and getting it published!)

rolled up plansThen a hole was dug. A foundation was poured. Walls were built. I began to see my paper dream house become an actual home. It was beautiful (OMG! Look at what I’ve done!) and also scary (OMG! What have I done?). It was an exciting, exhausting, stressful (!!!!) twelve months of building. I was there nearly every day for several hours, micro-managing every detail so it was truly built exactly the way I wanted it to be.

And FINALLY, it was finished, and it was decorated with everything that my family loved. It was perfect for us. We practically skipped through the halls.

And then, my friends, we opened it up—as we had promised our builder and subcontractors that we would do—to the Parade of Homes, wherein close to 20,000 people walked through every room with little blue booties over their shoes.

Let . . . the . . . criticism . . . begin.

All 27 homes in the parade received written reviews from attendees. Most, as is common with books, were positive. But about 10 – 20% of the reviewers were negative, even scathing. This is what I found interesting though: almost every single house received both praise and scorn for the very same feature. Here are some actual, verbatim, examples:

House A

Reviewer 1: How many different materials can be crammed into a room? Busy, busy, busy. Less is more, more is unappealing.

Reviewer 2: I have never seen a house done so beautifully! Make sure you have enough time to really take in every inch of it . . . every detail is spot on.

House B

Reviewer 1: This house is one of a kind, hands down the best house I have ever been in! Aaaaaammmmmaaaaazzziiiiiinnnnngggg.

Reviewer 2: I was underwhelmed . . . disappointed on all levels.

House C

Reviewer 1: The theater was so bad with sheared fabric on the walls — really!?!?!

Reviewer 2: One of the nicest home theaters I’ve ever seen!

House D

Reviewer 1: Oh. My. Gosh. What more is there to say!?!?! Can I give it 10 stars?!?!

Reviewer 2: Gross . . . . Seriously gross.

In no particular order, these are the homes discussed above:

mcewan

 

raykon

 

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four chairs house

Do any of these homes look “Gross . . . . Seriously gross” to you? In my opinion, all of them are gorgeous, and certainly what many would consider a “dream home.”

But people have their own likes and dislikes, for reasons that even they can’t always explain. To argue with them is pointless.

I don’t like fish. I just don’t. I don’t like the way it smells, or the way it tastes or feels in my mouth. Friends, and especially my husband, have often told me, “But THIS fish is so mild. It melts on your tongue! Here, you have to try it!” And so I do, and *cue gag reflex* . . . nope. There is nothing anyone can do to MAKE me enjoy the taste of any fish. Ever. (I do not like fish here or there. I do not like it ANYwhere!)

As an author, it’s absolutely, positively, IMPOSSIBLE to write a book that every reader will like. It will never happen in the history of the world. I personally feel that Harry Potter is the best book series that has ever been written. It melts my soul with its goodness. I’ve read it over and over and over again, and I laugh and cry in all the same places (and additional ones as well). But online, that series has tens of thousands of one-star reviews. Some people hate it with a passion beyond reason, as though it was written by the devil himself (or in this case, herself).

How can our feelings toward the very same books be such polar opposites? But isn’t that the case with almost anything? Books, music, movies, art, food . . . homes? Everything is subjective, and its value always depends on the eye of the beholder.

I’m saying all of this now because once NOT IN THE SCRIPT hits shelves in October, it will be open to the judgment of the world, and it’s always a bad idea for an author to argue (or even explain particular choices) with his or her critics. So this is my one chance to say: “I invited you into my heart, poured my soul out to you, shared my idea of romance and true love and humor, and if you don’t feel it’s good enough, you’re perfectly free to put the book down, unfinished.”

There was a point during the Parade of Homes—when I was fluffing pillows and such—that a woman looked over the entertainment area in our basement and said, “They don’t even have a pool table! A home like this SHOULD have a pool table.”

It wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to approach her and explain why we didn’t get a pool table, but an unexpected thing happened at that moment. I laughed out loud. Totally laughed. Like, all day long. Because it reminded me of the way book reviewers sometimes trash an entire book because the story doesn’t end how they think it should’ve ended. Would this lady have otherwise been super pleased with my basement if we’d had that one missing element? I doubt it. We already have a LOT of cool stuff down there. Among other features: an indoor sports court, a Harry Potter themed theater with signed props and memorabilia from the movies, an arcade, a Beatles themed music room, a ping pong table, and a four-person air hockey table. Not even this was enough to earn her approval.

air hockey close view

The space in question: a pool table we would rarely use, or a 4-person, tournament-style air hockey table?

So why, dear questioning Parade Lady, do we NOT have a pool table? Because we didn’t freaking want one, okay? Would YOU want a $15,000 pool table if you had two teenagers and one eight year old who constantly had dozens of friends running through your basement? Would YOU want a pool table if you knew pizza and pop and caramel corn would end up on it no matter how diligently  you tried to avoid it? Would YOU want a pool table if no one in your family even played pool? Or would you get one anyway just to impress people who thought you SHOULD have one?

These are the snarky types of replies authors often want to give to critics of their work. And it will definitely be difficult for me to resist doing so. There will probably even be times when a review makes me cry and I will wish I’d never even written the book. It’s going to be tough. I’ll have to develop some thick skin. Most authors I know refuse to read their reviews. They cause too much doubt, I’m told. They mess with your writing mojo. They make you feel horrible about yourself. That’s very sad.

So to all you writers out there pouring your hearts out and giving the world a glimpse of your very soul, THANK YOU FOR SHARING! I don’t care if you don’t have a pool table in your book, or in your basement, or anywhere at all! I love that your stories are exactly how they feel right to YOU!

xoxo

Amy (who doesn’t like fish, but that’s okay! You can eat as much of it as you want to!)

_________________________________

IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes her own stories because she enjoys falling in love over and over again, and thinks everyone deserves a happy ending. She likes to travel the world—usually to locations where her favorite books take place—and owes her unquenchable thirst for reading to Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, came about after hearing several years of behind-the-scenes stories from her industry veteran brother. She’s also been lucky enough to visit dozens of film sets and sit in on major productions such as Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, or Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author).

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Reviews, Social Media, Writing and Life

Luciferadi Meeps Goodbye

Friends, I believe I promised you something. And that something was Peter Pan with boobs. peterspans Ruth, who is my favorite, found an image of one of the covers of the Peter Pan comics I mentioned earlier, which are apparently not comics at all, but coloring books.

(Does the fact that these are coloring books make this even worse?)

(Do I even mean “worse,” or do I mean something else entirely, maybe the opposite of “worse”?)

(WHAT ARE WE FEELING, INTERNET FRIENDS? I DON’T EVEN KNOW. HELP ME.)

Anyway. Here’s some stuff I’ve noticed now that my first book is out.

Nothing changes. If you go into this business because you’re a writer, and not because you want a book with your name on it sitting in bookstores, then your writing life kinda goes on as usual regardless of where you are on your path to/in publication. Ideas, drafts, revisions, panic, critique groups — you’re still doing what you’ve always done. If your debut is wildly successful (which it probably won’t be, and you won’t even know for at least months), you will possibly be doing what you’ve always done only with more money.

Except for the stuff that changes. OK, so now there is a book with your name on it sitting in bookstores. That’s pretty cool! Also you might have a lot less time to write your next book. (That’s probably a good thing.)

BTW, you need more swag. This might just be me, but I come from a performance background, and the one thing we do not need any more of is headshots. In most cases, you have to buy like 500 of them at a minimum, and they’re good for just a couple years until you get fatter or skinnier or older or cut your hair or whatever, so most of them end up lining the bird cage. So I went into swag preparations with the same mentality: “Oh, you can get just 100 bookmarks? Sounds perfect!”

No. Get more bookmarks. Get hundreds. I got mine at Overnight Prints, and they weren’t that expensive. People love bookmarks (they’re free!), libraries and bookstores will often be happy to stick a pile of them somewhere, and you will run through them hella fast. I’m from New Hampshire and we don’t even say “hella”; that’s how fast you will run through them.

People will love your book! Really. You know how you worked really hard on it, and then you revised it, and you thought about everything, and all those sentences and paragraphs and chapters are as good as you could make them? And you know how your agent and your editor believed in this book and helped make it better, and how a whole bunch of dedicated people like copyeditors and designers put their $0.02 in as well, and you all eventually came out with a final product that reflects everyone’s hard work? People get it! They do! They understand the layers, they get what you intended to say, they’re rooting for your characters, and they love your book!

loveExcept when they hate it! Yeah. This too. Unless you are very, very lucky — and please notice that I’m not saying, “Unless you are a very, very good writer . . .” — there will be people who hate your book.

Hate. It.

protest

At first, I was surprised by the impressive variety of hate. Random people have hated things about my book that no one ever mentioned, or even thought about, before it was released. I won’t go into specifics (they’re easy enough to find if you’re curious), but let’s just say there’s some creative hate out there. Like, I don’t see how people have time to hate details as inoffensive as some of the ones that have caused actual humans to despise reading my book so much that they take more of their time to trash it online (with GIFs!). But, you know, there are things that inexplicably bug me as well, like Cabbage Patch dolls (BURN THEM ALL), and everyone’s entitled to that. And of course, not everyone who had a problem with an aspect of the book hated it overall. I’ve gotten some incredibly kind and positive reviews that include lines like, “Well, except for the fact that this book mentions stupid potato salad, I really enjoyed it.”

But don’t get me wrong. This is not about bashing negative reviews or praising positive reviews. (Or vice versa.) This post is for you, my fellow writers, and what I mean to say is that you should be prepared to be completely surprised by what others have to say about your work, whether it’s nice or nasty, thoughtful or pea-brained, loud or soft. And the fact that your book is out in the world with people talking about it is pretty damn cool.

Readers are awesome. Since my launch, I’ve had great conversations with and feedback from readers of all ages. And sometimes awesome things happen. For example:

photo-4

This is Gordo. He’s a poet. This is him reading my book at the Monadnock Pastoral Poets Retreat. I’m told he started it, said he was hooked, and read it all weekend!

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This is Harvard Dangerfield, a Boston celebrity Samoyed and a very handsome boy!

strange sweet song s

And this is an AMAZEBALLS illustration of two of the characters in Strange Sweet Song by artist Stephanie Piro[Correction: THREE of the characters.]

And so many other things. I have had teenage girls bring their own copies of my book to signings for me to personalize, or ask me questions about writing, or tell me about the stories they’re working on. That is the best.

So this is my ultimate post here at Emus Debuts. And by ultimate, I mean “last,” rather than “best,” although a post that includes Peter Pan boobs is going to be tough to beat. I considered doing a video retrospective of all the batsh*t pictures I’ve posted here since the beginning, with like some sweeping Oscars music, but then my brain was like, “You have been living on Ny-Quil and Red Bull for four days and this is not a good idea.

AND THEN GUESS WHAT.

Bye, friends! If you still want to hang out, come and find me elsewhere on the ‘Net:

* * * Website! * * *

* * * Blog! * * *

* * * Twitter! * * *

* * * Facebook! * * *

Next launch up is Tara Dairman’s All Four Stars, coming 7/10/14 to a fine bookseller near you. And you guys, I read the ARC, and it is fantastic. Gladys Gatsby is resourceful, smart, funny, and real — the kind of main character you want to follow through All The Books. So stick around the ‘Mu nest for more deets on Gladys, Tara, and all the other amazing upcoming debuts!

AllFourStars_FINAL

UPDATE: I just discovered that Emu Jennifer Chambliss Bertman was holding out on all of us, and in fact has a dragon BFF inspired by Joshua McCune’s Talker 25.

They solve mysteries together.

jenn

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Filed under Advice, Book Promotion, Farewell, Happiness, Reviews, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

The 12 Days of a Book Contract (Fa la la)

sled_stop_at_snowman_1922

Well, tinsel my snowflakes, friends, it’s that time of year and I am deep in the trenches of the holiday concert season. It always tends to go something like, “Yay!!! Holiday music!!!” then, “Yay. Holiday music,” then, “OK, how many performances do I have left?” then, “SING FROSTY AT ME ONE MORE TIME AND I WILL CUT YOUR FACE.”

Luckily, it’s only the first week of December, so I have plenty of festive cheer and good will toward men and Emus left in the tanks. This blog attempts to capture that special, fleeting time between contract and launch — much like those 30 magical seconds between Thanksgiving and Black Friday — and in the spirit of the season, I’ve decided to reflect on the gifts large and small that a book contract has offered me. Sing along at home!

bells_with_red_ribbon

On the First Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

1. Excitement!!!

YAY!! Like, you guys!! MY BOOK! It’s going to be a BOOK! Like for realz!! OMG SO HAPPY!! I have never, ever been this happy about anything ever.

myhead

On the Second Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

2. Deadlines

Wait, I had my entire life to write this book in the first place, and now I have to revise it and write a whole other one? By a date?

On the Third Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

3. Money

me&ferrari

I have some friends who are professional folk singers, and they say, “You want to know the secret to making a million dollars in folk music? Start with two.” Writing is like that. No one should go into writing for the money. But when you’re Ramen noodle poor (. . . or would that be Ramen noodle rich?), a little advance money goes a long way. More importantly, it’s a major psychological boost to have someone say, “I like what you’re doing so much I’m going to give you money to keep doing it.”

We as consumers have the power to say this, too, by buying books or recordings or art. Pretty awesome.

On the Fourth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

4. Crippling anxiety

So, yeah. Surprise! I’ve always had a penchant for hyperventilating in Wal-Mart, but lately any amount of drama or the slightest hint of conflict has sent my brain into overdrive and curled me up into a shifty-eyed ball. Don’t get me wrong — in my shriveled, black heart, I am still deliriously happy about selling a book. But some days I just want to shove the whole thing back into my head and hide it under a squishy pink lobe where no one will ever see it, ever. Then no one will be able to give it bad reviews or say mean things about it on Amazon.

What’s worse is that there’s no escaping it. Every book ever written has been on the receiving end of bad reviews and mean comments, especially in the cold, prickly expanse of Internet. Joyce’s Ulysses has 3.73 stars out of 5 on Goodreads right now. Really. Go look, I’ll wait.

Right? 2,924 people to date have given this book one star. One reviewer claims it “ruined a week at the beach.” Ruined a week at the beach.

horror

There’s nothing wrong with 3.73 stars or 4.9 stars or 2.14 stars or .08 stars. As my mom says, nothing people say about a book changes even one word of that book. But the fact that I know the hate mail is coming has made my circuits go haywire. 

On the Fifth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

5. Red Bull

photo-23

Why did I take this picture?

On the Sixth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

6. Fantasy Math

I’ve never done so much math, and I used to teach math. Little fantasy maths here and there. How much money I would make if my book sold 10,000 copies. 100,000 copies. A million copies. How much money my publisher would be in the hole if my book didn’t sell any copies at all. How many words I need to write every day between Now and Then in order to have This Many Words. How many words I’ve averaged per day since This Date. How much more disposable income I would have if I ate the cats.

IMG_0290

Think of what I’d save on exorcisms alone.

On the Seventh Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

7. Blog interviews

As Tolstoy famously said, “The writing community rocks the house.” I’m so excited to be bouncing around to different blogs, keeping up with other writers and spreading the word about my own upcoming release. It’s super crazy fun, and writers are awesome. The strangest interview I’ve done so far was on a blog where the questions are standard, so even though it’s technically the blog interviewing you, you’re kind of interviewing yourself, and in mine you can totally tell. It’s a bit amusing and informative and lonely and weird all at the same time.

On the Eighth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

8. Sudden Limitless Capacity for Strong Opinions About Minutiae

It’s funny, my editor came to me with a couple kinda big things copyedit-wise, like the name of my protagonist, and I didn’t really care. But HOLY CATS, when my ellipses came under fire, I was ready to take a red pen to the freaking Supreme Court. And don’t you look sideways at that comma on page 9 or I will mess you up.

On the Ninth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

9. Hygiene

The best thing about writing is that it doesn’t have to involve leaving the house, or even the bed. It doesn’t require socks, showers, feeding yourself, or ever changing out of your purple polar bear pajamas. Did I say, “the best thing”? Maybe I just meant, “the thing.” Anyway, I’ve been making more of an effort lately to be presentable, because it’s not just me I’m representing at launches and conferences and workshops, it’s partially The Book as well, and The Book is made up of a lot of people. Some of whom are attractive and sophisticated.

photo-24

The Book sings Disney duets at karaoke night instead of “It’s Raining Men” because Classy.

On the Tenth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

10. Fear

The topic of Fear is a popular one here and elsewhere in the writeosphere, so I know you know where I’m coming from, my friends. The unknown is one of the scariest things there is, and getting a book deal (not to mention just writing in general) is like being handed a big fat bag of unknown. Some of the unknown is good, like excitement and anticipation. But the remainder is fear, of disappointing readers, letting my awesome publisher down, failing my awesome agent Joan, screwing up so badly that I destroy my career and possibly the future of publishing in general. We don’t need to dwell on this, but it may be helpful to hear it again. Yep. Writing is scary.

On the Eleventh Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

11. Shorter Conversations About What I Do

Writers write. It’s a pretty easy definition that doesn’t include the word “contract” anywhere at all, and I’ve already written a whole post about this on here. So this one isn’t fair, but there it is. I’ve found that it’s much easier to get to the end of the, “So, what do you do?” conversation if you can say you have a book coming out. The world appears to understand that.

On the Twelfth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

12. New Friends

As we’ve established, the writing community rocks.

Tolstoy

“Launch party at my place. Gonna be epic. Bring your beards!”

Especially, dare I say, the kidlit/YA lit community. Seriously, guys. Everyone is all so nuts and fragile and worried and strange and delightful, and it’s the support of this huge extended writer family that gets me from one sentence to the next. Agent Joan is a total rockstar. St. Martin’s Press is a marvelous place to grow a book. And, of course, I am particularly fond of my fellow Emus, pictured here at an impromptu gathering at an SCBWI conference:

Emus,_Wilsons_Promontory_National_Park

We are a sexy, sexy bunch.

Fa-la-la-la laaaaaaa, la-la, la, laaaaaaaa! 

snowflake_gold

When I was soliciting ideas for this post at my parents’ tree decorating yesterday, my mom’s two glasses of wine shouted, “Remainders!” and then giggled uncontrollably. NOT YET, MOTHER. IT HAS TO COME OUT FIRST.

What about you? What gifts, welcome or otherwise, has the writing life given you? 

____________________________________________________

About Me

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Filed under Agents, Anxiety, Blogging, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Colleagues, Guilt, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, rejection and success, Reviews, Writing and Life

Take This Personally. No, Really.

T-ShirtHilariousHey, all! For my farewell post here at the EMUs, I have a burning desire to talk about reviews and how to survive them.

My debut novel, Radio Girl, has been on the shelves for a few weeks now. Reviews are cropping up in journals and stuff every few weeks. I’m lucky in that mine have been largely favorable, but you know how it goes when you’re being critiqued–it’s the negative parts that stick with you. Those words become forever seared into your brain. It might even make you sick to your stomach, knowing that thousands of potential readers will read that one negative sentence in an otherwise glowing review and take a pass on your novel, the work that took you so many months (years, decades) to craft.

Seasoned authors will advise you not to take the comments personally, but gads. How can you not?

I’ve developed a way for me to focus on the praise in a review (works for a critique, too!) by picking out positive words and phrases from it that would be fun to wear on a T-shirt. When printed on a shirt, these phrases automatically become connected to the wearer. So, in a way, by imagining myself sporting these T-shirts, I’m taking the review extra personally. The good parts, I mean. Make sense? Here are a few shirts I’ve designed, with phrases taken from reviews of Radio Girl:

T-ShirtCharm
T-ShirtPluck

T-ShirtCringe

OK, maybe “cringeworthy” isn’t that flattering, but it makes me smile anyway.


T-ShirtBoundless
T-ShirtMoxie

See? I’m the epitome of moxie! The reviewer said so. Funny how this eases the sting. What about you? In the comments, won’t you all share some positive phrases from your critiques or reviews that would look good on a T?

In conclusion, let me thank the other EMUs, both current and emeriti for the opportunity to be a part of this amazing blog. My time here is ending, but my interest and support never will. There are so many awesome books coming out of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency in the next two years–I’m sticking around to watch them all debut. Hope you will, too.

Fondly yours,

Carol B.
====================
CarolSmilingCarol Brendler is the author of the young adult novel RADIO GIRL (Holiday House) September 5, 2013.
Coming 2014: A picture book, NOT VERY SCARY, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, from FSG.
Also by Carol Brendler: WINNIE FINN, WORM FARMER (FSG, 2009) a picture book illustrated by Ard Hoyt.

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Farewell, Reviews

PARCHED!!!!

Want an amazing story? Slake your thirst with Melanie Crowder’s debut, PARCHED, which officially hits shelves tomorrow! We’re gonna be slaking and celebrating all week here at EMU’s Debuts.

Did I say A-MAZING? This book is a master’s class in crisp, evocative prose. Never mind that the story is both timely and timeless. This book is seriously kick ass! But don’t take my word for it. Check out the first three chapters below.

Told you. Kick ass. Want to read more about Nandi, Musa, and Sarel-girl’s struggle for survival? You can find it  here or here or here.

CONTEST ALERT, CONTEST ALERT!!! Comment between now and Thursday, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Melanie’s debut. The lucky winner will be announced Friday!

***

Where to buy PARCHED:

IndieBound   Barnes & Noble   Amazon  Books-A-Million   Indigo Books   Powell’s Books

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Filed under ARCs, Celebrations, Promotion, Reviews, Writing

Thoughts on being star-struck …

Emma's StarIn the past two weeks, I’ve found out that my picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, received starred reviews from two industry journals — Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

As a debut author, I’m new to this, but I knew enough to know this was a big deal. My publisher was happy. My agent was happy. My writing friends were happy. I was, to put it mildly, ecstatic. After all the work and the waiting and the rejection and the waiting and the revision and the waiting, people who didn’t know me or my book thought it was worthy of some distinction.

Wow.

And Lisa Morlock, an author friend of mine, even sent me two stars of her own to go with my Kirkus and PW stars. One, shown at the upper right, was drawn by her daughter, Emma. That was even nicer.

When things calmed down a little, I started reading other book reviews. I looked up my favorite books. Books I have displayed on my desk as inspiration that maybe, someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll be a good enough writer to write a book like that.

I was surprised to see that many of the books I adore did not get starred reviews. And one of my absolute favorite books, one that many people regard as something of a classic, not only did not get a starred review, it didn’t even get particularly positive comments.

This didn’t shatter my illusions, but it did make me pause. And remember something I knew all along.

Art is subjective. Two equally intelligent people are capable of reading the same book or watching the same movie or listening to the same music and having equally passionate — but completely opposite — responses to it.

So when all is said and done, your book is your book. Loved, loathed or overlooked, it was your best effort to tell the story you wanted to tell at the time you told it. You control that part. How others perceive it and what they see in it may have more to do with them and their life experiences than you and yours.

I’m happy my first two reviews have been positive. I’m not, by nature, a huggy person, but I’d hug Kirkus. Or Publishers Weekly. Or Lisa Morlock. The whole thing has kind of been like having an extra birthday without having to turn a year older.

But, I’m mentally prepared for the less-glowing comments as well. They may come from another well-known review journal. They may show up on Amazon or GoodReads. Or in a private email to my inbox. Or be reflected by lackluster sales and remaindered copies.

I think my mantra for when that happens will be: “It’s out of my hands.”

But for now, I’m going to enjoy the stars I have — especially the ones provided by my friend, Lisa — and focus my efforts on things I do have some control over. Promoting SOPHIE’S SQUASH the best I can. Writing and revising my next books (Maybe even using the Carol Brendler non-outline method.) Working to be a better and better writer so I can live up to the standards set by the books on my desk.

STAR-ting right now.

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Filed under Happiness, Reviews

Breaking news! Sophie’s Squash by our Pat Zietlow Miller–

CoverBreaking news! Sophie’s Squash by our Pat Zietlow Miller–STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus!

6 Comments

by | May 17, 2013 · 6:53 am

The Book Review Paradox, Sally Field and You

Hey, I got my first-ever review on GoodReads! And it’s GOOD! And I don’t even know this person! At least when the critical ones start rolling in, I can remember that the first made me feel accepted as an author.

monstoregrreview

I know reviews are difficult to ignore, although we authors probably should. Sure, a good review boosts our ego a bit, lets us know that all the hard work was worth it. But a critical review? It can make us spiral down into the depths of the creative dungeon. It makes  us second-guess all our decisions. Is there something I could have done differently? 

We kidlit authors have one thing in mind when we write–to slap a smile on a kid’s face. To make them laugh, make them think, make them realize they’re not alone in this world. When we succeed in brightening the life of just ONE reader, it makes the whole process (in this case, a FOUR-YEAR journey from initial manuscript to publication) worthwhile. We feel like Sally Field accepting her Oscar for “Places in the Heart”. You like me! You like me!

And so, when the critical reviews pile up, it’s too easy to imagine the converse: You hate me! You really, really hate me!

Why is it so difficult to separate ourselves from OUR WORK? Part of it has to do with where the work originates: in our minds. I can’t yank my brain out of my skull and admonish it: Bad cerebellum, bad! Go sit in the corner!

Part of it has to do with how hard we work to get it right: the umpteen revisions we make prior to submission, the rejections we receive that make us revise again, the editorial letters spiked with red. We think we’ve already been through the wringer, polishing and buffing our story to a sparkling sheen. We’ve satisfied ourselves, we’ve satisfied our agents and editors, but have we satisfied YOU? We don’t know. We hope we have. And we’re disappointed when we haven’t. We’ve let you down, and we didn’t mean to.

Truth be told, we want to be Sally (without the 80’s perm and frosting). We want everyone to embrace us. And by embracing us, we mean loving our book. But that’s impossible. We cannot please everyone. Critical reviews are inevitable.

Frankly, I’m scared over how I will react to critical reviews. Especially if they are factually incorrect, or based upon the [agonizingly long] time Amazon took to deliver the book. Will I get upset? Angry? Feel like quitting? I have no idea.

I’m trying to prepare myself to be brave. To toughen my skin. Everyone in a creative field has to weather criticism of their work. And not liking the product doesn’t mean people don’t like ME. They’re not going to light torches and wield pitchforks. (At least I hope not.)

I don’t want to be the author who sits at the computer all day hitting “refresh” on Chrome, checking her sales rank and star average. So I need a strategy to avoid the urge. Got any ideas? Because, you see, I have other books to write. Because I really do want to get it right.

And not for me or the Academy–FOR YOU.

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Filed under Anxiety, Reviews, Satisfaction, Writing and Life

STUPENDOUS ALERT! GEEKS, GIRLS, and SECRET IDENTITIES IS HERE!

Go ahead! Do a happy dance! Rush outside and party in the streets! Because Mike Jung’s fun and funny book GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES hits the shelves TODAY (along with it’s birthday twin, LEAGUE OF STRAYS, that we celebrated all last week.)

And speaking of LEAGUE OF STRAYS, we have a WINNER!!!! Congratulations to Kelly Winningham, who will be receiving the signed copy from L.B. herself!

But back to GEEKS GIRLS AND SECRET IDENTITIES. As Publishers Weekly so aptly notes:

“Debut author Jung smartly balances adventure and comedy…. Jung’s fast-paced storytelling, filled with comics-inspired gadgetry and sound effects, makes the story’s action sequences come alive, and thanks to Maihack’s b&w spot illustrations, Vincent, Polly, and the others look like they’re ready to star in an animated series.”

But no need to wait for the animated series! We’ve got a week long party coming atcha,  with a whole, big, bucket load of goodies for you–in depth and thought provoking interviews with the illustrator and the editor, a critical analysis from young readers, and some heavy-duty investigative reporting, delving into the secret world of fan clubs.

And today, to get it started, we have Santa Duck and Zombie Buddy with an introduction to the book and its deeper central themes.  If you are a follower of Santa Duck and Zombie Buddy videos, you might notice some minor alterations to the production, but probably not. They’re minor, and we have adhered to the same level of high, ultra-professional quality you’ve come to expect from the fabulous Dead and Duck Duo.

Don’t you just love giant robots? Stick around all week to celebrate Mike’s fabulous new book!

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Filed under Celebrations, Reviews

Freedom, Freaking out and Fireworks

Happy Fourth of July! You’re probably wondering if this post is about Independence Day, pre-publication angst, or things that go KABOOM.  Think of it as a three-for-one deal.

Let’s start with freedom. One of the things I’m most grateful for is the freedom to put stories on paper. I try never, ever to forget this amazing privilege–that’s more a matter of where I was born and who I was born to than anything I earned. Fifteen percent of the world’s population can’t read or write. Of those who can, many can’t imagine the luxury of devoting their time to tasks beyond acquiring food and shelter. Add to that the opportunity to be paid for doing what I love and, whoa, talk about the pursuit of happiness.

And yet I freak out.

So. Not. Me.

Jeannie Mobley’s post on Monday about the spotlight on writers and their books reminded me of an uncomfortable truth. Although many of us writers choose this profession as a means of being heard, a number of us are extremely queasy with the notion of being seen. After all, I’ve built an awfully cozy nest here under the radar. Case in point, when my sister got engaged a couple of months after I did, my first impulse was to invite her to do a joint wedding. More than one person expressed shock at my decision to share the limelight on my big day. Really? That thought had never entered my head. For one thing, a joint ceremony was practical since I have eleven siblings and getting everyone together is a logistical feat on a scale of the D-Day invasion. But honestly, I was relieved to deflect some of the attention.

In ten weeks, my book will sail into the world with my name plastered on the cover in large enough font to make John Hancock proud. (Doh! I shoulda used a pseudonym.) And when people read what I’ve written, they’ll assume some part of my psyche has been revealed, no matter how much I claim the story’s all fiction (really, it is!) Along with my freedom to write and share my words with others, comes the freedom of others to interpret those words, and respond with words of their own. And no matter how much I’ll attempt to resist, I’ll read those critiques. There’ll be reviewers who appreciate the thriller-y plot, yet others who’ll note that my story doesn’t stop to smell the metaphors.

What will I do with the criticism? Hopefully, take what’s useful and make my next book better. Hopefully, develop thick enough skin to avoid needing intensive therapy. But also, hopefully, there will be readers who connect with the story in a way that entertains them and inspires them to consider some of those things I like to ponder while I’m nestled in my under-the-radar-nest. Issues such as social connectivity, on-line privacy and where we place our trust.  Boy, encountering that type of reader engagement sure would be another gift in the pursuit of happiness thing. Because I’d bet creating such connections and shared understanding would feel like another Fourth of July tradition—fireworks!

At any rate, the fuse has been lit…

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Filed under Anxiety, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Promotion, Reviews