How to cure the pain of criticism, bad reviews, and rejection.

Have you ever experienced the sting of someone expressing they didn’t like what you wrote?

Unless you’ve been writing in a cave and refusing to let anyone look at your stories (or only giving it to people who will mouth platitudes and “adore” everything you put to paper) then you probably answered “yes.”

No matter what stage in the writing tournament you reach, it still hurts.  It hurts to get a hard critique.  It stings like hell to get even a nice or “helpful” rejection letter.

And the moment you get your first “this book is so stupid I wanted to fling it against the wall” styled unfair review, especially on a public forum like Amazon? Hello, kick in the gut.

So what if I told you there’s a way to lessen that pain… maybe even eliminate it?

No, it does not involve a lobotomy, or even copious amounts of alcohol.

It also doesn’t include a Fight-Club styled plan to destroy Amazon, Goodreads, and all similar review sites.

The trick to detaching from the pain of rejection is to be able to think objectively.  To stop taking it personally by being able to look at any potentially helpful element, and then reiterating to yourself that “this is an opinion.  This is one person’s opinion.”

Or, my personal favorite:

There is no absolute, objective measurement for ‘suck.'”

Sounds nice and zen.  But how do you do that?

Here’s the catch.  To be able to detach from other people’s opinions, you need to detach from your own.

What does that mean?

It means no more slamming on the the latest book you “hated” because it was “trash,” even though you didn’t read it because you “couldn’t get through the first five pages.”

It means no more pronouncing the reading class as “stupid” because they enjoy things you can’t even imagine stomaching.

It means giving up the delicious, snarky feeling of self-righteousness and, let’s face it, superiority, when we judge someone else’s work.

That doesn’t mean we can’t offer our opinion or input, especially if it’s requested.  I’m not suggesting a world-wide gag on saying anything about anything.  But if you’re going to offer your opinion, try to be helpful — and let go of the idea that you’re right.

The hidden, barbed trap of judgment.

Here’s why it’s dangerous to say things like “that is hideous/stupid/whatever.”

When you say it, and really believe it… then you feel, on some level, that there are things that are good and things that are bad.

That’s why it hurts so incredibly much when someone criticizes our work, even unfairly.  We worry:  “if someone who doesn’t know me reads this, they are going to believe that my work is bad!  That I am bad!

Which is going to lead to any number of unpleasant possibilities:  loss of prestige, loss of friends, loss of emotional support.  Which can also lead to damaged self-esteem (yes, a loaded word.)

And we tend to give more weight to the negative.  Fifty positive reviews can be written off — especially if they’re from “people who are predisposed to like me” or, worse… people whose opinions “don’t actually matter/carry weight.”

When we criticize, our opinions have that weight.  When we slam someone else’s work, we are reinforcing the belief system:  we know that not only is there a land where terrible, stupid, objectively sucktastic things exist that deserve our ridicule… but we could somehow wind up there, deservedly, or not.

This is what leads us to fear submitting, or even writing.

This is what leads us to terrible depressions and the inability to look at reviews.

This is what turns us bitter and defensive, attacking the critic in turn — “well, that person is obviously an idiot, a bitter, jealous, total douchebag.”  It’s an attempt to defuse the problem, and one that only leads to more negativity, more judgment, and more fear.

The solution.

Remember, I promised you a cure.

I warn you, this is not easy.

The next time you see a book doing well that you absolutely loathe, on a conceptual level — one that you wouldn’t read with a gun to your head — silently close your eyes, and wish that author well.

Silently.  (I have friends from the South who say “bless his heart,” which apparently means something along the lines of “what an asshole.”  This isn’t that.)

Being realistic, you are not going to even remotely mean it the first, say, one hundred times.

Keep doing it.

It works if you work it.

Slowly, you’re going to find yourself feeling less injured by other people’s criticism.  You’re going to find yourself on the whole more calm, more relaxed, and more cushioned against rejection, reviews, and bad opinions.

There will be times when it slips — when you’ll go “Sasquatch Erotica?  Really?” with a disparaging roll of the eyes.  But it will be done in a blink.  It won’t be something that preys on you.  And you’ll be able to let it go without judging the work, the author, or the audience who enjoys it.

You don’t graduate.  It’s not like one day you will be the Dalai Lama.  But it will get better, every day.  And trust me, it’s worth it.

At least… that’s my opinion.

If you liked this article, you might also like:

3 Ways to Prevent Publishing Agony

What if you couldn’t screw it up?

5 things I learned by failing.

Case Study: 10 Simple Steps to Promote a Novel, Part 2

I was grateful to be able to use Linda Cassidy Lewis as a case study on how to profile a Right Reader.  Since she’s a glutton for punishment, she’s graciously allowing me to use her again… this time to illustrate what I’d suggest be her next 10 steps for promoting her self-published novel, The Brevity of Roses.  Last week, we covered the first five steps to promote her novel. These are steps 6 through 10.

6.  Reviews, reviews, reviews. From readers this time.

Amazon. Barnes & Noble.  Goodreads.  This step tackles social proof, as well — that’s the thing that convinces people to try your book.  Even if they don’t know the other reviewers, if there are a lot of other people who say they’ve read it, good or bad, then people automatically think “well, there must be something worth reading here” and more easily plunk down their cash.

Don’t be afraid of bad reviews.  Even wretched reviews turn out to be helpful — they convince potential readers that you haven’t just rounded up your family and neighbors to put five-stars on your book page.  In fact, they often promote a sense of controversy: how can there be five star and one star reviews for the same book?  Obviously people feel strongly about it!

Don’t use reader reviews on your book page or your promotional items (unless it’s really colorful/memorable, and I mean really.  Like the World of Warcraft testimonial “my husband won’t have sex with me anymore” sort of memorable.  Or, on second thought, perhaps not.)  But you still want to get as many reader reviews as you can.

Two ways to do this:  offer a review based contest. This is where someone can enter for a prize of some sort (not the book! Because presumably they’ve already read it!) if they email you proof that they posted a review about your novel.  I’d suggest prizes be either a gift certificate (for Amazon or B&N, for example) or something similar… nothing too nuts, like a Kindle.  Make sure that you don’t say what kind of review it is (no “if you give me a five star review, you could win $25 worth of books!”)   Here’s a great example of Kalayna Price using a contest to “get the word out,” including reviews.

The other way:  a new service called Book Rooster.  I just found out about this.  According to their website, they have 2,750 readers signed up, although I’m still not sure what the split is among the genres they mention.  In Linda’s case, I’d recommend choosing reviewers interested in women’s fiction and perhaps literary fiction, as well as romance.  The cost is $67. If this gets more popular, I imagine they’ll be raising their price.  I’m also sure there are other services and “swaps” for reviews out there, but this seems simpler, if a bit pricier.  As I hear more, I’ll post about it.

7.  Guest post.

This is one of the best ways to generate both traffic for your site and sales for your novel.  The trick is finding places that are good for this particular project.

When I get a genre project, once I’ve read the novel and the author questionnaire, I start to plan the launch.  In a lot of cases, this means blog tour, a term I initially recoiled from but have since been won over to.  A blog tour is basically an organized set of guest posts and interviews, orchestrated as an event and promoted as same.  Either posted on an author’s news/events page or on a separate page of its own on an author’s site, sometimes with an advertising “badge” that can be distributed with a link to that page, every stop is listed & linked.  Every stop is also publicized on the author’s social media.  This helps the blogs where you’re stopping as well as your novel.I like to shoot for twenty stops, one week before to two/three weeks after a book drops.

Linda’s case is special, first because she’s self-published and a lot of review sites still exclude self-pub, and second because her book has already “launched” and many review sites don’t review already released material, preferring to emphasize new releases for their readers.  Also, there’s the previous women’s fic/literary fic thing that I mentioned earlier.

In Linda’s case, I would suggest she get in contact with the self-publishing tribe, which is very strong.  I’d look for other authors who write similar material, and offer to swap posts on each other’s blogs.  I would suggest targeting some of the writing sites I mentioned in step 2, like Writer Unboxed if at all possible, and write guest posts that fit the tone of the site.  Getting a guest post on a site like J.A. Konrath’s is obviously the holy grail, but worth investigating.

Beyond that, you might look for things that are similar to the subjects covered in the novel.  I don’t necessarily recommend spending a lot of tribe building efforts there, but if your Right Reader is a woman for whom family is important and journeys of self-discovery are fascinating, then websites, blogs and magazines geared toward those audiences are the perfect place to target for guest posts.  Someone as fascinating as Jonathan Fields might be approachable; possibly Think Simple Now or Goodlife Zen would be solid candidates.

8.  Consistent social media.

Linda already has the tools, and a very healthy tribe.  She’s got a blog with regular commenters, showing an engaged readership.  She’s got a good number of Twitter followers.  What do you do with that, though?

I would create a strategy.  First of all, you don’t want to spend your entire life posting to Twitter, and Facebook, and all of that.  There are ways to streamline the process.  If you use something like Hootsuite, you’re able to post whenever you post a blog, for example, to both social media platforms.  Some people think that this is “laziness.” I look at it this way: not everyone I know on one platform follows me on the other — and if I post it on Twitter, odds are good somebody will miss it but catch it on Facebook, and vice versa.  It’s hedging your bets.

Decide how often you’re going to post about what.  Promoting your blog posts is important, but if that’s all you’re doing (or worse, simply mentioning your book is for sale, or your multitude of blog tour stops, or whatever) then it’s going to be a “ME ME ME!!” fest.  Nobody wants to hear that — and few do, since most either tune out or unfollow.

The rule of thumb is 80% useful stuff to 20% promotion.  I’d add one element:  interaction.  It’s not simply broadcasting, it’s engaging with your fellow social media peeps.  Tweet or post about stuff you think they’d be interested in.  On Goodreads, post book reviews often, about books you enjoy that you feel your Right Reader would also enjoy.  Post about breakthroughs in psychology, or a blog that you found fascinating.  Share.

Decide on how many tweets/posts you’re going to do a day, and approximately when.  I’d say at least three — shoot for morning, afternoon and evening.  If you have a spare moment, peek in, and comment. I’m more of a Facebook girl than a Twitter peep, but I’m slowly being won over… and Google Plus looks like it may blow them both out of the water.  I think it’s okay to pick one that you love, and support it with the others.  That means you can post on all of them, but interact more on one.  I’d do that about twice a day.  Agree with someone, wish someone a happy birthday, give an interesting tidbit or an authentic point of view on a topic.

It seems so small… but it helps.

Don’t know what to say?  Again, 80% should be contribution, or useful and interesting stuff, usually re-tweets (shared links from someone else.)  Look for headlines that are clear, and obviously helpful.  Also, finding things that your Right Reader would find funny and resonate with are often the stuff that gets the most traction: here’s the place to share those YouTube videos you find funny, or web comics, or simply humorous blog posts.

9.  Track results.

If you don’t have Google Analytics on your website, it’s worth getting.  (Well, it’s free, so it’s worth even more.)  Why?

Not only will it tell you how many people (unique visitors, not just you jumping on every ten minutes to see how it looks <g>) visit your site on a daily basis.  It says how many people looked at what pages… which means you can see how many people read your blog versus how many people actually looked at your book page.  You can also see where they came from.  Wondering which people are coming from Twitter versus Facebook?  Or how many people typed a keyword combination, like “roses and romance”?  This will tell you.

Because I’m a beast with a spreadsheet, I would encourage a tracking metric of some sort, to see how many followers you’ve got (or lost) from month to month; possibly checking which posts were the most popular, via visits and comments; and seeing where traffic is coming from.  I’d also say check only once a month or so.  It’s easy to get obsessive about this stuff, and that’s not healthy, either.

10.  Write your next release.

This seems obvious, and perhaps tongue in cheek.  I couldn’t be more serious.  In the Wild West of electronic publishing (and self-publishing), there’s a documented reaction:  your next book boosts sales of your last book.  Those who are succeeding are often the most prolific. I’m not saying push productivity beyond all reason, or emphasize speed at the cost of quality.  I am saying that the best promotional tool is your next novel

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So here, in a nutshell, is what I’d recommend for the next 10 promo steps for Linda Cassidy Lewis’s novel, The Brevity of Roses.

Sure this looks easy… but what if you’re stuck?

I was running an outrageous special this month, beta testing the Rock Your Promo service for $25,  but the ten spots are already gone.  Until the end of July, I’m still offering it at a discount, however.  For only $50, I can provide a Right Reader profile, a website evaluation, and ten “next promo next steps” for your project.  This price is only available until July 31st, because the amount of time it takes to tailor each is more than I’d imagined!

If you found this article helpful, please re-tweet… hey, it could be part of your “80% helpful sharing!”  🙂

 

Case Study: 10 Steps to Promote a Novel, Part 1

I’m breaking this post into two parts, because just the first five steps clock in at over 1700 words!

Last week, I was grateful to be able to use Linda Cassidy Lewis as a case study on how to profile a Right Reader.  Since she’s a glutton for punishment, she’s graciously allowing me to use her again… this time to illustrate what I’d suggest be her next 10 steps for promoting her self-published novel, The Brevity of Roses.

The background: promo to date.

Linda “indie” or self-published her women’s fiction/commercial lit fic novel The Brevity of Roses in April 2011.  In that time, she’s done three interviews and one guest post, and has approached seven review sites.  The book has been featured as a giveaway on Tony Eldridge’s Sunday Kindle Book Giveaway, and she’s done a Goodreads giveaway, as well.

She’s got social media covered.

She’s an excellent example of social media coverage:  she’s got her blog, which she updates frequently.  She’s on Twitter, with about 1300 followers; she’s got a relatively new Facebook fan page, she’s on LinkedIn, she’s active on Goodreads.  But she still hasn’t quite reached a sales goal that she’s comfortable with.  She’s looking to improve her results.

The sticky wicket of Lit Fic.

(Try saying that ten times, fast!)

I was initially a little stumped coming up with my “next 10” promotional steps plan… and then I realized it was because I’d become spoiled by genre book bloggers.  Genre bloggers are a bit more open minded about self-pub; not all of them, but enough that there’s wiggle room, and there are also a lot of reader blogs just starting out.  Not so much with literary or mainstream women’s fiction, I discovered.

Goals:  tailored and frugal.

Linda’s got a great link on her blog called the Frugal Self-Publisher, which tells you a little about her mindset.  She’s looking for the most bang for her proverbial buck.  But then, aren’t we all?

The First Five Recommended Next Steps

1.  Define goals.
This seems bone-head obvious, but with the clients I’ve been working with on publicity, I notice when I ask “what are your goals?” their answer is usually:  “I’d like to sell a lot.”

On the Kindle Boards, they have specific threads where you can post your sales numbers — sharing information as well as cheering/commiserating results.

This could be a good place to gauge what a realistic goal is if you’re self-published and have access to sales numbers.  (For traditionally published authors who are dealing with publisher’s voodoo numbers, this is more difficult to use as a yardstick — might be better to target “I’d like to have 20 stops on my blog tour” or “I want 30 reviews on Amazon” or whatever.)

With this magic number in mind, you’ll find yourself more focused and more motivated — and more likely to track results.  (See #11.)

2.  Join tribes.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:  everyone writes alone, no one succeeds that way.

I know that Linda has an engaged tribe of her own, with frequent blog commenters — always a good sign in a blog.  I would suggest that she pick two forums to visit regularly, commenting daily if possible… not necessarily about her book, but about things that contribute to the tribe.

Some suggestions:  Writer Unboxed’s Facebook group, and Nathan Bransford’s forum, or especially the aforementioned Kindle Boards.  Or she could comment regularly on a blog, like Women’s Fiction Writers or, again, Writer Unboxed.  (Have I mentioned my great love for W.U.?)

The point of this?  Becoming recognized by people who will help her get the word out.  Ordinarily, I agree with Kristen Lamb: writing about writing isn’t necessarily going to get the job done when it comes to courting readers.

But this is women’s fiction bordering on lit fic.  Let’s just say it’s harder to find the reader tribe — they’re nomadic, their groups are fluid, they don’t necessarily identify with any particular set of fiction favorites.  (While us genre peeps fly our freak flag proudly, baby!  We own our turf!

Writers are still readers — more importantly, they’re going to help her get the word out as well as help her sell some books.  She’s going to be establishing herself as an expert… which is going to help her break into some of the harder-to-crack sites that will really help her get the word out.

3.  Go for cover quotes.

There are three main reasons readers won’t buy your book:  they don’t know about it; they’re not sure about you; and they’re afraid they won’t like it.

If you get a good cover quote from a known author (or even a lesser-known author in some cases) you’re handling the second point. Known authors are like friends to readers: when they say “hey, she’s okay” the author is in essence vouching for you.

Of course, this puts a lot of pressure on the quote-giver, because if it’s a book that they really feel isn’t very good, or just don’t connect with,  they’re put in the awkward position of saying, “um, sorry” or making excuses. Or they’ll go ahead with a “meh” cover quote… and then they’re going to lose trust from their readers, who bought the book as a result and feel burned.

I’d suggest Linda approach other authors she trusts, who are aware of her.  Teachers, perhaps; other bloggers.  Ask nicely for a quote; give plenty of leeway for them to back out with no pressure or problems. And ask for more people than needed, because odds are harsh and people are going to back out.

Linda might join the RWA-WF… a special chapter of Women’s Fiction writers in the Romance Writers of America.  For one thing, it’s a wonderful community, and a great tribe to join.  Secondly, there are a slew of authors there. As Linda becomes more comfortable in the community, she might get offers to “blurb” her book, or at least be in a better position to ask.

 

4.  Reviews, reviews, reviews.

Reviews, on a book blog or review journal, cover the first two points — readers can hear about your book, and technically, someone else they trust (or else they wouldn’t be reading the review) is telling them what you’re all about.  Not necessarily as good as friend’s word of mouth, but I’d say on equal footing as an author blurb (unless you get somebody like J.K. Rowling.)

As a self-published author, Linda’s in a tough spot. It’s the Wild West out there in Publishingland.  Some reviewers still look askance at self-pubs; others have simply closed their doors due to the sheer volume of self-publishing out there.

Here are five places to start with (and I’d recommend submitting to as many as budget will allow):

 

5.  Re-vamp the book page.

Your book page is a sales page.

There is only one thing you want people to do:  buy the book.

Here’s where those “reader objections” thing come in.  If they’ve gotten to your book page, then they’re at least primed.  You’ve probably gradually gotten them there, through stuff you’ve posted on your blog, which they got to from one of your comments on another blog or on your social media or whatever.

Point is, they’re on the brink, and you need to show them they’re in good hands… and give them all the information they need to decide on whether they’ll buy your book or not.

In Linda’s case:

  • I’d lose the sidebar that has a repeat of her Amazon widget, her social media links, her “recent comments” and her blog roll.  Keep the focus purely on the book.  (From a design standpoint, the two book covers next to each other is a little distracting.)
  • Personally, I’d recommend losing the quote from Emily Dickinson, lovely though it is.  (And it is lovely, I’m not just saying that.)
  • I’d cut the paragraph: “The Brevity of Roses is a contemporary tale of love, loss, and redemption told through the voices of one man and two women. The story is set in the fictional California towns of Coelho and Bahia de Sueños.”  It shows us about the story, but people don’t say “I’m looking for a  story told from the voices of one man and two women.”  They love the story arc itself; in literary fiction, they might prefer the voice.  Either way, this paragraph doesn’t work towards convincing a reader.
  • I’d bump up the back cover copy… bring it up, front and center.  Maybe even open with a block quote sentence from the novel, that captures the feel or theme, instead of the Emily Dickinson quote.
  • I wouldn’t refer to the links to the excerpt, or reader reviews, etc.  I wouldn’t include the character who’s who at all, simply because it doesn’t seem fitting — whereas if she were writing an epic world-building fantasy saga or historical family drama, then that would make sense, but not for a women’s fiction necessarily.  (Unless she’s building a series…but even then, not until other books are available.)
  • Instead of reader reviews, I would only include either the author “blurb” cover quotes, or review quotes from book bloggers or review sites.  Instead of linking to them, I’d have them as emphasized block quotes, right there on the page.
  • I would include buy links on the page itself; just because the widget’s removed doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be there.  Definitely include an affiliate-sale link to Amazon; also Smashwords, and anywhere else available.
  • I would include the excerpt on the page.  Don’t make them click to it: provide it, right there.  That’s the hook — that should be what sells them.
  • Ask for the buy.  Don’t just say: “Available for sale.”  Say:  “Buy now.”  (That doesn’t mean you’re going to add “SUNDAY!  SUNDAY! SUNDAY!” or anything crass… but it turns out people need some sort of direction.  That’s where the call to action comes in.)

 

Okay, that’s it for today.

Next week:  Part 2 — the next 5 steps.

If you found this helpful, or just want to  wallop one of your friends with a 1700 word read, please re-tweet! 🙂