Let’s Talk Bad Reviews by Mae Clair

Psst! I’ll tell you a secret. The first review I ever got was three-stars. Now, I don’t necessarily consider three stars a bad review, but I don’t count it as great either. I’ve given a number of three-star reviews and imagine them somewhere middle of the road.

Naturally, as a newly published author, launching my first book, I had dreamed of five stars. There were plenty that followed, but that first one came as an eye-opener. I even had one of my friends give a four-star review and then send an email explaining what I could have done better. I learned from that gentle criticism, as I have done from many others in the past.

female holding up finger arguing wearing glassesI didn’t agree with the reviewer who said I had too many characters or that my plot was too complex, but I do understand that romance readers don’t always like their stories ladled with mystery and multi-tiered plots. Lesson learned. Which is why I’ve made an adjustment to my genre, story-telling, and branding.

It wasn’t until I wrote my fifth book that I received my first two-star review. By then I realized every reader has an opinion and I’m not going to appeal to all of them. I have no problem with someone giving me a negative review, but I had a BIG problem with what the person insinuated. I won’t go into the details, but for the purpose of this post, let’s just say I was upset.

I remember sitting on my back porch, talking to my husband about it. Venting verbally. As an author, I don’t respond to reviews, positive or negative, even though I read every one. An unwritten rule that I learned early in the game. That made accepting that review even harder. I couldn’t defend myself.

During my spat of whining, my husband said something that resonates to this day—basically when you put yourself “out there” you open yourself to criticism, just like any artist. He asked me how many times I had dissed a movie or song, or even a book. Maybe I didn’t post those reviews online but I had an opinion, and everyone was entitled to theirs. If I was going to be a writer, I couldn’t stop people from saying what they wanted to say about my work. It goes with the territory.

Another lesson learned.

By the time I got my first one-star review (and I can’t even tell you what book it was for), I’d adapted a new attitude. I had read a blog post not long before that said something along the lines of “if Stephen King and J.K. Rowling get one-star reviews, why shouldn’t I?” And then it hit me—I’d arrived. I was no longer just getting reviews from friends and other writers I knew online, but readers who had no connection to me. Readers who were rating my work on the same scale they would rate the work of best-selling authors like Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (my favorite writing team). I was in a whole new realm, and although the three, two, and one-stars still crept up occasionally, there were far more four and five-star reviews. Instead of being discouraged by a mediocre review, I now take them in stride as part of my chosen profession.

Reviews are important to an author. Good or bad, we learn from them and they contribute to our growth. If you’ve gotten a bad review you’ve probably felt some of the uncertainty I have. If you haven’t—trust me—it’s just a matter of time. The larger your audience, the more opportunity you have to snag a reader who doesn’t quite get what you’re trying to say. Take it in stride. As my husband told me, when you’re “out there” you expose yourself to the opinions of others.

If you’ve read any of my books, I ask you to leave an honest review. Reviews are the equivalent of gold to an author, and all are greatly appreciated.

If you’re a writer, have you ever felt yourself the target of an unfair review? Has it impacted your love for writing? How do you deal with negative reviews?

 

Invasion of the Spam Bots by Mae Clair

If you read my post yesterday about word count and something “weird,” you’ll remember that weirdness had to do with an unusual number of newsletter sign-ups I’ve had over the last few days. As I mentioned in that post, I normally get a handful of sign-ups each month, but I’ve been getting that many each day for approximately three days now. And each new reader provides only a first name.

I appreciate everyone taking the time yesterday to share their thoughts about whether  I should judge these as genuine readers. LauraLynn even indicated she’d heard of the same thing happening to other writers.

Woman sitting in front of laptop, gripping her hair and yellingWhich is why I thought I should spread the word. The sign-ups were spam :(

I goggled the email addresses and found all of them (except two) listed as spam bots on a site called Clean Talk. *sigh* Really?

What satisfaction do spammers get from this? If it isn’t hard enough for writers to promote themselves and gain fans, now we have to worry about fake ones. A pox on all spam bots!

I wanted to mention this in case you or someone you know finds yourself in a similar situation. I’m really glad I took the time to investigate. I think the other two names (that Clean Talk didn’t pick up) are bots, too, because they follow the same pattern. They’re probably newer ones that haven’t been cataloged yet. Today, I only had one new sign-up, so perhaps the trend is dwindling. I can only hope.

Summer rural scene with old wooden abandoned barn in green mountain meadowOn the plus side, I just discovered “hobo marks.” Apparently, during the depression hobos used a language of symbols to mark sidewalks, fence posts and walls. This alerted others passing by what they could expect—a good road to follow or if the owner of a nearby house was kind-hearted or mean. J.L. Bryan references them in book 4 (Terminal) of the Ellie Jordan Ghost Trapper series. I don’t know why, but old folklore and references like this fascinate me. I might have to find a way to work these markings into a future story. Here’s a website with some symbols if you’d like to check them out.

And finally my home state’s famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, has predicted an early spring! Everyone cross your fingers the little guy got it right!

WIP Progress, Books, and Something Weird by Mae Clair

It’s the start of a new week, and I’m happy to say I had a productive weekend. Which is a good thing as I’m starting to feel the pressure of a looming deadline. I’ve got two months until the contract deadline for my current WIP, A COLD TOMORROW.

An open tablet, pen, and a pair of glassesI’ve never written on proposal before. In the past, I always had a complete manuscript which I sent to my publisher for acceptance. When I started my POINT PLEASANT SERIES, I submitted book one, A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS. Books two and three were just vague ideas at that point. When the series was accepted, I suddenly had deadlines to produce both of those books. Do you know how hard it is to write a blurb and a synopsis of a book that is only a germ of an idea in your head?

Needless to say, the whole thing has been a challenge. I’m now writing on PROPOSAL instead of a completed manuscript, and I have concrete deadlines. I’ve been way behind with book two of the series, A COLD TOMORROW, but this weekend I put my nose to the grindstone and added 8200 words. Can we say jazzed? If I can keep up a similar word count for the next few weeks, I’ll finish the novel, then have a whole month of editing before having to submit the completed manuscript.

TOMORROW is a suspense/mystery just like the first book in the series, but it’s turning out to have a strong speculative/science fiction slant, which is something new for me. I’m enjoying hitting that angle, and most especially, feeling like I’ve stepped up to the plate with building suspense throughout the story. YESTERYEARS is a strong tale, but I feel like I’ve crossed a line I’ve been flirting with for a long time through TOMORROW. It’s even more exciting because the stuff I’m writing about has a basis in fact or folklore. Cross your fingers and wish me luck on my goals.

Book cover, Ellie Jordan Ghost Trapper by J.L.BryanAside from writing, I’ve discovered a very cool new series that has cemented my reading attention. I strongly believe Stephen King’s philosophy that if you’re going to be a writer, you have to spend a great deal of time reading. I’m one of those people who devour books, one immediately after another. Currently, I’m engrossed in my ninth title of the year, the fourth book in the Ellie Jordan Ghost Trapper series. I picked the first book up as a free read several months ago (it’s still free, so go grab it), and found it interesting. I won’t say it was over-the-top-stellar (I gave it a four-star review), but the characters were intriguing and the plot was interesting enough that months later I sought out book two. Since then each has gotten progressively better, and I’m already adding other books by author, J.L. Bryan to my Kindle library. If you like mystery, detective fiction, and the paranormal blended into one, I highly recommend the series.

Finally, something weird has been happening over the last few days. As many of you know, I have a newsletter. I normally get a handful of new sign-ups a month but over the last few days I’ve gotten four to five each day. The names are all women, first names only with email addresses. Names like Loretta, Carrie and Margarita. I’d love to think they’re all legit, but when I normally only get a handful a month and suddenly I’m getting that many in one day, I’m suspicious. And what are the odds that they’d all only give me their first name?

I don’t know if some “club” has suddenly discovered me or if a bot has found my sign-up form. I’m torn on whether I should add the names to my mailing list or not. Any opinions?

In any event, here’s wishing all of you productive writing (and reading) time, Cross your fingers that I can finish A COLD TOMORROW by the end of February. I’ve made it my new goal!

Digging Out by Mae Clair

I live in a northeastern state which means we have unpredictable winters. The last few have been cold, but we’ve been spared any major snowfall. Until recently. I’m sure most of you know a storm of historic proportions hammered the east coast over the weekend. It is now officially the Blizzard of 2016. To put that in perspective, our last blizzards occurred in 1996 and 1993.

In my area, Old Man Winter hit us with the largest snowfall on record—30.2 inches in a single day. Ugh!

The snow started Friday night, about an hour before I left work, and continued all day Saturday until approximately seven o’clock that night. At times we were getting an inch or two per hour.

Below is a shot taken from my front door looking down my driveway. The lump on the right side is my husband’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. And the light in the bottom left is the top of our lamppost, peeking out above the deluge.

Blizzard of 2016 snowfall showing buried vehicle and very top of lamppost peeking about the snow

Hubby spent that night snowblowing our drive and half of our neighbor’s (she’s an older woman) while I spent over an hour cleaning off his Jeep. The next day after the plow came through we were back at it again.

Check out this lovely image of my mailbox.

Blizzard of 2016, mailbox buried in snow mound

After digging it out and removing the snow row the plow left at the foot of our driveway, we headed next door to our neighbor. By that point, the snow was above my knees, much too deep for the blower. So I spent the time knocking down row after row with a shovel while DH followed behind with the snow blower. He wanted me to take over the blower, but I’m not very good with anything mechanical and gas-powered, unless it’s a car. :)

Monday the roads were a mess. We went out in the morning but were back by the afternoon. I used the time to change a major thread in my current WIP. That involved its own kind of digging out—going back through and reworking the thread wherever it cropped up in the story. I had hoped to use the time for writing, but the edit took longer than anticipated. No worries, as I had taken off work on Tuesday and planned to spend the day writing.

Tuesday morning arrived with freezing rain that turned the roads into a skating rink. I was glad I didn’t have to inch my way into work. Before I opened my WIP, I had a promo card I needed to create for A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS. I figured it would take me no more than a half hour. Multiple computer issues, browser issues, three calls to tech support, and a glaring mistake on my end, and I finally finished the project—two and a half hours later. The low point came after I had created a rack card in Photoshop and then inadvertently saved something over the file.

The next few minutes involved choice words, the uncontrollable urge to sob, and two Excedrin.

Then it was back at it again.

When I finally completed the thing I needed to get out of the house. Hubby and I did some errands but it was far from relaxing. More like a Christmas rush. I don’t know if the whole world no longer holds day jobs, or just that everyone who hadn’t been out for the last three days decided to hit the roadways and flock to the stores. Insane!

We grabbed a late lunch to unwind. Finally a place free of crowds and mountains of snow in the parking lots. As I type this, I’m getting ready to hit the WIP again. The downside is I had planned to put a huge dent in the project with 4 days off in a row. Instead I reworked a single thread and managed a paltry 2059 in word count.

Which means…I’ve still got a lot of digging out to do. Hopefully, your last few days have been far more productive than mine. If I don’t see snow again until next year, I’ll count it a blessing!

That Magical Moment by Mae Clair

Have you ever struggled to understand something, then had a moment when it magically falls into place?

Recently, a couple who needed directions came into the real estate office where I work. They didn’t speak a word of English, only Spanish. Our receptionist, who knows I’ve been trying to teach myself, asked if I could help. *gulp* Learning a few words and phrases in another language hardly prepares you to converse with a native speaker.  Even so, I was willing to give it a try.

Once I greeted the couple, I knew I was in over my head. They rattled off three or four sentences and I only understood about two words. Not a great start. They had an address typed on a piece of paper and I understood they needed to go there. I was familiar with the location, a doctor’s office a short distance away, but was unable to relay the directions with my limited Spanish.

Spanish book and bookends in the shape of text Habla? (Do you speak?) Speak Spanish concept

Improvising, I pulled up Google translator on the reception computer, typed the directions for  Google, then read them back to the couple. Blank stares.  Apparently my accent was all wrong.

Next, I copied the Spanish from Google, plopped it into Word and printed it out so they could read it. For some reason that didn’t work either. They pointed to the phone number on the paper they had and mimicked calling. That I understood. I also saw the woman’s name on the paper—Guadalupe.

I led  Guadalupe and her husband to a conference room, got them seated, and called the doctor’s office. Meanwhile, our receptionist tried to track down an agent who was fluent in Spanish.

The doctor’s office couldn’t help me—no one there spoke Spanish— but by that time, our receptionist had reached Ricky, our Spanish-speaking agent. I put him on the phone with Guadalupe and she talked to him for a few minutes. Again, I tried to catch a few words, but most of what she said soared over my head. I ended up putting Ricky on speaker, relaying the directions to the doctor’s office in English, which he then translated for Guadalupe.

Afterward, he had me pick up the phone and told me that although he could understand everything the woman said, she spoke a Mexican Spanish with a very thick accent. It was almost like a mountain dialect, and thus understandable I couldn’t decipher what she’d been saying. That made me feel a little better.

After I hung up with Ricky, Guadalupe’s husband stood and began talking, but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. I had to reply “no entiendo”—“I don’t understand.” I could see he was disappointed which made me feel bad. Then, like magic, a lightbulb pinged on in my head.

“El bano?” (restroom / toilet) I asked.

Smiling, he nodded. “Si.”

We laughed, realizing we had communicated. We understood each other. *fist pump* I was giddy.

Once I knew what he needed, I was able to rattle off my limited Spanish and direct him to the men’s room. When I pointed out the door for the ladies’ restroom to Guadalupe and said “la mujer” she understood me.  Another score!

If this seems trivial, remember I spent a good 10-15 minutes with this couple, neither of us understanding the other. Those last few minutes of limited conversation felt like a monumental breakthrough. The elation kept me on a high for the rest of the day.

So what does this have to do with writing?

magic Aladdin genie lamp with blue smokeAs authors we try to reach our readers on multiple levels, hoping to engage their emotions. We can’t always be certain we’re expressing ourselves properly, reaching our readers on a visceral level. Sometimes, it may even feel like we’re struggling with another language as we try to build an emotional bond between readers and characters. But when it happens—when we know we’ve nailed it—it’s magic.

Here’s wishing all of you a little magic today.

Title Trauma by Mae Clair

As I post this, I’m knee deep in writing the second book of my Point Pleasant series. That means it’s time to start thinking about the third novel. I’ve got a general idea what that book is about—the legendary curse of Chief Cornstalk on the town of Point Pleasant. I even have my character backgrounds and a (highly) sketchy outline.

What I don’t have is a title.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with titles. On rare occasions, I have one before I start writing. That was the case for WEATHERING ROCK, TWELFTH SUN, and A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS. Other times, once I sit down and dwell on the key points of a story, a title magically appears. Ta-da! That’s what happened with my current WIP, A COLD TOMORROW. The title is a perfect fit.

And then there are the problem children like FOOD FOR POE, SOLSTICE ISLAND, and ECLIPSE LAKE. All of those went through title trauma before I arrived at the final product. In the case of SOLSTICE ISLAND, I even ran a poll on my blog asking readers to choose between several.  So, guess what this post is about? :)

A black cat sitting on a sidewalk, looking toward the camera

Yep, book three of the Point Pleasant series needs a title. It has to be three words, start with an “A” and relate to time I some manner.

Book 1:  A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS
Book 2: A COLD TOMORROW
Book 3: *crickets* Please help! :)

Since the title for book one references the past and book two the future, I initially wanted book three to have a title related to the present. But everything I tossed around (today, now, present) all seem clumsy in a title.  Ugh!  I’ve since moved past that concept, but if anyone has an idea, I’m open to suggestions.

What I’ve focused on now is a phrase that will play a key part toward the end of book two. I want that phrase to become the title of book three. As I haven’t written the ending yet, the phrase is still up for grabs. These are a few I’ve been kicking around:

A fractured moment (or hour)
A broken moment (or hour)
A shattered moment (or hour)

An untitled book coverWhat am I missing? Are there other elements of time I could be using? Do any of these resonate with you as a title? For the record, I think A BROKEN HOUR is kind of clumsy when it rolls off the tongue. Right now I’m leaning toward the last one…A SHATTERED MOMENT or A SHATTERED HOUR. There is, however, a novel already out there with the title A SHATTERED MOMENT, so that probably squashes the idea. I try not to duplicate titles so my books are easier to find. I mean who the heck calls a book TWELFTH SUN?

What do you think? Do you like any of the above? Do have any other ideas? Should I draw the winner out of a hat, consult a Magic 8-Ball, or flip a coin?

Ooo, I just had a thought (inspiration strike! Thank you, Mr. E!). What about A CURSED MOMENT or A CURSED HOUR? The book is about a curse, so that kind of plays into the plot. I just checked Amazon and no other authors have used it. See what writing this post has done? :D

What do you think?

A Personal Look Back at 2015 by Mae Clair

I normally wax poetic when the New Year rolls around, but I’m feeling too punchy for that this time. I dug into my photo files for this post (something I don’t usually do) and got a kick out of these. I hope you do, too. Don’t forget to check out the captions.

As years go, 2015 gave me some great achievements, providing a few giddy highs, but it tossed in a few low balls, too. I suppose that’s to be expected with the mix.

Of the high notes, MYTH AND MAGIC released in June, then enjoyed a brief best-seller run on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble in October. I was giddy.

Author, Mae Clair holding a copy of her novel, Eclipse Lake

Holding the first copy of the first book I ever had in print, Eclipse Lake!

ECLIPSE LAKE hit new high notes thanks to a freebie promo I ran in June that exposed me to a host of new readers. Best of all, the book stayed strong with sales months after the promo ended. I’ve run some other freebies, but none have enjoyed the success Eclipse did. I wish I could bottle and repeat whatever I did to make that one work so well.

FOOD FOR POE released in November, and despite only minimal promo from me, made a nice splash. Using my newsletter to reach readers was probably instrumental in what it did achieve. I wish I would have done better promoting Poe, but December proved to be a challenging month with commitments that kept me mostly offline.

Overall, my backlist titles (Twelfth Sun, Solstice Island, and Weathering Rock) also performed well in 2015. I think I’m finally starting to see the result of what happens when you have multiple titles available for purchase and gain loyal readers. I’m still nowhere near where I want to be as a writer, but I’ve noticed a definite uptick in sales over the previous two years. A HUGE “thank you” to everyone who made that possible. You guys rock! :)

Looking back at my end of year post for 2014, I set specific goals for myself to accomplish in 2015. I thought I’d share how I did:

Submit my manuscript for A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS to Kensington Publishing

Author, Mae Clair

Point Pleasant, WV 2013. My first venture Mothman hunting. How do you like the hat? It says “Mothman Search Team.”

Done, and I’m delighted to say, the book releases on April 26, 2016. Not only that, but Kensington gave me a three book contract *CARTWHEELS*

Look for a cover reveal on A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS in the next few weeks. The first in my Point Pleasant Series, Yesteryears is also my first release with Kensington’s Lyrical Underground line, an imprint devoted to the mystery/suspense genre. I’ll be bringing you the Mothman, murder, and mystery. I hope you’ll like it. :)

Launch a newsletter
Another item I can check off my list. My newsletter is up and running. I sent out two in 2015, and will likely do 3-4 in 2016. Thanks to a few promos and blog hops I participated in, I garnered a surprising amount of subscribers (thanks!). If you’re not a subscriber and would like to join the fun, click here to sign up. I promise not to bombard your inbox! :)

Hold my first book signing
Unfortunately, this one didn’t see the light of day, but not for lack of trying. I made the mistake of attempting to set this up with a chain bookstore. Although the bookstore was happy to work with me, the corporate powers of said store could not. No biggie though, because I’m already on the roster of authors slated for a book signing at my local library in April 2016. So, although it became a bit delayed, I’m finally going to get do a book signing. *happy dance*

Reading Goal
When I discovered Goodreads, and realized I could set a “books read” goal each year, I started participating. For both 2013 and 2014 I read 65 books. This year I read 77, two more than my goal of 75. Granted, there were several short novellas in the mix, but there were also plenty of 500+ page epics, so I think it balanced out. So many books and so little time! Especially, because of . . .

Learning Spanish
This one wasn’t a goal from last year, but after taking a trip to the Dominican Republic in November, I decided to learn to speak Spanish. Uh…not that I don’t have enough to do already between working full-time, blogging, writing, and being committed to book contracts with deadlines. *sigh* Sometimes I can’t help myself.

So, my reading has suffered a bit as I devote a portion of that time to nightly Spanish sessions. I’ve been using the app Duolingo along with some books I picked up. I’m also eying the Rosetta Stone, but since Duolingo has been getting the job done, I’m not ready to plunk down the $$$ Rosetta wants. If you’ve used Rosetta, I’d love to hear what you think.

Cool thing about Duolingo for anyone who might be interested—the app is free and it includes multiple languages, not just Spanish. I highly recommend it for a fun and easy learning experience. You can check out their website at https://www.duolingo.com

~ooOOoo~

Ok…New Goals for 2016: 

Author, Mae Clair

Do I look ready to set some writerly goals? Bring on 2016!

Hold my first book signing
That one is already in the works

Keep on track with the submission deadlines for my Point Pleasant Series
Fingers crossed. I’ve got some tight deadlines but I’m working my tail off to meet them.

Indie pub a novella
Since 2012 I’ve managed to pub two titles a year. I know that might not seem a lot to some, but it’s a challenge for me. As it stands, book 2 of my Point Pleasant Series is scheduled for publication in December 2016 which would give me two titles for the year, but I’d still like to indie pub a novella. Either a book of short stories, or a short tale. Just a vague idea at this point, but I’m listing it as a goal. 

Author, Mae Clair

When it comes to learning Spanish, I’m not sure the smiles will last. Those $@&* verb conjugations!

Learn more Spanish
¿Está impresionado puedo escribir esto en español?

Reading Goal
I’m going to cut myself some slack and go with 50 titles this year. If I top that, it’s all icing.

So…I’ve shared my accomplishments for 2015 and my goals for 2016 (plus, I’m out of hat pictures).

Want to share some of yours achievements and your plans for the coming year? Let’s celebrate together and bring in 2016 with an authorly/readerly/writerly bang!

Cheers, everyone!