Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Why Book Reviews Are Oh So Very Important

8774134-important-rubber-stampBook reviews are, first and foremost, for readers. But they're also for authors…and advertisers.

As a reader, I use book reviews to help make buying decisions. I write them because I want to help others make that same decision.

As an author, I sometimes read reviews because I want to know what I'm doing right or wrong. There are different camps on this one. Some authors never read reviews because they feel very strongly that reviews are for readers. Also, they don't want to become upset or distracted by a negative review. On the other side of this are authors who read every single review, good or bad. They use this knowledge to (hopefully) make themselves better storytellers.

Which brings me to the last group that uses reviews: advertisers. Before I get into that, though, let me talk briefly about why advertisers are important to authors.

As a relatively unknown author, I rely on advertising to help get my books in front of people. Sounds simple enough. But the field of effective advertisers has narrowed considerably in the past 1-2 years, and so has the competition to get listed. It used to be that advertisers took anyone and everyone. Pay them the money and they'd feature your book. But readers soon grew wary of these sorts of 'email blasts' because there was no guarantee of quality. So along came a new style of advertising where advertisers started curating the books sent their way. No longer was it acceptable to have poorly designed covers, content riddled with grammar and other errors, or, getting back to the point of this post, poor ratings and reviews.

Not only that, but advertisers began to require a minimum level of stats before they'd even consider a book for listing. Many of them now require a minimum of 4 stars for a rating and 10 reviews. Further, they look at the content of those reviews, weeding out any books with 'too many typos' or those that 'need editing.'

I can only deal with one of those criteria: the last one. The quality of the work is entirely on the author.

But the reviews are entirely on the reader. Sure, I can help it along with review copies, which I have done, but you still reach a point where you need the reader who you didn't contact or don't know to step up and leave a rating or review.

So, the next time you finish a book, think about taking a few minutes to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or elsewhere. Reviews don't need to be long or in-depth. A sentence or two is sometimes enough. A review doesn't have to be positive, either. Sometimes a negative one is just as beneficial as a positive one.

And if you've read one of my books, why not leave a review now? I'd really appreciate your honest opinion. I'm pretty sure other readers will, too.

How Much Time Should Writers Spend Blogging?

From time to time I like to put on the ol' hazmat suit and delve into the dusty archives of this blog. There's some gems hidden deep inside its bowels, but with so much dust covering them they don't get the attention they crave. Here then is a post from my archive. I've only touched it up a little, just to keep the facts straight. Or maybe I've touched it up a lot because my voice has changed over time. In any case, here it is.

IMG20002There was a pretty good take on the Vigorous Writing blog (which apparently, as of 11/28/08, has disappeared) concerning the question of how much time one should spend blogging.

Of note:

"Newer writers still trying to build their credibility and client list might protest that they have much more free time than Bly has and they need to find a way to market themselves so blogging is a great, forward-thinking way of doing it. There's something to that, but honestly, I think it's an easy way out, the path of least resistance--what new writers should probably be doing, instead of blogging and reading other blogs and commenting on other blogs and brain-storming ideas for their latest blog post, is what many writers hate doing--cold-calling for leads non-stop."

This guy's talking like a freelancer, which is all well and fine if that's what you do. But I like to look at things from my own perspective, and I'm not a freelancer. However, his point—that writers need to have a pipeline—is very relevant for all writers. What I really don't agree with is his take on blogging. Despite social media, blogging remains relevant as a marketing tool, a way of increasing exposure, and as a way to connect with like-minded individuals. However, unless you're really stupid and trying to blog every day like I am, it can really become a time sink.

According to one referenced blogger in the article, one shouldn't spend more than 10 minutes/day or an hour/week blogging. How in the world are you supposed to have any quality posts with such time constraints? Geez.

Another blogger says to blog in moderation--only post every 4-6 days. That way each post has time to stew, be read, and garner comments.

Robin Hobb weighed in on the issue in a decidedly negative (but productive) way. Her reasoning is that time spent blogging is time NOT spent writing. (2013-02-13 - Unfortunately I couldn't find the post where she said that, but it's funny as I look at her blog that it appears she's now blogging quite regularly. Guess she changed her mind). In a way, blogging is a distraction, and we all know that distraction is the enemy. Another way to look at is this: ask yourself if you are a creator or a consumer? Or, are you a writer or a reader? Writers write, including blog posts.

What it really boils down to is finding a happy medium between the two. For some that medium might be more of one and less of the other, or it might be both in equal portions. It's up to the individual and, ultimately, one's goals.

The Pros and Cons of Tracking Words Per Day

Way back in March of 2010 I asked the question how long should it take to write a novel? The idea was that if you stick to a consistent writing pace, producing so many words per day, then after some finite amount of time you'd have a finished manuscript.

Assuming the industry standard estimate of 250 words per page, my own estimate of 20 words per sentence, and that a complete novel is 100,000 words total, if you wrote 1,000 words per day you'd have a complete first draft in 100 days or just over 3 months. Authors gauge progress towards this goal by tracking words per day.

What are some of the benefits of tracking words per day?

1. Allows a writer to gauge progress

This is the most obvious. It allows an author to monitor progress, letting him or her know when they're on track, ahead of the game, or, most importantly, falling behind.

2. It's a motivating factor

Having a daily writing goal is a great motivator. It can also have the opposite effect if one consistently misses the goal. But as long as you set a realistic goal based on your situation it can be a great motivating force.

3. It lifts a weight from you

If a writer has met their daily goal and it's still early in the day he or she may have other things they need to get to. I've found that knowing I've already accomplished my writing objective for the day lifts a weight from me. Sometimes it even helps me write even more as the pressure is essentially off at that point.

Now that I've started the weekly writing update thing again I'm keeping track of my words written. Instead of doing it on a daily basis, though, I'm going to start with keeping track of it on a weekly basis. I've done daily before and it had some downsides. Which brings me to the next question.

What are some of the negatives of tracking words per day?

1. It takes time

Not much, but it is something else a writer has to do each day.

2. It can be a demoralizing factor

This is especially so if an author begins to consistently miss one's daily goal. One failure piles onto another and pretty soon they're so far behind they're having thoughts of throwing in the towel.

3. Sometimes it just doesn't fit

There are days where instead of actually writing I realize I need to spend some quality time with my outline or working up some character profiles or other worldbuilding tasks. These things may be necessary, but they impact the daily writing goal.

Summary

You'll find many professional writers have a daily word count they meet before they'll step away from the computer. It really is the best way to maintain consistency and to know when you're falling behind. As a self-published author, I don't really have deadlines. I know I have readers who are waiting for the next book, though, so that helps keep me motivated. But in order to keep making progress I need to know where I'm at on any given day. Tracking words written is the best way to do that.

Avoiding Fantasy Tropes

I'm wrapping up my second novel, a fantasy/steampunk adventure novel which I'll likely blog about in more detail soon. But as I begin to think about my next novel, I already know there's some things that I want to stay away from and some things I want to try. I'm calling these my "story rules". Think of them as guidelines; not necessarily set in stone, but I'm going to look to them as I start outlining. If and when I violate one of them, I'm going to have to rationalize such rule breaking (only to myself, of course).

As an example of a rule, a writer of fantasy might have one called "No elves". Another might be, "No quests". I saw a list geared towards writing science fiction once where one of the rules was "No FTL".

Some people don't like setting these sorts of boundaries. I suppose going in already having decided to do or not do something can stifle creativity. These are probably the same people who feel outlining creates the same barriers. To each his own, I say. Personally, I like planning things out beforehand. This is just another way to help in that process.

So, without further adieu, here are the rules I will be using for my next novel.

1.) No traveling

For this novel, I want everything to happen in one place. In my first novel, The Hall of the Wood, it's a journey (of non-epic proportions) just to get to where the action is happening. Even when they do get there, they're running around in the woods quite a bit. I guess the latter can't be helped, whether it's the wilderness or a city. They can't exactly sit in a room the whole time. But, for this novel, I want the story to take place in only one place. No traveling about. I have a pretty good idea what sort of setting I'll be using, too.

2.) No ancient relics

No devices of ancient origin with powers waiting to be revealed.

3.) No fated heroes or special ancestry

Everyone has a past, but in this story no one will have a past all that extraordinary or far-reaching. Sure, they may have heroic or villainous deeds in their background, but it will be their background and not some legacy passed down from generation to generation.

4.) No characters with dark, personal secrets or pasts

Not all main characters have to have dark secrets hidden away to be gradually revealed to the reader. Such secrets all too often have something to do with the current antagonist. I'm as guilty of this one as the next writer. It's a trope that works well, albeit readers can sometimes grow tired of it, right? In this next novel, no deep, dark secrets. It's a road I just don't want to go down on this one.

5.) Minimal or no magic

I lean more and more towards this anyway as my world-building moves away from sorcery and to a sort of pseudo-science. I'm finding it's much more interesting than trying to think up the next great magic system or leaning too heavily on one that's already been done to death.

6.) Do have a strong supporting cast of characters

Main characters should be strong, smart, and daring, but they shouldn't be the only ones with the brains and the brawn. In this novel, the main character is going to be average in some ways, but exceptional in others. But one of the first things he does as the story gets rolling is setup his support infrastructure. I mean, where would Special Agent Jethro Gibbs be without his team? (sorry, the wife's got NCIS on in the other room)

7.) Do have villains who are motivated by more than just greed

Greed is nice, but all too often it can become the sole motivating force behind a villain. This tends to lead to flat or boring villains that we've all seen too often.

8.) Do research pertinent topics thoroughly

I research, but only enough to make it sound like I have some idea what I'm talking about. I'd like to take that a step further by infusing some authenticity into my writing. I don't know how this one will go; I'm all for basing certain things on reality, but I write fantasy, so… If nothing else, I have certain topics in mind that I'll like to read up on, if only to give myself ideas.

Writing Advice: Don't skip extra lines between paragraphs

I got a short story rejection back the other day. No big deal. It happens.

The rejection slip was of a form nature, though at the bottom was scrawled a small bit of advice:

Don't skip extra lines between paragraphs.

My first thought was: huh?

After a little investigation, however, I found this setting that was unchecked in Microsoft Word (it's obviously checked now):

image

Problem solved, and hopefully the next editor will be a little bit happier.

That story, by the way, is already back out to the next publisher.