“Put some cupcakes in this freaking paragraph” and other nightmares…

So I know I shouldn’t crow about reader reviews, but screw that. I LOVE reader reviews. One of my favorites is a review I received on Goodreads from someone named Reza for Appassionato (Dream Marked #1):

“This was totally weird. And I usually like weird, but this was. . . weird. So weird, I don’t know why I gave it four stars. But I did really like it despite how weird it was. (Have I written the word “weird” enough times for you to get the idea?)”

Every time I read that review I laugh. I’ve felt that way about quite a number of books. That review actually makes sense to me and I love it. I mean, sometimes I don’t know why I like a book. Sometimes the novel is just, well, weird, but it’s still intriguing enough to finish it.

Novels that I thought were weird but liked anyway (spoilers ahead, be warned):

  • Guilty Pleasures by Anita K. Hamilton (Like, whoa. Pick up that shapeshifter wolf and take him home with you! And yeah, the vampire too!)
  • Prince of Ice by Emma Holly (Um, what the hell is that on his . . . That was weird. But HOT. Gimme more!)
  • Faith & Fidelity by Tere Michaels (Wait, severe depression, death, and kids? Seriously? This turns into a MM romance? Wow.)
  • Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind (Nice guy gets a sword. Nice guy is the MOST IMPORTANT DUDE in the land. Nice guy is GRAPHICALLY tortured? I was OBSESSED with this book. I love this book. I watched every episode of the crappy tv series based on this book.)
  • The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro (Oh hey! It’s a fantasy romance novel! Which totally is awesome right up until the CRAZY genetic math-type stuff I still don’t understand. But the novel is still awesome.)

So, you can see that I don’t mind a review calling my book weird. I can deal with weird. I embrace weird.

My most recent reviews came for Risk Is A Four-Letter Word. I ADORE them. If I could snatch them up off the Amazon page and hug them, I totally would do that. Most of the time I’m positive my writing is complete and total crap. It’s so crappy it animates itself and tells me so: “Hey, what the hell are you doing, writing such repulsive dialogue? Make it snappy! Put some cupcakes in this freaking paragraph! Anything to spice things up.”

When my prose starts dissing me like that, I tend to get a wee bit paranoid about the quality of my work. Ask any writer. She’ll agree with me. We’re a bunch of neurotic, paranoid, depressive, manic, crazy chicks with brutal imaginations. So, when a great review for one of my books hits the interwebz, I tend to freak out celebrate.

My favorite part of those reviews:

“Erin hits it out of the ballpark again. This was a really fun, fast read.”

Even terrible reviews are useful, by the way. Lest you think I only appreciate good reviews, let me explain: I appreciate anything that tells me where I went wrong. If a reader says something that’s totally bizarre, mean, insane, that’s less than nice, I generally think to myself: “How do I avoid this confusion in the future?” I’m always trying to improve my work. I know that not everyone will enjoy the plot or characters, but I can at least craft the words so that my intention is clear. I’m not out to confuse readers. Rather, I want to AMUSE readers. For me, romance novels should be an escape from the trauma of real life. That’s what I’m shooting for with every word.

Oh, by the way, look at the cool banner that I totally forgot to brag about. Evernight is awesome.

Marketing in the Dark, aka Stumbling Around on the Interwebz

I began writing romance novels in 2010. To learn about the industry I read  the blog posts, reference manuals, submission guidelines, write-a-romance self-help books,  scraps of letters left behind by famous authors, and all of them agreed on one thing: the writer needs to be her own marketer. I would have to be responsible for my own promo. Oh, sure, some publishers place a few ads here and there on websites and in Romantic Times, but for the most part, the writer is expected to take on the bulk of advertising her work.

Fine, I thought. I can do that. I’m really determined. Stubborn. Obsessed with the desire to be an author. I designed my website, filled in all the tabs and dotted the i’s. I posted my favorite quote and came up with a witty saying that encompassed what I believed to be essential to a romance novel. I envisioned my blurb rocketing across the interwebz, a viral string of characters that made readers click all my buy links.

What no one tells you is that once you’ve got a book out there, you have NO WAY TO TELL if your promo/advertising/marketing is doing any good. Why? Because for the most part you can’t track real-time sales. Siren-BookStrand has a nifty author login that lets you track sales on their site, but to my knowledge, they’re the only ones that offer this feature. (Please correct me if I’m wrong and just functioning with a lack of information.)

As far as sales go at Barnes & Noble or Amazon or any number of other distributors, the only time you find out how many copies you’ve sold is when you get your royalty statement, SIX MONTHS later. Frankly, it’s enough to make me tear my hair out with frustration. You can track sales ranking (and we do, oh we do, obsessively) but they don’t really give you a lot of information about the actual sales. I assume the publishers know the numbers. Possibly the distributors, too. But the one person who needs that information the most, the writer/amateur-marketer, does not have it.

How does one figure out how to promo their book, then? How does one know if this ad was successful or that one was? Answer: you don’t. All you can do is work on your website, make friends with other writers (for support, so you don’t lose your mind), and connect with readers in any way you can think of. This might include email, newsletters, blog posts, rain-dancing, community chants, etc. And most importantly: write. If you don’t like the act of writing for its own sake, then you’re in the wrong profession. The writing sustains me when all else fails and I’m staggering around in the dark night of the interwebz, hunting for answers.

So, dear reader, the next time you receive an email about a new book or watch an author frantically posting on Twitter, cut her a break. It’s probably because she’s desperately trying to succeed in this crazy profession against impossible odds and invisible obstacles. And someone turned the light out on her.

 

ETA: Looks like things are changing. I just stumbled across an article that says Random House launched an author portal allowing “access to comprehensive sales, royalties, and subsidiary rights information.” Awesome. Now if only Amazon and B&N would provide information about ebook sales aside from the book ranking numbers (you know, like actual sales numbers) I’d be happy.

Happy Endings

When I was a little girl I loved fairy tales and nursery rhymes and short stories. My mother had an old set of encyclopedias and each one contained a story: Rumpelstilskin, The Little Match Girl, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Little Princess, and my absolute favorite, Beauty and the Beast, among others. Now, since this was sometime in the early 70s, these stories were often brutal—no guaranteed happy endings. Every time I read The Little Match Girl, I cried bitterly, miserable that she died at the end. I didn’t care that she was finally in heaven with her grandmother. And that’s what started my love affair with happy endings. I resolved to only read books that ended well and as I grew older, my fascination with romance novels began.

Of course, I couldn’t very well adhere to that resolve completely. I would never have enjoyed Macbeth or Cry the Beloved Country if I had. Even so, most of my leisure reading was still spent on romance novels (with a little sci-fi and fantasy thrown in for variety). Most of those ended happy. I read thousands of them, loving every minute of tension between the characters because I knew, without even peeking under the back cover, that true love would win out over everything. It always did.

Recently I’ve been wondering about happy endings in real life. Why do we spend so much of our time reading romance novels, enjoying the falling-in-love, the sexual tension, and the happy ending? It’s because what’s happening in the real world is anything but happy. Life happens. We read to escape, to laugh, to remember what it feels like when you catch someone’s eyes across the room and realize: oh, I want to meet that person. In Beauty and the Beast, love conquers all.

Every romance novel is required to have a happy ending. It’s actually specified in the contract when you sign it. As an author, I find that amusing. As a reader I find it comforting and wonderful. Those novels make me happy and when I’m happy I’m a better person. The people around me notice and because happiness is contagious, my reading tends to make them happy, too. So the next time someone tells you about how awful their life is right now, hand them your favorite romance novel. Tell them it’s good for the heart.