Hello friends! I think it’s about time I talk about book reviews (again). I did a post a while back about it, but I think it’s time I clarified how I go about giving some of my very humble opinions about books. A lot of that comes down to my standards for books especially between those that are published in the “traditional” way (i.e. by the “Big 5” in New York), those published by indie or small press publishers, and then self-published.
I’ve been reviewing a lot more indie and self-published books lately because reviews are the crux of the book industry regardless of how you get published. Even if people buy your book, if no one reviews it, then fewer and fewer people will read your work. It’s just a sad fact of the business, and the big publishing houses have access to more resources that can get books in the hands of early readers to guarantee those reviews on day one of sales and get books into more retailers etc. For everyone else, you usually have to give your book to someone in exchange for an honest review. I do that for my own book as well as offer to do that for others in hopes of earning good karma. Plus, there are some great stories that just get overlooked and I'd like to help people find them. But I do review those smaller authors’ works much differently than books that come out of the traditional publishing houses and there is nothing wrong with that and I think (or hope) that more reviewers take that stance.
Typically, I am a harder reviewer for a book that comes from a big publishing house because I expect more. I don’t think that expectation is wrong either. These authors are fortunate enough to have a large team work with them and their book AFTER their initial beta readers have finished with it. They’ll have multiple editors and resources to use in order to make their book the best it can be. So, if the plot is weak or the research wasn’t put into the work, I find that disrespectful to the reader. That’s not to say self-published writers can’t do all of that, they can and should, but reputable editors are expensive. Publishing houses will provide that service to their signed writers for “free” (they do get paid from book sales, but there’s no upfront cost) whereas self-published writers have to pay upfront and out of pocket for that so often times they can only really afford one editor and then they cross their fingers and hope its enough.
Even indie and small press publishers are in a similar boat. They provide cover art services and editing services for their writers, but usually it’s not a team of editors and early readers, just a handful of people. So a few more things slip through the cracks and maybe sometimes the cover or the printing of the book isn’t as good as the books on the New York Times Best-Selling lists but their stories are good. They have character development and a hook and they are usually just as fun as a traditionally published book, or they can be.
So, that’s why I rate those books differently even if the star system remains the same (can’t get around that, thanks Goodreads and Amazon). But it’d be like rating a B movie, or a film students class film, as the same as you’d review a big Hollywood blockbuster. It’s unfair to everyone involved. When you have more resources to lean against, you owe your fans and readers to make good on all that publicity and those promises you make. For small press and self-published, I look at it and see what they had to work with and if they respected my (and other readers) time by doing everything they could before releasing their book into the wild and then I rate their stories accordingly.
But, at the end of the day, for me at least, it’s all about good characters. If you can give me that, I am willing to forgive a lot, no matter who did or didn’t publish the book!
Ultimately, I hope people read my work with a similar lens. Not to say that I don’t think my work belongs on the USA Today or New York Times Best-Selling list (it’s not but that’s mostly because I went with a small press), I put a lot of hard work and effort into my stories and the small team I have has been incredible with helping me along the way. But that’s just it, it’s a small team. More eyes, more hands, means I have to answer to more people (which I’d rather not do) but it also means that more people catch mistakes or can offer diverse opinions about characters and scenes.
This is also why my reviews are so detailed. For the smaller authors, that kind of feedback can be really valuable as they move forward and create more stories they look to publish. So my reviews will always be long, but hopefully they are helpful to the author and potential readers!
I can’t stop other reviewers from reviewing however they want to. I just thought it was important to share the filter I put over my reviews and why books with thousands of four or five star reviews will get a two or three from me and a similar self-published book with no reviews may get a four or five.
What do you think of this system? Do you agree? Or do you go about reviewing books differently? Let me know!
Ok friends, time to get a little personal. Again. Not many of you know this about me (well, some of you might but hey, I’d love it if you stuck around anyway) but I am a big supporter of mental health. Why you may ask? Well, I have some family members and dear friends with mental health issues and/or who work in the profession so it’s something near and dear to me and one day, I hope the stigma that surrounds going to see a therapist and the general misunderstandings that telling someone who suffers from anxiety or depression to just “get over it” isn’t how you make things better. It’s why I love my flawed characters in books and other media. So, I invite you to come with me on this journey if you will.
There’s something about “hero” characters that suffer with anxiety, depression, or have panic attacks that I really resonate with, and that’s probably because I recognize that I deal with those issues personally, as well. But to me, it just feels so real. Sure, everyone loves the hero to swoop in and save the day and make it look easy. It gives us hope that no matter how crappy the world gets, that someone somewhere can just make it all better. They have a clear path, know exactly what they need to do and just… do it. There’s never any uncertainty about what they need to do, they never falter or feel overwhelmed. But that’s not real.
And I know, I know, it’s fiction, it’s not supposed to be real. Fantasy books and movies are the places we escape to when we want to forget our troubles in the outside world. That’s why there’s nothing wrong with a hero who doesn’t have problems, it can be gratifying and I totally get it! But you can’t relate to those guys either. I mean, I have yet to meet someone who didn’t get scared or freaked out when they found themselves in an unexpected situation. So imagine, if you will, that all of a sudden you are the chosen one and the fate of the world rests on your shoulders. That is a lot of responsibility and pressure. I’d expect you to freak out because well, anyone else would.
That’s why Tallis has anxiety and panic attacks in my books.
Tallis is a strong, badass woman, but the responsibility and the weight of the world that gets thrust on her when she was never looking for it and certainly didn’t want it, is a lot to handle. Especially for a young adult who’s never needed to be 100% responsible for themselves let alone just one other person. Can you imagine having to save a whole country? Being freaked out would be natural and, hopefully, make Tallis feel more relatable even in a fantasy setting.
Same goes for Tomas and Rosslyn. Tomas is a brilliant introvert trying to learn how to fit in. I challenge anyone to tell me they have never felt that way or known someone who’s struggled with trying to find their place in a new group of friends. And Rosslyn may be carefree and live by her own rules, but she’s a bisexual who, at least in the main cities, cannot openly love the people she wants to. All of my characters have interpersonal challenges because the end goal, the goal of saving the world, is not and never will be the entirety of their, or even my, stories.
At the end of the day, I wanted to craft characters that people who are struggling with doing their jobs or living their lives because they feel overwhelmed, scared, or depressed can maybe get inspiration from. I wanted to give a kind of hope to those that don’t believe they are strong enough or don’t know how to manage the things their feelings. I wanted to create characters people could look at and say: “Hey, if they can find a way, so can I”. And all because when I encounter characters in books or movies that have these issues and find a way to still be badasses, It gives me hope and makes me feel a bit better myself.
Tallis will always feel like the world is sometimes just too much for her to handle, but she finds a way to deal with it in a healthy way and, usually, with help. I want others to see her example and not feel small or helpless, but like they can do anything. Because they, and we, absolutely can!
That’s why I love my flawed characters, and I hope you do too.
Its April 18th guys! Unless today is your birthday (if it is, happy birthday!) today won’t have much significance to you. But today is the day, I promise. It’s the day “The Monster of Selkirk Book I” became available. The day my husband has declared that I am “officially a published author”. People can get touchy about telling people their debut book is out. I don’t often call it my “debut” book just because it often has a negative connotation, as if I am preemptively apologizing for something and I’m not. I’m really proud of the work I’m putting out there and really excited that it’s finally available to you all!
This experience has been an incredibly humbling one. I’ve worked in marketing and advertising for years, I’m used to doing promotional things and selling things… but you can’t really do that with your own book. I mean, sure you can. Facebook and so on let you run ads to get people to hopefully buy your products or give you their email. I’ve done that (obviously). But when you’ve created something, it’s not so much about the traditional advertising as it is asking the people you know and your networks to support your dreams and read your book, buy your art, listen to your music, whatever it is you’ve made. You are reaching out to these people and asking them to read something that even if it’s a fantasy book, is still very personal and makes you really vulnerable as those people who are your friends or friends of friends can turn around and say they hate it. Which they are allowed to, any sort of creative work is subjective like that, not everyone will like it. But that doesn’t make you feel any less vulnerable.
That’s the stage I’m at. Learning the art of asking. Of asking people to give my work a chance. If they liked it (or maybe not, but I’m hoping everyone loves it like I love my book, obviously) to leave it a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Interacting with your work and supporting your art is seen as a favor to most people (even though they’ll dish out $90+ to see their favorite famous band in concert) so writing a review after can feel like a burden.
I get it, I didn’t used to write reviews for books either. I didn’t see the point. I bought the book, shouldn’t that be all that matters? They got my money. But in the age we live in, where people look at those star ratings for everything from restaurants, dentists (yes, I looked a dentist up on Yelp to check reviews before going!), video games, movies, and books to decide if they should eat something, go somewhere, or read something, ratings and reviews become super important. If a product has no reviews, no one else buys it because they suddenly don’t trust it, just the same if a product or service has only a 1 or a 2 star review.
But that’s also where Amazon is unique. On Yelp, the written reviews are not as important unless you want to know what’s good to eat or why the service was so terrible. On Amazon, consumers treat the star reviews the same as anything else, but Amazon prefers the written review. You can have thousands of ratings that are just star reviews but if some kind soul hasn’t actually written you a review, Amazon won’t send out your book in its newsletters or up your book to the next tier of advertising support. I did not know that until I got serious about this career!
Did you know books need at least 50 written reviews before they get to that next tier of advertising support? I didn’t! They could be simple two sentence reviews too, or you can give a book a five star rating and then say all the terrible parts in the written review and it still counts.
That’s why this whole experience and this day, while exciting and exhilarating, is so incredibly humbling. You want to jump around and feel like a rock star, but at the same time, you have to ASK people, friends and strangers alike, to give you a chance and accept that they can, and will, say no and that they have every right to. But I don’t think people realize how important written reviews actually are, either. I didn’t until recently so I have been trying to be better on leaving a written review for everything and hope karma returns the favor.
So happy digital launch day, friends! The paperback version will be available May 1st in case you don’t have a Kindle or the Kindle app on your iPad. I’m so excited to hear what you think of “The Monster of Selkirk”!
It’s finally happening! “The Monster of Selkirk Book I: The Duality of Nature” is FINALLY available for digital pre-order on Amazon! More formats will be coming later, never fear, but, in the meantime, I wanted to share a little more with you all about the land of Selkirk and how I personally go about world building as each fantasy writer takes different approaches.
First off, I start by picking a feeling, an atmosphere if you will, that I want my land or world to encapsulate. Tallis’s story starts off a bit tragically, no spoilers there, and the forests around her home are unknown, murky, and hide more than just animals in their shadows. So I started with that and then, I decided that because of the situation Tallis and her country are in, they’d need to be isolated, so an island made natural sense. From there, I thought about places in our world that kind of fit that vibe and that I enjoy because, after all, Tallis’s home country isn’t an evil place, just a troubled one. And ultimately, I thought of Scotland.
Yes, Selkirk is based a bit off Scotland.
If any of you have ever been to Scotland, you’ve probably noticed that Selkirk is actually the name of a town there! I didn’t do that on accident either, I made the choice to do that. In fact, most of the human towns and cities are named after places that either still exist in Scotland today or did in the past. This is my way of paying homage to the real place that inspired Tallis’s fictional home.
A lot of fantasy writers build their worlds 100% from scratch, they have to because they include amazing and impossible things with their magic systems, weaponry, or food. Tallis’s world is not like that. Which isn’t to say what I’m doing is better, this is just the way I wanted to do it for this particular series. Tallis’s world does not have magic. It’s meant to be realistic with the exception of fantasy creatures and deities which allowed me to root her world in a kind of realism that I think is pretty cool and I hope makes her, her friends, and her world, much more relatable and approachable in the long run.
Which is why, if you read the book, you’ll notice that the names of the people in Selkirk, the food they eat and drink, the clothes they wear … all fit what you’d expect to find in medieval Scotland. I don’t make it 100% authentic, this isn’t a historical fiction after all, but whenever I can and whenever it makes sense to, I make sure to ground Selkirk in that realism. That way when you finish the book and if you ever go to Scotland, you can feel like you are wandering around Tallis’s hometown!
“The Monster of Selkirk” is a long series, and because of that, I keep my formula for land building throughout. All the lands are based on real locations, or a hodgepodge of locations that are topographically near one another. So the country names, city names, the people, and food will all be authentic to those kinds of areas. This may get me into trouble when people have visited places like Scotland and they notices inconsistencies, but again, this is a fantasy story, not a historical fiction so I hope you’ll forgive me for the liberties I take.
I hope this gives you better insight into my process and that it gets you excited to jump into Tallis’s world APRIL 18TH! If you’ve built your own world, please share what your process like! Or let me know what you think of mine in the comments!
Yesterday marked the official start of preorders for my book! It's out APRIL 18TH which is AMAZING! But, instead of being able to hit the ground running and doing promotion and stuff like that. I was in the ER. Here is a list of my observations in the hopes that none of you fine people ever need to experience them for yourself...
1. People are really eager to get you in a wheelchair to wheel you to the waiting room that's only a few feet away (I may have looked like I needed it though... meh)
2. Not nearly enough nurses put the EKG stickers on you in the shape of smiley faces. Missed opportunity.
3. When you can't breath well, and certainly not deeply (the reason for said visit) having the chest X-ray technician demand you breath and get exasperated when they have to do the X-ray multiple times is not your fault. Breathing is hard.
4. EKG's and X-rays are fast. Seeing the doctor who spends all of 5 minutes with you takes 5 hours
5. Apparently an 18 gauge needle for a massive IV is really big and causes a lot of bleeding. A lot. Hospital gowns needed to be changed.
6. Touching the heart monitor "sticker" on your finger causes the machine to freak out. The nurses don't like that. Don't do it, even though it's super tempting.
7. Being hooked up to a heart monitor does actually make you feel like you're about to jump-start a car battery. The movies got something right.
8. Cat scans (not sure if it's actually "cat" but I'm going with it) are weird and the contrast they put into your massive IV for the contrast during said cat scan makes you feel... not bad. But just really, really warm all over, head to toe warmth.
9. If you go to the right hospital, the doctors and nurses are really pleasant and have no intention of "keeping you overnight" despite the fact that you may have been there from 6:30 pm to 2 am. They don't grasp the irony.
10. Coming home to your SUPER excited dog after said visit is the best. The best!
In case you're wondering, I'm fine. The tests showed nothing despite the feeling of a midget sitting on my chest making it hard to breath and elevating my heart rate to near heart attack levels. Apparently, I got a thing called Pleurisy which is just a lot of inflammation around my lungs from an infection. Though the doctors seemed baffled by how i got it. So now I'm on meds. All the meds. So that's fun and EXACTLY how I wanted to celebrate the launch of preorders for my book*. My husband was a champ though. He hates needles. Like, hate them to the point of getting physically sick. But he never left my side so I guess that means he loves me.
I'm recovering now but will be posting more as I can, especially since I am really excited about the launch of "The Monster of Selkirk"!
*said no one ever.