So, you wanna be a writer? Bad reviews.

Imagine this;

You’ve spent three years writing your novel, polished it to within an inch of its life and are incredibly proud of your baby. You’re ready to publish. You press the button to self-publish (or it’s publication day for those who have gone the traditional way) and then wait.

The reviews (if you’re lucky/ unlucky) come rolling in.

Some are five stars. Others are one star.

One star?

Shit.

Pass me the vodka.

My writing sucks!

I’m never writing again.

I’m going to unpublish it.

I wasn’t made to be a writer.

I’m too shit at this! 

Does it sound familiar?

STOP!

Everyone gets bad reviews. I repeat EVERYONE. Even Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and all the literary geniuses that have ever had the balls to put their work out there.

Have you looked at Goodreads recently? It can be brutal (as I’ve found to my expense! ha ha ha – pass me the vodka too!).

If the bad reviews get under your skin, my advice to you is, don’t read them. Straight up, stop. It’s not worth it. Don’t let it stop you from doing the thing you love.

See, the problem is, reading and writing are very subjective things. Everyone likes different things and you are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And you know what? That’s absolutely fine. They are not your people.

Go and find your people.

If you can stomach reading the bad reviews, sometimes you can use them as a learning tool. Is there something which every bad review picks up on? Do you agree with them? Can you change it? Do you want to change it?

But, be warned, using reviews as a learning tool doesn’t always work and can backfire on you spectacularly.

Here’s a sample of a review I received for Everlong (a paranormal romance I self-published a few years ago);

Whenever I read a Young Adult book I always ask myself “am I enjoying this book” and “would my teenage daughter enjoy this book?”.

The answer to both questions is “Not really.” Normally if I have gotten that far into a book and it has not grabbed my attention yet then I put the book away and never finish reading it. The only reason I didn’t is because I made myself resolution to finish reading 52 books this year and review them. However, I won”t review most books until I have finished them because sometimes the ending is better than the beginning. This book is a clear example of why I do that. This book gets off to a rough slow start but ends with a flourish. The end was good enough that I MIGHT just read the next book in the series to find out what happens next to Evie and Josh. Maybe the next book is a 4 star book or better.

This isn’t a particularly bad review. But, I asked myself, is there anything I can learn from this?

Not on its own, but several other reviews did mention that the start of Everlong dragged a little. As a few people mentioned this, it probably follows that the start is a little slow, doesn’t it?

So I changed it.

I restructured the novel to make it more interesting. I changed the title and the book cover. The new book, called Bones, has one review on Goodreads. It’s a 2 star.

Everlong, the original version has nine text reviews, and five of those are four or five stars.

Another reviewer, who gave Everlong five stars, wrote:

When Josh saves Evie from dying everything changes for them both. Mostly because Josh is the Angel of Death. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The story was very original and wonderfully written. I LOVED the forbidden chemistry between Evie and Josh. I really wanted them to be together. Of course, with Josh’s “profession” being together isn’t going to be easy. Josh is a very loving and sexy character! I loved how much he wanted Evie. I absolutely cannot wait for book #2! I highly recommend this book!!

See what I mean?

You can’t please everyone.

So, don’t even try!!!

And leave the reviews alone, even the good ones, because, in the end, it will do your head in!

The best thing you can do if you want to know what works and what doesn’t work in your writing is to get a team of BETA readers to read it BEFORE you publish. Or join a workshop for writers. If there isn’t one near where you live, well, why not start one up yourself?

BUT, leave the reviews alone.

Unless you’re like me and are a bit of weirdo! 🙂

 

 

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Dragon Rider – Part Twenty-Three

Dragon Rider

Chapter Eleven

Escape

Willow grabbed Drake’s arm, ‘Look, Look!’ she cried, pointing at the sky.

Falkor hovered above them, like some primordial guardian angel, his lustrous azure body, almost invisible against the sky, sparkling in the mid-morning sun.  He roared defiantly, pinned back his wings and plummeted to the ground, his enormous jaws gaping open.  The air was thick with the smell of gas as blue-hot flames jettisoned from the back of his throat.  The sound was terrifying, like ten jet engines starting up.

The crowd scrambled for cover, screaming, as Falkor swooped in front of them, unfolding his azure wings and flashing his sabre-like fangs.  Scarface pulled Elvis in front of him to shield himself from the onslaught of fire.

Unfazed by the screaming crowd, Falkor gently landed on the cobbles, and stretched out his wings, allowing Drake and Willow to haul themselves onto his bare back.  Before the crowd could react, Falkor kicked back and propelled himself into the sparkling sky.

‘DON’T LET THEM GET AWAY!’ came the shouts from the crowd, as the Elders tried to put order to the chaos.

‘Pyro!’ hissed Drake.  He could just see the djinn’s bald head bobbing up and down as he made a run for it, as fast as his short legs would carry him, through the chaos of the crowds, to a dark alleyway and his freedom.

‘Leave him,’ pleaded Willow.

But it was no good, Drake was damned if they were going to lose Pyro and the Hand of Glory.  He didn’t have to say anything; Falkor was on to it before Drake had even finished thinking about capturing the djinn.

‘No!  Not again!’ screamed Pyro, running as fast as he could, but that wasn’t very fast as his legs had seemed to have stopped working the second he had seen the dragon heading for him.  ’AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!’ he screamed, as Falkor swooped over and scooped him up from the crowd, like an eagle grabbing a salmon from a stream, his muscular feet clamped around the top of each of the djinn’s arms.  In a beat of a wing they were once again ascending into the air and over the crowd which was now resembling more of a riot.

Once Falkor had reached a safe distance, Scarface threw Elvis to one side and clambered to his feet.  ‘Shoot that dragon!  Come on, what you waiting for?  Take him down!’ he ordered.  The boggarts immediately started shooting and the sky was suddenly alive with electricity, large bolts of lightning streaking from their stun guns, the blue tendrils crackling and fizzing millimetres from Pyro’s dangling body.

‘NO!  DON’T SHOOT AT THE DRAGON!’ screamed Pyro, ’I DON’T WANT TO LOOK LIKE A PASTA SIEVE!’

Luckily for Falkor, the boggart’s aim was abysmal.  It was just a shame, thought Drake, that they hadn’t managed to hit the djinn because that scream was starting to do his head in.

Drake peered down.  He could see the dwarves and other members of the crowd scrambling around, throwing whatever they could find into the air; shoes, stones and bits of rotting fruit, but they all missed Falkor and, instead, rained back down upon them.  He chuckled as a boggart grabbed Elvis by one of his ankles in desperation and threw him at the disappearing dragon.  The chubby dwarf failed to gain much height and instead plummeted back to earth, landing straight on top of the boggart’s head, knocking him out cold.

Within a few wing beats, Falkor had risen above the bizarre buildings of Nowhere and had cleared the town walls where the Security Goblins were trying, unsuccessfully, to load their cannons.  The Kraken was emerging from the moat, its slimy suckered tentacles slithering up the walls as it opened its gargantuan fang-filled mouth to catch the falling dragon, but Falkor was miles away before the first shot was even fired.

Drake waited until Falkor had cleared the Wild Mountains before he contacted Gizmo.

‘Gizmo, are you there?’ he said, pressing the button on the side of his watch.

There was a brief silence before Gizmo’s holographic form appeared before him, flickering like a ghost.  ‘Hiya.  See you’ve found Falkor then?’ said Gizmo, pushing his glasses back up his nose, the slight sound of frostiness in his voice.

‘Er…yeah,’ said Drake, ‘any more trouble back there?’

‘No,’ said Gizmo, shaking his head, ‘all’s quiet at the mo.  Is everything alright?’

‘Yeah, everything’s fine.  We need your help.  We need to get to New Haven, can you help me out and send a map?’

‘Okay, no problem; the map will be with you in a mo.’

‘Cheers Gizmo  Has Ailsa managed to find anything in Fenrik’s systems yet?’

‘No.  She’s been munching away but they’ve got it protected by one serous fire-wall, she came back an hour ago quite frazzled.  Didn’t take much to repair her though.  Oh, I nearly forgot, she managed to intercept some chatter before she got fried; it seems that that guy you picked up, er, Pyro wasn’t it?  Well, he’s been released already.’

‘Yeah, I know,’ said Drake looking at the petrified body of Pyro clamped tight in Falkor’s claws, ‘I’ve seen him hanging around.  Keep working on the computer Gizmo, and stay safe, we’ll be back as soon as we can.’

Gizmo’s image evaporated, revealing a rotating 3-D map.  Drake scanned the map, correlated Falkor’s trajectory and then pushed it into the corner of his vision with a flick of his eyes.

He could feel the pressure in his head again, he could feel the adrenaline surging through his body, plumping up his veins in his arms and on the back of his hands, and he could feel his hatred boiling in the pit of his stomach.  This was Fenrik Lasko’s fault.  It always was and always would be.

Until Drake finished it.

So, you wanna be a writer? To pants or to plot?

Have you been reading Death’s Apprentice?

If you haven’t, don’t worry, you’re not in trouble 🙂

Death’s Apprentice is a writing experiment I’m undertaking where, every Wednesday, I sit down and write a portion of my next novel without having plotted any part of the storyline. This is an experiment for me as I’m usually more of a plotter than a pantser.

But what is a pantser?

A pantser is someone who writes without plotting, they pretty much write by the seat of their pants. They let the situation and the characters determine what happens next.

As a plotter, writing Death’s Apprentice as a pantser is really taking me out of my comfort zone and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

As a plotter, I usually have a fairly good idea of my characters because I write quite detailed biographies for each one. I also pretty much know how my story will end, I just don’t necessarily know all the plot points of how I’m going to get there. Think of it as a bus journey; I know where the destination is, I just don’t necessarily know all of the stops on the way.

A true plotter would probably have mapped out all the stops. I plot as I’m going. This gives my brain time to think and gives me space to breathe. This is how I work but you will find what works for you the more you write and experiment.

What are the advantages of plotting?

You know your characters. You know what drives them; their flaws and their ambitions, their thoughts and desires. It should make writing them slightly easier as you know what they want and what they would do in any given situation.

You know, when you begin writing, the destination you’re heading for. This can give you more confidence as you write.

It keeps your writing on track and you will be less likely to ramble. You will be more likely to stick to the point. This can mean less editing (although that’s not always the case).

What are the disadvantages of plotting?

Sometimes, sticking rigidly to a plot can make your writing boring.

There are no surprises for you to deal with as you write.

Your writing process may lack spontaneity.

It can make the author less open to changing a part of the storyline if something better presents itself.

It can stifle your creativity and make the process boring.

So, what can you do?

Personally, my approach is to plan but remain open to new ideas. I’ve learnt to be flexible and that’s why I plot as I go along.

I make sure I have detailed biographies of my characters and this is one thing I don’t rush. Knowing your characters before you begin to write helps a lot. It gives me confidence as I write and, I think, it makes the characters richer as you bring them to life on the page.

I have a bare skeleton of where I’m going. With Dragon Rider, I knew that Drake, my lead character, would have to face Death in her domain. I knew he would have a face-off with Fenrik, the being that murdered his father. I knew his need for revenge would hinder him. I knew how the book would end. I just didn’t know exactly how I was going to get there.

The most important thing I’ve learnt though is to let things go when they don’t work. My original plan for Death’s domain was so boring and it didn’t make sense. I ended up cutting around 20,000 words and starting again for that section. And that’s okay.

Neither plotting nor pantsing is perfect. No one way of writing is correct and the other wrong. I believe you have to do what works for you and finding what that is will only come with experience and writing practice.

So, what have you found that works for you? Do you write detailed character biographies? Do you have a clear idea of where you’re going? Or do you, indeed, fly by the seat of your pants?

Dragon Rider – Part Ten

Dragon Rider

Chapter Six Continued

Going Nowhere, Fast

Willow sat cross-legged on a crumbling window ledge, flicking through the pages of a black leather book with fat gold hinges that Drake had managed to “borrow” from an Antique Book Dealers.  ‘Here it is,’ she said, clearing her throat, ‘The Emerald Key is not a key as such, but a magickal text that allegedly allows the reader to unlock all of the wisdom in the Universe and, because of this, anyone who possesses it can wield great power.

‘It was the first book ever to be created and was written by the God Mercury at the request of Zeus so that he had a full record of everything he possessed.  Unfortunately, it was stolen from Mount Olympus, along with fire, by Prometheus who gave it to Hermes Trismegistus, the Book’s Guardian on earth.

‘The Emerald Key has been passed down through generations of Guardians who swore to protect it as Hermes had once done.  It is believed that Guardians have included Roger Bacon, Nicholas Flamel and Edward Sampson, among others.’

‘That’s it?’ asked Drake.

‘Yep, apparently the book simply vanished around 1832,’ finished Willow.  She dropped the book on to the window ledge and went to sit next to Drake on the sofa.

Drake closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.  ‘Okay Gizmo, what’ve you got?’

‘Not much more than what Funestus told us,’ said Gizmo.  ‘Apparently, that Canches guy-‘

‘The one who wrote the notebook?’ asked Drake.

‘Yeah, he was friends with Nicholas Flamel, one of the most famous Alchemists of all time-’

‘Nicholas Flamel?’  Drake laughed, ‘The crackpot who allegedly created the Philosopher’s stone?’

Gizmo nodded his head.  ‘It was Flamel who had the book, he just showed it to Canches.  It was The Emerald Key that gave Flamel the instructions on how to create the stone so that he could conquer death-’

‘Conquer death?’ asked Drake, his voice full of scepticism.

‘Don’t ask me,’ shrugged Gizmo, ‘I’m just reading what it says here.’

‘Okay, sorry,’ said Drake.  Boy, was this guy sensitive.  ‘Do you think you could do some more digging, see what else you can find?’

‘I’ve got Ailsa on to it, if she comes up with anything, I’ll let you know.’

Drake sighed.  ‘We have no leads, nowhere to start.’

‘Give it a couple of hours and I’m sure Ailsa will come up with something-’

‘I don’t think we’ve got a couple of hours, Fenrik’s already on to it, I know it.’  Drake banged his fist on the arm of the sofa, ‘If only we knew what he was up to.’

‘What we need is someone magickal, someone who can give us another angle on The Emerald Key.  Know anyone at the Uni Giz?’ asked Willow.

‘No, I’m sure-’

‘That’s it!’ said Drake smacking his forehead with the heal of his hand, ‘How come I didn‘t think of that before?’  He jumped up from the sofa.  ‘I need to pay an old friend a visit, she’s a Mystick, she’ll know where we need to start.’

‘You know a Mystick?  Why haven’t you told us this before?’

Drake shrugged.  ‘Her name is Alchymia, she’s helped me out a few times, maybe she’ll be able to help again.  She’s a good place to start anyway.’

‘So where do we find her?’

‘Nowhere.’

‘Drake, now isn’t the time for jokes-’

‘I’m not joking.  It’s an old magickal town to the north-west of here.’  Drake rubbed his chin, deep in thought.  ‘Didn’t think I’d go back there so soon.  It’ll be dangerous, can’t risk Falkor-’

‘Dangerous, how exactly?’ asked Gizmo, who had stopped flicking his hand over the images on the screen in front of him.

‘Long story.  Let’s just say I’m not very welcome there.  But still, it’s the only lead we’ve got.’

‘So when do we go?’ asked Willow, jumping off the sofa.

‘We don’t,’ said Drake, grabbing his Zephyr, ‘I go alone.’

‘Drake,’ said Gizmo, ‘you’ll need help.’

‘You,’ said Drake, slapping Gizmo on the back, ‘need to fix the problem you’re having breaking into the Enforcerer’s computers.  You also get to send Ailsa to infiltrate Fenrik’s system-’

‘No!’ cut in Gizmo, ‘I can’t allow that, it’s too dangerous, I-’

‘I know, but we need to know what he’s up to, what info he’s got, how close he is to finding it.  Find that out and we’ll have half a chance.’

‘And what do I get to do?’ asked Willow, her hands firmly on her hips, her eyes thunderous.

‘You get to stay here and help Gizmo.’

‘Drake?  Come on!’

‘I’m going alone.’

‘You’re not even taking Falkor?’ asked Willow, suddenly concerned.

‘Who’s Falkor? asked Gizmo.

‘No, it’s too risky, they’re not exactly pro-dragon where I’m going, and on the subject of Falkor…’

‘Dragon?’ asked Gizmo, swinging around in his chair, ‘no one said anything about dragons-’

‘No Drake, I’m not looking after him,’ said Willow shuddering, the thunder in her eyes now replaced by a look of horror.  ‘Look, I like dragons, really, I do, but I couldn’t look after one.  Anyway, if you’re not taking him you’re going to need transport.  We can use my Metatron, it’s a bike that Gizmo’s souped-up, very fast, very cool, you’ll like it.’

Drake chortled.  ’I was only going to ask if you could keep an eye out for him and give me the heads up if anything happens, that’s all.  But the Metatron sounds like a good idea.’

‘Great!  You get to go on an adventure and I get to babysit a Dragon.’

‘Will someone tell me when we got a pet dragon?’ asked Gizmo.

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part Twenty-Five

‘You’ll be fine,’ said Mrs Crow.

‘Fine? Fine? I haven’t even been out of Bloxwich,’ said Joe. His heart was beating hard in his chest. Sweat was pooling in the small of his back. Please, please, he thought, let me wake up. Let me wake up!

‘Are you sure about this?’ asked Morana. ‘He doesn’t look too well -‘

‘He’s all we’ve got,’ said Mr Crow, with a shrug. Mrs Crow gave her husband a sharp kick under the table.

‘I’ll go with him,’ said Lucifer.

‘And me,’ said Marcus, ‘I am the War Horseman. And I do know my way around the Under-‘

Mrs Crwo shot out of her seat waving her arms around maniacally. ‘No, no, no!’

‘But -‘

‘DON’T. BE. STUPID! She knows who you are you moron.’

‘Well,’ said Marcus, his face like thunder, ‘I’ve never -‘

‘Okay, okay,’ said Morana, her hands spread in supplication, ‘let’s all take it down a notch. Let’s all calm down -‘

‘When, in the whole history of calming down, has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down?’ asked Mrs Crow. At that moment, Joe couldn’t decide if he hated her or admired her because she did have a point.

Morana sighed heavily. She closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose.

‘She has a point you know,’ said Febris, moving her mask aside to speak.

‘Okayyy. Who’s in favour of sending Joe down into the underworld?’

‘Just fucking do it and let let me get on with getting my scythe back,’ snapped Mrs Crow.

Everyone except Joe raised their hands.

‘That’s eleven for. Okay, motion -‘

‘Do I not get a say?’ Joe could feel his insides shaking. This was so typical of any adult that he’d ever met. They never fucking asked. Always telling. Always moaning at him. Always yelling.

‘What?’ asked Mrs Crow. ‘You want to go back to your miserable existence? Go on then, Joe.’ She pointed at the door. ‘There’s the door. Use it.’

‘Corvina!’ Morana slapped her hands on the desk. ‘Stop!’

‘Go on Joe, run back to the stepdad that hates your guts. And your mother who wishes you’d never been born.’

‘CORVINA!’ Morana jumped up. Her chair fell backwards and hit the floor with a thud.

‘So? What are you waiting for Joe? Go on. Leave. Leave like you always do.’

The anger was boiling inside him. He could feel it burning in his chest.

‘I’ll do it,’ he said.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Twenty-Three

Joe took his seat in between Mr and Mrs Crow.

‘I will explain when -‘

‘Sorry I’m late everyone!’ Joe turned to see a tall blonde woman enter the room wearing a long black cloak, followed closely behind by a rather small man with a long crooked nose that was too big for his body.

Bitch,’ said Mrs Crow, under her breath. Joe could see Mrs Crow’s hand tightening on the arms of her chair, so much that her knuckles were turning white.

‘What was that?’ asked the blonde woman.

‘Sorry Morana, I was just coughing. It’s one of the pitfalls of being so old. My throat gets very dry.’

‘That’s okay, Corvina. I can’t stay long. Meetings all day. What’s the latest on your problem?’

Morana took her seat at the head of the table. The small man sat at her right. He took out a notepad, ink pot and quill from his tatty leather satchel and placed them on the table.

‘It’s not just Corvina’s problem,’ said the man who had been introduced as Marcus.

‘I agree,’ said Febris. She stuck her finger in the air as if she was going to say something else but then began a coughing fit. Everyone ignored her.

‘There have been no death’s in England for sixty-seven -‘

‘Nearly sixty-eight,’ interrupted the blonde woman, looking at the giant watch on her wrist. It looked to Joe like it belonged in a museum.

‘Nearly sixty-eight days,’ finished Mrs Crow.

Joe noticed the small man to the right of the blonde woman was scribbling notes furiously on his pad as everyone spoke.

‘And what do you intend to do about it?’

‘Well, I asked my sister to attend this meeting but, as you can see,’ said Mrs Crow, pointing to the only vacant seat around the table, ‘she hasn’t taken me up on the offer.’

Morana placed her pale hand up to her face and gave a short, fake cough. ‘Forgive me, Corvina, I don’t seem to quite understand. You asked the woman, your sister, the person who has stolen your scythe to come to this meeting, in the hopes of achieving what exactly?’

‘Well,’ said Mrs Crow, leaning forward in her chair, her hands still tightly clenched around the arms of her chair, ‘it wasn’t to offer her tea and biscuits. I was going to fucking stab the bitch.’

Everything went quiet.  The little man beside Morana dropped his quill on the table, sending ink splattering across the table. Mr Crow coughed to break the uncomfortable silence.

‘I hope you’re going to clean that up!’ said Mrs Crow.

‘Let me get this right. You were going to stab your sister?’

‘Yes. Well, not me, Marcus was going to do it for me.’ Everyone in the room turned to look at Marcus who nodded and moved his jacket to the side to reveal a dagger attached by a belt to his waist.

‘Okayyy. But how would that get the scythe back?’

‘I was going to send Joe,’ she said, flicking her head in Joe’s direction, ‘once the bitch was dead.’

Suddenly everyone looked at Joe. Joe turned red.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Twenty

Just a short one today. It felt like a good place to stop because I’ve had an idea about what happens next and I think it needs to be in its own section.


Ten minutes after leaving his house, Joe was walking towards Crow’s Funeral Home with a tiny bag of belongings, his loyal dog and the clothes on his back.

He really hoped that Mrs Crow didn’t have another one of her turns. Not now. Not in front of everyone on the high street. That would be really embarrassing and well, awkward.

‘What changed?’ he asked, finally, hoping to keep her awake long enough to get her to the home. He wanted the job. He really did but going from a week’s trial to nothing? What was that all about? And what exactly did she mean about being desperate?

‘What do you mean?’ she replied, coming to a standstill in the middle of the very busy path. A guy with a crew cut and a large bulldog tattoo on his neck skidded to a halt to avoid bowling her over. He tutted before moving away.

‘Prick!’ she shouted, showing the middle finger to his back.

Joe felt strangely unwell. No, maybe not unwell, unnerved was probably a better description. The past two days had been rather surreal and he was beginning to wonder if he was, in fact, going a little crazy.

‘Well,’ he said, trying to gain his composure, ‘you said I needed to have a trial and now you’re just giving me the job? What’s changed? It’s not like I’ve done anything to impress you, is it?’

She stared him, eyes narrowed and shrugged. ‘Like I said, we’re desperate. Now, are you going to stand there whining like a little child, or, are you coming?’ She spun on her heels and raced off towards the home.