Why authors shouldn’t read reviews – and why we do

On Goodreads, all reviews 3 stars and over are considered positive. Goodreads will even tell you what percentage of readers liked your book. At the moment, 93% of people ‘like’ One Summer in Santorini.

Overview of reviews

Or, to look at it another way, 7% of people disliked or even hated my book.

One review was so scathing, I followed the breadcrumbs to the reader’s blog and she’d posted ‘Ten Reasons I Hated This Book’. Of course, I read them – all of them. Some reasons had me wondering why she’d picked up the book in the first place – she hates love triangles, for instance and the blurb mentions the love triangle. Other reasons indicated that she hadn’t actually read the book – which was confirmed at the end when she wrote ‘I skim read most of it.’

The thing was, the book didn’t engage her enough for her to actually read it – and that’s okay. Sarah, a protagonist who is very like I was at her age, is not for everyone – just like I wasn’t, just like I am not everyone’s cup of tea now. And that’s okay.

Some 3-star reviews rave about the book, which indicates that for those readers, 3 stars is high praise. Thank you, readers.

I’ve read reviews where the reader is cross about the ending (no spoilers). I’d love to reply that it is slice of life – just that moment in time – and that I’ve written two follow-ups (one a direct sequel), which will be published in 2020.

Replying to reviews is, however, a no-no.

So, why do I read reviews at all?

Simply, because the good ones feel amazing – validation that the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours I spent in isolation getting the story down and honing it, were worth it.

I’ve read reviews where the reader says how much the theme of the book – falling back in love with life – resonated with them, and that they want a bigger life, just like Sarah. That means so much to me. I also love hearing that the book is a ‘fun beach read’, because that’s one of the genres I love reading, too.

So, no, authors probably shouldn’t read reviews – or at least, we shouldn’t obsess over the ‘bad reviews’. But as long as we go into it knowing that our book will not be for everyone – that some people will find it boring, or the protagonist annoying, or the ending frustrating – then we can take the bad ones with a grain of salt. Because for some readers, our book will brighten their day.

 

 

 

Inspiration for a Plantser

Many authors identify as either plotter, someone who plans the whole plot and all the details before they start writing, or a pantser, someone who flies by the seat of their pants.

I am a proud plantser, so somewhere in between. This means I have a general idea of where the story goes, writing out general plot ideas before I start, but I’m often surprised by my characters.

I tend to scribble notes as I write, reminding myself that the love interest has green eyes and what his middle name is. The scribbles become my ‘bible’ so that I can edit for continuity. K.M. Allan blogged about creating a series bible, but I recommend creating one even for stand-alones, especially if you’re a plantser like me.

Another thing I’ll do before I start is to choose the setting. Setting is extremely important to my writing, almost becoming a supporting character, and I only write about places I’ve been to and know. Yes, I still have to research. I’ll look back over my photos and read my travel diaries and blog posts, and I become a Google savant. For the book I’m currently writing, I’ve been on Google street view, travelling down the roads in the tiny Oxfordshire village my aunt lives in – just to get the details right.

The last thing I always do before I start writing is ‘cast’ my book – always the main character and the love interest, and sometimes supporting characters. This makes it so much easier to write, because I just imagine them in those places and sometimes whole scenes will play out in my head before I write them down. Actions become easier to write when I have the setting and the characters visually locked down.

So, I thought I would share some of my casts – just for fun.

One Summer in Santorini (and the sequel, One Summer in Love): Sarah, James and Josh

My next book, That Night in ParisCat (Sarah’s sister) and Jean-Luc

My work-in-progress is a Christmas book about three childhood friends from Australia, Colorado and the UK: Lucy and Will; Lauren and Matt; and Lisa and Archer

And the next next book is set in Bali and Scotland

Jaelee and Alistair

So, there’s a little of my plantser inspiration for you…

Hunger by Laura McKendrick

This weekend I am honoured to be able to share a beautifully-written short story by a fellow romance author, Laura McKendrick, who also writes under the name of Eilidh Lawrence.

Author bio

I am an aspiring romance author, songwriter and contributor to the Pink Heart Society (PHS) e-zine. I was a co-founder of #UKRomChat, a weekly live Twitter chat for romance writers, and co-hosted the chat for its first year. In 2018 I finalled in the TARA and WisRWA Fab Five romance writing contests. I’m a former prosecutor and hold a Diploma in Forensic Medical Sciences, but, no, I would not rather be writing crime! I’m all about happy-ever-afters.

Laura 2

 

She recently entered the (UK) Woman’s Weekly Fiction Short Story Competition, which was co-sponsored by Mills and Boon and she was one of the runners up with her story, Hunger. I loved it and wanted to share it with you.

Hunger by Laura McKendrick

Laura1
Image by Alan Poulson Photography

The Oregon Trail, near Fort Hall, Idaho, 1849

“Your cooking smells of home.”

The unfamiliar voice drew Órlaith’s attention from the pot where she stewed elk over an open fire. It took a moment for her to realise the man had spoken in Gaedhilge. Shadows danced across his gaunt face. A face she didn’t know.

“I’m Liam.” He bent closer, offering his hand. “From Donegal.” His fingers were long, his grip firm. His dark hair contrasted with his pale skin.

“You’ve the charm of an Irishman, to be sure,” she replied in English. They were in America now. “But we both know half the women in this camp are stewing game tonight. It was a good day for the hunting.”

He laughed, a sound she didn’t hear so much these days.

“Well, there’s none cooking it as well as you.”

A charmer indeed.

She returned her focus to the stew. The scent of wild garlic mingled with the ever-present woody, smoky smell that had clung to her hair and dust-coated clothes for months now.

“It really does smell good.” He hesitated. “Can I buy some?”

She studied him. “I’ve not seen you before.”

“No. We joined you today. My boy was exhausted. We rested, the two of us. Our party went on.” He shrugged. “That’s how it goes.”

“Your boy?” There were so many children on this wretched journey. “How old is he?”

“Danny’s but four years.”

“You both must eat with us. As our guests. No charge.”

“Us?”

“My brother Ruaidhrí and I.” She paused. “We’re all that’s left that were still in Ireland. And there’s my babby, Hope. She’s asleep.” Órlaith nodded towards their canvas-covered prairie schooner. The wagon was the closest thing to home little Hope had experienced so far in her hard, infant life.

“I’m sorry.” A respectful silence hung in the air. The clicking of the cicadas seemed clearer. Then he smiled. “Hope’s a pretty name.”

“Will you sit?” she invited, and he did. “I always wanted a baby girl called Caoimhe. But then I had Hope on the crossing. A babby born on the Western Ocean. Who would’ve thought? We were bound for America. Caoimhe seemed too…”

“Irish.”

A moment of understanding passed between them.

“Yes.”

“And what do they call you?”

“Órlaith.”

“Was it The Hunger took your people, Órlaith?”

“Disease.”

The fire crackled.

“I see.” A horse whinnied, and he turned towards the sound. When his face returned to Órlaith, she saw sincerity etched across his strong features. “My Nancy, she made it through the workhouse. Made it through near-starvation. Made it through the crossing. But she didn’t make it beyond Boston.” A single shake of his head conveyed loss and disbelief. “Cholera. Little Molly too. Buried three thousand miles from home.”

He did see.

“We none of us would’ve expected this, when we were young. This loss.” She picked up a stick and poked the fire. It sparked. “My sister and her husband left in ’44. Went to Oregon to farm. I could never leave, that’s what I thought then. But when my husband Ciarán and my parents died everything became so bleak. It didn’t seem like life would ever get better.”

A dark time. It wasn’t the smoke that caused tears to well in the corners of her eyes.

“There’s such misery in our country,” she continued, a catch in her throat. Their eyes met. Her pain was reflected in his. “That’s when Mary finally convinced us to come join them. My brother-in-law arranged it all. It was a good boat, at least. We were lucky.”

He looked away from her and tugged at the left cuff of his worn shirt. Had he not been on a good boat? She knew of the coffin ships and thanked God she hadn’t given birth in those squalid conditions.

From behind them, Ruaidhrí coughed. “I see you’ve met our new friend.”

She hadn’t noticed her brother’s return.

Ruaidhrí stepped from the edge of the fire’s light and slapped Liam on the back. He made friends easily, always had done.

“Well, I’ll get back to my boy.” Liam stood. “We’ll take you up on your dinner offer.” He glanced at Ruaidhrí. “If your brother doesn’t mind.”

Ruaidhri grinned. “The more the merrier.”

She was in dire need of merriment.

“You’re both very kind.” Liam lingered. “And Órlaith, perhaps later, I might have a dance?”

She looked at the Irishman, tall, not yet old, a survivor. But gentle too, and familiar. Like home. She smiled. “That’d be grand.”

The flames between them flickered and leapt.

 

How to create a book #blogtour

Summer-in-Santorini-BT - Updated

Today is the last day of the book blog tour for One Summer in Santorini, and it has been a blast. I first learned about BBTs last year when I was an indie author and I knew I wanted one for my first novel with HarperCollins.

My agent, Lina Langlee, was across BBTs from her experience in the world of publishing-marketing, and she helped by walking me through critical steps. Once I told my publisher I was working on a BBT, they reached out to bloggers they work with regularly – and they created the banner above.

I had support and I learned a lot, so I wanted to share what I learned. Whether you are an indie author or are being published by a publishing house, a BBT will require a lot of hard work and dedication from you. But I think this it is worth it. I think it helped me reach a larger readership.

WARNING: This is a really long post – but it includes everything I learned. Here’s what to do, including step-by-step instructions.

Plan ahead. A book blog tour takes time to set up. Give yourself a minimum of three months, two if you are extremely efficient and you already have a strong network of bloggers and fellow authors.

Read (blogs) widely. If you want to create a fabulous book blog tour, start by reading book blogs. Ask readers and authors in your genre who their favourite book bloggers are. When you find one whose style you like the look of, follow them on social media and see which book blogs they read. You are building a wishlist.

Be an active online community member. Subscribe to your wishlist book bloggers’ sites. Follow them on social media, respond to their content, and share it. There are many terrific book bloggers – people who genuinely love books and who are creative in how they support the author community. Support their work.

Be a supportive member of the writing community. This has to come from a genuine place. Seek out other authors in your genre, or who share a common connection. While I am connected with many romance authors through our writing community, I am also connected with authors in other genres through the Australian writers’ community, through my agency, and through my publisher.

Many authors (like me) blog. If you like an author’s books, subscribe to their blog. There are hundreds of Facebook groups and Twitter communities for authors. Find your tribe and participate. Offer support, even if it’s just a well-time tweet. If you have a special skill related to the profession, offer to help. Be a beta reader, edit a blurb, connect an author friend with a graphic artist friend.

You will grow a professional network and it’s very likely you will make friends. I have dear friends whom I’ve only engaged with online.

And when it comes time to create a blog tour, you can ask authors who blog to join in.

Think outside the box. Not every post on a book blog tour must be a review. Once you’ve created your wishlist of bloggers and authors, make note of those who also post interviews, ‘share a scene’ posts, essays on writing, or other innovative ways to engage your readers.

On my recent blog tour for One Summer In Santorini, fellow author Belinda Missen challenged me to describe the perfect Greek dinner party. That post was a blast to write.

It may be easier to get people commit to the tour, if you are doing the heavy lifting with regards to content. For my recent blog tour, I wrote nine different pieces.

The practical stuff for a DIY blog tour

  1. Create a spreadsheet for your wishlist (Excel or Google Sheets will work) and include:
    • The name of the blog
    • The URL (web address) – make it a link
    • The name of the blogger/author
    • Their email address or a link to the contact page of the blog
    • Any other information that may be useful when you contact them
    • Columns for tracking data: date email sent; date of reply; format of blog post, etc.
  2. Write your reach out emails (the templates). You will want slightly different versions for bloggers and authors. The emails should be friendly, clear, and succinct:
    • If you are not yet connected with the person, introduce yourself and explain why you’d be thrilled/honoured to have them be part of the tour
    • Give a brief synopsis of your book
    • Give the proposed date range for the tour
    • Be explicit about the type of post you’d like and if you’re offering to create the content for non-reviews
    • Ask them to RSVP before a particular date, so you can start assembling the tour
    • Link to your website or most public social media profile(s) – they may want to see how much reach you have
    • Edit your reach out emails and get feedback if you need to
  3. Carefully send the reach out emails:
    • Ensure that each one is addressed to – and is specific to – the person you are emailing
  4. Wait:
    • As you receive responses:
      • Reply with a thank you (for every response – even ‘no’)
      • Update your spreadsheet
      • If it is a yes, mention you will be in touch soon with more information
    • When you’re close to the deadline, send a quick follow-up to any non-responders
  5. Schedule the blog tour:
    • Use a tool such as Doodle (free to use)
    • Set the date range
    • In the settings, limit to one or two blog posts per day
    • Send a notification email (through the tool) to all bloggers/authors who said ‘yes’ – include a ‘due date’ and follow up as you get closer to it
    • As people respond, update the spreadsheet with the dates for each blog post
      • Note if you need to create content and set up calendar reminders
      • Most bloggers and authors will tell you in their email what they require from you – if not, ask
    • Email each blogger/author to confirm their date for the tour
  6. Prepare assets and content:
    • Book Blog Tour Banner
        • If you have a publisher, send them a succinct spreadsheet with the book bloggers/authors (often their Twitter handle or website address) and dates
          • Ask them to create a blog tour banner
        • If you don’t have a publisher, you will want to create a banner with the book cover, blogs and dates. Search online for what these look like.
        • Triple check the names, dates and other information on the banner
    • Author photo (high resolution), book cover (high resolution), book blurb, buy links, your social media links, and any other ‘assets’ you have been asked for
    • Write content you have promised or answer interview questions
  7. Email the blog tour participants individually and send assets (and content)
    • Give them as much notice as possible
    • Refer to the spreadsheet and previous email exchanges to ensure you are sending each person exactly what they need/have asked for
  8. Count down to the blog tour on social media to generate hype – tag the participants
  9. Once it starts:
    • Post your blog tour banner each day of the tour, tagging that days’ blogger(s) and thanking them for participating
    • Like and share their social media posts
    • Save the links to their blog posts about your book
    • Grab quotes from their posts and use these to reshare their posts on social media
    • Comment on their blog post with a thank you
    • Loop back to previous posts and share these, tagging the blogger
  10. When it is over
    • Send a thank you to all the participants
    • Collapse in an exhausted, but happy, heap

Where the winds take you

In 2016, Ben and I took another sailing trip around the Greek Islands. Here’s that tale.

Off the Beaten Track

A year ago, Ben and I were about to embark on a journey back to the Greek Islands, revisiting some of the places we discovered together in 2006 – when we met.

Our skipper from the sailing trip in ’06, Patrick, would be at the helm again. We’d get to see new places, we’d make new friends, and we’d celebrate a decade since we first met on the pier in Santorini.

This is about where the winds take you…

There’s something rather magical about going where the wind takes you, quite literally. The cares and stresses of everyday life ebb away, and the present becomes everything. Briny air, inky blue swells, and a wind that carries you and your fellow sailors to the next port. It’s freeing.

Seven people, one yacht, five Greek islands and one incredible week.

Group pic - sailing tripDay One

We meet with eager faces at the port of Vlychada…

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