Last month many professional book reviewers responded to an essay that was mourning the loss of 'true' book reviewing and criticism...

Last month many professional book reviewers responded to an essay that was mourning the loss of 'true' book reviewing and criticism. An interesting idea came up in many of them: so many books, so little time and space. In conventional media like newspapers, book columns are being cut down and so editors are more likely to promote and recommend books than say, review ones they didn't enjoy. Why? Because people would rather hear someone gush over a book than say it was mediocre.

I'm sure that, like me, many of you are not journalists or column writers. But the article stirred an interesting question: with so little time these days, and so many books out there, do negative book reviews still have their place?



Against Negative Reviews

I'll confess: Bookstagram and Goodreads are practically the sole places from which I take book recommendations these days. Hype for upcoming books, particularly in YA, abounds on these platforms, and it's so much fun to join in on loving books with other readers. But it's not all rainbows and sunshine. I've quickly skimmed down to check the release date of a book on Goodreads, and come face to face with a one star review cursing at everything in the book. With several hundred likes and comments.

I'm immediately put off. Maybe not intentionally, but being confronted with a review like that makes me more wary to pick it up, and has made me unclick my own 'want to read' in the past. This is the danger of negative reviews: they can turn people away from a book in droves before they've even read a single line, and often do.

Additionally, as I said before, I go to these platforms for recommendations. I would much rather have my feed filled with people yelling "This book is incredible, read it!" rather than "This was awful and problematic and the worst ever!". It makes the community feel angry and not like the safe refuge I know it to be.



In Defense of Negative Reviews

As much as I like recommendations, not every book is great, I understand that. This world is more chaotic in its expectations and the expectations we put on ourselves than ever before, meaning time for reading is often limited. This means I'm very selective with my books; I'd rather read the ones that have a good chance of becoming my next favourite than ones which will simply disappoint me. Of course, it's impossible to avoid that chance completely, but I think we all try our best.

Negative reviews can help signal whether or not a book is for you and your tastes. Perhaps the reviewer said they found the romance too strong for their liking; but you're a romance fan, and so the book seems even more exciting! Reviews are, at their heart, an expression of whether a book met, surpassed, or fell short of a reader's expectations. This makes all reviews important, as they can help you decide whether or not you think yours will be met.

All this being said, I believe that there is a certain way to put a negative review out there, if you have such feelings. Swearing at the author, the book, at all those involved and insulting them is not appropriate. Neither is making fun of the people who may have enjoyed the book. There is definitely a way to express thoughts on a book in a manner that clearly outlines your thoughts without getting personal; these reviews are far more sophisticated, and I guarantee, will make people respect your opinion more, not less.


Negative, or Honest? 

Most of this post has compared negative reviews and hype (which is often the combination of positive reviews), but what about the ones in the middle? The three star reviews? I think they also have their place. Perhaps we shouldn't be asking ourselves whether a review is negative or positive, but rather, is it honest? Are we writing what we truly felt and thought respectfully, whether that be with enthusiasm or with disappointment? 

At the end of the day, you are allowed to have an opinion on the books you read, and are absolutely allowed to express it. All reviews, whether negative, positive, or something inbetween, allow readers to decide if a book is worth investing in. I believe that each type of review has its own unique power, and its own rightful place in the book community.


What do you think about negative reviews, are they worthwhile? Should we aim to get rid of them? How do reviews in general influence your book-buying habits?
Have a wonderful day! <3

Last weekend I had the great privilege to be able to attend a two-day course called 'Publishing Essentials'. Over eight different pr...

Last weekend I had the great privilege to be able to attend a two-day course called 'Publishing Essentials'. Over eight different professionals in the publishing industry came and talked to us about the state of the industry, what the process of being traditionally published looks like, and how books get into bookstores. 

I took enough notes to make a novel, and since some of you might not have the opportunity to attend a similar course, I thought I'd share some gold nuggets with you all! (But if you're in Sydney, check out Writing NSW!) Even if you don't plan to go the traditional route with publishing, I learnt some fascinating info about how books are made, distributed, and bought, so I hope there's something that you can take away.



Here was the overall message of the course: It depends.

It depends whether or not that editor will like your book. It depends if you need a lot of social media followers. It depends whether or not an agent will ask for a full manuscript request. There is no one path into the publishing industry, and no set formula on how to be published. You make your own path, which is a combination of craft, skill, timing, and what others are looking for.


Agents

The wonderful agent Tara explained what an agent's job is, and why you need one. She asked one of her authors why she thought an agent was essential, and there were four main points: 1) An agent will get you read and considered by an editor. 2) Your agent can act as a buffer between you and your editor, helping keep the relationship healthy while any problems are discussed. 3) Agents understand the market and its history. 4) Agents provide editorial and mental support.

A key point that she and several other professionals brought up, was voice. Voice is what makes a submission stand out; ideas are cheap and everyone has them, but if you can execute it well and have a voice that speaks to readers, then you are well on track.



Inside the Publishing House

I won't cover too much here as a lot of information can be learnt by research, and the focus was on the Australian publishing industry (similar in many ways, but the titles for jobs are different, so I've modified them in this post to make sense to non-Australians). What doesn't change between countries and markets is that you don't only have to win over your editor to get your book published.

Your editor is your book's champion. The real currency in publishing houses is enthusiasm---the more your editor can build for your book in-house, the higher the chances of your book's success. An editor needs to convince, before your book is acquired, a whole lot of departments that your book is a good investment. Publishing houses often don't make a lot of money from debuts, for example; they are making an investment which they won't see the return on or lack of it for several years.

This is where comps, or comparison titles, really come in. Those in the industry are greatly pressed for time, and won't have enough hours in the day to read every book they're considering acquiring, especially in non-editorial roles. Comp titles give publishers an idea of where your book fits in the market, and how well it will sell. Never use a big hit like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games as a comp title; relatively successful books are much more helpful. Though it's tricky to pry your book away from thinking about its originality, it is possible. To paraphrase the editor who came in to talk with us, Alex, "If you can't say where (your book) fits in the marketplace, you don't read."

Another quick note is to never pitch seasonally or to trends. By the time you've written one to a trend or specific event, and submitted it, it will either likely have passed or will be extremely outdated when a publisher puts it out. Write for you and your audience.


Cover Design

It's hard to share all the amazing examples Hazel gave without her powerpoint (she's designed some beautiful covers, like 'The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart') but she did share some fun tips. Firstly, there is no formula to a good cover. The most important aspects of a cover are: it needs to read clearly even from a distance, be legible, and has to work on both a screen and in a bookstore. Covers should also have a strong concept, so they're identifiable, and have a balance between aesthetic and functional.

Something important to note is that no, a lot of times writers do not have a say in their covers. As Hazel explained, this is not because publishing houses want to make your life stressful, but because they understand what makes a book sell and the market. Publishers will never want to give your book a cover you hate, and will definitely try and change it if that's the case, but they do have the final say.

She also gave a run-down on how to brief a freelance designer on what you want in a book cover, so if you'd like me to send those tips to you, let me know in the comments!



How Books Get into Bookstores

The fiction book buyer for one of Australia's biggest independent bookstores came in and walked us through what her job looks like. Michelle's responsible for choosing which books, from the large catalogues publishers give her, to put on the physical bookshelves of her bookstores. She sees 2000 new books every month. 2000. There is a lot of competition, and Michelle buys first and foremost the books she knows her bookstores' customers will either expect to see on their shelves (due to publishing houses' big marketing campaigns), or enjoy.

Indie bookstores have 'sale-or-return' deals with publishing houses. This means that they order books in, and if they don't sell (this can be between a period of three months or up to a year in some cases), bookstores can return books to the publishers for free. Online bookstores are the exception; they have greater warehouses, so often buy the books straight up, and aren't worried about selling them in a certain timeframe.


Marketing and Publicity

The campaign manager who came in to talk with us primarily works with non-fiction, but she did share some interesting tips on social media presence. Namely that always, always put engagement before followers. Publishers aren't as concerned with numbers on social media as everyone thinks; they'd rather you have a dedicated and engaged audience (though numbers are handy too). Additionally, have a goal for your social media, and make sure everything you do on it works towards that goal. Keep things positive and encourage other writers!

Marketing begins before publicity, usually around 6 to 9 months before the book comes out. This might take the shape of promotional materials being sent to bookstores, for example. Don't be afraid to ask your campaign manager or marketing team what their plan is, build a relationship with them, and be open to trying new ideas. Go in assuming the best; they want your book to sell, just like you do.



My Key Take-Away

Meeting lots of professionals in the industry, despite the reality we were told of how hard it is to get a book published, confirmed that I'd like to take the traditional publishing route. Some indie authors talk about how they go indie because they want total control -- and that's fine! But I feel that sometimes underlying that statement people are saying that the publishing industry doesn't have your back.

Some authors have had negative experiences with publishing houses, I understand that, but publishers have the same goal we do: they want to sell books. Good books that they believe in, and that readers will love. If that means losing some control, such as not having a hand in the cover, then I'll willingly hand it over to be able to reach more readers. The thought of publishing being collaborative and a partnership excites me!



Whew! There's a lot of info here, but I hope you enjoyed this compressed version of my notes, and took a few golden nuggets from it! Was there anything that surprised you? Anything that didn't? Are you planning on going traditional or indie?
Best wishes with your publishing journey! <3 

It's been awhile since I last joined in a link-up, so I'm very excited that a new The Language of Worlds is up! The lovely Liv creat...

It's been awhile since I last joined in a link-up, so I'm very excited that a new The Language of Worlds is up! The lovely Liv created it to help connect writers across the blogosphere, and to give everyone a space to share about their writing and characters.



Right now I'm in the thick of final edits for Blood Like Gold, so I'll be answering the questions for its protagonist today. If you're scratching your head wondering where on earth that project came from, don't doubt your memory, I have indeed changed the name of Golden Revenge, though why is a topic for another post... For those of you who haven't met her yet, please allow me to introduce Princess Mida Zlato of Mohetania!

1. Your character goes on a leisurely stroll. Where to?

Well, to quote Mida herself: "She supposed it would have been a nice place for a quick stroll, had she been fond of pointless walking."

Mida doesn't do leisurely strolls. She moves from place to place like a lightning bolt on a mission.

2. What's their favorite food? Why? What does it taste like?

She will devour anything with honey on it. Apart from its sweetness and texture, she loves how honey can make any boring pastry or porridge seem rich and flavoursome. She's fairly convinced bees are magical creatures because of it.



3. Describe their typical day.

Mida will usually spar with her brothers in the morning, or occasionally at midday should one of them have more urgent business, then go have a bath in the Royal Baths. After that she spends most of her day in her office, reading reports that come in from nobles and farmers throughout the country, and she'll send on anything of concern to her eldest brother Kyrone or her father. 

Usually by that time it will be dinner, and if her father hasn't set up a feast of some kind, then there'll be a dance or party. This is Mida's least favourite time of day, especially if she has to entertain guests with her golden curse.

4. When are they most productive? Morning, evening, or sometime in-between?

She's a late morning/afternoon worker. It's when her brain seems to click into gear and helps her get through a variety of dry reports.

5. Who are they closest to?

Her brothers, though she's close to each in a different way. Kyrone is her protector, Anton is the one who wouldn't leave her in her darkest week, and Mida is her little brother Samuil's protector. If you harm her brothers, rest assured, Mida will find a way to make your life a wastepit. They're her everything, and with them, she feels whole.



6. Have they ever lost someone close to them?

Her mother died giving birth to Samuil, so Mida lost her when she was six. It makes her heart ache that she can't remember much of her mother, other than a few memories of her painting landscapes.

7. Describe their education.

Mida is highly educated. She was taught by the most prestigious tutors alongside her brothers, and she has a special knack for economics and trade, though she doesn't particularly enjoy calculating numbers. She's also been taught how to dance, but for your health's sake it's better not to ask her to.

8. What is their talent?

A sharp tongue and a shrewd mind (it's two but shhh they're related). Though sometimes both these things backfire on her.

9. When do they doubt themself? What makes them do so?

Mida is usually fairly confident in her work and judgements, but she does struggle with knowing who to trust. She's had a lot of people attempt to befriend her so they can access her golden curse, and so she doubts others a lot as well as what she's worth. 



10. When do they feel most comfortable/cozy?

I can't picture Mida every feeling 'cozy', but she does feel most at peace in the Royal Baths. There's something about the solitude and quiet lapping of water mixed with the distant rumble of ocean that relaxes her soul.



Tell me about one of your characters! What talent do they have? Do they go on leisurely strolls or do they despise them as Mida does? What do you think of my WIP's new title, Blood Like Gold?
Have a wonderful day! <3 

One of the greatest challenges I have when starting a new story, is deciding who is going to be a point-of-view character (POV). It can be l...

One of the greatest challenges I have when starting a new story, is deciding who is going to be a point-of-view character (POV). It can be like chasing after a needle in the haystack. Do I choose the royal? The scientist? The little girl? Or maybe the father? Could I write all of their POVs somehow??

Whose POV you use will dramatically alter not only which story you tell, but how you tell it. Readers tend to bond more strongly to the POV character than any others. The themes you explore, the plot points, how involved your character is in the action, are all altered by the POV.


So how do you decide which character is the best POV for your story? No matter if you plan to have one POV or four, you need to weigh up each one carefully. Before I start writing my first drafts, I usually change my POVs at least twice as my story ideas grow. Here are some of the questions I ask myself to critically consider whether my current POV is the right one:

1) Does this character have a goal? What motivates them? How will their desire or goal drive the story forward?

2) What does this character fear? Will this fear be a stumbling block for them and possibly others, or will it change nothing?

3) How active will this character be? Are they altering events and changing the plot, or will they be a passive by-stander? Are they the observer, or worth being observed?

4) Why do I want this character to be my POV? Do I connect with their personality, their work, their morals, or something else? Do I think that they're in an interesting position?



5) Would my readers enjoy reading about this character? Are they sympathetic, interesting, relatable, or funny? What about this character will keep my reader turning pages and wanting to spend more time with them?

6) Are the stakes high enough for this character to be a POV? If they fail in their goal or don't get what they desire, what will be the impact? Will their failure affect others as well as themselves?

7) What internal journey will this character go on? Will they change, for better or for worse? How will their internal journey change those around them?

8) Will this character's story link to the overall story's plot? Does it add anything, or will it detract from the larger problems and ideas at hand?

9) Is the character's internal or external conflict large enough to merit a POV? Why should they get it, and not the character next to them?

10) How much depth does this character's backstory have? Is their past fleshed out enough, complete with secrets, dreams, and fears, to make them a worthwhile character to follow in the present?



11) What would the story lose if this character wasn't a POV? Would it lose anything, or would it still have the same value? Or would having this character as a POV show a different side of the story and add to other characters' depth?

12) Does the character have a strong enough voice? What about the way they see the world, talk, and think is different to any other character? Will readers be able to easily see the difference between their voice and other POVs'?

13) Would this character be considered the main character? If not, why not? What about them makes them seem less likely to be the focus of the story? Is it the role they play?

14) Does enough happen to this character, or does the character take enough action to be able to create enough scenes for a POV? Or is there only really enough for one or two scenes?

As you can see from all these questions, you need to make every possible POV fight for their place. There has to be a reason why you choose them as a POV, and they need to contribute something to the story that no other character can!


More in the 'Questions to Ask When...' Series
Cities      History      Celebrations      Magic
Characters (Backstory, and Interview)
Schools      Monarchies      Religion (Part 1 and Part 2)     

How do you go about choosing your POVs? Does it come naturally to you, or do you struggle to decide like I do? How many POVs do your stories usually have?
Have a wonderful day!

I'm convinced that time isn't frequent, and jolts between fast and slow depending on its moods. On one hand I feel like I just wrote...

I'm convinced that time isn't frequent, and jolts between fast and slow depending on its moods. On one hand I feel like I just wrote my first installment in 'Behind the Pen', where I share everything from my reading to writing to life happenings, but on the other hand it feels like years. Regardless, I'm back with my second edition!



Cliche though it may be, a lot has happened since I last let you have a sneak peek behind the pen, so let's get to it!



Here are some things I'm grateful for this month:

- The discovery of amazingly helpful podcasts that have helped my writing grow (So You Want to Be a Writer, Ink and Feather Podcast), as well as my old favourite The Creative Penn that combines business and writing advice.

- On the note of podcasts, the Bible Project podcast and all their other resources that have prompted me to explore the Bible deeply and with joy.

- God's provision in countless ways, including finances

- My garden, where I can relax and connect with His creations through caring for them. (I'm also thankful the house plants have survived so far)


Recent Reads:
Dance of Thieves by Mary E Pearson: I WILL SCREAM ABOUT THIS BOOK FOREVER. It is probably one of my all time favourites. It's a stunning blend of complex worldbuilding, character dynamics that made me breathless, a tightly woven and intricate plot with suspense, and a gorgeous interweaving of theme. Though it's a spin off from the Remnant Chronicles (which are amazing in themselves) you can definitely read this as a standalone. Go read it. You will not regret it. 

The Lost Man by Jane Harper: I never thought I would say this, but I read an adult thriller book. Shocked? Me too. But I was really, really pleasantly surprised. The book captures the Australian landscape and is a masterpiece of family dynamics and how the past comes back to haunt us.

Once and Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy: *shuffles awkwardly* I... didn't enjoy this one. I couldn't connect to any of the characters, the content was questionable, and apart from the odd moment the pacing felt disjointed and the plot jerky.

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte: a fun and twisty murder mystery set in a fantasy world! It was a wild ride and the twist caught me unawares at the end which was brilliant. The world, while not as detailed as I maybe would have liked, was interesting and had lots of intriguing concepts.

Current Read:
Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: I'm about halfway through this power writing duo's latest book! While initially it didn't grab me as much as Illuminae, things are picking up and the mystery is now gluing me to the pages. Excited to see where this one goes!



Since I last typed into this section, I've officially finished the first draft of my portal fantasy Call of the Vanished! It ended up being 120K, which was more than anticipated, but I am in love with its ending and characters. If it's possible to have story hangover, I did, because for a few days after finishing all I wanted to do was stay in the storyworld, not any other. Drafting it was a struggle in the early months, but through April and half of May I managed to churn out about 80K of it. 

Now that that first draft is done and resting, I'm back to Golden Revenge! My editor Audrey Caylin sent back her thoughts and I am so grateful for the things she pointed out. The changes will strengthen the story greatly and her help was invaluable. After those edits, it will be line editing and then... maybe querying? I say that tentatively because I don't want to rush it, so we'll see how we go!



A testimony to how cruel I am to my characters in Call of the Vanished:


Everything hurt.
There was no other way to put it, no way Vaara could catalogue the pains and burns, the aches and bleeds, the scratches and tears, and distinguish them from one another. The thumping headache could be from being slammed by Emek, or lack of sleep, or panic. The fist around her heart could be that every step further, she left behind all she knew. Or maybe it was a reminder of the blood. Everywhere.

And a snippet from Golden Revenge:


Breakfast layered the arched table, crisp golden pastries stacked upon porcelain plates. Ebony bowls boasted smooth, sour yoghurt to be spread. A bowl of nutty porridge was set down before each of them, and Mida drowned hers with honey.
Like most family breakfasts, everyone stuck to their script, as if they were play actors. Her father boomed out his latest plan to increase taxes. Kyrone frowned at this proposal and began referencing the treasury accounts, until the king cut him off and started planning his next party. Samuil made his usual unrelated commentary on a long finished battle, and Anton ate slowly in thick silence, watching the Breakfast Room’s mosaic doors, expecting the magician to arrive.
Mida? She ate. It was the point of breakfast, after all.



My last couple of months have been mostly busy with starting my university classes, working, reading on the train, and writing. I was worried I wouldn't like the flexible structure of uni, but I'm actually quite enjoying it! I'm learning a lot in my classes too, which is fantastic. The workload has pushed me to find different times for writing, but I manage to squeeze in at least an hour every day.

Apart from that, nothing too exciting has been happening! There'll be more to report when I attend a few courses/festivals next month.



Tell me about your life behind the pen! What are you reading at the moment? Do you have any recommendations for me? How is your writing going? What are you grateful for this month?
Have a wonderful day! <3