Category Archives: Tips for Authors

Things I’ve Learned As A Writer–Reviews

Hey guys. I feel like I have been neglecting you as of late. It’s the job; it pretty much sucks away every waking second of my life. But tonight I have a moment, and I thought I would share something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I want to open a discussion on various things I’ve learned over the last year or so as a published author. It’s sort of amazing how much things change. Today’s topic–reviews.

What have I learned about reviews? Frankly, that I don’t know how to use them at all. I had always assumed that reviews would be really helpful in improving my writing. After all, if somebody doesn’t like what you do, you can improve it right? But it doesn’t actually work that way. The reality is that since writing is an art and not a science, reviews don’t really tell you anything other than some people like the book and some people don’t. Take these statements from a few different reviews of The Void.

Review #1

The characters are well-developed, complex, easy to identify with, and drive the plot admirably. (I appreciated the strong but still-human female captain in a sci-fi/horror thriller written with a depth far greater than usual … and enjoyed slowly uncovering the characters’ respective demons.)

Review #2

His characters parade by in a nameless, faceless row all in the same voice.

Review #3

The Void is one of the best horror novels that I’ve read this year, hands down. It is a vast improvement on That Which Should Not Be and firmly establishes Brett Talley as an author to watch out for in the future.

Review #4

The Void is hands down one of the most disappointing follow up novels I’ve read in a long time. That Which Should Not Be had great monsters, good and evil, and all the other dark, sinister elements Lovecraft was famous for in his day. The Void has none of that.

Seriously, what can you do with all that? These reviews aren’t just in conflict; they directly contradict one another. The lesson I’ve learned is that there’s not much constructive you can do with a review. Take the good and enjoy it. Leave the bad behind. Your sanity won’t survive otherwise.

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Interesting Kurt Vonnegut Quote

Now, I am not saying that I can write anything like Kurt Vonnegut; I can’t.  But people always ask me how I write, and this pretty much nails it.

It’s like making a movie: All sorts of accidental things will happen after you’ve set up the cameras. So you get lucky. Something will happen at the edge of the set and perhaps you start to go with that; you get some footage of that. You come into it accidentally. You set the story in motion and as you’re watching this thing begin, all these opportunities will show up. So, in order to exploit one thing or another, you may have to do research. You may have to find out more about Chinese immigrants, or you may have to find out about Halley’s Comet, or whatever, where you didn’t realize that you were going to have Chinese or Halley’s Comet in the story. So you do research on that, and it implies more, and the deeper you get into the story, the more it implies, the more suggestions it makes on the plot. Toward the end, the ending becomes inevitable.

—Kurt Vonnegut, November 1985

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When Reviews Go Bad: Handling the Dreaded One Star Review

I stumbled upon an interesting story that’s making the rounds of the interwebs today (h/t @Kara_Malinczak for sticking her leg out).  Basically, one of the more respected reviewers on Goodreads hammered a novel rather forcefully with a one star review.  The author and her agent flipped out, proceeding to bash the reviewer mercilessly on twitter and other social media (including posting anonymous criticism on the reviewer’s blog).  The whole sordid affair is cataloged on this blog.

I’m not so interested in discussing this particular event (the blog linked above does a fantastic job of laying it out), but it did make me think about how authors react to really bad reviews.  And by react, I mean over-react.  The thing is, if you write a book that’s worth anything, somebody’s going to hate it.  If they don’t, you’re doing something wrong.

Yes, the fact that you never "connected" with this book has to be because it sucks. After all, you ARE an English major.

As I’ve pointed out before, The Great Gatsby has over 30,000 one star reviews on Goodreads, and it’s probably the greatest book ever written.  (It has almost 200,000 five star reviews.  And yes, you can tell how smart you are by which side of that spectrum you find yourself).

For most authors though, it seems like that first one star review provokes an existential crisis.  Seriously, the next time you see a blog post entitled “Just Got My First One Star Review,” make sure you read it.  If it’s anything like I’ve seen, it will start off with an almost suicidal recital of the author’s day:

So I woke up today feeling pretty good, like maybe this would be the one where my life turned around.  I went downstairs, ate some toast and drank some orange juice.  I was feeling it, man.  The world was my oyster.  And then I opened my computer.

Dun dun dun.  Our intrepid author pulls up Goodreads and notices that his book’s overall rating has dropped precipitously.  And then he sees it.  What follows is something akin to the five stages of grief.  First is denial.  Maybe they didn’t mean to give my book one star. Maybe it was a mistake.  That doesn’t last long though.  I mean, the guy just called your title character a piece of cheap cardboard.  Anger though, that sticks around longer.

And you can understand why, right?  The fact is, most one star reviews are horribly written or contain absolutely no useful criticism.  I mean, if you spent a year working on a project and got this review, how would you feel?

There is really only one reason i didn`t make it through this book, the edditing.

Wouldn’t that just make you want to pull your hair out?  Other times, the reviewer has a secret agenda.  One of my friends received his only one star review after the book was nominated for an award.  Come to find out, the review was written by someone associated with an author my friend had beaten out.

Personally, I’ve only received a single one star review.  The review itself was almost apologetic, and really didn’t bother me.  In my view, it’s hard to get upset because someone doesn’t like your book.  To each his own, and all.  What bothers me is when people say things that are incorrect.  For instance, I had one guy criticize the book as “poorly researched” because a historical figure never would have written the kind of book I credit him with in my novel.  Only problem?  He actually wrote that book.  Had another guy who tried to criticize my use of Latin (nerd).  I was right and he was wrong, but there’s no real way to address his error.  The last thing you want to do is get into some sort of shouting match with a reviewer.

Which I suppose is the point of this post.  People are going to say some horrible things about your work.  It’s just gonna happen.  In the end, it really doesn’t matter and you can’t do anything about it even if it did.  Just let it go.  And the next time you write a murder scene, think of them.

They're coming for you, pwner37!


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A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: Ebooks and Free Books and Amazon Kindle, Oh My

Really interesting article.  I’ve been thinking about publishing some of my short stories for free on Amazon.  Free advertising and all.

A Newbie\’s Guide to Publishing: Ebooks and Free Books and Amazon Kindle, Oh My.

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The Hardest Part About Writing a Book–Marketing

Regulars to this site know that it’s an eclectic mix of Brett J. Talley self-advertisement, humor, music, and chronicle of my own journey into the bizarre world that is publication.  And man, do I learn something new every day about it.  I think most aspiring authors think if they can just get the book finished and get it published, then they are golden.  Fame and fortune await!  And that may very well be true if you are published by a major publisher like Random House.  (I don’t actually know what that’s like, but in my mind I imagine Random House editors feeding their authors grapes while reading them their latest glowing New York Times review).  But if you are an Indie or self-publisher, you know that getting the book on paper is just the first step.  Dreaded marketing then awaits.

After all, if nobody knows about your book, how can they decide to read it?  Oh but there are pitfalls, my friends.  Say, speaking hypothetically of course, you have a really well-reviewed book of Lovecraftian/Gothic horror.  Now, there are dozens of sites on the internet where lovers of such things gather.  So you show up at one of those sites.  “Hey guys!” you say.  “Just wanted you to know I wrote this book you might like.  Check out some of the reviews and see what you think.”  Seems perfectly reasonable, right?

The problem is, people really kind of hate that sort of thing.  The wheretos and the whyfors of that are complicated.  Part of it is you have to earn your way into the group.  You have to build up your credibility. The problem for you, of course, is while you probably want to do that, you don’t have time.  And more importantly, the first thing you want to talk about is your book.  You may think the group is the greatest thing since chocolate oranges, but your participation starts with your novel, even if it ends with something else.

Perhaps more importantly for the group, there are lots of you out there.  Everybody and their mother is writing these days.  It’s a great thing; now with self-publishing, writing is democratized.  People can do it on the cheap.  But that also means there are literally thousands (tens of thousands?) of people out there marketing for themselves.  And so for a group that really just wants to focus on whether Azathoth or Nyarlathotep is cooler, when dozens of authors showing up basically shouting “Buy my book!  Buy my book!”, it’s rather off-putting.

I think the key is to be respectful of the group and its rules, to try and accommodate yourself to their ways, to be almost apologetic for bothering them at all.  The fact is, most people like to hear about new things, especially when it interests them.  Two groups that have treated me especially well are the H.P. Lovecraft group on Facebook and the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, also on Facebook.  I have to say a special word about the HPHLS.  They are the source for everything Lovecraftian from radio plays based on his works, to movies, to clothes, and everything in between.  The fact that they are a business makes it even cooler that they have allowed me to sell my own wares via their Facebook page.  I hope you will check them out.

This post is getting long, but I do want to share one of my marketing failures, just to show you the pitfalls you might run into.  Since I started this thing, I have discovered all sorts of cool stuff on the internet I never knew existed.  One of them was Reddit.  If you are like me, Reddit is just one of the funny looking buttons at the bottom of this blog post.  Apparently some of you have been clicking it, as I began to notice I was getting hits back from that site.  So I went to check it out.  I still don’t know exactly what it is, but it appears to be some sort of news aggregator (just writing this makes me feel old).  People subscribe to certain interests and whenever someone clicks the Reddit button on a blog post and tags it with that interest, it shows up in their feed.  If they like it they can give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down if they don’t.  They can also comment on it.  And there’s even a Lovecraft interest.  Yesterday, as you may remember, I posted a good review of That Which Should Not Be.  Thinking that this would be something Lovecraftian types would want to read, I sent it to Reddit.  Apparently that was a mistake.  People said I was a spammer.  I didn’t have enough “link karma” (?) and was not engaged with the community (I just thought it was a news aggregator!  I didn’t know it was a community 😦 Sadness.)  Anger abounded and I was basically banned from Lovecraft Reddit.  As an Independent Author, that’s a pretty bad result.  I apologized, but I am pretty sure they all hate me at this point.  The Reddit experiment was a bust.  Yay, the joys of writing!

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