My Revenge Review and What it Taught Me

So here’s how it went down:

It was 2012 and I had just let loose into the world, my first self-published book, Commitment. It was a long book. Even after I’d edited it sixty million times, it was still kind of a tome. It was the kind of book that proved that I didn’t know anything about self-publishing, and knew even less about the dominant genre of romance. So, I released the book and y’know what happened? Basically NOTHING. Not for a long, long time. I think one of my first reviews was a two-star review that said the book was too long, and didn’t hold the reader’s interest, or something like that. I was disappointed, but not crushed, because they explained why they couldn’t get into it. And when I looked at Commitment‘s counterparts, I saw that it was indeed a lot longer than the genre where I’d classified it generally tolerated.

I decided my audience was probably not traditional romance readers, or maybe not exclusively so. So, I did a little research, and the advice was that I should “get out there” and not just wait for readers to “discover” me. Instead, I should review other books in similar genres to the one I was writing in, and make sure I added to my profile wherever I reviewed, that I was also a writer, and list my work. (I picked women’s fiction as the closest to what I saw myself doing.) Cool. Easy enough to write reviews, because I’m analytical by nature and like parsing the meaning of books almost as much as I like reading and writing them. I read a fair amount now, but back then was a much more voracious consumer of novels of all kinds, so I had plenty of books to choose from for my first review.

I found a book I’d read not too long prior, and reviewed it. It was a pretty popular book with a catchy title that had garnered a lot of interest among Black women and popped up on lots of recommended reading lists for Black chick lit, Black women’s fiction and the like. I wrote an honest review. I liked the story and the trajectory until the end, which I said felt like the author stepped up to the precipice of a really important statement about women, and then chickened out and retreated to a traditional girl-gets-boy ending. I’m telling you, I put a lot of thought into that review, as I do into every review I write. And I was honest, as I always am when talking about how other writers’ work made me feel. I posted my review, and went on about my life.

A couple days later, a new review popped up for my book after a long dry spell where there was nothing but crickets and tumbleweed. Yay, right? Maybe the strategy was working! My review of someone else’s work was getting my book some attention! Then I read it. It was my very first experience with a gratuitously unkind, calling-into-question-whether-they-read-the-book-at-all review. It said something like, ‘nothing to see here, same ol’ same ol’ … Boring.’ And it used a phrase that was suspiciously similar to one I’d used in my review of that popular chick lit book. Something felt disingenuous about it. So I looked up the reader’s other reviews, and discovered through a little amateur sleuthing (okay, no sleuthing was involved, it was right there on her profile) that the bad review had come from none other than the semi-famous author whose book I had reviewed unfavorably!

My mouth fell open.

I went back to read my review of her work and found that I was perfectly content with what I’d said, and willing to stand by it. I was stunned that she would care what completely unknown little ol’ me thought of her book. She was getting national accolades and attention after all. And what was more incredible was that she would care enough to write what definitely smelled like a revenge review. That’s when it occurred to me — some authors don’t want feedback. Not really. They want praise, accolades, adulation. Otherwise, they want you to just please STFU. That experience, and a few others since then, when other authors’ fans decided to take not so subtle digs when I gave their idol less than a stellar review finally made me stop writing reviews of books altogether for a time. I’ve only just begun to write them again, and still, only sparingly. Particularly if the writer is anywhere within six degrees of separation, I remain silent unless I can be complimentary.

But lately, I’ve come to regret this approach, and am pulling back from it. Not because I’m sooooo full of integrity, but some of it is for my own sake. Especially when I get five-star reviews that feel undeserved, or read a book that has only glowing reviews but turns out to be a lackluster read. I’m craving balance, and honesty. Because I “know” readers through social media and we shoot the breeze about tons of things besides books, they tend to send private messages when they’re disappointed in a book I wrote, rather than write a thoughtful, well-reasoned public review that other readers can assess and engage with. I think they believe I’ll get frosty or mean if criticized. Or send a bunch of rabid trolls their way. Or will resent the public airing of something other than compliments. And those fears are not unwarranted in this new world of reader/writer engagement.

But don’t get me wrong. ‘I hated it. Stupid book and waste of money.’ is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about using the time and space when you write a review to give authors actual data, information about where they grabbed you, where they lost you, what you felt. That stuff is gold. Seriously. Please do it. Write reviews that are meaningful, don’t just show up to join in the applause.

My take is this: write the review, make it honest, even if it’s less than complimentary . Even if it’s about my book. I, for one, appreciate it. And I know I’m not alone.

Love & Light,

N.

‘Behind the Pen’ is back!

Behind the Pen 2018 FlyerI only started doing book signings and public appearances about three years ago. The first one I did was my own, ‘Wine with Writers’. After that, I tested the waters with a couple others, and once I realized that I would not spontaneously combust from all that … interaction, I was all in. To my neverending surprise, meeting people who read my books is not at all like most social interaction. Large groups of people can be draining for me. Meeting readers is by contrast, energizing, inspiring, and a great motivator. Not to mention talking to people who remember details about your characters and stories that you’ve long forgotten, and who took even the smallest bit of encouragement, or found empathy for different points of view just because of something you’ve written … there’s nothing like it. It makes me humble, and grateful that I write.

So, this year, I’m doing it again, at ‘Behind the Pen’ in New York, on Saturday, August 11. Organized by the Sistah Girls Book Club. Behind the Pen was created by Sistah Girls founder, Sharee Hereford, to celebrate black independent authors and the readers who love their work. What started out as a small digital conversation has turned into a growing community (over two thousand members now!) of authors and readers who enjoy literature.

Last year, my author besties Rae Lamar, Jacinta Howard, Lily Java, and Tia Kelly were there, which made it super-fun. After the event our little band of writer-friends had dinner afterwards, and dissected everything (as writers are prone to do) with a motley crew of moms and daughters, friends and one very special reader; and the main thing we talked about was how amazing it was that people even gave a crap about meeting us. Then we moved on to how incredibly well-organized ‘Behind the Pen’ was. For a maiden voyage, they thought of just about everything, and there were no glitches that I could see. Every writer was treated like a VIP, and every reader had the time and space to interact with us in a meaningful way. There was food, drinks, music, fun and a great view of Lower Manhattan. It fueled the work that I did for the rest of the year. I think, for sure, it made me write more … and better.

This year, I think you still might be able to make it. Tickets for Behind the Pen are still available here for a mere $25. But if you can’t make it, you can order signed copies of some of my favorite books, below.

I hope you see you at Behind the Pen, but even, if not …

Happy Reading!

~N~

 

SAMPLE SUNDAY: DL White’s ‘Leslie’s Curl & Dye’

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DL White is another of those writers that, if the world were a just place, we would hear a lot more about. I just started reading her work last year when she had a promotion running, and quickly became a fan of her keen eye and ear. She writes real, mature, women’s fiction with just enough romance thrown in, and describes the inner lives of women  incredibly well (check out, ‘Brunch at Ruby’s’). No cookie-cutter, endlessly wisecracking, paper-thin characters here. This is the good stuff.

So it’s going to be a particular treat to meet and sit with, and share a glass (or three) of wine with her at Wine with Writers Atlanta on March 10. That’s next Saturday, y’all! I think you can still get a ticket if you’re interested. If you make it out to meet me, DL White, Tasha L. Harrison, Rae Lamar, Lily Java and Jacinta Howard that would be cool, but if not, please check out the books. And with them, have a glass of wine of your own.

I’m just getting to know DL, but I really want you to get to know her (and her work!) too. So … here’s her interview. Ten questions, and some very funny answers, followed by a Sunday sample of  ‘Leslie’s Curl & Dye’.

Love & light,

N.

Ten Questions for DL White

Would you like to see into the future? Why? Nah. I like predictability as much as the next guy but I also love the element of surprise. If you STAY ready you ain’t got to GET ready. HA!

If you could only choose one vacation destination where would you pick and why? Eauh Gah why are you asking me thisssss??? A beach. I don’t know which one but it should have soft sugar sand and blue green water and the air should be warm… that’s as specific as I can get.

What show on Netflix did you binge watch embarrassingly fast? It wasn’t Netflix, but the L Word… I found it online and blew through that series like CRAZY.  I think I stayed up all night to watch the last season. I heard a rumor that the show was coming back, though I feel like people are just playing with my emotions. But can Jenny still be dead but Dana come back?  GAH JENNY SCHECTER WE HATE YOU!

What will finally break the internet?  I’m not sure it can be broken at this point. It’s so evil, it’s all powerful.

What’s in your purse?  Like fitty eleven pens, ibuprofen, 4 tubes of chapstick, 2 lippies (beauty bakerie- get hip to it!)  my organizer, my wallet, Tangy Mae Kindle, and one of those multi charge cord things so I can charge all of the things. And of course the work phone and the Ho phone.

Favorite book you’ve written?  Brunch at Ruby’s. It’s always going to be my Book Baby.

Are you spring, summer, fall, or winter? Please share why. SUMMER. I just LOVE it, heat and all. I moved south for the HEAT and the sunshine. Spring is a close follow up. If I don’t have to worry about a jacket and the skies are blue and cloudless…. Heaven.

If you were a city, which city would you choose to be and why? Some place modern and cosmopolitan but also kinda small townish and downhome…. Like Atlanta. Or maybe my vision of DC, a hip chocolate city.

What technology from science fiction do you wish existed? Teleporting. I neeeeeeed that technology. Like, I love going places but I hate the airport and I don’t like to drive long distances. If I could just… arrive… at the nearest beach that would be great.

What are the most common road blocks that stop people from achieving their dreams? Fear. In my opinion, roadblocks boil down to fear. Fear of unknown, fear of success, fear of failure, fear of the word no, of people not liking us or our ideas.  When we stop being afraid of what could or won’t happen, when we get rid of the what if’s, we’re able to push forward. Speaking for myself, really

27786239_10159967782015494_1652126059_o (1)Wine/Book Pairing:  Chateau St Michelle Riesling/ Leslie’s Curl & Dye

 

From ‘Leslie’s Curl & Dye’:

He smiled, quietly laughing while his eyes surveyed the salon, starting at the reception desk, a plain old desk from Caine Brothers Wood Works. Then he took in the mismatched leather chairs that comprised the waiting area; the salon chairs with peeling vinyl patched with black tape and the shampoo bowl that was a refurbished and redesigned laundry sink.

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To the naked, and maybe the more upscale eye, the Curl & Dye wasn’t much to look at. But people came to the Curl & Dye for the atmosphere.

“I mean, with all due respect, Leslie…” KC shrugged and gestured toward the small salon. “You’re not my competition.”

That lofty, lightheaded feeling was zapped as quickly as it came. I felt like I landed face first on the pavement. There went my moment of attraction.  

Tamera stood beside me, her arms crossed. “Look who decided to slum it over on the old side of Potter Lake.”

“I’m not… slumming. I hadn’t been over here since I moved back and— “

“And you decided to pop in and start some shit with us?”

KC’s eyes narrowed and his brows formed “V” of irritation. The glare he gave Tamera gave me an uneasy feeling.

“Tam, why don’t you close out the day for me? Pull the receipts and get the deposit ready.” I led her to the front desk and pulled out the chair for her to sit.

As soon as she was settled, I grabbed KC’s arm and guided him back out of the shop into the warm evening. I heard Tamera grumbling, not even under her breath, as she sat at the desk and began the daily closing ritual.

“What do you want?” I asked him, noticing the enormous black Escalade parked in front of the window. “We’re about to close up.”

He shrugged a shoulder, tossing his keys from one hand to the other. Back in college he used to do the same with a basketball. “I just… was around and— “

“Bullshit. You have no reason to be on this side of the lake except to be snooping around this shop. So… what? You wanted to gloat? To say some more shit about stealing my clients?”

“I’m not steal—” He heaved a deep sigh and shoved both hands into his pockets. “I felt bad. About earlier. You surprised me by showing up at the shop. I felt cornered and I get mouthy when I feel like that. Listen, I think we got off on the wrong foot— “

“No, I think the foot we got off on was right. You came out here and opened a business in direct competition with mine— “

“That was not my intent, Leslie. I keep telling you, I didn’t know this shop was here.”

“Well, now you do.”

I paused, giving a wide-eyed stare at ruggedly bushy eyebrows, at long, undeservedly lush lashes, at almond shaped eyes, at full lips and well-edged goatee.

Damn, he was fine. Had always been fine but… damn, he was fine.

“Now I do,” he acknowledged, with a head nod. “All I’m saying is that we should be able to co-exist.”

“Coexist? Seriously?”

I gestured toward the building that was The Curl & Dye, catching a glimpse of Evonne and Tamera standing in the middle of the shop watching us talk. I pulled him away from the window, toward the driver side door of his truck.

“It would be one thing if you were just a barbershop. Most of the men in this town do their own hair; they only come to me if they want something real nice. That cheap cut you offer is perfect for them.”

He scoffed, but I ignored it. “We can’t coexist because women are going to your shop instead of mine, for services I offer, my mother offered, my Grandy offered for years.  Your shop could lose a customer or three and it wouldn’t hit your bottom line. I need every client I can get. Your shop is some kind of…”

I shrugged, shaking my head. “Get rich quick scheme, it seems. Except you’re already rich, so now you’re just being greedy. The Curl & Dye is my bread and butter. It keeps me and my parents in food and electricity and Grandy in good care at Primose Gardens. It’s about more than a cheap haircut.”

“What do you want me to do, Leslie? Shut down my shop on some first dibs bullshit?”

I began to back away from him and his truck and his intoxicatingly sexy smelling cologne. It was making me heady and I was feeling all kinds of familiar feelings from being too close to him.

“I just want to run my shop, KC.”

“And I want to run mine.”
Book/Website Link:

Buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075J6LQ8X

Get to know the author: http:/BooksbyDLWhite.com