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.

Blog Stop: Christopher Bynum, author of ‘With Benefits’ . . .

With Benefits Cover Master-CB-Nook[1]

I used to be a book snob. I had a very short list of authors that I read religiously and new authors only broke into my reading list via the New York Times Book Review which I started reading with my Dad when I was about fourteen. I know, I know . . . I was missing out, big-time. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to read, and to come to know some great indie authors whose talent continues to astound me. One of these is Christopher Bynum, who also writes under the moniker ‘The Black‘.

I love his work, and have never been disappointed with anything of his I’ve read, even though his work can vary quite a bit as he writes across multiple genres. I turn to one of his books when I need a boost to get me back into the writing frame of mind, just as I turn to him as a compatriot, partner and mentor in this writing life of ours. So I am so pleased to host him today, to talk about his latest work, “With Benefits“.

Welcome Chris! Let’s dive right in with the questions . . .

What made you want to write ‘With Benefits’? What did you want to say that you didn’t think had been said in similar ‘friends with benefits’-themed books?

“With Benefits” was inspired by real life events, and it’s actually a second version of the story. The first version—which I did publish somewhere online once—was a literal recounting of the real event. As I recall, some online readers were depressed by the ending. But hey, real life can be depressing sometimes. More recently I decided to write a “what if version” of that short story with a more upbeat  ending. That story became the novel “With Benefits.”

In ‘With Benefits’ Kyle and Britt become close friends very quickly though they’re attracted to each other. From a man’s perspective, why does a man sometimes NOT make a move even when he’s attracted to a woman?

There are no absolutes and this may read as insane, but sometimes a man won’t make a move because he actually likes and respects a woman. He thinks there might be more good things about her than just her body, and wants to know what that is. He still wants her physically if that’s the way he’s attracted to her, but I think that sometimes we hope that she be won’t be that easy. Again, there are no absolutes. It might also be that he’s painfully shy. Or that he might be physically attracted to her but not like her otherwise, enough to turn him off to wanting her. I’ve known a couple of women in my life that I felt were hot physically, but if I didn’t have to work with them I wouldn’t want them anywhere near me because I didn’t like them as people. None of this has to do with Kyle’s situation, however. He and Britt simply had poor communication and invalid assumptions based on what they did say to each other.

We see Kyle in ‘With Benefits’ struggle with some unresolved issues about women and their sometimes dishonest motives in relationships. This is a recurring theme in your work. Tell us why.

I didn’t set out to make it a theme, so I guess it’s my subconscious acting on experiences and observations. And, I’m all about character in whatever I write, and women tend to be more complex and more confusing when they do their dirt as compared to men. For example, men may lie to excuse the wrong they do, but they know they’re lying, and you know it, too. Women are much better at rationalizing and giving themselves excuses for why they do wrong, and they usually have half the human population backing them up as a support system. Men don’t back each other up like that, because we know a lie when we see one (“Damn, bro, she busted you.”). Sometimes women are so good at rationalization that the damaged man is left thinking it’s his fault. Again, there are no absolutes and I’m not being negative, but that stuff makes for a more interesting write, and hopefully a more interesting read.

Your books, including ‘With Benefits’ feature women who are also very realistically crafted. Not many male authors do this well. What’s your secret to writing women so well?

I’ve always liked women, so I pay attention to them. I was never one of those boys who thought girls had cooties or whatever and didn’t want them hanging around. From Pre-K—from the moment I recognized that girls were different than boys—I was fascinated, and I wanted one.  So I pay attention.

Britt is a so-called “good woman” who struggles to find a good man. What do you think about the old refrain from some women that “all the good men are taken”? Do you think that’s true?

It’s not true. Due to the impact of society and the times we live in the pickings might be slimmer, but good men are out there. I would suggest to frustrated women that if you keep digging in the same hole, you’re going to find the same dirt. You can add all your special water to it and make your temporary mud pie, but when the water dries you’ll have the same dirt you started with. I feel for women because I see how the game has changed. You’re not the prize anymore; men are, and that goes against nature. Even in generations past when women were second class citizens, they still had their feminine power, and men respected it.

Women might not have been able to vote and were paid pennies on the dollar as compared to men, but a man would pull out a chair for a lady and open a door for her and give a certain respect. If in those times one man had called a woman a bitch or a ho on the street, another man would’ve punched him in his face. Women always had that power: the power of respect for their femininity. But today too many women have given up their power. A man will only do what a woman allows him to do. So if women want things to change and want more good men, they have to take back their power. Command respect; not by mouth, but by action. Trust me, when you do, men will fall in line because you have what we desire. Yes, it’ll be hard to do because for every woman who won’t make it easy for a man there are five who will, but that’s the world we live in now. But if you do—and you stick to your guns—you’ll create more good men, if not for yourselves, then for your daughters.

Kyle and Britt’s parents feature prominently in their emotional lives and help the reader understand them better. Do you think our parents are a big influence on our ‘relationship style’? And if so, how so?

I think parents can be and should be, and hopefully the influence is a positive one. I think that what we observe in our parent’s relationship influences us as much as what they tell us about how to manage our own. In Kyle’s case, for most of his life his parent’s influence was a positive one, and when things changed it threw him for a loop. But when writing his character I felt that the recent change in his attitude would be a temporary one because by the time the change happened he already was who he was going to be. He just needed the right influence to get him back on track. I think that Britt was more solid in who she was by the time she met Kyle. Her mother raised her to be a whole person, to not have to rely on anyone else to take care of her. Britt’s first example of that necessity came from her parent’s relationship. So she made her own money and had a better living than most. The only reason she needed a man was to fill that space in her heart when she was ready for it to be filled, because she had everything else covered. Yes, she had some missteps along the way, but don’t we all?

 You’ve said often that you don’t write romance novels, but some of your books are the most ‘romantic’ I’ve read. What distinguishes your work from the ‘romance’ genre?

I don’t go into any story involving a relationship with the intent that the characters are going to get together in the end and have that romance novel “happily ever after.” I write life as I see life, which means that sometimes characters end up together, and sometimes they don’t. And if they don’t, it won’t necessarily mean that their relationship ended badly. Sometimes when my characters ride off into the sunset one travels northwest and the other goes southwest, and they’re okay with that. That’s life.

Of all your work, which stories/books did you feel compelled to write?

To one degree or another I felt compelled to write all of them. I definitely have more affection for some, either because they’re based on something experienced or observed or because I liked the base idea. But so far everything I’ve written was something I wanted to write, or I should say, needed to get out of my head. That being said, I definitely have favorite stories. One is the upcoming novel series “Nightwalkers,” and also “The Hitman Chronicles.” My current release “With Benefits” was one that I had to get out of my system in its original version. The published book version is the answer to the writer’s “what if?”

Of all your work which was the hardest to write?

Technically, I’d say a short story (so far) Western tale titled, “The Black Gun.” For years I’ve had it in mind that one day I wanted to write an Old West novel. My father was a big fan of Westerns, so I inherited that from him. With all the cowboy movies and television shows I’d watched and Western novels I’d read as a kid, I thought it would be an easy and fun write. But when I started on “The Black Gun,” I realized that what seemed like a fun and easy write in imagination would be a chore if I wanted to do it right. I wanted to write something historically accurate—from the clothes and weaponry of the time and towns that existed back then, and I discovered that I had to do a ton of research. I probably researched more to complete two short stories for that one than I have for any full-length novel, even though I didn’t use much of the information I researched.

Emotionally, the hardest to write was the first (and still unpublished) “Insatiable” novel. That’s Simon Bishop’s story.  I was going to title it “Memoirs of an Insatiable man.” The idea for the story came first, but as I began writing, real life began to mimic the fiction, so I had to put it aside because it became too tough to write. I might’ve canned the story completely, but a few months later I had the inspiration for a story about a woman who was hard on her exterior, but really yearned to be submissive. I needed a male protagonist for her story—“Elle”—and so I dusted off the Simon Bishop character and made him her guy. That got the “Insatiable” series started.

Now that you have a significant body of work under your belt, what’s your writing ambition? What do you want to do writing-wise that you have not yet done?

In the coming years I’m going to publish a lot more fiction under my real name rather than The Black, novels in every genre. My ambition is to be known not for a specific genre, but for writing things that will always be entertaining, and that will take readers away from their day-to-day for a few hours. “With Benefits” was the first of those. Next by Christopher Bynum will come “Nightwalkers,” and then “The Hitman Chronicles.” That being said, The Black has a hard drive full of first drafts yet to be published, so he’s not going away anytime soon.  Stay tuned, because fun stuff is coming from both.

If your readers want to stalk you, how can they find you?

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

How can your readers get in touch with you?

Email: theblackwriter@live.com

Blog: http://theblackwriter.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheBlack_Writer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBlackWriter

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5123960.The_Black

Tell Me You Love Me . . . (or that you don’t)

I don’t know any writers who do it for the money. Not one.

I’m definitely one of those who write for other reasons. Now if the money you get through sales is in some way a reflection of how many people were moved by your work then perhaps it becomes important. Still, when I check online to “see how I’m doing”, I hardly ever check my sales. I check for reviews. And when I do check my sales, it’s only so I can see how many people may have read my work and might leave a review. Each royalty payment I get deposited into my account perplexes me each month. There’s always a moment of, ‘what is this? oh yeah, for the books.’ The sums have been larger lately so there’s a brief moment of exhilaration but only because it helps me envision that one day I might be able to pass on the day job altogether and only write, all day, every day. And what bliss that would be.

Still, it’s all about the reviews for me. Good or bad, the feedback you get as a writer feeds your creativity and pushes you to do and be better. I was having a little bit of a block a few evenings ago, and had that moment of desperation that almost every writer experiences, where you wonder whether the angst is worth it, whether you might not be better off spending your time doing something more ‘practical’ than writing fiction. And then I read two of the most complimentary comments on my blog about how a couple of my readers felt about my work. That quickly, and blockage was gone. It was like a well-timed gift, and I was able to write another 100 or so pages that night.

Writing, I’ve said many times before, is the most solitary of pursuits. It isn’t like many other arts (music or visual art, for instance) where the reactions are immediate and apparent. When you write fiction you go into a secret place in your mind and you sequester yourself there, tunneling in, listening only to the voices of your characters and living only their lives, finding everything else to be an irritant. And then you emerge sometime later, squinting against the bright lights of reality and wondering whether the journey was worth it. The process alone justifies some of it: I like writing just because I do and would do so regardless of whether anyone else cared what I wrote. But there is no denying that the greater reward, the better prize is hear that my writing meant something to someone other than me. That it aroused curiosity, interest, passion or even anger and dismay.

So if you’ve read anything at all recently (not just my stuff, anything) take a moment to go to Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari or whatever your preferred site may be and tell that writer you loved them . . . or not.

Happy Reading!

-Nia-

‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’ is Live on Amazon!

One caution for those who haven’t read my blog before, this book is not erotica. Despite the word ‘seduction’ in the title, this is contemporary fiction about a regular girl and not so regular guy in irregular circumstances. Read chapter one here, and then if you’re intrigued, buy the e-book here!

And then, by all means, let me know what think by leaving me a review.

P.S. The page count in Amazon says 283. That’s the Kindle count, but the real page count is 380.

Happy Reading!

-Nia-

Evocative Writing

Going through the books I’ve read and rated (a part of my quest to identify all the books I ever read), I noticed something interesting. I give many five star ratings. I don’t think it’s because every single one of those writers wrote a perfect book – whatever that is – but it has more to do with whether or not what they wrote made me feel something. I rarely read solely because the subject is “interesting”. That I do for my other work around social policy. In that life, I read things that are interesting and that inform me about a particular issue and make me more effective as an advocate, speaker and writer; I enjoy it immensely and have learned so much about my country, the world and human nature in general.

But when I read recreationally, I read to “feel” something. If I learn something as well, that’s certainly a bonus.

So it’s been interesting to read reviews that other folks write, particularly bad reviews, of books that I enjoyed. Often, the negative reviewer will list at length the ways that the main character frustrated them or made them angry, how the protagonist made decisions they were befuddled by . . . and then they’ll go on to rate the book at one or two stars.

How can it be, I wonder, that you were made to feel something just by reading this author’s words on a page, and then go on to undervalue those words?

Now, this is very different from the negative review that says, “I just didn’t believe it. The author did not convince me” that these characters were in this situation, or that being in that situation, they would have made the decisions they made. That, I think, may merit some disappointment. But to acknowledge that the writing evoked an emotion and then go on to say that you didn’t like the book because you didn’t like the emotion itself, puzzles me.

Here’s an example of what I mean. When I saw the movies, ‘Gone, Baby Gone’ and ‘Mystic River’, I was absolutely horrified and made despondent by the subject matter. I was literally haunted by both for weeks after I’d seen them. Now imagine if I had been a movie critic and panned both on that basis alone.

Similarly, Chris Bohjalian’s book ‘The Double Bind’ continues to disturb me to this day, years after I first read it. I see it on my bookshelf and walk past it quickly, preferring not to even look at the cover, perhaps ever again. That emotion, however uncomfortable, does not take it off my list of all-time best books I ever read, almost purely because of how it makes me feel.

In my own writing, I strive for that. I want my characters to piss you off, or make you love them, or make you sad. If someone says that my main female character is a “nasty piece of work”, my hope is that they mean she’s a flawed person, not a flawed product of my imagination

In my soon-to-be-released book ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’ my struggle has been that the main character is very unlike anyone I know, and certainly very unlike me. She is painfully insecure, easily susceptible to the influence of others, and not at all sure of who she is. These character traits make her say and do things that I find inherently unsympathetic. And that makes it tough to get in touch with her. So I’ve had to constantly remind myself that I need not like her choices, or even like her. I simply need to believe her. I hope you’ll check out ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’ next month and then write me a review telling me if you believed her.

In the meantime, read the teaser and leave me a comment.

Happy Reading!

-Nia-