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Archive for June, 2013

Indecision

Indecision

If you are a writer, or a reader who has a curiosity about writing, you might understand this dilemma. You see, I’m experiencing a bit of a conundrum in my writing. Having just sent off the draft edits for the sequel to my debut novel, I’m faced with that dreaded, “what next?”.

 

I’m torn between starting a new series based on the two previous books right away, or taking on an entirely new project in the romance genre, but very different than the first two. I already have ideas for both, but wrestle with which to tackle first. I’ve even considered writing the two simultaneously, but I’m not sure my old brain can do that.

 

The truth is, both hold equal appeal, I’m just not sure how or where to start. As a woman who has passed the age of fifty, this type of situation has happened many times before in my life, separate and apart from my writing. So I acknowledge the need to stop for a bit and let my heart lead the way. Unlike my personal life, if I make a wrong start, I can simply put the current work aside and make a new beginning.

 

But wait, isn’t life like that too, to some extent. We’ve all heard of people who’ve made some pretty horrendous mistakes in their lives, and for a variety of reasons, chose to take a different path to find the peace and happiness they seek.

 

Years ago I divorced my first husband and chose to seek my future without him. It was one of the most difficult decisions I’d made up to that point. I was barely thirty-two years old and the mother of two young children. I had no job, and things at home had reached a melting point. I didn’t know what my future would hold as a single parent with very limited financial resources, but I knew I had to make a new start for myself and my children. The relationship wasn’t a healthy one, and rather than stay, I chose to take on a new direction. I made the right choice.

 

Love rules

Love rules

Years later I met my second husband and fell in love. He had three teenaged children and by then my own children were teens. That made five teenagers that we were considering putting together as a family. No, insanity doesn’t run in my family; it seems unique to me. I didn’t know what the future would hold in this proposed new scenario, and I could see the pitfalls ahead. But I was in love with this man, I cared very much about his children, and so I followed my heart. Now, we have five grown children and five incredible, beautiful grandchildren. It certainly hasn’t always been easy, by a long shot, but I’m happier for having my husband and our combined children than I ever was alone. Together, we’ve created a family that bickers, and loves, much as biological families do. I made the right choice.

 

When I was fired from a job as a medical office administrator for standing up for myself against another staff member with more seniority, I came home devastated. I cried, ached and felt such shame for being fired from a job I’d taken pride in. Then my husband asked me if I’d ever wanted to do anything other than work in an office, as I had since I was seventeen. I was stunned. No one had ever asked me that question before. I took it seriously and really thought about it. I was forty-one years old, the kids had mostly grown and gone, and I was in a new space in my life. I’d always wanted to get into real estate, so I told him I wanted to take the required courses, obtain my license, and go with my gut. Keep in mind here that I hadn’t even finished high school, having foolishly quit school two months before graduation in order to marry my first husband. The thought of taking an extensive course and begin the formal learning process again was daunting, for sure. It was also exciting. I completed that course, got my license and thoroughly enjoyed selling residential real estate for the next seven years. I made the right choice.

 

After those seven years, I was tired of long days and nights and little time away from work. I realized I had started missing out on so many family functions and important personal time with my husband due to work requirements. I’d gotten disillusioned with real estate sales and the sometimes cut-throat attitude of so many of the agents I’d encountered. I’d also met some wonderful co-workers and clients whom I truly enjoyed. But I was unhappy, so I wondered again, “what next?”.

 

After serious consideration, and in talking with family and friends I trusted, I made the decision to move into residential mortgage sales. It seemed the ideal fit based on my years in real estate and my basic knowledge of mortgages etc. I still wasn’t sure it’s what I should do, but I went ahead and took the courses to obtain my license and went to work selling mortgages. I should have listened to my gut instinct. I’d grown weary of commissioned sales and had only shifted the focus from real estate to mortgages, with little to no real change in the type of work I was doing. After only three years I was left dissatisfied and unhappy with where my career was going.

 

So it begins

So it begins

I remembered my husband’s question all those years ago about what I wanted to do with my life. I had always wanted to write, but had put it off. It was such an “out there” thing to do, and I was afraid to tackle the commitment I knew it would take. I hummed and hawed. I agonized and chewed it over for weeks. Then one day while I was off for Christmas break, I decided to just go for it. I went upstairs to my computer and sat down and began to write a story I’d been mulling over, along with my indecision. Approximately eight hours later, I came downstairs beaming. I hadn’t written anything stellar, and most of it I would later re-write completely, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, I’d crossed a line. I’d taken hold of an old fear and once again chosen to go with my gut feeling. By the time I came downstairs from my office, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I had my, “what next”.

 

It’s been three more years since then, and during that time I continued to work. Last November, with the release of In The Spirit Of Love, my debut novel, I already knew I’d found my place, so decided to quit my job and write full time. In truth, writing is where I probably should always have been. I’ve learned so much this past year, and the years before it. I’ve learned to trust myself and listen to my instincts. I’ve also learned that, just like in writing, I can choose my path. If it isn’t right, I’ll stop, listen, wait, and go with my gut.

 

I know I still have so much to learn, and I’m still not sure what I’ll do regarding my next project, but that’s okay. What I do know is that I’ll keep writing. In movies I’ve heard characters talk about the possibilities “tomorrow” holds. I think of Gone with the Wind and Scarlet O’Hara, who vowed to go home to Tara and figure out her future. I think of Little Orphan Annie who sang brightly of “Tomorrow”, and I think of all the songs and films and talk shows that encouraged me take chances and dream big. It isn’t even all about “making it big” (although that would certainly be nice). It’s about finding myself and my true passion and letting it lead me to new experiences. I guess what’s next for me, is simply to write.

 

So, what’s next for you? What dreams or aspirations have you followed up on, or wished you had?

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Hear ye! Hear ye!

Hear ye! Hear ye!

That is the question, especially if you are a reader and are looking to provide valuable feedback, support, or to help the author raise awareness of their work. If you are a writer, you already know how important reviews are to you and your work. If you aren’t sure, read on.

 

Before I became a writer I had no idea that reviews were so important to a writer. I mean really, I just read a book, and if I liked it I told my family and friends. I didn’t contact the writer and tell them I’d enjoyed their book, and I certainly didn’t even think about going onto Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo to post a review. I’d never heard of Goodreads, Smashwords, or the scores of other reader/writer websites that have sprung up on the net. Why would I? I was blissfully ignorant in the ways of the publishing and writing world.

 

All that changed when I decided to pen my own novel. Suddenly I wanted and needed to learn all I could about this new venture. I never considered it a hobby. I always knew that one day I’d write, and that when I did, I’d give it my all. That’s when I started reading about the importance of reviews. Of course I’d read the reviews posted about top selling writers and their newest work, and sometimes I’d even read those reviews so beautifully and glowingly featured in the book’s first pages or back cover, but I figured the only ones that counted were the ones from the New York Times Best Seller List, or other highly acclaimed and sought after literary professionals and authors. I was no professional reviewer or famous author, so why would what I had to say matter to anyone?

 

The more I read, the more I began to understand, and appreciate, just how much my own little words of support and feedback really could impact a book and it’s potential sales. I realized that the writers really did value reader’s reviews, perhaps more than those oft quoted literary luminaries. I was a real person, who hadn’t been paid anything to purchase the book, read it, and comment on whether I liked or didn’t like it. It doesn’t get more real or grass roots than that, and that’s pretty cool, I think.

 

That’s not to say the other, paid for reviews, such as Kirkus Reviews, don’t matter. They do, and they hold a lot of sway within the industry. But so do ordinary reader’s reviews and comments. As a writer, I can’t tell you how excited I am when someone reads my book, then takes the time to let me know what they thought of it. Of course I love the five star reviews, who doesn’t, but even the ones that come in with three and four stars have value and merit. Those reviews point to potential areas where I may want to tighten things up or give consideration to. All feedback is valuable; you just have to decide what to do with it.

 

Reviews are especially helpful for other readers though. Personally, I always check out the reviews of a new book or author, to get a good overall feel for the story and writer. That doesn’t mean I go by reviews only though. It’s just another way for me to ascertain whether or not I think a book is of interest to me and worth my hard-earned money. In that vein, reviews are extremely valuable to writers and other readers. Honest, carefully written reviews are worth their weight in gold when it comes to selling books, whether ebooks or print. That’s why virtually every online book retailer clearly provides readers with the means and access to provide an honest review of books they’ve read. Some, like Amazon, even go so far as to email their customers a few weeks after purchase to ask how they liked the book and provide a direct link to write a short review.

 

In talking to family, friends, and book signing attendees about reviews, many express the fear that they don’t know how to write a review. They think there must be some grand, magical, or special literary talent you have to have to do so. I remind them that all other readers and writers want is an honest opinion of their reading experience with the book. It doesn’t have to be lengthy. It can be as short as, “I really liked it”. Ideally though, a book review should address three things: whether you liked the book, or didn’t, what you liked/didn’t like, and why. An example of this might be, “I really enjoyed this book because it made me laugh and think about subjects I hadn’t considered before,” or “I didn’t enjoy this book because the characters didn’t seem very realistic, so I couldn’t connect with them.”. Reviews are subjective, meaning each person is going to either like or not like it based on their own internal set of criteria, and that’s perfectly fine. When a book starts gathering more reviews and ratings, patterns begin to emerge, so that potential new readers can see what the “general consensus” is about the book. 

Book ratingThen there’s the rating. Rating is a system whereby there are five “stars”, and each star has a rate. On Amazon, one star is for “I hate it”, two stars for “I don’t like it”, three stars for “It’s okay”, four stars for “I like it”, and five stars for “I love it”. This break down will translate very closely to other sites rating systems, so don’t worry about having to learn a bunch of new systems. To be fair to other readers and the author, if you are going to take the time to rate a book, please also write a short review in the “Share your opinion” section. Without the comment, no one will understand why you gave it the rating you did. This can even be done anonymously, if you’d rather not have anyone know who you are. A few of my readers have done this, and I respect their privacy, while appreciating their time and feedback.

 

Getting lost in the stack

Getting lost in the stack

The final reason reviews are so important is because it affects how easily a book is found among literally thousands of other books in the same genre. You can’t imagine how frustrating it is to have written a book that people are responding well to, but because it doesn’t have enough reviews and/or rankings, it’s virtually impossible to find by potential new readers who might enjoy it and are just doing a generic search. Without those important reviews and rankings, your book falls to the bottom of the list and at the end of countless pages of other books.

 

So, as you can see, reviews (and rankings) are extremely important. Not just to writers, but to other readers as well. Once I started providing brief reviews of books I was reading, I found it not only easy, but enjoyable as well. It was my small way of thanking the writer for penning a good book and entertaining me, or teaching me something I didn’t know before. Other than the five minutes it takes me to write a quick, thoughtful review, it doesn’t cost me a thing, but I know it’s value.

 

What are you reading right now? Have you ever written a review, and if so, what did you take away from the experience. If not, what’s stopping you.

 

Your comments and feedback are important, so please also feel free to comment below.

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