Tag Archives: Industry

Are reviews king?

Reviews have recently been the subject of much discussion in the creative space, prompted by Amazon’s new rule that all reviews given for books (movies, music etc.) that were not purchased will be deleted. This has a huge impact for authors starting out, who often give away their first novel to generate a readership and get reviews. I also know that a lot of respected reviewers regularly get free books sent to them, even by the big publishing houses. I assume these reviews, too, will be deleted.

Which got me thinking about reviews. The truth is I rarely read them. If I like the premise of a story, I’ll read the book. If I don’t like the premise, I won’t. This was driven home to me when I was in the book tent at Adelaide Writers’ week this year, ready to buy my ‘donation’ book for the free event. Having stupidly waited until later in the week, all the books I was interested in had sold out. So I was forced to look at the books that were left to find something I liked.

I came across a set of books which had really interesting covers (yes, I do judge) and the titles sounded like they could be spec fiction, or at least genre of some sort. I turned the books over to read the blurb on the back and all I found was reviews. The inside few pages also revealed nothing of what the story was about, just more reviews. A bunch of people had liked these books, but I could not find anything to tell me what any of them were about. Needless to say, none of them came home with me.

I’m sure people who write reviews are as mindful of people judging the reviewer, as what they are of presenting a review which will help someone to make up their mind about if they should buy the book. This means hyperbole and passion can sometimes go a little too far. I’m a big believer in ‘if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all’ because often if a reviewer hated a book it’s because they were not the target audience.

I guess with so many books out there it is hard to choose which ones to read. If you have a choice between a 4.5-star and a 1-star reviewed book, you will probably go for the 4.5-star. For me, however, if I like the story of the 1-star novel, I’ll give it a go. With my love of run-on sentences and sometimes questionable grammar, let’s hope my readers feel the same!

The lows of writing

Every story, no matter how good or bad, has a lot of work in it. Even if you are a total slacker and you send out your first draft, not even bothering to re-read it, you’ve still put a reasonable effort in to get it finished. For me, I edit and re-edit my stories seemingly endlessly. I cannot read them without wanting to change something. A flash fiction story of 500 words can easily take six hours to get to the standard where I think it is ready to send out. That’s a big investment.

After so much work it is hard to forget about it once it is out in the big wide world. You are so eager to see if it is going to get a chance to be read by the public. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that when I have a story out, every time I check my emails the first thing I do is skim the subject headers to see if there is a response. 99% of the time there is nothing. It is not unusual to be waiting over six months to hear back from a publisher, even for a short story, and that’s if they respond at all.

This part of the process is the one that most undermines my desire to get published. I don’t mind rejection, even form letter rejections (a generic response sent to all rejected stories), but hearing nothing, that’s disheartening. You can’t help but speculate that the story got lost, or wonder if anyone read it at all. What’s even worse is when it was ahead of the pack months ago when you sent it, but now everyone is subbing stories on that topic. That’s the main reason why I try not to write topical stories anymore.

A particular low for me was when an editor announced on social media that they hadn’t received any stories of a certain category that were up to standard for their anthology, so they wanted more of that category. My story fell squarely in that category and I had subbed it a month earlier. So I knew it was rejected, but the editor didn’t send me a formal rejection for another two weeks.

I know editors get inundated with subs, and they often have day jobs, not to mention their own stories that they are trying to write. But I wish they wouldn’t give indicative response times on their sites if they don’t meet those. I also really hope the public rejection before personal rejection doesn’t become the norm.

The whole thing has inspired me to write a story specifically for self-publication. This way I control the timelines and if nothing happens for a while, it’s because I’ve dropped the ball. I’m pretty excited about it too. It’s wonderful knowing that I will be able to count on it being out in the world by a certain date, instead of waiting, potentially for years, for others to reject or accept it.

Writing romance

The romance writing scene in Adelaide is huge. Not only that, but they are all extremely supportive of each other. More than a couple of times I’ve thought of joining them just because they look like they are having so much fun. Only one problem; I can’t write romance.

The past few decades have seen me become quite cynical about romance. Sit on the sidelines of enough divorces and it does that to you. So my biggest problem is I don’t believe the everlasting declarations of love which you read in novels, and finishing at the point where they get together seems like a cop-out. That’s when the real hard work begins as far as I’m concerned.

At least that’s what I blame for my lack of ability to write romance. I think in reality it is just a lot harder than what everyone believes. Yes, we have all read bad examples of romance, but there are some really good examples. There are novels out there that make a jaded old bag like me believe that this time it is really going to work.

And let’s not even talk about writing $ex. I blush at the thought. My one attempt to write such a scene in one of my spec fiction stories degenerated into humour because I couldn’t do the saucy version. That’s something I long-ago reconciled myself with leaving to the experts.

So while there are people out there, particularly other genre writers, who belittle the romance writer, I think this is extremely unfair. A good romance writer is just as gifted with the written word as any other writer, they also have the benefit of being highly skilled in the manipulation of emotion. That’s something I’d be interested in learning more about.

Adelaide Writers’ Week 2014

Well it is on again, and I’m sure Adelaide Writers’ Week 2014 will be just as informative, inspirational and relaxing as it usually is. Now an annual event, the writers festival is nearly all free (only a few evening events have small cover charges) and it has attracted writers from all over the world, in all sorts of genres and forms.

If you are in Adelaide I’d highly recommend going along, even if you don’t know the authors. You not only get to hear from the authors and sample their work, but if you pay attention you’ll notice that they may be sitting in the audience next to you at the next session as well!

So keep an eye out for me, I’ll be popping in most days and soaking up as much as possible. Can’t wait!

Remember; it is just one opinion

Over a year ago I sent a story in to a magazine and quickly made it through the slush reader rounds to get to the editors. The story was not picked up. They held it for a month longer than they said they would in the hopes that it would fit with one of the themes of the magazine, but alas, it did not quite match with what they published in that quarter.

So when I got my rejection I actually got a note from one of the editors who said that it was very well written and the fact it had got ‘this far’ was an indication of the quality of the story. The editor explained that the only reason they were rejecting it was because they did not like to hold onto stories for more than 3 months.

I put that story through two writers groups who offered small tweaks, but for the most part kept it as it was. The small changes suggested did add to the story, and I thought it was definitely a more polished and tight package as a result.

I sought, and was granted, permission to resubmit the story. Having previously been told ‘it is with regret that I let this story go’ by the editor of the magazine, I wasn’t expecting much grief from the slush readers, so imagine my surprise when I was knocked out in the first round just a few days after I submitted the story.

From all the feedback I have got on this story I know it is succinct, humorous and entertaining, but even in my writers groups (in both instances) there was one person who just didn’t like it. They couldn’t exactly say why, but they “just didn’t like it.”

I guess my allocated slush reader was one such person. It shows you, particularly in the world of slush, that just one opinion can make the difference between getting picked up and getting rejected. When it is just one person who sees your story, it is just one opinion that comes into play, so we need to remember that.

I won’t take this rejection to heart because I know that a lot of other people have enjoyed this story. Just as easily, one day in the future, a different opinion may see this story being published.

I need to keep this in mind for all my rejections!


I’m still hung-up on the idea of my unwritten horror story. I’m now digging myself into an even deeper conundrum; do I actually want to write a horror story? I was talking about it with a friend the other night and I realised that I don’t think I want to write horror stories any more. So that begs the question, even if this story in my head is great, is there a point in writing it when I don’t want to have to follow it up with more?

Something that writers and (more to the point) publishers have gotten hung up on is branding. What do you as an author write? The thinking is that if someone buys your book and likes it, they will only buy your next book if they can be assured that it will deliver something similar to the previous experience. Hence the rise and rise of trilogies, quadrilogies and series outside of the fantasy genre where it has always been a given.

I really dislike this idea, one look at my reading list and you will see that I try to read as widely as possible; everything from chick lit to scientific theory, so it is annoying to me that as a writer I have to be limited to just one genre if I want to be published. Often I’ll like an author’s style, and I’m willing to follow them along any story they want to take me to. Stephen King is a classic example with his fantastic sci-fi, classic horror, poignant coming of age and contemporary fiction (I know he also writes fantasy buy I’ve only just purchased the dark tower and haven’t yet started reading it).

Of course I’ve said it before, Stephen King did not just get to say ‘I want to write a story set in a prison about a man who is wrongfully accused of the murder of his wife’ and his publisher said ‘sure, easy sell’. He had to deliver a string of horror novels first, and even then he had to publish Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption in an omnibus with three other tales, and it was erroneously called a ‘tale of the supernatural’. So even back in the 70’s & 80’s branding was alive and well and impinging on the creativity of writers.

So this all comes back to my horror story conundrum. I finally decided not to write it. My horror story days were behind me and I had been working so hard to milk the one idea I had landed on that I thought I should just give it away. But just because my brain likes to surprise me on a regular basis on Thursday night I had a strong desire to pick up a pen and pad (I never write longhand) and in one sitting I wrote a full horror short story from start to finish. I didn’t even know it had been brewing.

Maybe it’s time for a pseudonym?