Reacting to Feedback as a Self Published Author

As you dive into the world of self-publishing, one of the biggest fears that you must overcome is the unknown reactions that you will get from those that read your work. For me, I had written a short story and kept it to myself for months before I finally shared it with my wife. I knew I could count on her for honest feedback. I knew she was aware of my writing ability from many of the business and personal documents I had either written or helped her with at home. Also, when I was an independent consultant, she often looked at the documents I produced.

This was different, however. I had invented my own story with characters, settings, and emotions. If she hated it, I would have probably quit going down this path. Luckily, she liked it and I continued on and gradually expanded the circle of people that I let read and comment on my work.

I became very lucky with this path. I have a dear friend who is an avid reader and is very detail-oriented. She agreed to become my editor. In this capacity, she not only caught all of my careless punctuation and grammatical mistakes, she also looked at my story objectively and told me what parts worked and didn’t work. My first two short stories were published by an online literary magazine. My first book, Frankly Speaking, went the independent publishing route through Amazon.

Once the book was published, the iterative process of receiving feedback began. It started with family members that bought the book and posted five star reviews on Amazon. After a couple of those, the initial excitement wore off because they were, after all, family members. The excitement really began when I started to receive reviews from people I didn’t know. Those five star reviews really validated what I had done.

One day, after the first book was out a couple of months, I received a two star review, the first that was less than five stars after about 12 reviews. I quickly looked to see what valuable feedback I had received from this reviewer and there was only a single word in the review, “Boring”. I felt a few different emotions, one of which was anger. I looked to see what other brilliant reviews this person had posted and only found two other book reviews that were just a stellar for gardening books.  My initial reaction to this review was to reply to the reviewer on Amazon. I wanted to ask why they found the book boring and what I could have done to make it better. I also wanted to chastise the person. I had written 70,000 or so words and this only merited a one-word review. I actually went as far as writing a response and then I came to my senses and deleted it. I had seen other independent authors respond to negative reviews and I promised myself I wasn’t going to be “that guy”. After this one word review, several additional four and five star reviews came in and this one bad review became an anomaly.

I also publish a newsletter and I correspond with readers via email. One of my readers, a former English teacher, wrote me to let me know that she thoroughly enjoyed my book but she had found some additional typos, grammatical issues, etc. in the book and would I be insulted if she sent them to me. Part of the flexibility in independent publishing is being able to go back and improve upon your product once it’s published. I could have left it alone, but I felt that future readers deserved the best product possible. I corrected the book and I then proceeded to enlist this person as a beta reader on my future books. This is definitely a suggestion that I would make to my fellow authors. Find those detail-oriented, voracious readers out there and let them preview your books. They will find things that you and your editors missed and it will make your book a better product.

So, what is the bottom line of reacting to feedback. Take it all in. Qualify it. Use what is useful and discard what is not. In the end, you will have a better product and if you publish a better product, that improves the playing field for all self-published authors. There is a stigma in some circles regarding self-publishing. The quality of the product is viewed as less than that of published works. In some cases, this is true. There are self-published authors that self-edit or don’t bother to edit at all and their product is lacking. Don’t be one of those. Treat your self-published work as something you wish to be proud of. Don’t be afraid of feedback. Qualify both the positive and the negative feedback so that you can find the useful stuff and discard what is not going to help you.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Independent Authors, How Do You Market Your Book and Still Find Time to Write?

This week, I want to address and issue that is a difficult one for me and, I suspect, for many other independent authors. Let me first define what I mean by the term “independent author”. An independent author is one that is not using a literary agent, has not signed a deal with a traditional publisher, and is responsible for the editing, marketing, and promoting of their book.

If this sounds like you, then you fall into this category. Now, given the choice between writing, and the other peripheral activities I mentioned, I would prefer to only write and not worry about the other activities. The reality for most of us is, unless you have unlimited funds, is that some or all of these tasks fall on our shoulders.

The difficulty with this for me is that I hate self-promotion, self-marketing, and blowing my own horn. The fact that I have to promote something that I created (and may be insecure about) is counter-intuitive. I just want to sit in a room, come up with ideas, and write about them. I do want to share my work with readers, but I don’t want to do the dirty work.

When I wrote my first book, I did what a lot of you have done or will do. I sent out query letters to countless literary agents and publishing houses. After weeks of waiting, I received either negative or no replies. I read about other authors that struggled for years through rejection after rejection and finally signed a first book for a minimal advance and received minimal marketing. I had three problems with this. The first is that I was 51 years old and I didn’t have years and years to see if this venture was going to work out. Second, I’m not very patient. I had that burning desire to see my book in print and share it with others. Third, I had little respect for what agents and publishers thought of as marketable. I had read many traditionally published books that were of dubious quality. I didn’t want to put my future as a writer in the hands of a few ivory tower-based snobs that would look at a 51 year old first time author and turn away without reading my work.

This is when I began to look at the world of independent publishing. Outlets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have lent credibility and attention to self-publishing. As I researched this outlet, I read books about independent publishing. I also looked for other authors to model myself after. One of the most successful and forthcoming examples is the Author, Hugh Howey.  His Sand and Wool series of books went from short stories to New York Times Best Sellers. He is a strong advocate for self-publishing and independent authors and shares a great deal of his knowledge.

My first book was published in April. Like the books advised, I set up keywords on Amazon, I set up a Facebook page and a web site. I then began the arduous task of trying to get the word out. I started with friends and family. A few copies sold and then, one of the most powerful marketing tools, word of mouth, kicked in. I tried other tactics like free book days on Amazon, Facebook ads, and other advertising outlets. I then began to join as many book and author Facebook groups as possible. I also concentrated on Twitter by seeking out book groups and authors, following them, and tweeting them directly with news of my book. I sent out press releases to every newspaper that I could find. Over 100 press releases yielded a two sentence blurb in my hometown newspaper. I saw that as a success.

I soon found myself posting in Facebook groups and sending tweets for 2-3 hours per day when I could spare the time. Remember, I have a 50-60 hour per week day job, so the weekends, a time when I like to be with my family, started with posting to social media. Eventually, however, a light went off in my head regarding two aspects of the promotional predicament.

The first is, once your book is published, it is there for eternity or until you take it down. There is not an urgency to promote it within a certain period of time before it expires. You definitely want to build up as the release approaches and try to secure preorders, but once it’s there, it’s not going away and you can try new tactics periodically.

The second aspect is that there are ways to make the promotion tasks more efficient or outsource them altogether. I have found software packages that help me to post to social media in a semi-automated way that is more natural and will not land me in “Facebook Jail”, which I’m sure some of you are familiar with. I have also found a fantastic editor that I trust and that trusts me. I may not be able to pay her much at all right now, but she knows that if these books take off, she will be pulled along for the ride.

Additionally, I have found a promotion person with a proven track record working with independently published authors. He has taken many authors into the ranks of success and I am hoping that I join them. The best part about using these services is that they are cafeteria style. I can ramp up when I’m releasing a book. My judicious spending has resulted in podcast and radio interviews, reviews, and blog tours. There is also a sense of credibility in having my book promoted by a third party.

At this point, I still do a good bit of promotion on my own, but, as I mentioned in an earlier blog that centered on writing when you have a full-time day job, I organize my time spent on promotion. I dedicate blocks on certain days to post and do other promotional activities. The other designated time is reserved for writing and nothing else.

I hope this has been helpful to you. If you have any questions about the tools I use, my editor, or my promotion person, please reach out. I have no problem sharing their information. I’m sure they can help you as much as they have helped me and others.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

If It Sounds Like Writing, Rewrite It

This week’s writing tip comes from a quote by famed western and crime novelist Elmore Leonard. I came across the quote some time ago and it didn’t resonate with me right away. It really hit home, however, when I began reading my first book, Frankly Speaking, as I recorded the audio book. It is amazing what you uncover when you read your work aloud. I found some of the sentences to be clumsy and even difficult to read at times. I had read in another writing tips book to read your work aloud as you rewrite it. I always thought that it was a waste of time, but I am now convinced that it isn’t.

Another tip from Leonard took on additional meaning as I read my book aloud. He says, “take out the parts that people skip.” As I read my book, I found one or two spots where I had some redundancy and maybe some back story items that just didn’t matter in advancing the story. When I used to read books by Tom Clancy, I often found myself skipping all of the minutia of the military operations that he describes in great detail. I found that I could completely skip these sections, that were sometimes 10-20 pages, and not lose any plot points within the story.

My wonderful editor, Catherine Violando, cracked down on me when I was writing my books. I tend to insert a lot of back story because I think the readers want to know what is motivating my characters to do the things they do. I would have big chunks of information about the characters’ childhood and family life. She encouraged me to insert little pieces of this information here and there and not dump it on my readers all at once. I noticed, as I read other writers work, they used this technique as well. Stephen King is famous for giving the reader little tidbits about the character and then leaving them hanging. He might write something like, “John Doe spent the day with his children on a bright, sunny Saturday. He loved to spend the day this way. Too bad this would be his last.” Then he might end the chapter and not tell you what happened to John Doe for another couple of chapters.

It will be interesting, as I continue writing the 3rd book in the Frank Rozzani series and move on to read the 2nd one for audio book publishing, if I’ve learned anything and have improved. What I have learned, and this should be something that every writer realizes, completing your book with no grammatical or punctuation errors is only the beginning. Read your work aloud and take out the things that readers skip.

As I chronologically read the books of Elmore Leonard, I can see that he practiced what he preached and improved from book to book. Was his work perfect? I’m about a third of the way through his books, and no, they are not.  They do, however, show his progression as a writer over time. He wrote novels on a pace of one every 1.5 years or so. I have written two in six months while working full time. Leonard’s slower pace is likely due to the traditional publishing route, which was the only option at that time. I’m sure he had countless professional editors and marketing plans. Self published authors don’t have these same luxuries, but there is no reason that we cannot produce work that is both entertaining and high-quality.  Reading your work aloud and skipping those things that don’t advance the story are two tricks you can use to get there.

I look forward, as always, to your comments and questions.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Guide to Improving the Quality of Your Work For Self Publishers

Hello,

I’m sorry that I haven’t published my blog in a couple of weeks. I was quite busy preparing for the release of my new book. It’s amazing as a self-published author how much work goes into marketing a book. It’s definitely not the fun part of writing.

This is the era of the self-published author. If we look at success stories like Hugh Howey, it’s important to recognize that this new way of publishing books is gaining ground. I know that statistics show self-published work still lagging behind traditionally published products, but we are gaining ground.

With that said, there is a lot of competition out there. Some of it is very good work by competent writers. Other work does not make the mark. As an author, you have to strive toward making your work as strong as it can be. Regardless of the genre that your enjoy writing, there are some key things that you can do to continuously improve the quality of your work. Some of these things might be time consuming in the long-run, but will save you from putting out work that others may not view as high-quality. I consider myself a perpetual student of writing and I have added steps with each work that I’ve published to improve the quality of my writing. Here are some of those steps:

1) Use an editor – I can’t emphasize this step enough. You may be fluent in all of the rules of writing, usage, grammar, and punctuation. Over the course of a 70,000 word novel, however, you are going to make mistakes. I am lucky enough to have an editor that not only catches those structural mistakes, but she also does a sanity check on what my characters are doing and saying. She is an avid reader and reads my work for story elements as well as mistakes. If you don’t have an editor, you can use services such as elance.com to find one. My editor has some bandwidth for other authors and you can send me a message if you’re interested in her reasonably-priced services.

2) Communicate with your readers – It is a good idea to establish relationships with readers early on. They will tell you what they like and don’t like about your stories. They will also help you by pointing out things in your writing that you didn’t realize were present. I’ve established a newsletter where my readers can give me feedback about my writing and I can tell them what’s coming up. I have tried techniques like contests to name my book and special Q&A opportunities for book clubs. This can help you learn more about your own writing.

3) Use beta readers – This is something I’m doing with my next book. In spite of the writing and re-writing and the multiple rounds of editing, there are those wonderful people out there that spot things like inconsistencies in dates, contradictory statements by your characters, and shaky plot elements. I have identified a couple of individuals that are great at this kind of thing and I will be enlisting there help with the next book in return for signed editions of the book.

4) Read your reviews – Read all of your reviews. You are going to find that you’ll have distinct categories of reviews. We all have those friends and family members that will give us gushing 5-star reviews regardless of the quality of the writing. It’s those other reviews, both good and bad, that will help you gain readers and attract positive reviews. If positive reviews focus on plot elements and characters that are enjoyable, look for patterns and make sure you include more of these same elements in your future writing. On the other hand, if there are negative reviews, read them carefully and determine if a) the review makes valid points and b) there are things you can do to improve upon the items cited in those points. As a side note, out of 40+ reviews for my books, I have only received one “negative” review. It was on Amazon. I saw the two star review and was devastated. I then rushed to read the narrative of the review and it was a single word, “boring”. I pondered this for a while and then looked at some of the other reviews by this same person for other books and found them equally uninformative. My initial response was to respond to this person. This is a fatal mistake that some writers make. If a person reads your work and the only thing they can come up with is “boring”, then I think that pity is a better reaction than anger.

Finally, in this world of self-publishing, we have so many tools available to us. Once you publish your work, if there are ways to improve it, don’t be afraid to go back and make changes to your initial version. Not only will future readers have the improved work, but for Kindle readers, they can update their downloaded version when changes are made. It’s your call, but I like to embrace my mistakes and, through my newsletter, let readers know that I’ve made improvements. I’ve even called out specific readers by name and have thanked them for their help. Keep in mind that the self-publishing world is more of a community. It is not the one way flow that occurs through the traditional publishing channel. Embrace your readers and their opinions and ultimately, you will have more success and a better product.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com