Five Stars? Really?

I was going to post a light-hearted character interview today, but got sidetracked by a post on Holly Lisle’s blog about Amazon reviews. Apparently, good reviews can be bought and paid for, and in fact John Locke, who sold one million ebooks in five months, did just that to achieve his rockin’ sales figures. The thing is, I was chuckling when I read the New York Times article that Holly kindly linked to in her post. While reviews-for-hire don’t surprise me in the least, cynic that I am, it seemed to me that authors are slugging it out for something that many readers don’t give a hoot about.

Would you read something by a new author simply because it sported a slew of four and five-star reviews?

Coincidentally, I’m a reader myself, so maybe I’ll use my own reading habits as an example of why Amazon reviews mean diddly-squat to some readers.

First of all, as a literary omnivore—I read everything from romance to hard sci-fi to classics—and a slow reader to boot, it doesn’t take all that many good books to keep me out of trouble. I’m not likely to go trolling through Amazon looking for random books, since if one genre seems bare, I’ll just switch to another. Meanwhile, if I’m not careful, friends will ply me with books they’ve read, asking my opinion of them. I also read a lot of blogs, and after I begin to connect with some of my cyber-buddies, I trust their judgement in terms of what sings and what stinks. (If you want some really insightful reviews and recommendations, armchairauthor at ‘Ink’ has got you covered.) Of course, I can always turn to tried and true established authors. If a book has the name ‘Neil Gaiman’ on the cover, I don’t care what people say about it, I’m going to read it. Last but not least, I take advantage of the ‘Look Inside’ feature. It only takes a few pages for me to recognize beautiful, concise writing, and clean storytelling. If I’m slogging through prologue number three by the time the preview ends, it’s probably a sign this one is not going to be for me. Literary omnivore or not.

But for those who do let Amazon reviews influence their buying decisions, I hope readers and writers see this as a sign that we need to review responsibly, or we destroy the credibility of the source. If readers are trying to connect with books they like to read, is a one-star review with the comment, “Lame. Blech.” going to do that for them? We need reviewer that writes, “Unlikable characters, inconsistent plotting, and a ‘deus ex machina’ conclusion,” and expounds upon the reasons why. In other words, don’t underestimate your readers.

How about you? Do you use Amazon or Goodreads reviews to help you choose what books to read? Do you write reviews? If so, what prompts you to write a review, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent?

And don’t worry, next week I’ll have that character interview for you!

This made my day. Keep writing, everyone! Publication may not as far-fetched a dream as we think.

Thanks to Roxanne Crouse at So Much To Write, So Little Time for sharing this.

Better Word Economy

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. ~ Truman Capote

I admit it. My word count is the equivalent of a gas-guzzling Hummer SUV, and so I’ve been looking for ways to practice writing and editing for length. A contest at Janet Reid, Literary Agent’s blog presented just such an opportunity.

The challenge was to write a story of one hundred words or less including these words:

alien

bubbles

wing

barbecue

bob

My entry, after a considerable amount of free writing and editing, came out like this:

Bob bent over the computer screen, the chicken wing forgotten and suspended between his thumb and forefinger.

“Holy shit,” he muttered before the rest of his curse was swallowed by the techno track that blasted from the speakers at SETI Central. The pattern repeated; a blip followed by a row of bubbles superimposed over the otherwise unremarkable sequence. He catapulted his dinner over the instrument panel as he pulled out the intercom, ignoring the barbecue sauce splattered over his khakis like bloody evidence of murder.

His voice shook as he spoke. “Mission control, we got ourselves a real life alien!”

Exactly one hundred words! Not quite the Chevy Volt of word counts, but I’ll take a mid-sized sedan for now.

How about you? Do you practice writing for word count? Can you write a one hundred word story including these five words?

NaNoWriMo or Bust?

This is a first for me, so I thought I’d share this.

I like to set up deadlines and goals in my writing to give myself an idea of when I might finish a particular stage of a project. These goals can be word counts, (500 words a day on the work-in-progress, 50k words in a month) or number of scenes planned, or pages and scenes of revision.  The thing is, this being my first revision ever, it has been really hard to set goals because I have no idea how long things take. I’m tearing my story into scenes, reordering them, keeping old ones, writing new ones, all while doing research and critiques. I’ve had some scenes take me almost a week to get through after I wrote and rewrote them several times until I finally had them close to where I wanted them.

In other words, it’s hard to know when I’ll arrive if I don’t know how fast I’m going.

But now that I am more than halfway through this revision pass I had decided that 15k words per month was a realistic goal. With this in mind, my goal for September 30 was to get to 85k words edited, then by October 31 reach 100k, and by November 30 finish all 115k. I even gave up on NaNoWriMo so that I could finish this pass of my revision.

Well, guess what?

Today I crossed the 85k mark! Check your calendars, folks. It’s September 12!

So, now what? I guess I can reconfigure the goals, but in some ways that doesn’t feel like much of an incentive. I could take a few days off, but I love working on this, so that’s not much of a reward either.

I’ve settled on shooting for 90k by the end of September. And getting eight hours of sleep once in a while.

After that? Not sure, maybe, just maybe … NaNoWriMo?

How about you? Do you set intermediate goals for your writing? How do you reward yourself for achieving them?

Playlist: Remember

Playlists are often the first to guide my story’s direction, and I make them constantly. In the case of my current novel, my playlist really surprised me and landed me smack dab in the middle of the Summer of Love, alongside the Apollo lunar missions, the release of Sgt. Pepper’s, and the Vietnam War. Who knew this is where I would end up? But here it is.

Be warned though, I don’t always choose the biggest hits because I like to feel as if I’m hearing the songs for the first time, as someone who lived during that time would.  And, though some songs on this list were released well into the 1970s, I like to think they were written in the 1960s and only released later.

I marvel at the power of these songs to hold me spellbound even after all these years. I hope they do the same for you.

Enjoy.

Dance In The Smoke Argent Argent
California Dreamin’ The Mamas & the Papas If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
Blinded By The Light Manfred Mann’s Earth Band The Roaring Silence
The Rain Song Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy
Dreamin’ of You Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8 Tell Tale Signs-Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006
Dancing Barefoot The Patti Smith Group Wave
Maggie May Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells A Story
Light My Fire The Doors The Doors
From the Beginning Emerson, Lake & Palmer Trilogy
Let it Grow Eric Clapton 461 Ocean Boulevard
Love Alive Heart Little Queen
Angel Jimi Hendrix Cry of Love
Love Reign O’er Me The Who Quadrophenia
Dance The Night Away Cream Disraeli Gears
Unknown Song Pink Floyd Zabriskie Point (Soundtrack for the Motion Picture)
Ohio Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young So Far
Heart Full Of Soul The Yardbirds Greatest Hits Volume 1: 1964- 1966
While My Guitar Gently Weeps The Beatles The Beatles (White Album) [Disc 1]
The Pusher Steppenwolf Steppenwolf
Alone Again Or Love Forever Changes
Which Will Nick Drake Pink Moon
Woodstock Joni Mitchell Ladies of the Canyon
Scarborough Fair/Canticle Simon & Garfunkel The Graduate
Dust Fleetwood Mac Bare Trees
Stranger In a Strange Land The Byrds Turn! Turn! Turn!
Seagull Bad Company Bad Company
The Needle And The Damage Done Neil Young Harvest
Gimme Shelter The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed
Song to the Siren Tim Buckley Starsailor

To listen to this playlist on You Tube, click the linky, ‘Remember.’

Do you make playlists for your stories? And, what comes first: The story or the playlist? Or a little of both?

IWSG: Every Word Counts

Hello Insecure Writers,                       

It’s time for more rants about my writing insecurities, courtesy of the inimitable Alex J. Cavanaugh. If you’re not already part of the horde of Insecure Writers that is taking the literary world by storm, click this here linky, where you’ll find some of the nicest writers on the world-wide web.

Now for this month’s rant.

I’m determined to keep this post under five hundred words, and I give you permission to stop reading at word five hundred and one. Why would I do that?

I’m a writer, dammit. I have a lot to say. Is that bad?

Actually, yes. Because I’ve discovered that in my quest to fill the screen with words I’ve  gone a little overboard. I’m wordy, otherwise known as verbose, loquacious, long-winded, flowery, garrulous, chatty, and overwrought. I’m the most talkative person at the novel-writing party. I’m the windbag that talks your ear off, eats the last of the crudités, and won’t go home, even after the party hosts have snuck off to bed.

That was okay for a while. I knew I wasn’t a short story writer, and because of that I even concluded I wasn’t a writer at all. But when I sat down to write the story that I always wanted to read, I ended up with a 126k first draft of a novel. I went on to win NaNoWriMo three years in a row, with a word count of 75k, 122k, and 107k each year. A hundred thousand words in a month doesn’t even make me break a sweat.

I used to think that was a good thing.

But now that I’m trying to revise my novel into something marketable, my hefty word count has come back to haunt me. As part of the process of rewriting, I did some calculations based on what I thought were my better developed scenes and estimated that my average scene length would be about 1400 words. Using that figure I went on to sketch out my scenes for revision and charted a course of sixty-nine scenes for a completed novel of about 97k.

Enter Ms. Wordy.

It turns out my scenes average closer to 2000 words, so if I’m not careful, my mainstream -with-elements-of-paranormal novel will clock in at a bloated 138k words.

Arrgh.

Right now, I’m flirting with 115k, and really hoping some of my upcoming scenes lose some words and stay below their projected length.

I did some homework with Scrivener in Outliner mode to see where things went wrong. (And don’t you just love Scrivener? All those features … but I digress, and the clock is ticking on my five hundred word post—)

Here’s a sample of what this looked like: (click to make it bigger)

(The ‘target’ word count is the count for my first draft of the scenes.)

Does this mean my novel is doomed? Will my word count woes spell the ultimate collapse of my fragile publication dreams?

And, how do these bounteous word counts befall me, anyway?

Allow me, before this post’s word count kicks my prolific butt, to give an example.

Before revision:

“This is going to sound weird,” Nick said. Another wave rushed under Libra’s feet, and Nick pulled her away from the water. “Sure you don’t mind the water?”

“Not at all.” Libra smiled as the sand tickled her toes. “But tell me, what’s weird?”

“I saw you, twice before the night of the accident.”

(54 words)

Warning: My post crossed the 500 word mark in the middle of that excerpt. So, you can stop reading …

But, like the blabbermouth I am, I decided this was choppy and sounded somewhat unnatural. I revised it to this:

Another wave rushed under Libra’s feet, and Nick pulled her away from the surf. “Sure you don’t mind the water?”

“Not at all.” Libra smiled as the sand tickled her toes. She caught sight of Nick’s eyes in the moonlight before he turned to hide his face as if in shame.

“This is going to sound weird,” Nick said. “And I don’t know if I should even tell you this. You’ll think I’m nuts.”

“I would never think you’re nuts.”

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart. So tell mewhat’s weird?”

“I saw you, twice, before the night of the accident.”

(99 words!!)

Oh, dear. My five hundred words came and went about two hundred words ago…

What do you think, insecure writers? How do you make every word count? Anybody got a weed wacker in their novel revision toolshed? I could really use one right now!