When I was coming up, we treated writing like a special gift, and those who could write well felt like they had superpowers. Or at least I did.
In elementary school, I was a terrible student. I got straight F’s, and the source of my lousy grades was math. I failed the sixth grade twice and almost failed the seventh grade.
Correction: I did fail the seventh grade, but someone had mercy on me, and I passed on to the eighth grade. I cannot say for sure today how it happened. Only I am glad it did.
By the time I was in eighth grade, I was seeing a special ed teacher. Every day he would come into our class, they would announce the special ed teacher was here, and the four, five, or six of us would stand and leave with him.
If that weren’t degrading enough, the work we did in that small room was fit for a first grader. Two plus two and four plus four. It was frustrating because the math I needed help with was the eighth-grade stuff.
I knew that one plus one was two. I didn’t know how it applied to the more advanced math in the other room. Still, they would give us these long worksheets with these kindergarten math problems, tons of them all down the paper. Some days, they would give us candy.
It was humiliating, and I would go home and vent my rage in my diary. I would write about how it felt to be singled out in front of the entire class and for the teacher to utter the words, “The special ed teacher is here,” which I thought was unnecessary. The lack of discretion seemed to me a lack of care for our feelings as students. I felt stupid and if that’s how I felt, I am sure the other kids felt it, too.
And then something happened.
This same teacher discovered I knew how to write. Suddenly, everything turned around. I cannot even say for sure how it happened. I still did not understand the math, but the more I wrote, the better my grades got. By the time the school year ended, I had an armful of academic awards and was graduating with honors.
Writing got me out of the eighth grade and into honors classes in High School. (Even honors math.)
Writing got me into College while still in High School. I attended Robert Morris College in my Junior year for early credit. I would go to High School in the daytime and then take the green line downtown for my college course in the evenings. It was dark when I got home every day.
Writing got me into AP Literature, graduating High School with honors, tenth in my class.
The Point of it All
For writers like me, writing isn’t something we dreamed up on a whim, but is an intimate part of our lives. It is something we can trace as ever-present. For us, writing is a deeply rooted passion that played a major role in developing who we are.
My concern now is writing isn’t taken as seriously as other gifts. Do we even consider it a gift? Indeed, one can learn to write through education, training, and coaching, but is it still a gift?
Are there still people who are natural wordsmiths? People, who go the extra mile to string words together into comprehension? People, who devour books like a man starving? And is writing still opening doors for them? As it did for me?
Do we still consider writing a gift, or is everyone a writer?
Getting negative reviews on your book is a real heart-breaker. How dare they talk about your baby like that? I mean, you are obviously the best writer ever. Getting negative feedback on your book feels like a personal attack.
And not just for Indie Authors, but for all authors.
Sister Souljah got so many negative reviews for her latest release, Life After Death, that she was compelled to address it on Instagram, saying, “Stop crying about the death experience of WINTER SANTIAGA, AND START THINKING. STOP DEBATING and start reading.”
The first part of studying a review is remembering that it is someone’s opinion based on their experience. Even professional reviews are expert opinions. We are not changing our voice or altering our style based on the views of fifty people.
We are only looking to see if this person’s opinion has any value we can learn from.
“It was a little difficult discerning who exactly was talking or even who was who at the beginning. The scenes seem to always end at a cliffhanger. The premise is interesting, bit the follow through needs work.”
This is a two-star review of my latest novel, The Women with Blue Eyes: Rise of the Fallen. The dialogue in my stories is strong, but my tense usage and POV need work. Because I know these are my weaknesses, this review has merit.
Do I think it is so bad it deserved two stars? Of course not, but that doesn’t make the point invalid.
Use Your Discernment
Once the shock of the negative reviews has worn off, we can use the power of our discernment to see that not all critical feedback is hostile. Our wisdom will show us what part of the review is worth looking into and what part to let be.
While I will work on the point of view, I am not worried about ending scenes with a cliffhanger. I like it because it’s a good way to keep people reading.
In the words of bestselling author James Patterson, “At the end, something has to propel you into the next chapter.” This is the reason we are addicted to that TV show. We come back week after week because we are held in suspense. Cliffhanger endings are the hallmark of page-turner fiction or, in this case, binge-worthy shows.
“I enjoyed the premise of the story, but sometimes was a little thrown with whose point of view I was reading.”
See that? I cannot ignore this. It comes up repeatedly, which means it is a legitimate issue I need to fix. Now I know what to work on for my next book. I hope to hear fewer complaints about this in the future.
If we change the way we look at it, critical reviews are cause for celebration.
In this fake everything era, where people buy followers, engagement, and body parts, what we might consider a negative review is a good thing. Unless the negative reviews come from a hater who is trolling you, having a good mixture of good and “bad” reviews gives the book authenticity.’
This is so important to understand in the Indie Author community. There are some poorly written and produced books with nothing but five-star reviews.
How Detailed is the Review?
I have learned the more detailed the review is, the more likely there is something there. While “Excellent book” makes us feel good, explaining what made it an excellent book is more helpful.
In the same vein, commenting that a book was “terrible” does nothing for the author. What made it terrible? What are the ways the author can improve? What did not work for you?
“I wish I could get a refund. This will not get read this is a terrible book and she could have kept this.”
– Amazon Customer Review of Life After Death by Sister Souljah
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this is not a helpful review and the “she could have kept this” is unnecessary. This is the kind of review you do not have to spend your time trying to dissect. It offers no insight. I am sure Sister Souljah laughed it off.
“I think this author has much more to give. I felt as though she was dancing on the outskirts of the story, just giving the reader a little tease. With the author’s style of writing, I really think this book could be a nice, long novel, really delving into Nora’s life and her families past, followed with nice, long novels in the series.”
This reviewer has a good point worth considering. I definitely need to continue Nora’s story. I accept the reader’s thoughts here because they make sense.
“Ms. Ysrayl shares about her challenges and how she has overcome some and others are a continuous life-long journey. The elimination of repetition of paragraphs and sentences, would earn the book 5 stars.”
Repetition in my writing is something I need to work on, so this reader’s thoughts have merit. Sure, it stings, but it is also true.
“Many of the poems have a good message. Liked the ones with imagination like Sabbath. But to really touch a heart, the thinking and framing should be less self-centered, in my humble opinion.”
My Brain: What?
This is an example of a review I didn’t bother to give much thought.
First, the self-centered part is confusing. Next, the reviewer is a white man who probably couldn’t discern the book is mainly about the collective Black experience more than anything. (He only gave it 3 stars) This one is another example of how you don’t have to worry about the negative reviews that don’t make sense.
But it also brings to my attention something I almost forgot to mention:
A book marketed to the wrong audience increases the likelihood of bad reviews.
If I buy a Historical Fiction novel that turns out to be a Romance, I will more than likely rate it low.
Going back to Life After Death, the book is marketed as urban fiction, but it would be more appropriate for the Paranormal / Sci-Fi or even religious fiction genre.
Unfortunately, the audience that loved The Coldest Winter Ever is not the same audience for Life After Death.
This means as a Self-Publisher, identifying your target audience and marketing your books to that audience is critical. I am Soul will rate higher with Black women and Black people than anyone else because I wrote it for them. It doesn’t mean other people can’t read it or won’t read it. It means I increase the likelihood of positive reviews if the people I wrote the book for are reading it.
All Reviews Matter
You do the author a great disservice when you decide not to review a book because you didn’t like it. You not only rob them of the chance to increase their reviews, but you also rob them of the chance to improve on their writing. And if you are an author and only want positive reviews, you are robbing yourself.
The purpose of reviews for any product or service is not to only talk about how good it is. Positive and negative reviews are helpful, though I use negative loosely here. The reviews that are off the wall and utterly ridiculous are reviews I consider negative. But, the critical thoughts that offer insight on how the author can do better are necessary for growth.
So, what to do the next time someone rates your book low?
First, be grateful. Many great writers have received negative feedback on their books. You are in good company.
Next, study the review itself. Is there something you need to work on? Or is the review not worth stressing over?
The little girl licked the wooden spoon that came with her ice cream.
“Bet you don’t know my mama name,” said Zoey, the five-year-old daughter of my husband’s client. We were relaxing on the couch, watching Netflix, and eating ice cream. Mine was gone, but she was still eating hers in that gross way children do, ice cream residue around her mouth and dripping from her fingers. I hoped she’d hurry and eat the thing before it melted all the way. It was a hot Sunday.
“Krissy,” I said proudly.
Ole snap. What is the woman’s full name EC? Kristina? Kristy? Kristy Anne? Dang. I forgot the woman’s name. I’ve just been calling her Krissy or Kris like everyone else.
“You tell me,” I said playing it off.
Did I just reverse a question on a five-year-old? Yes. Yes, I did.
“Her name is…her name is…hmmm.”
Zoey seemed confused. I should have felt bad. I didn’t.
“My mommy’s name is—-”
“You don’t know it either,” I teased.
“I know she’s mommy but… just call her Krissy,” waved Zoey, licking the wooden spoon.
“Works for me,” I laughed.
This is what I was doing all day. Watching Netflix and talking to five-year-old Zoey and one-year-old Ziggy. Well, Ziggy and I did not exactly speak. There was something about he had to boo-boo and then he took a nap.
This was my weekend a few months ago. I went on a call with my husband. My husband is an HVAC (Heating, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration) and Maintenance Tech. As a Universally Certified technician, this means he can pretty much work on anything from a home AC system to a restaurant’s refrigeration system. This day, he was installing three toilets for this family, which meant that I would hang out with the wife. I rarely tag along with him on his calls, but he asked me to, so I went. I wasn’t doing anything, anyway.
We were there all day, and the family even made dinner for us. I learned the wife is from Chicago, my hometown, and the husband is originally from Jamaica. I enjoyed the Tilapia and Rice dishes served and had never had a whole fish before! Like, they fried the entire thing, one big slab. Boom. On your plate, ha!
My husband and his client spoke extensively about several things. Somewhere along the line, my book came up, and my husband gave him the link to my website along with links to other things they discussed. (I can assure you I was not an important part of the conversation.)
But when we got home later that evening, the husband sent my husband a text saying that he had purchased a copy of I am Soul.
“Aww,” I crooned. “That’s sweet. Tell him I said thank you.”
Now, for the most important part of the story….
How many times did I ask them to buy my book? Zero.
How many times did I discuss the book with the wife? Zero.
I did not bring up my work at all. What I did was play with the children, watch Netflix, and converse with the wife about food. We talked about why I couldn’t be a vegetarian and other things.
The most important lesson I’ve learned in my 11-year journey of publishing books is the importance of connecting with others and building genuine relationships.
People buy from people they have a connection with. This may be an already formed relationship/friendship, similar interests, personality, hobby, belief system, faith, passions, membership in the same groups, clubs, or similar spirits or vibes. These are the people who will support you. You don’t even have to force it, manipulate or chase. This means that relationships (directly or indirectly) is a major factor in selling books.
Just be yourself and let the vibe of that authenticity light the path, drawing the people to you who are meant to be in your presence.
(because I am really not just talking out the side of my neck)
I met TV Personality Tinzley Bradford through my connection with Lisa W. Tetting. I turned around and sponsored, attended, and performed at Tinzley’s mixer last year and met TV One and Talk show host Chere Turner, CEO of Behind the Beauti Tenisha Bibbs, Singer, and CEO of Advudcate Arts LLC Cami Tippin, and 2x Best Selling Author Oliver T Reid. Then, I attended Oliver T Reid’s writer’s masterclass and met publisher Kelly Cole, also a 2x Best Selling Author and owner of one of the fastest growing Black-Owned Book Publishing companies in the U.S. I met Indie Bookstore owner Nia Damali through Indie Bookstore owner Marcus and through Nia I met Vivica A. Fox. A recent example is my meeting of Founder and Owner of B Infused Natural Detox Waters Brianna Arceneaux. Brianna is more like a niece as she is the sister of my brother-in-laws daughter. She is also the founder of a women’s organization Sagacious Women of Business, dedicated to mentoring young women in business and victims of sexual assault. She has been mad supportive of my work, and we intend to do much business together.
The point here is I have bought books by authors I didn’t know and have had my books purchased by people I didn’t know all due to the power of a single connection.
(This book will be available in ebook and paperback
when it releases on August 6th)
Keep Yourself Full is a spiritual handbook that focuses on our return to self-love. It is a reminder that self-care nourishes the quality of our lives and makes us fit to be of service to others. Through my testimony, I give examples of how we self-abuse and how that differs from self-love, why it is essential not to take things so personally, why we must establish and enforce healthy boundaries, and how assumptions kill relationships. We learn that by investing in our well-being spiritually, physically, mentally, and professionally, we can be of service fully to others. It cannot be ignored that we treat others how we feel about ourselves. When we realize that what we do to others, we are equally doing to ourselves, we can use this awareness to heal. By treating ourselves better, we treat others better. Keep Yourself Full is about keeping ourselves filled with love and all that is good so that we are overflowing with enough to share with everyone else.
Writers! Got something good for you. A friend of mine, Oliver T. Reid and his publisher Mr. Kelly Cole, both Bestselling Authors, are hosting a FREE Masterclass for those of you in the Atlanta area. I met Reid last year at the 4th Quarterly Mixer event hosted by Tinzley Bradford. Guys, the man knows his stuff, just wait until you hear him speak. You don’t want to miss this. I hear new and aspiring authors talk about the high cost of publishing all the time. Truth is, there are tons of free opportunities out there. Reach out and take them! Take advantage of the free resources that are available. This is one of them. If you are in the area, come on out.
Details: *Don’t mind the price on the flyer. This event is FREE as of this moment. Act now.*
Be mindful of how you make people feel because that is what they remember most. Whenever sharing negative experiences be sure there is a lesson to be learned or something to be taught from it. Make sure there is something that you can give back as a result of having shared it. Remember that energy you feed gets stronger. If you feed vengeance, complaints, hatred, and strife, these emotions will get stronger and you will unknowingly begin to project these feelings on others and the feelings you don’t feed like love, compassion, forgiveness, and encouragement get choked out.
Listen to Be Mindful of Negative Feelings now on Soundcloud for more and be sure to subscribe for notification of new episodes.
Growth is painful, uncomfortable, and frustrating. It reveals the raw and aching part of us and demands our masks to fall so that we may accept who we truly are and what truly is. This is unpleasant and frightening but necessary because, without this kind of mental and physical suffering, we cannot grow.
Deceit lies, and lack of proper communication can destroy any relationship. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known a person, how many secrets you’ve shared, how many deep conversations you’ve engaged in or how many tears you’ve shed, deception is a rotten fruit that contaminates weak foundations. No matter how embarrassing or silly, be upfront with the people you say that you love.
There is, sadly, a thing as being too nice. Energy is precious and we cannot risk being vulnerable to the first smile or positive comment that is thrown in our direction. Not in this world. While we can be positive examples, we must also accept that for some people it’s too late. They have been too far corrupted and will only trample our kindness and gossip about our weaknesses. Like the saying says, “Not everyone deserves a seat at the table of your life.” Discernment is key.
Let go of people who have let go of you. Do this without feeling ashamed, embarrassed or like you’ve done something wrong. Let go courageously. Without the need to explain yourself or to apologize for being misunderstood. People who have lied and betrayed you and left you out to rot will always make it seem that you are the person who is possessed and that you are the one who has done wrong. These are lies. In the words of Najwa Zebian, “shame lies on the person who takes advantage of a good heart.”
Laugh often and cry when necessary. Scream if you have to. Do not be ashamed. This is healing. Let the tears cleanse you.
It’s OK to be hurt, we’ve all been at some point, but don’t play the victim. Self-victimization paralyzes so that we have an excuse not to take responsibility for the lives that we live. We are always looking back on childhood, on past relationships and on failed circumstances as a crutch for why we are not the people we know that we should be. In the words of Pierre Jeanty, “When are you going to stop complaining about who you are now, because of who they were to you? You speak as an activist, yet live as a slave without a voice.” The past is our lesson. It is not our cage.
Do not work so hard to prove your sincerity. It will only come across as fake. There will always be people who do not accept you and to them, it does not matter how hard you try, you will never be enough. Forcing these people to understand you will do more harm than good. Don’t overdo it. Just be you.
Stop misinterpreting silence for whatever your imagination has made up. You don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives, why they have chosen not to respond or what circumstance held them up. Sometimes silence means people aren’t interested and that they don’t care but not all the time (though our doubt would have us to believe so.) Other times, silence means they don’t know how to respond or have not gotten around to it yet. Stop stressing over made-up mental scenarios.
Do not force locked doors to open. Sometimes it is just not the right time. If you break the door down, it will never be the same again. Remember the butterfly: If you force it out of its cocoon, it will never fly. It is not that this isn’t your door, it’s just not your time.
Do your own research and try things out for yourself. Experiment so that you know intimately what works and what does not work. Take risks and see what is legit and what is fabricated for yourself. Do this and you will not bend to every new opinion that surfaces.
Follow your own advice and show yourself the same love you so desperately seek from others. Give it to yourself first and then pour into the cups of those whose hearts are worthy. You are special so not everyone can receive what you have to give. Your love is not a game. Your love is a gift. Give it that distinction.
Never sacrifice your personal integrity for the sake of being “liked”. Don’t let people censor and edit your voice. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. Walk away. Turn down whatever does not feel and taste and smell, like you.
Got something short and to the point for you this month on The Story Reading Ape Blog (because next month is eck! Release month!…but I digress…lol) With every book I write I learn something new. Here are 15 things I’ve learned so far in my journey.
I’ve been writing for eighteen years now and publishing books for ten. Over the years I have learned so much. Sometimes it can be overwhelming as you’ll begin to feel as if you are always two steps behind. That’s how I’ve felt lately. There’s so much to learn and to understand that I often feel I’ll never know enough. Then I realized that’s the whole point. The person who stops learning is an empty person.
I present to you 15 things I’ve learned so far in my journeys. It was difficult to downsize to a 15-item list but I managed it. The top five things are the last five at the bottom. It will seem that some of these things should be further down the line. That’s because the most important lessons I’ve learned are not about just writing alone but also how I’ve changed or grown as a person…