An Indie Writer Gave Me Their Book and it Sucks. What Do I Do?

If you know any indie writers, there is a possibility that you have been stuck in this awkward position: they self-publish their sparkling new novel, and excitedly send it to all their friends and family members for feedback, reviews, and free word-of-mouth news spreading.

The cover might be good, it might not; some new writers wing their own design to save a couple of hundred bucks, and some pay for a cover. You open it and read the first page.

First lines are important, of course; it’s their job to suck you in and urge you forward into the story. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the writer is genuinely talented, giving you a pleasant reading experience that transforms you from friend to fan.

However, this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the book might, well… suck. Several pages in and you’re already tired of the clumsy prose, unlikable characters, eye-rolling cliches, and whatever else that puts you off entirely.

Out come the excuses, and you pop it on a shelf where it gathers dust for the next few months. You get on with your life, and hope and pray that your writer friend has forgotten all about it.

Let me tell you this right now: they almost always haven’t.

They won’t ever mention it, because who wants to be badgered with “have you finished it yet?” But the crushing realization comes after several months of nothing, zero, zilch, possibly hurting even more when we come over and see said book on the shelf, serving no more purpose than being some light decoration.

But what’s the alternative? You can’t just say to your friend “hey, I read some of your novel and… it’s just terrible. You aren’t a good writer.” It’s better to avoid such uncomfortable conversations and just let the book sit quietly in some forgotten corner of the bookshelf.

You might have some idea of the time, energy, and money that is spent on producing a book. You might feel bad for them or you might even be able to convince yourself that there’s nothing really wrong with the book, it’s just not to your taste.

I used to be that writer. At 22 years old and with a sparkling publishing contract from a new company, I thought I’d written something really special and I wanted the whole world to see it. I paid for postage and packaging of several paperbacks, sending it to friends, family members, and other writers. I waited for feedback. Probably ten percent of those who I sent it to ever spoke to me about it again.

Excuses

If you find yourself on the other end of this situation, do yourself (and us) a favour by avoiding these excuses, all of which I’ve heard before. We aren’t stupid, and we know what they really mean.

  • “I’m a slow reader.” Give me a break. There’s slow, taking a month to read a novel, and then there’s “I never intend to read it and I’m going to blame my reading speed.”
  • “I’m too busy to read.” Well then, why did you accept the book? If you dislike reading, that’s one thing, but if you claim to love books, you’ll make time. We all make time for the things we enjoy.
  • My personal favourite I’ve heard is “I loved it so much I didn’t want it to end!” Apparently they loved it so much that two years later, they still feel the same way. Uh-huh.

So what can you do in the painful situation of having received a free book, but not being able to read it? Here are some things you can do that will help the writer but not destroy your friendship.

1. Identify What You Didn’t Like

It’s not easy to just say “I didn’t like it” and it’s even harder for the writer to hear it. To make this constructive, identify WHAT you didn’t like.

I’m not telling you to become an editor or offer advice. Absolutely not. But if you see a crummy film and turn it off or walk out of the cinema, you can probably explain why: bad acting, horrible directing, clumsy dialogue, a silly story.

The same goes with the book. Here are some ideas.

  • “I couldn’t identify with the characters.” Characters are the pillars of a story and if you don’t care about them when reading a book, you won’t care what happens to them. Is their main character unrealistic, too perfect, too selfish, or just plain unlikable? Let the writer know.
  • “There is too much description.” It’s easy for writers to get caught up in paragraph-long descriptions of everything. Whereas writers from a few decades past such as Stephen King could get away with this, times change. This kind of feedback can be really useful for writers. If you find yourself skipping paragraphs to get beyond detailed descriptions and back to the action, be sure to tell them.
  • “It’s difficult to follow.” Some stories just don’t make sense! If the story itself is confusing, don’t keep quiet about it. Point out things that you don’t understand; it’s likely other readers feel the same.
  • “There are too many typos.” One thing that happens a lot with indie writing is the amount of grammatical mistakes and spelling errors and other errors. Don’t feel obligated to point out every single one – that is what proofreaders are for – but feel free to tell them that’s why you couldn’t carry on. Typos interrupt the flow of writing and

2. Be Honest but Constructive

Easier said than done – absolutely. Avoid vague things like “it wasn’t my cup of tea” (though this is MUCH more preferable to the aforementioned excuses) and give reasons why.

3. Say What You Did Like (But Only if it’s True)

If possible, start with something you did like about the book. It’s a lot easier to hear negative feedback when it’s accompanied by the positive. Were there some good ideas hiding among the mistakes? A certain character you genuinely loved? Let the writer know. Give them the ol’ compliment sandwich.

4. Give the Book Back

You might think that giving back an unread paperback is the ultimate insult, but I personally don’t think so.

Getting a book back when they haven’t read it provides a bit of closure to me – now I won’t be waiting and waiting for the feedback that will never come.

The financial aspect is also relevant here; if I get back the book, I can offer it to someone else.

5. Assure Them Nothing Has Changed in Your Relationship

Artists can be quite, well… fragile when it comes to their work. The writer might take your feedback on board and use it to become better, and some writers might fall apart. Worst case scenario, the writer might even get angry.

I was extremely embarrassed after getting some negative feedback. I remembered sending my book to dozens of people and realized that they were probably all laughing at me, shaking their heads and thinking “poor, naive Poppy. Don’t tell her she’s untalented and her book belongs in the trash.”

Have you ever watched X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent (America’s Got Talent if you’re across the pond)? When people go on thinking they can sing only to be shot down and heartbroken by the judges?

That’s what it feels like when you don’t bother letting someone know their book needs work. Thankfully, our version doesn’t include humiliation on national TV, for which I’m grateful.

Please, please, please be honest! Otherwise we cannot grow.

Tell them that you love them all the same and you’re excited to see them improve. Assure them that they will get better – great writers become great only after plenty of practice, after all.

A Note to Writers

If you’re on the other side of this situation – the eager writer waiting on feedback – then here is some advice for you, too.

  • Don’t get emotional. Getting upset or even angry is a big mistake when dealing with feedback.
  • Be grateful. People are taking time out of their day to provide honest, free feedback. It isn’t easy for them, especially if you’re both close, so be sure to say “thank you” (even if you’re picking up the broken shards of your heart as you do so.)
  • Take their feedback on board. A Taylor Swift-esque shake it off, haters gonna hate attitude works in some cases, but if this person has given you honest, specific feedback, be sure to listen to it. It’ll make you a better writer.
  • Look for patterns. If you’re lucky enough that several people have talked to you about your book, look for patterns in their feedback. If three people have told you that the main character is too wooden, it might be time for some rewriting. If four have said there are too many typos, hire a proofreader. Feedback is extremely valuable.

Writers adore people who give real feedback! A potentially awkward situation can be a big opportunity for struggling indie writers. Don’t be a “someday” reader who lets their friend’s book sit, untouched, on the shelf forever.

日本語日記しようかな

14歳から日本に興味がありました。

少し変な話ですが、2007年おばあちゃんと弟と一緒にフロリダ州のディズニーランドへ行って、いろいろな国のテーマがありました。そして日本のテーマ場所へ行って、とてもかっこいいな場所だと思いました。それから日本に興味がありました!

japan-1902834_960_720

日本で働きたいを決まりました。たくさんしらべて、日本語を勉強になりました。大学でも勉強したかったから頑張った。おかあさんはCDとかテキストとかを買ってあげました。それから、18歳の時日本へ遊びに行きました。東京が大好きになった!

留学して、日本にずっと住みたい事を決まりました。長野県にも1年半ぐらいに住んで、特別な人に会ってまた東京に引越ししました。

My city! #tokyo #daikanyama #shibuya #tokyotower #japan

A post shared by Poppy Reid (@poppyinjapan) on

今、東京に住んでいます。日本の男(特別な人)にも婚約中と、とても幸せです!

ありがとうございました。

What Do You Do When You Have Writer’s Block?

The last few months of 2017 and January 2018 were fantastic for me, writing-wise. I pumped out dozens of articles for various websites and finished a novelette. I wrote every day. I even made some money.

But every day of February so far has been a disaster. I’ve got a quarter of the way through articles before dismissing them as trash. Two unfinished fictional projects poke the back of my mind all day when I’m working or cooking, but as soon as I sit down to write, my mind goes blank.

Am I burned out? Or is it just writer’s block?

notes-514998_960_720

I’m pretty upset about it. Today’s a national holiday, which means I’m not at the office and it should be a day of working on the final of my fantasy trilogy. I just quit my job to be a full-time writer, for pity’s sake. Now I can’t even manage a five-hundred-word article and the idea of writing fiction would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

What do you do when you’re suffering from writer’s block? I’ve been reading a lot. I love to read anyway, but I’ve already demolished several novels in 2018 alone. I’ve also been playing video games. I’ve been writing for this blog, but that to me doesn’t really count as “writing.” I want to finish my trilogy! I want to start working on a new project!

So how do you beat writer’s block? A quick Google search takes you to a few articles. I just found this one on GoinsWriter, which suggests music, walking, coffee, reading, and even freewriting. Writers Digest says you should write when everyone else is asleep, clear your desk, exercise, and work on other creative projects.

This slump suuuuuuuuuuuuucks. What do you do when you have writer’s block?

How to Find Beta Readers for Your Book

Day 33

I’ve been asked by a few people how I got beta readers for A Bard’s Lament. I’m not going to lie; it has been a lot more successful than the previous two times I asked (for different books). Quite a few people volunteered, and to my delight, all of them got back to me with great feedback way before the deadline.

Hopefully, my experience will prove useful for other writers who are trying to find beta readers. Here are some Dos and Don’ts I’ve learned.

1. Prepare a Great Pitch

note-3047435_960_720

A pitch is similar to a blurb; it is several sentences that make a person want to read your book. The pitch tells the person a little about your story and makes them want to know more. If someone is genuinely into the story they will be a lot more likely to read it.

2. Build Relationships Before You Need Them

student-849825_960_720

Social media is powerful. Facebook groups and Twitter, from experience, have proven to be strongest in connecting with readers and other writers. Engage, chat, get to know them and, importantly, genres they like.

This isn’t to say you should go and introduce yourself to dozens of people you aren’t interested in before you “use” them to do you a favour. Connecting with people potentially interested in your work just makes sense, especially if you’re planning on marketing your book yourself.

3. Ask for Volunteers

volunteer-2055015_960_720

Use Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and any other tools at your disposal to advertise for volunteers. Put your pitch and make it clear exactly what you’re looking for: to give a free book to people who are willing to give honest and constructive feedback.

Only a tiny percentage of people who I thought would volunteer actually volunteered, so don’t get disheartened if people don’t respond.

4. Approach People Who Might Like Your Genre

Very few people are going to make the effort to read your book simply because you wrote it. There’s no use approaching your romance-loving neighbour to read a paranormal horror, or the writer you know from Facebook who specialises in fantasy to read your mystery thriller.

Groups are useful because people who read or write the same genre tend to stick together.

5. Don’t Ask Directly

If you directly message someone and say “HEY! Want to beta read my book?” The person, depending on their personality, will either say yes because they want to, say no, or worst, say yes because they feel they should. An awful lot of time is wasted when you send them your manuscript, they mysteriously disappear or become extremely busy, and you sit there waiting for feedback that will never come.

Instead, say “I’m looking for beta readers for my new book, [Title]. Do you know anyone who might be interested?” If they ask for more information, give them your pitch. Even if they aren’t interested themselves, they might know some readers who might be. This way, you are not upsetting anyone by being pushy.

6. Make it Clear What You Want

write-593333_960_720

Some readers may be interested in your story, but still say no because they’re worried that they aren’t qualified.

Make a list of questions that you’d like them to try and answer. Nothing technical – that’s the editor’s job. Here are some example questions you can use for your beta readers.

  • Does the story open well? Did it make you want to read further?
  • Does the plot make sense?
  • Is there anything that is unclear?
  • Are the characters interesting? Do you care about them and their decisions?
  • Are there any questions you feel still need answering?
  • Was the ending satisfactory?

Questions like these make it a lot easier for your beta reader and avoids them just telling you things like “Yeah, I liked it,” which may be nice to hear but won’t help you at all.

7. Give Them Enough Time

the-eleventh-hour-3105106_960_720

After you’ve sent your manuscript to beta readers, give them a reasonable deadline, preferably a couple of weeks depending on the length of the story. I gave two weeks for my 13,000 word story but if you’ve written a lengthy novel, it might be better to give them longer.

If you have a deadline, make it clear to the readers from the beginning so they won’t suddenly tell you they can’t do it anymore. People are busy and remember that they are doing you a favour.

8. Be Patient

It can be easy to start chewing your nails and spam the “inbox” button in your email while you wait for responses. However, it will be quite rare for people to get started right away. Give them a week, or maybe give them several, and most importantly, don’t nag them. There’s nothing more of a turn off than someone pestering you saying “have you finished it yet?”

Making what you want clear and making your book sound interesting and engaging will greatly increase your chances of getting people volunteering to read it! Beta readers are an essential part of self-publishing as they can spot errors before publication and before you fork out for an editor. What kind of book are you working on right now?

Think You Aren’t Good Enough? Do it Anyway

Day 20 [New Year’s Resolution]: Think You Aren’t Good Enough? Do it Anyway

Think about that thing you want to do, but you know you never could. What is it? Singing? Acting? Dancing? Growing the world’s largest turnip? Thing is, everyone was here at one point: at the bottom.

With this in mind, I took a leap. I did it. I did it. If I fail, it’s just £40 wasted, nothing too life-changing.

I just bought this.

asset-5979c87962783

And this.

gla-2018

I’m getting massive anxiety just thinking about it. My heart’s pounding even though I’ve been sitting on my fat bum all day. What are you thinking, girl? Traditionally published? You?

Do you remember when I was talking about rediscovering our love for writing? About finding that pure passion and inspiration without the fear and crippling self-doubt?

I want that again.

I just saw some ads about this new book out by HarperCollins and the hype that was surrounding it. The book isn’t even released yet and she’s got reviews, fans, gushing bloggers, giveaways, and all those things that most of us only ever dare hope for. My despair in my author journey so far caused me to start to believe that “nobody reads anymore, dammit!” We all know this isn’t true, of course.

I’m horrible at marketing. I can’t really advertise things, let alone my own books. When I worked as a sales assistant, I would whisper out of the corner of my mouth to prospective customers, “Sure, this knife has a sharper blade and a higher steel rating, but the £49 set will do you fine. You don’t need the fancy one,” though don’t you dare tell my old boss that.

Deciding to try the traditionally published route isn’t out of laziness, though. I’m not doing it because I want to get out of marketing or editing or cover creation. No, it’s because that when I was a kid I was determined to have a publisher. I just believed it was going to happen for me one day. It’s time to make that dream a reality and stop letting doubt overtake it.

So I think it’s time we just stood up and did it. Today. Now. Not waiting until tomorrow or letting doubt beat down your dreams before you’ve even tried. I usually dislike cheesy quotes, but this one by Suzy Kassem is excellent: Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.

If We Could All Rediscover Our Love for Writing

Day 9 [New Year’s Resolution]: If We Could All Rediscover Our Love for Writing

If you’re a writer, you’ll probably be able to relate when I say that I’ve loved books and writing since I was a little kid. My mum read all the Harry Potter books to my brother and I, and my aunt gifted me a large collection of Jacqueline Wilson books when I was around seven or eight. I read a lot, and loved writing stories in school.

dream-2924176_960_720

When I was in Year 6, my teacher liked my story so much that he read it to the whole class, and then he wrote in my school report that I was gifted. Gifted. Me! I already liked writing before that, but that was the day I decided – I knew – this is what I was going to do.

My whole life was writing after that. I started writing the Fire Princess stories, scribbling on pages and pages of A4 printing paper. When I inherited my Mum’s old computer – big, heavy, bulky thing, it was – I’d sit and type for hours and hours and hours. By the time I was thirteen, I’d written three books. Not great books, mind you, but at the time that didn’t matter. I had no idea what the difference was between a good book and a bad book. I really, seriously believed that I would be a famous author by the time I was 20. That’s how easy I thought life would be!

I got the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and sent my poor Fire Princess novels, along with a poorly-written cover letter, to a lot of people, but although some people replied, they weren’t picked up by anybody. It didn’t deter me, though; I just thought I wasn’t trying hard enough, and it would happen for me eventually.

 

Then when I was 17, I started writing a fantasy series called the Blood Scrolls Trilogy, and self-published it (with a hilariously horrible cover) in 2014. Then a year later I met the proprietor of a Greek start-up publishing house called Quest Publications and they re-published it with a new cover. I’d done it! I was going to be a successful writer!

Ha ha.

Quest Publications are HORRIBLE, by the way; do not go anywhere near them. They didn’t edit or proofread the book (and the sequel) before it was published – even the proprietor didn’t finish reading it, and he was supposed to be in charge of marketing – and they put no effort into selling whatsoever. They “forgot” to pay me my share of the profits and if I offered suggestions, I was either told off and insulted or ignored completely. In 2017, I ended up firing them and finally got the rights to my books back.

Speaking of bad companies, check out this article on how to spot fake publishers and agencies if you’re trying to get published.

Even though Quest Publications finally removed me from their website, the damage was done. Because I hadn’t got any professional editing, some readers spotted plot holes or mistakes that should have been fixed before release. I got badmouthed on Goodreads and my reputation was damaged.

I was heartbroken. Imagine thinking your dreams have finally become a reality, only to have it come crashing down and be back to square one. Worse, actually, because Goodreads and Amazon never completely delete out-of-print books, meaning negative comments are going to be online forever.

Now and then, though, I’ll rediscover that excited feeling I used to get when writing. And I’m not talking about excitement for fame and fortune. I’m talking about that sheer, raw joy of creation, the excitement of buying a notebook and scribbling all your ideas down, no matter how outrageous they were. It’s something that was lost while focusing on writing what people like.

The Fire Princess books were very flawed. I sometimes go through them and laugh at how ridiculous some parts were. But they’re pure like nothing else I’ve written. I wrote whatever I wanted back then, because I wasn’t afraid to fail. I miss that feeling. Can you imagine what we’d be capable of if doubt didn’t exist?

background-2850091_960_720

I might go back and rewrite the Fire Princess books. Why not, right? “You weren’t put on this earth to win a popularity contest,” my dad always says.

Writing shouldn’t be a chore, not unless it’s your day job, I suppose. Writing a novel is recreating a piece of your soul, and I sure put all my soul into those books from my childhood. I’d really love to have that feeling again, of actually enjoying the writing, not toiling through it with the promise of having a product at the end of it. Maybe we’ll discover that passion again someday.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all enjoy writing again?