6 Tips for Writers to Handle Criticism

Blog 73 ImageEvery writer receives criticism. And it’s really not a lot of fun. The first thing I want to say, and occasionally do, is, “Don’t you understand what I’m doing there? I mean, come on, it’s obvious.” At the same time, there’s a little voice inside me that says, “You see, you’re not going to be the next Grisham or King…or anybody.”

I recently circulated a draft of my third book to beta readers. It has me thinking about how to handle feedback at different stages of my book’s development more…constructively. Here are some tips for you and me.

A writer can’t please everyone. I tend to think that, unless a book of mine pleases everyone, it’s a failure. In reality, that’s an impossible standard to meet. What people like to read is highly subjective and often very specific. The real hope for a writer is to find a steady, loyal readership in his genre.

Beta readers are supposed to be critical. I use a small group of trusted readers to tell me what’s not working in early drafts of a book. A few days after circulating the book, though, I forget my instructions and expect every beta reader to love the book. That doesn’t happen but I do get great feedback. I’m especially interested in criticisms made by more than one beta reader.

And so is the editor. Any traditionally or self-published book needs an editor. But an editor’s criticisms can lead the writer into some deep soul-searching. What I’ve come to understand, though, is that a good editor has experience far beyond mine and the same desire to create the best book. Making the changes the editor suggests is almost always for the best.

There’s a lot to be learned from readers’ criticisms. Once a book is published, it’s almost certain some readers will raise doubts. Again, what I look for are consistent criticisms, particularly regarding plot, pace, characterization and language. And I remember them for the next book.

A writer doesn’t need to respond to every criticism. Of course, a writer can’t accommodate every criticism. For example, he might resist calls for a more likeable protagonist if he believes that the essence of the protagonist’s character is his dark, troubled nature. Or he might keep dialogue as written if only one beta reader thinks it doesn’t flow.

One challenge is dealing with content, such as a gruesome murder scene, that some readers find troubling. A writer may have to weigh honoring what he is trying to create against developing a broad readership. There can be some tough choices.

The criticism is about the book, not the writer. If I remind myself that a criticism is about my book and not me, it’s easier to take.

Bring it on!

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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Promotion: Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

Blog 72 ImageNearly a year and a half ago, I began a blog series comparing traditional publishing and self-publishing for a fiction writer who’s completed her first manuscript. Today’s post is about promotion.

It would be nice if a first-time writer could build readers and maybe even earn an income just by having her book published. However, today’s book market is oversupplied, so she must be sure her book is being promoted.

Before self-publishing, a traditionally published writer looked to her publisher to plan and execute promotion. In a broad sense, the promotion began when the publisher selected her manuscript, packaged it into an attractive book and made sure it was on bookstore shelves. Then there might be advertising, publicity, readings and so on. The writer showed up where and when she was asked.

Self-publishing turned the publishing world on its head, not just because writers could publish and distribute independently, but also because they could promote themselves online. This disrupted the marketing techniques of traditional publishers. Launch parties and book tours fell off. Reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads became as important as reviews in book sections of newspapers. At the same time, a writer was expected by her publisher to take a greater role in promotion. She had to work her own contacts, have a website and maybe a blog, and be on social media. And often at her cost.

Does this mean that, for a writer concerned about promoting her book today, there’s no difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing? In general, I think there still is, though how much will depend on the publisher.

This post from Jane Friedman’s blog illustrates how promotion works at one of the Big 5 publishers. While the writer takes the lead on social media, the publisher offers support. And the publisher arranges for excellent publicity. Both parties seem committed to promotion to get value from their investments. Even if a writer is published by a house that does less promotion, she at least benefits from the publisher’s public vote of confidence in giving her one of their coveted slots.

Whether traditionally published or self-published, though, the writer needs to be deeply involved in promoting her book.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.

Self-Pub Writers Distributing Print Copies Through Resellers

Blog 71Here’s another post in my blog series about How to Self-Publish. It’s the fifth of five on how self-pub writers can distribute their books. So far, I’ve given an overview about distribution, posted about selling eBooks (here and here) and discussed self-pubs selling print copies directly or by consignment. This post is about distributing print copies through resellers.

As I said last post, a self-published writer building a readership needs to make print copies of his book available in addition to eBooks. Many readers prefer the look and feel of hard or softcover books. And between posts, I thought of something else. Quite a few readers ask me to sign copies of my books. Hard to do that with eBooks!

When readers want to buy a print copy of a self-pub’s book, they naturally turn to resellers. They’ll buy the book online for home delivery or have bookstores order it in, assuming consigned copies aren’t on the shelves.

Self-pubs can use print-on-demand (POD) services to supply books online and through bookstores. I described how writers can add their books to these platforms in my last post on distribution. While POD services definitely solve the problem of supplying print copies, self-pub writers should understand that delivery times are longer than for best-selling traditionally published books and that prices can be higher.

I currently use IngramSpark. As a Canadian writer trying to develop a readership, it was important that print copies of The Case for Killing and False Guilt are broadly available, including through Amazon.ca. IngramSpark sells through 38,000 retailers worldwide and local bookstores can order in through Ingram. While it has a partnership with Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, IngramSpark does not guarantee distribution through Amazon.ca. However, customer support helped me maximize the chances of an intermediary picking up my books and both are on Amazon’s Canadian site.

Another POD option is CreateSpace (an Amazon company). I found it less attractive because print copies of books are only distributed through certain Amazon sites, which don’t include Amazon.ca. However, CreateSpace does offer POD services based on a sharing of royalties whenever a book is sold instead of up-front fees. In contrast, IngramSpark charges fees for carrying books on their platform, for market access (though this was waived for me) and for updates to books. Also, in a few examples I read, writers’ royalty shares from CreateSpace seemed relatively attractive.

Finally, writers will find that third-party resellers offer new and used print copies of their books on Amazon, often at lower prices. That can help build readership, but, of course, the writer only earns money from the first sale.

That’s enough about distribution. Next up in How to Self-Publish: promotion.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.

Writing a Killer Ending

Blog 70 ImageI’ve been posting for a while that I’m working hard on my third book. I’m down to editing the last chapters before sending out the manuscript for the first round of developmental comments. And that has me asking: in the thriller genre, what makes for a killer ending?

A book’s opening is the chance to grab readers for the next 400 pages. The ending is an even bigger opportunity. Done well, it can grab readers for the next several books.

So, with the help of blogs by Joanna Penn, C. Patrick Schulze and James V. Smith Jr., here’s what I think endings of thrillers should offer.

A Climactic Incident and Resolution: A thriller should build to a final struggle with the book’s most compelling action, conflict, imagery and dialogue. And the storylines must resolve in a manner that respects the plot’s flow.

Good Meeting Bad: One way or another, in the ending, the good guy and bad guy must face off. Usually the good guy wins.

Surprise: In a thriller, everyone may anticipate that the good guy wins, but an ending needs surprise to stay gripping. There are lots of ways to create this. For example, it can be in how the good guys win, how sub-plots are resolved or, more daringly, by blurring the line between good and bad.

A Sense of Satisfaction: Readers want to feel satisfied at the end of a book. They’re more likely to feel that about a thriller if:

  • The good guy wins, either because he’s smarter or because he’s physically or morally stronger.
  • As part of winning, the good guy learns something important.
  • The readers understand and feel the good guy’s emotions.
  • The ending is not only surprising but also logical and foreshadowed.
  • The loose ends are nicely tied up and it’s clear that the story is over.
  • There’s a strong finishing sentence.

If a thriller’s ending offers all that, readers will want more!

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.

A Hard Way to Make a Living

Blog 69 ImageLast week, I blogged that I’m now a member of the The Writers’ Union of Canada. I’ve been taking a closer look at TWUC’s work.

TWUC just released its latest income survey of Canadian writers called Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativity.

The results are ugly. From the press release: “For 81% of respondents, income from writing would not allow them to live above the poverty line, and the average writer’s income ($12,879) is a full $36,000 below the national average.” Yet writers’ content supports a nearly $2 billion publishing industry in Canada.

I am new to the issues relating to fair compensation for writers. However, the obvious implication of TWUC’s income survey is that writers will leave their profession. And I agree with the report that this, in turn, will affect the quality and depth of material available to Canadians as well as the publishing industry.

Perhaps in an age of disruption, this is how it must be. But first I ask everyone to think again about those income numbers. And perhaps consider buying and reading any writer’s book. It’ll be appreciated all around.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.