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How to face the culture of negativity if you’re a young writer

It’s a shame how negative the culture of reviews can be. I mentor several first time writers and received this email last week:

How do you deal with HORRIBLE, “you’re the worst author ever” reviews, full of NASTY mean things? How do you write a sequel when you know people out there HATE your work? I get lots of 5 stars, and then ill get these terrible ones, and I feel like they want to murder me.

The saddest thing about this email is that it came from someone who has real talent. They’ve worked incredibly hard. Many books by first time novelists have problems (mine did!), but patient readers realize that it’s a process – first time novels are often rough around the edges, but they almost all deliver on something important: a fresh voice. If you read a first time novelist and hate their book, constructive criticism is fine. But if you feel like totally trashing someone’s work online, my strong opinion is that you will hurt the writer a lot more than you probably think. Experienced writers are better at ignoring this garbage (though it still hurts when someone is mean!) – but the first timers take it hard.

If you’re a writer, especially a first time writer, here are five rules to live by when it comes to online reviews:

1. Don’t go looking for trouble.

Once you’re published you’re guaranteed to find terrible reviews of your book. Everyone gets them. There are plenty of mean spirited, awful reviews of my books. It’s tempting to go looking for the good ones, but reading the bad ones can really bring you down and mess with your confidence as a writer. So while it might seem like you’re going online to look for something good, you’re really looking for trouble. And if you go looking, you will find it.

Writers need to be on Amazon and Goodreads in order to do promotional work, so it’s not realistic to never visit these places again. But you can adhere to a rule I live by: never read online reviews or comments on Amazon, Goodreads, or BN.com. And be accountable to someone close to you (I’m accountable to my wife), because it ruins their day too when they have to deal with a whiny, depressed writer.

2. Be realistic about who is posting a mean spirited review and why.

I think most mean spirited reviews are written by one of three types of people: failed writers, know it alls, and outright jerks. A lot of personal garbage is wrapped up in many of these reviews, so you can’t really take them seriously. On the other hand, someone who just didn’t like your book and writes a reasonable review is more likely written by someone who reads a lot and just didn’t get what you were putting out there. Why they find it necessary to share this opinion with the rest of the world often has to do with promoting their own book blog. It’s fair game, but you don’t have to read it.

Understanding who is posting and why is especially true if you’re a young, first time novelist. A high percentage of people will go into the experience of reading a book by a person in their 20′s and assume it’s going to be awful. It’s a hard mountain to climb, and more readers should expect a bumpy ride with first time novelists and be nicer about the whole thing. Why these people read books by young writers to begin with is a mystery.

3. Remember: everyone is a critic

As a published writer you are a member of a deeply maligned creative group (be thankful you’re not an actor!). The system is set up for haters to thrive – it is what it is – but they only win if you care. Don’t care!

And bad reviews can be good for you. Polarizing reviews can drive sales. You’re better off with 100 five star reviews and 100 one star reviews than you are with 200 three star reviews. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. People who love your book will fight for it even more in the face of mean reviews.

4. You have loyal fans and supporters, focus on them.

Your real fans will throw punches for you if you take care of them. True story.

5. A publisher didn’t choose you and your story because you couldn’t write.

It’s a long journey going from first novel to a career as a novelist. If you want to still be writing published books in 10 years, keep reminding yourself that you were chosen because you have the stuff and it’s up to you to keep getting better at your craft. Your first book is a beginning – there’s a lot of story left to tell.

The Netflix Problem

As of 2013 there were more than 100,000 hours of streaming content on Netflix. Assuming you went overboard and spent an average of 5 hours a day watching Netflix, it would take you 54 years to watch everything. Who would have thought the day would come when, for ten bucks a month, we could have access to more screen content than we could consume on a screen in a lifetime? And that’s to say nothing of the almighty DVR, constantly recording between three and seven things I really must watch.

When I was growing up I worked for a week around the house to raise the money for a movie, and then got on my bike and rode five miles to the mall in order to see it. I waited very impatiently for Tuesday night’s episodes of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. If I could have watched five seasons of Fantasy Island in a handful of marathon sessions, I would have done it. Twice. And like any enjoyable habit, I would have repeated this entertaining process with more and more content.

Is it just me or have shows have gotten better at drawing us in, paying off cliff hangers faster, making us gasp, making us want to come back, pointing us to the next thing we’re going to love? It’s hard to quit a show once you get sucked in, and the habit of always having a show waiting for us at the end of the day is a real thing for most kids and teens and adults.

The only way this habit shifts to a book is if I have the willpower to choose a different path and stick to it over the long haul. It’s easier and more natural turning to my phone or my iPad for a show or a movie, and it’s all basically free and at my fingertips. Reading for an hour every day is way tougher than watching one episode of Breaking Bad.

So far in 2014 my habit has been to crawl into bed after two episodes of Dracula and crack open a book for the first time as my head hits the pillow. I fall asleep approximately 7 minutes later.

If reading is a priority in my life, a moral imperative, then I can’t get into a habit of making it the last thing I do at the end of an exhausting day.

I think I’ll make my 2014 resolution now: don’t watch a TV show or a movie until I’ve read for an hour every day.

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School Library Journal TREMOR review

We like – thanks SLJ!

The second book in this engrossing and suspense-filled dystopian trilogy picks up where the first title left off. Faith, still angry and looking to avenge the death of her best friend, is learning to use her supernatural abilities for the upcoming battle with villain Andre; his brutal wife, Gretchen; and their evil twin offspring Wade and Clara. In her corner, the teen has the calming influence of Dylan, her boyfriend and fellow second pulse (a person with a superpower that renders them nearly indestructible), and her nerdy, faithful pal Hawk. A scouting report reveals that the nefarious family is holed up in a maximum-security prison in Colorado. In a reverse tip of the Luke Skywalker hat, Dylan enters the compound to tell Andre that he is his biological father. Although the evildoer is noticeably softened, he cannot allow his son to dissuade him from his mysterious criminal plan. The conflict between the desolated Eastern states and the strictly government controlled Western states takes a backseat in this volume. Instead, the focus is on the main characters, along with their allies, as they attempt to save the world while dealing with secrets, lies, and their own personal limitations and weaknesses. The conclusion sets up an exciting, climactic confrontation in the final volume, for which fans will be eagerly awaiting.–Cindy Wall, Southington Library & Museum, CT

A bunch of questions I answered

I answered these questions for an event in Texas and they seemed worthy of a post here. Enjoy!

 What is your favorite hobby ?

I usually answer fly fishing, because I’ve been doing that for like 25 years. I sometimes fish with David Shannon and Jon Scieszka, two writing buddies of mine, and I always catch more fish. Always. My new hobby is golf, because it’s very difficult and I like a good challenge. I stink at golf. My new-new hobby is Pickleball. Pickleball is something between ping pong and tennis and you play it with a wiffle ball and a wooden paddle. Pickleball is more fun than candy.

Do you have a special talent as a jump roper, hula hooper, skateboarder, etc.)?

I juggle. This is so wrong, but I once juggled three neighborhood kittens. They were fine, but I shouldn’t have done that. All three survived, but the one I dropped didn’t like being picked up for about three days after that. This is a true story.

What is your favorite snack ?

Ice cream. Obviously! So many flavors, so little time.

Are you a Dr. Pepper, Starbucks, etc. addict?

I do like a cup of coffee every morning. And a pop tart if I can find one.

What was your 1st paying job?

Mowing lawns and picking up Christmas trees after they were done serving their purpose. Lawns in my neighborhood paid about five bucks. Taking a tree away was about the same.

Did you ever fail any classes in school? If so, which ones?

I went to a Catholic school. To my knowledge no one ever failed a class at that school. The guilt would have been too overwhelming. It was the kind of guilt that could knock you off your feet so you’d lie there for about a month and just die of guilt and starvation. No one wanted to go there. It was scary.

How many rejection letters did your first book receive?

Enough that I stopped counting. Like 30 or so.

What was your favorite book and movie as a teenager?

Favorite book was Frankenstein or The Once and Future King or The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh. Favorite movie was Sixteen Candles and for sentimental reasons The Warriors, the first R rated movie I snuck into. It was in theaters in 1979, so I would have been 13. Oh, and my brother and I tricked my mom into taking us to the drive in for Saturday Night Fever when my dad was out of town. 1977, so I was 11. There were quite a few f bombs and sex scenes in that movie so my mom was like…I thought this was about dancing? But she stayed, so that was weird.

What is the scariest book you’ve ever read?

It’s a tie between Salem’s Lot and Ghost Story.

Who was the 1st person you called when you realized your 1st book was going to be published?

My beautiful, brilliant, amazing wife – her name is Karen. She’s my best friend.

What is on your bedside table, or what do you see when you look out the window of your favorite room in your home?

On my bedside table: a half eaten Ricola throat lozenge is stuck next to the lamp, but later on tonight if I wake up and my throat is dry, I will pry it free and put it in my mouth. I will not remember this event in the morning. There’s also a stack of books that includes The Art of Pickleball and The Interestings. The Wednesday New York Times crossword is sitting on top of the books, approximately 20% finished (I feel confident 20% of that 20% is wrong). A pencil. A glass of water. And now that I look more carefully, there are two half eaten throat lozenges. Wait, hang on – now there’s one. Yum.

What was your 1st car?

Chevy Monza with a stick shift! Also the doors would only close if you really worked at it, so I almost never opened them. I entered through the window Batman style.

What are the top three songs played on your I-pod/mp3 player?

Feelin’ Alright – Joe Cocker

Awake My Soul – Mumford and Sons

Fare Thee Well – Oscar Isaac

Complete this sentence:

I knew I loved/hated high school when….

I knew I hated high school when I realized dancing was harder than it looked, especially when the play list ran heavy towards songs like Back in Black and I Can’t Drive 55. Note: our school dance DJ’s were, generally speaking, total nimrods.

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New Comments

  • kezia
    is there going to be a third book for the pulse trilogy ...

  • evelyn
    Dear Mr Carman, I am almost finished reading your book thirteen days to midnight and so far its AMAZING. ...

  • evelyn
    I love you book thirteen days to midnight ! ...