Tag Archives: Goodreads

When the Books Start Piling Up: How to Settle and Read One Book at a Time

4442380869_6799f03bb2_oI’m always looking for the next book to read. This is great because I never run out of material. However, this often means that I have a teetering tower of books waiting for me.

Too often I find that when I go to select my next book, what I wanted to read a week ago is very different than what I want to read today. Add to that the fact that so many books exist, and I’m constantly finding more books to add to my list. This explains why my to-read list is one hundred three books strong and growing.

When I was younger, I’d attempt to read more than one book at a time. Usually, this resulted in me confusing which characters and stories belonged to which book. I ended up taking longer to read each book and enjoyed the novels less than I would have, if I’d read them one at a time. Then, there are times when I get so excited over new books to read that I lose interest in the current book I’m reading.

I used to force myself to finish every book I started, but with time and energy continuously feeling like they’re shrinking, I put down books much faster nowadays. Which is fine, if the book holds zero interest or is poorly written, but more often I find that I get distracted, whether by other novels I want to read or by the vast number of gizmos and gadgets that surround me…Netflix is a big one.

So, I’ve tried out different techniques to help me focus on the novel I’m reading:

  1. Find a place away from electronics. I keep the TV off, turn my phone on silent (sometimes I’ll flip it upside down), and put my laptop away. It’s too easy to get sidetracked by a text, email notification, tweet, or whatever else crops up. I also enjoy reading when it’s quiet. I’m so easily distracted that I can’t have any type of music playing in the background, even if it’s your standard elevator music.
  2. Schedule time to read. Everyone is busy. It seems like we have a million things to do every day, and no matter how hard we attempt to get every item on our to-do list crossed off, we never quite make it. Knowing how many other things we have to accomplish can make it difficult to concentrate on something that’s considered a leisure activity. However, reading for pleasure has many benefits, including “increased empathy, improved relationships with others, reductions in the symptoms of depression and dementia, and improved wellbeing.” So, pencil in time to read, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes a day.
  3. Read widely. It’s easy to fall into a rut. This includes with what you read. Occasionally, I’ll find myself reading the same types of books. After a while, I begin to get bored. Books I normally would have enjoyed are irritating me, because they seem exactly the same as the ones I’d previously read. Therefore, I like to mix up what I read. Maybe I’ll read two young adult fantasies and then pick up a six hundred page non-fiction book. After that, I might go to an adult mystery novel. By reading widely you’re doing more than staving off boredom. You’re boosting your creativity, expanding your understanding, increasing your emotional intelligence, and enhancing how different parts of your brain link to each other by growing neural connections.
  4. Join a reading group or reading challenge. At the beginning of 2016, I joined Goodreads’s yearly reading challenge. I pledged to read thirty books this year, which is about a book every two weeks. With each book I read, my challenge is updated, and any of my Goodreads’s friends can see my challenge status. Since I take this challenge as a promise to myself, I’m unwilling to not reach my goal. I want my homepage to show that I succeeded in what I set out to do. Giving yourself goals and letting others know about them, creates a community in which you’re responsible for what you promised to do. This motivates you to achieve your goals, and you get to connect with people to discuss what you’ve read, see what they’re reading, and feel like you’re part of something greater than yourself.

Sometimes, however, nothing you do will help you focus, even if you’re reading something you enjoy. In those moments, put the book down and do something else. Your mood will change, and you’ll end up coming back to the book and binge reading.

(Photo courtesy of hawkexpress.)

Getting Your Review On

book-reviewI’ve always wondered about how people review books. From The Guardian and The New York Times to Amazon and Goodreads (which is owned by Amazon but has separate reviews from it) reviews of novels are prevalent.

How do people go about rating a book or writing a review of it? I’ve seen reviews that are thorough and go through both the positives and negatives of novels, reviews that are no more than giant rants or superfluous praise, and reviews that are either so skeletal that they provide nothing constructive or have nothing to do with the novel.

When I review books, I find that I have two parts of myself: the writer half and the reader half. The writer half is a harsh critic. It nitpicks, deconstructing the novel and examining it on a more academic level. Is the writing good? Are there plot holes? Are the characters flat, stereotypical, believable, etc.? Is there sentence variety, correct punctuation and spelling, metaphors?

The writer half of me will rant about books that are poorly written and go off on tangents about how books like such and such should have never been published because they are everything agents and editors say they don’t want.

However, the reader half of me will look at those same books and love them. Because although they may be stereotypical, have poor world building, have characters you want to smack for either their (1) lack of intelligent decision making skills, (2) jerk behavior, or (3) some combination of (1) and (2), and are overall horribly written, I still get pulled into the story. I find myself laughing or rooting for the characters. I want to know what happens next.

pile-of-booksIf I didn’t have these two parts of myself, my reviews would be quite different. If only the writer half existed, I would have a lot more one and two star reviews (one being absolutely atrocious and five being one of the best books I’ve ever read). If only the reader half was there, I’d have a ton of five star reviews. The writer and reader parts of myself balance each other out. I have very few five star reviews and even fewer one star reviews. The vast majority of my reviews are either three or four stars, and then I get into the meat of why I’ve rated a book what I’ve rated it.

How do you go about reviewing books? You don’t have to place your reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, blogs, or other review sites to appraise a book. Every novel you read you form an opinion about. How do you mold the opinion you have?

(Photo courtesy of inkspand and pinterest.)

Authors Behaving Badly: How Negative Reviews Send Them Off the Rails

iStock_000010017317XLargeIt’s not uncommon to see or hear about movie stars, singers, or politicians responding badly to news broadcasted about themselves. You can’t stand in a grocery store line without noticing all the headlines splashed across the magazines at the end of the aisle, or you’re watching the news or listening to the radio and you hear about how someone went completely off the rails.

This happens to authors too. They read a bad review about their book or see a negative comment on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, etc. They get angry and lash out. Now, most of them regret their actions, at least they make a public apology. However, their actions linger. People remember.

In 2014, when the New York Times published their “100 Notable Books of 2014,” author Ayelet Waldman didn’t make the list. She fired off several Twitter messages, including one that stated “Fuck the fucking NY Times.” She later mentioned that “social media and impulse control issues” aren’t the best combination and expressed her regret, but her Twitter messages still remain.

It’s understandable to be angry and disappointed when you don’t get something you desperately want. It’s not a good idea to express that anger rashly. There’s a reason we all have that spouse, best friend, sibling, or pet to complain to.

Kiera Cass, author of “The Selection” trilogy got slammed when she and her agent called Goodreads reviewer Wendy Darling a “bitch” for writing a one star review and, in public messages, conspired to boost rankings of Cass’ books. You can see the review here and Cass and her agent’s response here.

Yes, negative reviews hurt. Authors spend a lot of time and effort on their novel. They put it out there for the public, all that hard work, and then they get a negative review. It stings. It sucks. They get angry because they’re hurt. However, name calling and conspiring isn’t the way to respond. The best response is no response, especially in an age where nothing is truly deleted from the internet.

Probably one of the most famous cases of authors behaving badly is Cassandra Clare. Before she published “The Mortal Instruments” series she was a fanfiction writer most known for her Draco Trilogy, a fanfic of the Harry Potter series. During that time, Clare (then Claire) was accused of plagiarism and consequently cyberbullying. She even dropped the “I” in her last name to distance herself from these accusations, such as threatening those who discussed her plagiarism and allegedly trying to get a girl expelled from her university. Here’s a great link showing a loose timeline of Cassandra Clare’s history of incidents.

So far, I’ve only shown examples of female authors. That’s partly due to there being more female authors out there, but male authors behave badly too. Two examples are M.R. Mathias, self-published author and owner of a small press and Stephen Leather, author of “The Basement,” and who seems to feel the need to respond to every negative review. Some of his responses aren’t bad, others are, as when he tells one reviewer “And while you might be the sort of person to be corrupted by a work of fiction, I think most readers are made of sterner stuff!” That’s probably not the best thing to say to someone.

Similar to Leather, some other authors believe they should respond to every negative review, not in an angry, rash manner, but to open a dialogue between reviewer and author. Here’s a link showing author Elle Lothlorien as an example. My thought on authors contacting reviewers, who’ve given their novel a negative review, to help them better understand the author’s intention is this: instead of having to explain your message after the fact, make it clear in your writing. That’s what reviewers are reading. If an author needs to go hold each reviewer’s hand and guide them to the intended message, then their novel wasn’t ready to be published.

Authors put their work out there to be read. Not everyone is going to like their work because there are all sorts of people in the world. When you put your work out there, you’ll get both good and bad reviews. Take both types of reviews in stride. Even better? Don’t make it personal. Though bad reviews may seem like an attack on the author, they usually aren’t. A review is an individual’s opinion. Going off the rail about a negative review, especially doing so in the public’s eye, only reflects badly on the author.

Rant and rave in private. Show a professional face to the public. It’ll save you a headache later on.

How do you feel negative reviews should be handled? Do you know of any authors who’ve behaved badly?

(Photo courtesy of Megan Bostic)

The Mary Sue: The “Perfect” Character

I was recently reading some book reviews, when I came across the term “Mary Sue.” I was interested, so I did some research.

Turns out a Mary Sue is a perfect character, usually acting as some sort of wish fulfillment for the author. In other terms, the author is inserting herself into the text through the character.

the_mary_sue_test_by_PinkMochiMary Sue is a term widely used in fan fiction, but has spread to mainstream fiction.

Here’s a great definition of a Mary Sue by Teresa Nielsen-Hayden:

MARY SUE (n.): 1. A variety of story, first identified in the fan fiction community, but quickly recognized as occurring elsewhere, in which normal story values are grossly subordinated to inadequately transformed personal wish-fulfillment fantasies, often involving heroic or romantic interactions with the cast of characters of some popular entertainment. 2. A distinctive type of character appearing in these stories who represents an idealized version of the author. 3. A cluster of tendencies and characteristics commonly found in Mary Sue-type stories. 4. A body of literary theory, originally generated by the fanfic community, which has since spread to other fields (f.i., professional SF publishing) because it’s so darn useful. The act of committing Mary Sue-ism is sometimes referred to as “self-insertion.”

The original Mary Sue was a character used to make fun of unrealistic characters in Star Trek fan fiction. The Mary Sue type character typically is young, smart, skilled, and surrounded by men who want her (or women who want him), usually these men (or women) are powerful, intelligent, attractive, etc. themselves.

When a character is called a Mary Sue it’s because the character (male or female) seems too perfect in one way or in all ways to be real. This creates a poorly developed character and causes many readers to roll their eyes and sigh in exasperation.

Think of it this way: Obstacles that would be different or near impossible for all other characters would be nothing for a Mary Sue.

An example: All other characters, including the villain, will be attracted/obsessed with the Mary Sue. She/he will be coveted and will be given unearned, preferential treatment and respect.

Mary Sues can be difficult to empathize with. Rather they are admired or envied, or sometimes they’re just downright annoying.

Here is an example of a Mary Sue from Monika Kothari on Quora:

Bella Swan – Twilight (Stephanie Meyer)

  • Painfully obvious author surrogate.
  • Perfectly ordinary (yet somehow “special”).
  • Pale-skinned brunette, “plain” yet beautiful.
  • Bland, no real personality.
  • Cutesy “clumsy” (informed flaw).
  • Apparently lacking in any real talents or skills, yet her lover is obsessed with her (rather conveniently), and she manages to make everything about her.
  • Builds a harem of potential love interests, despite being self-described as unremarkable in every way.
  • Her lover, Edward, is himself a Gary Stu.

*A male Mary Sue is sometimes referred to as a Gary Stu.

An example from Natalie Monroe’s Goodreads review:

Celanena (Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas)

Let’s start off with our protagonist, Celaena who’s the “greatest assassin in the world”. Okay, I’m cool with that. But it’d be nice if she could actually prove it because from what I’ve seen, she’s once hell of a crappy assassin. People walk in and out of her room all the time when she’s sleeping and she just keeps on snoring. Hello, aren’t you supposed to spring awake like a ninja and hold a knife to that person’s throat?

…Calaena is the kind of idiot that licks stuff off walls, even without the hallucinatory assistance of cactus juice.

But wait, there’s more! Nothing happens to her because she’s purrrfect and fabulous, like that song from High School Musical.

In fact, I’m pretty sure she’s a Mary Sue. Let’s check off her traits, shall we? Tragic past, check. Pretty, check. Amazingly good at something, check. Has more than one love interest, check.

Don’t even get me started on the love interests.

The review goes on, but I’ll stop it there.

Before you go off declaring which characters are Mary Sues and which aren’t, here’s a test to see if your character is a Mary Sue. Click the link.

And here’s a link to help differentiate between whether or not an established character is a Mary Sue.

What characters do you think are Mary Sues?

(Photo courtesy of pinkmochi.deviantart.com)

5 Ideas to Support an Author’s New Novel

Everyone can help support the release of an author’s new novel. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture. Small things help too. And authors will appreciate the help, especially debut authors.

  1. Buy the book. Obvious? Yeah, but there are some people who’d pirate books online. Buying the book helps with sales statistics and with getting that author a royalty. Also, if you’re interested in a soon-to-be-released novel, pre-order it. The more books are pre-ordered, the more attention publishers tend to give them.
  2. Review the book. Book reviews range from a few sentences to multiple paragraphs, sometimes pages. Read the book, write a review, and put it up on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. (You have to add your review to Amazon and Goodreads separately.) Heck, even if you just choose a number of stars to rate it, that’s better than nothing. Because, on some level, book ratings and reviews affect us as readers. For me, there are certain people on Goodreads whose reviews do influence whether or not I choose to read a novel (We’ve got very similar tastes, so if they didn’t like it, I most likely won’t. But if they loved it, I’ll definitely add it to my wish list).
  3. Use Social Media to Your Advantage. Social media is here and it’s staying, so use it. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Google plus. Pinterest. Blogs. Spread the word. Let people know you liked a novel. Word of mouth is really important. It makes a difference in whether or not a book is successful.
  4. Press the “Like” Button. The more “likes” a book receives, the more it appears when someone is searching for a similar title.
  5. Set Up Connections. If you know someone in the publishing or media world, help out a debut author. This one applies more to friends than total strangers, but if you read an author’s new novel and loved it, don’t be shy with contacting them. Authors love making connections.

Any ideas to add?