Shit People Say to Writers

Nobody tells you that when you publish a book, it becomes a license for total strangers to say outrageous things to you that yourself could never imagine saying to anyone.

I’m not just talking about people who’ve actually bought your book.  Even people who haven’t read your book feel encouraged to share, based on what they’ve gleaned from friends, reviews, the Internet, or ESP.

At first, when you’re on tour, it’s surprising, then tiring — but eventually it’s funny, and sometimes even offers you material for your next book.

All the comments on this list have been offered to me or author friends of mine.

–I liked your book, but I hated the ending.

–Your characters shouldn’t be so nice.

–Your characters should be more likeable.

–You need more sex in your books.

–There was too much sex in your book.

–The book doesn’t make sense unless there’s a sequel.

–You used too many words I had to look up.

–Too bad you’re not better known.

–It’ll never sell.

–My bookstore doesn’t carry any of your books.

–I found some typos in your book — you should fix that.

–I’d like you to write my book.

–What’s up with that cover?

–Can you tell your agent about me?

–You have a way with words.

–You need to put a nice lesbian in your next book.

Lev Raphael is the author of 27 book in genres from memoir to mystery, has taught creative writing at Michigan State University and Regents College in London.  If you need writing coaching or editing, you can contact him at https://www.writewithoutborders.com

(free image from Pixabay)

Writers! You Can Reject Your Rejections

You can say “No” to rejections.  But I don’t mean arguing with the editor or readers who’ve declined your work and given some specifics.

Because you don’t want to be like my writer friend who was once furiously typing an argumentative reply after a rejection.  His wife saw what he was doing on his laptop and quietly asked, “Do you want to be known as a good essayist or as a jerk?”  He wisely deleted the document.

What I do mean is not taking the rejection to heart–though that can difficult–and assuming that the comments you get were on-target and you should immediately start revisions.  It’s worth considering the feedback, sometimes just briefly, and then asking yourself:

–Do these suggestions or questions spark anything?

–Do they make you want to write a revision ASAP?

–Do they confirm any doubts about the piece you had?

As an editor myself, I know tastes vary widely.  That friend above once said to me “Finding the right editor is as difficult as finding a partner.”  Then he added, “No, it’s harder.”  He wasn’t kidding.

I’ve had dozens of terrific magazine and newspaper editors, two dozen more when I contributed pieces to anthologies, and editors working with me on 27 books published since 1990. 

If I feel an inner thrill reading a comment, have an Ah-hah! moment, or just confirmation of some question I had about the story or essay myself, that’s when I go to work because I love revisions with good but not overbearing  guidance.

But if the comment seems contradictory or just leaves me feeling “Huh?” then I trust that intuition and don’t bother tinkering with the piece.  I wait.  I’ve had more than one piece in recent months snapped up by editors who loved them and in each case easily half a dozen editors had passed on the same story or essay. 

Of course, if everyone rejecting your work makes almost identical comments, then maybe there’s something there for you to consider.  And maybe not.  Maybe your work doesn’t resonate with them.  Move on.

I make sure that I have “back-up submissions” ready whenever I start sending out something new.  Each time I get a rejection, I send the piece out somewhere else within an hour so that I’m not chewing over the sting of rejection or second-guessing myself. 

Sometimes readers or editors (or both) will want you to overhaul your story or essay completely and write it the way they would have done, though they don’t actually say that.  I remember one short story of mine getting a two-page letter explaining how I needed to be writing like Balzac–and why.  It made me laugh because though I’d read many novels of his, I had no interest in painting a broad social canvas in that story.  It was more intimate.

The story was later accepted elsewhere, anthologized too, and singled out by reviewers.  That helped take my career to the next level. 

I hadn’t changed a word except for the last line, which a very smart editor knew had to be stronger.  He was right and I was grateful.

Lev Raphael is the author of 27 books in genres from memoir to mystery.  He mentors, coaches, and edits writers in the U.S. and abroad at writewithoutborders.comYou can contact him via that website for a free consultation.

Photo: Free image from Pixabay by Sammy-Sander

 

 

Jason Bourne in 1815 Paris!

You can judge a book by its cover when it’s a C.S. Harris Regency mystery.  The gorgeous covers are elegant, mysterious, evocative and haunting. And that’s the kind of historical mystery Harris writes, fielding a hero I dubbed the “Regency Jason Bourne” a few years ago.

He’s Sebastian St. Cyr, a Byronic English nobleman with some dark family secrets, a brilliant wife, and a powerful Machiavellian father-in-law with whom he’s often been at loggerheads.  A distant cousin of George III who wields tremendous power, this father-in-law is a “ruthless, eerily omniscient man with an enviable network of spies, informants and assassins.” 

But St. Cyr is more than a match for him or any opponent: He’s strong, clever, a gifted sleuth, blessed with supernaturally acute hearing and eyesight, and dangerous when threatened or crossed. 

Remember the scene in The Bourne Identity where Bourne is sleeping on a park bench in Switzerland and suddenly disarms and knocks out two policeman who want to see his papers?  That’s the kind of surprisingly quick, efficient act St. Cyr can perform as easily as tying his cravat.  He may look like a toff but he’s a bruiser when he needs to be.

Our hero is now in Paris searching for the mother who abandoned the family years ago, and that search of course leads to what seems like endless darkness before there’s light.  His journey starts with a shocking and heartbreaking discovery in the first few pages.   Harris is deft at writing opening chapters that grab you without feeling gimmicky and the opening chapter of When Blood Lies may be the strongest and most startling she’s ever written. 

It’s 1815 and France is “a witches’ brew of rumors and swirling threats of conspiracy” after over two decades of “death and heartache, terror and disaster, resentment and fury” due to revolution, war, and roiling regime change.

St. Cyr soon learns that his mother has been deeply enmeshed in France’s current turmoil in ways he cannot guess.  His investigation will require speaking to  a wide cross section of Parisian humanity including royalty, an executioner, the police, an inn keeper and many more.  This diversity is part of what makes the series so fascinating; Harris’s canvas is always large and colorful.

Looming over every interaction and conversation, it seems, is the shadow of Napoleon, seemingly trapped on Elba.  Ditto the echoing cries of mobs lusting for bloody spectacle when thousands of men, women, and children were guillotined during The Terror.

I can’t think of many crime writers who can so perfectly create a scene by appealing to all your senses the way Harris does.  Her fiendish plots, her deeply drawn characters and their tangled relationships are just plain thrilling.

Lev Raphael is the author of 27 books in many genres and was the crime fiction review for the Detroit Free Press for a decade.  He mentors, coaches, and edits writers at writewithoutborders.com