Overcoming Self-Doubt

Do you often find yourself writing page after page, and then going back and deleting all your work? Do you refuse to let anyone read your writing because you’re afraid of a negative reaction? Do you just think you’re a bad writer overall?

You’re not alone.

It’s perfectly normal to be critical of your own work. Almost everyone feels the same way. We constantly criticize ourselves, whether it’s about things we do, how we look, how we act, or just how we are in general. It’s a natural human trait to be critical of ourselves, but some of us have mastered the ability to suppress such doubts. When you’re able to do that, you won’t be afraid to show the world what you can do.

I’m critical of my own abilities. Every time I write, I think, “Wow, this is garbage.” I spend countless hours going back and rereading and editing my pieces to ensure they’re perfect. I keep thinking, “This could’ve been worded better,” or “This doesn’t make any sense.” I’m pretty sure I’ll be rereading this blog post a dozen times after I publish it, thinking that it’s pure crap. But despite all that, I am still able to say, “The world needs to read this.” My self-doubt might be strong, but my desire to create is much stronger.

Why is it that most of us are so insecure about our writing (or any type of creative expression)? There could be plenty of reasons. Maybe you’ve had experiences in the past where someone had a negative reaction to something you wrote. Maybe you’re just naturally inclined to view you and your abilities in a bad light. At the end of the day, you need to realize something: your self-judgment is most likely off.

When it comes to the arts, we can’t properly judge ourselves. That is because there is no right or wrong in the world of art. What some people consider bad, others consider a masterpiece.

Go to a local art museum and check out a painting of a blue square on a gray background. To you or me, it might look like a doodle that someone made in first grade art class. For art collectors and connoisseurs, it could be an excellent drawing worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Watch Transformers: Age of Extinction. For film buffs and even most average movie-goers, it’s a piece of trash and a disgrace to cinema. For others, it could be a fun, action-packed thrill ride worthy of countless viewings.

50 Shades of Grey. To me, it’s a heap of trash that promotes sexual violence and unhealthy relationship goals. To others, well, you can guess where I’m going with this.

The beauty of art is that it’s subjective. What one person hates, others may adore. As I mentioned before, there is no right or wrong in the world of art. So no matter what you create, you can relish in the fact that somebody, somewhere out there, may think you’ve created something spectacular.

So how exactly do you overcome self-doubt? I mean, it’d be awesome if you could just flick a switch and turn off that part of your brain that harbors negative feelings, but life doesn’t work that way (but it’d be awesome if it did; then I probably wouldn’t still be so sour about the last season of The Walking Dead.)

I can sit here and write “believe in yourself” in five or six different ways, but that’s not going to work unless you actually take action. The only way to beat the self-doubt is to take the leap of faith. Submit your writing to a contest, enter your painting into an art show, try auditioning for a play – do SOMETHING that will get your art seen by other people. At that point, one of two things will happen: you’ll find out if it’s good, or you’ll find out of it’s bad. If it’s good, then great! You had nothing to worry about! If it’s bad, it’s not the end of the world. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone being hurt for creating a bad piece of art (if that were the case, then a lot of Hollywood directors would be in trouble).

“But what if they don’t like it?”

News flash: you cannot please everybody. You’re most likely going to experience some negativity in your creative journey. That comes with the territory. I said it before: art is subjective. What one person loves, others may hate. The first few negative comments will sting, but you will develop a thick skin. Even I’ve managed to shrug off some horrible things people have said about my writing, and I’m an emotional dumpster fire.

Despite whatever negativity comes your way, you can still stand up and say, “I did it. I let the world see my art.” You deserve to give yourself credit. There are way too many people who are afraid of leaving their comfort zone, which prevents them from achieving their true potential. Don’t let that happen to you. It may be daunting, but once you take that leap of faith and start to share your work, you’ll find yourself much more comfortable with your abilities.

Your self-doubt is just a small roadblock on your path to greatness. And how do you get over a roadblock? By leaping over it.

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

 

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It’s Been Done Before: Being Original When Writing

First off: my apologies for taking so long to pen a new blog post. I’m pretty embarrassed about waiting almost four months to write again. To be honest, it’s been a hectic couple of months. I’ve been tied up with the new job, I’ve finally published the sequel to Dodger’s Doorway, Return to Storyworld, and I’m moving into a new apartment tomorrow. It’s a crazy time for me. But that’s not much of an excuse. I set up this blog to help out fellow writers who needed advice, and although only a small handful of people actually read these posts, I still think it’s my duty to maintain a steady stream of blog posts. Now that my life has somewhat calmed down, I’m ready to kick off the New Year with a fresh batch of advice!

This week, we’re discussing a heavy topic that hits close to home for me: originality in writing.

Story time!

When I first started writing Dodger’s Doorway, I was so proud of myself. I thought I had created an incredibly original story the likes of which have never been read before. Admittedly, I was borrowing some elements from books such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the video game Kingdom Hearts. But other than that, I thought it was pretty original. Who’s ever read a book about a young man going into a fantasy world and interacting with fairy tale characters? My book would be a real game-changer.

Then I started to get worried.

In 2011, a few months before I published Dodger’s Doorway, I started seeing previews for an upcoming television show called Once Upon a Time. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a fantasy series revolving around various fairy tale/Disney characters who are plucked from their own world and thrown into ours. Snow White, Pinocchio, Prince Charming, Rumplestiltskin – all of their stories are woven together into quite the epic modern fairy tale. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

In the beginning, I thought, “Well, so what if Once Upon a Time is similar to my book? Not a big deal.” Then a “friend” told me that my book was basically a rip-off of a comic series called Fables. I haven’t read it yet (though it is on my to-read list), but from what I gathered, it’s extremely similar to Once Upon a Time, in which fairy tale creatures co-exist in their own private community in our world. Okay, still no big deal. That’s just two other stories that are similar to my book.

Then, over the past few years, I started finding out about more book series with a similar premise. I was surprised at how ubiquitous this concept was in fantasy literature. It seems there’s a whole sub-genre featuring fairy tale and literary characters crossing over with one another. I was getting frustrated. And it didn’t help when I tried promoting my book on social media and someone basically deconstructed the premise and told me that it’s been done countless times before. At one point, I seriously considered just saying, “Screw it. I’m done with this series.”

I don’t think anyone can blame me for being mad. I wasn’t so much upset about people being jerks, but the fact that I had this story I had been working on for years and it turns out that it’s been done already. I was so proud of what I thought was an original concept, and then reality hits me with the cold, hard fact that it’s just another run-of-the-mill crossover story. It sucked at first, but it was one of those necessary reality checks that every writer should go through at some point in their life.

I’m going to be blunt: It’s extremely difficult to come up with a 100% original concept nowadays. You could think up the most outrageously unique idea ever for a story, and chances are, there might be something similar out there already.

That’s not to say that there isn’t room for originality. I’m sure you could come up with a unique concept, given enough concentration and brainstorming. But the point I’m trying to make is, you shouldn’t forgo your passion out of fear of people saying it’s not original. Want to write about boy wizards? Go for it. Want to write about elves and dwarves fighting? Do it up. Want to write about vampires and werewolves? Write it! Who cares if the concept has been seen before? Put your own spin on it and make it your own.

Even though my book is similar to Once Upon a Time, I still managed to infuse my own ideas into it so that it distinguished itself. You should do the same with your own writing. If your story is good enough, people will look past the similarities and instead appreciate the originality. Don’t believe me? Consider this: have you ever realized how Harry Potter, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings are all essentially modernized versions of the legend of King Arthur? You think most people realize that off the bat? Nope. They’re too busy appreciating the epic tales that are told. Three of the most recognized and beloved series on the planet aren’t as original as you think – that should mean something.

If you think you’ve struck gold with an original idea, go for it. Even if you find out that it shares some similarities to other stories, stick with it anyway. Complete originality isn’t crucial for a good story, but you must add some form of your own personal touch. That is what will distinguish your tale from the rest.

 

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

Making Time for Writing

If you’re reading this blog, you’re most likely a writer, or you wish to become one. If you’re not a writer yet, what’s stopping you? Do you not know what to write about? Do you think your writing is bad? Do you lack the patience to sit down and churn out words? Whatever the reason, there’s usually an easy solution. But there’s one particular issue that isn’t that simple to resolve: lack of time.

It’s ironic that I’m making this post considering I haven’t had time to do much writing myself, mainly because I just started a new job and I’ve been doing a lot of research into going back to school. Like most normal human beings, I just don’t think there are enough hours in the day to do everything I want, so I’ve had to prioritize. However, seeing as writing is an important part of my life, I’ve had to find ways to include it in my hectic daily schedule, and I hope my advice helps you do the same.

Let’s say you’re like me: you work the typical nine-to-five job from Monday through Friday. Then you sleep about eight hours each night. Take out the three or four miscellaneous hours where you eat, brush your teeth, shower, commute, etc. That leaves you with four or five hours each weekday to do as you please. When it comes to weekends, well, you’ve got all the time in the world (unless you’re like me several years ago when I worked the dreaded hours of retail).

The point I’m trying to make is that there is always SOME time in the day for you to get your writing done. In fact, you can get your daily writing quota in with just one hour each day. One hour – but that hour better be well-spent. That means actually pushing out content and not just watching YouTube videos or chatting on social media. Don’t be ashamed – we all do it.

That daily hour of writing doesn’t have to be all at once. Take advantage of little pockets of time throughout your day. Have a long lunch break at work? Write. Riding on the train? Write. Waiting for class to start? Write. This is why it’s a great idea to always carry around a notebook (or even use the notepad on your phone).

What I’ve found that helps is giving myself a little bit of leisure time before I start writing. It’s not like I leave work right away and immediately sit behind my laptop and start hammering away at the keys. I give myself a half-hour to an hour to settle in. I grab a bite to eat, I read a comic or a chapter of a book, or I watch a quick episode on Netflix. My mind has been working like a machine the entire day, and it needs a chance to cool down. I’ve tried writing right after a long work day before, and trust me, it doesn’t end well. I find myself unable to properly string words together or create coherent thoughts. I’m running on fumes.

Another thing I’ve found useful is cutting down on all the unnecessary time-wasters. For me, it’s video games. I made a promise to myself not to buy any new video games until after I had finished my book. Well, I’ll admit right now that I failed that part since I binged at a recent store-closing sale and bought seven new games. But I’m not starting any of them just yet. They’re currently sitting on my shelf, waiting to be opened until after Thanksgiving when I finally have time to waste again. Find a way to keep similar time-wasters from eating away at your schedule so that you have time to write. If you’re serious about your writing, it should be one of your top priorities. First and foremost, though, you need to make time for your family, your health, and your job. Writing is important, but not important enough to put ahead of your well-being.

One big thing to remember when making time for your writing is to not overburden yourself. You may feel like writing hundreds of stories all at once. That’s awesome that you have that kind of ambition, but you better be able to organize it all. I have numerous stories I want to create, but my priority is my main novel. If I tried to focus on everything all at once, I get stressed out and don’t know where to begin. I end up just flipping between several word documents, trying to figure out which one to work on. It’s much easier to find time for your writing when you have a clear, focused project in your mind. You shouldn’t go into your day thinking, “I’m going to write for an hour.” Instead, you should think, “What am I going to write today?”

Don’t feel bad about skipping a day or two. While it’s better to write every single day, you don’t want to force it. Sometimes, you just don’t feel like writing. In that case, feel free to spend your time on a leisurely activity. Play a video game. Read a book. Do something to clear your mind, and then come back to it later on. Just don’t let too much writing-free time go by. Writing is like a muscle, and what happens when you don’t use a muscle for a long time? It becomes weaker (I’m pretty sure I’ve used that muscle metaphor plenty of times in my blog already, but it’s the truth).

When you’re passionate about something, you commit yourself to it. If you really want to be a writer, you have to find time to hone your craft each day. You can never use the excuse, “there aren’t enough hours in the day!” Trust me, there is ALWAYS time to pursue your passion.

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

Finding the Motivation to Write

Remember in high school when you found it so hard to start that long essay, so you kept on procrastinating? Then, once you actually started writing, it became much easier? Guess what? That feeling doesn’t end with high school.

Lack of motivation is the ugly cousin of writer’s block. With writer’s block, you feel like you could sit down and write for hours on end, but you’re stumped as to what to write about. On the other hand, lack of motivation is when you have a ton of ideas bouncing around in your mind, but you just can’t find yourself sitting down and putting them to paper. Like many other writers before me, I’ve suffered through both of these plagues, and if you’re serious about writing, you’re bound to face the same obstacles.

It’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it? If you’re a writer, you’re obviously very passionate about bringing your ideas to life. But if that’s the case, why is it often so hard to crack open the laptop and begin writing out of the blue? Don’t worry – it doesn’t mean you’ve lost your passion. It’s still there. You’re just experiencing a terrible yet common illness: being human.

No matter how much you enjoy a hobby, there may come a time when you struggle to find motivation. It can happen for a variety of reasons: stress, boredom, lack of support, lack of ideas, etc. We’re not machines; we can’t work non-stop. We need motivation in our lives to keep us going. Eventually, you might start to lose that motivation, but if you’re lucky, it will only be temporary. You just need to know the right tricks to get you back on track.

This may seem like the most obvious solution, but one of the best ways to get motivated is to completely distance from all distractions. We live in an age of Netflix, smartphones, social media, and countless other forms of distraction, so it’s understandable that your mind wanders when you’re supposed to be writing. I remember once trying to write an article at my old job but I couldn’t get those first couple of words out because I had The Office playing on my TV, my iTunes playlist going at full volume, and my phone constantly buzzing with texts from friends trying to plan a bar trip for that night. My mind was in multiple places at once, but it wasn’t where it needed to be: on the writing itself.

If you’re like me and you have a compulsory need to keep the TV on at all times, then your best bet is to change your location. I found that I was able to focus on my writing when I distanced myself from all the tech in my room. Nowadays, I spend most of my time writing at the coffee shop, the library, or even outside on the porch. I also turn off my phone, plug my headphones into my laptop, throw on some soothing instrumental music, and begin typing away. It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make for your motivation when you get up and move somewhere with less distractions.

Another distraction for me is the Internet itself. I don’t need to tell you how easy it is to get lost in the depths of the Web, especially when trying to finish an essay or article. The worst is when I have to look up information about something pertaining to my writing, and the next thing I know, I’m on the Wikipedia page for the second season of Lost or I’m watching a funny animal fail videos on YouTube. It’s even worse when I get sucked into the voids of social media and news stories. Why does it seem like all the interesting stuff happens when I’m busy?

Anyway, it’s easy to get distracted by the Internet, and what’s worse is that you can’t exactly get away from it because you might need it for writing research. That’s why I recommend a temporary site blocker, such as StayFocusd or SelfControl. With these apps, you can create and customize a special blacklist of sites, and then you can block those sites for a set length of time. My blacklist includes all the time-wasters like social media, gaming sites, and comic forums, and it’s done wonders for my productivity and motivation so far. It may take time getting used to the blocking, but once you condition yourself not to check these sites every five minutes, you should notice an increase in your focus.

So we’ve covered the obvious causes for lack of motivation. Let’s look at the deeper factors for this phenomenon. After all, it’s not just about distractions; it’s also about your attitude and your overall outlook.

When you’re passionate about your work, it’s easy to dive into a new project. You tell me to write a five-hundred-word essay on hedge funds, and I’ll be dragging my feet the entire time. If you tell me to write a thousand-word analysis of Fight Club, I’ll churn it out in a half-hour with double the word count.

You should never force yourself to write about something you don’t find interesting. Do you think all those successful authors out there are writing about things that aren’t appealing to them? No. They’re writing about what they find intriguing, and because of that, they’re motivated to create pieces that are insightful, entertaining, and successful with the public.

You don’t have to force yourself down a narrow route and write stories based solely on what’s popular or what will sell. If it’s not your taste, don’t write it. You’re tired of all these dystopian teen novels like Hunger Games and Divergent? Write a spy thriller action story. Hate A Song of Ice and Fire and The Lord of the Rings? Write a romantic comedy. Do what you want to do. Don’t try to force yourself to write something out of your zone. Not only will it be extremely difficult to stay motivated, but the lack of interest will also show in the writing itself.

There may come a time when you hit a slump in your writing and start to lose motivation. Don’t assume that this means you’ve lost your passion. Instead, take a break to clear your head. Go for a run. Watch a movie. Read a book. Hang out with friends. Do something to jumpstart your motivation. In due time, you’ll find yourself ready to write once again

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

How to Make a Career Out of Writing

Don’t you wish you could write all the time and get paid for it? Sounds like a dream come true, right? Believe it or not, it is indeed possible to make a solid career out of writing, but not in the way you’d expect.

As always, I’m going to offer a little backstory to prove a point…

After I graduated from college with my degree in English, I decided to search for jobs where I could put my writing talents to the test. I didn’t know EXACTLY what I wanted to do, but I knew that it had to involve writing in some capacity. I remember going on Monster.com and browsing the various job categories for potential leads. I found one job listing under the “printing and publishing” section and eagerly submitted my application. I got a call a few days later and landed an interview. I thought, “Wow, that was easier than I thought. Now that I have my foot in the door at a printing place, my writing career will definitely take off!”

Long story short, I ended up becoming a service technician (it turns out the printing company I had applied to was contracted by a technician business). Needless to say, it threw me through a bit of a loop. However, I enjoyed the job and spent almost a year there before I left to work as a call center employee for an insurance carrier. Yeah, my writing career sure was skyrocketing!

It wasn’t until 2013 that I got my first REAL full-time job as a writer, and since then, I’ve been able to make a steady career out of it.

“So what’s your secret, Alessandro? How do you find a career as a writer?”

Want to know my secret?

Er… there really isn’t any secret. It’s just about looking in the right places.

Sorry if that’s a bit of a letdown. If I knew how to make smoke and strobe lights appear on the page, I would. But I guess the revelation isn’t all that flashy. You can make a career out of writing starting with just a grain of experience. All you need to do is search for the right opportunities and take the right chances.

First of all, fix up your resume. If you have a very generic resume that only showcases a few skills and responsibilities, you’ll have a hard time finding a job in writing (or any field that isn’t sales or customer service). Whatever writing experience you may have, no matter how insignificant it may seem, find a way to incorporate it into your resume. Do you blog? Put it on your resume. Did you write a column for your college newspaper? Put it on your resume. Do you write copy for your company flyer or email blast? Put it on your resume. There is always a way to spin things to your advantage, and with a little tweaking here and there, you can make yourself stand out as an emerging writer eager for work.

Despite all this, you never want to lie about or over-inflate your talents. If you wrote a few words for a flyer about an upcoming company picnic, you can’t say you “drastically increased attendance of company-sponsored event by composing, editing, and delivering sensitive information in a timely manner to a diverse audience.” That sounds fancy and whatnot, but it’ll be really awkward when you have to explain yourself in the interview. Brag about your work, but don’t go overboard.

Next, you have to actually look for the job. It’s not as easy as going on Monster and searching for the term “writer”. You’ll have to search for terms like “marketing”, “content”, and “copy”. The best types of writing jobs (that you get paid for on a regular basis) are going to be in the marketing realm. A lot of digital marketing today is dependent on proper content, and many companies are searching for writers who can develop creative, engaging, keyword-heavy content for their sites. Keep an eye out for those marketing positions!

If you’re lucky, you can find writing jobs that are outside of the marketing arena. I remember once stumbling on a job where I could write quests for adventure video games. I also encountered a job listing as a writer for DC Comics. Unfortunately, both of these positions required a crazy amount of experience, none of which I possessed. It seems like the really, really good writing jobs are far and few between, and the only way to get them is to have a foot in the door at the company. If you’re able to attain such an awesome job, congratulations! If not, don’t beat yourself up.

Don’t limit yourself solely to writing jobs either. Look for editor and proofreader positions as well. Even though you’re not doing the actual writing itself, you’re still exercising some important abilities to help you build your writing repertoire. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished that I had more editing experience. Alas, those jobs are almost as difficult to find as solid writing positions.

No matter what job you decide on, any writing is good writing. It’s like a muscle – the more you do it, the stronger it becomes. My writing has vastly improved since my first day writing content full-time. Even if it gets a little stale constantly writing marketing content day in and day out, I know that I’m still strengthening that writing muscle – and I’m getting paid for it! Two-for-one deal.

Not every writing experience has to be a full-time job, by the way. You can do guest posts and freelance work if the opportunity arises. While it’s difficult to live solely off freelance, it can certainly enhance your resume and your writing prowess. Don’t count out any opportunities just because they don’t pay well. Every little bit helps.

Writing full-time may not be for everyone. You might hate having to follow the strict codes of corporate writing or meticulously crafting your content to accommodate the best SEO practices. If it’s not for you, it’s no big deal. At the very least, you still want to WRITE EVERY DAY. But wouldn’t you rather be paid for it?

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

The Importance of Editing

If there’s one piece of advice that I will always pass on to writers, it’s this:

EDIT THE &*%$ OUT OF YOUR WORK!

Did you read that correctly? Here it is again…

EDIT THE &*%$ OUT OF YOUR WORK!

That should get my point across, right? If not, I advise you to print those words out and keep them close to your writing station… just like I do. It may sound redundant that I’m hollering about editing your writing when it seems like common sense, but you don’t understand how many writers (including myself) tend to neglect this simple task. In my opinion, editing is almost as important as actually creating a story, and if you refuse to properly edit your manuscript, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

I’ve always been pretty shoddy when it comes to editing and proofreading my work. I remember one particular instance back in college where I wrote an entire 10-page paper about Edgar Allan Poe and didn’t even proofread it.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 7.55.12 PM

I’ll never forget my professor’s response when I went to get my grade. His exact response, “Man, you need to proofread your work! Holy God!” Thankfully, I still got a B + on the paper, but that look of exasperation on my professor’s face will forever haunt me.

Later on in life, when I landed my first full-time writing job, I had a nasty tendency to hastily skim my work before submitting it. Needless to say, I had a few conversations with my managers and editors who told me that my writing was pretty sloppy. Afterwards, I made it a habit to at least double-check all of my articles before submitting them. Basically, my rule was that if I could read the article without having to make a correction, then I could submit it. If I saw even one misspelled word, I’d do a full edit of the entire article. It was tedious at times, but let me tell you, it was so worth it. It was the life lesson that I needed.

In my last blog post, I talked about releasing a second edition of my book. The main reason for the re-release was because I was fairly careless with editing the first edition. I was so excited to get my book out there that I didn’t give it the proper attention it deserved before officially releasing it. I probably skimmed it once or twice before officially putting it on the market. To this day, I still regret jumping the gun and shoving out “Dodger’s Doorway” when it clearly wasn’t ready. At least the second edition rectified most of the mistakes.

The point I’m trying to make is, even if you find editing to be the most boring, tedious task on the planet, you still have to do it. For a lot of people, it’s a chore – an important but annoying task that you wish could just be done at the flick of the wand. Trust me – you’re not alone in this sense. I’d rather scrub down my entire bathroom than have to re-read “Dodger’s Doorway” for the 1000th time in an attempt to find any spelling or grammar errors. Unfortunately, it HAS to be done. You can’t skimp on the editing, especially if you ever hope to become a successful writer one day. Not editing your book can cost you in several ways.

First, your readers won’t be happy. I personally get frustrated if I come across a sentence or paragraph that doesn’t make sense because of the way it’s written. I think to myself, “Wow, this could’ve been easily avoided if someone edited it!” Now imagine encountering this situation page after page. It looks sloppy, careless, and unprofessional, and readers will start to think, “Does this writer even care?” If the writer doesn’t seem to care about their work, why should the readers? If they’re willing to support you, the least you can do is edit your work so it’s not riddled with errors.

You might start to think, “Well, who cares what readers think?!” Uh, you should. Granted, you can’t make everyone happy, but that doesn’t mean you should make everyone UNHAPPY. It’s disrespectful to the people who bought your book and expected a coherent, well-written story, and instead received a hastily-written, poorly formatted story that looked like it was written by a first-grader.

In addition to this, those readers can have major control of your writing reputation. Do you think a poorly written/edited book will get stellar reviews on Amazon or Goodreads? Highly doubtful. Negative reviews are a nuisance, but they can have a huge impact on your reputation as an author. A lot of people look past the negative feedback because they understand that everyone has different tastes. What one person calls terrible, another will find stellar, and vice versa. But if there is a negative review because of all the misspelled words and poorly structured sentences, then you have a problem. That’s not a matter of opinion at that point; it’s a fact. It’s not like you’ll have someone say, “Oh, I actually prefer my books to be badly written and edited.” If you know anyone like that, please give them my information. I’m sure they’d love a first edition of “Dodger’s Doorway”.

One more thing: don’t just edit your manuscript by yourself. Ask a close friend to look it over. Also, don’t be afraid to dish out a little extra money for a professional editor (professional editors can be costly, but in my opinion, they’re totally worth it).

Before I submitted the second edition of my book, I sent the manuscript to an editor to review it from cover to cover. Then, I had my friend look over it. Sometimes, another pair of eyes can pick up things that you’ve missed. It happens all the time. You’d be surprised at how the most glaring mistakes can slip past you, only to be picked up by another editor.

The professional editor caught stuff I never even thought about, such as my tendency to over-explain certain scenes or actions, or an instance where I essentially repeated the same character action twice. My friend caught a pretty glaring plot hole where a character was supposedly in two different places at once. This is the kind of stuff that can sneak past you, and you’ll be thankful for hiring an editor!

I want to clarify something: it’s very difficult to edit something to perfection. You can re-read your manuscript over and over and over until your eyes bleed, and when you finally publish it, you still may find an error here or there. The truth of the matter is that we are not perfect. Small mistakes slip through the cracks. I’ve found errors in prominent series like “A Song of Ice and Fire”, “The Lord of the Rings”, and “Harry Potter”. These are all from major authors who actually worked with professional editors to perfect their manuscripts, but there were still minor issues that snuck past them. Some mistakes are unavoidable. If you manage to create a perfect story with literally no errors or mistakes at all, congratulations. If not, don’t beat yourself up too much. I highly doubt misspelling “going” as “gonig” is going to ruin the overall quality of your work.

With all that being said, I’ll leave you with these wise words:

EDIT THE &*%$ OUT OF YOUR WORK!

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Releasing a Second Edition of Your Book

As per usual, I’m going to start off this blog post by drawing from personal experience and recounting a short anecdote about my writing adventures.

I wrote and self-published my book in 2011, but after a few years on the market, I decided to take it out of circulation. Why? Frankly, it was a poorly written mess. It wasn’t the book I wanted to be known for. The writing, the structure, the overall execution – just bad. My readers deserved much better. Therefore, I went back and re-wrote it, then re-wrote it again, and then one more time. Then I personally edited it twice, sent it to a professional editor, and had a close friend edit it as well. I ended up re-publishing the story as a second edition a few months ago. Now, if you were to purchase a copy of “Dodger’s Doorway“, you’d be grabbing that second, more “complete” edition, instead of that mess of a first edition. You want a first edition anyway? Sorry, Charlie – you’re out of luck.

When I talk about book editions, I guess I should be more specific. Remember in school when your textbooks would constantly have to be revised year after year to include corrections and updates? In college, I remember taking a psychology course that required the 10th edition of a specific textbook. My friend was going to let me borrow his, but apparently it was only the 9th edition. According to the class syllabus, mine HAD to be 10th edition since the page numbers and chapter orders were changed around or something. Needless to say, it was frustrating. But I digress…

With novels and such, the editions scenario work on a similar principal. To my knowledge, if you’re going to make a significant change to your book, you will need to re-release it as a whole new edition with a new ISBN. Of course, this may entirely depend on the publisher. With Createspace’s self-publishing platform, if you change the title or author name on a book, or if you change the page count or trim size by more than 10%, you’re going to have to get a new ISBN, and thus release a new edition.

So if you’re going back and fixing a typo or two in your manuscript, you most likely don’t have to worry about the new edition. But if you decide to completely overhaul the manuscript and lengthen or shorten the page count by a significant margin, then you’re in for a ride.

In my case, I knew I was going to be needing a new edition. The original copy of my book was about 200-odd pages. The second edition is 280 pages. There is definitely a major difference between the two editions, not only in size, but in writing quality and storytelling. For me, the second edition was worth it. The question is: is it right for you?

First, you’ll want to look back at your work and decide if you’re happy with it. Is it really the best it can be? Do you think you’ve become a better writer since the time it was published? In the several years between my two editions being published, I noticed that I had become a much better writer, so I knew that my book could be better. Remember, your writing talents are like a muscle – the more you work out, the stronger you become. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if you notice a major change in your writing abilities over the course of a few years if you’re writing frequently. In this case, you may want to go back and consider doing a second edition for your previous work.

It may not even be an issue of writing quality when you decide to make a new edition. Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien made major revisions to “The Hobbit” after he had written “The Lord of the Rings”? It’s true. He had to essentially re-write some dialogue and re-characterize Gollum to better fit with the overall lore of the rest of the saga. I won’t lie – I did the same thing with my book. I had to revisit (and fix) certain elements because of how they impacted the overall story as well as the future tales. It’s okay to make these kinds of changes if you think it has an overall benefit on how the story is told, but I’d be very wary about making HUGE changes to the entire plot. You have to be considerate of the people who already own the first edition.

Let’s put it this way: let’s say you own an original copy of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone”, but then J.K. Rowling comes out and announces she’s releasing an entirely new canon edition of the book that completely eliminates a key character, like Hagrid or Professor Quirrell. At that point, it almost becomes a whole new story because the plot changes to accommodate these characters’ absences. You want to avoid pulling such a stunt with your own book if you’ve sold a lot of copies. It can be frustrating for the readers who bought that old edition and then have no idea what’s the canon story anymore. I mean, you’re absolutely allowed to do whatever you want since it’s your book, but you might want to be considerate of your initial readers and how they might handle the situation.

If you’re lucky, you may not have sold a lot of copies of your first edition (ironic, isn’t it?), because this means that you can pretty much change whatever you want and not have to worry about confusing a bunch of your readers. If you’ve sold a few copies here and there to family and friends, then go nuts with the changes. Tell them that this is the updated copy with better writing or new plot points. They can either toss the first edition away, return it back to you, or keep it as memorabilia. For all you know, if you become famous down the road, that first edition copy could end up being worth a lot of money!

On the other hand, if you’ve sold hundreds of copies around the world, you’re going to have some issues with ensuring that everyone gets a second edition.

I lost track of how many copies I sold of my first edition, but I know that a majority went to family and friends. You know what I did when I re-published it? I literally contacted every single person to let them know of the update. I promised everyone a free copy of that second edition. It took a huge chunk of money out of my own pocket, but it was so worth it to ensure that everyone got the book that they deserved. My only regret is that there are some copies of the first edition out there and those readers aren’t aware of the second’s existence. I know one belongs to a former friend of mine who disappeared off the face of the Earth when she moved to Australia. Another copy belongs to an ex-girlfriend… you can guess where this is going. All I can hope is that one day they manage to get their hands on the second edition.

A good idea to spread the word about your new edition is to use the power of social media. Post to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, even YouTube. Tell people what the deal is and how they can get their hands on a copy.

I cannot stress this enough: let them know the difference between a second edition and a sequel. You’re bound to have people asking “So, is this a sequel?”, and you’ll have to break the news and tell them that it is merely just a refined edition of the first book. Same story, different execution. In this case, they might not even care about getting a new copy. Or they might be enthusiastic and proudly ask for a refined edition to add to their collection. Honestly, the worst that can happen is they say “No thanks” to the new edition.

As you can see, it can get very complicated dealing with the second edition of your book. If you are willing to put the time and effort into re-writing and re-distributing it, then go for it. My advice is to avoid this entire scenario by editing, editing, and EDITING your work before even thinking of publishing the first time. However, if you find yourself pin-holed into absolutely having to release the second edition, make sure you cover all your bases.

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How a Negative Book Review Can Be a Good Thing

“…poorly written, reads like a first draft of Mary Sue fanfiction where the author inserted himself into the main character to get back at all the bullies in his life…”

What you’ve just read was an actual review for my book, “Dodger’s Doorway”. Seems harsh, right? How can someone be so brash and blunt when reviewing an independent author’s first piece of work? I mean, give us a break, right? We’re out here putting our sweat and blood into our writing; the least you could do is cut us some slack when reviewing our books.

Well, hold on a minute. While it does indeed suck to read such a negative review about a project that I’ve worked on for a long time, I can’t help but feel grateful. If you want me to be completely honest, I get more annoyed when I see a negative review on my book that was clearly written by a troll. For example, this was a great little paragraph that someone left on my book along with a two-star rating a few years ago:

“I thought this book way about the baseball team, the Dodgers. BOY WAS I WRONG! I only read books on sports, so I didn’t enjoy it, but it seems like a great read for a kid struggling with obesity. I highly recommend it for anyone trying to coax their son away from the compute screen. It is like a mix of the “Star Wars” cartoon series and “The Chronicles of Narnia”, mostly because it is set inside a closet.”

Clearly, Ebert here was just trolling. I shouldn’t be bothered by his review because it’s fake. But I’m more annoyed with this than the previous review I posted, mainly because it’s a waste. That two-star rating is stuck on my book forever, and even Amazon said they couldn’t remove it. The worst part of all this is that I didn’t learn anything from that review except that some people can be real a**holes.

When I see or hear a negative review on my book, I get the feeling of defeat. It honestly sucks when someone doesn’t enjoy my work. But it’s nobody’s fault. People have their preferences. However, if I see a negative review because of the poor writing or weak storytelling, then I begin to look at things differently. I see this as a learning opportunity, something that I can use to hone my abilities for future projects.

I fully welcome negative reviews to my work as long as there is something I can learn from them. Give me a two-star rating, but at least provide some helpful feedback! Does that sound crazy? Of course it does. Most people will scoff and think, “Well, we need to support independent authors for trying to get their work out there. Negative reviews aren’t necessary.” Um, no. If you truly think that self-published authors are exempt from negative feedback, then you are in for a harsh surprise in your future writing career.

EDIT: Apparently, people are confused and think that my previous paragraph means that people are obligated to leave feedback when writing book reviews. I’m here to say that in no way, shape, or form is it mandatory. It is just a small personal request. Ultimately, it is up to the reviewers’ discretion if they want to share feedback or not.

Everybody makes mistakes. When you’re a writer, you’re going to become best friends with either an eraser, a red pen, or the delete button. You need to ensure that you are creating the best piece of work you can before sending it off for publication. While the occasional error can slip through the cracks every now and then, it doesn’t mean you can simply write a first draft of a book and then immediately start selling it. If you try to do that, you might have some angry or frustrated readers. What happens then? They start spreading the word via their groups of friends, their social media profiles, and possibly some book review channels, such as Amazon or Goodreads.

That negative review is permanently linked with my book. There’s no way to get rid of it. I’ll admit, I’m a bit upset that this blemish will forever taint the name of “Dodger’s Doorway”, but if it wasn’t for that review, I probably never would’ve seriously reconsidered and rebuilt my career as a writer.

Once I saw that review, I went back and re-read “Dodger’s Doorway”. The reviewer was right about most of her feedback. I had left some plot-holes open, the spelling and grammar was hit-or-miss, and overall, the story was just weak. I couldn’t believe that I had once thought my book was a literary masterpiece. It was just… bad. I had to do something. I had to go back and use my newly-developed writing experience to re-invent the story. A few years later, I released the second edition of “Dodger’s Doorway”.

Looking back, I wonder what would’ve happened if I never saw that review. Would someone have eventually told me the truth? Would I crack open the book one day and stare appallingly at the horribly written story before my eyes? Probably not. That negative review was a wake-up call. It inspired me to take extra care in my writing (it also taught me the value of hiring an editor and not rushing to publication).

 

So what should you do when you see a one or two star rating for your book along with a negative review? Let it sink in. Read what the reviewer is saying. Does it sound like legitimate criticism? How can you use it to improve your work for the future? In time, you might come to appreciate this negative, yet honest feedback.

It’s important to remember that if you’re willing to put your work out there for the world to see, you better be prepared for some harsh feedback every now and then. Luckily, you’ll develop a thick skin as a writer (or as any kind of artist).

In the meantime, all you can do is EDIT, EDIT, EDIT your work so that it’s as perfect as can be before you publish it, and if you see a negative review, figure out how you can turn it into a learning opportunity.

 

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