Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Goodreads policy changes: for the good of books?

Some of you may have heard that Goodreads changed their policy around author behavior-related reviews and content.  You can read about the changes here.

Goodreads policy changesTo sum, Goodreads is taking a firmer stance on reviews and content that focus on an author's behavior.  Any reviews that are not about the book (ie: "The Author is an @$$hole so don't read this" followed by a one star review) will be deleted.  Similarly, bookshelves about authors' personas vs. actual books will also be removed (ie: bookshelves entitled authors-who-behave-badly.)

They've also made a few additional tweaks, like revising their author guidelines to make them clearer, and improving members' ability to flag content they don't feel is appropriate.  

Personally, I'm a fan of the new changes. I rely heavily on Goodreads reviews to guide my reading choices and update me on new books I might enjoy. Whether or not the author was a d*ck to someone doesn't impact my enjoyment of a book, and I don't want to miss out on a great story because the reviews are weighed down by personal vendettas.  In my opinion, a book review should focus on the content of the book, and that alone.

To clarify, I don't condone authors behaving badly. It's unprofessional, and in a world of social media can have a negative backlash on your brand. (See my previous post, Why Being a Jerk is Bad for Business.)  But when it comes to what I read, I prefer information about the quality of the story and the writing vs. an author's bad attitude.

But apparently not everyone sees the situation as black and white as I do.  If you scroll down to the comments section below the Goodreads announcement, you'll see some pretty p*ssed off members.  Some even threaten to delete their membership altogether.

I was surprised by this.  I get that having your review deleted without notice is frustrating, and for the 21 people this happened to I completely get why they are upset. (Prior to the official announcement, some behavior-related reviews were removed without warning.) But for the rest of the Goodreads population, I'm surprised by the level of backlash.

So I'm curious - what's your take on the new policy?  Do you think author-behavior  content should be allowed, or are you in the camp of book-review only content?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Body Parts: They Shouldn't Tell Your Story For You

I'm drafting for the first time in a while, so my mind is on effective writing techniques.

I read this great post by Nicole Steinhaus at YA Stands last year: Action Speaks Louder Than Body Parts. Nicole was working as a literary intern and noticed writers using an awful lot of physical reactions to indicate how a character was feeling or reacting to events in the story. Examples: someone's heart pounding, knees going weak, palms, sweating, or brows furrowing.

In the article linked above, the author makes some good points (with examples from John Green's truly excellent Looking for Alaska) about why action that shows a character's response is often much better.

This is a particular weak point in my writing, so I'm going to pay more attention to it in the future. At the very least, I'm going to make sure to avoid cliché physical reactions like hearts slamming against chests and (a personal favorite) letting out breaths the characters didn't know they'd been holding.

That's not to say that there's no place for telling the reader what physical reactions the character is experiencing--after all, it is showing rather than telling (although this post makes the point that it's just a different kind of telling, and I sort of agree). But the writing can often be more effective if the body part action is kept to a minimum.

In case you're still on the fence, I leave you with this post from former lit agent Mary Kole: Physical Clichés.

Monday, September 16, 2013

YA Book Pick of the Month: Twigs by Alison Ashley Formento

Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors.This month's pick is TWIGS, by Alison Ashley Formento.

***Disclaimer: I was given an ARC of this by the author. At my first SCBWI conference she and I sat at the same critique table where I was instantly taken with her writing voice, and she has been a writing/critiquing friend ever since. I'm really proud of Alison Ashley Formento, and so happy to review her book this month.

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

One pint-sized girl. Ten super sized crises. And it's high noon.

They call her “Twigs,” because she’ll never hit five feet tall. Although she was born early, and a stiff breeze could knock her over, Twigs has a mighty spirit. She needs it, as life throws a whole bucket of rotten luck at her: Dad’s an absentee drunk; Mom’s obsessed with her new deaf boyfriend (and Twigs can’t tell what they’re saying to each other). Little sister Marlee is trying to date her way through the entire high school; Twigs’ true love may be a long-distance loser after a single week away at college, and suddenly, older brother Matt is missing in Iraq. It all comes together when a couple of thugs in a drugstore aisle lash out, and Twigs must fight to save the life of the father who denied her.

First line:  I doodled my real name in big loopy letters all over the brown cardboard.

Intriguing. Why is it her "real name" and not just "name"? The subtle distinction makes me wonder about her identity (a nice foreshadowing for the motif of her questioning who she really is throughout). Why the brown cardboard, too? Where is she? Nice for establishing a sense of place. 

The book deals with many of the contemporary issues our youth face today, and from what I've seen, my most vulnerable kids often do have drama upon drama upon drama. The conflict that snagged me the most, though, was the one of Twigs worrying about her brother who is a soldier who has gone missing. The sibling bond is clear and provides a strong baseline tension for all of the other issues tumbling down on her.

Notes for Writers:  

Twigs was well-written, but at times a tough read. I've taught students who live lives like this with so many points of drama, and for those of us lucky enough to not have to deal with so much drama it can be hard to go on this journey with her at times. Thankfully there is a balance of humor to keep this work from being too hard. I also like that she is an imperfect protagonist. Her reactions are not always the ideal, but her flaws only make her more relatable. 

A good read for: fans of hard-hitting contemporary YA as well as those who want to be grateful for having only one, two, three, or four crises in her own life.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Marketing lesson: building a "call to action" into your marketing and social media efforts

Rule #1: You Must Have a Call To Action

As a writer, whether you recognize it or not, you have certain actions you want your potential readers to take when they engage with you on social media. For example: follow your blog, follow you on twitter, friend you on Facebook, add your book to Goodreads, buy your book, enter a contest, leave a comment, etc.  In the marketing world, asking a consumer to take a certain action via digital media is called a Call To Action, or CTA.

When you get to the stage in your career where you are marketing your book, every digital engagement opportunity you have with potential readers should have an easy to follow call to action.

I don't mean that everything you do in the social media space should have a "buy my book" message. I just mean that you need to make it as easy as possible for potential readers to engage with you further should they have that desire. That can be as simple as including a link to follow you on twitter or join your blog, or adding a link so they can add your book to their Goodreads "to-read" shelf.  Never assume that potential readers will take the next step on their own.

This is true even if you aren't yet selling a book. If you want people to engage with you, you have to give them a clear and compelling way to do so.

Here's an example. Have you ever been on a blog and decided you wanted to receive future posts (either via email or by following the blog), only to find that there was no visible sign-up button?  This has happened to me on multiple occasions, and I'm sorry to say that I ultimately left the blog and didn't come back. Not only did the blogger miss getting a new follower, but they missed having repeat opportunities to engage with me via future posts. This can easily be remedied by having a clear and easy to find CTA button on the page.

Rule #2: Make It Easy

This gets me to the second part of the CTA equation: it has to be as easy for the potential reader to engage with you as possible. The more clicks or steps you add to a desired action, the more likely you are to lose that person's interest.

To use the blog example, I could have written down the URL for the blog I wanted to follow, or even emailed the blogger to ask how I could receive regular blog posts.  But that's difficult and time consuming. I wanted a one-step button to click so the blog would be added to my regular Blogger listing, because that's how I read blogs.  Sure, there are some people who will take that extra step.  But most people won't.

Let's use the query forums from last month's WriteOnCon as another example. As you hopefully all know, the best way to get people to comment on your query is to comment on their queries, so that they in turn will pay it forward.

Some forum posters make it super easy for you to find their query by adding a link in the signature of their comment. After you've read their comment, all you have to do to pay it forward is click the link and poof - you're reading their query.

Here's an example of the signature I used during WriteOn to get people to comment on my first 250 words (the "First 250 ~ First 5 Pages" lines are active hyperlinks that jump to my post):

I received return comments from ~80% of the posts I commented on, and the high return rate has everything to do with the fact that I made it super easy for them to find my info.  Otherwise, they would have had to search through the hundreds of other forum posts to find my post.  Who has time for that?

Rule #3:  Apply Rules #1 & #2 Everywhere You Can

This post was inspired by several recent cover release blog posts I read that did not include a single way to engage with the author. Had they included a link to their Goodreads page, or even twitter, I probably would have engaged further.  But they didn't, and I'm sad to say that I didn't take that next step.

Take a look at the places you are posting and marketing yourself.  Have you made it easy for potential readers to engage with you? Contact you? Buy your book?

In a perfect world, every potential reader would remember your posts, tweets, pictures, messages, book blurbs, book name, and cover reveal you put out into the world.  But the reality is we're busy people with a lot on our plates.  Make it easy.  Make it simple. You'll have a higher level of engagement with potential readers as a result.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Villain of the Month: Cruella de Vil

The Cruella pictured here is only an actor. In real life she would never harm a puppy; IRL she's the anti-Cruella, in case you were wondering. :) 

Yes. She's terrifying, especially to pet-lovers everywhere, but why? This week's villain is Cruella de Vil and here are the top six reasons why she's so darn scary...

6. Her own theme song. Normally I would find that awesome, but here it ups the fear factor. Harder to emulate in writing form (perhaps try the repetition of a melodic phrase?), but worth mentioning nonetheless.

5. The name. So much potential in a name. Cruel + Devil = Cruella De Vil

4. Blinding obsession with materialism. I mean, really, I understand a need to look fabulous, but at what cost? At what cost????

3. Her symbolic need to live in black and white. She doesn't have metaphorical color in her life. No appreciating sunsets or love of sharing chocolate with a good friend. Her life is even visually stark.

2. No human connections. She doesn't have anyone to keep her in check; there is no one she loves more than herself, or much, really, at all. She's void of human warmth.

1. Because even though she has everything outside, inside life sucks for her so she takes it out on the defenseless. The adorable snuggly cuddly little defenseless puppies. Puppies. That's cold, man.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

TIFF for Tat

Toronto International Film Festival Flags

Once a year, I get to enjoy the fruits of my day job.  The Toronto International Film Festival officially kicked off Thursday evening with a star studded opening gala and it looks like the next ten days will be go, go, go in my Canadian home town. There will be 366 feature length and short films playing at the festival this year and a number of these are either about books or based on books.  

From Darius Films' THE ART OF THE STEAL starring Kurt Russell about a motorcycle daredevil and part-time art thief who teams up with his snaky brother to steal one of the most valuable books in the world to BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR - the French language adaptation of the graphic novel by Belgian artist Julie Maroh, there is something for every literary lover at TIFF.

If you can't get to Toronto, don't fret, a number of these movies will be released theatrically shortly after the festival so you'll have plenty of opportunity in the near future to watch films that are hot and some that are not. 
Window Seat Reading Nook
Of course, a festival is not a festival without awards, top honours and lists from best to worst. Here are two lists that will help you to fill your September reading quota and perhaps build a new sanctuary to enjoy them in. 

Check out the Top Ten YA Releases for September 2013 which included New York Times Bestseller and Niagara Writers Retreat 2013 faculty member Ellen Hopkins' latest novel SMOKE and Holly Black's THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN.

Once you've decided which novel you'll start with, you can crawl into your favourite space to enjoy your new adventure. Don't have a nook? Need some inspiration? Here are twenty beautiful reading nooks to inspire you.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Writer's Resource: Grammar Help

Look out, I'm going to say it. The "g" word.

screaming woman

Calm down, calm down. It's not that bad. Sure, having decent grammar is important to writing. And sure, the rules of English grammar can be hard to understand at times (and sometimes they even change!). But there are many ways you can improve your grammar without having to go back to high school English class.

One of the best resources on the web is's Grammar Girl. This site features a wealth of easily understandable information on thorny topics like affect vs. effect, who vs. whom, and correct apostrophe use. And she also has a book:

Grammar Girl book

Believe it or not, the comic blog The Oatmeal can also be a good place to go for easy to understand grammar comics punctuated with some risqué humor. Try "How and why to use whom in a sentence" or "How to use a semicolon (the most feared punctuation on earth)."

For those who prefer to go old school for their grammar info, there's the classic reference book The Elements of Style. The title is somewhat misleading, because this book has a lot more to do with grammar and effective writing than personal style.
Elements of Style
Do you have a go-to grammar reference, on the web or off?