#BeBold Sharing Critical Content

image from openclipart.org from J4p4n

“I think it would be therapeutic for me to write a post for our blog where I tear the shit out of movie x.” Zach said.  

I smiled and nodded, happy he planned to contribute to our NAWG blog.  

“But would a negative post benefit our blog in the long run?”  I wondered.  

Another group member and I resolved we would keep our blog a positive constructive place.  Then again, Zach is our resident curmudgeon, if anyone can get away with a grouchy post, it’s him.

As I‘ve been viewing more content, I keep coming back to wondering if critical content is part of a healthy blogging habit.  And if “negative” or “rant” content has a place, what’s the correct ratio to add it into a blog?  Should ever blog or blogger share all opinions whether negative or positive?  Am I as positive as. I portray, or is that a persona shown for approval?   Even in some of my perky posts, on the edges lingers this acknowledgement of themes I don’t like.  

Today there will be no dodging the question.  Should we blog critical, negative, snarky, or tea spilling posts?

The Concerns

-Being seen as petty/mean/opinionated/loud/aggressive/bossy

-Being seen as a person who views writing as a competition and your review as a way to tear down the competition

-Risk of hurting the feelings of another human being

-Burning through the community’s goodwill for you

-Bringing you own work forward for scrutiny as you’ve scrutinized others

-Making an error or oversight in your analysis could cause you being on the end of critical content.  Or you may see your own oversight, go to adjust your post and learn you’ve created an audience not open to evolving opinions.

-Negative attention is still attention and if a book/technique is damaging, you may choose not to mention them at all so you don’t accidentally drive sales to something you don’t support

-Closing venues for conversation and becoming a place to come bash an idea

-Crossing the line and getting personal in an attack (and this is NEVER) good.  

-Depending on what you don’t like, risking the chance you’ll stand in the company of other opinions you find offensive or wrong

The Pros

-People love drama/controversy.  There is a reason videos and posts labeled “spilling the tea” or “throwing shade” rank so high and it’s because everyone loves to watch a fight.  

-As Zach said, rants are therapeutic

-Sometimes critical or negative reviews are a person’s truth and I believe authenticity is more important than being nice. 

-Others can misinterpret silence as approval and I don’t want to support something I didn’t like.

-Bringing critical opinions forward presents a whole and balanced person.  Not someone full of eternal praise

-A negative element of an otherwise good work should be called out.  A person can love something that isn’t perfect and acknowledging flaws is part of a full discussion

-The things I didn’t like may help a crowd of people who like those elements find a new favorite.  What I didn’t like might be something you love about a book

The Outcome 

This conversation is more personal than the other #bebold articles because I present as a positive person.  Get to know me better and I’ll spin out into a rant on X or Y and I like to think it’s funny.  People laugh, whether from the shock of me going from sunshine to dark in a blink of an eye or because I have a strong delivery, is hard to tell.  The thing is, I like to read a room before sharing, and you can’t read a room in the internet.

Unlike the “silence is approval school” I’m from the “if you have nothingnice to say, then say nothing” school.  I’m sensitive to even small gestures of disapproval in others and worry over their reactions if they find out I don’t enjoy their favorite show.  In the past, I’ve compromised under the guise of kindness.  I post all reviews to Goodreads but don’t make blogs from bad books.  Recently I’d considered writing a bottom 5 books of 2018 and dismissed the idea.  Three of the books were from a single author and it struck me as excessively mean spirited to single out an author this way.  

 I’m dipping my toes into critical reviews while blogging.  First, I wrote a post on why I stopped reading Daily Science Fiction.  It’s not mean, but it expresses that I didn’t like the site or most of the stories on offer.  My 2018 book year in review shares both positive and negative thoughts on books.  Even then, most of my critical feedback revolves around non-fiction books that present bad/dangerous science.  I feel like giving them lower scores is a public service.  Do your research world!

  I wrote a critical review on a writing class I took.  There I spoke out because I’d paid money for the class.  If it had been free, there would be no post. The posts gathered the low end of average views.  

Currently I’m brainstorming a series of posts called “Writing Cliches” where I discuss overused techniques in genres and why they bother me/what else you can do.  I think it will be snarky fun with a goal of helping writers avoid played out scenarios and offering other ways to move the story. 

Should you write a critical post?  I don’t really know.  

  I love reading critical posts where the writer explores what worked, where they suggest how idea x could come across better, or where they pitch a “better” story.  Occasionally, I even enjoy a certain level of mean snark.  That said, I’m not comfortable with the format.  Even as I enjoy consuming some of this style of content, I prefer to create the helpful, glass half full kinds of posts.  More than the other posts discussed in this #BeBold series, I suggest moderation.  A few critical posts go a long way after all.  

Looking for more like this? Try the other #BeBold posts “Posting Metrics” and “Sharing Fiction for Free

My 5 Favorite Reads of 2018

2018 was a wonderful reading year. I beat my goal of 36 books by about 10. 17 of these books were nonfiction and not eligible to make this list. Out of 30 books, these are the top five fiction reads. Starting from least favorite to most treasured read.  For an in-depth look at my 2018 reading check out Books Read in 2018.

image from Goodreads.com

5. Traitorborn–  Has everything I like about “Hunger Games” in it but tells the story in a fresh, compelling way.  My favorite aspect of this series is that there are not “good” characters (at least from my perspective).  Most of the characters, our hero included, have a piece of the solution for their dystopian society and they are also holding on to part of the problem.  It’s refreshing to have a complex group of characters I can empathize with some times and despise other times.  Where so much conversations happening around me are polarizing, it’s nice to read a book that reaches for full open conversation and understanding, without surrendering one’s agency.   For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

Image from Goodreads.com


4. Dragon Ridden– Don’t let the cover fool you, this was just fun and well written.  There isn’t any messaging in it, it’s just an immersive fantasy read and sometimes that’s enough.  Pure escapism, a well-developed fantasy world distinct from earth, and a cast of well-rounded characters.  It’s enough. For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

image from Goodreads.com


3. End of Days– Dark, thoughtful work with a great balance of action and tense “waiting”.  Left me wondering about the conclusion all the way to the end and it leaves just the right amount open ambiguity to make me think about it for days afterward but still find satisfaction with the close given to us.  I’m sorry “Traitorborn” is on its second book while “End of Days” is a complete series because I think if I could compare the conclusions of both books, it may flip their positions on this list.  Still both books are wonderful.  Sold to young adults but they hold positives for all age groups.  

image from Goodreads.com


2. Card of Chaos–  Complex, excellent execution, everything I look for in the retelling of classic fairytale/folklore.  It begins with humor and ends in affection.  I like how the author draws the reader in and connects us with this strange if familiar world.  Loved the beautiful scenes, the deep philosophy and the language.  It may be my second favorite book of the year, but it’s my first recommendation to others.

image from Goodreads.com


1. The Book of Etta– Enjoyed every second.  I know this is a polarizing book because it explores gender roles, what gender is, and whether sex and gender can be two separate things.  The beauty of this book: it can explore the internal struggle being genderqueer/trans/gay/bi ect  often brings and ignore all the political bullshit that’s happening in our own world.  Here we can enjoy a human vs self moment.  We can see all the factors in the book which exacerbate the struggle and rail against them without hating our own culture.  Sometimes the call to action in a book can cut short a person’s thoughtful introspection, but The Book of Etta lacks this baggage and I’m beyond grateful.  Where the first book took a premise, I didn’t feel was true but expounded on it in a way that pushed me to read on, Etta felt right from the first words.  I knew Etta, I’d been Etta, and I sometimes still am Etta.  I knew Flora and have been her too.  Heck, there was a part of me that felt like I’d been Alma before and that I knew her.  The beauty of this book is that it allowed me to feel and it allowed me to celebrate so many aspects of who I am as a person.  Everyone will have a different time reading it.  But, it’s the jewel of my 2018 reading list.  


Happy New Year!  What were your five favorite reads of 2018?  Was your reading list similar?  Do you have any recommendations for me?  What are your reading goals for 2019?   

7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

image from openclipart.org by johnny_automatic


1. Wait a few days.  Sometimes the initial rage a book gives me fades.  Cooler heads prevail and some stuff that made me angry was subjective and not a reason to slam a book. 


2. Reread the summary.  Did the summary match what I read?  Sometimes I expect things from a book it didn’t deliver.  Was that me or was it the summary that made my perceptions not line up with reality? 


3. Check the genre.  I am looking for fantasy reads, preferably Urban Fantasy for an adult audience.  I spend a lot of time settling for Young Adult, Paranormal Romance and so on.  Sometimes what I hated is a genre standard, and I try not to hate on a book because it’s a romance with fantasy elements and I wanted the reverse.  


4. Look at what else the author published.  A book catalog sometimes puts a book in perspective and allows me to be kinder.


5.  Read another book by that author.  Sometimes I need to live in that writer’s style for over one book before I relate to what he or she is doing.


6. Read other people’s reviews.  Did someone else enjoy something I missed?  Was this book just not meant for me?  Others perspectives can help. 


7. I focus on what I liked about the book.  What kept me reading?  If I finished the work there must be some redeemable qualities, what drove me forward and is that more powerful than what annoyed me?


Tell me about your process.  Do you refrain from commenting on bad work?  Do you dive into a bad review without pause?  Do you try to be balanced or lean in to your personal views?  Tell me anything related book reviews or what you love/hate in books.

 

Looking for more posts about the reviews process?  Check out my personal blog where I wonder: “Does writing a bad review hurt me as a writer?”  Or read more with the North Alabama Writers’ Group with “Would You Rather?” a question on which kind of negative feedback you’d prefer to see.

If you’re looking for positive reviews try my Kindle Unlimited series.  So far I recommend the Secondborn Series and the Dragon Ridden Series.  Let me know if you have other thoughts or suggestions.  And as always, feel free to check out my Goodreads profile to see all the good and bad reviews.

Best of “Kindle Unlimited” T. A. White “Dragon Ridden Chronicles”



Cover from goodreads.com

 

I am always skeptical when I pick up a book.  There are too many deceiving summaries and too many bad books with high reviews.  To make matters worse, I’m someone who has to finish a book once it’s started.  Because there are so many unpleasant tropes in high fantasy, the books are often long and lack resolution.  I HAVE to see things to the end, so I avoid reading them, even though I like fantasy.  

Despite all my hesitation, Dragon Ridden drew me in and left me charmed.  The first book is a perfect story.  Tate is loud, sassy, and smart.  I love following her around.  Her best traits: intelligence and suspicion are also the traits that get her most in trouble.  She’s inquisitive, loyal, and never gives up.

The world T. A. White depicts is familiar but different.  In many aspects, it reminds me of a scifi/fantasy crossover like Anne McCaffrey‘s Dragonriders of Pern.  Humans exist, but it divorces them from the history and geography of our world.  Also, there are other species we associate as “magical” that these works frame as science born.  Ancient lost technology and knowledge pepper the Dragon Ridden series and speaks to the inner seeker in all readers.

Can I gush “girl power” for a moment and just say how amazing it feels to read a strong female lead who doesn’t ooze femininity?  Tate is what I’d consider a “brawler” type character.  She lets her mouth run away with her and finds herself in fights.  Tate can’t take two steps without finding herself in some kind of trouble.  I love there is no moment where we have to hear about how Tate is “not ladylike” or where she’s “not like other women”.  The others tease her for what a trouble magnet she is, but that’s who she is not what her gender prescribes.

I love she never uses her “feminine wiles” to get information, sneak into places, or gain allies.  I love she never looks at a dive bar and thinks “I have to be careful cause I’m a girl and men are drunk and rape-y in there”.  I love she expects equal treatment from captains, kings, negotiating delegations, and barkeeps and they treat her the same as her male compatriots.  And all this happens without us ever enduring a scene about Tate being “unusual” for a woman “more level headed” or whatever that sets her apart and lets her be one of the guys.  T. A. White just writes her in as an equal and lets us enjoy that without feeling compelled to justify it.

To be fair, there are few other female characters surrounding Tate.  Their lack implies something “special” about Tate (at least in the human side other races have powerful female players).  But it’s so refreshing that no male character addresses how “improper” Tate is that I don’t care if other human women are more “traditional”.  The closest anyone comes to telling Tate to “fem it up” is when she’s going to formal events, they shove her in a dress.  Truthfully, I could do without the “women clothes are uncomfortable and restrictive” bit but when that’s the most bullshit your character gets for being a woman in what seems like a male dominated world, I’m in.  Aspiring writers, do you want to know what you do when you’re writing a female character in a man’s world?  Do this, don’t address it, act like her presence is normal and accepted.  Don’t make her some special snowflake we have to keep addressing in the narrative, just make everyone accept her without blinking.

Beyond world building and character building, the plot pacing in these stories is perfect.  There are not parts in any of these books I skimmed, looking to pull through to something interesting.  Everything T. A. White includes feels important to the narrative and engaging to the reader.  She often has multiple mysteries and sub plots going on in a single story and she adds red herrings along with peppering character development in across the books. I read during my breaks at work, and this series became difficult to read during those times because I wanted to sit in the break room and keep reading.  It was one of those books I’d take home and read instead of coming home and writing as I’d planned.  

Even better than perfect pacing, each book comes to a conclusive ending.  While I tore through the series, it is because I wanted more delightful writing.  I couldn’t get enough of what T. A. White was doing, not because I NEEDED to know the ending.  For the record, the third book in the Dragon Ridden Chronicles has such a conclusive ending, I had to go online to see if there are plans for a fourth book.  Amazing news: T. A. White plans to write a 4th book!  

Take Aways from T. A. White’s Success:

1. Women have a place in “high fantasy” and you do not have to make them special or otherwise justify their presence.  Let male and female characters exist as they are without an exposition dump. (this applies to any “minority” character in any genre) 

2. Sprinkle in world and character building across the series.  I need not know everything all at once.

3. Give characters nicknames if they are catchy and encapsulate an element of the character.  This is the one series where giving the same character multiple names didn’t confuse me, and it worked because we all call the character one name and that nickname is based on their attributes.

4. Mix fantasy and scifi elements together.  Tech and magic are not exclusive.  

5. Write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an ending.  Be confident in your characters and larger world building.  People will read more because they like what you wrote not because you left them on a cliffhanger.

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. Bartol or Sara C. Roethle.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me), 7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

Would You Rather….

image from open clipart.org by oksmith

 

Fellow writers: would you rather a reviewer tell you that the book’s story and characters were amazing but the writing quality didn’t meet expectations or that your book’s writing was mind blowing but the characters and story were cliche retreaded territory?  Follow up bonus question: are your feelings hurt by either or these critiques?

 

I’m asking because I write a lot of book reviews (check me out on Goodreads/shameless plug) and they are critical, even on books I like. I wonder like many aspiring writers might, what effects if any of my reviews have on the authors and on my ability to reach out/break into their world of publication.  Am I speaking to other readers or do authors also follow discussions on their books?  Am I closing doors by breaking a book down or am I showcasing a thoughtful and attentive mind by considering so many facets?  For me these answers break down to whether my comments are offensive and insults are often in the eye of the beholder.

 

Assuming for the moment that critical discussion on aspects of a book don’t automatically equal injury, I want to know what specific kinds of critical discussion would be fair to discuss with an author.

 

Personally, I’d rather have characters and plot that a reader falls in love with than pitch perfect writing.  Things I want to hear include: “The characters felt very real,”, “I felt like I knew everything about these characters,”, “I needed to know more,”, “I’ve never seen this kind of story explored this way.”

 

That said, I have a distinctive sing song almost poetic style in all my writing.  I have an unique “tone.”  If someone compared my writing to another person’s style, I’d be curious to read more of that person’s work and excited to meet a kindred spirit.  If someone doesn’t like my style, I get that too.  It’s heavy in description, relies on alliteration, and is simile/metaphor heavy.  I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

 

Grammatically, I know I need serious help.  Critiques to that effect can dishearten me after I’ve gone through editing that relates to correcting grammar, but it doesn’t cut me.  Either I can go back in and correct the grammatical errors (a bonus to electronic publishing), or I’ve made the error in favor of how a phrase flows or draws out a feeling fragmented instead of a full detailed thought.

 

Does it all boil down to where we as writers are insecure?  My confidence in writing style makes me believe problems in my book must be character/plot related, and therefor I’m more concerned with feedback from those quarters.  I still want the feedback.  For me there is never enough feedback or feedback that’s too harsh as long as it comes with specific examples so I can follow another’s thoughts.

 

Please give me your thoughts.  Do you fear another kind of feedback?  If someone published you would negative or mixed reviews hurt your feelings?  And how do you rate books/media?