The Perfect Bad Review

So, I recently got a 2 star review of Wildflower Crown on Goodreads. The person said that they couldn’t finish the book and found it entirely not suited to their tastes. I was a little bummed that she didn’t like it, but I actually wasn’t upset because of how nicely she worded the review.

I was really glad to get this review, even though it wasn’t good, because it can actually help people decide if they want to read my book or not. Rather than saying “This book is terrible, don’t read it, my eyes were bleeding” or any nonsense like that, she just pointed out where she thought the book needed work and what she didn’t like about it. She was also very polite about it.

When writing a bad review, keep in mind that you’re commenting on something a person made, and that person has feelings. You don’t have to lie or anything, but try to think of what is constructive and could help the writer/other potential readers. If you hated every single thing about the book, you can say that, but word your review as you would if you were telling the author your opinion in person. Or over Skype, at the very least.

Before you publish your work you have to be prepared for bad reviews, even if they are just hateful nonsense, because not everyone is going to like your book. I steer far away from what I consider to be purple prose when I write, and this person thought my book was too simple. And that’s fine. If they didn’t like it, they’re allowed not to and I bare them no ill will. Another person emailed me to say she couldn’t finish my book because she really hated third person POV. You know what? I can’t help that. My book is third person POV and that isn’t going to change, and neither will her tastes. I don’t aim to write a book that everyone will love, I just aim to write a book that I would enjoy reading.

How to Run a Book Review Blog

books

So, there are a few things you need to do in order to run a book review blog. The list below should help out anyone new to blogging or who thinks their blog could use some improvement.

First, start a blog. I happen to be partial to WordPress.

Second, read a book. Preferably nothing by Ayn Rand, but that’s just me.

Next, review the book with a clear rating, either through a number of stars (which you explain the meaning of somewhere) or simply whether or not you would recommend it to other people.

Make it easy for authors to contact you. Either put your email address up or use a contact form thing on a designated contact page. If you run a book review blog, you can get free books. If you didn’t know that, you do now. It makes it easier for authors to spam tell you about their book they’re giving away for free. All they want in return is an honest review (and if they say “give me five stars or else” just ignore them).

A note: if you do want free books but not a certain genre, make that clear. Some authors will still ignore that, but if you don’t want to receive erotica and you’re under eighteen, usually stating that clearly will reduce the probability that authors will send requests to read their naughty things against your wishes. (However, I’m not sure if stating that you’re underage could welcome other safety problems as I’m 21 and haven’t thought about cyber security in a while… but yeah, don’t be Catfished by pedophiles. And stuff. I’m off topic.)

Finally, post book reviews regularly. It doesn’t have to be every day, but post often enough to make sure your blog looks active. This may also encourage you to read more, which is obviously a plus.

The Importance of Plot Bunnies

For those of you who don’t know what plot bunnies are, here is the official urban dictionary definition (can’t get more official than that).

f

Alright, so ignore the fanfic thing. It can happen for any kind of story. Basically, you think of something or see something that is so inspirational you’re like OH MY GOD I HAVE TO WRITE THIS. I don’t know why it’s called a plot bunny. I was nine years old in 2003, so this has been around for a while.

Recently, I was attacked by plot bunnies. Or plot wolves, if you will. I had a super realistic dream (I don’t know if this is a thing all writers experience, because whenever I tell people about them they’re like “wtf”) about this land cursed by wolves. I woke up and I KNEW I had to write it. I started it right away and I’m at 12,000 words right now.

The strangest thing is that the story is coming together really well so far even though I’m pantsing (i.e., winging) it, though usually I plan a lot more. I’ve put aside the other project I wanted to work on this summer because the idea for this just completely consumes me.

BABY BUNNIES, BROWN, WHITE, GRAY

rawr

A lot of people will say to ignore your plot bunnies, to put them in a box and only take them out when you need them. However, in real life putting bunnies in a box without attending to them will kill them all. Ideas are a bit like that. Even if something is a good idea, the more you put it off and think about it without acting the duller it can become. If you have some kind of breathtakingly amazing idea you can’t get our of your head, act on it.

Just… don’t make that a pattern. If you keep abandoning your stories at 20,000 words because something new distracts you you’ll never get anything done.

Wildflower Crown too was started with a plot bunny. Though I’ve changed that bunny so much it probably looks more like a bird now, it’s still the same basic idea I started with. I’m excited that I’ll be sharing the story with you guys soon!

Author Dos

To accompany my previous post, Author Don’ts, I’ve compiled a list of things you, as a new author, should do.

  1. Be nice to everyone you come in contact with. I’m not talking about every John Doe you bump into on the street, but anyone you contact through your blog/Twitter/review requests, whatever. Always make an effort to sound polite and well-meaning, even if someone is being a twit.
  2. Unplug for a while. Always set aside time to just sit down and do what it is you need to do, whether it’s editing, rewriting, writing, outlining… whatever. Procrastination is your enemy, and Facebook and Twitter are leading the attack.
  3. Write something new. I’m not talking a new manuscript, but a new idea. Relying on cliches and old tropes might get you sales, but you can’t be afraid to be an innovative author!
  4. Keep organized! This applies to everything, from editing notes to review requests. Everything saved on your computer should have smart titles and everything in a physical copy should be together in one place. Keep track of who leaves good reviews and which blogs you come across who offer to do reviews for your genre. Also keep track of your sales and expenses down to the cent, so you can finally celebrate when you’re out of the red and know what your next novel will take.
  5. Edit, edit like the wind! … or something. You don’t want to publish a first draft, or a second draft, or a third draft. Maybe a fourth or fifth draft, depending on how things are going. You want to make your novel perfect to stand out from other novels. Literally anyone can self-publish these days, so you need to establish yourself as a serious author.
  6. Keep your feet on the ground. Most likely, your first novel isn’t going to sell enough copies to allow you to quit your day job. Don’t expect your first book to be a runaway success. Or your second. Or your third. Just keep writing until you build an audience, and watch as that audience grows. It may take some time, but if you try hard, good writing will stand out.
  7. Write a good author bio. Wherever your book is, there will be an author page. You want it to stand out, not read like a formula, 3 kids + cats + Michigan = author. Mine mentions pugs because they are my one true love. If people think of me and say, “Oh, she’s the pug author who wrote that romance book” I’ve succeeded. Don’t forget to link your blog to your page, which I know for a fact can be done both on Amazon and Goodreads.
  8. Keep learning. Not all of us writers majored in English. Even for those of you who did, you don’t know everything. If you’re uncertain about a certain aspect of grammar, look it up. Read essays on character development and the precision of language. It’s important to continue growing as a writer.
  9. Read like your life depends on it, because it does. Your life as a writer, that is. Reading is the best tool we have for increasing literacy, and that’s just what you need to do to be a competent writer.
  10. Help other authors! Without the help of fellow bloggers, I wouldn’t know how to number pages properly on Microsoft Word. For someone formatting their own book, that was an issue. You can build a vast network of reviewers, cover artists, and editors just by connecting with your fellow authors, and having friends who also know your craft is invaluable.

On the topic of number ten, Marigold over on Verses Blurb is giving away free copies of her book. Just click the picture to go to Smashwords, and you can download a free copy in honor of her awesome new cover!

the-black-swan-inheritance-final-cover

Also as a bonus, 21 Tips from Famous Authors.

Are you a blogger who cares about your readers?

This post is going to be short and to the point. Do you write so that others can read what you’ve done? Do you write so that you can share advice, art, or funny anecdotes with the world?

If so, you need to be able to communicate with your readers. This is imperative. WordPress doesn’t have a private messaging feature unless you use a plug-in (at least, not that I’m aware of, but I’ve only been on here for a few months). To talk to you, someone has to use a comment. However, what if they want to start a real conversation? What if they want to talk about something personal, or correct a matter without embarrassing you?

I know y’all have email, because you can’t make a WordPress blog without one. One option is just putting your email in your “About” section, but that’s opening it up to robots who scan pages looking for emails to send spam to. Instead, put in a contact form. This is super convenient for anyone who is signed into WordPress, because they don’t even have to fill anything out other than the comment. It’s super easy. Go add one now. Right now. In another tab. I’ll give you exactly three minutes, so don’t get sidetracked.

Alright, all done? I made one for myself as well. Bam. That took 30 seconds.

The best place for these is to put on your “About” page, but if you do book reviews it might be better to put it on that page instead. I’ve been going around trying to find people to review my book and I’ve seen a lot of blogs with no contact information. Someone had their Facebook up but no email or contact form, so I went to Facebook and awkwardly messaged them there. This forces people to comment when they would much rather email people. I don’t want people thinking that I’m spamming their profile, and in my opinion an email is a much better option for the people who want to ignore me.

Granted, this does mean that you’re going to have to check your email often. If you use your email for WordPress only and never check it, I suggest changing the email address for your account to the one you use most often and switching off all the notifications so that “Beanybabies21 liked your post” isn’t clogging up your inbox.

Alright, so that wasn’t as short as I originally intended it to be, so here’s a zucchini wearing a hat.

I wrote that before actually looking for the picture, but Google never disappoints.

I wrote that before actually looking for the picture, but Google never disappoints.

 

 

Will my college bookstore have condoms?

yes

Well, do you live in the deep south at a private school? If so, the answer might be no. I know someone who goes to school in Mississippi and the prefects will fine her if she swears and church is mandatory, so if that’s your school I doubt they give out condoms at the bookstore. However, I’m sure most public universities or large universities have condoms either in the bookstore or in the health services office (along with free cough drops and shit medical advice).

If you have to, ask an RA for condoms. Like, colleges don’t want you getting pregnant and infected with STI’s. If you ask for condoms, you shall receive.

/random advice

And now I shall share a lovely quote from my sociology professor’s lecture today: “Kids are stupid. Teenagers are stupid. Arranged marriages came about because young people are morons. You’re all horny morons. You got went vagina and hard penises and you can’t be trusted with these kinds of decisions! That’s why we let the old people decide for you, because they don’t have went vagina and hard penises so they can think straight!”

How NOT to self-publish

I’ve been preparing to self-publish for a while now, and at this point I’m looking to see what others like me are doing to publish their books. Nothing good, from what I’ve seen so far. While I know that there are some good self-published books out there, the ones I’m going to talk about probably aren’t them. I admit that I’ll be harping on appearance more than anything, but that has a lot to do with if your book sells or not.

Without further ado, let us start with the first thing not to do:

1. Don’t make yourself invisible. If you want to be an author, you have to be an author. You need an author page. You need a way for fans to contact you if they have questions or praise. You can’t be a name that means NOTHING.

1 2

None of the first page results show an Ava Langley that may be her. This is what should make you consider adopting a penname. Do you want to be confused with the girl on twitter who posts things like, “You’re a fucking dick go die in a hole.”?

But let’s put author in front of her name, shall we?

Well, here’s a blog, but is this the author? Oh, I guess it is.

seriously

No mention of being an author, and I missed the “my available books” at first. Clicking this doesn’t make it look like this is an author’s blog. You need it to be clear for people to connect to your as an author. I’ll admit that my pen name doesn’t show up on Google yet, but I have barely made any posts and my book isn’t available for sale yet. However, if someone found my blog, they wouldn’t be confused.

lala

Okay, well I realize that I spelled my name wrong, but whatever. I’ll fix that. MOVING ON.

2.  Don’t let your book covers look like shit. Please, please don’t. Even if you have to spend money on it or use Createspace’s cover maker or make the simplest cover ever, don’t do it. I can pick out the self-published authors by the shitty covers.

self

If you click on them their publishers are all listed as “Createspace”.  Visually, the middle one isn’t too bad, but you still can’t see the words on the cover.

Then you have one that could be good, but has been way overdone. It’s not hard to pick out bad covers.

3

There’s just too much going on and the fonts aren’t easily readable. It’s a hot mess. If you notice, I highlighted an additional part. It claims to be a top selling fantasy novel…

4

6 reviews do not a top seller make. Sure, she may have gone to the top seller’s list once her book went down to free, but that doesn’t make it a “Top Seller” because nothing was SOLD.

3. Don’t try to market your book as something that it’s not. If you say it’s a bestseller but is clearly not, people will notice. People will not be amused.

4. Don’t let the inside of your book look as bad as the outside. The interior has to be professionally done like you would see in a real book. If you don’t know how to use Word to achieve these affects, Google it. Don’t be lazy.

5

As you can see, that looks terrible. You open your book and have your copyright notice with the same page as the title and then the beginning of the story. Not only that, but the opening isn’t strong. When you know people are going to be basing the opening of your book on this bit that they see, why wouldn’t you read over it and catch something like this? (I’m talking about all the highlighted ands. Way too many in that short span.) Opening with wild action isn’t enough. It still has to be good writing that people want to read.

Normal books have these kinds of pages before the read novel starts:

.1 .2 .3 .4

Obviously a lot of us won’t have a page for reviews, but you should have a copyright page, and one with just the title, and one listing previous publications (if applicable). That’s just how books are set up.

5. Price your book reasonably. You’re not writing a masterpiece. Even if you are, no one knows it yet. You have to price your book at a price that people will be willing to buy it at.

00

Looking at the cover I can already tell that it’s not been done professionally. There is a picture of an eye AND THE EYE HAS RED EYE. I don’t know how some people can overlook these details.  But seriously, $18 for a paperback? This better be an AMAZING novel.

0

No. This is a teenager just learning how to write. When I was in 5th grade this is how I wrote. You just have to be realistic when deciding to self-publish. Is your work any good? I still don’t know if my work is good enough for publishing, I’m just going to release it and hope that people like it. However, I’m not writing for a profit. I’m writing because I love to write and I want to share my writing with the world.

In conclusion, make stuff look good. Once that’s over, things have to be good. Really, you should start with the content and end with the surface features. You want your book to look like a published book as much as it can. It should also read like one. You shouldn’t self-publish because you think you’re never going to be published by a real publisher, but because of literally any of the other reasons for self-publishing.

Tips for Living Off Campus in College

Image

Pictured: Typical state of student housing

There is one thing about college that I have not been able to appreciate. This thing is the famed college dorms, with tiny rooms, shared bathrooms, and… roommates. Let’s just say I haven’t had a good string of roommates. My roommate this semester is pretty good, but she snores and smells weird. That might sound petty, but if you’ve never had a roommate you don’t realize the value of quiet and neutral smells. She’s been my fifth roommate in four semesters of college, so you could say I’m a bit of an expert on bad roommates. However, that’s for another post. This one is about dorm rooms and living on campus.

Next year I will not be living on campus but I will have roommate. Way back in November my boyfriend and I signed a lease for an apartment about a mile away from campus. The distance was intentional; we liked the apartment building and we didn’t want to be right next to campus because we’re snobs, I guess. My parents continually questioned the decision to move off campus, despite the fact that they knew I had had terrible roommate experience (as I assume it is the case at most schools, boys and girls cannot room together on campus) and I couldn’t afford to pay extra for a single room. They thought that it would cost way more and that I was stupid for moving off campus.

At first I thought it was because my parents didn’t trust my math skills. Not only did I calculate an estimate of how much cheaper it would be, but I explained that since I get $10,000 in government loans we would no longer need to pay the school anything during the year because the loans would cover tuition and fees. In fact, next year I should actually be getting a little money back in a check so that I can pay for books. All I’ll need to pay is rent, electricity, and for food. It’s less than my current payments now.

Upon first visiting campus for an open house one of the first things the tour guide told me was that living off campus was way cheaper (plus it’s a dry campus, so you have to leave to drink). I thought everyone at my school knew that. However, after talking with enthusiasm about how I’ll be in an apartment next year, I’ve heard many people say they think living off campus would be more expensive. I plan on emailing the school newspaper to try and write an article debunking this next year (before housing sign-ups), but for now I’ve decided to write a blog post about it for anyone it may help.

On Campus (2013-2014 school year, 4-year state school)
Unavoidable school fees: $2,277.00
Tuition: $6,622.00
Meal Plan: $3,088.00
Housing (Traditional- Super Fly Suites): $5,264.00 – $9,264.00
Total: $17,251.00 – $21,251.00

Off Campus Estimation
Unavoidable school fees: $2,277.00
Tuition: $6,622.00
Food (200-328 a month 9 months): $1,800.00- $2,951.00
Rent: (400 a month 12 months): $4,800.00
Utilities (50 a month 12 months): $600.00
Total: $16,099.00- $17,250.00

Now, let me explain a little more. Firstly, my school is pretty cheap since it’s a public state school (at least compared to my friends at private schools). That being said, housing is pretty steady from college to college if the geographic location is similar. I added the price of the suites at my school because it’s $4,000 more and the people living there still think that they’re going to have to pay more to live off campus. Obviously, you’re going to have to pay tuition no matter what if you want to go to college, along with the ridiculous fees. Clearly, those things I don’t have to explain.

The first thing to gripe about is the campus meal plan. I seriously cannot take another semester of eating at the campus dining hall. The food was okay my freshman year, but it’s been in a steady decline since then. I don’t know how most schools do it, but for me it’s mandatory to have a meal plan if you live on campus. This makes total sense because if you live on campus and don’t have a meal plan you are probably going to starve by trying to cook food only with a microwave. However, the meal plan is expensive considering the quality of the food and the fact that I’m only paying for two meals a day (there are other plans, but I had to go with the cheapest viable one). When I explained how it was NOT more expensive to move off campus to a girl complaining about the dorms she expressed concern over having to cook for herself. Allow me to address this in my next section.

Food costs for living off campus will be as high as you make them. If you order pizza every night and buy a case of beer each week then yeah, your budget is going to be pretty high. I calculated the food budget with what I plan to spend next year ($200 a month for myself, I’ll share a little but my boyfriend is responsible for his own shopping) ranging to what you could spend just to stay even with the on campus cost. I only budgeted 9 months in because summer is usually at least two full months at home (almost 4, actually) and winter break is usually at least 4 weeks. If you don’t think you can stick to a budget of ~$328 a month for a single person, you’re going to have trouble when you’re in an entry-level position working to pay for rent, a car, cable, internet, phone bills, insurance, food, and student loans.

Part of going to college is learning to be an adult. This means budgeting your meals and learning to cook for yourself. Believe me, I’m not an excellent cook. I’m not even that good. I’m a picky eater, too. But I still believe that I’ll be able to stick to my budget. I’ll be practicing making cheap meals from scratch this summer when it’s my parents who will be paying for supplies and eating any disastrous results. While the two-ramon-noodle-packs-a-day can be your life if you don’t plan right, here shows that you can get 202 servings of rice for $10. With a $15 investment in spices at the start of the year, you can have stir-fry literally every night. Occasionally buying chicken and veggies when they’re on sale can make this a meal you wouldn’t mind eating two or three times a week. Planning cheaply like that is how you’re going to save money during college and for the future when you’re budgeting for more than just yourself. Also if you’re willing to take the time you should definitely research on how to be a good couponer so that you can get more food for your money. There are tons of sites out there dedicated just to couponing.

As an interlude with the boring stuff, let’s talk about furnishing your new apartment. (Sorry, is this still boring? I’m just enthusiastic about this kind of stuff.) For those of you whose parents don’t hoard things, who have never gone on craigslist, or who’ve never stepped foot into a goodwill… this will be harder for you. Some apartments come furnished, but lots don’t. I’m using my bed from home, my old desk and my desk chair. I’m stealing an old couch, end table, kitchen table, kitchen chairs, and coffee table from my parents. I got an entertainment stand from craigslist for free and I’m stealing an old TV from my parent’s basement. My mother bought a dresser and nightstand set for $30 on craigslist (I would have used my own, but they’re oak and huge and weigh a ton) and so the combined price of most of my furniture totals $30. Granted, I yearn for a coat rack and I have yet to find one, but other than that I’m pretty much set. Kitchen supplies is where things might really cost you. I got a set of dishes for $3 from craigslist, I got pans and cooking sheets for Christmas, and all the other little things I’ve been getting here and there plus stealing from my parents. Now is the time to convince your parents to get new pots and pans so that you can steal their old ones. Also keep in mind that these are things you can use when you move out for real, so it isn’t just wasting money.

Finally is rent and utilities. I budgeted for 12 months because I have a year-long lease, though some places do school year leases that are cheaper. Since this is college, it’s likely that you won’t be living alone (and if you are you already know that it will be more expensive). Living with at least one other person drastically reduces the strain of living off campus. I budgeted $50 for utilities because I’m only paying electric, everything else is included in the rent. Here is a map of electricity cost averages per state if you need an idea. I don’t know if it’ll even be that high considering how small the apartment is (plus I’m spliting rent with my boyfriend, so he’s paying half of the electric bill), but even with that considered it’s still not more expensive. Also, while I put rent as $400, mine is actually only $375, which is actually kinda expensive. In a college town the average rent per person is going to be $250-$400. If you hadn’t realized, landlords actually want tenants. They know that college students aren’t going to shell out big cash for shitty student housing. The exception is when your college is in a big city. My friend is trying to get a house for her and her friends in the middle of Pittsburgh. They started early and they still haven’t found a place. When they do, it’s going to be at least $600 a person and they’re going to have to share rooms. If that’s the case for you I highly suggest adding a little commute time to get cheaper housing. If you’re in New York City, don’t talk to me. I can’t help you.

Tips for finding a good place:

  • Start early, don’t wait till it’s summer to find somewhere to live.
  • Know who you want to room with. If you only have a single roommate, try to look at two-bedroom apartments before getting a four-bedroom and begging people to live with you.
  • Try starting with a real estate company in your area. They’ll have more to offer and they know what they’re doing.
  • Check the boards around campus as well as craigslist for individual landlords who are renting out. You can also just walk around to find “student housings” signs and take note of all the phone numbers.
  • If going with a landlord, check with previous tenants to see if they’re reasonable. I’ve heard of landlords issuing $50 fines for opening the windows and $25 fines for letting someone spend the night.
  • Try to find a place that includes most utilities into the rent. The rent might be higher but it will be a lot easier to just pay only one or two bills when first trying to be an adult.

I hope some of you find this to be a helpful guide. To any of you who are in a college that don’t allow you to move off campus until a certain year, I have an extra tip for you. Two of my friends go to Kent State. The policy there is that you must live on campus freshman-junior year. Both of them got out after one year by going to their doctor and asking to write a note for their headaches/allergies that (they claimed) the dorm aggravated. You can just go to one of those Med Express places and get a note for headaches and it is that easy to get out of it. You’ll have to file whatever special permissions form that your school has, but they can’t deny you if you have a medical excuse.

Good luck to everyone who’s in college!