Responding To Criticism

Writers in particular seem to be interested in criticism, but the truth is, no matter what our profession we all are apt to face criticism in one form or another.

When I was a new teacher, I was so fearful of parent/teacher conferences — until I learned that most of the parents were just as fearful. Of what? I, that these parents would criticize the job I was doing as a teacher; they, that I would criticize their job as parents.

Of course there were also professional evaluations when an administrator would come into the classroom, observe, then meet with me later and give his assessment (read, critique) of my lesson. And there were the standardized tests we gave too. Ostensibly these measured the students’ progress from one year to the next, but guess who was responsible for their growth or lack thereof? 🙄

Other jobs have similar ways of measuring job performance, so why do some writers (see comments) have such a hard time taking criticism?

The topic came up recently on Mike Duran’s blog, not once but twice. And the author meltdown on Books and Pals ignited additional posts about bad reviews and author responses.

I suspect that part of the issue is how public author criticism is. I mean, when my administrator gave me a job performance evaluation, it was confidential. I got a copy and one went into my file, but from there, no one needed to know if I got a “five star” rating or a “one star.” 😉

Writers have no such confidentiality clause with reviewers. In fact, the point of the review is to publicize an opinion about a writer’s performance.

A reviewers opinion, of course, is not accurately equated with a supervisor’s assessment. In my situation, reviewers would be more closely aligned to my students’ opinions. Imagine if each of them posted on my classroom window what they thought of my lessons that day. Hmmm. 🙄

But a writer’s reviews serve a greater purpose than writer evaluation. They benefit readers because they inform. And they benefit writers because they promote in ways a writer can’t. Reviews on the Internet aren’t paid advertisement. They are one reader’s opinion (or in the case of a blog tour, one group of readers varying opinions).

Consequently, it seems a little baffling to me that a writer would respond in any way but with gratitude. Someone read their book. That in itself is something to be thankful for.

Lambasting the critiquer? I don’t see how that’s a good move under any circumstance.

Some writers answer that the right response is to ignore all reviews, even good ones. I don’t know what I think about commenting on Amazon, but on blogs and particularly in blog tours, I think an author that doesn’t comment is missing out on an opportunity to make a positive connection with a reader.

One author, definitely old school, said to comment on favorable reviews might illicit syrupy suck-up reviews in the future. Well, maybe that’s a risk worth taking. Because no comment could earn an author no review in the future.

I know it’s not always possible, but it seems to me, if a person has taken the time to read a book, write and post a blog review, the least the author can do is drop by with a simple thank you.

I actually learned that from Andy Sernovitz who wrote Word of Mouth Marketing. A couple years ago I won a free copy of his book and blogged about something I learned from it. True to the advice he gave in the book, he stopped by my site to say thank you for the mention. And that wasn’t even a full review.

In my opinion, authors would do well to take advantage of reviews by responding kindly and professionally. I’ve seen more than one blogger won over by such an approach.

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 8

I’m not sure how much more I’m going to do with this topic. As I may have mentioned once or twice, CSFF will hold the blog tour for Donita Paul’s DragonLight next week. After that, who knows which way the cyber-wind will blow. 🙂 But for one more day, at least, I want to discuss Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) by Andy Sernovitz.

By the way, I might mention that I am just twenty pages in and still in the first chapter. Hopefully that gives you an idea that this book has much to say. I certainly have much to think about especially as I consider how to implement the principles in the writing world.

As Brandilyn Collins reported on her blog Forensic and Faith when she was discussing WOMM, Sernovitz has identified five T’s of word of mouth marketing. The first of those is Talkers.

The question is, who will talk about you?

When I first got on the Internet, I didn’t know if I was supposed to come up with some kind of a cutesy fake name or what. I went on one sports forum (remember what a sports nut I am) and registered as B. Fan (for Broncos fan—ah, for the days of John Elway … 😉 ) Eventually I discovered the writer community, mostly through Faith in Fiction. Somewhere soon after, it dawned on me. Rather than protecting my anonymity, if I really wanted to be a writer, I needed to get my name out there into the public arena.

It was a departure from what I expected.

In real life, I was used to going places and running into people I knew—usually former students or parents of former students. At 60 new kiddos a year for 25 years, with the adults added in, that ups the chances of those chance encounters. Not so long ago I was pumping gas and a guy one island over looked at me, looked at me, then headed on over. And sure enough, this was the dad of one of my former students, from eight years ago.

But on the Internet? Put my real name on the web? My picture out there for the world to see? Well, why not, if some day I hope my name is on the front of a book and my picture on the inside flap. I mean, those books might go to who knows where. And isn’t that the point? If people are to talk, the conversation has to begin somewhere.

For the writer, it begins with the people we know who will be willing to talk about us. Family, friends, neighbors, business associates, … and cyber-friends. So who are the talkers in your world?

Published in: on July 18, 2008 at 3:22 pm  Comments Off on The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 8  
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The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 7

I just sent out the notice about Donita Paul’s DragonLight tour for next week. I’m really, really looking forward to it, as you might have suspected. I started the book this week (had it much earlier but was committed to Other Reading), and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Except, last night I couldn’t find it and … oh, right. No journal type stuff here. Interesting copy. That’s what we’re going for.

Interesting and trustworth. That’s the best way I can explain another of the “musts” Andy Sernovitz identifies as buzz worthy in Word of Mouth Marketing. The idea is, consumers, and for us writers that means readers, are looking for a company (author) they can respect and trust.

For fiction writers, trust is earned through the craft and story. Tell a good story, and the readers will trust you to deliver a good story next time. Hook them with your opening, and readers will trust you to keep them interested the whole way through.

Writing instructors often refer to the promise an author makes to the reader, especially in the first few pages. Readers probably don’t realize it, but expectations are set in those first few pages. Will the story be funny, fast paced, thoughtful, full of description, peopled with interesting characters, and so on. The author becomes trustworthy as he delivers what the readers are led to expect in those first few pages.

Bloggers have another way of earning respect and trust. One is simply by telling the truth. That point brings up the canned content issue again. There is no respect or trust a blogger can earn if all they do is copy and paste. There’s also not a lot of trust and respect to be had by praising a book without some interaction with it.

That can be through reading reviews, studying the opening, comparing the book cover, commenting on the premise, or any number of other possibilities. Obviously I have blog tours in mind here because the biggest temptation to say what everyone else is saying comes during tours. Or does it?

How many times have I read an opinion one “important person in the business” expresses, then see that idea parroted hither and yon.

Respect, in my opinion, comes when a blogger thinks for himself, writes what he believes, and does so kindly.

The kind factor is another major marketing point, one that would undermine brevity if I said any more about it just now. 😀

Published in: on July 17, 2008 at 2:30 pm  Comments Off on The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 7  
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The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 6

Just to remind you, the real subject of these posts is word-of-mouth marketing. My thoughts have been spurred by Andy Sernovitz‘s book by that same title. Sernoviz made the statement to the effect that the boring is the killer of all buzz. Or stated in the positive, interesting is a must if something is to be buzz worthy.

In that light, I’ve been thinking about first the produce—the novel—and what makes it interesting and then the promotion, particularly blog posts and what makes them interesting.

Before I give my ideas about what makes a blog post interesting, I’ll tell you the things that aren’t compelling to me, and I’ll even give them in exciting, countdown fashion. 😀

5. Pictures – unless I know the people. Then, yes, they work. But just putting a generic picture up … not so much.
4. Personal journal stuff – unless I know the person in the real world. I don’t have a point of reference to know how great it was that you got to go to Australia for the weekend.
3. Cute personality trait quizzes. Yes, I’ve participated in a couple of those, but I’m so over it! 😉
2. Posts that are self-serving.
1. And the number one thing that does not compel me to read a blog post? Canned copy. When I recognize the material is the kind of information found in a press release, I pass.

Which brings us to the five most compelling features that encourage me to read a blog. (I was tempted to list Emoticons, but the only site I’d go to or the posts I’d read just for the emoticons is All About Children’s Books—see the complete list when you click on “Post a Comment.” )

So here we go. What makes a blog post interesting? Again, in countdown order, here are my top five:

5. Contests
4. Humor
3. Brevity
2. Hooks
1. Topic of interest

By “hooks” I mean either a great opening that catches my attention, or a nail-biting ending that has me coming back just to find out the rest.

But the number one, by far, is an interesting topic. I have subscribed to one blog (you can relax—this one is not about any who might come here and read) that I actually kind of groan at when I see there’s a post. By and large, this individual writes boring, boring posts. But once in a while, there’s a piece of information I would not have learned except for that blog. So I continue to scan it whenever a post comes up, but my scans only turn into in depth reading when I see a topic of particular interest.

Well, duh, you might be thinking. If I knew what was interesting, then I’d write interesting copy. The key is, interesting to your readers. Who comes to your site? Or who do you want to come to your site? Me, I love sports. I coached for years. I follow most major sports (and I consider soccer as a major sport) in the pros and some in the colleges. But you rarely read anything about sports here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. I figure the people who come to a site with Christian and Fiction in the title probably are here because that’s what they’re interested in. Consequently, I limit my content to those subjects, with the rare exception.

My guess is, the people who visit here regularly do so because they want to read content about one subject or the other or even better the intersection of the two.

Does that guarantee I’m writing something interesting? I wish! But at least I have a fighting chance because the visitors stopping by aren’t expecting my views on the political race or what I think about a 41-year-old mother swimming in her fifth Olympics or … you name it.

Now, if I could just master that brevity thing.

What about you? Did I list the thing you think makes a blog post interesting?

The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 4

Be interesting, or be invisible.” So said Andy Sernovitz as part of his golden rule for business in his book Word of Mouth Marketing.

What an important principle for writers! Just the other day, fantasy author Karen Hancock blogged about a book she was to read in order to provide an endorsement. The problem was, she couldn’t get into the book. Not “engaging” we say, which is a code word for interesting.

I’ve thought about this topic some, wondering how it is some people can write about things I have no interest in at all and they make them sound so fascinating, I’m only sorry there isn’t more on the subject.

I wish I was a witty writer. I know of several humor writers that can turn prose into insightful laughter. Undoubtedly I’d even have a few more repeat visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction if I could just say what I wanted to say about marketing but do it so that readers would be holding their sides (rather than rubbing sleep from their eyes 😀 ).

But here’s the thing. Don’t we all think we’re interesting? I mean, I never intentionally sit down to the computer thinking, How can I bore my readers today? I never write a story knowing the editor probably has seen sixty dozen just like it already.

How do we know if what we’re writing is fresh, new, interesting? Isn’t that the key to avoid being invisible?

One writer who definitely is NOT invisible is Donita Paul. The last volume of her DragonKeeper Chronicles, DragonLight will be on the CSFF Blog Tour in ten short days, and you’ll have the chance to learn all about Donita, the series, and this book in particular.

In the mean time, I’d like to think about being interesting. What makes a blog post interesting?

What makes a novel interesting?

The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 3

Are you familiar with Zappos? I wasn’t. Not until I read about them in Word of Mouth Marketing. Actually, I was assessing the book by reading the back cover, the forward, the author profile, and so on. That material included an Afterward by Guy Kawasaki, and in it were the ten stories Kawasaki liked most in the book. Number ten was this:

Zappos has a one-year, no-questions-asked return policy for shoes. This boggles my mind although I’ve never seen my wife return anything to them.

As “coincidence” would have it, several days after I read that, ABC’s Nightline ran a piece about Zappos and how different they are from the norm. Everything reported fit with what I’d read in WOMM. Zappos was making themselves buzz worthy by the way they cared for their customers and by the way their CEO cared for their employees.

Just a few examples:

  • Zappos has a real person answer the phone, someone in their company. No outsourcing customer service.
  • If a customer asks for something out of stock, the employees are trained to look up the item at several competitive Web sites and tell the buyer where they might be able to find what they’re looking for. Sure they might have lost a sale, but chances are they will gain a loyal customer.
  • The CEO does not have a separate office. His desk is in the middle of the other employee cubicles, though none is the stark, isolated affair you might think of. The employees are encouraged to bring their own personality and creativity to their work space.
  • And of course, there’s that return policy. Coupled with the fact that Zappos pays for shipping.
  • So here I am, blogging about a company I’ve never done business with but one I already admire. They made themselves buzz worthy.

    How does this translate for writers? I keep coming back to that question because I think it would be tempting to believe buzz is generated by gimacky things. WOMM author Andy Sernovitz mentions some things that sound like they are mere attention getters—a barber shop that offers free drinks while you wait, a shoe shine stand with plush red chairs, and the like.

    Well, those are buzz worthy because they are different and offer something with the customer in mind. But if the barber gave terrible haircuts, no offer of free drinks will generate a solid customer base, and chances are the buzz that results will not be positive.

    So for the writer, the place to start is the story. Is it buzz worth? How? Why? Why would people talk about my book?

    And speaking of talking about books, there are just eleven days before Donita Paul’s DragonLight blog tour. I happen to think Donita has some pretty good ways of generating word of mouth for her books, and I hope to point those out during her tour.

    Published in: on July 10, 2008 at 11:53 am  Comments Off on The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 3  
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    The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 2

    Word of Mouth. That would be the chief means of marketing, at least according to book people. And now it seems this is also the favorite tack of others in the business of selling, as evidenced by Andy Sernovitz‘s book Word of Mouth Marketing.

    Just in case you’re unclear how this work, I’m actually demonstrating it by writing these posts. Author and one time marketer Brandilyn Collins blogged about WOMM, the book, and gave two copies away. The things she said convinced me this was a book I wanted, so I diligently left comments each day she posted about the topic, and wonder of wonders, I won a freebie. Now here I am, passing on to you some of what I’m learning. That’s word of mouth.

    The organic kind—that which arises from happy consumers, not one, like a blog tour that is initiated by an organizer. In my way of thinking, the organized kind of word of mouth will generate the organic kind of word of mouth if the product (the book) earns it.

    I ended yesterday saying that I believe this type of marketing is eminently consistent with the Christian life. Quotes from Andy say it best:

    This is nominally a book about a specific marketing technique. But it’s really a new [old?] philosophy of business (and how to live it).

    It’s about honesty and admiration. It’s about making people happy.

    It’s a simple philosophy, a new golden rule:

    Earn the respect and recommendation of your customers [readers], and they will do the rest.

  • Treat people well; they will do your marketing for you, for free.
  • Be interesting, or be invisible.
  • A new golden rule. Just like the one God set up in His word, about loving our neighbors as ourselves. Lo and behold, business people have discovered the pragmatic side of this equation, that customers, when treated with respect, become loyal to the point of talking about businesses they’re happy with.

    Of course, there is that all important ingredient—giving readers a product they’ll be happy with. That, above all else, is necessary with books. Andy explains:

    Word of mouth marketing only works if you have good products and services [books]. It only works if peole like you and trust you … If your product or service [stinks], no PR campaign, clever TV ad, or announcement on your website will make consumers believe that it doesn’t. Not anymore. And the speed of word of mouth on the internet spreads the truth almost instantly.

    The sum and substance of this first point is this: be buzz worthy. For a book to accomplish this, it takes more than a great cover or a scintillating premise. Those are ingredients that could initiate buzz, but the story and writing have to be there if it’s really going to catch fire.

    And speaking of buzz worthy, we are now twelve days away from Donita K. Paul’s DragonLight blog tour. This is one you won’t want to miss.

    The Chief Means of Marketing

    Marketing fascinates me. Once upon a time I would have disowned such a statement. I could never foresee being interested in such a “commercial enterprise.” The thing about the book business however, is that sales represent number of readers. Not perfectly, but it’s the closest thing an author has to understanding the scope of his audience.

    Speakers can look out over those in attendance and know at once if they have a full house or not. But writers? It’s a lot of guess work, but sales open a window on the size of an author’s readership.

    How is it that readers find one author and not another? In one group I’m in, an individual asked for recommendations of science fiction or speculative titles to present to a book club. Many suggestions came in. But some names and titles were left off. Why? A lack of awareness? A thumbs-down response to the book?

    Shifting gears for a moment, I just started reading Word of Mouth Marketing by Andy Sernovitz, a book I won in a contest Brandilyn Collins held on her blog Forensics and Faith. The first point Sernovitz makes is that word of mouth marketing (WOMM) is effective because it isn’t generated by paid professionals.

    Why am I discussing marketing, you might wonder, since I don’t have a book to sell or a readership to tabulate. For one thing, I hope to have a book one day. But more immediately, I refer to the CSFF Blog Tour as a word-of-mouth organization. Consequently, I want to understand how WOMM really works.

    An ironic story. While I was writing this post, an email came in announcing an opportunity to put an ad in a certain organization’s program, and I considered it! 😮 Why is that ironic? Because I had just read the following from WOMM:

    And please, I beg you, stop for a minute before you buy more advertising. Think about how much money you are about to spend. Think about how fast you, and everyone else in the world, flip past hundreds of ads without even noticing them.

    The lure of “getting your name out there” is powerful. And the truth is, if an author’s books are to sell, his name does need to get out there. For Christians this is often an uncomfortable line of discussion, seemingly in conflict with the life of humility and neighbor-focus we understand God wants us to live.

    Surprise, surprise. Most of what I’ve read so far about WOMM actually lines up squarely with the life a Christian should lead. It’s quite exciting. Hopefully this discussion over the next few days will answer the question why some books get talked about and others forgotten.

    In the meantime, I encourage you to join the discussion about Donita K. Paul’s latest release, DragonLight (WaterBrook). Only thirteen days until her official CSFF Blog Tour. 😀

    Published in: on July 8, 2008 at 10:58 am  Comments Off on The Chief Means of Marketing  
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