Thursday, September 24, 2015

Busy busy, but 10%!!

Hey folks!

I'm dashing around madly prepping for this trip to Toronto (we leave Friday morning to drive for two days, then spend all of Sunday at the Word On The Street book fair --booth #101, come say hi-- and then drive back all Monday and Tuesday) and so I don't have much time to update the blog.

But I've been more or less staying on top of my writing goals. I'm up to over 15,000 words in total (spread over both WIPs) so that means I'm 10% of the way to my end goal! Woohoo! 10% may not sound like a lot, and yes, it's a little bit behind schedule, but it's still momentous and I'm pretty happy.

Anyway, here's a look at some of the promotional materials we're taking with us to Toronto. Don't forget to come say hi if you're in town! (Word On The Street, Toronto, booth #101, 11am to 6pm)

My graphic design skills are mediocre at best, but hopefully they will at least serve as conversation starters. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Well, folks! Things have been busy, and I don't have anything all that interesting to say except to give some updates on how things are going.
I'm working on some behind the scenes web stuff that should be useful including setting up a newsletter that will deliver a free short story to all subscribers as well as announcements of new releases and discounts on already published works. You can sign up for it right now by clicking here, or by clicking the link that says "Virginia's Newsletter" in the left hand column.  
I'm also working on consolidating my web addresses to make everything more streamlined. But I will let you know when that's happening for good.
I've also been getting lots of promotional materials ready for this book fair in Toronto, including some banners and posters and such. (If you're going to be in Toronto on the 27th make sure you swing by the Harbor Front Center and come say hi, we'll be at booth #101 -Word On The Street, TO
And, I have also been keeping up with my write 2,000 words a day challenge! Check out my word count bar for both WIPs:
Total words written since Sept. 15th
For the breakdown on each story
click here
It feels really good to be writing new material consistently, and I'm really starting to get into both of these stories. I can't wait to finish the rough drafts so that I can start the revision process and get them on track to publication. 
I'm also writing a fun guest blog post for a book blogger that will go up on October 11 (a little ways off yet) but keep an eye out for that in a few weeks. I'll post a link to it from this site on the day it goes up. Let's see... what else.... 
That may be it for now. Life continues to be busy, wonderful, and full of beautiful moments. My days have been greatly improved by this commitment to write more new words everyday. I was definitely starting to feel a bit stifled by doing only revision. Once I finish off these first drafts there's another big revision project that I might get started on just to give me some space from these new stories before I look at them with an editing eye. So much to do, so little time. 
And when the next book is ready to launch, I've got some brand new (to me) techniques that I'll be using to make an even bigger splash than Blade's Edge did. :-) (I have also been spending some time lately learning new marketing strategies, but that's not really something I want to bore you guys with the details of.)
The weather this week has been lovely, and Artemis and I have managed to get a couple of days in at the outdoor office, oh, and we 'opened a new branch' of the outdoor office at a local cafe too. Check out the two views:

And that's it, I was mostly just excited about my progress with new writing. I'll try to make sure the next blog post is way more exciting! Hope everyone is having a lovely fall.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Plans... I'm not very good at them.

Depending on what they are, I can make up a whole intricate plan that I boldly declare I will follow and then... I let life get in the way. Don't get me wrong, sometimes my excuses are really good, but you know... they're still excuses.

Take that one woman triathlon I vowed to do. I'm still planning on doing it, but... my training hasn't been nearly as strict as I had intended for it to be. And, of course, I have 'good' reasons for this. The day after I declared that I would start training for the triathlon I got hired to work on this big movie and promptly failed to do any training at all for a week. Then, I would train a couple of days out of the week, but then get hired for a few more days of movie work off and on and find myself falling off of my schedule... then I was super busy getting a friends novel ready for a reprint, then I was getting promotional supplies ready for this book fair at the end of September...

It wouldn't be impossible to keep to my training regimen even while I scramble to do all of these things, but sadly I have a tendency to have only two modes of operation: ALL IN! GO GO GO! or "Yes... I could go for a swim today... or I could read another 10 chapters of this very interesting book..."

Anyway, that isn't to say I haven't been training at all, but just that it's been a tad half-assed.

But you know what? That has never stopped me from MAKING MORE PLANS!

So, here's the other new goal I've set for myself recently:

Inspired by the intrepid Nick Bryan, I am going to write 2000 words of new material every day from now until the end of November. I've set up word counters for myself and everything. I am currently working on two new works, one a novel, one a serial. I have very different plans for each of them, but I hope to release one this fall and the next this coming Spring.

For now, here's where you can check out my word count bars:

Just a heads up, one of these two works is... the sequel to Blade's Edge. I've been waiting for the story to solidify and it's finally come together well enough to put out a first draft, so that's what I'm starting on right now.

The other project is a humorous fantasy parody tentatively titled, The (Mis)Adventures of Victoria Marmot.

Also, for anyone interested, note that I've been doing a lot of work to move everything from this blog over to my other website (but still keeping the blog portion of this blog embedded on that site - allowing it to remain here in its current blogger address) so that I can merge all of my websites into For now, points to this blog. However, if you go to you'll see the website I'm in the process of migrating to. It's still not finished, so feel free to keep coming back here, but I'll post a big announcement when it's ready.

Also, I'm putting together a mailing list for all the folks who want to receive an e-mail whenever I release a new book, or put an old one on sale. (Plus signing up gets you a free short story.) So be sure to check that out.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Why Reviews Are Important

You may have heard it before. Heck, I've even said it before here on the blog. But it certainly bears repeating so I'll just go ahead:

Reviews are extremely important for authors.

Why, you ask? Excellent question, and even though I've blogged about the fact that they are important before, I've never really gotten into the why of it. So let's address that now, shall we?

First of all, we'll start with the obvious: Reviews attract new readers. Whether it's because they actually read the reviews to form an idea of whether or not they would like the book, or simply because they check to see what the average rating is and how many reviews generated it, the more reviews a book has the more likely it is to be read by someone new. This is true for many things purchased on the internet these days, and it is true for books as well. (And in case you were wondering, LOTS of books are purchased on the internet.)

Now let's move on to the stuff that you're not likely to have heard unless you're involved in publishing directly:

This meme has been floating around a number of author and book blogger facebook pages over the past few weeks and, as I'm not sure of its origins, it's accuracy may be suspect. However, I have read a number of articles from legitimate sources that confirm that some version of these numbers is correct. Whether it's 25 or 35 and 50 or 100, it is true that there are amazon algorithms that at a certain point push your book in front of more new potential readers when you reach a certain number of reviews. This is huge for an author looking to increase book sales. Amazon is something like 60% of the online market for books.

In addition, there are a number of promotional services for which books can qualify that require a minimum number of reviews (and an average rating above a certain number) and that number is often over 20 (and the rating is generally above a 4/5). Some of these promotional services are paid, and some are free, but the bottom line is they are trying to maintain a certain standard of quality for the readers who subscribe to their lists/websites and to do so they require a certain number of reviews. 

In other words: reviews are becoming the lifeblood of authors these days, and not just indie authors. Traditionally published authors are finding success or failure based on reviews too. 

Having a high number of reviews on amazon can be as effective in leading to sales as thousands of dollars worth of advertising. Yes, reviews are that crucial these days. 

So, now you're thinking, "Ok, Virginia, I get. You want everyone you know to go give you five stars on amazon and say your book was the best book they've ever read."

NO. I don't. In fact, please, please, please, DON'T do that.

Fake reviews--reviews written by people who haven't read the book, or who are obviously just friends and family of the author gushing over the book--will be taken down by amazon, and don't help an author in the long run at all. 

What I'm actually hoping comes of this blog post is that people will take the time to give their HONEST opinion about books that they have read on Amazon and other sites (like Goodreads) whether that opinion is good or bad (preferably a mix of both).

Here's the thing, the reviews that are most helpful to new readers (and consequently to authors) are reviews that are honest and thoughtful. They don't have to be long, they just have to be sincere. It's honestly in the author's best interest to have a mix of reviews that are good and bad, because then it seems like real humans are reading the books and having actual personal reactions to the book. Not everyone loves the same thing. This should show in the reviews.

I have read rave reviews for books that have made it quite clear that I wouldn't like said book, and scathing reviews of other books that have made me sure that I would enjoy them. How? If the reader gushed about how much they loved X in a particular book, and X is a thing I know I don't like, I'm unlikely to enjoy that book. The opposite is also true, "Oh I hated ____ because of all the ___" could make it very clear to me that I will enjoy that book. 

Until my first book was released into the world I never thought much about what constituted a well written review, or why it would be important to anyone. I'm generally of the type that doesn't care what anyone else thinks about the things that I like so it never occurred to me to write reviews for anything but the products that I thought either amazingly good or amazingly bad. 

There is no one way to write a review, and honestly it's more important that one writes them than that one writes them well, but I will say this again and I can't stress it enough: It's far more useful to the author that your review be thoughtful rather than a gushing 5 stars.

How to craft a well written review:

Note: ONLY WRITE REVIEWS FOR BOOKS YOU HAVE ACTUALLY READ and make sure they contain your honest opinion.

Now that's settled...

First, let's consider some examples of what not do.

1/5 stars: I hated this book. It's the worst book in the world.


5/5 stars: I loved this book. It's the best book in the world.  

Both of those reviews are completely useless to the author and anyone who might be interested in reading that book. Why you ask? Because they don't actually convey any useful information, or even a useful opinion. 

There are useful 5 star reviews, and there are useful 1 star reviews too. Examples? There are lots of them in the world, but I'll go ahead and make up a couple of short ones so that you can see that it shouldn't take a huge investment of time to get the job done.

We'll start with a useful 5 star review:

5/5 stars: I enjoyed every moment of the Black Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop. From the well developed characters (many of whom are badass women and girls), to the compelling pace, and intricate plot line, all three books kept me turning pages from start to finish. The world that Anne Bishop builds is detailed and engaging and fully transported me throughout the story. This is a book that I love so much I reread it when I'm feeling sick, or even merely homesick. There is some repetitive wording in the books that I've noticed more on rereads than I ever did when I read them for the first time as I was too engaged in the plot to be distracted. Also, if you do not appreciate dark fantasy these books will not be a good match for you. They contain lots of sex and violence and the antagonists are truly horrible people who do terrible things. 

So, five star reviews seem easier because after all, it's easy to say more when you like something. Still, that's a mere 154 words* to gush about what is ultimately one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. If I were actually going to write that review I would probably spend closer to 500 words on each of the three books because I struggle to contain myself when it comes to that series, and because I like to explain things. However, the review would be useful to anyone, including people who shouldn't read those books. Note the last two lines address problems/warnings. 

It's important to include either a criticism about something you didn't like, or at least a warning about things you think someone else may not appreciate in the books in order to give a well rounded review. 

There is some repetitive wording in the Black Jewels trilogy and if you don't like dark fantasy (fantasy containing a fair bit of violence, sex, and really messed up bad guys/good guys who are toeing the line of becoming bad guys) you really would hate those books.

Which brings me to... how to write a good 1 star review (yes, they exist).

1/5 Stars: The Black Jewels trilogy takes place in an interesting world with an imaginative premise, but after that the author lost me. Everyone in the book is constantly on the verge of violence and everyone's "hackles" are constantly going up. The repetition drove me crazy. There is too much violence in this book for me to enjoy and the antagonists get away with doing a ton of horrible things to perfectly innocent people. It was more than I could stomach, and I gave up after the first book in the series. I suppose that people who don't mind that much violence might enjoy the series, but I couldn't get into the characters even though I enjoyed some of the dialogue and world building. Lots of people rave about this series, but it simply wasn't for me.

So, I put myself in the place of someone who can't stomach any violence on the page and tried to imagine how they would have experienced the truly dark things that happen in the Black Jewels trilogy. I think they would hate it, and I think they would be so put off by the bad things happening that they wouldn't be able to enjoy a number of things that I did enjoy about the books. I found the characters well developed and engaging, but if I couldn't get past the violence of the books I don't think I would have been able to identify with those characters as even the protagonists are all pretty violent (it's one of the interesting premises of the Black Jewels world). 

That one star review is incredibly useful to readers, and consequently is useful to the author. It should keep away the readers that won't enjoy the story and thus reduce the overall number of 1 and 2 star reviews. It is thoughtful and considered. It isn't a rant. It doesn't insult the author or the author's writing, and it doesn't insult people who enjoy the books. It simply and clearly states the reasons that the reader didn't enjoy the series.

*Note that either of these reviews can be written in one or two sentences instead of a full paragraph: 

5/5 stars: I enjoyed everything about these books from the characters, to the plot, to the pacing. Not for those who are squeamish about violence.

1/5 stars: Interesting premise, but too much violence for me; the antagonists were heinous. Also too much repetition of certain phrases was distracting.

More difficult to write is a review in which the writing really did turn you off the book, but it's still possible to do. Sometimes it's helpful to break things into categories: plot, pacing, character development, quality of prose, editing, formatting etc. I have written some 2 and 3 star reviews in which I tried to find one positive thing for each category and then list the things that bothered me. Alternatively if you can at least find one category to gush about it's ok to say negative things about the rest. Here are some basic guidelines for writing useful reviews of any star rating:

And since this has morphed into a giant essay on review writing, I am going to go ahead and wrap things up here. But I will add two quick notes: 1. If you share the same last name as an author (because you're actually related to them) you probably shouldn't leave a review. Amazon is likely to take it down. 

And 2. A huge thank you to every single person who has left a review of any kind for any of my work and to everyone who takes the time to review any of the books that they read. YOU ROCK! Here, have a cute dog staring perplexedly at a river for your troubles:

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Let's catch up...

It's been a while since I've written a post about nothing more interesting than what's going on with my life (including my writing life). So let's start with that shall we?

There is a large budget movie filming in Winnipeg right now, and my husband has been working for it full time since it started. However, they are so desperate for people that they have also been hiring me off and on to do some work on the greens crew (landscaping). So that has been a distraction from writing (boo) but also will help fund the next book (yay!). All around it's pretty helpful.

In the meantime, in the writing world, I have signed up for a table at the Word On The Street book fair in Toronto. The lovely Katya Kolmakov (my writerly partner in crime) will be joining me there on Sunday the 27th of September and anyone in the area should come by and say hi!

Ideally, if you don't have either of books yet, buy them, have us sign them, and chat a bit. But, if you do have them, or you don't want to buy them, come by and say hi anyway! We'll be there from 11am to 6pm. We're road tripping out there with a mutual friend who will be helping with the driving and keeping us entertained, and we're staying with good friends, so it should be a lovely trip all in all.

Beyond that, I might have decided to scrap the novel I was hoping to release in October. It's a long story, but it's gone through three or four rewrites at this point and I just don't connect with the main character enough to pull it off. I love the premise, but I think I might have to completely rewrite the story with someone else as the lead because right now, I just can't get behind it. It's a shame, because I've spent a lot of time with this manuscript, but I just don't have the commitment to it that I do to my other stories and I think it might be time to put it aside. Nothing is permanent of course, it's not like I'm going to light the manuscript on fire or anything, so if I ever change my mind it will be there... but I think I will be happier if I focus on a different story, one that excites me more.

So, that means I'll be shifting to revising a different novel (one that is much farther away from being polished and ready for publication) and also to writing a new book. Lately, the characters from Blade's Edge have been in my head a lot, whispering secrets and asking me to come out and play. I am beginning to think I'll heed their call. It's possible that the next new manuscript that I finish will be the sequel to Blade's Edge. We shall see.

Alright, well, I have spent the entire day working in the dirt. I am in dire need of a shower, and some food, and the poor dog needs to go for a walk (she's been neglected all day). So I will leave you now.
Here is a photo of the outdoor office from last week. Artemis and I have been spending a lot of time there lately.