How Parenthood Made My Marriage Stronger

Not actual parenthood, mind you, although I’m sure when we cross that bridge together we’ll both learn a lot.

But I’m talking about the TV show Parenthood.

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My husband and I started watching the show last year, after several of our friends recommended it, and after a brief hiatus, we’re finally back to watching an episode together most evenings. The reason we took a break from it is really just evidence for how great a show it is.

We got too involved, too invested. We (okay, okay, I) couldn’t get through a single episode without ugly crying. The characters, with all their various issues and mistakes and complications, became a part of our lives. And what with me publishing my second book and trying to get my ducks in a row for going back to school and us buying our first home and moving and facing the busy holiday season, it all became a bit too much.

But now we’re back. And, as I was beginning to suspect last year before we hit the pause button, watching it together has been exceedingly good for our marriage.

How can a TV show, especially one rife with such relational and familial drama, be good for any real life relationships? That’s probably would I would have said last year, before we entered what can only be described as the Braverman Family Circus. Divorces and delinquent teenagers and spoiled kids and brother-sister screaming matches all put together doesn’t exactly equal the relaxed, peaceful atmosphere I’m usually craving at the end of a long day.

But here’s the thing. This show is so real, from the situations to the acting to the breakdowns in communication to the consequences of everyone’s crappy actions. And through all this fighting and discord, I’ve discovered something.

The characters have fights for us.

That sounds weird, and maybe it is weird, so let me explain.

My husband and I have shared almost three wonderful years together as man and wife. We’ve had our ups and downs, of course–what couple doesn’t? And there have been plenty of family emergencies and situations arise during our time as a married couple.

But there is still plenty we haven’t experienced yet, like parenthood and the trials and tribulations thereof. There is plenty we hope we never experience, like layoffs, cheating, separation, a spouse with cancer, substance abuse, and divorce. And all these things play out on our television every night, an hour-long drama fest filled with mistakes and arguments and, yes, fighting.

After we’d been watching for a while, we started pausing the episodes so we could discuss what was going on. What was Julia doing wrong? What was Adam doing right? Without really meaning to, we started discussing the thought processes behind each character’s actions and whether or not we agreed with them. Oftentimes, at least starting out, we have wildly different opinions, but we talk through the situations calmly and thoughtfully, weighing each other’s comments with careful consideration until we reach a satisfied middle ground, a place where we both feel like we understand the other person just a little bit more.

Basically? We get the productive benefit of having a fight, without having to have a fight at all.

Thanks to Parenthood, we know more about each other’s personal communication styles, our more nuanced views of what’s right and wrong, and what we would like to do in various difficult situation, all without having to experience anything more difficult than sitting on our couch holding hands. Watching this show together has been a way for us to both step outside ourselves for a little while and just engage with each other intellectually. It has allowed us to wrestle with tough questions without us forgetting for a moment that we’re on the same team.

And you know what? Since we’ve started watching the show together, our fights have been fewer, farther between, and more productive.

I’m not going to give Parenthood all the credit for that. After all, we do work on our relationship outside of that one hour spent together on the couch. But it’s definitely helped. It gets us talking about things that aren’t superficial at the end of long work days when we’d both rather veg out. It makes us think about how we would act, and whether our instincts are correct. It makes us–or at least me–more mindful of our marriage, in the very best way. And in my book, something with results like that is definitely worth pursuing.

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A Different Kind of Writing Sample

Usually when I post about my writing here, it’s about my creative writing. I am an author, after all. But today, I want to share a different side of myself with you all.

The historian side.

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Wait, that’s not an evil idea. It’s just a regular idea. Never mind.

Anyway, this post will be rather long, but it’s taken from my senior seminar project from my undergraduate days. This is the closest thing to a thesis I’ve had to do so far. This paper was the product of original research, meaning I was the first person to study the topic on an academic level. I spent two years immersed in dusty archival material in the basement of my university’s library to create this lumbering mass I’m about to share with you. I hope that if you choose to read it, you’ll enjoy it and learn a little something about the great state of Alabama, which–let’s be honest–could always use a little good press.

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How I Do It: 1 Not-So-Easy Step to Make Your Dreams Come True

I hear it all the time. “How do you do it?”

It’s not an unwarranted question. Sometimes, I even ask it of myself. How do I do it?

How do I put in forty hours Monday through Friday, while still squeezing in six hours of classes, and then turn around and work another eight hours on Saturday, and then spend Sunday mornings at church, and then spend Sunday afternoons grocery shopping and doing chores? How do I manage to do all of that, and still manage to be a homeowner and a wife, and hopefully a potential mother, and put in enough writing to churn out roughly one book per year?

People also ask this question of my husband and myself as a married unit. How do we work fifty plus hours a week each, and still find time for romance and companionship? How do we manage to put money in savings almost every month on such a low combined income? How did we manage to go from limping along from paycheck to paycheck to paying off component student loans and purchasing a house in less than three years?

The answer to both questions is really one and the same.

This answer is simple, although it might not be what you want to hear. It is not a simple solution, one tiny step needed to right the balance in an already stress-filled life.

Here it is:

I do what I do because I have to.

We do what we do because we have to.

Plan everything.

Skip lunch breaks.

Save receipts.

Stay home and cook, even when it would be easier just to go out.

Budget everything. Money, time, calories. Everything.

Brainstorm while driving.

Stay up half the night working on homework and reading assignments, and then stay up even later to put in work on my books.

Don’t watch near as much Netflix as my lazy butt would like.

Know when it’s time to take a night “off” to spend time with my husband, and I don’t mind working twice as hard the next day to make that happen.

I don’t have a ton of free time–in fact, I’m not even sure I understand what free time is anymore–but you know what? I am completely, totally satisfied. I might be sleep deprived and busy to the point of nervous breakdown on some days, but for the first time in my life, I am passionate about what I do.

My office job? Love it.

My fast-food job? It’s only temporary, I don’t hate it, and it allows me to spend time with friends.

School? LOVE IT.

Writing? LOVE IT.

Achieving dreams, no matter what they are, will always require work. It will always require discipline. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll pursue them later, when it will be easier, when it will be more manageable. Such a time will never come. You don’t have to do everything all at once, but you have to start somewhere.

Make a list of everything you need to accomplish in order to fulfill your dreams and start doing them as you can, baby steps, one by one. It will be frustrating and draining, and some days you will just want to give up because you feel like you’re standing still, but you’re not. You’re still light years ahead of the people who are not even trying.

Stop waiting for your fully-formed dream to drop painlessly into your lap. It’s not going to happen. It never happens like that. If you want something to happenstart that process now. You’ll be busy, and you’ll be tired, but you will be doing something you love.

If you need further inspiration, check out Zen Pencils’ wonderful illustration of a speech given by James Rhodes, “Is That Not Worth Exploring?” It makes me tear up every time I read it, because it is so true. Your dreams are worth exploring, no matter the sacrifice. No matter what you have to do. So get out there, and do it!

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THIS DREAD ROAD Cover Reveal Blast!

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 This Dread Road
Cover Reveal Blast

We cried with Hattie as her life fell apart after one forbidden mistake. 

We held our breath as Molly walked the razor-thin tightrope of ambition and morality. 

Now, it’s Claire’s turn to break and mend our hearts . . .

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Now that college is over, Claire James doesn’t know where to turn. All she has is a business degree she isn’t using and a trust fund she doesn’t want. She longs to leave her poor little rich girl past behind, but when she leaves her fiancé and finds herself stranded in a strange city with no job, no plans, and nowhere to stay, she has no choice but to seek help from her father, the fearless leader of their family’s hotel empire. 

But when he offers Claire the keys to a penthouse apartment, and with it, a path back to her old life on the Upper East Side, something inside her snaps. Instead of taking the easy way out, as she has so many times before, she makes a counteroffer: she wants to work in a James Hotel, preferably one far from the city and close to her best friend. 

As it turns out, though, Bennett is not the answer to all of Claire’s troubles. Hattie, who has always helped her in the past, is busy caring for her own growing family, and the other employees at the James see her new position as nothing more than an act of nepotism. Claire is left an outcast in a town she once called home. Lonely and depressed, she begins to wonder if this attempt to alter her fate was just one more mistake.

When Claire connects with one of the hotel’s guests during one of her long overnight shifts, though, her move finally starts to make sense. Their conversation shifts quickly from lattes to loves lost, and as her newfound friend reveals the tale of her own ruined heart, Claire realizes that she just might hold the key to repairing them both. 

Following The Partition of Africa and The Marshall Plan, this stunning conclusion to the Bennett Series whisks us across space and time to remind us of one simple truth: 

Love never fails.

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Join in the party on Facebook! 

 

Exclusive Excerpt:

“James!”

Claire’s head snapped up at the sound of her boss’s voice. All the color drained from her face when she saw the anger twisted into his features, which were usually gruff but kind. He made his way across the foyer as quickly as he could manage, his right leg lagging slightly behind the rest of his body. He stopped at the front desk and leaned on the counter for support as he caught his breath.

“What can I do for you, Hank?” she asked, hating how shrill her voice came out.

His eyes hardened when he took in her phone, which was once more open to Trevor’s Facebook page. He and Jenna were visiting her family over winter break. She had posted several pictures the day before of them touring an old retired lighthouse. A true New England Christmas. Claire locked the screen quickly and shoved it in her pocket.

“My office. Now. Richard will take over for you here.”

Like a ghost answering the summons of a séance, Richard appeared by Hank’s side. “Anything you say boss.” He gave Claire a self-satisfied smile before sliding behind the desk. He stood behind her chair, hands clasping each other primly at his waist, waiting for her to vacate the chair.

Without another word, Claire rose and followed Hank. Usually she would have demanded to know what was going on before abandoning her post to Richard, of all people, but she had never seen Hank in such an agitated state.

While he had only been her boss for a few months, Claire and Hank had been friendly with one another for several years. She’d briefly lived in the suite usually reserved for her father before defecting to the dorms after a nasty fight with her mother, and she often spent long weekends here during her student days when she needed a quick getaway. During those stays, Hank had always been kind to her, taking extra measures to make sure her needs were met. He’d once even seen to caring for Hattie when her plans over Thanksgiving abruptly changed and she no longer had a place to stay, going so far as to pick her up in Bennett and send Claire daily reports on her wellbeing while she languished at her mother’s house in Connecticut.

Now, though, Hank’s usually sparkling gray eyes were dark and brooding, like a bank of thunderclouds gathering on the horizon. Once he was sure Claire was following him, he turned and limped off toward his office with as much speed as he could muster. She wracked her brain as she fell into step behind him, trying to figure out what in the world could have elicited such strong emotion in him. Nothing she’d done came to mind, except for the tense conversation she’d exchanged with Richard a few days before, when he’d accused her of slacking off. She wondered now if Richard had lied to Hank about why she left the front desk that night, or perhaps exaggerated how long she was gone.

The two of them wended their way through the employees-only section of the first floor together, passing the conference rooms and the small kitchenette where most of the employees chose to take their breaks. Amalia was the only one back there now, and she regarded them with wide eyes as they passed. The surprise evident in her expression confirmed she had nothing to do with whatever this was. Even though she’d been somewhat cold to Claire since her arrival in August, the college student didn’t seem intent on bringing her down. Unlike some people.

When they reached Hank’s office, he held the door open for Claire so she could pass through first. A sudden terror that he was about to fire her seized control of her body. Everything inside tensed up, and her stomach churned so much she worried she would get sick again. Thankfully, she made it to the arm chair opposite his desk fully intact. He closed the door and walked past her to his desk.

Trying not to tremble, Claire crossed her arms over her stomach and waited for him to begin. Where mere months ago, her conspicuous ribs had poked out, a soft swell of flesh met her hands. Had she been in happier surroundings, she might have smiled.

Hank folded his hands on top of his desk calendar and issues a deep sigh, but offered no explanation as to why he had dragged Claire to his office. They stared at one another for several minutes before she cleared her throat, determined to put an end to this agony.

“Hank, I–”

“Claire, we need to talk about your future here.”

She swallowed and looked down, taken aback by his abruptness. “All right,” she said slowly. “What about my future here?”

“Whether or not you have one.” He unwrapped a toothpick and held it up to his mouth gingerly, as if he was contemplating how great his need for it was, before tipping his chair back. “I had high hopes for you, Claire, but I don’t think this is working out.”

This Dread Road

About the Author

12194847_10206411210811399_2494367645966130343_o​Olivia began writing creatively at eight years old. During middle and high school, she attended several writing conferences and submitted poems and short stories to various writing contests. She finished her first long work of fiction, a novella entitled Heaven’s Song, in the tenth grade. Her short story “By Its Cover” placed first in its division in the 2008 District III ​Alabama Penman Creative Writing Contest. She took a reprieve from writing during her years at the University of Montevallo, where she earned a degree in history in 2012. She finished and published her first novel, The Partition of Africa​, in 2014.
Olivia currently lives in central Alabama with her husband, to whom she’s been wed since the age of twenty-two, and their cat, Buddy. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching quality television—The Office (US), Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, and Friends are her favorites—and cooking without recipes. Along with working full-time at her alma mater and studying English at the graduate level, she is busy working on her next literary adventure.

CONNECT WITH OLIVIA:

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Other Titles in the Series

The Partition of Africa: Book 1

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Hattie Greene is a serious-minded sophomore who always follows the rules. She earned her place at the prestigious Howard Knox College & University, and she intends to keep it. Much to the chagrin of her socialite roommate Claire, Hattie ignores the usual college activities in favor of focusing on her academic career. Hattie’s status as a perpetual good girl comes into question when Samson Campbell, a married professor with rugged good looks, enters the picture. He’s wrong for her on every level, but she can’t stay away. They enter an affair that threatens everything Hattie holds dear, causing her to question her very identity. All actions have consequences, and this is no exception. The heart wants what it wants. . .but what if the heart is wrong?

The Marshall Plan: Book 2

51QUn72sLUL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_Molly Marshall is fresh out of graduate school, armed with a shiny new degree in journalism and ready to take over the world. There’s just one little problem: no one seems to care.
Six months have passed since graduation and no matter how hard she tries, she can’t find a paying job in the field she’s spent years preparing to dominate. Stuck in a menial job she hates, plagued with memories of an abusive childhood, and engaged to a man she may no longer love, she’s running out of options and fast. When she stumbles across a long-kept secret, though, everything changes and she’s forced to make a choice. What will it be, her ambition or her heart?
This standalone sequel to THE PARTITION OF AFRICA invites you to examine your thoughts on family, desire, and the nature of love itself.

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#AuthorLifeMonth – Challenge Overcome

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The biggest challenge I’ve overcome in my short time as a writer sounds pretty simple when I type it out here, but really it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

I stopped being afraid. I learned to trust myself. I wrote.

When I began writing seriously again in the summer of 2014, I was so hesitant to move forward. At the end of each chapter, I was paralyzed. I felt like I couldn’t move forward until I showed it to someone and they told me they liked it. I was completely dependent on others, with no confidence to push ahead on my own.

Some of that fear lingered on with the writing of The Marshall Plan, although it gradually began to retreat. With This Dread Road, it has diminished to the existence of a phantom, only preying on me in moments of weakness or exhaustion.

I doubt I’ll every truly be free of that plague of self-doubt. But I have finally found the strength and confidence to tell that fear to knock it off. I have found the inner resilience to repeat my mantra over and over again:

“It’s just a first draft. You’re not going to have this tattooed on your face. If there are mistakes, you can fix them. And you will.”

What is a challenge you have faced and overcome, whether in writing or another area of your life? How did you do it? I want to know!

 

I’ll Be There For You: What FRIENDS Teaches Us About Love

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This post contains several Friends spoilers. I’m including a disclaimer, even though the show started twenty-two years ago. Aren’t I nice? 🙂 

Thanks to the differences in mine and my husband’s work schedules, I often find myself in an empty house with no sound there to keep me company aside from the meowing of the cat. Some experience peaceful side effects from silence, and I’m sure that once I become a mother, I will look back on these days with an almost lustful urgency, but as the issue rests now, I cannot abide a silent house. The absence of noise makes me feel so alone, so introspective, and the end of a busy day at work is not exactly the ideal time to examine the inner workings of my soul.

To drown out the noiseless void, I turn to my trusted friend, Netflix. While I go about my household chores, prepare dinner, and wind down from the day, I almost always have some kind of television show playing in the background of my life. Usually I choose a show with which I am already familiar, so I don’t have to pay too much attention to what’s going on. This practice is why I’ve managed to go through The Office, Parks & Recreation30 Rock, and Friends multiple times, while simultaneously writing novels and working and whatnot.

There’s a certain beauty to watching a show in the order it was meant to be watched in, even a sitcom like Friends, which aired in a time before Netflix, before television executives could expect viewers to catch every single episode. Theoretically, each episode is an island unto itself, able to be enjoyed a la carte, but I find there’s so much richness to be found when viewing them all in the proper sequence. Suddenly, character development is that much more evident. Suddenly, choices our on-screen friends make are tinged with that much more meaning.

I’ve moved on to Friends again for the second time after watching it with regular viewing habits. I’m sure many people think I’m crazy for cycling through the same shows over and over again, but I’ve found that this, also, adds a layer of depth to the stories the show wishes to tell us. Knowing the basic plot, the who ends up with who and the who does what, frees my mind to ponder deeper things. And surprisingly, even with a show as silly on the surface as Friends, there are deeper things to ponder in spades.

With this viewing, I’ve mostly spent my time thinking about what this show has to say about love–the good, the bad, and the ugly. Surprisingly, the messages to be found here are worthwhile.

If you’ve seen the show but aren’t exactly a diehard fan, you must think I’m losing it right about now. It’s no secret the show revolves around the exploits of six usually single friends, all of whom engage in casual relationships and sexual encounters without much thought to commitment (until the later episodes, of course). And that’s very true. Especially in the earlier seasons, almost every episode showcases one of Joey’s new conquests or one of Monica’s one night stands.

But what I love about this particular trope of the show is that these random, hit-and-run encounters, while often laughed off as a gag, are never depicted as fulfilling or satisfying. They never lead to long-term relationships or deep, emotional connections. And these characters, no matter how well their jobs or friendships are going, never stop looking for something that will satiate all that desire and thirst for love.

Initially, I could not stand Ross. He’s whiny and greedy and selfish and spoiled, and his “We were on a break!” nonsense had me convinced that he would never be equipped for another mature, long-term relationship, and I had mixed feelings when he and Rachel ended up together for good (That’s another blog post on its own.)

But a few weeks ago, I came across the episode that really made me rethink him.

Rachel, his recent ex-girlfriend, has broken her ribs and is in a great amount of pain. She asks Ross–who, unbeknownst to her, is scheduled to appear on a televised panel for the Discovery Channel–to help her get ready for a work party. When it becomes evident that she needs medical attention instead, she asks him to come with her to the hospital, and he agrees without one word of his prior engagement.

This moment, and this moment alone, made me a Ross-Rachel fangirl. Whatever he might say about her, however mad he might get, however many times he points the blame at anyone other than himself, this moment is the one that shows me he really loves her. This moment is what makes me know, deep down, he deserves her. Because that’s what love is. It’s saying to someone else, I will put your needs above my own needs. I will put your comfort above my own comfort. I will take care of you, no matter what. I’ll be there for you.

There are so many other moments I could explore that would get my point across. Phoebe serving as a surrogate for her brother and his wife, stifling her own urges for a chance at motherhood for the sake of their happiness. Chandler pushing aside the issues he had with his father’s abandonment and finally learning how to love Monica without mistrust or anger or fear. Monica letting go of her dreams for a huge, expensive wedding, because she realized what she wanted even more was a marriage. Ross telling Rachel to go to Paris, when all he wanted to do was hold her close and beg her to stay. I could go on and on and on.

Oftentimes, when I peel the layers of a television show back and look at the inner workings underneath, I rather wish I hadn’t. Some of them have no substance, and some have plenty, just of the wrong sort. But with Friends, I have a feeling that the more layers I pull back, the more insights into the human experience I will have. That, my friends, is good storytelling. I only hope one day to emulate it.

 

 

Top 10 Ways to Review a Book as an Author

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In this digital age, an author’s Internet presence can make or break their reputation, their success, or even their career. We’ve all seen the horror stories about authors reacting badly to reviews posted online. There’s the one where Kathleen Hale obsessed over and stalked a Goodreads reviewer online and in person, going so far as to physically visit the woman’s home, after she left a one star review. There’s the one where Richard Brittain took creepiness a step further when he tracked down an eighteen-year-old snarky Amazon reviewer and bludgeoned her with a wine bottle.

Simply put, the existence of the Internet has not always jived well with our kind. We are a sensitive breed, and without proper discipline and restraint, things can turn ugly.

Interestingly enough, though, I’ve noticed a growing trend of self-published and independent authors who struggle with having a good Internet presence on the opposite side of the spotlight. Instead of losing control with a reviewer of their own work, they lose control when they’re reviewing someone else’s work.

This should not be happening, guys. We authors should be the example when it comes to leaving stellar reviews, whether positive or negative. We know firsthand how hard the writing, revising, editing, promoting, publishing, and marketing processes can be. Whatever our opinion of a work, it can and should be handled with grace.

With that being said, here are a few basic guidelines I think we would all be smart to follow when reviewing books written by our brothers and sisters in this strange, wonderful world of writing. (And yes, I am maintaining eye contact with my own reflection as I deliver this edict, because I’m sure I’ve broken all of these at one point or another.)

1. Acknowledge upfront if you’ve been given a free review copy.

When you’re a member of online writing groups or have other contacts in the industry, receiving free copies of books in exchange for honest reviews happens a lot, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that . . . as long as you tell people that’s what happened.

Why? Well, you might be familiar with the concept of avoiding even the appearance of evil. If you give an honest five star review of a book but neglect to inform everyone up front that the author sent you a copy for free, that five star review isn’t looking so honest anymore. If word came out about your relationship with the author and how you came about the book, it suddenly doesn’t matter that you were honest in your review. It doesn’t even matter that you barely know the author and have only been acquainted with her online for two weeks. Because you didn’t add a disclaimer, now everything you’ve said about the book is suspect. People don’t feel like they can trust you anymore. And they certainly aren’t interested in learning more about what you write.

2. Use professional language.

We all know how fun it can be to employ the four S’s–sarcasm, snark, slang, and swearing–especially when we’re talking about a book we didn’t particularly enjoy. But when you’re writing a review, especially one intended for online display, you should handily avoid all of them. You’re not just a reader on Goodreads anymore, you’re criticizing or praising a colleague, and you need to do so with decorum and respect.

This goes double if you’re in any way acquainted with the author, and that includes ways as nebulous as “I think we were in an online writing group together once five years ago.” Don’t address the author in a familiar manner, i.e. “Suzie, this was such a good read! So much better than your last one. You should post more about this book in the group next Wednesday.” Instead, shoot for, “In The Great American Novel, Ms. Smith displays a marked improvement in her skills as a writer and a storyteller.”

3. Be honest, but also kind.

Sometimes, as much as you like an author’s online presence or the cute photos of their kids they post on Instagram or the great advice they give in your writing group, you just don’t like their work. That’s okay. If you choose to review their work, you need to be honest about your reactions to their books. But before you hit “send” on that two or three star review, check yourself and make sure that you wrote your thoughts in the best possible way.

Did you, in emotionally neutral words, explain the issues you had with their work, or did you just say “This book sucks, what a disappointment”? Did you come up with at least two things the author did well to sandwich the complaint? If both answers are no, you might want to reconsider posting your review just yet. There is always a way to express how we feel about a book without being downright mean, and that’s what you should do. It isn’t easy, but we’re writers, after all–if anyone is able to temper honesty with kindness, it should be us.

4. Put some time and effort into writing your review.

First impressions are rarely indicative of your true opinion. I’ve found that if I read a book in a day or two and immediately throw a review up online, a few days later I realize it’s not really how I felt. Sometimes I like the book more after a week or so; sometimes I like it less.

Let stories rest on your mind for at least two or three days before you sit down to write a review. Don’t swallow the book whole in a few hours and belch out a review twenty minutes later. The author spent months, if not years, finishing up their novel. The most you can give them is a few days of introspection and consideration.

5. If you can’t find at least one positive thing to say about the book, consider not leaving a public review.

If, like me, you dislike confrontation, this is extremely difficult to do. How do you say to the nice author you met online, the one who has helped you out so much, “I know I promised I would read and review your book, but I doubt you would appreciate me posting my feedback for the world to see”?

It’s not fun. It stinks. And to be honest, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do this myself. But in the interest of professionalism, you should definitely talk it out with the author before you post a review that has not a single positive note.

6. If you are unable to finish the book, say so.

Whether you just didn’t have time, you couldn’t get interested in the story, or the writing was really just that awful, if you didn’t finish reading a book, it’s important to say so. Not only that, you need to include details. At which page number/Kindle % did you stop reading? Did you just skip around for a bit before giving up? This helps other people struggling to finish decide whether they should push through or not.

It’s also a courtesy to the author. What if the problem you had with the book was resolved one chapter over from where you stopped reading? If that’s the case, you have misrepresented the work, and you might have even led potential readers astray.

7. Avoid falling into the “I would have written it this way instead” trap.

There’s almost nothing more insulting to an author than when another writer rolls up their sleeves and turns into an armchair quarterback. You might wish a character had handled a certain situation differently, and it’s fine to say so, but it’s rather tacky to start listing all the different ways you would have handled it as a writer. You’re leaving a review online; you’re not teaching a creative writing course. What you would have done is irrelevant, because the work in question is not yours. Not only will you potentially damage your relationship with the author, you might cause would-be readers to lose faith in the author’s credibility. It also makes you look like a snobby, pompous ass, and makes people less interested in your work.

8. Don’t give a star rating unless you mean it.

Do you really want to give this book a two star rating, or are you just trying to be extra tough on this author, because of that whole “avoid even the appearance of evil” thing? Make sure you are committed to the star rating you assign; otherwise, if posting on your blog or Goodreads, just leave that option blank and include a text-only review. Don’t saddle the author with a deceptively low or inflated rating because you’re not sure what to do.

9. Don’t participate in a publicized release event if you can’t give a positive review.

It’s happened to me before. I  signed up to be a part of a new release blog tour, I tried to read the book, and . . . bam. I couldn’t even finish it. It might be the worst book I’ve ever try to read. Luckily I’m not acquainted with the author and I had no qualms about leaving my review on Amazon, but I just couldn’t bring myself to post my review on my blog on a day I knew the author would be trying her best to sell the book. I could have opted out and just posted a promotional blurb, but I didn’t want my followers to think I recommended the book either, so I did the not-so-comfortable thing: I went to the publisher’s blog tour coordinator and told her I was unable to participate.

If this happens to you, the coordinator will probably tell you it’s fine if you have a negative review and they would still love for you to participate. It’ll be up to you at that point whether you decline or not. If you were just a book blogger, I’d say go for it, it’s your job to tell the truth. But as an author, I’d say bow out. You don’t need to showcase a negative review of another author on your blog, on a day when lots of traffic will be coming through. It just isn’t a good idea.

10. Write the review you would want to see left for your own book–positive or negative.

This is pretty much a culmination of the nine preceding points. If your review is positive, make it more interesting that, “Good book. I recommend it.” You’re an author! You know how much you crave those well-thought-out, elegantly written reviews–give that gift to someone who craves those, too. If your review is negative, make it more constructive and kind than, “This book sucks. Don’t read it.” Again, you’re an author! You know how much those hasty, vague one stars hurt. Write the kind of negative review that you would be okay with, one that after reading it, you find yourself nodding thoughtfully and murmuring, “I see where they’re coming from.”

Basically, in the words of Cinderella,

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Isn’t this pretty? Click on the image to visit the artist’s Etsy page.