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Posts Tagged ‘feedback’

I’ve Been a Jerk

September 4, 2017 1 comment

It’s true. I’ve been a jerk. For almost two years now I’ve been asking questions and writing blogs and newsletters to people in a purely one-sided manner. I once promised I would respond to every single reader that reached out to me, and it was a promise I meant to keep. Yet for the last two years I haven’t done that.

Turns out sometime in 2016 something went wrong with my email accounts. My jason@booksbyjason.com account has been set up since I created it to forward to my main account. Early 2016 it stopped doing that and I didn’t figure it out until yesterday. No idea why either. I checked the settings and even logged into the account. It looked like I wasn’t receiving any email there. So on my main account I set it up to not only receive forwards from, er, me, but to also actively reach out and receive mail sent to that account. I was satisfied that, moving forward, I’d be all set.

I glanced at my email a few minutes later and holy crap! I had over a thousand emails all of a sudden. I would love to say that they were all from readers trying to discuss my books with me, but they weren’t. Probably 50% – 60% were junk trying to get me to advertise with them, pay the money to boost my book or guarantee I’d get reviews, or some other scheme to provide a service for a fee that probably wouldn’t do crap for me except lower my bank account. Those got deleted.

What remained was several hours of reading and responding to readers. Real people with real questions, thoughts, and kind things to say. Those are the people I do this for – when I’m not doing this for me. I have to admit, for the past two years of receiving next to no kind of reader feedback on top of the greatly diminishing sales, I’d begun to feel kind of burned out. Sort of a, “what’s the point?” feeling. Now that I’ve caught up I feel a lot better, to say the least! Recharged even.

The Lost Girls continues to be a series that pulls in admiration and emphatic responses from readers. Those books are near and dear to my heart, and it seems to be they pull at the heart strings of many readers as well. Most of the feedback I get praises me for “getting it” and being able to write a lesbian character so well. I have to break the news to each and every reader that I really didn’t “get” anything. I wrote about a main character that had a lot of demons in her past and present (and future, depending on which book they’d read). She was as real as person as a character can be to me, and what she endured was terrible and heart wrenching – and something I’m saddened to say can and does happen in the real world too.

Wanted continues to be a fan favorite as well, and that makes me happy because Carl’s just such a fun character. He’s prick, but the kind of prick you can’t help but admire and respect – not to mention want on your side!

Voidhawk draws in a lot of readers as well. It’s out there and crazy, but readers get sucked in to the crazy and love it in spite of the heavy suspension of disbelief needed. After all, it’s a story that takes place on wooden ships using magic to sail through space! Physics majors need not apply.

Not surprisingly, my Kroth books (Blades of Leander trilogy, Order of the Dragon saga, and Serpent’s War series) came in hand in hand with Voidhawk support. The two series do intertwine from time to time these days, so I’m very happy to see readers are crossing over as well.

Vitalis and Dark Universe had a lot of love too, which tickles me because I feel the same love for them. So many opportunities and so much potential with those books, they’re like gifts to me that keep on giving!

Even Terminus had some fan mail. Terminus was a short lived series that was a cooperative effort between myself and John Davis. We both wrote books in the setting and had plans for many more… but alas, the sales didn’t materialize to justify it. Damn shame too, there was so many great things that could come of it. We sort of pulled on Star Wars for inspiration with those books.

The shocker for me came in the support mail for my Homeland series. Those books are a harder read, and by harder I mean they lean more towards adult natured stories. Almost, but not quite, erotica. Or at least I don’t think they are (some may disagree). There was a cliffhanger ending with the third book in the series and the readers want a fourth. I do too, but once again sales sucked, so I never got around to it. Knowing that people really do want more, even if it’s only a handful of people, inspires me to continue that series again, even if I take a loss on it financially.

That, my friends, is the lesson here. If you enjoy something spread the word. Share it with the person who created it! The appreciation is going to mean a lot to them. Beyond that, it might even bring them to do more with it. Or, in my case, I reached out to some of these readers with some thoughts and ideas on things I’d like to do with stories and I asked for their feedback. And I meant it – those who are getting back to me are inspiring me to include some of their ideas and concepts into future stories. That, I think, is cool. I know if I could talk to some of my favorite authors and get them to include some ideas I have into their stuff, I’d be over the moon. Unfortunately, R.A. Heinlein and R.E. Howard aren’t taking requests anymore.

Some random trivia that has shocked a few readers: I have never watched any of the Game of Thrones episodes, nor have I read the books they are based on. I’d like to, but I’m afraid of being influenced or “corrupted” by them. By abstaining I maintain that my fantasy books are original. Pretty stupid and ridiculous, really, since I’ve read tons of other fantasy books over the years.

One last thing – I put out a call to people to send me their character ideas for the next Vitalis book. It was because of that and one man in particular, Kelly David Screen, that I discovered my email woes. I’m still eagerly taking any character ideas you’ve got and, I’m happy to say, I know I’m getting them now!

And finally, my most sincere apologies to anyone over the last couple of years that I missed or accidentally deleted in my junk mail purge. I hope I can honestly say it won’t happen again.

P.S. The Goblin Queen is still anxious to make her way into your heart. It’s available as an ebook an in print, if you prefer.

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

 

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An Unexpected Interview on Writing

November 13, 2012 1 comment

I was contacted out of the blue recently by a young lady we’ll call Becky (mostly because that’s her name). She was in university (she’s English) working on a report and wondered if she could ask me a few questions since I was a writer. Maybe I’ve been swayed by my recent fantasy series I’ve been writing but I felt the urge to help a damsel in distress. Okay, flowery language aside I always respond to readers, fans, and random strangers that aren’t trying to sell me something. It’s not nearly as exciting to hear that I’m usually a nice guy though.

Becky had some questions for me. Questions that Twitter just couldn’t handle. I invited her to email me and sure enough, the next morning an email was waiting in my inbox. As questions go, they were really pretty easy. Thoughtful though, and possibly helpful to other writers. Heck, for that matter, they might be of use to just about anyone. So in proving the answer to one of her questions about seeking inspiration, I used her conversation with me as inspiration to write this blog post! Read on for the Q&A session.

Becky: How long does it take me to write a book?
Jason: These days I usually take about 3 to 4 weeks to write a book. I can manage anywhere from 2000 to 5000 words a day on most days and that allows for a novel in the time span of a month. That’s just the rough draft though, from there I have to self edit it (another couple of days), then send it off to e content editor (approximately 3 – 4 weeks time), and then to a copyeditor / proofreader (another 2 – 3 weeks). While that’s going on I arrange to have cover art created for it so that when it comes back from the editors and I go over it a final time, it’s ready for publication. All told it takes approximately 2 months from word 1 to publication.

Becky: How do I get my inspirations?
Jason: Ooh, that’s a surprisingly tough question. The simple answer is everywhere. The not so simple answer is that it varies. Sometimes an idea just pops in my head while I’m driving in to my day job in the morning. At other times it happens while I’m writing a different book. Maybe I’ll be watching a movie and see something that I think deserves to be spun in a different way. I’ve been inspired by songs (Megadeth and Evanescence in particular, believe it or not), and I’ve been inspired by pictures. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’ve been inspired by my kids and my wife a few times as well. Inspiration is all around us, the tricky part is recognizing it!

Becky: What genre do you prefer to write in?
Jason: For perhaps the first time in my writing career I just released a book (Child of Fate) that is strictly high fantasy. We’re talking sword and sorcery, dragons and maidens kind of fantasy. Last night I started book 2 in that series (Victims of Fate). These are wonderful books, but a slight deviation from the norm for me because I’m a cross-genre kind of guy. By that I mean I write stories about characters. The backdrop and the setting flexes and changes to meet the needs of the story. From a higher level view my stories usually fall into science fiction or fantasy genres, but that’s not important to me. I don’t write about specific places or events, I write about people and how the feel, grow, and overcome the challenges presented to them by their environments.

Having said that, I’ve also written a couple of books that fit inside the romance genre more than anything else. I do not consider myself a romance writer, but when the characters speak to me and tell me they’ve got a story for me to tell, I listen.

 

And that, my friends, is it. Nothing too long or drawn out, just three simple questions that provide some great answers or data for other writers getting into the craft. She didn’t ask anything about what happens after a book is written and published, but to her credit I never thought about that until I had to either. That’s when the promoting and market awareness takes place, and it can be a daunting and exhausting task that is every bit as much work as writing and editing the books is. Definitely fodder for another post at another time though!

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Pleasing the Many…or Else!

October 22, 2012 3 comments

I’ve been monitoring the reviews coming in on my books pretty heavily lately. Well, by heavily I mean I check sometime in the morning every day – if I remember. So maybe not so heavily, but the fact that I’ve been keeping an eye on reviews is a chance for me. The question is why? After all, there’s virtually nothing I can do about them except in rare exceptions.

Amazon has a good system in that it prevents authors from having any impact on the general public’s opinion of a product. As a consumer, I approve of that. But as a provider of content / products, it can be frustrating. I have a few reviews that are irrelevant. A friend of mine has one review that is intentionally spiteful and borderline libelous against her and her family. Yet we can’t do anything about them. On the other hand, I had one reader who copied and pasted the same review and applied it to multiple books, even indicating he hadn’t read all of the books in the review. I did get Amazon to remove those reviews.

So the answer is to write books that everybody likes. Or buy reviews. I’m not in the habit of buying, so that leaves me with needing to write books that are likely to be well received. Since I’ve been monitoring incoming reviews lately, I seem to be doing a pretty good job of it.

But having said that, I was still momentarily stunned the other day when I saw a 1 star review come in for The Lost Girls. I read the brief review and felt a flash of irritation. It said something to the fact that, “I downloaded the book and found it had strong homosexual subplots. I deleted it immediately.”

I have to ask, why was this person so stunned by it? The book is included in a category with the word, “Lesbian” in it. It’s not erotica, but the main character is a hardcore man-hating lesbian. She mellows over time but she’s got a lot of issues she has to work through. And yes, she likes girls. There’s nothing misleading about it, so why did this person feel the need to light a torch and post a 1 star review?

After the brief moment of annoyance passed (it was surprisingly brief, I think that means I’m growing up finally), I let it go. Everybody has a right to their opinion. Unfortunate for me that my book was hit with it, but the review clearly indicated the readers problem and explains that they didn’t read the book. Aside from dragging the ranking down ever so slightly, it does nothing to discourage people who are interested in that type of book from reading it. Clearly it was a case of not being able to please everybody.

Likewise, I’ve received a couple of reviews on this book that I believe were written by men asserting that I had no idea how to write a female character. Conversely, I’ve had more reviews from women that applauded my depiction of the female characters and said I touched them very much because it brought back memories and emotions they’ve dealt with themselves. To the women out there that felt that way – contacted me, I thank you very much! To the men who claim I’d make a terrible female lead – Pthbththtbtbbbt!

Um, hang on. I’m not saying I want to be a female lead. I – aw, crap, you get the idea.

I reasoned a long time ago that I wouldn’t want everybody to like my books. If they did, there’d be no controversy and no reason for people to buy them. Looking back, I don’t fault that line of thinking but I think I’d rather have universally liked books. Then everybody would still by them because they like them. Maybe they wouldn’t generate as much passionate conversation, but I’d be okay with that. Conversation doesn’t put food on the table or electricity in the power lines, after all.

The other unfortunate part is that I can’t write generic crap that everybody is guaranteed to like. My characters are quirky and troubled. They’re often super-heroes in disguise – but I feel that way about every one of us, real or imagined. We’re all the main characters of our own story and we all do amazing things at time, even if we’re the only one around to see it. And we all have faults that we’d like to overcome – or that others wished we would overcome.

I’m disappointed that this person did not read The Lost Girls. I have a suspicion that if they had they might have found that the main character’s sexual orientation didn’t really matter. It’s a story about stopping cruelty and her own path to find acceptance and forgiveness. Those are topics that should be near and dear to all of us. As with just about everything I write the genre and the action is just a backdrop to a more important story, the story of a character (or characters) growing and healing.

So yes, I think my books could please the many, but they won’t. We have too many ideals and morals that prevent us from looking beyond the surface. There are great stories out there, whether they belong to me or somebody, but they require a person to suspend their disbelief and allow themselves to honestly ask the question, “What if?” That’s why I love science fiction and fantasy, they challenge me to be open minded and to wonder at just what possibilities are out there.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Looking For Feedback on a Fantasy

August 15, 2012 3 comments

So there’s this grotto fed by hot springs, a full moon, and a gentle breeze blowing… Wait a minute, it’s not THAT kind of fantasy! What I’m talking about is a new fantasy book (or hopefully a new series). You see, I finished Vitalis – Resurrection and sent it to my editor yesterday. Black Widow should be out very soon, and that means my fingers are idle and in need of something new to write! Sure, I’ve got lots of options, but I want to break away and start up something new. So I’m thinking fantasy, but my idea of fantasy fiction and what others might like may not be on the same page. I’m very much in the conceptual stages right now, but I’d love to get some feedback on what people think they might like to see. For example…

Should there be a single main character or a small group of them? And if it’s just a single main character, should that character be male or female? (I confess I have a real fondness for writing female leads that kick ass – a combination of juvenile fascination and a desire to show how strong I consider the “gentler” gender to be capable of)

High, medium, or low fantasy? (high = loads of magic rivaling technology, all sorts of races and critters / low = historical earth / medium = somewhere between the two)

I’m willing to entertain any other thoughts or suggestions as well. I have plenty of my own ideas rattling around in my head, I’m just trying to make sure others will be similarly fascinated with what comes of it.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

I’m Reviewing Reviews

January 31, 2012 Leave a comment

I just read a blog snippet off of a blog by a guy named The Passive Guy. He writes some of his own articles and captures bits and pieces from other useful blogs around the web each day. I’m not sure how he manages it all, to be honest, but I make no claim to technological blogging supremacy. The point is this piece of blog I read focused on writers reading reviews. It strongly opined that they should not do so.

The thought behind it is that when a writer finishes a project and publishes it, it’s like entering a child in a competition. If the kid fails we’re disappointed. If the kid is picked on by the parent sitting beside us we’re likely to throw a punch. That’s my kid, damn it, how dare you make fun of them?

I admit I followed the reviews on my books religiously for a while. Just like the writer in the blog, some of those reviews sting. I can take the sting if its thought out and makes sense, but some of the zingers are not. In some cases it’s a personal disagreement, which seems pointless to me. If you don’t like ‘X’ because you’re a vegetarian – don’t down rate it and bash the book for it, sheesh. It’s frustrating and infuriating, at time. At others it can be a kick in the pants that makes you challenge your desire to write anything longer than your name.

The things that writers need to remember is that I see a review posted between .1% and 1% of the time. Meaning for every 100 to 1000 copies sold, somebody posts a review. In my experience, both as a writer and as a consumer, people tend to be more motivated when something irks them. Anger is easily converted to energy and motivation, and that means quite often people are more likely to read a negative review then a positive one. Our news media thrives off of negative stories – as a culture we love watching a train wreck (e.g. reality TV shows).

My fellow writers, is your book still selling? Are there good reviews and ratings? Ignore the poorly written bad review that is entirely opinion based. Not everybody is going to like you. We can’t expect people to write a commendation that’s opinion based and not write a defamation as well. The best tactic I’ve found is to more or less ignore the reviews.

I still check from an eagle eye point of view, but I focus more on the ratings and number of reviews rather than the specific content. The emotional lurch that can consume me isn’t worth the hours of stewing and negative impact it has on my schedule. I get emails from people that love what I’ve written and want to know where and when they can get something else. That means the world to me. Those people and those kind words are what keep me going some days. Sales suffer from time to time but a simple kind word makes it seem insignificant. Knowing I affected one person in a positive way makes it all worth it.

As for the bad reviews? Screw ’em. Don’t write a review focusing on the author of the book, write it for the book and for other readers. Picking on my son or daughter because you don’t like me doesn’t show what a thoughtful, intelligent, and morally superior the reader is.

And no, I didn’t write this because I received a bad review on one of my books! This was prompted entirely by the aforementioned blog post that I heartily agree with.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

You Can’t Fight Crazy

November 14, 2011 3 comments

In addition to my day job and writing I also own Novel Concept Publishing with J.E. Taylor. Jane is primarily the editor and person who determines the thumbs up or thumbs down on submissions, but she defers to me when it comes to science fiction and fantasy stories. Thus far we haven’t had a lot of stories in those genres submitted to us, but one early one came from Marc Hamlet and I jumped at the chance to help him out and publish The Capable Man. Great sales on it thus far have reinforced my decision. But that’s just filler and an attempt to drive a little more traffic Marc’s way. Now onto the crazy…

The nature of the game is that for every one title that is accepted, there are a greater number that get turned away. It’s not out of spite and it’s not because we’re afraid to take on the work. It’s because the manuscript just won’t work or it is need of so much editing that we don’t feel we can take it on. In some cases that disappoints me, because I see some potential in a story but I know it’s going to take too much work to bring it out and make it shine. Between my schedule and Jane’s we wouldn’t be able to devote the attention it requires. I had one of those just recently, in fact, and I’m hoping that writer takes the feedback I gave him to heart and acts on it.

Then there’s other submissions that won’t work because they read like a plate of spaghetti. Nothing makes sense, there’s no proper flow to it, the sentences are jumbled, and perhaps even accepted formatting standards are blatantly ignored. I had that recently too. My first thought was to suggest the author try writing it in a version of English I might understand, but I realized that might sound inappropriate. After all, writing a novel is a lot of work and putting that much effort into something deserves a degree of respect, even if it does read like a randomly generated spam comment.

So I sent a respectful rejection letter. There’s no such thing in NCP’s library as a form letter, everything we do is hand written and tailored to each person. We want to help out even those who aren’t ready yet, such as this case. I offered some feedback and suggestions, even a direction I thought the writer should take. At no point was I rude or belittling. The almost immediate response I received from the writer was:

Piss off and get lost!!!!!

My reaction? A moment of shock, a moment of sadness, and then laughter. What else can you do? I shared it with my wife, who went through the same emotional process I did, then I shared it with Jane. Her response turned into the title of this blog.

The lesson for writers everywhere is to keep an open mind. Take feedback in every form and use it to improve yourself. Equally importantly, act professional. Burning bridges and flying off the handle doesn’t get you far in the world. Unless this particular would-be writer can open their mind and learn to accept feedback, they’ll forever remain a would-be.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.