1-Star Reviews of My Favorite Novels

Reviews are very important to indie authors. In many ways, they’re more important than sales. While I’m hardly getting rich off of my novels, the reviews I’ve received on Amazon and Goodreads represent a small fraction of my sales. As of this blog post, my first novel, Not Famous, has only 119 ratings on Goodreads, and 56 ratings on Amazon. Of those ratings, only a fraction have reviews along with them.

One of the toughest things about putting your work out there is that it will endure criticism. Some will be good and some will be bad. I myself have had some bad reviews, but the overwhelming majority of reviews my novels have received have been good. Still, when you’re dealing with dozens of reviews as opposed to hundreds or thousands, the bad reviews tend to stick out, and it’s easy to get distressed over them.

I’ve often told other indie authors just starting out not to worry about reviews, but even when I say it, I know it’s not easy. Bad reviews, when they happen, sting. But it’s true that your novel will not be universally celebrated. In fact, every novel gets them. Even your favorite novels from your favorite authors.

To prove this point, I’m gonna post a few select 1-star reviews (via Amazon) of two of my favorite novels.

High Fidelity, by Nick HornbyWithout a doubt, the novel that inspired me to write fiction, and yet it gets trashed plenty.

  • “None of the characters in this book are likable.[…] Though the rhetoric is clearly meant to be humorous, it falls flat with sorry attempts at irony. I do not recommend this book to thinking people.”
  • “This book has no plot or message in it. Just a bunch of jabbering by the main character with an inferiority complex. Not funny, just boring.”
  • “Read the book and saw the movie; stupid book about a man that refuses to grow up; complete waste of my time”
  • “Too drawn out. Boring. This book just rambles.”
  • “I don’t like the book because it’s too introspective.”

This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan TropperMy first introduction to Jonathan Tropper. I loved this book so much I read everything else he published soon after.

  • “This book was full of cliches. Just when you thought you’d heard them all, why here comes another, more sensational than the one before. I will not read another of Tropper’s books. What was intended to be funny just seemed sad to me.”
  • “This book was very graphic. I felt like it was written by a horny teenage boy. I read the first few pages and couldn’t no longer.”
  • “There is not one member of the family, which this book is about, whom I liked or respected. Adults acting like children. Predictable story.”
  • “This novel was so bad that I can’t spend the time itemizing any details.”
  • “I did not finish this book. I have heard so many great reviews about this book and how it is funny and all that but I couldn’t make it past the 4th chapter.”
  • “I really enjoyed previous books by Tropper, but I found this book to be nothing more than depressing.”

The moral of the story is: don’t fret bad reviews. Everyone gets them.

I Tried LivingWriter… Will it Replace Scrivener?

By accident, I discovered a writing app pitched as the best alternative to Scrivener called LivingWriter.

I’ve been using Scrivener for a while now, and after being initially overwhelmed by all its features, I found myself liking the aspects of the software that I chose to use. That said, its interface is dated, and switching to an alternative has never been off the table.

So, I decided to do a trial of LivingWriter.

Design

Let’s get the superficial stuff out of the way. The user interface of LivingWriter is so much better. It’s sleek and modern, and better in almost every way. It’s exactly the way you think Scrivener should look like right now, but doesn’t.

Migration

LivingWriter made a point to say that you can switch from Scrivener and pick up right where you left off, but that’s not entirely true.

For one thing, you can only import from a Word Doc, so you have to export from Scrivener to Word. Not a big deal, but, you can only import into a brand new Story, before you can set project defaults like font style, font size, paragraph indents, etc. I found that some chapters simply didn’t take to the modified default style. That’s probably my fault because of how the styles were improperly done in Scrivener, but the imported file was kind of a mess… and the time it would take to get it right isn’t just a few minutes.

Migrating posed other problems too. One feature I really like about LivingWriter is the Smart Text / Story Elements feature, which makes character names and places “smart” with a variety of options to take advantage of. But, if you’re migrating from Scrivener, there doesn’t appear to be a way for the app to recognize Story Elements like character names from imported text. I tried using the global Find/Replace function to see if that would work, but it didn’t.

Desktop App Problems

LivingWriter started as a web app, and it shows. Personally, I prefer working from a desktop app, so I downloaded it and used it, and rang into a few snags. I made several attempts with the desktop app to import my 4th novel (which is still in progress) so I could experiment with the app. Well, once I figured out how to get it to properly identify chapters, whenever I imported it, the chapters ended up imported in the wrong order. I finally discovered that if I attempted to import with the web-based app it worked—however a second test with a different file produced the same out-of-order chapters in the web app. So, this bug is something that is hard for me to get beyond.

And other things worked better in the web app. For some reason, Ctrl-A would not Select All in the desktop app. I reported the bug quickly, and hopefully it’ll be fixed, but clearly, the desktop app has bugs that the web app does not.

The Missing Feature I Really Need

While LivingWriter looks nicer with its modern interface there are some features that are lacking. For me, I don’t write by chapter… I write by scene, and sometimes I move things around until it fits just right, and towards the end of the writing process I combine scenes into chapters. For example, in my fourth novel which I’m still working on, I wrote a scene (not a whole chapter) that was originally planned for earlier in the novel, and about 40,000 words of writing later I realized I wanted it towards the end.

In Scrivener, I can merge and split files as needed with a few clicks. It’s a method I’ve grown accustomed to and hate to give up. While you can rearrange “chapters” in LivingWriter, you can’t merge them, or even split them with ease. Sure, there’s a long way to do it, but when I’m used to doing it easy with a few clicks, the lack of the feature is felt.

The Cost

I’ve paid my license fee for Scrivener already. It was $49. One and done. LivingWriter is a subscription-based model that will cost you $96 annually if you pay yearly, or $119.88 a year if you pay monthly. So, you’re paying a lot more for LivingWriter. That alone is enough to hesitate.

Now, I don’t begrudge LivingWriter for being more expensive. The subscription model is basically being adopted everywhere now, and they are hosting who knows how many authors work in the cloud, so it’s arguably justified. But, that another factor that plays a role in my decision.

Bottom Line

Hey, Scrivener works for me. It’s not perfect, but what is? The interface is painfully out-of-date and ought to be overhauled, but is that enough to ditch it? With LivingWriter, your work is stored in the cloud, making it quite safe from catastrophic failure, but, Scrivener works with iCloud, and I do incremental exports as back-ups in the cloud as well.

All the good things about LivingWriter make me want to switch to it and never look back at Scrivener, but migration issues (the improperly ordered chapters, and no way to recognize imported character names as Story Elements means that migrating to LivingWriter when my current WIP is already at 60,000 words just isn’t the right move for me right now.

When it’s time to start a new novel, believe me, LivingWriter will be back on my radar. Hopefully the bugs and inconsistencies between the desktop app and the web app will be resolved by then, and the features I really need/want will be there. But, right now, the effort to get a migrated manuscript perfectly set up in LivingWriter would be too much—especially for what it costs.

Should the various issues mentioned above be resolved, I’d be open to changing my mind… If Scrivener releases an update that modernizes their interface, this might become a moot point. But for now, I think I need to stay put.

‘Not Awkward’ is coming on August 24!

Okay, well, 2020 was an interesting year. Soon after the release of my second novel, Not Dressed, there was a global pandemic, and many of us went in lockdown. While this sounds like prime opportunity to do a lot of writing, in reality, it took me a long time to get “in the zone.”

Eventually, I did get in the zone and started writing my third novel. In fact, after a while of starting that, I came up with the idea for my fourth novel and ended up working on both novels at the same time. I finished the first draft of Not Awkward several weeks ago, and it is currently going through beta reading and revisions. In June/July it will go through copyediting, and it will finally be introduced to the world on August 24.

Of course, you can pre-order it on Kindle in the meantime.

2021-08-24T15:01:00

  days

  hours  minutes  seconds

until

the publication of Not Awkward

While that’s quite a long time away, that time is necessary to get the feedback I need from my trusted beta-readers and to get the book properly copyedited.

In the meantime, I’ve taken a pause from working on book 4, in order to give Not Awkward the attention it needs. But, book 4 is already at 67,000+ words, so I suspect by the time I’m ready to get back into it the wait between it and Not Awkward will be much shorter than the wait between my previous novels.

In other news, the audiobook of Not Dressed was published in April, so if you’re a fan of that format, check it out!

Not Famous… Two Years Later

Two years ago today, my first novel, Not Famous, was published.

It’s hard to even think about it as a two-year-old novel when it actually took more than seven years to complete from first inception to publication. But, yes, it has been two years since Not Famous was made available to the public.

The tremendous effort it took to complete my first novel made me wonder if I could even write another. Alas, not only did I write another novel, but it only took me seven months, not seven years to complete the first draft. That novel was Not Dressed, which was published in February 2020.

And my writing still continues. While finding my muse during the pandemic in 2020 was a challenge, I am actually now writing two new novels. This wasn’t planned. The idea for my third novel (no title reveal yet, but I’ll call it NA for short) was probably almost as old as when I first came up with the idea for Not Famous, but progress was slow as the pandemic drained me of creative energy. NA currently stands at roughly 43,000 words—nearly halfway to my target word count.

Curiously enough, an idea for two more novels came to me while I was struggling to write the third. To make a long story short, I experienced an incredible burst of inspiration for the fifth novel, NP, and churned out 25,000 words in two weeks. This ultimately led me to move NP up in the release order and it will now be my fourth novel in my Wallflowers series.

So, yeah… things are happening!

Finishing one novel was a huge accomplishment for me. Today, I’ve had two published, two in progress, and another planned. I’m very excited about this coming year.

A Playlist for ‘Not Famous’

Earlier this month I was made aware of a Spotify playlist that had been created by a reader of Not Famous. I checked it out and was very impressed by it.

I asked @lit_tracks0 about the process of creating the playlist. “While I’m reading a book I’ll start to get inklings of music I’m associating and begin compiling. There are times it does not happen until after the reading phase has completed. But typically it’s a trickle, and then there’s a scene or a phrase that usually hits and all of a sudden there’s a downpour,” I was told.

“The playlists usually start out with about three times the number of tracks and get wittled down as the story progresses. For instance, in Not Famous, the downpour ticked off pretty quickly when Nick was wondering the streets after being eviscerated. Of course, the rest of the novel was so hopeful that I had a hard time keeping anything too dark and melancholy.”

In Not Famous, the character Alli Conwell, an aspiring singer/songwriter, takes gigs playing cover songs to help pay the rent, so there are quite a few songs mentioned in the novel that appear in the playlist. “If a novel makes mention of specific tracks those are added (sometimes they make it on the final, sometimes they don’t),” explained @lit_tracks0. “@Once I’m done reading and have a draft playlist the story marinates and the playlist is pretty much on repeat until the ambiance lines up.”

There are a lot of songs on the playlist that are referenced in the novel, and quite a few others that weren’t. I’ve considered trying to make a similar playlist in the past without much luck, but I’m happy to see one created by a reader! If you have Spotify, check it out and tell me what you think!

Working on Novel #3

Okay, well, it’s been a while since I’ve added anything to this blog, so I’ve decided it’s time for an update.

The biggest thing going on right now is that I am working on my third novel. I planned to start it not long after Not Dressed was released, but I needed time to think over the new story for a while, how I wanted to structure it, and you know, let everything congeal for a while.

Then the coronavirus lock downs happened and I was in a bit of a rut, not having much inspiration to write. Eventually, I did get over it, and I’ve been plugging away. Currently, I’m at roughly 26,000 words with a target of 90,000 to 95,000 for the first draft.

This new novel will be a bit different than my previous novels.

Before I explain what’s different, I should note that this novel will be set in the same universe as Not Dressed and Not Famous—though if you follow this blog you know that already.

So, what makes it different? Well, both my previous novels took place over the course of several months. But, the bulk of my new novel will be taking place over the course of four days. This has presented some unique challenges for me in the planning stage, as I have to plan the events of the novel in smaller time segments. Previously, it was easy to fast forward through trivial periods of time in the story, but in this new novel I can’t do that. Virtually every period of the day needs something to happen, and that action has to contribute to the overall plot somehow.

So, it’s a bit of a learning experience. So far I’m happy with what I have done, but there’s a lot more to add. Lately, I’ve found myself tweaking the same scenes over and over, rather than writing new ones, which told me I need to step away from writing for a while and wait to be properly inspired again.

While I’m not writing as much as the moment, I am thinking about the characters, their backstories and other traits. So, while maybe I’m not adding to my word count, the process is still moving forward. It took me 7 years to complete Not Famous and there were times that I didn’t touch it for months, so a little break from actual writing doesn’t concern me. Some of my best ideas have come while I’m not writing at all.

Sequels aren’t my thing, but…

After finishing my first novel, Not Famous, it was difficult to get my head out of the world I’d just created, and it was sad to leave those characters. I used to say that I could have made the novel twice or three times a large because of how much I wanted to explore those characters more.

Of course, there were also thoughts of a sequel. And why not? With a sequel I could just continue the stories of the characters, maybe even delve more into their backstories. Perfect solution, right?

Except it really wasn’t. As much as I loved those characters and the story, I knew I was done writing the story of Nick Forrester and Alli Conwell.

And I knew this before I even finished the novel. I can’t really explain without giving away spoilers, I knew that another novel focusing on their story just couldn’t happen. I had the basic plot of my second novel in my head already, and it didn’t work for them. The solution came towards the end of the writing process: to set my next novel in the same universe as Not Famous, without it being an actual sequel.

This is hardly a new concept, so I’m hardly claiming to pioneer this idea. Nick Hornby quietly did this with his novels. In About A Boy, the main character Will shops at Championship Vinyl, the record shop Rob Fleming from High Fidelity owns. In his third novel How to Be Good, the main character Katie Carr encounters Dick from the same shop. DJ GoodNews from that novel is referenced in Hornby’s next novel A Long Way Down. All of Matthew Norman’s novels take place in the same universe as well, as the fictional novelist Curtis Violet, a central character in his debut novel Domestic Violets, is referenced in his subsequent novels.

This became my solution. My next novel would be set in the same universe. Those of you who have read both Not Famous and Not Dressed probably recognized that Nick’s one-night-stand Emma has a larger role in Not Dressed as Jake’s friend and co-worker at Burnham & Modine, the architecture firm that Nick and his business partner Jay design a website for during the events of Not Famous.

It was a lot of fun to expand on the world I’d created in Not Famous in an entirely separate story. And I even used the opportunity to give a peak about Alli and Nick’s future.

The question I ultimately had to answer was whether I’d connect the books as part of a series or not. To keep a long story relatively short, I chose to brand them as part of a series, and I settled on calling it the Wallflowers Series. Calling it the Not Series just sounded weird, and naming the series after Alli Conwell seemed disingenuous because even though she’s ultimately the primary character of the universe, she does not make an appearance in Not Dressed.

I chose Wallflowers as the name of the series because Wallflower is the name of a song and album of Alli Conwell’s and also a unifying characteristic of both Alli Conwell and Kaylee Cooke, the main female character in Not Dressed.

Of course, I am working on my third novel now, and it will also be set in the same universe, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, and there will probably be a few surprises for fans of the first two books.

Not Famous… A Year Later

One year ago today, my first novel, Not Famous, was published.

It was the end of a seven-year journey from its original conception.

Prior to this, writing a novel was always something I thought about doing but never expected to. Forget all the stuff about publishing is a tough business and it being difficult to market yourself… It took a long time for me to feel like this was something I needed to do and set out to accomplish. I’d had stories in my head for a while before finally having the courage to put anything down on paper.

To finally complete Not Famous, and to put it out there, was no easy feat for me. While I personally loved the story, there was no reason to believe others would—or if it be read at all. If people read it, maybe they’d hate it and I’d get mostly one-star reviews.

Honestly, those concerns went through my head for a short while before I’d finished. But after the novel was complete, I didn’t care. I was proud of the final product, and if no one else liked it, so what?

If I’m also being honest, it’s an amazing feeling when people did read and enjoy Not Famous. One glowing review can make you feel like a bestselling author.

Here are some excerpts of reviews Not Famous has received. 

“I love this book. Nick and Alli are brought to life in this sweet story. My only complaint is that it ended too soon, I’m hoping there is a sequel in the works.”

“From the very first page, the author managed to grip me and make me want to read more.”

“I am an avid reader but I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) put this book down! It held my attention, engaged me with not only the story and characters but the writing itself.”

“Great book. I was almost crying at the end.”


“A huge triumph…”


“Really delightful book to read. I wanted a good story with interesting characters and this book hit the mark.”

“A charming and intriguing tale of love and relationships.”

“Here’s hoping that is just the first of many books coming from this author. I know I’ll be reading more.”

It’s a great feeling to know that there people out there who took the time to read your novel and responded so positively to it. I didn’t write the novel with the expectation of selling thousands of copies and being able to quit my job and write full time. I wrote the novel because I wanted to create a story. People reading it and enjoying it is just a bonus.

It was surprising to how quickly I was ready to jump in start working on my next novel, Not Dressed, which comes out next month. It took roughly seven months to complete the first draft of Not Dressed, compared to seven years for Not Famous.

I admit that after completing Not Famous, it was difficult to imagine writing another novel. I’d poured so much into it that for a while I was quite spent, and it was hard to get my head out of Not Famous and start thinking about new characters. Could I even love another novel as much as I do Not Famous? Could I ever feel as proud of another novel? The answer to both questions is: yes.

Not Famous will always be a special novel for me for being my first one, but I feel as though I’ve truly earned the right to call myself an author after writing Not Dressed.

Today being the anniversary of Not Famous being published is quite a moment for me. I didn’t get rich off the book, but I sold quite a few copies, and most people who read it really enjoyed it. I accomplished something I’d wanted to do for years but never had the courage, and I got to meet some wonderful fellow authors and readers as well.

I must thank everyone who took a chance on Not Famous by reading it—particularly those who chose to review it afterwards. I hope you read Not Dressed and find it to be a worthy follow up!

My Rules For Writing A Novel

Okay, let me be the first to say that I’m probably not the correct person to ask for advice on novel-writing. But, as someone on the verge of publishing his second novel, I’ve been asked for advice by emerging indie authors and figured I should really sit and think about what works for me, and offer that my advice.

1. Write a story you’d love if someone else wrote it 

I’m a big believer in the idea that you should write a novel that would be your favorite if someone else had written it. If you have a favorite author who inspires, think about the novel you’d love for them to write, and write it yourself. If you love your story, others will too.

2. Write love interests you’d fall in love with if they were real people

I think this is self-explanatory, but if there’s a romantic plot or subplot to your novel, the best way to make that romance feel genuine is for the love interest to reflect the qualities you admire and are attracted to in a partner. That doesn’t mean if you write a dozen novels with a love interest that each one will be the same. Far from it. The love interests in my two novel, Alli and Kaylee, are very different people, with different backstories, interests, and attitudes. Yes, there are similarities between the two, but for the most part, they are are unique characters, each with their own set of qualities that I find attractive.

Also, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be flawed characters either. Your characters should not be perfect personifications of your ideal mate. Characters need flaws to be realistic. You shouldn’t be afraid to have these characters dabble in behaviors and attitudes you don’t approve of. No one is the perfect mate.

3. Write multiple arcs to help move the story forward 

One thing I realized from reading a lot is that a novel needs multiple arcs to be interesting and to keep your attention. Both my novels feature multiple story arcs that occasionally bump into each other. Not Dressed, for example, is both a romantic comedy and a workplace comedy. In addition to those primary plots, there’s a sibling rivalry arc that is generally a minor plot point until the last third of the novel, but it’s still very important. 

4. Don’t share your novel until your first draft is done

For me, writing a novel is a private process. I don’t discuss details with anyone, or share snippets of my work until after the first draft is written or even after a preliminary edit. You are writing your first draft for yourself, not for the readers, and your writing process should be unsullied from outside opinion until you got the story down in it’s complete, but rough form.

Once you’ve done the first draft, let your trusted beta readers have at it to point out its strengths and weaknesses.

5. Write with the knowledge you’re gonna cut stuff out.

Editing is part of the process. When I finished my first novel, Not Famous, it was over 104,000 words long and I couldn’t imagine cutting a signal word. It ended up around 94,000 words after my beta readers helped me identify areas that weren’t necessary. Eventually, editing actually became fun for me because I knew that the tighter the novel was the better it would be.

6. Write in whatever order you want.

Some authors write from start to finish. Not me. I write out of order, as scenes come to me, and then piece everything together afterward. There’s no right or wrong way. I just happen to find it easier to write what I’m inspired to at a particular time, not to write in the order scenes are supposed to appear.

7. Don’t write with an agenda.

Fiction lets people escape from the real world—so let them. Everyone has an opinion on various issues, but if your story feels like you’re pushing an agenda, it can easily overshadow your story. Write for everyone, not just people who agree with you. Even those who do agree with you might be turned off. Your characters have their personal politics and religious belief systems, and that’s important to who they are and how you developed them, but don’t alienate your audience—especially if you’re an indie.

8. Dialogue and action don’t always cooperate in real life, so they shouldn’t in your novel.

I’ve been told I write realistic dialogue. I attribute that mostly to the fact that in real life, people struggle to come up with words on the spot, and get interrupted by other people and events. That’s just how it is. I think this is something that many authors do not reflect in their writing. Everyone, for the most part, gets their point across before someone else speaks or something happens. The phone or the doorbell almost never interrupt dialogue. Is that how real like works? I don’t think so. I like to incorporate stutters, awkward pauses, and abrupt breaks into my dialogue because that’s how it usually goes in life. Not everyone has the perfect punchline either. Dialogue and action don’t cooperate all the time in life, and they shouldn’t in your novel, either.

9. Take a break if it ever stops being fun.

When you’re writing a novel, you’re using your imagination to create a world or a universe. If you’re not enjoying the process, you need to step back from it and allow time to pass to allow yourself to look forward to entering that world again. If you’re not enjoying the process, it will reflect in your writing. I’ve taken breaks from writing, and each time I knew when to come back into it full throttle.

Frolic Talks Lad-Lit!

Yesterday, romance writer Lauren H. Mae wrote a piece for Frolic about lad lit titled, “Lad Lit: The Subgenre the Man in Your Life Needs” which explains what lad lit is, and features three lad lit book… including Not Famous!

Female romance readers, do you love reading romance but hate that you can rarely discuss books with the men in your life? A lot of men wrongly assume that love stories are for women only, and in a world where almost every other form of entertainment is geared toward men, it can be just fine to have our own thing. Sometimes, though, it would be great to share a good book recommendation with your husband, or boyfriend, or male best friend, and have them actually agree to read it. Well, it turns out there is another whole section of romantic fiction that you’re probably missing out on and it just might bridge the gap. It’s called Lad Lit and you’re going to love it just as much as he will. 

After explaining the genre to Frolic readers, Lauren highlighted three recently published lad lit books and their authors: Undergraduate by Ian Shane, Time for a Change, by Adam Eccles, and Not Famous, by yours truly. I can confirm that all three books are exemplary lad lit titles worth reading!

Click here to read the entire article!