On Book Reviews

GoodreadsReviewer I received an email today informing me that I’m one of the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads.

After my initial wooohoo! — who doesn’t love unasked for praise and sexy badges? — I had a sudden thought: I haven’t written THAT many reviews, have I?

Turns out I’ve written 331 reviews since joining Goodreads in November 2008.

I admit: an average of 40+ reviews a year is considerable. (Most of it is down to my 3 year stint running a book review blog.)

BUT… Goodreads has more than 40 million members. That means there are at least thirty-nine million six hundred thousand people who write less reviews than me, if I’m doing my maths correctly.

As an author, I hunger for reviews of my work. They give me warm fuzzies! (To anyone who has ever reviewed my work: THANK YOU!)

While I’ve always known that few people review, thinking about the actual numbers is disheartening.

How huge is the long tail of book reviewers?

And what can we do to encourage more people to review?

Let Them Write Cake

Last Sunday I baked a batch of jam tarts that failed spectacularly.

I rolled the pastry too thick, didn’t put enough jam, and proceeded to overcook them. My boyfriend kindly described them as “interesting” — I’d show you a photo if I wasn’t so embarrassed.

It’s rather ironic, therefore, that one of my most viewed posts is this delicious analogy comparing fiction to baking cakes.

The truth is, I consider myself both a good baker and a good writer. Not brilliant at either, mind, but certainly past novice level.

Writing credits aside, I’m a brownie queen. A chocolate chip cookie ninja. I’ve successfully made jam tarts numerous times.

Yet last weekend I screwed up. My skills are rusty. I’m cake-deprived!

Before you start questioning my sanity and/or blood sugar levels, I’ll get to the point:

Writing — and baking — take practice.

I’ve no qualms about throwing a failed cake into the bin. I didn’t let those jam tarts prey on my mind, or give me baker existential crisis.

There’s nothing wrong with having an “off” day: I know I can do it, I’ve learnt my lesson, and I’ve moved on.

Yet when it comes to writing, I take each failure personally.

I come away from an unproductive writing session with nothing to show for it and feel DEFEATED. Plagued with doubts.

It was only when I was surveying the desolate landscape of overcooked crumbs, that I remembered to stop beating myself up.

While writing means a lot more to me than baking does, the principles are the same: practice makes perfect.

Instead of letting my failures knock my confidence, I should treat each writing setback like that batch of jam tarts: learn and move on.

Eventually, I will write cake.

FIRST DATE

Vicky was wearing new shoes.

They were gold gladiator saddles, weaving up her foot in a delicate series of loops that glimmered under the mid-morning sunshine. Impractical for the countryside, but she’d never wanted to come here anyway.

She stood on the porch, one foot outstretched, turning her ankle from side to side. The sandals matched her handbag perfectly, the two providing a neutral backdrop for her patterned dress.

The perfect outfit – if only she had somewhere to go. All this village had to offer was a petrol station that doubled as both a post office and supermarket. A rubbish supermarket at that: they didn’t stock Custard Creams.

The rest of the village was a series of almost-identical houses inhabited by almost-identical people. The type who took one look at her skin and asked her where she was from. Who couldn’t understand when she said she was British. Who asked if people knew of Pink Floyd “back home”.

(No, she’d reply sarcastically, we only got electricity last year. Still waiting on toilet roll, she’d add with a smirk.)

How her mother had grown up here without tearing her own hair out was a mystery. Why her mother had chosen to come back after the divorce…

Some questions were better left unanswered.

Her mother’s house was at the end of the road, two sides facing a long expanse of forest. Vicky stepped off the porch, grimacing when her footsteps stirred up a cloud of dust, gritty from the overnight rain. She hurried across the road to the grass, then took a tissue from her handbag to wipe her sandals clean.

She heard his chuckle before she saw him. Ted, the neighbour’s son, was lounging on a tree branch, arms crossed behind his head.

“Going somewhere?” His stare made her feel anxious, like her hair was out of place.

Vicky’s expression soured as she glanced at her mother’s house. “Anywhere but here.”

“That bad, huh?” He dangled his feet off the branch and jumped down. Her forehead came up to his nose. “I better come. In case you get lost.”

She rolled her eyes. “As if I could get lost here.”

The corner of Ted’s mouth curled up. “You’d be surprised.”

Vicky huffed but was secretly pleased when he kept pace with her. They strolled along the edge of the forest, circling the village, avoiding the potholes still filled with rain. A round trip would take ten minutes, fifteen tops. Twenty if they stopped by the station, but that would ruin her shoes.

But when they reached the first turn, Ted led her deeper into the forest. Pine needles pricked at the sides of her feet, the air heavy with the scent of mulch. Eventually the trees thinned and they came upon a set of abandoned train tracks.

Ted walked along the rail with his arms outstretched, eyes closed. When Vicky held back a giggle, he cracked open one eye.

“Harder than it looks,” he said. “You try.”

The train tracks were slicked clean by the rain. Vicky put one foot on the rail, felt it slip and slide beneath her. She managed to walk two paces before having to jump off.

“It’s not fair,” she protested. “My shoes have no grip, and my handbag makes it hard to balance.”

Ted smirked. “Now you know what to wear next time.”

“Next time?” Despite herself, her lips curled into a smile.

Maybe the countryside wasn’t so bad after all.

(Cross-posted from the Writers’ Discussion Group Weekly Writing Excercise.)

What Should I Post On My Blog?

Cassie’s recent vlog about showing more of her true self has got me thinking.

I’ve long debated what to post on this blog.

When I shut down quillsandzebras, I wondered whether to transfer my book reviews over. I didn’t because some of my reviews are negative; an author (politely) bashing other authors’ work wasn’t the image I wanted to portray.

I’ve wondered whether to post about food and recipes (I’m a huge foodie). But I haven’t, because I figured it was irrelevant and it might dilute my brand.

The point is that I’m constantly worrying about what’s right to post on an author’s website.

There’s so much conflicting advice. Some say every single post should tie back to writing or reading (without tooting your own horn). Others say you should write about everything BUT writing, to give people a sense of who you are. Other others say it depends on your genre.

I opted for the simplest approach: write the content I read.

I read a lot of writing advice, which is why I often ramble about writing here. But Cassie’s post made me suddenly think: is that what YOU want to read from me?

I struggle to name the blogs whose writing advice I’ve read. I Google search and skip through sites, sifting for content. I build no personal connection with the author of that advice.

The blogs I can name off the top of my head — Cassie, Meryl Stenhouse, John Wiswell — are the ones to which I feel a personal connection. I like the people behind them. Wouldn’t I rather people feel that for me?

The issue is that I’m by nature a private person, and that, as much as I like reading about other people’s lives, it feels self-indulgent to witter on about my own.

Perhaps I’m merely having a pre-lunch existential crisis.

What do you reckon?

HER LAST BODY

Hidden Nature by Goro Fujita

Hidden Nature by Goro Fujita

They’d told her of the benefits of cyberization. They’d said she would live forever, learn everything, forget nothing.

But they didn’t tell her that one day she’d be left alone.

Jo wandered through the Facility, scanning the tree roots coming through the walls, measuring their progress. The screws in her legs squeaked with every step. She had two days until the building collapsed. Two days to decide her future.

She turned right into the main hall and gazed at the rows of robots lining the walls, empty shells of chrome and steel waiting for souls that would never come. She walked up to the nearest carcass, her spray-painted fingers falling just short of touching the hull. She could see her face in its polished reflection — or what had become her face, an inexpressive triangle with glowing orange eyes that couldn’t wink, couldn’t frown.

It would take minutes to transfer her consciousness from this rusted body into a new one. Minutes to start anew in a body once reserved for someone else. They weren’t coming; the Great Data Wipe had deleted humanity without so much as a whisper. Jo dropped her arm to her side, pushed a loose wire back into place, and left the room without a backward glance.

Down the corridor, in what had once been the maintenance closet, was her slice of heaven. There were no mirrors, no screens. Nothing to remind her of what she had become. Only a calendar on the wall, to remind her what day it used to be, back when days mattered. It was here that she’d carefully spray painted her body green in an attempt to recover the hidden nature inside. It was here that she’d decided to wear a skirt, because even after all this time it didn’t feel right to walk around without clothes.

And it was here, in the middle of the room, that she was growing her new body. A real body.

Her last body.

She switched to infrared vision and checked the temperature of the shell, sprinkling water across the top to minimise the chances of cracking. Two days left until the building collapsed. One day, twenty-three hours and fifty-two minutes until the body was ready. And that was assuming her calculations were correct; biological data was much more difficult to predict.

Jo cut off the electricity to her eyes to have a moment of darkness, to better hear the steady thump of her new body’s heartbeat. She missed the ability to laugh. The feeling of sunshine on her forehead. The brush of fabric against her skin.

She missed living — and all of its frailties.

Jo poured more water onto the shell, and watched, and waited.

(Cross-posted from the Writers’ Discussion Group Weekly Writing Excercise.)