Tag Archives: random musings

Help the Author – The Importance of Book Reviews.

book-review

I love reading books. I read a lot. In fact, I usually read one or two books a week. I’m also friends with a lot of avid book readers. But there is one thing that baffles me every time I hear it – it’s when those friends say something like this:

“I loved this book! It’s one of my favorite authors! But I don’t want to leave a review because I can’t formulate my thoughts well enough for it, or I’m afraid that I would make too many grammatical mistakes, or because it takes too much time.”

I’m sad when I hear that, because the BEST thing you can do for that author that you love so much (after buying their book legally of course) is to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, and other book review sites for other readers to see.

You see, the publishing world is not what it was even 10 years ago. Putting a book for sale on Amazon is incredibly easy now – takes less than 5 minutes. So there is a literal sea of new content being put out there every day. And that book that you absolutely loved is just one tiny fish in that sea, easily overlooked by readers browsing for their next book.

So how can you help the author get more sales, which means she or he will get paid enough to write another book? By making their book more visible to potential buyers. And one easy and free way you can do that is by posting a review.

interior_view_of_stockholm_public_library

Reviews are important because, at least on Amazon, they increase the visibility of the book. The more reviews it has, the better are the chances that it will be included in the different lists or the “also viewed / bought” tab.

With so many books clamoring for my attention every time I go on Amazon or in a book store, I ALWAYS read a couple reviews before I decided if I will spend some of my hard earned money on a book or not. And I don’t only read 5 star reviews either. I usually pick up one 5 star, one 3 star and one 1 or 2 star review to make up my mind. Which should tell you the reason why all sorts of reviews matter.

That’s why authors are so desperate for reviews, and that’s why reviews are so hard to come by because most of the readers think exactly like the example above.

For some reason, a lot of people still think that only professional book bloggers / book magazines can write reviews for Amazon and other sites. This is so not true! Most of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have been posted by normal readers like you and I who loved a book (or hated it, or just thought it was so-so) and took the time to drop a  line or two and give it a few stars.

Yes, a book review doesn’t have to be a detailed analysis of the plot and characters that’s over 1k words long. It can be as short and or as long as you want. You liked something about this book, right? Or you didn’t like something, that’s okay as well. So write about that! ALL reviews are important and useful, as long as they’re honest.

Amazon Reviews

If you are still unsure of whether you should leave a review or how to approach it, here are a few tips:

  1. Write about the book, not the author. Never get personal in your praise or your critique. Never treat this more than a fictional story you read.
  1. Be honest. Write about what you liked or didn’t like about the book. Leaving a glowing 5 stars review on a sub-par book will actually do a disservice to the author in the long run. Others will read the book as well and might not be as forgiving, so your review will attract more negative attention then positive.
  1. Avoid spoilers. Maybe there is a plot twist you absolutely loved in the later part of the book, but don’t mention it in your review. You don’t want to spoil other readers, do you? You want them to reach that point and be as blown away as you are.
  1. Don’t worry if your review doesn’t look professional. So what if you didn’t structure you sentences properly or made some spelling and grammatical mistakes? You aren’t writing a dissertation or an article for New York Times. You are just sharing your opinion with fellow readers.

So now that you read all this, how about you go to Amazon and Goodreads, open the page of the last book you read, and leave a review? Share your love by helping the author get more visibility.

There is no such thing as too many books.
There is no such thing as too many books.

Happy Two Year Anniversary!

fireworks

I can’t believe I almost missed the two year anniversary of my blog! I was so busy getting ready for NaNoWriMo and dealing with the looney bin my workplace had transformed into because we are having a switch of command. Good thing I logged on the site and noticed a nice little reminder WordPress sent me today…

Two years… Wow. When I started this blog back in 2013, right before I was gathering the courage for my first ever NaNoWriMo, I would never have imagined that I would still be here two years later. I had imagined that I would either get bored with the blog or run out of ideas to write about. Or simply get tired of it.

But I’m still here two years later. Still writing and still blogging and (hopefully) not repeating myself too much. Though I must admit that this is a bigger commitment than I first imagined. When I created the Tower of Winds, I had promised myself that I would update it regularly, at least twice, but no less than once a week. Well, trying to balance that, full time work and my writing as well had been challenging at times.

champagne

And my regular readers might have noticed that I have slipped a bit in the past few months, especially in the book review department. I am sorry about that. Life got in the way and my reading speed slowed down to a crawl. I promise to resume my regular schedule of Friday reviews soon!

When I first started this blog, I also had only a very vague notion of how much time and effort writing a post required. It’s hard to write a good post that is both funny and informative. You don’t want to bore your readers, but you want to leave them with the feeling that they learned something useful as well. And you need to try and cram all your thoughts into a thousand words or less as well, because you risk to lose your reader if your post drags on and on and on.

It’s also hard to come up with a good topic for a post sometimes. There are weeks when I know exactly what I want to discuss and my fingers fly over the keyboard because I can’t wait to share my thoughts with my readers. But there are also weeks when I stare at the blank screen for hours thinking, “Now what? Is this it? Did I really run out of ideas?” Good news is, an idea always pops into my head eventually, at least so far…

And while blogging is hard work sometimes, I also love it. It gives me a different medium to express my thoughts; to share my fears and doubts by also my joys and achievements with like-minded people.

happy-2nd-birthdayX

So Happy Two Year Anniversary to the Tower of Winds! I hope that you will stick with me and my ramblings for the next two years as well. Now I’m going to pour a glass of wine and celebrate this properly.

All the World’s a Stage.

Picture taken from Wallbo.com
Picture taken from Wallbo.com

I have been thinking about this expression a lot lately.

Most of us writers are the ultimate introverts. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually go out of my way to interact with other people.  I get all the human interaction I need at work, so by the end of the day all I want is to be left alone. When most normal people go out on Friday evening, I’m perfectly content to spend the evening with a good book or playing with my imaginary friends and writing my own stories.

If the house becomes too silent, I can always have a meaningful conversation with my cat. I swear, that little s&^t talks back to me too! More than my husband does, who has by now learn to leave me alone when I’m in “the zone.” 🙂

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that it’s easy to get too comfortable in our little world where we are the god and master of everything, and  the only human interaction we have is via Twitter with other fellow writers.

That’s why I think it’s important to remember that there is a vast and wonderful world  just waiting to be explored and experienced. All the world’s a stage, and it’s waiting for us just outside the doors of our tiny office.  I think that we need to venture out there from time to time, especially when our muse seems to lose steam or our creativity is low.

I know that it’s not easy to step out of our comfort zone, and sometimes we might even think that we don’t need to do it. After all, we have plenty of books, TV shows, movies and the whole vast Internet to draw our inspiration out of… But I would argue that the best ideas are not found on the Internet, but in the streets of your city or along a forest trail. You just have to be there to pick them up, because if not, somebody else might pass on that trail and get the idea for their new bestseller before you do.

Picture taken from Dreamstime.com
Picture taken from Dreamstime.com

That’s why it’s so important to step out of our comfort zone from time to time. To go sit in a café and just listen to the conversations around us. It’s amazing how many plot bunnies you can get within just 10 minutes of sipping your coffee in Starbucks!

On a bigger scale, we should never be afraid of new experiences. Go to the gun range and try as many different guns as you can. Rent a four wheeler and go ride in the woods. Go hunting, diving, paragliding. Take a pottery class or learn how to draw. Start learning a new language. Listen to a genre of music you never tried before. Instead of going to the same tried and familiar spot for your vacation, choose something new.

Don’t shy away from those new experiences. Embrace them instead. Accept them with open arms because everything you experience will be fuel for your creativity. It’s surprising what kind of ideas your brain can come up with after watching the total lunar eclipse for example. And yes, I wrote at least 3 new plot bunnies down while I sipped my wine and watched the mood disappear Sunday night 🙂

So how about we make a resolution this fall – Let’s go out and be adventurous at least once a week, shall we?

Final Fantasy VII – They are coming back.

Last week, I came across the following trailer on my Facebook wall and, at first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is something that I had dreamed about ever since Sony came up with Playstation 3, and it will finally become a reality, after almost 20 years.

Now I have a confession to make.  Final Fantasy VII is one of my favorite games of all times, and certainly my favorite amongst all of the Final Fantasy games (with Final Fantasy X coming close second).

I still remember the first time I played it. I had just graduated from high school and started my first year in college along with three of my high school friends. We were extremely busy with studies and all of us also worked part time to pay for school, but we had a rule: we always met on Saturday nights to spend time together. Since we were broke college students, we rarely went out. We met at my place instead, because I was the only one who had moved out of my parents’ house at that time. I was also the only one to own a Playstation.

We would play table top RPG games or watch TV, or just talk about the books we read, things we did during the week. And sometimes we would play games. I remember that I picked up Final Fantasy VII in a second hand game store in 1998 almost as an afterthought. I had never heard of the Final Fantasy series before, or never played a JRPG game. It was cheap and we had ran out of games to play on Saturday nights, so into the bag it went.

Needless to say that we were hooked from the very first Saturday night, my friends and I. I don’t think any other game had managed to absorb us so completely before (and very few did after). We would spend the whole evening playing, then the rest of the week talking about it and discussing boss strategies, best places to level those pesky materia, which equipment was best for which character and so on and so forth. We spend a lot of wonderful hours together drinking tea or wine when we could afford it, eating whatever we could cook and discovering the wonderfully complex story of Cloud and company…

I have played many games since then, and I have replayed Final Fantasy VII several times as well and it never gets boring. I love the world. I love the story this game tells. I love all the characters, even if I’m not a very big fan of Cloud. And I will always be grateful to Squaresoft for creating the most wonderful antagonist of all times – Sephiroth. I even wrote a whole blog post about him about a year ago, if you want to check it out.

So when I think about this game, I think about wonderfully detailed characters and an amazing plot, but also hours of laughter and good times I spent with my best friends. So yes, I’m excited about FF7 coming back, even if my friends are a continent away now and living their own lives. I can’t wait to play it. I’ll even buy a PS4 just for that.

But I am also a bit scared of this new take on a game I love, because Square Enix announced that it wouldn’t just be a remastering of the original game, but a remake. Remake means new vision. Remake means telling the story in a different way and often changing it to fit this new vision. What if I start playing this new Final Fantasy VII and absolutely hate what they’ve done with the story? Would it taint my love for the characters and the story of the original as well? So I will be waiting for this release with an equal part of excitement and fear, and hope for the best… and wish that I could gather all of my friends around my PS4 and TV one more time and share this game with them like in the good old times.

The cyclical nature of the creative process.

WordCount

A couple weeks ago Chuck Wendig wrote an excellent post about the emotional milestones of writing the first draft of a novel. It describes my own experience perfectly with all the highs and lows, so I would definitely say it’s recommended reading.

That post also made me think about the creative process in general and the various stages I go through between the new idea in my head and the finished product. And I realized that that process also has its highs and lows, but that in the end, it’s cyclical. I thought it would be fun to share my observations with my readers and see if anyone’s experience is similar to mine.

1. Shiny new idea aka rabid plot bunny.

That’s the beginning of every new story, isn’t it? A fluffy plot bunny comes hopping  into your brain and kicks every other idea out until its the only thing you can think of. It’s so fresh and new and exciting, and you can’t wait to start writing this story down, because you know without a doubt that it has all the makings of a true masterpiece.

There is only one slight problem. The plot bunny is never a whole story. It might be a scene, or an idea, or a group of characters, or even just a “what if this happened?” moment. No, the true story is still playing hard to get. You need to do some archaeological digging to get to it. That’s where stage two starts for me.

good-luck-road-sign

2. The rough outline.

Now this stage might differ from writer to writer, depending on whether you are a “pantser” or a  “plotter”.  Some writers might even skip this stage altogether. I’m not saying that one method is better than the other. I’m just saying that I’m very much a plotter. I can’t write a story without knowing where it’s going and having an approximation map of how to get there, so I tend to write rather extensive outlines.

That’s the stage where I grab that plot bunny by its fluffy ears and shake it until the details of the story start tumbling out.  By the time I’m done with my outline, I know exactly how the story will start and how it will end, but most of the stuff in between reads like “stuff happens to get the protagonist from point A to point B,” or “I have no idea how she ends up here, but I’ll think of something.”

But it’s a good enough road map to follow and I’m usually so sick with the whole outlining process by that time that I’d rather start on the first draft now, before I get too tired of the story, and work out the kinks later.

3. The First Draft.

Chuck gave a very accurate description of the emotional roller coaster a writer goes through during the first draft. Needless to say that after the three months it usually takes me to finish the first draft of a normal length novel, I am an emotional mess, and the only thing I want to do is throw that draft in a drawer and forget about it.

And I DEFINITELY don’t want to tackle another first draft. Sometimes, depending on how difficult the story had been for me, I feel like I never want to write another new story ever again… So by this time I have reached the next stage of my creative process.

4. The editing adventure.

Since I don’t feel like chasing another plot bunny right at the moment and going through the highs and lows of a first draft again, I go digging into the Dropbox folder where I keep all my stories and unearth a story I had put aside when that plot bunny had gotten me distracted 3-4 months ago. I print out the story, get my faithful blue pen out and dive into editing.

I know a lot of people dread that process, and it can be tedious and heart-breaking to take the jumbled mess of a first draft and make the words better. But after the trials of the draft when you give birth to the story, having a stack of pages to edit feels really good. So I dive into my edits, I hack and slash and rewrite about 80% of the draft until I’m more or less satisfied with the end result. And by the end of that process, I’m so burned out on editing that I start actually looking forward to writing a new story again, even if I had swore in stage 3 that I would never do that again.

So I send my edited story to some brave beta readers and eagerly open my mind to the next plot bunny willing to hop in and take me for a ride. And the cycle begins again…

It’s funny to discover that I start each stage of the process full of excitement and energy, and that I’m usually burned out and eager to move to the next stage by the end.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced this cycle as well? Is your creative process different? Drop me a few lines in the comments, because I would really like to hear from you!

Another milestone – this is my 100th post.

keep-calm-this-is-my-100th-post

 

I have reached yet another milestone it seems. This is my 100th post on this blog, and I wouldn’t even have noticed if WordPress hadn’t reminded me.

Wow… Who would have thought that I would have enough things to say for even 50 posts, yet alone 100? When I started this blog back in October 2013, I hadn’t even imagined that I would reach this number only a little over a year later.

I have a confession to make. I have never been very good at creating this kind (or any kind) of content with any kind of consistency. I never even managed to keep a diary for longer than a month or two. I would try it from time to time, and the first few weeks I would write every day, then once every few days, then once a  week maybe, until the diary got put in a drawer to be forgotten. Then I would unearth it two or three years later, dist it off and try keeping it again. And the whole circle would repeat itself.

So I am the most surprised that one year later I am still here and I am still blogging, and that I manage to write two post a week as well. And not only that, but that I actually LIKE doing this! I discovered that I really enjoy blogging. I enjoy sharing my ideas, my opinions and my stories with my readers.

Nobody likes to created in a vacuum. It’s like talking to yourself in an empty room. It might echo, but all you hear back is your own voice. When I started posting on this blog, a lot of times it felt exactly like that. I think the very first comment on one of my posts was from a spam bot and I had wanted to hug it then because hey, somebody had noticed me!

But then something wonderful had happened – I got a follower, then another one, then two more. And suddenly I wasn’t talking to myself anymore. People were actually listening and responding to me. I started having a steady influx of traffic on my blog, and not only on days when I published something new…

Of course, my blog is a small fish in the ocean. I only have 150 followers right now and my site gets only  a few dozens views per day, so for many of you it would be considered small potatoes. But for me, it’s everything. A writer craves feedback, whether on the novel she is working on, or the blog post she just published. Being able to get that feedback is what motivates us to soldier on even on the days when the ideas refuse to come and the words bleed into the page.

So this post is mostly to say a big THANK YOU to all my readers. I probably wouldn’t still be here it wasn’t for you.

thank-you

Thank you for visiting my blog every week and taking precious time out of your day to read my ramblings about my writing ups and downs, as well as my book reviews. Thank you for liking my posts and commenting on them. Thank you for sharing them on social media. I truly feel blessed to have you!

And now, onward towards the next milestone!

Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Birthday Desktop Background

Today I turned thirty something. And don’t ask me what that something is, because I frankly stopped counting somewhere around my 33rd birthday. I figure that my husband will remind me when I reach the big forty, until then it doesn’t matter.

I chose this day to look back at my previous thirty something birthdays (at least those that I remember), and I was amazed at how much my attitude towards that day changed over time.

When I was little, my birthday couldn’t come any faster. I looked forward to December. I had a calendar and I would mark off days, and the less days remained until the 29th, the more my excitement grew. Because I knew there would be a party, there would be friends, and games, and laughter, and cake, and gifts, and… Well, you see the picture.

Then came the high school days and my birthday guest list also became a political struggle: Maria can’t stand Anna, but I’m friends with both, so I can’t invite one and not the other. Oxana won’t come without her new boyfriend, but he is a total creep, so do I really want him at my special party? And I have an invitation for Nicholas, but will he accept it? Sure, we say hi to each other at school and he seems to like me enough, but I want him to more than just like me, and gods how will I ever be able to invite him if I get tongue tied and blushing like an idiot when I see him? So yeah, birthdays became less about the gifts and more about the people.

Then came my college and post college days when all the drama of high school fell away and I spent my birthdays with a small group of real friends.

Then we all built families and birthdays amongst friends became birthdays between families, and it wasn’t really about the birthday or the gifts anymore, but about an occasion to spend time with people I love.

I used to count my years. I knew exactly how old I was. Yeah, all that stopped when I hit 30. I don’t know what it is about this particular number, but it makes you stop and think, “Holly $%^t! Where did a third of my life go?” It’s a cathartic experience, I tell you. You were a teenager, then a twenty something, but still young and so full of promise, than bham! You’re thirty andyou’re supposed to be all settled down and responsible. And your parents start asking pointed questions like “So, are we going to have grandkids soon?” And you have to laugh nervously and say something like “we’re working on it,” or “maybe in a year or two,” and you feel guilty as heck because you just don’t want kids yet.

So yeah, my thirtieth was a pivotal birthday. After that, I just stopped counting. After all, who cares? I’ll just have fun with my friends and eat some cake. And no, it won’t have any candles on it!

So Happy thirty something Birthday to me!