Goodreads Breakdown: Nyxia

One of the more popular tools in the industry right now for reviewing, discussing, and learning about new books is Goodreads. If you’re not familiar with the website, it allows users to rate and review books that they’ve read. Beyond that, there are book giveaways, opportunities to ask authors questions, and full-fledged communities forming around certain books or reviewers.

Debut authors are often advised not to spend too much time there. It’s a place where readers come to be open and honest about books. Sometimes that means glorious praise, and other times that can mean strong criticism.

I wanted to pause at the 100 review mark for Nyxia and provide some thoughts on the numbers and trends of just one book by one author. Let’s break down the categories and numbers!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27426044-nyxia?ac=1&from_search=true

AVERAGE RATING

Nyxia sits at 4.48 right now.

First, that’s a strong number. I’d honestly expect that to drop down closer to 4.20 as the book gathers more and more readers. I researched the ratings of some pretty standard genre books. Here are their ratings (all tested by massive readerships):

  1. Red Rising – 4.26
  2. A Game of Thrones – 4.44 
  3. Hunger Games – 4.34 
  4. Ender’s Game – 4.29 
  5. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone-  4.44
  6. The Giver –  4.12 
  7. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 4.19

For even more context, the most highly rated debut book from this year (with over 1,000 reviews or more) is Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. It comes in at a stunning 4.66, and that really shouldn’t surprise anyone considering that it’s been rightfully heralded as one of the most important books of the next decade. So 4.48 is a brilliant start, but I’m keeping enough perspective that I know that number might swing gently back toward 4.20.

RATING BREAKDOWN BY THE NUMBERS

  • 5 Stars – 67 ratings  
  • 4 Stars – 20 ratings
  • 3 Stars – 9 ratings
  • 2 Stars – 2 ratings
  • 1 Star – 2 ratings

Ratings are tricky, because people use different systems. A five-star in my mind is simply a book that I could enjoy with no huge hang-ups. For some people, it has to enter a rarely occupied tier of flawless books they’ll read over and over again. It just depends on personal preferences.

The simplest way to break this down? 67% of people loved the book. 87% of people fully supported the book and would recommend it. Three stars often qualifies as middle ground, and those kind enough to leave reviews made it very clear that they absolutely loved certain aspects of the book, but felt totally meh about others. So at the end of the day, just 4% of readers really didn’t care for the book (but more on that below!).

RATING BREAKDOWN BY GROUPS

My 5-Stars ranged from “I really loved this” to “If you buy just one YA book this year, make it this one.” I’m really pleased to have 67% land in this category. That’s a strong showing of people who really fell for the book.

Most of the 4-Star readers really liked the book, but had one slight detail that didn’t quite click, across a number of different categories. Some wanted more action, others wanted less. Maybe it evoked too much of another book or didn’t have enough description. Again, 4-Star reviews would definitely be considered statements of positive support, but most of these readers just a small change or adjustment.

3-Stars are, perhaps, the most confusing bunch. I have nine of them. The main theme that runs through this group is not that the book got something “a little wrong” as with the 4-stars, but rather that something they usually desire in a book was missing.

Some had thoughts on how trilogies should work, others couldn’t quite put their finger on what it was they were looking for and didn’t find. My favorite by far, though, said she really wasn’t all that into the book… until she finished it and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Having a book stick with the reader in that way is always fun for an author.

Furthermore, it’s interesting to note that several of these reviews are distinctly positive in spite of the rating. One reads simply,

“Ahhh…I needed a good piece of science fiction, and this did the trick. Obvious comparisons will be drawn to Ender’s Game, which is a much deeper–and better–story, but I thoroughly enjoyed Nyxia.”

So if these are included as “liking” the book, we could bump that approval rating up to 91 or 92%. Not too shabby.

I have two 2-star ratings. One came back in August, and is from someone who hasn’t read the book. I’d be more upset about that, but I know I have a few 5-stars that are from people who haven’t read the book either. Likely, this balances out. The second comes without review, so we have no insight into the rating or the reader’s thoughts.

The 1-star ratings are, perhaps, the most misleading. One does come from an actual reviewer, but the other one landed on my page in the early going and is from a reader who has most assuredly not read the book. So that means of my first 100 ratings, only one person read it and just straight up disliked it. Again, this is great news for an author.

SO WHAT?

Glad you asked. It is kind of a so what moment. Great books that sell very well can have low ratings. Phenomenally rated books can sell poorly. So what are we taking out of all this? I think, to some degree, I was hoping to see how the book transitioned from known readership into the unknown. My first 35 ratings are so come from known entities. Writers that I’ve met, friends who read the book, etc.

What followed after that, however, comes from NetGalley and book giveaways. It’s truly entering the territory where people who have no ties to me, and no obligation other than human decency, have started throwing their opinions around. To my great delight, those have been almost resoundingly positive.

It’s also made me think quite a bit about how I lower my empathetic thresholds as a reviewer, but raise them as an artist. I think people have every right to their opinions, and the whole point of Goodreads is to offer a public place to give those opinions and discuss or defend them with other fans. But I found myself weighing how I thought when I first saw that 1-star review… It was tough. Not a fun thing at all. But literally twenty minutes later, I was breaking down a recent RedBox rental with complete disregard for empathy with the creators. A switch certainly gets flipped when we transition to thinking about art to which we aren’t personally connected.

 

I’d close with some advice from authors. I posted this on Twitter, and just wanted to bring the list here for anyone who could use some advice on how to think about and respond to their own critiques on websites like Goodreads:

  1. Do celebrate good reviews. It’s fun to see people connect with something you created. You’re allowed to celebrate.
  2. Expect differences of opinion. That’s half the fun. The more widely read you are, the more variety you’ll see.
  3. Keep perspective: 64,000 people gave The Hunger Games a one-star review. I’m pretty sure they’ve all moved to a small town in Maine together to get away from Katniss.
  4. When you get a bad review, go give a book you love a positive review. It will make things like 120% better, I promise.
  5. Remember who you wrote the book for in the first place.
  6. Similar to critique processes: leave behind what isn’t helpful.
  7. Pick one review to hold tightly in your heart. Maybe from someone that’s in your target readership. Wear it like a talisman on the bad days.
  8. Don’t respond to negative reviews.
  9. Eat chocolate when necessary

Cheers! And a huge thanks to any and everyone who’s taken the time to read and review Nyxia. I’m honored and thrilled that the book found its way into your hands.

Update: Writer Life

We’re probably long overdue for this. For anyone who’s keeping track, here is a little laundry list of what’s going on for me as an author at the moment:

  • The first book, Nyxia, is currently floating into the hands of readers. It’s up on NetGalley, being distributed at major literary cons (such as the Nebulas!) and getting some love from big name authors (see Jay Kristoff’s thoughts below!).
  • The second book, Untitled For Now Cause Titles Are Hard, is currently in the editorial process. I’ve polished the first 160 pages of around 320, so we’re on a good track! If you loved the first book, the second one is an expansive treat of everything you enjoyed in the original installment.
  • In the UK, we have a cover! You may or may not know that there’s a whole thing about the differences between UK and US covers (https://www.buzzfeed.com/jarrylee/heres-how-book-covers-look-in-the-uk-vs-the-us?utm_term=.xxEkRXqRP#.hcjKN21Na)… I’m incredibly fortunate that I have fallen head over heels for both of mine. The reveal of the UK version should be sometime in June!
  • Speaking of reveals, expect an exclusive excerpt of Nyxia sometime in the next few weeks. Readers will get a good look at the competition Babel has planned for Emmett and the other contestants.
  • When the book releases in the fall, I’m already planning to visit Cary, Apex, Apex Friendship, and Green Hope High School. On the actual release date, September 12th, we’re likely to have a launch party at the Barnes and Noble in Cary. I’d love to see you there if you’re in the area!
  • If you’re an audio book fan, we’ve got a great pair on the job. Sullivan Jones will voice Emmett’s chapters, and Dominic Hoffman (who was on Grey’s Anatomy) will voice the lone chapter from Marcus Defoe. They’re both perfect fits and I couldn’t be more thrilled (http://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/narrator/2153293/sullivan-jones/)
  • Don’t forget the book will also be released in Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, and French. If that’s your preferred language, or you happen to be living in Mexico, Poland, Brazil, or France… keep an eye out for those alternative versions!

That’s it for now! Excited to bring more announcements and fun info about the book and life to you soon!

Writers Wear a LOT of Hats

Hats

I was a teacher in NC public schools. No one mistook that title as “someone who solely teaches.” I did not go into school, perform four lectures, and head home for the day. As with most occupations, there was far more than that front-facing role as an educator.

Being a writer is no different. You write books, of course, but there are all sorts of other hats a writer often must put on to survive in the world of publishing today. Let’s take a look at a list of the different roles many writers find themselves in as they get started:

(this list was helped along by the thinktank that is the 2017 YA/MG Debuts)

  1. Researcher- At what speed does light travel? And what trees are native to the Pacific Northwest? You’re hiring yourself out as you look up answers to questions like these for your work.
  2. Salesperson- Learn your elevator pitch now. How would you sell your book to an established author? How about to a middle grader? Consider every possible scenario.
  3. Public Speaker- Some of you really hate this hat. I get it, but it’s a great way to engage with audiences and sell your book.
  4. Educator- Especially if you’re engaging with teens or younger. Your growing expertise is something other writers crave to learn more about.
  5. Social Media Expert – As the markets shift and more of your potential buyers dive into new platforms, it can be important to find out how to use them. Is TweetDeck the way you reach out? Maybe running a Mailchimp newsletter is something you’ve never done. Engaging, learning, and utilizing these tools matters a lot.
  6. Interior Decorator – Sitting down and writing can be about feel. Sometimes you have to carve out time to get your setup in place at home so the creative juices flow without distraction.
  7. Media Relations – This is a bigger picture than salesman or public speaker. What’s your brand? If people follow you on Twitter, what can they expect? If people read your books, what will they get out of them? If I say the name, “Maggie Stiefvater” – a person who follows her on social media and reads her books would have a very defined sense of what to expect, because she’s maintained her media relations in a very specific way.
  8. Copywriter – If you think that successful query is that last time you’ll be writing back cover copy… HA. Double HA. Learning to summarize your own book will be an ongoing skill. How do you write a short summary without losing substance? How do you make that summary something that will catch a reader’s eye?
  9. Blogger – Either on your site or on others… Think pieces are a thing. Be prepared to carve out parts of how you think as a writer and learn how to package them for public consumption.
  10. Collaborator – Especially in traditional publishing, the purchase of your book basically guarantees this is a collaborative project. I’ve worked with at least 4 or 5 separate editors on my debut project. We’re working together. Learning how to give and take in this collaborative environment is vital.
  11. HR – You are also in human resources, on your own behalf… Keep an eye on your work schedule. Know when you haven’t taken enough vacation days. Evaluate how you’ve been talking to people. Evaluate how people are talking to you. Encourage healthy work habits. Plan vacations when needed.
  12. Analyst – Movies and books are fuel for your fire… Sometimes you need to just enjoy them without a second thought (see HR above), but other times you need to be actively analyzing: “Why does this work? What about this plot is snagging my attention? Why are these pages falling flat?” That constant analysis can be taken back like a data set to your own work – Include and ignore certain strategies based on what you’ve seen work or not work.
  13. Experimenter – You need to go practice martial arts sometimes. Or maybe you need to go cliff diving, or walk the streets of that certain town… You’re testing the waters of our world and taking what you find back to the world of fiction.
  14. Attendee – Maybe a strange one, but showing up is half of writing. Are you at those conferences? Are you present in your community? Do you go to the events of other authors? Are you involved with local writing chapters? Attendance matters.
  15. Accountant – Your taxes are about to get very complicated. Making sure to keep the books straight (at least straight enough to hand off to an actual accountant) will be a big one.
  16. Beta/Sensitivity Reader – Immersing yourself in the literary world can often be very literal. Taking on the task of a beta or sensitivity reader is pretty common for authors.
  17. Tastemaker – And if you have enough success, you might also be asked to read with an eye towards blurbing for someone. Your RTs and blurbs and platform allow you to direct whatever attention you have from your audience towards the work of other authors.
  18. Stylist – Remember that whole thing about branding? This can sometimes connect to the look you’re giving off to audiences. I know Nic Stone was doing make-up matches with book covers. Gail Carriger is another famous example of someone who’s used style as an accent to her career as an author. Most days, I just am trying not to sweat profusely, but you may actually consider this as a part of the job.
  19. Party Planner – Sometimes your publishing houses will coordinate events… Sometimes, though, you’re left trying to figure out how to make the most out of an impromptu school visit. Learning what displays work, what items are good giveaways, and how to actually draw readership out of those events matters.
  20. Marathon Runner – This one’s more metaphorical, but to close out the list, know that writing is a long race. Patience is necessary. Great running buddies help. Knowing, though, that mile after mile you’re ticking off some amazing accomplishments is a really big deal. So run the good race, keep your head up, and know what finish lines you’re hoping to cross.

I have no real advice at this point. I just want it to be clear: being an author means doing a lot of different things. Over the years, authors have made various combinations of the things on this list work for them. Make sure you know which hats fit you the best. Never feel bad if one of these hats is really, really atrocious in your mind. Remember, too, that it’s not a competition of who can wear the most hats. The world of writing has room for a lot of different authors. Good luck finding the right combination, the one that works best for you.

 

WAITING ON WEDNESDAY #24

I was thrilled to see my book has started popping up in more places. On podcasts, in reviews, and now in a few weekly spotlight blogs. Cheers!

Flying Through Fiction

WAITING ON” WEDNESDAY IS A WEEKLY EVENT, HOSTED BY BREAKING THE SPINE, THAT SPOTLIGHTS UPCOMING RELEASES THAT WE’RE EAGERLY ANTICIPATING.

nyxWritten by: Scott Reintgen

Release Date: September 12th, 2017

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 Synopsis:

A Detroit teen accepts an interstellar space contract only to realize the promised millions must be won in a brutal competition where winners face the ultimate choice—take the money and become pawns in the corporation’s sinister plans or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise their humanity.

That tagline, though. Does it not make you intrigued? And that awesome synopsis? Sci-fi isn’t a genre I generally reach for but this one just sounds really good! I always looove reading about competitions in novels because it just gets me so hyped up and excited for everything that’s going on! So I am definitely highly anticipating this one!

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Congratulations to K.D. Edwards

I just wanted to take a second to congratulate a member of my writing group. K.D. Edwards deal announcement can be found here on the kt literary website:

http://ktliterary.com/2016/12/sold-congratulations-to-k-d-edwards/

I had the pleasure of working with K.D. over the last five years or so. I jumped into his debut novel and participated in critiquing it for nearly a year. Let me say with bold confidence that this is one of the most dynamic, incredible worlds I’ve ever read. Paired with Keith’s breathtaking prose and two, addicting central characters… It’s a book that should be on everyone’s radar. Thrilled for his deal and thrilled to see what comes next.

This is just one of those products that I’ll endorse over, and over, and over again until its publication date. It’s that good, it’s that worthy of your time and attention. Go read!

LEARN: Trigger Warnings

I’m planning a number of short blog posts that will explore concepts, phrases, and beliefs that I think are often misunderstood. Recent conversations, however, have helped me see that it’s worth offering some concise explanations to friends and relatives about a number of issues. This series will all be labeled “LEARN”. I’ve chosen to emphasize that word because it’s not meant to be some slamming opinion that knocks you off your feet. I also want to make it clear that I am not some self-appointed expert. I am daily learning how my actions and words have an impact on those around me. These posts are simply meant to express a side of these issues that you might not have considered. Many will be better versed on the subject; please feel free to add your knowledge. I ask only that you consider the information and decide whether or not it might be useful for you in the future.

 

Let’s start with the first subject: trigger warnings.

Below I’ve linked an article that I think explores the topic, especially in light of recent news, quite well. It will go much deeper into the subject than I do. It’s worth a read:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/university-of-chicago-trigger-warning_us_57bf16d9e4b085c1ff28176d

Let’s define first. Trigger warnings can be attached to books, poems, essays, lectures, etc. They are used in a similar fashion to movie content warnings. A movie that is rated R immediately moves into a specific category in your mind. If that movie is labeled as having adult language, you would have an even more specific idea of what you can expect. The goal is simply to give a potential audience an initial warning about topics that are potentially connected to issues that are normally connected to various traumas. A warning can a) mentally prepare a person for the upcoming subject of material or b) give that person an opportunity to remove themselves from the experience.

Now an example: My creative writing students often wrote and shared their poems. Early in my classes, we introduced the concept of announcing trigger warnings. If a student wanted to explore the concept of sexual harassment, I wanted my class to be a place where they could artistically examine their experiences, their fears, and their beliefs on those subjects. However, before sharing their poem I might ask them to say the phrase: “Trigger Warning – Sexual Assault.” At that point, I would give students about 30 seconds to make a decision. If students were free to write about a subject, they were also free to remove themselves from hearing about that subject. It was common practice for my students to politely step out of my room as the writer began their poem.

Let’s examine why this is a good practice. As that Huffington Post article states, trigger warnings were first introduced in connection to soldiers, war, and PTSD. It was clear that certain experiences could trigger the feelings, fears, and experiences of war when a soldier returned home. This eventually expanded, as researchers realized symptoms of PTSD weren’t limited to people who fought in wars. Victims of sexual assault, racism, abuse, etc. could also experience these symptoms.

As a teacher, I was always stunned by how much my students had been through. I have lived a relatively trauma free life. It hasn’t been entirely free of pain, but even at this point in my life, I can say that there have been only a handful of truly difficult experiences. My students, on the other hand, deal with the deaths of their loved ones. Many experience sexual assault. Others are victims of racism. Every year I had a handful of students who, as grades dropped, would reveal an experience of personal pain that left me dumbfounded.

So I know that many people feel trigger warnings have gone too far. I know many people feel that our next generation isn’t tough. I’m willing to accept there are examples in which the idea of trigger warnings might seem to stretch beyond the initial intent of the practice… but I would ask you to examine whether or not it is fair to use outliers to dismiss the need to be sensitive to the pain of other people.

The thing I respect the most about the practice of trigger warnings is that it costs almost nothing. At the most, you could say it cost me 30 seconds. Before showing a certain spoken word poem, I would pause. “This next poem deals honestly with the abuses suffered by many students who identify as gay. While I feel the ultimate message is one of hope and one that emphasizes your ability to make a difference in the lives of marginalized students, I want to be clear that this poem uses evocative images that might be sensitive to anyone who has dealt with this pain, or who has friends/family who have dealt with bullying. I’m going to give anyone who needs to step outside a second to do so.”

So my final challenges. What does it cost you to consider how you speak? What does it cost to provide a warning when content could potentially bring out painful memories? Why are you opposed to the idea of treating people with sensitivity? In what ways does the existence of trigger warnings actually offend or do damage to you personally? What subjects make you squeamish, or outright uncomfortable? Is there a scenario in which the discussion of those personal events would make you feel even more uncomfortable? When you express dislike for trigger warnings, who is at the center of your thoughts? Are you thinking about your own personal tastes, strengths, personality, and experiences? Are you thinking about others and their concerns above your own? In these conversations, is there a measure of mercy in how you’re viewing people? Is their love in your thoughts?

 

My personal take: If I ever have an opportunity to reduce the pain and hurt another person experiences, I’d like to take it. The use of trigger warnings works to allow students space to explore personal pain without forcing others to re-experience that pain.

That’s all I’ve got. Until next time.

School Visit Advice

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This post really goes out to all my writing friends, many of whom are debuts, and will focus on some basic strategies for making a school visit successful. To give you a sense of my experience, I was an educator for four years. I taught English and Creative Writing at the high school level. I teach every summer at Duke Young Writers’ Camp. Before that, I was a YoungLife leader in Durham, NC. I’ve basically spent the last eight years speaking in front of and to teenagers.

But only recently have I really done so with the focused identity of a writer. So I’m a work-in-progress, but speaking at some thirty events over the past 6 months has given me some perspective. So I’ll go through some basics below. I hope you find them helpful:

  1. Getting in touch. A lot of people just want to know how to make first contact. Research is required. I have a network in place already (as I was a teacher), but most of the time I’m reaching out to new schools. My usual route is visiting the school website. I find the email address of the English department chair and the emails of the school’s librarians. I’ve got a “form” email that is short, effective. Remember that teachers have very hectic email accounts. You want to avoid the overload, in-your-face email. Mine is about two paragraphs long. I usually share a few things:
    1. Who am I? Why would they want me to talk to their kids?
    2. What can they expect? What is the format of my visit?
    3. Resources and materials for them to choose from.
  2. Make it easy on the teacher. Right now, most of my talks are on the level of individual class sessions. I have prepared six different mini-lessons (Example: Opening Image Exercise). I’ve formatted these so they are easy to copy. Never more than a front and back one-pager. I also have a half-sheet that introduces me. One side has my book summary, contact info, etc. The other side has an excerpt. I make it very clear that the teacher simply needs to provide copies for me. They don’t have to do any other actual work besides choosing which lesson fits their class best.
  3. Find a format that works.  My run time is about an hour and fifteen minutes. In our district, that’s almost a full class period. There’s no one size fits all. You just have to figure out what works best for you. My format is:
    1. Introduction – I describe my book, share funny stories about becoming a writer, and try to make the students laugh a lot.
    2. Question and Answer – Big tip here… Request that the teacher have every student come up with five questions to ask an author. Request that they have those out when you come in. Q and A is super awkward if the three kids ask a question and then you stare at each other.
    3. Mini-Lessons – Remember this is not time for a lecture. That might work at the collegiate level, but you’ve already been talking at the students for about 20 minutes by now. This activity should get them doing some writing, or discussion in groups. Something that breaks the dynamic of you speaking and them listening.
    4. Final Questions/Message/Info- This varies. Sometimes the lesson excites students and they have all kinds of new questions they were too shy to ask before. Sometimes I deliver a message about being the best WHATEVER you want to be. Often, I have only enough time to remind them of where to find my book when it comes out and how to follow me on social medias.
  4. Invite their interests into the process. During my typical mini-lesson, students do some writing. I always invite them to share, but I also ask them to say their name and  what kinds of stories they write. Engagement rises when someone is given ownership in something.
  5. If possible, be funny. I know this isn’t everyone’s bag… but I get silly and stupid up in front of teenagers. Sometimes the jokes don’t work. Sometimes they’re huge hits. I’ve noticed the number one correlation, though, with students remembering me or following up with me on social media is humor. The second is the desire for me to read their work.
  6. Talk to and engage with the teacher. They’re the one who might remind students of your book. They’re the one who you’ll want to follow up with the next time you come in. Do they write? What kind of stuff do they like to read? Are they having a good semester? It helps to build rapport for ongoing relationships. They teach 120 students every semester. Those students might benefit from your books!
  7. Repetition is your friend. I’ve taught a lesson called Gardeners vs. Architects about 30 times now. It’s pretty old to me… but it works and students really respond to it. So I get over my slight boredom because it makes my life easier and it engages students.
  8. Sneak your own work into things. The example writing in most of my mini-lessons are… dun dun dun… from my book or future books. One lesson has them taking the very first paragraph in one of my books and continuing the story. First, it’s a great way to showcase your writing. Second, it’s a great way to praise how they take your ideas and make them your own.
  9. Find ways to engage the whole class. You totally know what kind of personality you have and what kind of writing and all of that. If you know that your style misses a few student groups, consider adjusting some of your examples and stories to reach other folks. I realized early on that my entire talk misses out on engaging athletes. I changed that by adding an example to one of my normal stories that touches on basketball. It’s simple, but it works.
  10. Bring water. I just get thirsty I guess.

So I could keep going. I want this to be an ongoing, open dialogue, because not all of this works for everyone. These are my personal guideposts. Take what works. Leave what doesn’t. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments if you’re unsure of what I meant by any of this. I want my fellow authors to feel as comfortable and equipped in the classroom as they can be. Students need you! There’s so much to be gained from authors engaging with youth. I hope any of this advice can be useful to you. Good luck!