Digging – Lessons from My Grandfather


It was early in the day. I followed my granddaddy to a construction site. This kind of work was almost a rite of passage in the Martin family. A way to make a few bucks, but it was never easy work. My grandfather runs things in his old school way. I’ve joked before that getting in the truck with him was risky, because that truck might hit five construction sites in 8 hours, and before you blink it’s nighttime, even though you planned on being home around 5pm. And the work itself was always hard labor. Digging ditches and clearing out landscapes, all under the gaze of a bright North Carolina sun.

We worked into the afternoon that day. I remember glancing over and seeing a gash on my grandaddy’s arm. Blood was running down. “Hey. Grandaddy. You’re bleeding.”

He hitched for just a second, eyed the wound. “It’ll stop when it’s done.”

And he kept working.

There are other stories. I do not doubt that each of his grandchildren have their own. Some border on the fantastical. Chasing down a burglar outside of a Food Lion, tackling and holding onto him until police came, something he did at the ripe age of 70. Stories about him stopping to show city workers how to fix potholes, or how he got up on a roof just three months ago at age 89. That’s just who he is. A tireless force of nature who has worked every day of his life like it’s a privilege and a blessing just to be breathing today.

I never took to that work, and sometimes felt guilty for that. I wasn’t great with machinery. I didn’t enjoy climbing on roofs or wrestling trees to the ground. It wasn’t until college that I came to terms with it. I read a poem– “Digging” by Seamus Heaney– that gave me a new perspective.

The poem starts simply. Heaney describes his father and grandfather as they work the land. In the poem, he’s looking out from the window with clear admiration for their work as potato farmers. He brags on them saying: “By God, the old man could handle a spade./ Just like his old man.” Heaney isn’t pretending they’re more than they are. He’s simply stating a fact: they worked hard and they worked well. At the end of the poem, he makes the inevitable conclusion: “But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.”

That’s how I always felt. I remember that line hammering its way into my heart. I so admired my grandfather– how he loved and supported his family– but I didn’t have the tools to follow him. I didn’t like to dig. I didn’t like to work the land.

Heaney provided me an elegant solution. His poem comes back around. He sits there in the upper room, looking out the window and remembering his father. He concludes:

“Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.”

There are no lines of poetry that mean more to me than those. It gave me perspective and purpose. I didn’t have to do the same work my granddaddy did. The solution was to find my own tools. What was always worth mimicking about him was not the way he used a shovel. No, what was worthy of our aspiration was how he worked and the passion that drove him onward.

Ever since then I have done my best to work as hard as he does. Every time I sit down to write, I feel like I’m doing my own kind of digging. I am building houses, clearing out construction sites, and mending fences… but in my own way, as an author. Story after story, I get to walk in the footsteps of his passion, his determination, and his work ethic.

In just a week, my first book will debut. I wonder if this is how he felt when he built his first house, or apartment complex. Most people see the finished product and don’t think twice about what went into it. All the digging and all the setbacks, the struggle and the toil to create something from nothing. Readers will take Nyxia off the shelf, but they might not see the fifteen revisions, or the hundreds of hours that went into making the book what it is.

And that’s okay, because I think my granddaddy will understand. Maybe we’ll share a secret nod or smile on the night of my launch, because we’ve both spent time digging. We know the work was worth it, and we know there’s still more satisfying work to do tomorrow.

10 Days until Nyxia Launches into the World

I really can’t believe it’s here. We’re 10 days away now from the launch of Nyxia. I’ve been posting this around on social media, but if you’re local, feel free to come say hello at any of these tour stops:

September 12th – Barnes and Noble, Cary, NC

September 13th – Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC

September 23rd – Barnes and Noble, Durham, NC

September 28th – Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

I hope I get to see you, and if not, I really hope you enjoy reading Nyxia

1- NYXIA Facebook Social Sharing Asset 4 copy

Before and After Queries 3 – Kosoko Jackson

The third in our Before and After Queries – Mini-Series. This one comes from author Kosoko Jackson and features the very first query, as well as the query that landed him an agent. Commentary follows each. Let’s dig in!

First Query Ever (2014):
Dear XXX Agent,

For the past 5 years, Charlie has lived in The December Zone –the remainder of the world where the nuclear war has left everything completely covered in snow, ice and blood hungry creatures; some animal, some human, some a grotesque mix of both. The lucky people who escaped the explosion, or who bought their way into the safe haven, live in The Summer Domes all over the country. Sometimes, Charlie can’t help but wonder what his life might have been like if he had listened to his best friend Trevor and left his family behind to live in the safety of the warm and bountiful walls. But those days are sealed away and nothing but a pipe dream. But when Charlie’s younger sister gets ill and the only medicine available lies within one of The Summer Domes, Charlie has no choice but to wander down and use the trump card he’s been saving for so many years in order to get inside of the walls. Charlie knows who brought about the nuclear explosion that created this endless winter , and he knows where the culprit, the most hated person in the world, lives. But he has no intention of actually giving the information. After all, how do you live with yourself when you give up your father? His only hope is to get in, get out and never have to tell the truth.

But The Summer Dome not only keep the cold out, but keep the citizens inside. A prison is only a prison when the outside world is better than the world inside and Charlie quickly discovers leaving will be significantly harder than entering. Things get more complicated when he meets Trevor 5 years laterand sees the life he could have had…and the life he still can have if he just tells the truth. No matter what, the choice is clear: Someone’s life hangs in the balance of Charlie’s choice. The only question is will it be his sister or his father and will they take him down with them.

The December Zone has a strong theme of ‘choices have consequences’ and deals with a lot of things many young adults deal with commonly, including the temptation of drugs, sex, ‘teenage rebellion’ and sexuality. Charlie, struggles during the novel with coming to terms with romance, something he never had in The December Zone, which is even more jarring when romance happens with another male. The novel’s is peppered, not saturated with science fiction themes and heavily focused on weighing pros and cons of choices, while at the same time dealing with those actions. Charlie’s biggest struggle, and something many young adults can relate to, is discovering they cannot control everything and finding their place in the world while not letting the harshness of reality overpower them…even though for many, it does.

The December Zone is 81K and the first installment in a trilogy.A full ten pages are seen below. I hope to hear from you soon.

Why It Didn’t Work:

  • I trimmed the query, but the actual query? 650 words. YIKES – FAR too long.
  • The last 2 sentence paragraph was actually 10 sentences. The bio should be short, sweet, and accent what makes YOU the best person to write this story–too many random details.
  • The query reads like a (boring) synopsis. A big no no.
  • It has a very much of “then this happened, this then happened” feel to it, not an enticing story.
  • It takes too long to get to the meat (again, remember, the FULL query is 650 words!)
  • This was 2014, the last leg of dystopian literature.
  • I assumed it would be a trilogy, and sell as one, instead of a singular story.
  • Also..it’s just horribly written, cliche, and lots of ‘ugh!’.

The Query That Got an Agent (2016-2017):

Dear Agent,

Seventeen-year-old James Mills has to spend his senior year in God forsaken, cold-as-heck Kosovo. That’s what happens when your parents are USAID workers more interested in helping the “needy” than fixing their marriage.

Through letters to his older sister enjoying her freshmen year at George Washington, James describes his days navigating a new country, a crumbling parental unit, and Tomas, the son of a Brazilian sanitation engineer. While his sister reads about the sweet romance developing with Tomas, the reality is much worse.

Ethnic tensions between the Albanians and Serbians have boiled over, trapping James far from his family. As James struggles to survive a world saturated in war, armed with only his wit, family lessons gathered from years abroad, and a loyal boyfriend, he must not only decide if he’s willing to do anything–or become anyone–he needs to in order to survive, but if survival is something he even wants. Especially when he discovers the secrets surrounding his family’s questionable involvement in the genocide.

A KISS OF BLOOD AND GUNPOWDER is a YA historical fiction novel, complete at 60,000 words. Told non-linearly through a mix of first person narrative and epistolary styles, it will appeal to fans of Code Name Verity and How I Live Now. I have 2 personal essays published on The Advocate.Com and Thought Catalog, as well as one short story publication in RFD Magazine & one in my college anthology. I’m also a2016 Pitchwars Finalist.

Thank you for your consideration.

Why it worked:
  • MUCH shorter – 250 words.
  • Shorter, cleaner sentences help to keep the pace and feel.
  • The query only gives away the first 70 pages, and is enticing for the rest – A good trick when writing a query.
  • The ending is much more of a cliffhanger, but gives enough that you know the story.
  • There is world – and character – building without it feeling dull and like reading a manual.
  • There is voice too – something the first query really lacked.
  • COMPS, though not a requirement, very much help to establish where your book would go on the shelf. The more unique the book, the better the comps – this, unlike the one above, has them.
  • ALSO, there were two typos in this query – try not to do this, but don’t think its the end of the world if you have one (or two…)


A huge thanks to Kosoko for contributing! As always, we will end with this final encouragement about the querying process:

Time and practice build the necessary skills to survive in this industry. If your first queries slip through the hands of agents, do not fear or worry. You will get better at this. Your writing will improve. Put the time in and I expect the same kind of leaps you see above. We can’t wait to read your stories.

Bio: Kosoko was born and raised in the Washington D.C.metro. He has taught elementary kids how to read, educated millennials about the power of voting, and held various communications positions in political organizations. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BS in Public Health with a minor in new media communications. When not writing, he can be found obsessing over female driven period pieces, explaining how Slytherin is obviously the best Hogwarts House, and painstakingly finding the right GIF for tweets about them.
Twitter (@kosokojackson)

Before and After Queries 2 – S.F. Henson

The second in our Before and After Queries – Mini-Series. This one comes from author S.F. Henson and features her very first query, as well as the query that landed her an agent. Commentary follows each. Let’s dig in!

First Query Ever:

Eli Samuels is the first person he knows to ever enter creepy old Mrs. Collins’ house.  Before today no one else had ever even been invited inside.  He’s the first person to see the hallway of humungous paintings, the first person to meet Mrs. Collins’ talking cat-creature guards, and the first person to discover that Mrs. Collins is the Seporax—whatever that is.

Now Mrs. Collins is dead.  Unfortunately for Eli she gave him a cryptic message about his “power” and named him as the next searcher before she died, which means her guards are forcing Eli to find her replacement.  Armed with only a magical letter opener dagger thing, Eli travels to the worlds beyond the paintings to find the next keeper of the doorways before Maleficius, a power hungry ex-king , destroys the doors—and the worlds they lead to.

Eli just wants to complete his task and go home, but when his dreams start coming to life and he finds an ancient photograph of a boy who could be his twin, he starts to wonder if the home he knows is really where he’s from or not.  He has to find the Seporax before he can figure it out though, a quest that grows more difficult and dangerous with every new world he enters.

THE QUEST FOR THE SEPORAX is a 79,000 word Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Why it didn’t work:

Oh, let me count the ways. No seriously, let’s count them.

  1. It’s just off. I think the query should have the same voice as the book—to set it apart and to give agents a taste of your pages—but this one misses the mark so badly. Things I thought were “voice-y” as a baby writer just…aren’t. The “cat-creature guards” and “whatever that is” lines in the first paragraph, the “magical letter opener dagger thing” in the second (are you cringing yet? Because I am!). Those lines don’t show Eli’s voice as much as they show my bad writing and confuse the reader.
  2. The query drags. There’s no real immediacy here, no real hook. Nothing here grabs your attention. Too much set-up and not enough pow.
  3. If I didn’t know the story, I’d be confused about a lot of these plot points and how they connect. There are gaps in logic and no real stakes. What does Eli stand to gain and lose if he fails? The plot problems in the query indicate that there are plot problems with the story itself. And there were! Which is why this novel ended up in the trunk after going to a whopping 6 agents.


Last Query Ever (I hope!):

Sixteen-year-old Dot Parker has forty-eight hours before the government kills her dad.

Her father invented the cube, an electrical system that harvests energy from emotions. Thanks to Dot’s dad, for the last ten years the country has been powered by love. But the system is failing, and now the government wants to switch to a more efficient and controllable emotion: fear. A shift that can only be activated with a password.

And the password only exists in Dot’s head.

Alone, broke, and on the run from the same agents who took her dad, Dot has two days to scramble from her home in Alabama to the government facility in California. The string of numbers in her brain is the only thing keeping her dad alive, and she has no intention of turning it over. Not until she sees her dad in one piece. And definitely not until she learns how to destroy the cube system.

Because Dot has been behind Door Number Four. She’s experienced how the government plans to elicit fear, and she has the torture scars to prove it. Her dad knows the system, Dot knows the password, and only together can they stop the switch —and the torment of millions of innocent people. If the agents catch her first, though, Dot’s going back behind Door Number Four, and this time there will be no escape.

DOOR NUMBER FOUR is a 60,000 word YA Speculative Thriller. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Why it worked:

  1. There’s an immediate hook. The first line draws you in and makes you want to know more. Why does the government want to kill Dot’s dad? Why does she only have forty-eight hours? What’s going on here? That’s the point of a query: to keep the agent reading and make them want to know more.
  2. The story is clear. You know from the outset what event set the plot in motion and where the story is going. There’s a logical flow that was missing in the first query. This shows an agent that the manuscript probably has a good flow too.
  3. The stakes are also clear. The reader knows exactly what Dot stands to lose if she fails. We know the obstacles in her way, and we know why the antagonists are after her.
  4. There’s just overall more immediacy. The quicker pace keeps you reading to the end. This query gives away just enough, without telling too much.

My now agent requested the full manuscript just four hours after I queried her. I’m not saying this query is perfect, but it did its job and here I stand, plucked from the slush pile.


A huge thanks to S.F. Henson for contributing! As always, will end with this final encouragement about the querying process:

Time and practice build the necessary skills to survive in this industry. If your first queries slip through the hands of agents, do not fear or worry. You will get better at this. Your writing will improve. Put the time in and I expect the same kind of leaps you see above. We can’t wait to read your stories.



S.F. Henson was born and raised in the deep south. She graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Animal Science, which she put to great use by attending law school. Her law degree has gotten some mileage, though, giving her the experience to write about criminals and other dark, nefarious subjects. She lives beside a missile test range in Huntsville, Alabama with her husband, dog, two oddly named cats, and, of course, the missiles that frequently shake her house. Her debut novel, DEVILS WITHIN, releases from Sky Pony Press on October 17, 2017.

Website: http://www.sfhenson.com/

Twitter: http://www.sfhenson.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sfhenson/

Before and After Queries – Scott Reintgen

We’re running a brief series of before and after queries. Each post will show the very first query that an author sent out (with some commentary on what was so awful about it) and the query that landed them an agent (with some commentary on why it worked). I’ve decided to take the brave leap on our first edition. Let’s dig in.

Before Query

I am seeking representation for my 80,000 word sword-and-sorcery novel, Revenant. It is my hope that innovative magic and unlikely heroes might turn my readers’ attention back to the “kyngs and knyghtes and grete dedes” of old.

As for “kyngs”, you will find all three of mine suited for their crowns:

1)      King A*– He leads a group of paladin warriors known as the Elders. His throne was inherited and he rules from the Elder’s impenetrable mountain city, R*. His father, King Adrian, was quoted once saying, “The Elders will always have an enemy. For it is the very nature of light to constantly unveil that which lurks in the shadows.” King A has instilled his father’s passion for righteousness in every knight that serves him. While most view the Elders as “good” many are still wary of their zealous adherence to an archaic religion and their claims of divine right.

2)      The Necromancer That which lurks in the shadows. The Necromancer claims the same “divine right” to the throne as King A, his younger brother. However, the Necromancer has done everything possible to stray from his father’s teaching by investigating much darker branches of magic. The result? An outcast yet cunning magician with an army of undead at his disposal.

3)      King Avarice– During the Great War, a group of separatists made the decision to renounce both the Eldzhin and the enemy they opposed. They formed Merrymarch, a country that prospered through neutrality, but is now ripe with corruption. Its capital city has become a center for bribery, crooked politicians, and underground gladiator rings. Rumors suggest that King Avarice is actually just a puppet king, manipulated by the mysterious warlord, G.

As for “knyghtes”, you will find their blades sharpened and their bravery unyielding:

In life, General Thomas Locklin was a loving husband to his wife Anna. In death, he has no memory of her except for the shattered images that haunt his dreams. In life, his father taught him that wisdom begins when things are called by their right names. In death, he has become Revenant, servant of the Necromancer.

And finally, the “grete dedes” in this book are abounding if you have but the time to read about them. I have no credentials to speak of. I am only guilty of playing far too many video games and letting my imagination drift far too often in the 10th grade. I believe this is the “high-concept, character driven, and well-plotted” style of work the literary website claims you are looking for. Thank you very much for your time and consideration. Please keep in mind that if you choose not to read my manuscript, I will be forced instead to pursue my lifelong dream of defenestrating children for improper grammar in their 9th grade English paper. For the sake of professional courtesy, I wanted to inform you that this is a multiple submission.


Scott Reintgen, Son of Jeff Reintgen the Dentist

23 year old MAT student at N.C. State University

Peanut Enthusiast

Why Didn’t This Work:

Do you want the short list or the long list?

  1. On several occasions it’s unprofessional. That kind of playfulness could work, but it’s ill-fitting to my actual manuscript, which makes it even stranger.
  2. There’s no focus. I’m basically running the agent through a 101 Course of how this world works, but not actually explaining what will happen.
  3. One reason for number 2? I hadn’t finished the manuscript yet. A serious, serious no-no.
  4. My framework (kyngs and knyghtes and great dedes) is just strange overall. It’s not necessarily a quote the agent would be familiar with, and it doesn’t illuminate anything particularly unique about my work. In fact, it evokes old and potentially boring literature
  5.  It’s way too long.
  6. I’m not even sure why I claimed to be a Peanut Enthusiast. I’m not? So weird.

After Query

Ms. Nelson:

I have the highest respect for you and how you represent your clients. After looking through your submission guidelines, I felt that my novel might be a good fit for your list. Thank you for your time and consideration.

THE BABEL FILES [title has since changed to NYXIA] is a completed, YA science fiction book of 83,000 words. Readers familiar with Pierce Brown’s Red Rising or Fonda Lee’s Zeroboxer will find similar elements in my work. I do feel one of the most important features of this novel is the focus it has on a main character who is a PoC. Having worked in urban schools my entire career, I so often find my students have little to no representation in these types of books. I was hoping to give them an opportunity to see themselves, vibrant and on the page and victorious. To this end, I followed advice I received from author Mary Anne Mohanraj at the World Fantasy Convention. She suggested I seek readers of a diverse background in the beta process. I did just that and was incredibly pleased at the response to Emmett’s authenticity and relevance.

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why Babel recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family, forever.

As he and nine other teenagers wormhole their way through space, Emmett discovers the promised millions aren’t a guarantee. Each recruit must earn the right to travel down to Eden. There, Babel will use them to mine a substance that’s quietly become the most valuable in the world. Emmett’s year-long flight will act as a competition. Every training session is measured, every point matters, and Emmett will do anything to win. But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. Secrets about the volatile substance they’re hoping to mine, about the reclusive humanoids already living on Eden, and about their true intentions for the kids that don’t win their competition. As Emmett uncovers the truth, he realizes he’s not fighting for wealth or glory, he’s fighting for his life.

I am a 10th grade English and Creative Writing teacher who has spent years sharing my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels with my students, and I’ve started writing stories with them in mind. THE BABEL FILES is my third completed novel, and the first in a science fiction trilogy. I have included sample pages below for your consideration. I look forward to your response.

All best,

Scott Reintgen

Why Did This Work:

It’s not hard to see the improvement here, right? There are several massive changes from my first query to this one. We see comp. novels, one that was a rising blockbuster and another book that showed some of my nuance in the field of YA. The actual story section of the query is incredibly tight and focused, reading like the back cover copy of a novel, rather than a list of world building and characters.

More importantly, I keep it entirely professional, angling away from humor and exchanging that for sincerity, especially in my description of my students and my profession. The first paragraph also flashes the idea that I’m someone who acts like a grown up, rather than a peanut enthusiast. I cite my interactions with authors, my general hopes for the book, and throw in some of my experience in the final paragraph. Overall it’s just so, so much better.

Every one of these posts will end with the same message:

Time and practice build the necessary skills to survive in this industry. If your first queries slip through the hands of agents, do not fear or worry. You will get better at this. Your writing will improve. Put the time in and I expect the same kind of leaps you see above. We can’t wait to read your stories.

Thanks for reading!

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!



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.


  • 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!).


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.


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!