How Book Reviews Make You a Better Writer

How Book Reviewers Make You a Better Writer

Hi. My name is Ericka Clay, and I’m still learning to write.

*GASP*

I know. It’s quite difficult to admit. As much as I want to wave my fancy Creative Writing degree over my head as proof that I know ALL THINGS WRITING, alas, I don’t.

Not even a little bit.

And I know this to be true not only because I can practically see it plastered across my forehead when I look into the mirror (I also see perfectly arched eyebrows. It’s a genetic gift), but I’ve also heard it from book reviewers who have read Unkept and Dear Hearts and have critically broken down where I’ve gone “wrong.”

Ouch, right? NOPE!

What I love about book reviewers is that they’re not my mother. What I mean by that, is that they’ll never tell me I’m the best writer that has ever existed and that I look mind blowingly fantastic in these JCPenney’s jorts (another genetic gift). What they WILL tell me is that there are a few things I need to work on.

So without further ado, here are a few of my favorite critiques I’ve received in no particular order:

“…I was confused in a few places with the way she integrates flashbacks and memories…”

“The characters are all complicated, as is the writing. Don’t pick up this book, if easy reading is what you are looking for.”

“Nearly every principal character is incredibly flawed, in some cases to the point of being deeply unlikeable.”

“The novel has a somewhat unclear start as the opening chapters are overloaded with a barrage of character names and too many unanswered questions, making it difficult to settle in until the third or fourth chapter.”

“There are a lot of metaphors, back story, and flashbacks in Unkept that often interrupt the flow and clarity of the story.”

“The alternating POVs don’t always take the story forward.”

“However another part of me just can’t seem to truly believe Mitch as a character.”

Now granted, these same reviewers had some amazingly wonderful things to say about my books, too, which I deeply appreciate. But the critiques above are exactly what I needed to hear.

So what does this mean? I get back on that writing horse and do it again, only this time much better.

Those thoughtful critiques are the very reason I’m taking a BRAND NEW JOURNEY and writing a novel chapter by chapter on Wattpad – about a small town transvestite trying to “win” her best friend back of all things! I’ll be changing my style a bit, getting to the meat of the story and using flowery language in teeny tiny doses. I’ll be working on the “here and now” and try my best to refrain from mind boggling flashbacks.

I’ll be taking these reviews to heart.

So book reviewers, thank you, thank you, thank you a million times over for these! You’ve helped me in more ways than you know. And writers, leave discouragement at the door. A good critique helps not hurts, and if it is blatantly hurtful, ignore it and move forward.

We’ve got this, you guys! We’ve got this!

Have you received a “bad” review? What did it teach you?


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Marilyn Winters by Ericka ClayThere’s a new girl in town, but looks can be deceiving! Find out why Marilyn Winters is an unlikely heroine in my latest novel – that you can read FOR FREE!

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Why I Went from Represented Author to Self-Published Author

Why I Went From Represented Author to

And no, it’s not because I’m crazy.

This is how it is: I had an amazing agent. I had an amazing publisher for Unkept. But I realized I wanted something more than amazing. I wanted control.

I’ve always had a business side to me. I’ve worked as a social media consultant for a long time now and have tried to find ways to blend these skills with my online world, not for financial reasons but because I love the challenge of engaging people, of creating, of turning my skills into something that’s both profitable and necessary to my customers.

Yup. I’m that girl.

So you can imagine having that girl inside my brain while journeying the two year process of getting a book published. First you have to send the manuscript to publishers and then that bad boy is thoroughly edited and printed in a pretty package (if you have a good publisher and fortunately I did!).

But the waiting game was hard for me. The “relying on someone else to put the finishing touches on my baby” was hard for me, too. Not in an egotistical “I’m the best person for the job” type way, but in a “I’m an only child and my parents got me a ‘World’s Best Child’ t-shirt when I was ten” type way.

So we can all blame them.

Seriously though, here are some reasons I decided to go the self-publishing route.

Why I Decided to Self-Publish

  • In spite of myself, I’ve somehow managed to create a large community that cares about the work I produce. This means that even if I cut out a publisher, I still have a wide audience that I can market my work to. And in reality, even if a publisher picks up your work, you’re going to have to do a lot of the leg work anyways as far as marketing goes. They have other authors to publish and support and you can’t expect to hog all of their time. But you can hog your own!
  • I started a blog awhile back, Tipsy Lit, that I’ve tried to find a purpose for for a long time now. It’s gone through many transformations but as of late, I’ve realized it would be the perfect imprint for my self-publishing career. An imprint is basically the name you publish under. I’ve decided to choose Tipsy as my imprint instead of using my own name because it looks more professional and speaks to my business side.
  • I love learning new things and formatting has become one of them. Since it doesn’t make me go running for the hills then I figure it’s a worthwhile use of my time and a great way to save some money during the publishing process.
  • I know some great editors like Roxanne and the Bannerwing Betas, so when I need a second pair of eyes to catch everything I’ve missed, these talented folks are only an email away.
  • Designing book covers is fun for me. Seriously, I kind of love it! And since I’ve been mainly focusing on Kindle covers as of late, the Kindle cover creator in Canva (alliteration for the win!) has been crazy helpful.

I love being at the helm from the moment I put a word down on the page to letting the world know my words are ready to be read. This process may not be for everyone, but I feel pretty darn fortunate that it’s found me!

Have you published yet? Did you chose to go the traditional route or have you self-published? What was your experience like and would you recommend it to others?


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The Life of a Writer

The Life of a Writer
Is it legal to put crack in a coffee cup? I’m asking for a friend.

I used to watch other people get published and then tweet the living crap about it on Twitter, and then I’d think God, I want to be them.

Because somewhere in my damaged brain, I had already reconciled with the fact that they were no longer human beings but gods of the universe who were given trained aliens on their publication date and these aliens would cook, clean, do the laundry, massage their feet and DVR Property Brothers for them while they were free to pleasantly market their new book.

But then I’ve suddenly become one of these gods of the universe, and as hard as I’ve searched for my aliens, the only thing I’ve found is a chewed up Lego and a tiny piece of bacon covered in dog hair.

Seriously. who cleans this place?

Instead of basking in the beautifully neon glow of an extraterrestrial, this is my godforsaken schedule on any given day:

  1. Wake up. Wonder why they canceled Who’s The Boss for fifteen minutes and then turn off my alarm. With my fists.
  2. Put on clothes. Or my bath towel from the night before and my “I Got Crabs at Joe’s Crabshack” baseball cap. No one will notice.
  3. Receive a tiny flying shoe in the face while walking down the hallway. Remember I have offspring.
  4. Make offspring breakfast. Kids like bran, right? Right.
  5. Listen to twenty minutes worth of screaming. Realize it’s coming out of my mouth.
  6. Step in poop. Remember I have dogs.
  7. Put on my make up, or as I like to call it, “You were sixteen once…hahaha!” Then cry for seven minutes.
  8. Watch a performance consisting of show tunes and random bouts of jazz hands. Remember I have a husband.
  9. Take offspring to school. Make friends on the highway with my horn.
  10. Try to trick the other parents at child’s school into believing I’m a tiny gnome from the future. Pretend not to be concerned when they believe me.
  11. Go home.
  12. Stare at computer.
  13. Push buttons.
  14. Prank call my grandmother.
  15. Do the dishes and berate them for being dirty.
  16. Pet the clothes in the laundry basket and say things to them like “If only you had legs and didn’t live here.”
  17. Pick up child from school. Avoid glances from the school psychologist.
  18. Go home and play game with child where I have no idea what I’m doing. Name it “life.”
  19. Make dinner with my  mind.
  20. Put child to bed with a kiss and an interpretive dance based on my latest manuscript.
  21. Stare at husband’s head in that cute way I do.
  22. Sleep with eyes open.

You guys, I’m tired, I’m cranky and I’m flat out of aliens. But I’m working my ass off so my book will be READ.

Forget sales, forget curling up into Oprah’s lap while she pats my head (I’m just kidding. I could never forget something like that.), forget being what I think a published author SHOULD be.

I’m here to give you words, to change your mind, to free your heart. And I pray to God/Tony Danza, that I’ve done you justice.

Now if you don’t mind, there’s a head that needs staring at.

 

Unkept by Ericka Clay

 

Look at what I did! Now you can pre-order the Kindle version of my novel, Unkept, here: http://amzn.com/B00SM090XI All the proceeds will go towards glittering cats. You have my word.

Welcome to the Best Day of My Life

Unkept by Ericka Clay

Seventeen years.

It’s been seventeen years since the day I knew I would be a published author.

It wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t a maybe. It was a fact.

I would make it happen, I just didn’t know how.

Fast forward to today. THE DAY.

Alongside my amazing publisher, I’m beyond thrilled/excited/alittlebitvomity to announce that you can now PREORDER the Kindle version of my novel, Unkept.

And very soon (March 2nd), the PRINT version will be available for purchase!

I’ve been working with an amazing group of women to polish this bad boy right up and make it something worth reading.

And together, I know we have something that will wow the pants right off of you.

Hopefully, you’re wearing underwear.

ABOUT UNKEPT

OFFICIAL RELEASE DATE: March 2, 2015 from Bannerwing Books

AMAZON KINDLE PRE-ORDERhttp://bit.ly/UnkepteBook

GOODREADS LINKhttp://bit.ly/UnkeptOnGoodreads

THE PREMISE: As the live-in manager at her father’s funeral home in Burling Gates, Missouri, Vienna Oaks has succumbed to the mediocrity and abject loneliness of her life. Her days are suspended between the mundane and the misery of her clients’ throttling grief, of changing light bulbs, and encountering strangers as bereft as she. But after orchestrating the funeral for a little boy named Parker prompts a severe panic attack, she finds herself at a personal crossroads in which she is forced to confront the pregnancy she’s been hiding, her childhood nemesis, the boy she never stopped loving, and the deep-seated secret surrounding her mother’s death more than a decade before.

In another part of town, Heather Turnbull has just learned from her estranged father that her mother, a lifelong recluse, has died. When making arrangements for her funeral, Heather chooses Oaks Family Funeral home, where she comes face to face with Vienna – the woman she tortured throughout grade school, the woman who has recently had an affair with her husband.

Together, Vienna and Heather navigate through a makeshift friendship born of
circumstance and devised to assuage their ambivalence towards motherhood and their
tenuous relationship with reality, discovering, in tandem, the art of forgiveness and the
will to go on.

With humor and poignancy, Ericka Clay’s debut novel, Unkept, explores the thorny
landscape of childhood trauma and the ferocious politics between little girls — and the
adults they become.

A GINORMOUS thank you in advance to everyone who reads Unkept and hopefully reviews it. You are my lifeblood, folks. Without you, there would be no words worth writing, so please know this: you are amazing, you are wonderful and you are appreciated more than you know.

Love, glitter and felines,

Ericka Clay

What a Writer Is

No coasters, bitches!!!
No coasters, bitches!!!

If you go on Twitter, you already know what a writer is: a fierce, stalking animal that eats words and breathes beautifully wrought sentences.

There are no bathroom breaks, snack breaks, blow your nose into your hanky breaks. There is only you and your computer in a dimly lit room, burning cigarette jammed in your mouth and tumbler full of vodka on your desk, no coaster.

You don’t have time for fucking coasters.

And for a long, long, long time, I too, believed this is what a writer is. In fact, I lamented the fact that I didn’t smoke, and even toyed with the idea of taking it up. Me. Yogi Ericka, enjoying herself a cancer stick.

The absurdity!

It’s part of the reason why I’ve been dialing back my relationship with social media. There is always the picture of what you should be doing and how you should be doing it.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being told what the fuck to do.

So I decided to rethink my life, and in rethinking my life, I’ve started to rethink my writing career. And here are the nuts and bolts of it:

  • I don’t always write, but I’m still a writer. Your brain needs breaks sometimes. Your body needs sleep. Your soul needs friends and good food and time to recalculate. Don’t sacrifice your body for your work because your work will suffer, too.
  • Sometimes a novel needs a little breathing room. I like to think of writing as an art. And I’ve never known an artist to rush their masterpiece. I don’t necessarily link being prolific to being good. And I make it a habit to always choose good over anything else.
  • Guilt can shove a pointed spoon up its arse. You didn’t write today? No worries, my friend. Sucking on that guilt lozenge won’t force the words to come any faster. Trust me.

Listen: do you. Be you. If sucking on cancer sticks, drinking your vodka and banging out words is your thing, then high five my friend and put a bird on it.

But if you exist somewhere outside of the “writer’s box” like little ‘ol me, no sweat. There’s room for you and your beautiful face.

At least I still don’t use coasters, right?

It Begins With Words

Ksenia Anske is kind of my hero.

I’m actually live chatting with her as I type (*SWOON*) because she agreed to do a Happy Hour in our Tipsy Book Club.  And everything she says makes me want to punch the sky and scream: FUCK YEAH!!

You know why?  She does it for her readers.

I know this and I love this.  Every time someone reads a blog post, a poem, my book, I kind of scream like a baby goat.  I do a lot of screaming if you haven’t noticed.

But really, my whole writing existence is based on the eyes scanning my words, my pages.  And that part is easy for me.

What’s not easy, is the actual sitting down and WRITING part that Ksenia masters like the badass ninja she is.

So many things, TOO many things get in the way: leading the Tipsy pack, taking my daughter to dance class, washing dishes, folding laundry, walking the dogs, walking myself, grocery shopping, my social anxiety, my clips of depression, my hair’s too long, too thin, I’m tired, I don’t wanna, I DIDN’T SIGN UP FOR THIS!!!!!

But that’s not true.  What’s getting in the way of my writing process is, well, me.

Because when it comes right down to it, those things I THINK get in the way, really make me who I am, and without the beautiful stink of weekly monotony, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate sitting down and lightly hovering the tips of my fingers over the keys.

It begins with words, it begins with embracing the every day.

It begins with that chair, that desk.  Bending your knees, bending the words.

 

I Write For Her

I’m over at Project Hermosa today, talking about how “show, don’t tell” applies to motherhood as much as it does writing.  And I happened to have stumbled on this post I wrote three years ago and think it’s pretty relevant considering today’s guest post…

Being a mother?  It’s hard.  Being a mother and a writer?  It’s swallowing a bottle of guilty pills and asking that creepy puppet from the Saw movies to dance.  It’s a mind fuck, to put it pleasantly.

I’ve existed in all kinds of worlds and as of late, I’m existing in the world of motherhood.  And each time I put my ear up to the door, I’m hearing the resounding message that if you’re a mom then, well, you’re a mom.  That’s that, put a bow on it.  Call it a day.

But I’m more than a mom.  Shocker, I know.  I love Ava more than the world will allow, but I didn’t go to college to discuss the intricacies of butt paste all the live long day.  I went to college to waste my parents’ money and get black out drunk on the weekends like a normal person.  Oh, and to obtain a Creative Writing degree (with honors.  What what) so I could live my passion.  But once I grabbed my diploma, got married and moved to a new city, I didn’t have the direction I needed to make my talents worthwhile.  So instead of writing the next Great American Novel, I constantly watched The Office on Hulu and drank wine like it was my job because, in a way, it was.  At least writing sure as hell wasn’t.

But then?  Ava.  Ava came and so did hope.  There are mornings I go into her room and she’s ready, arms open, smile wide and I know this thing isn’t about me anymore.  Writing is no longer writing.  It’s responsibility.  I’m responsible for showing her a woman can be a loving mother, a smart woman, a person with a passion.  I’m responsible for curving my fingers to the cadence of words, knowing doing so just might give her a better future.  I’m responsible for her image of me.

And even though I’m plagued with long days, an aching back and more Mickey Mouse Clubhouse than a person should be forced to tolerate, I know my passions wouldn’t be realized without her.

So here’s to writing.  Here’s to motherhood.  Here’s to taking life by the balls one word at a time.

Writing and Motherhood

My mom was a good mom.  A phenomenal mom.  An overprotective loon of a mom who would cut out newspaper clippings of the latest rape, murder, twenty car pile up to remind her only child that the world is not a cushiony pillow where you can rest your head and close your eyes.

My mother taught me to never close my eyes.

And I haven’t.  I don’t.  Writing is an eye opening experience in and of itself, and frankly, so is motherhood.  Combining the two is frozen yogurt, man.  A sweet swirl of vanilla and chocolate.  But sometimes the milk goes bad and everything tastes abysmally sour.

{Side Note: I told Matt the other day that we should start a frozen yogurt shop called YOLO, you know, just to be douches and what not, and on our recent road trip we found a YOLO FROYO shop.  I know.  I still have chills.}

When it’s good, it’s just like icecream with half the calories.  When it’s bad, it’s like digging your spoon into mud.

Nobody talks about the bad parts of being a mom.  Or maybe they do, but I just haven’t paid attention because, well, books.  Books take up a lot of my fabulous time which means I spend my days with eyes open, staring at paper.  But if they do talk about the bad parts about rearing forty odd pounds of blonde-headed psycho, then maybe this is what they say:

  • Words hurt.  The words your child says to  you.  The words you say to your child.  You can be sweet as pie, but the second midnight comes rolling around and you have an endless ball of emotion screaming at your face and wanting to kick you the rest of the night in your bed, the jagged edged words are vomited up, are tumbled out of you, and you become the person you try to shove day in, day out into the back closet of your mind.
  • There is no “you” anymore.  “You” is for those people that still sleep on the weekends.  “You” is for people who still sleep in general.
  • Everyone’s a critic.  If you think you’re doing “mothering” wrong, just ask the lady in front of you at the grocery store that keeps sneering at you.  She’s in charge of everything.  Ever.
  • Clothes shall be named “stain canvases” from now on.  Your child is an artist.  Let them express themselves, and if your boss doesn’t understand, key your emotions into the side of his ‘vette.
  • If you think you’re doing it wrong, you are and you aren’t.  That’s the thing about this game.  There are no rules.

She’s clothed, she’s fed, she’s beautiful.  The page is blank.  She’s cranky, she’s lost a sock, she needs a snack.  The page is filled.

It will be like this forever you know.  You’re a writer and mother which means balance confounds you.  Everything is sticky and unwashed unless it’s the day you play catch up and your novel, rooted in your gut, kicks at your intestines and causes you pain.

But the messy things in life, the painful things are most often the most beautiful ones.  So deep breath, hugs and kisses, story before bedtime, right after the bath and thank whatever deity you enjoy thanking for every day you get to open your eyes, see your child’s face, and mend letters into words.

The Middle

I asked a question on Google+.  It was the typical “what’s your favorite part of the writing process?” because for an instant I turned into a glittery unicorn and forgot that writing is more like jamming a splinter under your nail than swimming in a chocolate fountain.

It’s air, it’s breathable, it’s necessary and needed.  But it’s not always fun.

I did get the answers I was looking for, however: building characters, starting fresh from the very beginning.  I think we can all agree that there’s nothing more invigorating than a blank page.  But then a friend mentioned THE MIDDLE.  The dreaded middle that we as authors groan, moan and piss about.

And we have every right to.

The middle is what happens when you’re not paying attention and you’re in the passenger seat with your protagonist, admiring their beautifully coiffed hair and the scar curled near one nostril when BAM! out of nowhere you’ve slammed smack into a six story oak.

What next?

What’s your next move?

Mine are the easy things that are often looked over in life but are absolutely necessary to keep your head above water:

  • another cup of coffee
  • a memory spiking song
  • the crisp, clean pages of a new book
  • a talk with my husband, parents, friend
  • hugging my daughter
  • holding my dogs
  • closing my eyes

The middle of your manuscript is much like life – it can be a very bad thing or a very good thing depending on what day it is.  And so tomorrow, when I get back on the manuscript horse and pick up right where I left off in the devastating middle, I’m going to close my eyes and remember what a good day it is.