The Male / Female Friendship

03a93992827bf5b99c1a8d41e46b3e7bAs I make my immersion into writing again, I’ve begun rereading some of my old novels.  I reread Volition Agent because it is a short novel and I wanted to get back into it.  But then I read Dissolution of Peace with the hope to get the sequel out later this year.  I also got to thinking about Broken Trust.

Now, I mention these novels for more than just a quick plug for myself, but also because I happened to notice a theme here.  All three of those novels, though less so in Volition Agent, show the Male / Female Friendship.  And not just a casual friendship, but a close bond often becoming best friends.

And since June 8th was National Best Friend Day, and I have a female best friend, I thought this was a great topic to discuss.

I think this theme is largely because of my own life experiences.  I find myself getting a long with females more than males.  I have some good male friends, but, of my closest friends over the years, most of them have been female.

But it is funny how in real life the Male / Female friendship is so complicated.  You have to deal with jealous significant others, rumors, and a level of social stigma that imply the friendship isn’t possible.  As a straight male, I’ve had this issue many times over and it has even kept me from ever having a good friendship.

The thing is, there is no reason a man and a woman can’t be friends.  Society has this absolutely wrong and it drives me nuts.  I could go on a long rant about this but I won’t because I want to stick with the writing part of this.  (Besides, I am fairly sure many will see the rant behind the topic.)

So here are some of my tips, both from real life and from writing, on how to have successful coed friendship in your novel.

Attraction is Okay

It is absolutely okay to have a level of attraction there.  It is natural to develop a bond with someone and get a little attraction involved too.  Attraction is normal and personally I do think all of my female friends are attractive women.  Remember attraction isn’t just physical appearance either.

In Dissolution of Peace, Janice’s first impression of Mike is that he isn’t that good looking of a man.  After developing a very close friendship with him, her perception of his appearance changes.  They have a friendship forged in their protection of each other and as that trust grows she just begins to see him differently.

The point here is that attraction comes in a variety of forms and it is normal and possible to find a friend of the opposite sex attractive and not “make the moves” on them.

Banter and Flirting are not the same thing

My wife often teases me that I flirt an awful lot.  But my banter with my friends is often mistaken by outside eyes as flirting.  And maybe by the very technical of definitions it could be seen that way.  But I don’t think of it as the same thing.

When you develop a friendship bond with another male, to give each other shit it is perfectly normal and acceptable.  The exact same words can be said to a female friend and society says, “ohhhh they want to hook up.”

Again, the point is that there is no reason your male and female friendship can’t exchange banter.  You shouldn’t have to second guess your words with true friends and neither should your character.

Compliments are Okay

This one is insane to me.  I tell my male friend, “That shirt looks sharp.” And it is just a compliment.  But I tell a female friend that those jeans are amazing and next thing you know the rumors start up.  Why has society done this?

Compliments to your friends shouldn’t be awkward and they should be part of any healthy relationship.  Not just compliments on appearance either.  Compliments on hard work, success, a new significant other, or anything about their life should be included.

Friends hang out

If two friends go get a slice of pizza and see a movie, it is hanging out.  But a male/female friendship is treated different.  These two decide they want to go to a movie, and now it might be date.  That shouldn’t be the case at all.

While I think it is great for friends to hang out with the significant others involved too, there isn’t any reason a friend should have to include them all the time.  It is okay for a male and female friend to go and hang out alone.  It is not a date.

Jealousy

Jealousy is a real emotion.  I am jealous often and easily.  It doesn’t mean anything more than that I feel left out or not as important.  I recognize that.

My wife is very supporting of my having female friends, she even claims to not be jealous. And while I know very well that my wife trusts me and doesn’t get jealous near as easy as I do, I know she is human and thus gets jealous from time to time.

I am not just talking about the jealous significant other, though, in my experience, that has been the most damaging to friendships I’ve had.  There is also jealousy between the friends. It is okay to be a bit jealous that your friend has dedicated their time to something other than you.

Jealousy can be just a fleeting thought or a raging storm.  But it is a part of any healthy friendship.  It is how far the jealousy goes that really matters.  Jealousy can by a nasty catalyst for disaster, so the line is fine.

In Dissolution of Peace, Serenity finds herself a bit jealous of Janice and Mike’s friendship.  This isn’t because she is worried Janice with steal Mike, but because Mike and Serenity have to hide their relationship while Janice and he are able to hang out in the “open” and more often.

Imagination

I put this at the end for a couple of reasons, but one of those is the fact that it is probably the most awkward of the dynamics of a male and female friendship.  But also, our imagination is often one of the things we keep secret the most.  But I don’t do that because it isn’t healthy for any relationship.

First is the dream realm.  Why we are so scared to share that we dreamed about someone of the opposite sex is beyond me. We are hardly in control of our dreams but we somehow feel responsible for them.

The most awkward can be the sexual dreams simply because this is your friend and now you’ve imagined them in a sexual scenario.  I always tell my wife all my dreams, even these, and she seems appreciative of the fact that I can share these with her.  I’ve never shared these dreams with the friend I was dreaming about.

This is because of two society stigmas. Sex is not to be talked about and then the female male friendship is taboo.  I have one friend I do tell when she is in my dreams regardless of the content.  She doesn’t seem to mind, in fact I think I could tell her anything and maybe that’s why we are close friends.

In fact she told me that she read that sexual dreams about someone means you want to get to know them better.  Don’t know if that is true, but sexual dreams are normal and often have little to do with sex.

Next is the day dream.  I think this normal too.   The imagination running wild thinking of what life might be like if you dated your friend.  I’ve more than once commented to a friend that, “If we dated you’d drive me crazy because…”  This is often in response to helping them with a relationship problem, but it does reflect that I’ve given it some thought.

When you are close to someone, I feel it is normal to let the mind wander to thoughts of people in different roles in your life.  Life without someone, with someone in a different way, getting closer to someone one, and so on.  When I met my newest friend, I often had day dreams about what my life would be life if we’d become close friends.  Now, I can’t imagine life without this person.

There are scenes in both Volition Agent and Dissolution of Peace where characters think about if they would be able to date their friend.  They don’t act on those thoughts, but they are there.

Real Life Inspiration

The bottom line, when writing any relationship it is important to draw from your own life experiences.  Mine tell me that the male and female platonic relationship is very possible and in my fictional worlds it is even seen a little bit as normal.  Because I see it as normal and acceptable. Society has made it something it isn’t.

The truth is, that I didn’t even notice this theme in my writing until I reread some of my work.  It just came out to the paper because that is what I know.

I hope you got some value from this post to apply to your own writing, but in the end write what works for your story.

Happy writing.

 

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Don’t Read Your Own Work After Publishing It

IMG_20130406_142102_592That is what I was told when I started writing.  Never, ever, ever read your work once it has been published.  Just don’t do it.  If you do, you will open a rift in time and space that even The Doctor won’t be able to stop.  Children will weep in the streets, entire cities will be lost, and Trump will be elected President of the United States.

It is another one of those “cardinal sins” of writing that seems to have just caught on and stuck.  The reasons are endless, but when you really get down to it, I am not sure what the point of this law of scribes is all about.

Perhaps it is the worry that you will cringe at your prior work and never write again.  The whole, I am the worst writer in the world and I need to stop.  Or maybe it has to do with the endless revision cycle that many writers can get into.  I’ve warned of this in the past.

Maybe it has to do with the look forward, not back, ideology.  This idea the progress only happens if you look to the future.  But if you don’t know your past, what is the point of the future?

That’s why I am of the mentality that reading your past work is actually a really good idea.  I promise the children will be fine, there will be no rifts in time, and no cities will crumble as a result of you reading your past published stories.  I am also pretty sure that Trump and reading have never been related.

Let me explain why it works for me.  I think you will see that, like most rules of writing, individual preference is really key.

One:

It helps me to find my muse again.  I have a terrible time with my muse.  She, like the writer she inspires, likes to travel.  The problem is she never takes me with her and never returns without me having to hunt her down.

Sure, she calls every now and again but she never seems to return until I start reading my work.  It is like she stops and goes, wait we wrote that shit.  We are pretty bad ass, lets do this shit.

Two:

It reminds me.  I have a terrible memory.  I need the reminder of what my characters were doing and what exactly I edited out before.  You see, when I write a story the story sticks.  And I forget that I cut our a scene, or that I changed a character’s gender.

My novels live in my head.  The world is continuing to go on well after I stopped writing the story, and when I go to write the sequel I don’t always remember where I stopped.

Three:

It builds my confidence.  This is especially true when I read my short stories.  I always go back to the publication that published them and read them again.

It reminds me that I am good enough to be published.  That someone else read my story and loved it enough to put into their publication.  It lets me know that I can do this, that it is worth the time out of my day to write something.  A lot like reading my reviews, I find it a reminder that other do want to read what I put to paper.

Four:

If I won’t even read my novels, why should anyone else? I know that is really silly sounding, but I believe it.  If a novel I wrote isn’t worth the time for me to read, and reread, then why would others read it once.

I suppose this comes from my leadership mentality.  I’ve worked as a leader in my day job for so long and I’ve always believed that I shouldn’t expect my staff to do anything I wouldn’t do.  And I guess the same goes for my readers. I wouldn’t expect them to read anything I wouldn’t read.

It may be four simple reasons, but they are the reasons why I will read what I write even after it has been published.  I don’t feel like my worlds have to die as soon as I put them to paper.

There really are not any rules for writing, your method is your own.  Feel free to break a few of them every now and then.  You just might find that you’re better for it.

Broken Trust Release Party is Over!

Whew! The month long release party is over. And boy has it been nuts! First of all I learned a lot about marketing a big release, and I wanted to share with you the things I learned. This way perhaps you can have a big start to your marketing project too!

1. Don’t waste your time with preorders!

I put a lot of work on setting up preorders, and I even had massive discounts. And not one person preordered the book.  Not one. Despite all the promotion of it, no one order one.  Not even my family. I don’t know why that is. I think it has to do with the fact that people would rather order from a trusted source. But I don’t know that for sure. And since Amazon won’t let me do preorders on there, I just was stuck with doing it through PayPal.  In any case, this is the third time I have offered preorders, and the first time I have offered it for an extended period of time (three weeks).  And I have never made a preorder sale. So I won’t be wasting the energy setting up that on Paypal and my website.

2. Plan your release early in the party.

My goal with this party had been to build a buzz, and create preorders. I think I did get the buzz going, but since my book didn’t release until the end of the party, I think I may  have lost out on some sales potential.  So for my next book, the release party will come either right after the book releases or maybe just a week into it.  That will be a better option.

3. Too many giveaways means too few entries.

There were so many giveaways in this party. Book a Day in May, Goodreads, Grand Prizes, Kindles. I just had so many.  I really liked the Book a Day in May.  I will do that again, but I don’t think I will do it the same way. Perhaps one entry form with a drawing each day.  This way entrants don’t have to fill out so many forms. That does get rather tedious.   I’ll be experimenting with Raffle Copter to see if that can be done. I also don’t think I will release a book in May while doing this giveaway.

I think the magic number for giveaways is 1 at a time. Yeah, just one.  Otherwise it is hard to focus on them and get a lot of people entering. Of course, GoodReads tends to always draw a lot of entries. But RaffleCopter is solely based on how much work you put into marketing it.  So I will limit myself to just one.

4. Hire a Blog Book Tour Company

I did a blog book tour with Dissolution of Peace, I hired OrangeBerry to do it. And while I wasn’t 100% satisfied, I did get a much better response from it. Putting on a book tour is harder than it looks. I tried to do it myself with Broken Trust. I wound up with four days unfilled out of ten total days. That is really bad for such short tour. With OrangeBerry I ordered 30 days and they gave me 30 days, with most of those 30 being within a 30 day period. So from now on I will pay a little bit of money and not have all the hassles of doing it myself. This includes all the scheduling, finding bloggers, and coordinating the releases.  It just wasn’t worth it to try and do it for free.

5. No one cares about the games.

I created Quizzes for the tour, two of them. And they were hardly touched. I had a trivia game, no one showed up to play. I did an answer this question and win a book, no one did it. I did a first five to share this link wins, and no one shared it. People just didn’t care about the games. They could enter to win without jumping through hoops. Do I think I would have better success with less giveaways? No. I’ve tried this time and time again and it never works.

6. Trivia Facts and Quotes from the book.

Now this I think I will do again.  This people seemed to like. One of the the things people liked most: These quotes and Trivia facts were not accompanied by any “buy me” links. People seemed to like that they could get a sneak peek at the book and not be followed with a “buy me” sales pitch. That’s just it, it wasn’t a direct sales pitch. It was a marketing tool, that is for sure. But, it is not direct and in your face.  The quotes on the graphic (picture) rather than in the body was also really successful for shares and re-tweets. But I think next time I will mix up the quotes with different graphics. I think after a bit, people see the same graphic and assume it is the same quote.  And to be fair, I didn’t think of this graphic idea myself, I saw S.M. Boyce doing it of her books. So naturally I borrowed the idea.

7. Scheduling your posts for various times works.

It is very tedious work.  I planned every promo post for the entire month. I planned them for different times through out the day.  Why did I do this? Because my followers probably check at different times. And I wanted to make sure no one group of followers always saw the same thing.  So I spread it out and it seems to have works. No one complained of post overload and I didn’t lose any followers during the release party.  Also, I never posted the same stuff at the same time on both Facebook and Twitter. I always spread it out. It is a pet peeve of mine when people post the exact same stuff at the exact same time on all their social media. Why follow all of them then?  Anyway, that seemed to work out too.

8. Hire someone to do your Book Trailer

I’ve always hired someone to do my cover art, but did the book trailers myself.  This time I hired someone, and it seems to get a better response from viewers. It is being shared more, that is for sure. So from now on I will hire someone to do them. It just makes sense. I’ll stick with writing and leave the graphic arts to those that know what they are doing.

9. Plan for things to not go as planned.

I got hired a started a new job right in the middle of all this. Had I planned to just do the tweets live, this never would have worked out.  Luckily I scheduled them and they could go on while I tried desperately to focus on my new job. There were also technical issues with the blog tour. So I had to handle those. There were broken links, and unexpected blog posts (which I welcome), and much more to deal with on the fly.  So you have to be prepared for things to not always go as you planned they would.

10. Did this work?

I don’t really know.  I sold 3 Kindle copies on release day.  Not exactly the flying off the shelves that I hoped for. But also there were still giveaways going on. And I secretly hope that people are just waiting to buy to see if they win the book. But experience tells me that isn’t the case. I hoped to create a buzz and the only way to measure that is in sales, though that isn’t a fair measurement. So hopefully the sales pick up now that word is getting out that the book has released. Perhaps releasing the book sooner in the party would have created more sales over the month.  Time will tell on that.

Creating buzz when you are a small time writer is not easy. Many of your “followers” are not paying much attention to you. And you don’t have any name made for yourself. You can’t expect instant results.  My only hope is that as each book comes out, more and more progress is being made in the that direction. Eventually I hope to be able to say that I slowly built a name for myself. And this was one step in that build.

 

I Call BullSh*t: Social Media Marketing is Easy

Dung-heapI’ve decided to start a new regular post call “I Call Bullshit”.  In these articles I will take  common themes, rules, myths, and legends about writing and publishing, and I will call out the bullshit behind all of them.  Call me the Mythbuster of the writing world. Unless that violates some copyright, then just call me Richard.

Anyway, one of my favorite sayings is, “I call bullshit.”  Why? It has so much more of a punch than, “I don’t think that is true. ”

This time around I tackle the myth that Social Media marketing is easy.  You wouldn’t believe how much I heard this starting out as a business owner, and now as a writer.  And on the surface it sounds easy.

Here are some of the things I have heard:

All you have to do is post a lot and people will follow you and buy your products.

Once you have followers, the word will get out about your projects.

If you write engaging articles, people will continue to read your blog.

Getting followers is easy.

Well, I call bullshit.

I am not a social media expert, and I think anyone who claims to be an expert better have some concrete evidence to this title.  But, I have used social media for my old security business.  And I currently use if for my writing, and for Plasma Frequency.  I am constantly on social media, not just for business but for personal use too.

First, simply posting doesn’t attract followers.  You have to post things that either engage your audience or entertains them.  And you have to get them to like it enough to share (or ReTweet or ReBlog) it to their followers.  And it has to be good enough that their followers than choose to follow you.  This can be excellent articles, a hilarious Tweet, information that your audience might enjoy, or anything like that.

Again, that sounds easy, but it isn’t. Lets look at my author account on Twitter.  I’ve been on Twitter for going on three years.  Not a long time, but I have almost 4,000 tweets in that time.  Or,  roughly four tweets a day.  That doesn’t sound like a lot and compared to others, I am a novice.  But, even still I can only think of maybe twenty tweets that actually gained mass popularity and directly resulted in adding one or two follower.  I know of only three tweets that directly brought on 10 or more followers.

Now, my blog on the other hand does tend to attract more followers with each post.  I usually get one follower for every three to four posts I make.  But, I have had some posts, such as my self publish one, that brought on a ton of followers.  And my articles on writing tend to draw more attention that my promotional posts (I’m getting to that).

I haven’t had a a follower of Facebook is ages.  Facebook is becoming the vast wasteland of social media marketing.  And I will get to that soon.

Now, posts resulting in purchases…. I hate to tell you this.  But I can not account a single sale on any product to Social Media posts.  Not one.  For one reason it is hard to measure that.  I am sure people see my book is out and go buy it.  But my guess is most of those people were going to buy it anyway because they know me, or know my work.  They just needed the reminder it was out now.  But, how many people have read this blog and decided they wanted to buy my book?  There is no way to really know that.

I will say, as a big time consumer of books, I have never seen a promotional post by an author I didn’t know and decided to buy it.  My promotional post I mean “Here is my book link.  Please go buy it.” Followed by a link.  Any why not?  Well that is a lot like a hard sale.  Imagine walking into the car dealership, which is already a hard sell location, and the first think the salesman said to you was, “Here is a car, please buy it.”  You probably would leave.  And I doubt you would buy the car, you know nothing about it.

The same is true in social media.  You need to get people to buy your books because they like what you have to say.  That means they like what you post on your blog, the Tweets you post, the Facebook things you share.  And then, only every now and then, you give them a reminder that you have a book out.  Or you integrate reminders through out your posts.  I often reference my books and my magazine in posts.  But not in a “Buy me now” way, but in an example or a causal reference.  Like product placement on TV.

And that takes a lot of work.  I go back through my blog posts to add these links you see.  I have to constantly update my website and blog to show relevant books.  And even still those only result on a few clicks.

Promotional posts are not outlawed.  There are several promotional rules out there.  Some say the one-in-three rule, or the one-in-five rule.  I personally use the one-in-ten rule.  That is that one in ten of my tweets or Facebook posts are promotional.  Now, that doesn’t mean that I count my tweets.  It is a general rule of thumb.

Lets say you are lucky to have a vast amount of followers.  I certainly don’t.  But maybe you are lucky.  You may actually be unlucky.  Here is why:

Facebook has stacked the deck against authors, especially broke ones.  It is a game of percentages. Not all those people will see your posts.  Not even half of them will.  Not even a quarter of them, unless of course you pay for that.  Promote your post and it will pop up everywhere and to everyone, even people not following you. But it comes at a price.  Of my last few posts on my Author Page, only 2.5% to 8% of my followers saw the posts I made.  On Plasma Frequency’s page it was a bit better, 9% to 41%.  Note, the 41% was on those posts that were shared by others (like when an new issue releases and all the authors share).

So here lies the problem with Facebook:  Getting Followers, and getting those followers to see what you post.  The solution, and the only one I know of, is to pay Facebook.

But I am a small press that doesn’t make a profit.  My books are not making a profit yet either.  I am unemployed, trying to make a living off of writing.  I don’t have “extra” money to pitch into a Facebook campaign.  And even if I did, a little research will show you that there are plenty of people who didn’t get much for their money.  And what would I have to pay to get all my posts seen all the time? My wallet just started crying at the thought of it.

You may be thinking Twitter is the way to go.  Sorry, to tell you that simply being free has not solved the problem.  Getting followers can be easy.  Follow a shit-load of people and so many will follow you back.  Then, I know people who go back and unfollow all the people who don’ follow back… I call bullshit on that too, but that is another topic.

Anyway, I see people with 5k followers and following 5k people.  I follow 400 people on my account.  When I go on Facebook, I can go back for an entire day and read all the post from a day.  Maybe it would take an hour, or two tops.  Go on Twitter, I can read Tweets for four hours, and only get about 3 hours down my timeline.  There are so many people out there shouting on Twitter that things get lost.  Some of my favorite Tweeters are constantly missed by me.  I find myself skimming over my timeline and bypassing any tweet with a link in it.  Anything that sounds like “buy me”.

And that got me thinking. If I am doing that with 400 people, what is the person who follows me with 5k other people they are following.  I can guarantee they are not reading Tweets by a small time author with sarcastic humor.  So while Facebook will tell you that they are not showing your posts to everyone.  Twitter is showing it to everyone, but I contend that just as few are actually reading what you Tweet.

And, WordPress tells me how many views I get on each article I write.  None of them add up to all of the followers I have.  In fact of the last ten posts, the readers number worked out to about 25%, on average, of my follower count.  And that is just the ones that clicked the link.  Not that actually read the article.

And if that is the case, simply having followers does not mean they are hearing about your projects.

Write engaging articles, Tweets and posts, and people will read what you write.  Well, what the hell is engaging? You can answer that for yourself, but not for other people.  It sounds easy.  Just write about writing.  Sorry, but every independent author and writer out there is putting out self help articles on their blog.

So what makes yours stand out from the crowd?  Your personality.  Certainly the fact that this feature has “bullshit” in it will mean some readers won’t read it.  But, it is also giving this article a bit of my own style.  Regular readers know that I tend to have a rambling, sarcastic, and sometime crass humor in the topics I write about.  Every single one of my blogs oozes with my opinion, and that gives it my own flair.  You can get my information anywhere, but my opinions and humor you can only find from me.

All that still doesn’t mean new followers.  They have to find your blog, Twitter, or Facebook before they even decide if they want to read what you say.  And while WordPress does well to attract new people to my articles, the rest is up to me.  It isn’t easy.  And, I can write one really good article, but not everyone is going to read it.

Finally, getting followers is easy.  Three years I have been fighting my way up to getting good quality followers.  And you see, that is the real trick here folks.  Getting followers is easy.  You can get thousands of egg avatar followers on Twitter, but those bots aren’t reading shit you write.  You can use programs to gain more followers, or be part of “Team Follow Back” and get thousands of followers quickly.  But they are not reading what you say, and that defeats the entire point of everything you’ve been working for.  Why write at two thousand word blog, such as this one, if no one reads it?  Why keep tweeting away when no one is reading them?  That is not an effective social media marketing strategy.  That is a scam of trying to make yourself look popular in the hopes that you might get more followers based on your perceived popularity.  It won’t work.

There is only one way to get quality followers on any social media platform.  Time.  Develop a strategy and stick with it.  Modify it as you find out what works, and keep plugging away.  I certainly get more hits to my blog now than I did three years ago.  My interactions on Twitter have gone up.  But it takes a lot of hard work.  Why do think major companies hire social media team members to manage their pages?  Because it takes a full time marketing team to really work on it.  And let’s face it you are only doing it part time around all the other jobs of being a writer, publisher, and/or editor.

To say social media marketing is easy is complete bullshit.  Like all marketing, it takes time, strategy, know how, and hard work.  It also takes the added step of being social and being yourself.  There is nothing easy about it.

Being an Artist in Tough

frustrated_writer_200I’d like to start off by reminding people that writers are artists too.  This seems to get forgotten for some odd reason.  We think of painters, sculptors, photographers, graphic artists, and even musicians as artists.  But for some reason people don’t think the same about writers.  Writers are artists of words.  We paint pictures in your mind.  We sculpt characters into life.  We make music with our plots.  But, as any artist knows it isn’t easy to be an artist.

First, most people assume art is a hobby.  I’ve touched on this before in other posts.  But it really aggravates me how many people refuse to see my art as a potential career for me.  We are a corporate world.  We see a nine-to-five, cubicle bound, TPS report filing job as being “real” work.  If you think you want to be an artist when you grow up, expect to be frowned upon by friends and family (unless they too are artists).  Not all of them, no.  But you would be surprised how few of them will really truly support your work.  They will see this as a hobby.  They will see it as something you do when you are not working.  They won’t understand your desire to do it full time, it is foolish to expect to make money from creating art in your basement.

Which leads me to my second point.  Making money in the arts is hard.  Of all the artists out there, I think musicians and actors (performing arts) are one of the few to regularly command big bucks.  But even only a fraction of the performers out there hit the “big time”. If you paint, you probably won’t make a lot.  I’ve certainly made it clear how hard it is to make money as a writer.  From others in the arts, I have seen that it is hard to make money in most of the arts.  And to make good money someone has to “discover” you.

Hitting the “big time” is rare in the arts.  The reason is that you have to be discovered.  You have to find your niche and get someone’s attention.  Not just anyone’s attention either.  But the attention of the “movers and shakers” of your particular art.  If your a short fiction writer, that is one of the big time markets.  If your are a novel writer that is one of the traditional publishers out there.  This is if you really want to be the next big thing.  But, most artists out there want to be found.  And so many of them are shouting “pick me” to the people the hope will “discover” them.  I’ve seen a lot of excellent talent give up because they just can’t be heard among everyone else that needs attention.

Of course, you can simply publish your own art.  I see this in more than just writing.  Painters and Sculptors will sell there work online, or attend art shows.  Writers can now self publish with relative ease.  YouTube has allowed movie makers and performers to reach a large audience.  Just about all art forms can “self publish” in one way or another.

No matter if you self publish or get found, you will have to promote your own work.  That is the bigges pain in the ass of all this.  I struggle with it all the time.  You will beg for reviews, sales, mentions on on other blogs, and ask all your friends to please help you get the word out.  You will quickly find that most of your friends and family, or even your social media followers, will not do much to help spread the word.  Most of them won’t even bother to click the link you posted.  And even more will simply start to ignore you because of you are over doing it.  If you are expecting your friends and family to buy and review your art, don’t hold your breath.  So few people take the time to review anymore, your friends included.  You’ll count on your friends to support you.  Give you an opinion on your work.  Don’t do it.  Trust me, you have friends that will repost everything you say about your art.  But not nearly as many as you thought.  And so few of my friends have ever purchased anything I’ve written.  And those that have, less than half (maybe less than a quarter of them) have written a review.

You’ll try to advertise.  But finding the right audience is a talent that can be hard to perform.  You’ll have to attend conventions, art shows, and much more simply to get the word out.  And all this takes away from your time spent creating art.

You will also hit a lot of rough patches in your quest to make your art a career.  You’ll get a bad review.  You’ll have a lack of ideas.  You’ll get depressed and think you can’t possible make your art a career.  You’ll reach out to your friends for support and they’ll ignore you.  Or tell you that “they don’t read”.  You’ll get rejected by your favorite venues.  You’ll get rejected by a mentor or someone you looked up to.  Someone will bash you for your technique.  Someone else will say you lack the education to pursue your art career.  You’ll get so down that you’ll think you were foolish to ever give art a serious try.  You’ll think it is time to give up on this and focus on getting a “real job”.  You’ll cry at night because you just wanted that acceptance letter so bad, and you were shot down.  You’ll be heart broken because you hoped your closest friends would read your work and they don’t.  You will hit a point where you realize walking away is the easiest thing to do.

And that is when you have to make choice.  But, if you really are an artist to your bone you will realize that, no matter how easy it seams, you can’t walk away.  You will have a moment when you realize that even though it is tough, you know you have what it takes to be the next big thing.  You will realize that art was always something more than a career to you.  You will rise up and make the choice to push forward.

You will still be hurt when the people you love don’t see your art as more that a “hobby”.  But you will network and make additional friends that enjoy the same art you do.  You will make the effort to learn how to use social media without driving your followers away from over promotion.  You’ll learn how to advertise.  You’ll find conventions, and shows, and other ways to get your book noticed by the people that really matter.  You’ll learn that the “movers and shakers” certainly have an important part in the art world, but they are not who you create your art for.  Your art is for the people who want to see it.

You will work to put out more of your art so that while you may not make much per piece, you’ll have a wide variety of art to choose from.  You’ll also realize that money isn’t the real reason you ever made art in the first place.  And you will get back to making your art for yourself and let the money come second.  You’ll realize that you may have to work for years before you get discovered and that is okay.  You may need to work your day job and work on your art on the side.  But you won’t care anymore because you are still creating.

The rough patches will always come.  I hit them still all the time, even when I try to be rational about it.  But you will also hit some great times.  You will get excellent reviews.  You’ll have a moment of pure inspiration.  A friend you never expected will show up with a kind word and a helpful tip.  You will get an acceptance letter.  You’ll find a new mentor.  Some one will tell you how your work inspired them to try it. You will be reminded of why you really wanted to be an artist.

And that is the moment you will realize that being an artist is tough, but you can’t imagine doing anything else.

Ten Reasons Why This is my NaNoWriMo Year

book signingLast year I wrote a humorous blog post on the ten reasons I would not be doing NaNoWriMo.  For those that don’t know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month.  And I am fully ready for November to start so that I can begin, and finish a novel in one month.  So I thought that I would do a 180 on last year’s post and tell you the reasons why I chose this year to start.

1. You can only say NaNoWriMo so many times.

It is a lot of fun to say.  And you can only say it so many times before you wonder why you aren’t doing it.  I’ve been saying NaNoWriMo for about three years now, and I’ve yet to do it.  So the way I see it, I’ve used up my free chances to say it, and now I either have to participate or stop saying it.  I’d rather participate.

2. This is the year I am accomplishing writing goals I put off.

For two years I kept stalling on going to a WorldCon.  I missed Reno, I missed Chicago, and I almost passed on San Antonio.  But, something made me say I needed to do it this year, and I finally attended my first WorldCon.  I had such a blast that I can’t wait to get to more conventions.  It really kick started my writing in a way I had never imagined.

So, if I had such a blast with that.  Why not keep up the good work?  I’ve been putting off NaNoWriMo with so many excuses, and well this is the year.  So I am going to try it.  And I may very well like it.  And it is just the kick in the pants I need to work on some other projects.

3. The timing is right this year.

I just finished the second draft on Broken Trust and it is off to Beta Readers.  That means I currently have no writing projects that are going on for the month of November.  So it is the perfect time for me to start a new project and work on something fun.

4. Dissolution of Peace needs the sequel.

Reader feedback tells me that if I don’t get a sequel to Dissolution of Peace out soon, I’ll be strung up by my toes.  So the sequel in my NaNoWriMo project, and that could mean an early 2014 release.  Maybe…

5. I have too much stress going on right now.

On the face value, that may seem like a reason not to participate.  But, for me writing started as a stress reliever.  That was how the original manuscript for Dissolution of Peace was written.  So taking a break from some of the stress factors in my life may be exactly what I need to relax for the holiday season.

6. I have to justify the purchase of my Tablet.

I recently purchased the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3.  I got it for a variety of reasons, the main being use for the business and my writing.  Right now I write in my office, which eliminates a lot of writing time.  Now that I can write virtually anywhere, I can finally accomplish a lot of writing.  So I am excited about using it.  Plus, I have to justify the expense to my wife.

7. I have more staff to help me with Plasma Frequency.

November is still a production month.  Issue 9 will be released on December 5th.  But I know have much large staff to assist me, and I am recruiting more staff members.  So that means that I can better divide my attention between my writing and my magazine.

8. It is time I connect with more Writers

I need to connect with more writers, I enjoy their company and I really want to connect with more.  I missed out on a lot of chances to network when I was in San Antonio.  But, NaNoWriMo is a chance to network with all kinds of writers from all different genres and locations.  They even have regional connections so I can find a few writers in my area.  You can find my profile too and I can connect with you.

9. I plan to be a writer by career.

In order to make money as a fiction writer, you have to publish fiction.  I write novels now, though I may tackle a few shorts later, so that means writing novels.  If I can tackle a novel in one month, like I plan to do with NaNoWriMo, than maybe I can do it again in say February.  And maybe again in May, July, September, and then I am back at NaNoWriMo again.  That may seem a bit ambitious.  But if I write the first draft in one month, I figure that once editing and beta reading is done, I can publish three novels a year.  And if I can do that, then I hope that someday I can get enough books out there to be recognized.  And with that comes  a little bit of money.  And who knows in five more years, I can just focus on being what I always wanted to be… a writer!

10. I have the perfect outfit.

Last year I just simply could not figure out what I would wear to NaNoWriMo.  I didn’t know the dress code.  But this year I learned that I can come dressed whatever way I want.  They even have a store if I want to wear NaNoWriMo gear.  I’ve also lost a few pounds so maybe it won’t be so bad if I attended naked… on second thought I’ll bring pants.

 

Listen to Your Critics

free-lemonsWait, what? No I didn’t typo the title of this blog.  I really do plan to talk about reasons you should listen to your critics.  Sure there are countless blogs posts about all the reasons you should ignore your critics.  I have even written one (or two).  There are lots of great posts on how bad reviews and the critics of your work should be ignored.  You can’t please everyone and you can’t win them all.  But, after careful consideration, I am not sure that is really the best tip to provide authors, or any artist for that matter.

Working in the art industry, and we can’t forget that writing is an art, attracts all kinds of people.  You have the people who love just about everything.  You have the people who hate just about everything.  Then you have the people who really don’t know what they like or hate.  And finally you have the ones who know what they like and why they like it (and they usually know why they don’t like something too).  One might argue that you can also attract the jealous artist.  The one who wants to do what you do (and probably could) but they never bothered to really work at it.

In the past two years I have written a ton of book reviews.  I realized that reviewing a book on Amazon and Goodreads really helped authors.  Soon I was writing them for Plasma Frequency, and now I am writing them for my own blog.  And in all those reviews, I used to feel guilty when I wrote something critical about a book.  I felt like maybe I was being a jerk.  And I knew how critical reviews bothered me sometimes.  But I’ve realized that I am only sharing my opinion.  Other readers, and the author, can take it or leave it.  It is just my opinion, and I am but one reader.

But over the past few weeks, especially after all the inspiration I got from WorldCon, I have realized that perhaps I am thinking about reviews the wrong way.  That ignoring the bad ones, and basking in the good ones, was not necessarily the best method.

First, we should get this out of the way.  There is one review that you can always ignore.  That is the review that just bashes your book to bash it.  There is no logic to the reviews.  That would be the “This book sucks because I said it sucks but I won’t tell you why it sucks” kind of review.  Any blog reviewer worth your time won’t publish a review like that.  But on Amazon and Goodreads you will see those from time to time.  When I say you should ignore those reviews, I mean just that.  Don’t bother with it.  Don’t waste your time getting it removed or asking all your friends to vote the review as being not helpful.  I just mean ignore it.  It isn’t worth the time you put into it.

Recently I have seen an explosion in sales and reviews for Dissolution of Peace.  I was lucky to sell five copies each month in the past six months.  And I thought five was a great month.  I also seemed stuck at 12 reviews for a long time.  But now, I find myself looking at my 18th review on Amazon.  And 28 text reviews on Goodreads, which is great in my opinion.  I’ve also sold an average of 1.75 books per day (not counting my free promotion earlier this month).

So things are going well right?  Yes, and no.  There are some critical elements in these reviews.

I’m consistently seeing reviewers that love the story line of my book.  There has been a sprinkle or two suggesting better character development, and another sprinkle or two that love the characters.  There have been a few that hate the ending.  There have been a few that love the ending.  But one critical comment has been consistent.  They don’t like the grammar and spelling.  They seem to find errors that I didn’t catch.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am very self conciseness when it comes to grammar.  So my first step in dealing with this was to follow the advise we see across the blogging world.  I simply ignored it.  In fact, anything critical, I ignored.  Anything that people loved I relished in, I noted it for the sequel.  I even bragged about it.

But that is a disservice.  Not just to the reviewer, who took time to review the book (which we know many readers do not do), but it is also a disservice to yourself.

Every artist can grow.  And listening to your readers is a great way to learn where you might want to focus your growth.  It also tells you what you can fix to increase your sales.  For example, I’ve hired a new editor to review and fix the mistakes in Dissolution of Peace that I simply can’t catch.  Once she fixes those, I’ll update the book with a new version.

But grammar isn’t the only critique I have got.  I am looking into how I develop my characters and the way I end my novels.  I am looking into what it is that people really enjoy about the way I write stories.  I’m listening to my readers, even the critics.  Because that is how I will grow as a writer.  That is how I will become better.  And once you think you can’t get any better, you’ve become to arrogant and your readers will eventually notice there is no progression in your work and you will fade out.

So while critics are everywhere, they are also extremely helpful to the arts.  You, as the artists, may not take all their tips.  I am not saying you have to.  But I am saying you should at least listen.  You will benefit from that. If the majority of readers have a consistent complaint, I would suggest correcting that aspect of your writing.  Either in your current book, or in future works in progress.  For those more 50-50 splits, the choice is yours as an artist.  It could be something to change, or it could be that your style is not their style.

But if you want reviewers, you have to listen to them.  You can’t bash them and ignore them.  You can’t accept only the good.  You have to listen to your critics.

Getting Back on the Horse.

swearing_3421243Last week I wrote a rather depressing blog post about the ups and down (mostly the downs) of being an independent author.  It was nasty, dark, and true. But is also awoke something in me. Something that I hadn’t really had in a long time.

The writing muse.

Muses are funny is the way they come and go.  They also have a weird way of being awoken at the most interesting of times. But this little muse snuck right in and wacked me over the head with a frying pan.  I’m not sure why a writing muse has a frying pan, but it worked at getting my attention.

My writing days started way back. But the real passionate writing that I enjoyed started in 2003.  I was finding myself stressed out beyond belief.  And escaping to the world I had created, the world that Dissolution of Peace is set in, relaxed me.  It relaxed me to a point that I could sleep well and face the next day ready for those challenges.  I’d put down 2,000 to 4,000 words a day and I loved doing it.  And when I did it, I had a small hope that someone else would read it and find themselves escaping into my world to relax.  But that was never the point, the point was a lot simpler.

I wrote for me.

There was that damn frying pan to the back the head again. That was what the muse had came to lecture me about. I wrote to relax, and now here I was stressing about how to get more book sales.  I’m stressing about the very thing I used to do for fun. And if I was no longer doing it for fun, what’s the point?

Every story teller just wants to be heard (or read in this case).  And I still very much want readers to escape into my worlds and relax.  But I have always written for me first.  And fortunately this muse, and the frying pan, reminded me of that.

So I started a new novel project the next day. I’m sorry to say that it isn’t the next book in the Dissolution of Peace series.  Though I think that will be my first ever NaNoWriMo project.  I digress.

This new project has spoken to me for a while and it touches very deep on some of my own life trials and tribulations.  And, it has had me writing 2,000 or more words a day.  Yesterday alone I put down over 6,000 words. And you know what, it feels good to be writing to relax again.  It feels good to be telling a story that makes me happy, and it feels great to get back on the horse.  If I keep my focus on what I love, my books will eventually sell themselves.  And, eventually readers will find relaxation in the pages of my worlds.

The best part is, I feel better.  I feel like I can take on the world with my keyboard and computer.  And the muse has finally put the frying pan away.

And with my new positive outlook, something did come my way.  Samantha LaFantasie, another author is going to do an Author interview with me in October.  And she got me thinking.  Why can’t I post things on my blog to help out other authors?  So I will. Starting in August.  I will be posting some things for other authors.  If you want to join in, you can contact me here.  Just fill out the form and we will be in touch.

Here is what I am thinking:

1st Friday of every month: Author Interview

2nd Friday of every month: Guest Post

3rd Friday of every month: Book Review/Feature

4th Friday of every month: Author Spotlight (Brief Bio, List of Titles and upcoming releases)

This is free.  I won’t charge anyone for doing this, I just want to help promote others because that is what we should be doing.  So Please sign up to participate.  I’ll do my best to accommodate everyone.  It will likely have to be on a first come, first serve basis.  But we will see how it all goes.  So head on over and contact me.  Won’t cost you anything. It just might be what gets you back on your own horse.

Self Editing and What are Beta Readers

I’ve mentioned this several times, but my work goes through a process before I set it up for publication.  A quick summary:

I write it.

I self edit it.

I send it to Beta Readers.

I self edit it (again).

I send it to a professional editor.

I fix it.

I have it published.

When I list it all out like this it seems very simple.  But anyone who has ever put words on paper knows it isn’t so simple.  Most writers understand the first part.  Write it.  And most writers are capable of sending it to a professional editor and changing what they mark up.  But many writers miss the middle parts.  And, like a sandwich, the meaty parts are in the middle.

Self Editing

IMG_20130406_142102_592If you’re going to send this off to professional editor, why is self editing so important?  Well, two things.  Editors are humans too, they won’t catch everything.  Especially if your manuscript is error plagued. Second, you will quickly find that you discover a lot about what doesn’t work in your story’s plot by doing a self edit.

When I self edit, I find that I still miss a lot.  So I learned a little trick, and tried it out for the first time with the Volition Agent manuscript. I printed the entire manuscript and went over it, using a red pen to mark up what changes I needed.  I use the red pen because it stands out.  So when I went back to make changes, I could find them quickly and fix them quickly.  I print it out because it gives me a chance to read my words in a different way than I did on a computer screen.  When you look at your words in a different way, things stick out that you would otherwise miss.

When I self edit, I look for the following things:

Grammar mistakes.  This is the first thing I look for, though I am also the first to admit I am very bad at catching them.  Though I did find that having the manuscript printed in front of me (versus on my computer screen) was much easier at seeing these things.  But still, I recognize that grammar is not my strong suit so I do my best with checking for this stuff.

Punctuation errors. For me, this is most often missing punctuation.  No period.  Using a period when I meant for a question mark. The other thing that I have a habit of doing is putting a quotation mark at the end of the paragraphs during multiple paragraph dialogue (by one speaker). So I have to remove those.

Typos. I type at 60 words a minute with no errors.  But when I write my stories, I typed at 80-90 words per minute with a lot of errors.  Some have told me to just slow down.  But when I type from my mind, my mind goes much faster then 60 words a minute.  Probably much faster then 90 words per minute.  So I often find a lot of typos, missing words, or added words.  Easy to fix, and really easy to spot when you read it.

Plot Errors. I’m not an outline writer, so I ofter find things in the early chapters that I missed or didn’t need to continue the story for the later chapters.  I’d say 90% of my red marks on my manuscript this time around were for plot and prose issues.  Either to remove something or to add something.  In fact, I reworked the entire ending and will be going back to add 5 new chapters throughout the book.  Some will say this is why outlines work.  But I also know many outline writers.  They too say the bulk of their self editing goes to the plot.  The most important part of your story is the plot, followed by how you tell it.  Remember this doesn’t just include missing or extra plot points.  This includes all aspects of your story not related to the above topics.

Said Tag.  English teachers love to tell you about the 1,000 different way to say ‘said’ or now I think they want to make it a million ways.  It is all a bunch of bull. It is made up by English teachers (just like the author’s message). Said is the simplest (and most over looked) word to describe dialogue.  Since I write a lot of official reports at work, I am am trained to write “stated” on most dialogue in my reports.  So I often find my stories are loaded with “stated” instead of “said”. So I have to fix those.  But the best way to break up dialogue is not with “said” but with some type of action.  For example: “I’m writing my blog,” Richard didn’t even look away from what he was doing.  His fingers still clicked on the keyboard. “I’ll take care of the garbage when I am done.”  So where applicable, I avoid using any dialogue tag and use action.

Repeated words.  My characters like to look at each other a lot.  They also love to smile.  So I often over use those two words.  Repeated words are not always bad, sometimes it is required to make a point.  But overuse of any word will be noticed by a reader and can become jarring.  So I look for those.  I also look for repeated phrases and dialogue points through out my story.

What are Beta Readers?

I’m having a heck of a time finding beta readers for Volition Agent. I think this is largely because people don’t understand what a beta reader is.  If you know video games, beta testers get their hands on an early copy (not finished) of a game.  They get to play it and in return they provide feedback to the game developer.  They let them know about glitches in the game, issues with game play, story elements that seem out of place, and an overall opinion of the game.  The developers take that information consider it all and then make changes where they think they should.

Beta readers do the same thing.  They get an early copy of the book.  They read over it, point out mistakes, things that confused them, story issues, grammar mistakes, and provide an overall opinion of the story.  The writer takes all this information and uses it to make the book better.  Just as a developer won’t change everything the testers complain about, an author won’t change everything.  But they will make the story better as a result of the Beta Readers’ input.

Authors need a cross section of beta readers.  I recommend you get a few who don’t read your genre.  I recommend a few that are writers.  Also a few that are editors.  And then a few that are just readers of your genre.  Can you have too many beta readers?  Yes.  If you get overloaded with information it won’t do you any good.  But if you have too few readers, then you won’t get a good sampling for your book.  The number is up to you.  Somewhere between not enough and too much is what I recommend.

Beta Reading shouldn’t be confused with Advanced Reader Copies (ARC).  Typically ARCs are finished.  They are handed out to reviewers in exchange to get review quotes to hopefully use on the book itself. That’s how all those review quotes wind up on the book the day it is published.  Sometimes review quotes are gathered from Beta copies, but that isn’t the purpose of a beta reader.  The beta reader is there to improve the work so the author can put out the best story possible.  Advanced Readers are there so the author can better market their work.

Why self edit again?

If you took all the information from beta readers, and did nothing with it.  Well that would be a complete waste of everyone’s time.  While you might not change everything the beta readers point out.  If the majority of them say that a certain scene doesn’t work.  It would be best if you made it work.  Once you make significant changes you need to review those changes for yourself, the same way you did the first time.  That will involve a whole rereading.  But it is worth it to put out the best book you can.

Once you’ve got the meat together in you sandwich, it’s time for the top piece of bread.  Get a professional editor and have them review it.  Then your sandwich, um I mean story, will be ready for the masses.

You Can’t Please Everyone

swearing_3421243I’ve talked a lot about getting used to rejection.  But, most of the time I am referring to the rejection letters sent by editors who don’t want to publish your work.  I’ve always found that rejection from editors is easy for me to accept.  I have always braced myself to hear “No” from an editor.

On the other hand, I hadn’t prepared myself for rejection from readers.  Sure, I had heard about it from other authors. Sometimes readers won’t like what you do.  They won’t like what you write.  They just won’t enjoy the stories you have to tell.  Rejection makes it sound harsher than that.  I’m certain people have read my stories and not liked them.

But the other day I got my first real hate email.  I use the term hate, because it wasn’t my story they hated, it was one aspect.  A small part of the story really.  Truthfully, I hadn’t even given much thought to the element of the story.  It was just there.

This person wrote me an email, roughly three pages long, insulting me because one of the main characters in Dissolution of Peace is a homosexual.   If you haven’t read the book, you might not know what I am talking about.  But one of the main characters discovers she is a lesbian through the course of the novel.  The email went on to call me the “devil” and that I was a “demon” at several points.  She clearly read the whole book, as she referenced parts from throughout the novel, but she just wasn’t happy it included a lesbian couple.  She told me, “I can’t believe you ruined this excellent story by putting homosexuals into it.” and “You could have just as easily made one of those characters male and kept the book clean.” and “You just used this story to push your pro gay agenda.”

Frankly, the email shocked me.  It shocked me for several reasons.  First, I never gave a second thought to Janice’s relationship with Willard.  Second, I just never had anyone so upset with something I had wrote.  And the best part, she never even mentioned the scene in which Carlson walked in on Willard and Janice during sex.

Typically I don’t respond to negative comments about my work, but since many will see this blog as a form of response, I must say a few things.  First, I am very happy to hear that this person thought my story was “excellent”.  Several times she told me how great the book was, in between the other points she had to make.

I have no “pro gay agenda”.  I am not opposed to homosexual relationships, and I am not opposed to gay marriage.  But, Dissolution of Peace is not about that.  If you find a “pro gay” message in that book, well, each reader will see the message that calls to them.

Finally, I couldn’t have made Willard or Janice a male character, because that is not who they are.  Writer’s know that their characters become real people.  Janice became who she became, regardless of what I wanted (or didn’t want) her to be.  I couldn’t have changed her any more than I could change the person who emailed me..

As a writer, you may never want to put a homosexual person in your stories simply to play it safe.  But where do you draw the line?  Will you never have any discussion or mention of politics?  What about feminism, social commentary, or even humor?  If you sterilize your writing to try to keep everyone happy, you will wind up with a story that few will want to read.  Even if you can write an excellent story that walks the line and avoids hot button issues, someone won’t like it because of your style, plot, or for no real reason at all.  We are a vast and diverse world.  It is a beautiful thing.  But is also means that eventually someone will read something you’ve written and simply not like it.

Should you go out of your way to offend?  No.  Shock value rarely works either.  Write the story you want to write; with the characters, world, and plot that you want.  Writers want people to enjoy their stories.  But not everyone will.  You just can’t please everyone.  Don’t try to.  Just write the story you want to tell and let the chips fall where they may.

And for the readers out there, please understand something about writers.  To build worlds and create believable elements we must include people of all types regardless of our personal beliefs.  Writers have to include murders, corrupt people, evil people, and bigots in our worlds.  Why?  These people exist and will likely exist for all time.  I don’t condone murder, but the antagonist of Dissolution of Peace is a killer.  A writer might write a racist character, that doesn’t mean the writer has an “agenda” against a particular race.  Most readers know this, and see a story for what it means to them.

I appreciate the readers, and the feedback.  Even the negative feedback helps me as a writer (even the feedback I don’t agree with).  But, I just have to learn that I can’t please everyone.