Getting Reviewed: Other People’s Feelings

The Pulse

Greetings from sunny, sunny Stockholm! Like a proper writer, I’m hiding from the great yellow beast in the kitchen, typing and drinking tea.

Well, I worked out how to get people to review my book. I went to a couple of GoodReads groups I’d been in and signed up for a couple of RaR programmes. I’ve sent out about fifteen copies, and had a good handful of reviews back so far.

This has been a solid learning experience. Here are some things I’ve learnt.

1. Somehow, despite the lack of anything that might be termed vague sci-fi for a good third of the book, and despite it being in the dystopian reading group, my novel is too sci-fi for many people. I can’t tell you how confused I am by those reviews, and however much I put them down to disinterest, disillusionment or other negative reaction to my book (all of which are fine and honest reactions to have, of course they are), I still want to go, BUT WHY SPECIFICALLY DID YOU SAY THAT. Which is stupid of me. But continuous. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have said anything at all if the RaR system didn’t force them into “reviewing” even if they don’t read a book, which would have been better, but it wasn’t something I’d imagined happening. Lesson: say your book is more genre than it is to warn off people who really want mainstream?

The remaining reviews I’m incredibly grateful for, and they’re wonderfully written and thought out, and nothing makes me happier than having written enough for people to express rounded thoughts about it. Whatever their thoughts. I’ve only had positive reactions from people I know who’ve read it, and one of the reasons I wanted to get people who don’t know me to write proper honest reviews for me is because I had no idea how my book would fly in an actual readership.

Not very high, turns out.

But the reasonings surprise me rather.

2. People like liking characters. I have never understood this. You see it in reviews of all kinds of books. “I just didn’t like the character. I couldn’t sympathise with the character. I thought the character was naive/stupid/annoying/wrong/etc.” Yes, yes, Aiden isn’t likeable in a generic sense. He’s not attractive in any conventional sense, nor is he heroic, nor does he follow a conventional path of transformation into Normal Human. That was kind of what I loved about him to write, and it’s what a lot of people I’ve talked to in person about my book claim to have loved about him. But…his unlikeability is apparently a significant flaw for all my unknown reviwers. So that’s either:

a) My fault – they’re open to unlikeable characters, but I didn’t write well enough/plot well enough to make Aiden worthwhile in their eyes. Things like the popularity of writers like Stephen King, the absolute master of whole, vast ensembles of horrific, brain-smushingly horrible characters flung into generally brilliant plots, might speak for this. Also, consider the sheer amount of hideous characters that populate virtually every TV show. Note to self: should’ve made Aiden more like Don Draper.*

b) No-one’s fault – a matter of taste and not the kind of thing the reader wanted to encounter at this time, if at all.

c) The fault of expectation – a YA book’s major protagonist should be someone likeable/with whom the reader can sympathise (I’d really like to argue that Aiden is a completely sympathetic character – given his circumstances and well-discussed lifestyle, what more could you ask for from him?!).

d) Coincidence, and the reviewers are a small, non-representative group. But I don’t think this, because I see these kind of comments all the time for books with more unusual characters – “I didn’t like/sympathise with x character so I didn’t like the book.” But it’s amazing how, once a book is popular, that kind of instinctive issue is sidelined – once people become aware that someone likes x character, they become instantly more interesting, regardless of how likeable they truly are. Sidenote: whilst I wouldn’t try and compare The Pulse with The Hunger Games, it’s one of the reasons I really, really don’t understand anyone who’s read the whole trilogy rooting for Gale AT ALL. And also, one of the reasons I like those books a lot is because both major male characters (who are always, let’s recall, presented through Katniss’ eyes) fall outside the YA norms.

So there’s that. Lesson: don’t be surprised if people don’t share your own tastes, not just in characters, but in the act of reading itself.

Which brings me to:

3. No-one likes present narrator.

I exaggerate. In fact, my favourite part of any review received so far was in the one where the reviewer sort of came to like the present narrator aspect of my book. And my favourite moment possibly of the whole thing was when an old school friend I haven’t spoken to in a decade sent me a message telling me how much he’d enjoyed that.

But still. I’ve had a few responses around and about where people seemed to think that present narrator was a mistake, something I’d not meant to do, or that suggest that the reader hasn’t previously encountered present narrator in anything at all and is completely and utterly thrown by it. Or, they just hate it.

This is one thing I’d sort of expected. When I was looking around agents, and even when I was writing the book I saw over and over in ‘how to novel’ sort of things block capital advice against using present narrator, or flat out hatred for the device. I just don’t understand it, and, because much of my process in self-publishing this novel at all has been “My book: my way”, I ignored it.

I LOVE well-used present narrator. Again, I’m not ruling out the idea that I didn’t use it well, or didn’t make the most of the device. It’s perfectly possible. I’m glad I’ve had enough feedback about it that’s positive enough that I’m not retreating into the background and pretending this all never happened, but I’m not obstinately proclaiming my own authorly brilliance to the exclusion of all criticism.

But again, I really do love it. And I find it all the time. I think that’s something I find particularly surprising – a lot of people just haven’t come across it. One review mentions how it’s done much better in Narnia, and that’s true, but it’s a different kind of present narrator, a lighter, less interfering one, for sure, with no intent to foreshadow or prescribe, more to handhold and keep pace. I love being hauled through a story by a strong authorial voice, and since I’ve written, I’ve enjoyed trying to use that – even my earliest stories have it knocking about. For goodness’ sake, even my fanfiction has it (I don’t remember anyone complaining about it there, actually).

I wonder if it’s more to do with one’s own reading experience – it probably is, because, obviously, every book you read is, I think, shaped by the ones that come before and after it, not to mention your day, your mood, your life and your self – but growing up amidst a library rammed with wordy, interfering Victorian and pre-1950s British authors, there was definitely a lot of present narrator about in virtually everything I read. I’m not sure if that’s the case in prevalent Stateside literature so much. It’s a thought, anyway.

And again – because I’d had this idea that it wasn’t a popular device when I was writing it – it was another thing I was glad to uncover more thoughts on in reviews by people I didn’t know. Lesson: if people tell you something isn’t welcome in literature, they’re probably right. Caveat: That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

The best lesson of all, though, thus far, is this:

5. I can take it. Yes, I have strong feelings about other people’s feelings. Yes, I want to respond to everyone and have some epic dialogue about WHY WHY WHY WHAT and occasionally WTF, but I really do, it turns out, have a fervent enough belief in everyone’s right to think whatever they like about whatever it is that they read and just to be thrilled that people are actually reading (recall, I grew up in a time pre-Harry Potter, where reading seemed to be a very peculiar thing to do indeed, and everyone was terrified that no-one would bother with it In The Future), that I don’t burst into tears if someone doesn’t like my novel, and I am overjoyed if, even if they didn’t specifically like it, or think that it was any good, they gave those thoughts care and time.

I wasn’t sure about that. I’ve been terrified of a bad review. I’ve had a few now. And yes, obviously I’m sad that I’ve only had one or two people I don’t know feel overwhelmingly positive about the book, or that I’ve not had more enthusiastic reviews, or indeed any yet from the free day (that’s another blog…) but there it is, and also, I must remind myself on a continual basis that it is a sodding sizeable book, which people can’t just get through in an afternoon unless they have considerable interest, space in their life, and dedication to doing so.

But it’s okay. I genuinely, truly want to know what people think about The Pulse. What they like, what they don’t. How they found the experience of reading it.

If you’d like to let me know your thoughts on The Pulse, you’re always welcome to email as per the acknowledgements page in the back of the book, or, obviously to review on Amazon or . I’d love it if you would. Unless you stopped after two pages because you hated it. Whilst, once more, I utterly defend your right to post such a review, I’d be lying if I said it made me happy XD

And, if you’ve not bought The Pulse and somehow, despite the not-exactly-selling-it nature of this blog would like to, then it’s HERE on Amazon UK and HERE on Amazon US (and on all the regional Amazons, too, including the new Amazon India, yay! Search “the Pulse Shaw” and it’ll appear pronto).

Anyone else have review experiences/blogs they’d like to share on this? It’s definitely the kind of process that’s both precisely as I’d imagined, and quite a surprise!

*On reflection, I think Aiden might have rather more in common with Don Draper than I’d imagined. Iiiiiinteresting.

It’s my birthday: my novel is free to celebrate!

I’m 31 years old today!

To celebrate, my twisty-turny dystopian YA novel The Pulse is FREE to download from Amazon UK and Amazon US (and on all the regional Amazons, too!) so do, please, download, share the link and either forget about it completely, or enjoy it!

I’ve had a wonderful year. Being 30 was much better than I’d imagined. I thought my thirties would be all grown-up and scary, but actually, I’ve been surprisingly childlike and daft, and also, also, much braver than in years. I’ve published my novel, run a half-marathon, lost a slew of weight and fixed a lot of food and exercise things in my mind and body, made some big decisions about who and where I want to be, and, more than anything, I’ve had some really great times. Actual fun. I forgot to have fun a lot in my twenties, perhaps because I was so sure I ought to be, and that I was in some way doing it wrong. I am now much more sure that I’m doing things right.

Here’s to 31! (And download my book, or get someone else to do it 😉 I’m sure I’ll blog about this whole giving-away-a-book experience at some point, but more than anything, it’s the most I’ve achieved in ages, and giving it away for a day seems like a genuinely good way to celebrate.

Five Things I Didn’t Expect Of Self-Publishing: 1 Month In

I approached self-publishing on Amazon with a great deal of naivety and a minimum amount of research. This is largely because I had hoped to score a ‘proper’ publishing deal in the first instance, convinced that my book was fantastic. Fantastic it may be, but tbh, I can’t tell you why, and if I, the person who not only knows every damn word of the book but the person who made up every word of that book, cannot explain to you why it’s great, I certainly couldn’t expect anyone else to do it. And that was the main reason I backed away from querying pretty quick – that and the double handful of form rejections from agents who sounded like they ought to adore my writing. There’s a whole other post about that time, but not now.

This is, and I’m telling myself as much as you, because damnit, I love a tangent, about the things that have surprised me most in the month since I’ve thrown my novel, The Pulse, at the world’s Kindles/iPads and hoped that they’ would notice.

1. It’s not easy to be reviewed.

Having internetted since before the Internet was even universally called that, I had assumed there’d be plenty of reviewers around who would, in exchange for a free copy, read my book and write a paragraph or two about what they thought of it. This, I’d hoped would help me get over that ‘I’ve no idea how to sell this book’ thing I’ve just described.

I was incredibly surprised, therefore, to find that, in at least rounds one and two of Google-fu, book reviewing bloggers appear to come in three types.

a) Paid.
b) Busy.
c) Demanding.

Now I am in no, no way whatsoever questioning their right to be any of those things, not at all, for the nice thing with the internet is that we can all do things however we like, and a fact about being good at something is that it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by requests to do it more, and, as in #3, reading doesn’t happen in an instant, so one must find ways to be selective in order to maintain a decent blog, I understand this.


There is literally no way on this earth I’m going to write a formal query letter along with a short essay about myself and enclose a writing C.V. to anyone to get them to review my book. I’m also not even slightly at all whatsoever going to pay them to do it, or, worse, pay an agency to allow me to submit the opportunity to pitch at bloggers (I had never imagined these sites existed before, oh sweet stupid me).

I was really hoping to find enthusiastic, speedy readers with a reasonable circle of friends or followers or whatever, who were open to free stuff and had the time to have at it. I am so confused by the entire industry that seems to exist at the forefront of self-published novel reviewing. I’m also slightly gutted that I didn’t get in on it at the ground floor XD I have often reviewed things people have sent me through my but I’ve no idea how they found me, and, maybe I’m being too British here, feel a bit odd at the idea of simply randomly contacting people I don’t know.

Part of my research involved looking up a few self-published authors I don’t know personally, but whose books I have found and read one way or another, and seeing what they’d done. Seeing that most of them have used these, in cases, exceptionally high-cost services makes me think that they must work for the right book, but they seem, with a bit of further research, to be so high-risk that even if I had $200 to subscribe to this or sign up for that, I just wouldn’t.

I realise there are two different things here – companies offering mailshots and large scale contacts, and individuals who are established and high traffic, but in both cases I saw so very many examples of sites clogged with fellow self-published writers trying to get in the door, rather than enthusiastic readers engaging with what had been said or thanking said sites for the rec or just…any kind of interaction you might hope to see around a book.

The biggest surprise of all was, as I say, how difficult it seems to be to find a blogger who isn’t as difficult to get to (if not, in a few cases, much harder) than a professional agent. Have I missed something? Do, please, let me know. And if you’re the kind of review blogger I’ve missed, and you’d like a copy, hit me up with the contact form at the bottom of this post XD

This is all very much a work in progress, and, to be fair, I didn’t expect to find all the solutions to all these things immediately. Again, I could’ve made things a lot easier on myself by having that more commercial, describable novel, but hey. And in the meantime I do have a fine new site reviewing my book, for which I am stunningly grateful and excited, so there are, I’m sure, many things I’ve missed and overlooked and just plain failed at…I do hope so. I really do. It’s slightly scary out here.

2. There are new levels of awkward between you and your loved ones for ages.

Everything is scary and congratulations have never made me more stressed. An example: my mother kept telling people about it. Everyone, naturally, said they wanted to read it – even before they asked what it was about. And then they asked what it was about, and see my lead-in paragraph for the issues there.

YA novels, especially specific, non-romantic ones like mine are not for everyone. My 72-year-old godmother who adores romance novels featuring sickening ladies in heavily-curtained 1880s drawing rooms might, might suddenly find herself fascinated by my world and word-power…but I doubt it. And that’s okay. That’s fine. It’s incredibly nice that people that know me (or even just my mum) want to read my story, but when you know it’s ‘not their usual sort of thing’ there’s that heavy dread and fearful smile I apparently instinctively synchronise at such points, where I say, “Oh, you don’t have to…” and “That’s lovely, let me know what you think…” knowing full well that either they won’t get around to it but will keep telling you they’re going to for the foreseeable, meaning that we have to have this difficult conversation every time we meet for ages.

This brings me to: 3. There is no immediate gratification in a 105,000-word novel.

Not everyone reads books as quickly and fervently as I do. Not least because not everyone can decide to read all night, or all morning, or all anything unless they’re on a very specific kind of holiday. One of the things that validates my life choices even a bit is how much I love being able to read nearly whenever I want to, as long as, at some point in the week, I do all the things I must. But I digress – the point is, it takes a long, long time for people to get through the book. If they make it through. Which, if your book is as slow and peculiar as mine is at the beginning, they may just not. Which is fine too, except then there’s that whole time when all you can think of when interacting with someone is BUT WHAT DID YOU THINK OF MY BOOK and you cannot, cannot ever ask this because either a) there’s that conversation about how they haven’t got around to it/got that far with it yet because damnit they are a proper human with a life and things that mean they can’t just sit and read even if they really want to, or because b) they’re just not that into it and they’re going to persevere because they care and it’s alright, sure, but they have limited reading time and you can’t plough through a book when you’re not in the mood because that’s what we all had to do at school and perfectly decent and indeed important works of literature have suffered terribly for this.

So you wait. And hope. And wait some more.

Until…4. It still doesn’t feel any different at all from the way I imagined having a real print book deal would.

I wondered if I would get over that feeling early on, but I haven’t, not yet. Because when someone tweets you and says things like “I kinda want someone to put Aiden in his place” or “I just shouted ‘Nooo!’ so loud I startled my cat”, you don’t go, “Oh, thanks, but it’s only an ebook” or think about the format in which they’re ingesting your words at all, no, you just – or I just – wibble and think omg I did this all wrapped up in a peculiar amount of pride.

It’s true that, when coming across #1, I thought a fair few times about how nice it would be to have someone else financially invested sufficiently to go out there and sell my book to people for me, but then again, I still have a great sense of value in that thing – at least it’s exactly, completely, 100% all me. And it definitely wouldn’t have been if it had been ‘properly’ published. For better or worse, it’s all my own stuff.

5. Word-of-mouth is your best, best, best friend.

If one person who has actually read your book and liked it tells someone else to buy it, that is literally the best thing that has ever happened and you just want to go and buy them a pint (which, comically, costs at least twice as much as the book) and dance in the streets because there is no higher compliment, to my mind, than convincing someone else to get a book you’ve enjoyed. It’s the greatest display of confidence you can share in something, and it’s the finest ‘proof’, if proof can be had, that they’re not lying about having liked it. It’s lovely. And it makes me work much harder myself to share, review and lend things I’ve loved reading or listening to with anyone I think might share my feelings. Share, people. It’s wonderful.

The Pulse: Of Castles and Diamonds, Oh My*

I published my book today. If you’d like to preview/read it, you can do so here: UK edition or here US edition. Also on most international sites via the search thing, ‘The Pulse A E Shaw’ ought to do it XD

Also I have a Goodreads thing, I obsessively catalogue my reading and like to find books in all the places, so having an author account is crazy exciting. Come, add me.

The #1 thing people asked me when I said I’d a book was, ‘What’s it about?’ And even after infinite attempts to answer this question without ruining the general point of reading it, I still struggled. This should’ve been a sign that this wasn’t going to be an easily saleable thing, and it’s certainly something I’ll keep in mind for the next book. This is more of a ‘what’ book than a ‘how’, and I think that’s where the problem lies. Finding out what it’s actually about is, characters aside, the general purpose of reading this, as far as I can see at this point.

It’s also why I’m really looking forward to seeing if anyone does read it. Then they can tell me what they think it’s about. I also worry that it’s like some massive Rorschach thing – everyone will turn around and go, OMG, this is a massive metaphor for lmnop attribute about yourself that you clearly haven’t noticed (quite possibly being an only child, for example). This is perfectly possible, and I’m much more frightened of doing this than I’d thought I’d be.

I wasn’t anticipating a minor, but exceptionally irritating formatting screw-up when I first uploaded my book, so I’ve not been able to do the YAY HERE IT IS thing I wanted to do. I probably should’ve expected such a thing, because I did decide to go with inserting dividers in places, rather than just asterisking everything, but it all looked fine enough on the preview, so I went for it…and then it was annoyingly unfine. But I’m working on it. And I’ve done it now. So here’s this post. Eeeep. Hi. I’m going to try to be a real author.

*not the actual subtitle. possibly should’ve been.

So I’ve Decided to Self-Publish…

I have been rattling on about having a whole book and all, but it doesn’t do anyone any good having a book all to themselves and just saying that if you can’t let people read it. And even if it was the kind of book that someone who sells books for a living could actually sell (by, I don’t know, saying, HEY THIS IS REALLY GREAT IT’S ABOUT SPARKLY WIZARDS WITH INFLATABLE TROUSERS WHO FIGHT THE DINOSAURS OF ZARG WITH WIT ALONE), it still wouldn’t be coming out until like, next year.

And it isn’t the kind of book one can easily sell. Even if you happen to like the sort of thing that it is (which I’m fairly sure someone else will: I’m not so much of a masochist that I’m going to tell you it’s the worst thing ever and no-one will ever enjoy it), I struggle utterly to describe it and it’s a bit of a slow build.

I don’t really like books that start with a whole load of stuff and come to nothing. I like things that build. I sort of tried to write something that built and unfolded, because that’s what I like to read. I also wrote ridiculous characters, because I like ridiculous characters. They’re not even scrappy-bananas ridiculous like New Girl or something, no, they’re just…a bit wrong. But I like them very much.

Anyway, regardless. I love that one can just, make a book go on Amazon. And so I’m going to. I’m glad I’ve done so much crazy work on it so far, but I still wish I’d managed to tell the first draft of the story in less than 140,000 words, because, ffs, that is a lot of words to wrangle into something sensible. Even after employing the “cut at least 10%” rule, which I did last year, I still had something way too long for what ought to be a fairly breezy YA read. I’m down to 110k now, and fighting with myself about whether brevity or honesty is better. Honestly, I’d like to fling the whole lot up right now and have done with it, but, probably not wise.

Some of me would have loved a professional hand with this. The rest of me thinks, look, just move on, write something else, get over it. I think it’s like everything new – I want it to be perfect. This is never going to be perfect. I just need to make sure it’s not stupid.

Anyway, it doesn’t seem as complex as I’d thought it would to format for Kindle. I mean, we’ll see when I upload, but it looks good so far. I have an amazing cover (I recommend all aspiring writers pair up with awesome artists, very handy XD) and I’ve driven myself crazy trying to write a description, only to settle for something short and nondescript because, well, it’ll all unfold one way or another, and maybe someone will read it and be able to tell me a better way of getting people to read it than that. Here’s hoping.

So…this is more a declaration of intent and a distraction from facepalming at my own failure to employ the comma properly. I’m going to go get on now. Any tips on all this, incidentally, are welcome.

The Greatest Kind of Gift

I *adore* sci-fi novels. Anything from the Victorian age to about 1965, and then in its own way, 1965-1985, and then you end up in the ’90s and it gets a bit cyberscifi and that’s great too, I love it all. BUT. There’s a kind of paperback that’s particularly close to my heart. And, for Christmas, I got a massive stack of them. See how beautiful?