Tag Archives: editing

How Do You Deal With Reviews?

A collector on the Cemetery Dance forum asked: “Do reviews impact/affect you differently between your CD gig and your author gig? Or do you just shrug these off for both?”


I basically have two rules when it comes to reading reviews of my own work:

1) If the review is good, don’t pat yourself on the back; the reviewer was probably just feeling generous.

2) If the review is bad, for the love of God, DO NOT RESPOND unless your response is NOT going to make things worse.

Guess what? When it comes to rule #2, if you’re a writer and you feel the need to “defend” your work, you’re probably just going to make things worse.

But when it comes to reviews and comments about my work or what we do at Cemetery Dance, I try to evaluate what has been said for validity and valuable/useful information because you can always, always get better.

When someone critiques the books we publish at Cemetery Dance, I ask myself:

Is there something we overlooked or could do differently/better on future projects?

Is this note from someone who always complains about everything we do, to the point it seems to be the person’s hobby? (We have a few of those.)

Is this note simply from someone who doesn’t know how the small press works? For example, this was a real email I woke up to the other day: “Why didn’t you have Stephen King sign 10,000 copies!?! then everyone could have one!?!”

For my writing, again, I look at the source and I try to learn anything I can that will make the next story better if there is something to be learned.

If the person says, “There should have been more vampires!” in a story that wasn’t about vampires, you just kind of ignore that.

If the person says, “the middle was a little slow” or “the ending happened too fast” or “I didn’t understand character X’s motivations” — those are notes you can mentally file away for consideration. The reader may not be right, it could just be their personal tastes at play, but if more readers say the same thing, you can keep those points in mind for future projects. (Or even a future revision of the same work, which I’ve heard is all the rage.)

For bad customer reviews on Amazon, I consider whether the review is well-written (“this suxs!” vs a thoughtful dissection of what didn’t work) and I look at what else the person has reviewed. My genre? Different genres? Are they all bad reviews? What does the reader actually like?

Maybe my book just wasn’t a good fit for their reading tastes or maybe I dropped the ball in some fundamental way. You can learn a lot from a well-written one star review. In fact, that’s where I go first when evaluating other books.

You’re never going to please every reader. Books aren’t supposed to please every reader. Everyone has different tastes. Sometimes it’s just a swing and a miss, you know?

So how about you? Do you read your reviews? How do you approach them?

Man plans and then mice laugh at him

crisis flow chart

Two quotes come to mind when I’m managing a complicated project like a new Stephen King Limited Edition. To paraphrase:

“Man plans and the Gods laugh.”

“The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”

Of course, at the end of the project, all of the stress and averted disasters and new gray hairs are almost always worth it.

The Million Dollar Book (Don’t Buy That Big House Just Yet!)

A few years ago, I was talking to an author friend who wrote a novel in the 1990s that his agent — who was one of the biggest agents in the game — thought was a “million dollar book.”

dreamhouseShe was extremely excited and she took the book out to auction, convinced it was going to make her author rich and famous and push his career into the stratosphere.

(This would hardly be the first time she had done this for one of her clients. She really understood the market well.)

She picked the five biggest editors to start with — the type of editors who didn’t even have to get approval to buy a book because they had their own imprints and a lot of power — and she gave them each a few days to read and prepare their offers for the auction.

Six months later, every editor in New York had passed.

Here was a great author with an established career, and here was an agent who was one of the best in the business because she always found “big books,” and she couldn’t sell this truly terrific novel.

The moral of the story: whether you’re trying to sell your work to a traditional publisher or you’re going the self-publishing route, the odds of being the next “million dollar author” are extremely slim. That’s why you simply sit down and write the next book and keep plugging away.

Also, it’s why you don’t buy that McMansion until the check clears.

Why you should use exactly the number of words you need to tell the story

Many years ago, someone read a 50,000 word manuscript of mine and said, “It’s great, but it’s not a novel, and you’ll never sell it to New York until you add 40,000 words.”

That ingrained the idea in my head that if I wanted to sell my work to a publisher, it had to be 90,000 words, give or take — that there was no way something in the 50,000 or 60,000 word range would ever sell.


Of course, in the years that followed, several of my friends sold what were essentially novellas to New York, and I realized I had a wasted a lot of time trying to find ways to add “layers” to my work to reach an arbitrary word count.

These days, especially with self-publishing being what it is, I encourage everyone who writes to simply tell the story the way it needs to be told. If 10,000 words does the trick, that’s great. 90,000 words? Also great. 150,000 words? If you’re absolutely certain they’re all really needed and there’s no fat to be cut, then that’s great, too.

The thing I hate the most when I read manuscripts is when I start wading through obvious padding that’s only there to increase the word count. Just tell the story the way it needs to be told, and tell it as well as you can, and everything else will fall into place eventually.

Of course, it took a very long time for me to shake that 90,000 word “rule” that had been planted into my head, and even today I still have trouble accepting that my 40,000 word manuscript will find its place — even though we buy manuscripts of that length at my day job just about every other month it seems.

I am getting better at accepting a lot of things in my life with each passing year, and one of those things is that the 90,000 word novel is not something I’m entirely comfortable writing. I wouldn’t be too surprised if I end up just writing novellas and short stories from here on out, even if there’s “no market” for them.

If I do my job right when I sit down to write the stories, then those stories will find readers eventually, one way or another.

Cemetery Dance magazine reopening to fiction submissions later this year

Last month, we announced that Cemetery Dance magazine would be reopening to fiction submissions later this year. A poster on the Cemetery Dance forum asked a couple of great questions, which I thought I’d discuss here.

1) “Yet, I do have a question: what is the value of opening to submissions besides the chance that some new writers will be discovered?”

It’s an excellent question and he answered it perfectly. In Cemetery Dance #66, two of the stories originally arrived unsolicited. In Cemetery Dance #65, I believe it was three of the stories. Same deal with #64. Looking forward to #67, which is shipping from the printer this week, it’s three stories. #68 will be three as well.

If you go back to the early days of the magazine, almost all of the fiction was unsolicited. A lot of those authors went on to be some of our bestselling authors in the book line.

New blood is good for any publication, and one of the reasons we keep publishing the magazine is because we love finding new voices in the genre.

2) “I may end up submitting a story (especially since it is being done through an electronic system, which I like better than postal mail), but I have to assume, simply because of statistical reality, that my work will not get accepted.”

Of course, on the surface, you are correct about the odds. If we have 2 or 3 slots in each issue for unsolicited stories, and we publish 4 issues a year (the current plan), that’s maybe 12 slots for unsolicited fiction per year. If 500 stories arrive during the reading period, those aren’t good “odds.”

But here’s what you’re missing: submitting a story to a magazine isn’t like buying a lottery ticket or playing some other game of chance. It’s not a random process.

If you’ve written an outstanding story that is perfect for a publication, your odds aren’t 12 in 500. They’re much better than that.

Why?  Simple: a lot of unsolicited submissions are poorly written, retreads of an idea the editors have read a thousand times, or just aren’t right for the publication.

Of course, maybe your story is well written and perfect for the publication, but it’s too similar to another story they just purchased.

Or maybe there are 12 other stories that came in that are just a little more perfect for the magazine than yours even though yours is awesome as well.

Submitting unsolicited stories to any publication is a combination of hard work (on your writing) and lucky timing (sending the right story at the right time).

(Of course, the reason Cemetery Dance was closed to submissions is because we have this tendency to not think about “slots” to fill. Instead, we just buy anything that we really like and want to publish, which is how we ended up buying too much and having to close to submissions for a while!)

At the end of the day, there’s nothing more thrilling than reading something great that no one else has read yet, and that’s why we read unsolicited submissions.

Dueling Minds Anthology Sales Update

Just a quick update that my anthology Dueling Minds, which features stories by Brian Keene, Gary A. Braunbeck, Tom Piccirilli, Tim Lebbon, Jenny Orosel, and Gerard Houarner, is selling out very quickly and there are no other editions planned at this time.

Even though the book was just announced on Friday, 85% of the signed Limited Edition copies are now spoken for and there are only 3 copies of the Deluxe Signed & Traycased Lettered Edition remaining.

Dueling Minds Anthology Officially Part of the Cemetery Dance Signature Series

I’m very pleased to finally be able to officially announce that my long gestating anthology Dueling Minds, which features stories by Brian Keene, Gary A. Braunbeck, Tom Piccirilli, Tim Lebbon, Jenny Orosel, and Gerard Houarner, will be published this year as part of the acclaimed Cemetery Dance Signature Series.  The cover artwork is by Alan M. Clark and the interior artwork is by Erin S. Wells, both of whom are wonderful.  For the serious book collector, I should note that this volume is a huge bargain because it is signed by all of the authors and artists, but the price is the same as the other books in the Signature Series.

This anthology is a print version of what I experimented with on my webzine, DuelingMinds.com, while in college way back at the turn of the century.  For those who never had a chance to stop by the website, each issue of the webzine had four or five stories that were all inspired by the same piece of artwork, giving readers the chance to discover how different authors interpreted (and were inspired by) the exact same image.

In 2003, a small press publisher approached me and suggested a Dueling Minds anthology would work for his newly founded company.  I agreed and quickly went to work searching for a cover artist.  Normally choosing the cover art is one of the last parts of the creative side of putting together a book, but obviously in this case I needed the cover before I ever approached the authors since it was to be the inspiration for everything that followed.

Alan M. Clark was the first artist I spoke with and he was quite agreeable to the concept.  He had also edited an anthology where authors wrote stories based on individual pieces of his artwork, so he recognized how much fun this sort of project could be. We looked through his portfolio and settled on one of my favorite pieces, which was originally inspired by a Ray Bradbury story.

Once I had the cover artwork, I contacted a handful of my favorite authors to see if they might be interested in contributing to this project.  These authors took the challenge and ran with it, turning in their amazing stories over the next couple of months.  I was already a big fan of their writing before this project, and the results of their efforts here just reinforced for me how truly creative these authors are.

In an unfortunate turn of fate, though, the original publisher closed up shop, leaving the book without a home for many years.  Fast forward to 2011 when Richard Chizmar and I were kicking around ideas for new and creative titles for the Cemetery Dance Signature Series, which features small books from the genre’s best authors that are heavily illustrated by the most talented artists working in the business today.

Cemetery Dance had never offered a mini-anthology in the Signature Series, but the series seemed like the perfect place to experiment with this sort of unusual publication.

The artist and authors were contacted, all immediately agreed that it sounded like a fine idea and, all of these years later, we hired Erin Wells to create the interior artwork for the book since the Signature Series requires more interior illustrations than almost anything else Cemetery Dance publishes.  That meant she created interior images that were inspired by stories that were inspired by Alan’s cover painting… which was originally inspired by a Ray Bradbury story.

Funny how things work out sometimes.