What should you do about a 1-star review that has NOTHING to do with your book? #WriterWednesday #BookReviews

It happens. It is – in fact – almost guaranteed to happen. If you’ve written more than a handful of books and it hasn’t happened yet, it will – probably soon. What am I talking about? The dreaded one-star review. Just writing the words makes me angry and hurts my teeth (probably because I automatically start grinding them).

I don’t need to tell you not to engage with negative reviewers. We all know that nothing good will come from begging a reviewer to reconsider (and it’s kind of pathetic). You also risk getting a bad reputation amongst the blogger community and let me tell you that’s not something you want. The book blogging community is incredibly helpful to a writer. Getting on their bad side will help no one.

But what about a review that contains obvious falsehoods or is obvious bullying? Can you engage then? Or maybe contact Goodreads or Amazon to deal with the issue? This is painful, but the truth of the matter is this: there’s nothing you can do. Let me re-phrase that – there’s nothing you can do that will get that review deleted. (This is my personal experience, if someone has had a different experience, please let me know!)

1 starLet’s start with obvious falsehoods and Amazon. I received a one-star review for my bundle The Gray-Haired Knitting Detectives. Naturally, that can happen. Readers are allowed to absolutely hate my novels no matter how much pain that causes me. But this review – titled Smut on Parade – was even more painful because it was full of lies! The reviewer claims there is a sexual act in the first paragraph (the first paragraph is a diatribe about women over forty getting chin hair). The reviewer even claims the price of the book cost 20% more than it actually does (twenty percent doesn’t sound like much but I put a lot of thought into how I price my books).

1 star 4Obviously, this reviewer was bullying me was my thought. I immediately contacted Amazon and asked that they remove the review due to misrepresentations in the review. After all, there is that little box with ‘report abuse’ on it! They didn’t even bother to get back to me. There’s no way in hell I’m contacting the reviewer myself. So, what’s left to do? Well, not much. The only thing I have done is vote her review unhelpful. Go me! That’ll show her.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only one-star review I’ve received. On Goodreads, I have a ‘follower’ who gives all my books one star. Even books that have not yet been released! When she one-starred a book not yet released, I thought “A-ha! I’ve got you now”. Goodreads didn’t agree. They did respond to my email, but the response was not what I expected (let alone what I hoped for). They told me that they do not review the content of reviews as everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But the book wasn’t released yet! No matter.

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If you were hoping to find some magically solution to dealing with one-star reviews in this blog article, I’m sorry to have disappointed. As I’ve pointed out above, there’s pretty much nothing you can do about these reviews – even when they have obviously nothing to do with your book. The only thing I can say that may take away just a little of the pain is this – You are not alone. Even the greats receive one-star reviews.

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How I changed the course of my life for a song #LifeLessons #WednesdayWisdom

ironicSmall things that seem insignificant sometimes have huge influences on our lives. Like the words to a song. Several lives ago, I joined the military. One of the reasons for my joining the US Army was the GI Bill. The GI Bill provides military veterans with tuition and/or living expenses for higher education. I already had a Bachelor’s degree in history, but I was determined to go to law school and become a lawyer. I had decided to become a lawyer when I was five-years old, and I never wavered from this decision. (Although the US Army offered me tons of incentives to change my mind.)

After five years in the US Army as a military policewoman, it was (finally!) time to head off to law school. I had basically boiled down my choice of law schools to two: The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ohio Northern University. The first – UW-Madison – is a well-known and respected state school and was in my home state. But I was no longer a resident of Wisconsin and would be forced to pay out of state tuition. The second – a lesser known private school – offered me a scholarship that fully covered my tuition for three years. What to do?

At the time, I was working as a military police investigator at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. I worked closely with the JAG officers. Naturally, I asked their advice – state school that is well-known and respected or an unknown school that offered me a free ride? They asked me what I planned to do with the degree. I wasn’t sure in what area of law I wanted to practice, but I did know that the chances were more than likely that whatever law I practiced would not be in the US.

Their advice? If I’m not staying in the US, the law school I attend won’t matter. Although this sounded like good advice, I hesitated to listen to anyone who put their medals upside down on their Class A uniform. That sounds shallow, but my fellow military peeps will understand.

Right around the time I needed to make my decision, I got married. In fact, we eloped. While driving off to the courthouse in Manassas, Virginia, one of my favorite songs of the time was playing – Ironic by Alanis Morissette. As we drove in the rain, I sang along to the words:

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It’s like rain on your wedding day

It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid

Huh. It was raining on my wedding day. And I had the chance to take a free ride to law school, but I was hesitating. Why was I hesitating? Would I regret more – paying for law school when I could have taken a free ride or going to an unknown school? The answer was actually easy. We were planning to move to The Netherlands as soon as I graduated. With both the hubby and I starting our careers, money would be tight. Add on having to move overseas and start a household there and the decision was made. No way was I going to start our new life with a huge debt.

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Just in case anyone needs proof that I actually made it through law school 😉

 

I’ve never regretted my decision. I’ve never had to make a career decision based on making enough money to pay an educational loan. Oh sure, I’ve often wondered how my life would be different if I’d made different decisions, but that’s different than actually regretting a decision. Regret? Nah, not I.

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My research trip to Istanbul #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #History #WWII

Have you ever contemplated a project that you just knew was going to be time-consuming, intensive, and perhaps even a bit heartbreaking? That’s how I’ve been feeling about my upcoming manuscript. The novel is a love story between a German consulate worker and an American Jew in Istanbul during WWII. I’ve been delaying the project for years now. I always have plenty of novel ideas – why start a difficult project if I didn’t have to? But, finally, I couldn’t delay any more. I just knew if I didn’t write this novel now it wasn’t going to happen.

One of the reasons I’ve procrastinated is the difficulty researching Istanbul during the 1930s and 1940s. I don’t speak Turkish and most of the source material is – understandably – in that language. But then I went book shopping with a good friend and happened upon a used copy of Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul. I grabbed that sucker and rushed to the check-out.

Slowly making my way through the book, I noticed that the Pera Palace has been completely renovated and is still open for business. As I was planning a trip to visit the hubby in Istanbul anyway, I decided this was the perfect opportunity for me to do some on-site research. I booked a night at the hotel and dug into reading Midnight at the Pera Palace.

Istanbul was a hotbed of spy activity during the Second World War. With its location at the edge of Europe as well as across the Black Sea from the Soviet Union and it’s declared neutrality, it made an ideal location for espionage. The Pera Palace Hotel and Park Hotel were two locations where these activities routinely occurred. The Pera Palace is a stone’s throw from the (former) American Consulate and the Park Hotel is just across the narrow street from the German Consulate. Time to discover just how close things were.

We started our research trip by checking into Pera Palace hotel.

Pera Palace 1

A laptop hidden in a book? I must be at the right place!

As soon as we’d dropped our bags, we headed out to the former American Consulate. The building now houses a private club, so we couldn’t get inside but I was able to see how close the two historical locations are to each other.

 

American Consulate in Turkey

The former American Consulate of Istanbul, now a private club.

 

View of Pera Palace from Am Consulate

Standing in front of the American Consulate looking towards the Pera Palace (building on left with red awnings)

 

Continuing down the same street, we walked to the Galata region of what is now called Beyoğlu region of Istanbul. This region was home to four synagogues during the 1930s.

Galata Tower

The Galata Tower

 

 

Synagogue 2

The Ashkenazi Synagogue of Istanbul

After walking around for a few hours, we decided it was time for a beer. Naturally, we ended the evening with a beer in Pera Palace’s own bar. The beer was overpriced, but if it’s good enough for Agatha Christie then …

 

Pera Palace 2

The next morning, I lumbered around Pera Palace studying the various bits and bobs displayed throughout the hotel.

Then, we checked out and headed towards the German Consulate and Park Hotel. The original Park Hotel had been torn down. To my surprise (and delight!), there is a new hotel on the same location. They’ve maintained the history by also displaying some historical items.

Park Hotel

The German Consulate was up next. Obviously, we couldn’t get too close, but I was able to see just how close the building was to the hotel. You could practically throw things out the window of the consulate into the hotel!

I couldn’t resist a trip to the Sirkeci station – the railway station was the end stop of the Orient Express. It’s also the station many Jewish refugees from Europe traveled through. It took us a while to find the small museum located at the station, but we managed.

Then, we jumped on the Marmaray and made our way back to the Asian side of Istanbul where I lived for two years and where my husband still lives. My research trip was finished. Time for a beer.

Why you should have a professional author photo #WriterWednesday #AuthorMarketing #AmWriting

I’ll be brutally honest – I didn’t think much of the whole author photo thing when I started developing my author platform. And, yes, I still hate those words ‘author platform’ now as much as I did in 2013 when I published my first book and started researching all this author marketing stuff. Like most self-published authors, I used a favorite personal photo for my author profile. In my case, it was a picture taken during my 12 ½ year anniversary party (12 ½ year anniversary is totally a thing). When I started using that picture, it was already a few years old. At some point, I had to admit that it didn’t really look like me anymore. At that point, I grabbed a vacation photo and used that. But then that photo started looking a bit dated as well. I’d be damned if I yet again updated my author profile picture. No one needed to know I aged, right?

But the unfortunate truth was – I had aged. Not only that but I’d now written and published eleven books – twelve if we’re counting the book I personally translated. I was getting more and more serious about this whole writing thing. I even dared to tell people I’m an author when they asked what I did for a living. (Even though I still cringe a bit inside when I say it.) Darn. Maybe it was time to have a professional take an author picture after all. I had the thought and then – like so many things in life – I did nothing about it. But suddenly I found myself attending a gala (peer pressure sucks). I’m completely useless when it comes to applying make-up and making my hair look fancy so I made appointments to have myself made ‘pretty’. That’s when I remembered the whole author profile thing. If I’m spending the day getting all dolled up anyway, why not have a photographer come over and have a professional photo taken?

I thought all photographers had the magical power to make the subject of their photos look younger, prettier, or thinner. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Once I got used to the fact that my chin is more than leaning towards double-chin territory and those bags under my eyes are permanent, I was pretty happy with how the pictures turned out.

Through this whole process, I’ve continued to update my Readsalot blog on a daily basis. Naturally, I started to pay more attention to author photos while blogging and choosing which book I was going to read next. I was frankly shocked by how many authors don’t take the author picture seriously. There are a bunch of authors who don’t even bother to have any picture. What are they trying to hide? And then there are those who have cutesy gifs or cartoon characters. Really? That’s how you want to portray yourself as a writer? And finally, we have the authors who take a vacation picture and turn it into a profile photo.

I admit I made the above mistakes again and again over the years. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn from my mistakes. I initially started the process of getting a professional photo because I’d aged. But when I told people of my plans, everyone (seriously, every single person I talked to and I talk A LOT) said it was a great idea because I needed to look professional. And after I’d gotten the pictures done and uploaded them, I received tons of compliments as well as comments about how professional they looked.

There was that word again – professional. I guess the question is – do you want to be taken seriously as a professional author? If so, it may be time to get those professional pictures taken. Still uncertain? Just check out the difference between the two sets of pictures above. ‘Nuf said.

Why I don’t want to be Queen (Or How I’m trying to adult today) #ExpatLife #MondayBlogs

not queenLike most little girls, I wanted to be a queen when I was growing up. I didn’t want to find my fairy prince or marry a king. Oh no, not I. I wanted to be queen because I wanted to be in charge of the world. Yes, the world. I’m now way past the age of falling in love with a fairytale prince (because, duh, they don’t exist) or marrying a king and, although I’d still like to rule the world, I’ve come to the decision that I don’t want to be the queen. Here’s why:

not queen 3Hair. Your hair always has to be styled and looking perfect if you’re the queen. I’m lucky if I manage to comb my hair before pulling it up in a bun or ponytail and heading out the door to walk the dog.

Make-up. Most days I don’t use any make-up at all. If I do wear make-up, I usually forget to clean it off before going to bed and end up walking the dog in the park with mascara smeared under my eyes. The queen, on the other hand, always has to look perfect – including perfect make-up. I don’t even know how to apply the perfect make-up. I have to go to the beauty salon to get my make-up done for any important events. Luckily, those are few and far between.

Clothing. Although I’m sure it’s nice to have a wardrobe of all kinds of awesome clothes, the queen has to be properly dressed all the time. I, on the other hand, throw a fit every morning when I have to get out of my pajamas and walk the dog. Ripped jeans are the norm for me. My hoity-toity neighbors don’t know what to think of me.

Pantyhose. I hate pantyhose. One of my favorite things about giving up corporate life is the lack of pantyhose. Yes, I hate them that much. The queen doesn’t get a choice. She has to wear pantyhose All The Time. Um, no thanks.

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I could only manage an hour of boogeying in these. And yes, I know they’re not that high.

High heels. Although I’m sure there are times when royals don’t have to wear high heels, there are entirely too many occasions that do call for the torture devices than I care to think about. I can barely manage to walk in running shoes without tripping on my own feet, how do they boogey the night away in those spikey things?

 

Protocol. A royal has to follow the protocol handbook the majority of the time. I’m pretty sure walking up to the acting American Ambassador to the Netherlands and asking him Where’s the alcohol? isn’t allowed. (And yes, that happened.)

Politically correct. Even if you think the ruler of some country or a fellow royal is a right arse, you can’t just blurt that out to them. I can’t imagine sitting across from certain controversial figures and not taking the opportunity to give them a piece of my mind.

Etiquette. I haven’t seen it written down in any rules or anything, but I’m fairly certain it’s not proper etiquette to get wasted at a state dinner. I’ve heard it’s frowned upon to wave at a waitress with your empty wine glass and yell Fill ‘er up.

You won’t catch me reading any romances about silly girls falling in love with an incognito prince from some heretofore unknown kingdom. Nope. Not I. The King’s brother saying hi to me in the supermarket is as close as I’m ever going to get to being a royal.

 

Biking in Holland – from chicken sh$t to bad a$$ #ExpatLife #Holland #Cycling

The Netherlands has more bikes per capita than any other country in the world. Yep, that’s right. More than China, Japan, or any of those other Asian countries from which numerous famous photographs emerge with dozens of bikers waiting at stoplights. There are 16,652,800 people in the Netherlands and 16,500,000 bicycles. One in four persons goes to work on a bike. Amsterdam is considered the most bicycle-friendly large city in the world with 400 km of bike lanes.

bikes 1Just to give you a picture of how ubiquitous bikes are in the country, consider these facts. Mail is delivered by a postman on a bike. The bike is provided by the postal company. Fast food delivery is done by young people on bikes – the kind you pedal. You can even take a tour through Amsterdam on a bike taxi.

So, you can imagine my trepidation at getting back on a bike after a ten-year hiatus from Holland. And, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t bike much when I lived in Holland before. We lived in Haarlem in North Holland, and I worked in The Hague – definitely too far to cycle. I mostly trained to work. Although I could have biked to the station, I often didn’t because it literally took me longer to find a parking space for my bike than to just walk to the station. (Please note: The train station in Haarlem has been completely renovated since then.) And when I arrived back in Haarlem after a twelve-hour day I often couldn’t remember where my bike was parked. I started walking to the station and never looked back.

bikes 3It took me eight months of living in The Hague before I dared to even buy a bike. In order to keep things simple, I got what the Dutch call a grandma bike – an old-fashioned bike without gears or hand brakes. It took another week of the bike sitting in my hallway before I got the nerve up to take it outside. That didn’t go well. Before I managed to get past one street, my a$$ was killing me! After that trip, I waited for my Dutch husband’s return from Istanbul before cycling again. He helped me – okay, he did all the work – adjust the seat to minimize soreness in the rear region.

Then, a bit of good luck. The Dutch schools were out for two weeks of May vacation. A perfect time to adjust to biking in the city while the vast majority of cars and bikes were AWOL. I’m glad I had time to practice because the first day I cycled after the vacation was nearly disastrous. The main road into the city is blocked due to construction causing tons of extra traffic in my neighborhood and making all the locals into angry drivers. It was a miracle I managed to bike to the tennis courts without getting hit. I got winged with a car mirror but that’s a pretty normal occurrence.

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I totally biked in this dress and heels. Wind blowing up my dress be damned!

After I managed to bike to tennis while weaving in and around rows of cars lined up in traffic, I decided I got this! I can totally bike wherever, whenever. I tested this theory yesterday when I biked through the construction zone in a dress while wearing heals! Just call me the badass biker.

 

Ideas for Guest Blog Posts about your novel #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #Marketing

I try to blog three times a week, but sometimes I can’t come up with a blog idea for the life of me. And then there’s those blog tours that want guest blog posts. Of course, I’m a glutton for punishment and also offer to write blog posts for other blogs to promote my books. Help! Calgon take me away!

calgon take me away

I don’t have a bathtub so Calgon is never going to take me away. Instead, I’ve developed a list of ideas to use for blog posts about my book. And because I’m super supportive of my fellow writers (but mostly because I couldn’t come up with an idea for today’s blog post), I’m going to share my list with you. Here goes:

Character Interview. Tried and tested. Never fails.

Five Things You Didn’t Know About (Protagonist). I find this one more fun than doing a character interview.

10 Items of (Protagonist’s) Bucket List. You can have all kinds of fun with this one.

Cast of Characters in a Hollywood adaptation. Add some pictures and voila, you’ve got a blog post.

Something specific to the book itself. My current novel, Fat Girl Begone!, is about dieting and body image. There’s a lot I can write about that!

How did the cover come about? Assuming you helped design the cover, of course.

How was writing this book different from your other books? This is a good one if you write in multiple genres.

Favorite thing about writing this genre. What’s fun about writing murder mysteries? Or romantic comedies? Or whatever?

Channeling a gay man, an abused woman, an alcoholic. What characteristic is specific to your protagonist or antagonist? If that characteristic is far removed from your own personality (for example, me – a straight woman – writing a novel in which the protagonist is a gay man), how did you channel that person?

Particular inspiration behind this story. This works well if your novel has a moral to it.

Deleted scene. I actually never delete scenes entirely. Or – if I do – it’s so early in the writing process that I just delete and move on. I have, however, written ‘deleted’ scenes for blog posts. I usually have a list of chapter ideas I use as a rough outline when I’m writing. Sometimes I don’t get to all of the ideas before the story finishes. I then use the leftovers as deleted scenes.

Do you have other standard guest post ideas you use when promoting your novel? I’d love to hear about them!

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