The Non-Fiction Novelist

Helping at-work writers to become novelists

Archive for the month “January, 2017”

Book Reviewers Can be Jerks

Book Reviewers Can be Jerks

By Larry Kahaner

Whether you are a seasoned author or just published your first book, reviews play tricks on your self-confidence as a writer. Like everything else in life, some people like your stuff and some people hate it (thanks, Captain Obvious) and there’s nothing you can do about it.review-book

Every book has its supporters and detractors, and if your head isn’t screwed on, it can be a career killer.

Let me stipulate up front that most reviewers, indeed, the vast majority of reviewers are writing honest, objective reviews. This blog is about the other ones.

I offer some points to remember if you decide to read your reviews. I say ‘if’ because many successful authors never read reviews. I used to think this was BS, but it’s true. These folks understand the reality of reviews.

And here they are:

  • Reviews are supposed to be objective, but they’re not. Readers bring themselves into the review based on their own beliefs. Here’s a personal example. I published a book titled AK-47: the Weapon that Changed the Face of War. Pro-gun people said I blamed all the world ills on this ubiquitous weapon. Anti-gun people said that I glorified the weapon. Both can’t be true. Right? I even read one review that chided me for not including more pictures of guns. Hello… it was not a gun-porn book, but a political view of the world’s most-used weapon.

 

  • Some reviewers and readers are pissed off about a specific subject matter so they give a low rating hoping that potential readers will ignore a book. Think books about climate change. Others love the topic so they give a high rating hoping that others of their ilk will buy it and somehow bolster the cause. Neither reviews have anything to do with a book’s merit. Case in point: I once wrote a book about a company called MCI (not the MCI WorldCom that was later involved in a scandal). The title was On The Line. The company beat AT&T in court and this opened the way for competitive long distance phone service. I got hate reviews from those who were angry that AT&T was no longer the country’s de facto monopoly phone company and venerable Ma Bell (youngsters, stay with me on this) was being broken up. Others were glad to see the old monopoly split into regional companies which eventually ushered in the telecommunications system we have today. I even received a letter from David Packard, head of Hewlett-Packard, chiding me for writing about this start-up company which he believed would lead to the downfall of Western civilization. What about the book’s merits? Didn’t really matter. And no sour grapes here by the way. The book did really well.

 

  • Last one: Reviewers are swayed by what the reviewer thinks the author stands for. The classic case is Salman Rushdie who penned a novel in 1988 titled Satanic Verses, which caused a stir among many in the Muslim community. They accused Rushdie of blasphemy, and in 1989 the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie. Many death threats followed and Rushdie went into hiding with armed guards. To show their support for Rushdie and their dislike of the Ayatollah many people bought the book – it became a best seller – and critics offered rave reviews because they supported free speech and wanted to strike a blow against radical Islam. It had been reported at the time that many Western consumers bought the book but never read it. They just wanted to make a point. Rushdie says he is not anti-Muslim. He was born into a Muslim family and now considers himself an atheist. By the way, many reviewers wrote about the controversy itself and not the book. That’s not their job.

My final point is this. You can’t please everyone. Mind you, I’m not talking about warranted, even constructive criticism, but make sure a review is about your book and not about you or anything else before you react. Write your book the best way you know how and work on having a thick skin or don’t read reviews at all. Your choice.

Coda: I have a good writing buddy who also is a reviewer for a respected trade publication.  I often send him my blogs to gut-check them before posting. He had this remark: “Perfectly reasonable blog, though it will never make anyone feel better about a bad review. They always hurt, even if you know you were treated unfairly.”

What if the US were run like a corporation and a madman was in charge? Check out Larry Kahaner’s latest thriller “USA, Inc.” now available in eBook and paperback. All my books have a money-back guarantee.

Writers: Don’t be a Victim of Beginner’s Luck

Writers: Don’t be a Victim of Beginner’s Luck

By Larry Kahaner

How many times have you read an author’s first book and it was terrific? The second, not so much, and the third, well…

alchemist-book-cover

Beginner’s luck is crucial to this story.

Were they blessed with beginner’s luck, the phenomenon that allows first-time fishers to catch the big one and novice archers to hit the bull’s-eye?

I’ve been thinking about beginner’s luck since re-reading The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. In this story, the shepherd Santiago enjoys beginner’s luck when he decides to travel to Africa. He sells his sheep quickly and easily (that’s the luck) to finance his trip and is on his way to fulfill his ‘personal legend.’ The rest of the road is rocky and he encounters many situations that test his mettle. He does indeed meet an Alchemist whose last words to Santiago are: “Every search begins with beginners luck and ends with the victor being severely tested.”

Questions come quickly when it comes to writers and beginner’s luck. Is that all they had in them – that one amazing book? Was it a publishing industry fad fluke? Did they take their talent for granted and not try harder? And, the classic, ‘success went to their head and they got lazy.’

I chalk it up to beginner’s luck which is not some magical belief but a real thing that can work to our advantage if we understand how it operates. Here’s how:

  • Beginners have nothing to lose. Writers artists and musicians do their most imaginative and inspired work when they don’t have an image to maintain, and when they don’t care about how it’s received by critics. They are free to create a work that is unique, using their own voice, and without preconceived notions holding them back.
  • Beginners don’t know the rules. They see the world in their own way and don’t feel the need to conform to standards of creativity pushed by others. I find this aspect common in writers who pen the most avant-garde first novels then are afraid of keeping up the pace and thus revert to less exciting prose because they’re afraid of reaching for new heights again. Failure is easy; success is hard.
  • Beginners rarely have expectations beyond finishing the work. This allows them to keep an eye on the final goal and not what others will think of it. This eliminates self-censorship, a serial killer of creative writing. Say, what was that annoying song? Come From the Heart (I had to look it up.):

You got to sing like you don’t need the money

Love like you’ll never get hurt

You got to dance like nobody’s watchin’

It’s gotta come from the heart

If you want it to work

Great lyrics, excellent advice, but it was irritating to hear lousy versions of it played at every wedding and bar mitzvah I have attended for the last twenty years. Here’s a good cover by Guy Clark.  His wife Susanna Clark composed the song.

Here’s the takeaway. Allow yourself to write every day with beginner’s luck and know that you can keep receiving its gifts if you pay attention to its pitfalls.

(If you’re curious, you can read more about beginner’s luck on Wikipedia. There’s some science behind it.)

 

What if the US were run like a corporation and a madman was in charge? Check out Larry Kahaner’s latest thriller “USA, Inc.” now available in eBook and paperback. All my books have a money back guarantee.

Why I Chose Fiction Over Fact

Why I Chose Fiction Over Fact

By Larry Kahaner

A friend recently asked me why I have turned to writing novels instead of continuing my non-fiction book career.

The answer is two-fold. First, I wanted to try something different, transferring what I’ve learned from the non-fiction world to novels. Call it a professional challenge; it’s the thrust of this blog.why-fiction-quotes

Second, I’ve been a non-fiction book author all my working life, and I thought I was really making a difference in people’s lives. I have, and I’m proud of my work, but the world has changed.

We may be heading into a post-journalism world (and by ‘journalism’ I mean unbiased, fair reporting and writing that informs people) and my cynicism is growing. Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe, just maybe, fiction may be in the forefront of telling truths that last with us and make us better people.

I’m not the first to notice this, of course. Barack Obama, in his farewell speech cited the character Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird who said: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

How many minds were changed by this simple message in a book read by millions?

How many of us have been moved to think in new ways by classics like Catch-22, Lord of the Flies or any of the current dystopian novels such as the Hunger Games, that warn us about who we might become if we’re not mindful. Consider the parable The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho or almost anything written by Haruki Murakami. They simply make us more aware of others and ourselves.

We cannot remain unchanged after being fully engaged in reading about the life of someone else, especially if that person is made up. If we read the biography of a remarkable person, we see what the author wants us to see. If we read about a fictional character, we can go beyond the author’s description and see ourselves, too. We can put ourselves in their lives instead of watching from the outside. This offers a greater opportunity for introspection and growth.

I believe the power of fiction – books, movies, TV – is becoming stronger than ever as we become more polarized in our consumption of news and non-fiction books. Conservatives read their books; liberals read theirs, but everyone can agree to read an entertaining piece of fiction or watch a compelling movie.

I’m not saying that every story needs to have an earth-shattering, world-changing message. Sometimes a tale is just tale, and that’s fine. And neither am I talking about deliberate, heavy-handed propaganda disguised as fiction. I hate that.

I’m talking about telling a story with a moral, a story that moves us to think beyond our everything assumptions. The story doesn’t have to be true, but the message does.

My hope for my latest book USA, Inc., – aside from  being a good read – is that it may inspire people to think more about the damage that occurs from the confluence of greed and power. I confess without shame that my main goal was not to preach but entertain. I just wanted to write a compelling book that got readers to turn the page.

Consider it a twofer.

What if the US were run like a corporation and a madman was in charge? Check out my latest thriller USA, Inc. now available in eBook and paperback. All my books have a money back guarantee.

 

 

 

 

Hey, Writers: Stop Your Freakin’ Whining

Hey, Writers: Stop Your Freakin’ Whining

By Larry Kahaner

Most of my working life, I’ve been a non-fiction writer. I’ve penned over 15 books some with my name and some I’ve ghosted. I know a lot of non-fiction writers. They’re my friends and colleagues.

crazy-author-1

Don’t be like this writer.

When I decided to write a novel, USA, Inc., which was just published, (shameless plug) I started hobnobbing with fiction authors, some established but mostly newbies like me. In fact, I started this blog to help me move from non-fiction to fiction. I hope I’ve helped others do the same, because many non-fiction writing traits, habits and experience are transferable.

Right off the bat, though, I noticed that fiction writers are different than non-fiction writers — and not in a good way.

They are a bunch of whiney-babies.

They complain about money. They grumble about how the work is difficult. They whimper about how they can’t find the time to write. They moan about plots, themes, dialogues, characters, distractions, attention deficit issues, emotional burnout and their muse being on holiday. Oh, and let’s not forget ‘writer’s block’ which is just a made up malady for not feeling like working today. (Do plumbers have plumber’s block? Do doctors have doctor’s block?)

The carping seemed endless.

google-search-for-crazy-writers

Even Google thinks so.

I was surprised at this infinite hole of discontent and unhappiness. I tried to understand it, but I couldn’t. Maybe it’s because I write for a living so complaining all the time would be soul-breaking. If I didn’t like the work, I would have obtained employment in a different area. Yes, writing is difficult; it’s even harder to make a living at it. I get that, but why do these fiction folks keep knocking their heads against their respective walls and tell the rest of us how hard their writing lives are? They seem to savor their arduous fiction-writing lives and relish telling anyone who will listen.

I’m not saying I’m totally right, but here’s what I think is going on:

Many fiction writers have this romantic notion that artists must suffer. They believe that if they’re not suffering and complaining then they’re not true creators. Where did they get this idea? Well, from many famous writers and artists who have hidden their anguish with alcohol, drugs, bad behavior and annoying habits that drive those around them nuts. They wore the displeasure of their craft like a badge of honor.

The other errant notion is that creative types, like writers, are extreme, eccentrics or misfits and if you want to enter that group you must behave accordingly – and that includes telling everyone around you how difficult your craft is. If you don’t, then you’re not being really a creative.

Such nonsense.

You don’t have to be crazy and, moreover, you don’t have to act cray-cray just to fit into a misplaced notion that writers are a little off, weird or different. You can be normal and be a writer. All you have to do to be a writer is do the work.

I will concede that being a writer requires an open emotional life and that can manifest itself in day-to-day pain, discomfort and dislocation from society, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it to others or yourself. I will also acknowledge that good writers must dig deep inside to turn feelings into words and that can be a frustrating and often painful process. Doing this on a daily basis can make you a tad squirrely and you may want to vent. My advice is don’t. Try to foster a work/life demarcation like others who deal with raw, unsettling emotions like police, lawyers or Walmart employees.

One last point: Writing is a hard life and the work is difficult. The money doesn’t always come. You suffer rejection and disappointment in the pit of your being. You may not have the talent or temperament to be a writer, so why do it? Why do people insist that writing a novel is some pinnacle to be scaled no matter what the physical, emotional or spiritual cost? Not to sound harsher than I’ve been, but we don’t need any more books published. There are plenty. And…shhh… don’t tell anyone… if you don’t write your book, the world will still spin.

If you do continue to write, for god’s sake, stop freaking complaining about it. I’m tired of hearing it and guess what… so are your friends and loved ones.

Okay? Thanks.

PS – The irony of complaining about complaining did not elude me, so take that off the table when you’re composing your snarky responses.

What if the US were run like a corporation and a madman was in charge? Check out my latest thriller USA, Inc. now available in eBook and paperback. All my books have a money-back guarantee. 

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