Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Humbling Review

After 3 years of glowing book reviews, phenomenally positive teacher surveys, enthusiastic student letters, and even a Children's Book Award, I received my first bad book review yesterday on, knocking my national book from 4.5 stars to 3.5.  Let me tell you, if ever there was an excuse for writer's block, it's a bad book review.

I absolutely love what I do, but publishing can be a cruel mistress. Authors have to market themselves and their books in order to stay afloat.  Every positive book review can result in hundreds of new readers, but every negative review can prevent a potentially endless cycle of readership and referrals. customers who review books are generally, it's safe to say, either super excited about their purchase or super frustrated with it.  I generally don't review mediocre products; I review either the products I can't live without or the products I returned the same day.  I also tend not to let a few bad reviews overshadow the overwhelmingly positive reviews (unless the majority of reviews are bad).  That said, it is still paralyzingly humbling to see a bad review of your own product.

By creating this book, I took a series of risks and made a number of compromises in order to bridge several widening gaps: engaging fiction and educational textbooks, high-interest and low-level texts, humor and test prep. In the process, I essentially forged my way into a fledgling genre: educational children's fiction.  There is still work to do and new features that can be added.  A teacher has to jump on the teachable moments in the book in order to provide a relevant and meaningful challenge to students. It was never my intention to create yet another standardized test prep book full of the same drill-and-kill, repetitive, teach-to-the-test questions that teachers across the nation subject their students to on a daily basis. I aim to change the way we think about test prep. It is the law of the land, but it can still be fun.  Some children may not read on the same level as their peers, but they should still be given an engaging opportunity to catch up. 

Greenleaf Book Group, my book distributor, posted an article in their Big Bad Book Blog in 2010 that I liked so much I even commented on it as soon as I read it.  The article discussed how to handle a bad book review.  The advice was simple and it just made sense.  Too many good reviews can look like a mountain of marshmallow fluff.  Everybody doesn't like everything they read.  I've read highly-acclaimed, award-winning books that did nothing more than make me demand the last few days of my life back.  But I'll say it again: it's different when it is your own product, your own baby.

I think it's safe to say that most authors and entrepreneurs who sell a product online tend to scour the internet for comments and reviews.  From that side of the equation, from the point of view of the person who creates a product for purchase online, I just want you to know how important reviews are.  They not only influence purchasing decisions, but they can make or break an entrepreneur's day. They can create or cure an author's writer's block. And they can directly impact the number of people who ultimately get their hands on a product that solves a problem they have been facing in their lives, be it a means of tackling a mouth full of plaque, an escape from reality into the world of fiction, a solution to a home improvement nightmare, or an opportunity for a nine-year-old to finally experience success at a seemingly insurmountable academic challenge.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some writing to do. At the very least, a group of kids at a school in Asheville are depending on it. 


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Plowing Through Part 2

I'm not quite sure what has sparked this sudden burst of creativity, but I'm pleased to announce that I am plowing through Part 2 of Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man.  It is challenging, yes, but I'm writing at a speed that is much more rapid and rewarding than I'm used to for fiction.  It has been a long time coming, and rough recent sales have made me wonder whether the funds would even be available for Part 2, but with the new national version and less restrictive ebook market, I believe we can make this work, and I also owe it to my readers.  I've responded to so many letters from kids lately, promising to release Part 2 as soon as possible.  I owe it to them to pump out this book, as challenging as it may be. 

I'm also working on creating an author's journal of sorts, and will eventually put it on my blog, letting my young readers know what was going through my head as I wrote each chapter, what kinds of things were omitted and why, and also why I chose to write things a certain way. Talk about a lesson in author's purpose! 

As promised, there will be a heavy focus on Chris's sister, who the kids are demanding to know more about, and a new fourth grade teacher. That was the toughest part. Ms. Bubblebrain is such an amazing, memorable character, but even as many kids who wrote me told me that she was their favorite character, the almost universal consensus has been that I should make Chris have a new, even funnier fourth grade teacher.  What a tall order!  I mean, seriously, how do you do any better than a Bubblebrain?  Well, I think I have a solution. I'm going to test it on some kids I read with at a local after school center and see what they think. 

Also, the primary focus of this book will still be reading comprehension, but I am determined to significantly increase the mathematics presence in the text.  I'm also doubling the number of silly standardized test questions at the end of the chapters and renaming them to the more suitable, "Fun Test Prep!"  I'll never forget how the kids at an Asheville, NC school told me that they wanted more silly standardized test questions.  Many kids even said that was their favorite part of the book. Imagine that!  I'm almost embarrassed to admit how long it took me to come up with a way to add "bubble questions" to the book without letting go of my belief that test prep should be fun.  I have always wanted these books to be an entertaining way to build a love for learning while also reinforcing those minimal competency standards that students are required to master by the end of the year.  Blending fun with test usually creates a pretty disgusting smoothie, but at least according to the kiddies, I've at least created an edible product.  Note: please don't attempt to eat my books.

By the way, if you read these posts and you would like me to comment on something or explain something to the kids in your class via this blog, just drop me a line. I'm glad to help. 

Also, I want to congratulate the recent book grant winners for this round of book grants. We still have enough California, New York, and National Common Core books for another round of grants, so apply now.   Download this application and please be creative!!