So I was trying to piece together this Ed Champion thing, mostly based on my Twitter feed. But (as I stated on Twitter), it’s a bit like surveying the aftermath of an A-bomb and trying to figure out what had been there before everything went to hell.

Best I can tell, Ed Champion—of whom I’d never heard until all this happened, which probably just goes to show how outside publishing politics I am—is/was best known as a kind of cranky book reviewer (or hater, as the case may be). And then . . . Something happened and he ended up publicly blackmailing a female writer on Twitter. Seriously.

I’ve yet to put together the steps that led from “cranky sourpuss” to “extortionist,” but words like “misogyny” are being tossed around. Champion evidently doesn’t like women writers? Or women in general?

That’s fine, actually. He has the right to hate every book and writer in the world if it makes him feel better about himself. And he has the right to voice his opinion. Just like everyone else has the right to ignore him. Or hate him in turn.

It’s the blackmail that’s disturbing. As I’ve said, I haven’t pieced together the entire story, but it seems Champion threatened to tweet the name of a photographer who had taken nude pictures of a female writer . . . I just can’t quite wrap my brain around what prompts a person to go from A to Z that way. The leap from, “I don’t like this book and/or writer” to “I’m going to blackmail you” is bizarre to me.

But really, what I meant to write about it that after I tweeted about trying to understand what had happened, someone responded with a boast about having given over 500 one-star reviews on Amazon. This guy was really proud of the fact that he’d done this, and was apparently annoyed that Champion was getting all the credit as “most hated man.” Um . . . I don’t think it takes any special talent or skill to give one-star reviews, or to hate books and writing. It does take a lot of free time, I suppose. And that’s assuming this person actually read the books in question and wrote coherent reviews (I didn’t bother to check).

The reviewing system is fucked up. I think we all know that. Anyone can review something, and many reviews are not legitimate. Instead they are written out of hate, or spite, or jealousy. Or they’re written to manipulate the system and send certain books up and down the lists. Bottom line: readers can no longer rely on reviews to guide them toward good books and away from bad ones. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe it’s better to select books based on personal taste and preference rather than the number of stars next to its title. After all, when you walk into a bookstore (do you ever any more?), aside from the Recommendations shelf, there are not reviews posted next to every book. Instead you browse, picking this or that up, until you find something that suits your taste.

Or maybe you go looking for a book a friend recommends. Word of mouth is not the same as random reviews, by the way. A friend knows what you may or may not like. The best collective reviews can do is tell you what the collective hive mind of the masses most enjoys. Or doesn’t, as the case may be.

Better, perhaps, to find something you like—a few things, really—and extrapolate from there. That is, find other things in the same vein. Of course, if you’re like me and like a lot of different things, that can be trickier.

Sometimes—I’ve noticed this with film reviewers anyway—you find a reviewer who shares your tastes and come to trust him or her when s/he issues a proclamation regarding the latest blockbuster or indie rom-com. Is it possible to find a book reviewer whose palate matches yours?

And then, as with food, it also depend on what you’re “in the mood for.” A book you can’t enjoy now may be something you do enjoy later.

I don’t have an answer for fixing the reviews problem. What we have doesn’t work, but then there come the screams of not censoring anyone, and the difficulties of sussing out which reviews are legitimate and what the criteria should be. Like with Ed Champion—one can’t argue that he shouldn’t be allowed to blog his opinions about books and writers, however awful he is. We aren’t required to listen to him if we don’t want to. Issuing threats and blackmailing, however, was crossing a line. We can agree on that, I think. But where are the lines for reviewers? How do we figure out who to listen to? There’s a lot of noise online, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to separate the worthwhile from the discordant jangle.

Things We’re Sick Of

So in my last newsletter (and if you haven’t subscribed, you missed out, but you don’t have to—just sign up on the sidebar at the right) I listed a few things we all seem to be tired of:

1. Dystopian YA novels. (And the dystopian YA movies they spawn.)
2. Superhero movies. We may love some of them, but they’re all starting to look alike. They’re the fast food of film, and we’re starting to be hungry for a real meal.
3. Authors promoting other authors. It’s great that we want to help each other out, but it’s like preaching to the choir. And does having 20 blogs all reveal your cover on the same day really get you anything? Except people who are sick of seeing it after the fourth or fifth time?

Then I asked people to e-mail me what they’re sick of. The answers included:

1. Football. Even though the season has only just started! Well, and with all the bad news the NFL has been generating . . .
2. Click bait Facebook posts. You know the ones. They all end with “. . . and what happened next will amaze you!” (Or, alternatively, bring you to tears—but what’s bringing us to tears are all these damn posts.)
3. Quizzes on Facebook. Okay, I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for these things. Guilty as charged.
4. Facebook in general. Because so much of it has become ads, and the rest of it are quizzes and click bait. No one has anything interesting to say.

Honestly, I think we’ve come to a place where social media is all advertising and no content. And the advertisers are trying to make their ads look like content. That’s the latest thing. But—and I’ve said it before—the Internet has become a lot of people shouting and very few listening. It’s kind of depressing.

So, for those of you who didn’t get my newsletter or else didn’t e-mail: What are you sick of?

Instagram

So I’m finally going to try Instagram. But because my name was taken*, I’m using Peter’s name for the account. Yes, that’s right, one of my fictional characters has an Instagram account. It will probably consist largely of photos from my gardens because I am in love with all my flowers. I think Peter would approve.

*I mean various forms of “M Pepper” were taken. I didn’t try “Langlinais” because no one can ever spell it. In any case, if you do want to follow me (us?) on Instagram, the button is on the sidebar.

SFWC: Building a Web Presence

This session was run by Karma Bennett, Francis Caballo, and Anne Hill. I was hoping to learn some new stuff, but a lot of what they said seemed like common sense to me. Maybe this session was really aimed at older authors, people still trying to wrap their brains around all the newfangled technology and social media.

The first thing they said was basic encouragement: Believe you have a story worth telling, but don’t think you know everything. Be open to new information and to learning new things. Social media is meant to cultivate friendships and help you stay connected.

I don’t know if I entirely agree with that sentiment, since to me social media mostly seems like a lot of people standing in a room and each one is shouting, hoping to be heard over the others. But that’s the cynic in me talking. Certainly I have made a number of great online friends. And we’ve helped each other with our writing and in promoting each other’s work. It can be done.

The next thing the ladies told us was that if there is some kind of emergency that is going to take you offline for any length of time—if you’re going to be absent from your blog and Twitter and Facebook feeds—try to let your followers know. Because if they check your site every day, or even a couple times a week, and it seems abandoned, they’ll probably stop coming altogether. But if they know it’s only temporary, they’ll come back when you do.

And then they gave the usual spiel about how you shouldn’t only use your blog, or Twitter, or whatever social media you choose, to market and promote your work. In order to get people to read your blog or pay attention to your tweets (and maybe retweet them), you should “add value.” That’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but it means you should have useful and interesting content on your site(s). They suggested that you only ever have about 20% personal stuff (and that includes stuff about your book) and the remaining 80% should be other content, which can include you promoting others’ works or whatever.

They all said Twitter was the best for marketing, though.

Facebook pages were badmouthed all weekend because Facebook makes it so difficult to reach fans. The algorithms are problematic; most of the people who have liked your page won’t see your posts unless they visit your page directly. This is because Facebook wants you to pay to advertise and to “boost” your posts.

It was suggested you post at least four times a day on Twitter, spaced widely apart so as to grab the most eyes. The “life” of a tweet is a mere two hours. So if you tweet something on Monday morning, consider tweeting it again come Wednesday afternoon and Friday evening. Space it out and cover a lot of various time slots. Else your tweet will just be lost.

That said, of course don’t just tweet the same thing(s) over and over. You need fresh content on a regular basis. For fiction writers it was suggested you blog or tweet about: other books, content related to whatever kind of writing you do (romance, sci-fi, whatever), pictures (but be sure to cite sources), whatever inspires your writing, what your writing process is, your characters’ backstories. You can probably think of more, but these are places to start.

Finally, be natural. Act like yourself. Don’t introduce yourself online and immediately try to sell your book. Would you walk up to someone new and say, “Hi, I’m So-and-So, buy my book!”? I hope not. Instead, get to know people. Interact. Leave regular blog comments so people start to recognize you online. Help others promote their work so when you’re ready they’ll be more likely to help you in return.

While this is stuff a lot of us may know already, I hope I’ve still “added value” to my site by sharing it—and the whole of the conference—with you!

SFWC: The Fiction Agents

I won’t list them all here, but my first session at SFWC this year was a panel in which the fiction agents at the conference introduced themselves and answered questions about what agents look for. I’m posting the questions and answers below.

What is the #1 query mistake?

Of course they couldn’t keep it to just one. But here are a few:
1. The authors query before they’re ready to publish (that is, before the manuscript is the best it can be)
2. The authors don’t research the agent and so query something (a genre) the agent doesn’t rep
3. Typos
4. Gimmicks—better to be straightforward and brief
5. Querying multiple agents at one agency

And here’s what you want to do: put your hook—whatever makes your book unique—out front in the query.

What does an agent do for an author?

The general answer is that an agent can take care of the business side of things, giving the author the time and opportunity to be creative and actually write. An agent will fight for you, and gets rejected with you, so that as an author you’re not taking it alone. Agents act as middle men and can get you in the door at publishing houses. They can help you keep up with publishing trends, and can advise you and help manage your career. So that you’re not having to do it all on your own.

What do agents look for?

The usual:
1. A killer story they can sell
2. Good grammar
3. An author who is willing to listen to advice and opinions, and to the agent’s experience
4. Someone with more than one book in them
5. A writer willing to collaborate
6. Someone with an established platform or proven track record
7. Someone with initiative who is willing to help market the book
8. Someone who is committed and takes their writing seriously

And what they don’t want are narcissists or crazy people, writers who think their work is perfect just as it is.

Where do agents look online when “researching” a potential client?

They’ll often Google first, or look for you on Twitter. Then all the usual hot spots: Facebook author page, blog, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Goodreads . . .

Do agents read their own queries?

Most have assistants or interns that weed queries out based on a set of criteria the agent has given him/her.

And this reminder when researching a potential literary agent: look at the dates from any interviews or articles. Something from a couple years ago may no longer be relevant. (If, in 2009, the agent said she was looking for “zombie stories,” she probably has moved on by now.)

I hope if any of you are thinking about querying agents, these points help you plan! More from the conference after I’ve managed to get some sleep . . .

Follow Fest

As hosted by Melissa Maygrove.

FollowFest

I apologize for not knowing more about how to add followers to this site. I’m still learning, though I think there’s a way to subscribe . . . ? [ETA: Melissa was kind enough to point out the RSS icon next to the search box at the top of the page, which will give readers RSS options for subscribing. Thanks, Melissa!]

Name: M Pepper Langlinais

Fiction or nonfiction? Fiction mostly

What genres do you write? Whatever comes into my head, really. Mystery/espionage, magical realism (that is, fantasy without “high” fantastic elements, or magic inserted into the real world), light and sweet romance, the occasional historical fiction piece. I write character more than genre.

Are you published? Yes. I’ve had some work published in journals and have published some myself. I’m also a produced playwright and screenwriter; my first film is currently in post-production.

Do you do anything in addition to writing? No. I used to work in publishing as an editor and project manager, but I dropped that to focus on my own work. I do still beta read and critique others’ writing from time to time. And I’ve been known to accept outside screenwriting projects. (Well, and I’m a mother of three. So I do that, too.)

Where can people connect with you?
PepperWords (official site)
spooklights (reviews site)
@sh8kspeare (Twitter)
Amazon

Is there anything else you’d like us to know? I’m a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. And I used to be in a Shakespeare troupe, and then also taught Shakespeare at a summer camp (hence the Twitter handle).

My First Podcast

I just participated in a workshopping of a 10-minute play as part of the Ten Minute Play Workshop, and the workshop was audio recorded for podcast. I’ve never been part of a podcast before. (Yes, I realize for many of you it is a routine way of life, but not for me.) As someone who can’t stand to hear or see recording of herself, I doubt I could make myself listen to it, but for friends interested in (a) playwriting, (b) theatre in general, and/or (c) what I sound like here is the link. (There is also a blog write-up if you don’t want to listen.)

W4WS (Writers for Writers) & The Letter “M”

W4W-1

I’m honored to be one of the featured authors for W4WS. If you’re here to grab some Tweets or Facebook statuses to share, there is a selection of them below. Some are for my contemporary fantasy novel The K-Pro and some are for my novella St. Peter in Chains (which has been my A–Z theme for April). Thank you so much, fellow authors, for your support!

TWEETS FOR K-PRO

What can the girl who makes dreams come true give the man who has everything? THE K-PRO paperback & ebook: http://tinyurl.com/cdlnrgv #W4WS

Should Andra let sleeping gods lie? Or take a chance on setting one free? THE K-PRO #fantasy paperback & ebook http://tinyurl.com/cdlnrgv #W4WS

What David doesn’t know can hurt him . . . And others. THE K-PRO #fantasy ebook only 99 cents this week! http://tinyurl.com/cdlnrgv #W4WS

TWEETS FOR ST. PETER IN CHAINS

Intelligence agent Peter Stoller falls in love and faces the consequences. ST PETER IN CHAINS ebook http://tinyurl.com/cmht8nw #W4WS

It’s “Mad Men” meets John le Carre: ST PETER IN CHAINS ebook http://tinyurl.com/cmht8nw #W4WS

The screenplay won an award. Now read the novella: ST PETER IN CHAINS http://tinyurl.com/cmht8nw And look for the sequel in June! #W4WS

FACEBOOK STATUS UPDATES FOR THE K-PRO

Greek and Roman gods in human form infiltrate a modern-day movie set in this twist on the traditional fairy godmother/genie story. Beta readers likened it to “Neil Gaiman for girls.” THE K-PRO by M Pepper Langlinais. Read the first chapter free at http://thekpro.com – @Writers4Writers

Praise for THE K-PRO by M Pepper Langlinais: “A charming, well-written, well-plotted book” & “the characters are easy to fall in love with.” Visit M’s site at http://pepperwords.com for more! @Writers4Writers

FACEBOOK STATUS UPDATES FOR ST. PETER IN CHAINS

No one has ever made an impact on Peter’s heart the way Charles does. But what will be the ultimate cost? As an Intelligence agent, Peter’s work is sensitive—and secret. So when Charles is accused of espionage, Peter must decide whether to let his heart or head lead him. Read the novella from which the award-winning screenplay was adapted: ST PETER IN CHAINS by M Pepper Langlinais: http://tinyurl.com/cmht8nw And look for the sequel coming in June! @Writers4Writers

You’ve been reading their A–Z travel adventures on PepperWords.com. Now see how they met and fell in love. Just 99 cents on Amazon this week! ST PETER IN CHAINS by M Pepper Langlinais: http://tinyurl.com/cmht8nw And then be ready for the sequel in June! @Writers4Writers

Grab ’em and go! And thanks again!

Oh, and THE E-BOOK VERSION OF K-PRO & ST. PETER IN CHAINS ARE 99 CENTS ON AMAZON THROUGH FRIDAY!