Confounded Critic: Should I write a bad review?

Confounded CriticHi JC,

Have you ever written a bad review for someone’s book? I only write reviews on books I like and say nothing if I don’t like it. However I think I just finished the worst book ever written.

I started to put it down several times but couldn’t. It was like passing an accident on the highway and you just have to look at it. It was that badly written. The story itself was kind of interesting, but the author knew nothing on the subject. In one scene, the main character had to wait for the family physician who was running late because he was busy performing a heart transplant. Another scene has a Taliban Leader talking to his followers, and his monolog goes on for three pages. The main character doesn’t show up until Chapter Four, after three chapters of various terrorists preparing an attack on American soil. The point of view shifts were so bad that, in one line, the POV shifted mid-sentence. And all the dialog followed one of my big pet peeves, which is putting the period after the end quotes. (ex. “I’m so glad to see you”.)

This book is a case study in how NOT to write a novel. The author in me says, “It’s not my place to say something bad about another author’s work.” The reader in me says, “Warn people not to spend $2.99 on this mess.”

 So what should I do?


A Confounded Critic

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Dear Confounded Critic,

Bad reviews are part of putting your work out there. We all get them. So you know what they say — If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.  In this case, you’re not sure if you really want to be the person to do it?

The simplest solution would be to contact the author in a private message (possibly through GoodReads) and not post a public review. However, if that’s not an option for some reason, then maybe the number of reviews the book currently has could help you decide. If there are ten or more reviews, go ahead and write a critical assessment. It will balance out the others. If there are under ten reviews, then leave it alone. Chances are it’s only his family and friends finding and reading it anyway.

If you do decide to write a bad review, don’t “flame” him. Reviews that give no details and just read “don’t waste your time” help no one.  It sounds like this book has the sort of quality issues that give Indie authors a bad rep. Ultimately, reviews are to help your fellow readers decide if a book is going to be an enjoyable read for the price. As a reader it is entirely within your right to voice your opinion and provide an honest review. There’s nothing to feel guilty about.

Good luck!


Muddled Muggle: “I bought a website domain. Now what?”

canstockphoto18799595Hi JC,

One of my goals this year is to start a website – I just purchased my domain name on a whim, but… now what? I thought by purchasing my own domain I could just hook it up to a FREE online website builder software, but when I Googled the top ones (, wix, weebly, etc.) it looks like I still have to pay a monthly fee to use my own domain? I thought the point of my already BUYING a domain was so I could set up a site for free?

Am I misunderstanding this? HELP!


A Muddled Muggle


Dear Muggle,

It’s confusing to me too, so don’t feel bad.

For starters, understand this: domains and hosting are two separate concepts. Your website “domain” (or address) is “hosted” (or residing) on someone’s server. You purchased an address, now it needs to reside somewhere.

If you want to keep your website free, ignore the domain. You can create a “hosted” blog on a website service provider, such as WordPress or Blogger. The catch? Since they’re providing the domain and the hosting service, your website name will look something like this: “” or [WHATEVER NAME].blogspot.

If you’d like, you can keep the domain you purchased and still use WordPress or Blogger. There should be an option in your admin panel to add your purchased domain name. Once it is added, the free blog should “point” (or redirect) to the new domain name. (Google instructions on how to do this if you’re not sure.) Your website address will become the domain name you purchased. There will most likely be an annual charge for this, but probably not a monthly charge.

Finally there are services that will “host” your website for a monthly fee. Basically, your domain is living on their server. Some of these services provide website templates or you can build your own site and upload it. However, you should expect two bills — one for domain name renewal (mine is charged annually) and for the hosting service (mine is charged monthly).

There are smarter authors out there than me, and hopefully one of them will comment if I’ve missed something.




Knock ’em Dead: “How does this sound for an opening sentence?”

canstockphoto18799595Hey JC,

How does this sound for a kick ass opening sentence for my book: “The terrified onlookers huddled together beyond the outlying perimeter fence and looked up at the treacherous military drones pointed down at them, operated by a government that was now corrupt and malevolent.”   

My writer’s group really criticized it but I thought it was a great kick-off to the story. It has action and fear, and it sets up what’s going on in the story to follow. It’s the kind of memorable opening sentence that makes you want to keep reading. I’m only asking because I found your post on Google about opening sentences.

So what do you think? Any advice?

Knock ’em Dead with the First Line

Dear Knock ’em Dead,

Thanks for reading “Some attention grabbing, knock ’em dead first lines.” Although that article was about memorable first lines, I don’t believe every book must have a memorable first line. Sometimes a book just needs an attention grabbing opening scene. Something is unfolding in the first few paragraphs that grabs the reader. Without a doubt, you’re on the right track. This opening scene has fear and suspense and drama. The problem is that it’s all squeezed and packaged into the opening line.

In fact, there’s too much going on and it’s telling me the story, not showing me. I don’t feel the terror the onlookers feel. I’m not yet disillusioned by a corrupt and malevolent government.I don’t understand the treachery of the drones — which is kind of a human attribution assigned to a piece of military hardware.

There’s another problem: the opening line is blatantly telling me what to feel. Right off the bat, the word choice is telling me I’m supposed to feel sympathy for some huddled onlookers. I’m supposed to know (and agree) that the government is bad. I’m supposed to believe the drone is treacherous. The adjectives are working against the story telling.

Don’t rob me of the experience of reading your book. I want to feel all these emotions as the plot unfolds. Give me that “Oh, my God! I can’t believe he just did that” moment when I learn that drone is not the cute, loving military machinery I thought it was. That really sucks for the reader.

I suggest taking one character in the huddled onlookers — hopefully one of the central characters of the book — and having him or her look up at the drone. Let the reader see what that character sees and feel what that character feels. You won’t have to state it’s “treacherous” or “intimidating” or even “terrifying.” The reader will know that through the eyes and emotions of your main character.

Next describe the surroundings. Who are these huddled onlookers. Why are they beyond the outlying perimeter fence? How many are there? If there are government personnel on scene, let their actions show me that they are “corrupt and malevolent.” Give me that “I can’t believe that just happened” moment.

Good luck and keep writing,


Got a question for me? Hit the contact button at the top and send me an email. Or do you disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments. How would you respond to Knock ’em Dead’s problem?

Stuck at a Cross Roads: “Is 150,000 words too long for my novel?”

canstockphoto18799595Dear Mr. Gatlin,

I conducted a very unscientific poll . . . however, I have a manuscript which is over 90,000 words and nowhere near its conclusion. What kind of experience in selling/marketing should I expect with a 150,000 word ebook? According to my poll, shorter is always better.

The story is a mystery/thriller/dramatic love story (I hope), which I have been mulling over for many years. The story is based on two actual crimes which took place in the 1970’s within several months of each other, which I believe were connected. One case was never solved, and the second went to trial (though the murderer got a not guilty verdict, which thoroughly amazes me to this day.) I know the core story will make a good if not phenomenal crime story. I worry about the length though as more than one person has pointed out that I can get caught up in details which turn out to be largely of interest only to myself. And, I’ve been thinking of splitting it into two novels: Part One and Part Two. Although, to do the story justice, no pun intended, there are many, many details  that I simply feel cannot be left out. Though that might just be me being a detail junky.

So where should I go with this magnum opus? I fear that I’m at odds with the market and don’t want to publish an endeavor that no one will read. Yet, to follow my muse, I know that this is a layered, colossal investigative discovery that requires a level of attention and detail that simply cannot be found in a mere 100,000 words. To put it simply, I’m in too deep to turn back now.

Stuck at a Cross Roads

Dear Cross Roads,

Stop over-thinking it. Stop conducting unscientific polls. Stop procrastinating. Sit down and finish the story you want to tell.

Until it’s written, no one cares if it’s 35,000 or 350,000 words. Once you have a completed draft in hand, you can put on your editor cap and think about word count, whether it should be one book or two, and if there are too many details. I can tell you though — just editing a couple of paragraphs from your original email — that you’re a verbose writer. It’s not the detail that’s pushing the novel length, but unnecessary words. Hire an editor to go through your 150,000 word draft with a red pen and a pair pruning shears.

On to your next question: I disagree with your poll results that “shorter is always better.” It really depends on your genre. According to an article published in Writer’s Digest, the average adult novel ranges between 80,000 and 100,000 words. Romance novels tend to be closer to the 80,000 mark, while Science Fiction and Fantasy tend to have more leeway and can run up to 115,000. To your point, according to the article, a novel length of 110,000 words or more is probably too long. Personally, I think that holds true for ebooks.

But today, you don’t even have 100,000 words written and you’re nowhere near ready to rev up the sales and marketing engine. So — and I can’t stress this enough — stop dawdling over word count. Finish the story, and don’t worry about anything else until you do.

Good luck and keep writing,


Got a question for me? Hit the contact button at the top and send me an email. Or do you disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments. How would you respond to Cross Road’s problem?

Inexperienced Evil: “Will the Real Bad Guy Please Stand Up?”

canstockphoto18799595Hey JC,

I read your post about Seven Archetypes to Create a ViIlain and I want to ask you a question.

One of my antagonists is not quite out there evil, unlike a lot of antagonists in books where you know right off they’re evil (e.g. Cruella de Vil. Darth Vader. Hannibal Lector. It was obvious that they were evil from the very beginning) but I want the reader to think, “I don’t know what it is, however I don’t quite trust her”.

Any suggestions on how to write such a character?

Just to give an example of what I’m talking about, if anyone saw the original Friday The 13th, when you first see Mrs. Voorhees she does not seem like an antagonist until she talks about her son, Jason.

Inexperienced Evil

Dear Inexperienced,

What genre are you writing? I’m guessing it’s more in the suspense-thriller category rather than a mystery. Either way, the best villains are those who think they’re the hero. They believe their cause is just, and maybe in the beginning of the story it is. However, as the plot moves forward, the villain continues to take his actions to the next level and loses sight of who he is hurting in the pursuit of his goal.

I’d start with the Protagonist and Antagonist possibly being on the same side, maybe even being friends. As the plot forces the two apart, the Antagonist will take a stronger, more aggressive approach to the situation. This approach will conflict with the Protagonist’s principals and ideals, creating conflict. I read a story once about two environmentalists who were trying to protect a forest from loggers.

In a mystery, the Antagonist’s identity is a secret until the very end. Several genuine clues will be dropped here and there that a perceptive reader may pick-up. Referring to your example, the original Friday the 13th was a mystery to some degree, in that the audience thought Jason was committing the murders. The mother explains that he drowned, giving the audience the impression the teens were being pursued by his ghost. Then in the end it is revealed that the mother was actually dressing up as her son and killing the teens. That type of story requires a red herring (who the reader/audience believes is the killer) and a hidden murderer revealed in the end of the book..

Good luck and keep writing.



Got a question for me? Hit the contact button at the top and send me an email. Or do you disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments. How would you respond to Inexperienced Evil’s problem?

Mail Bag Mondays – “I started your book, but…”

canstockphoto18799595Dear JC,

Yesterday someone told me, “I started your book, but then I went on vacation…”

I get that SO much (not go on vacation, just “I started your book but…”). I know this probably sounds weird, but I would love to get a negative comment or two on my book. In fact, I would be happy with any feed back. Mostly I get no response at all and it makes me feel quite invisible. So I don’t really know what to think. But it doesn’t indicate a page-turner, does it?

— Invisible on Amazon


Dear Invisible,

I know you’re thinking “My book sucks. I need to give up writing. I’m a failure.” However, that’s probably not the case.

I get the “I started your book, but…” from friends and family members who do not read for enjoyment, and other writers who — like me — tend to devote their free time to writing. But I’m not writing books for my friends and family. I write mystery-suspense novels for mystery-suspense readers. You need to find your audience too.

If you’re looking for reviews, reach out to readers and authors on who enjoy your genre, and ask them to write a review. Consider trading reviews — if you read their books and write an honest review, they’ll read your book and write an honest review. You can also find a local critique group and writing conferences with people who can help you polish your work.

Finally, if you’re wanting to write a page turner, become a student of page turning novels. Personally, I consider “Intensity” by Dean Koontz to be the ultimate page turner. Find several books that you consider “a page turner” and, don’t just re-read them, but study them. There are also lot’s of books out there on the subject, such as Writing a Killer Thriller: An Editor’s Guide to Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction by Jodie Renner. Now go study, study, study.

Good luck and keep on writing.