Guest Fox: Sarah Ballance

                                         By Jeff Salter 

            I first encountered Sarah on her reviewing site after Renee Vincent thanked her on Facebook for the wonderful review of Raeliksen.  I must have made a comment about the review – don’t actually remember – but somehow Sarah and I began communicating.  Before I knew it, things seemed as if Sarah and I had been friends for years.  She has that kind of warmth and openness about her.
            And if you ever need a laugh, check out some of her blogs.  Sarah is a hoot!  I’m extremely impressed that she wrote a novella specifically for a charity fund-raiser and all her proceeds will go to disaster victims.  Classy lady.
            With no further intro from me (but check out her bio at the end), here’s Sarah! 

           Surviving the Heat of Bad Critiques & Reviews
                                       
By Sarah Ballance

            If there’s a drawback to entering the ranks of published authors, it’s not bad catering or the watered down drinks.  In fact, short of food poisoning those things are darn near agreeable next to the real downside of getting your words in print: public embarrassment, otherwise known as a bad review.  But before I tell you what’s so great—yes-I-said-great—about a bad review, let’s digress a little. 

Bad Critiques
            Bad reviews may be cringe-worthy, even in their greatness, but a bad crit is another story.  So much so, in fact, I can say quite honestly that I relish them … as should you.  Whaaaa?  Yep.  Here’s the thing about your writing: it’s not perfect.  This is why you need a good crit partner—and by good, I mean one who isn’t the least bit concerned with being nice.  That’s a fine line of epic proportions, but it’s an important distinction to make.
            To explain, a good crit partner giving a bad crit shouldn’t be confused with a “mean” either of the above.  It is, however, perfectly acceptable to want to stab your CP between the eyes with a fork (and for that very reason, preferable to crit from a great distance, lest you provoke someone into wielding a utensil of their own.)  Crit partners worth their salt will refrain from personally disparaging remarks such as “What were you thinking?” and “Is this a joke manuscript?  Do you have a camera on me or something?”  They may grant one of your characters TSTL (Too Stupid to Live) status, but a good “bad crit” will refrain from assigning the same designation to you, the author.
            They will not, however, EVER withhold from making any suggestions at all.  If you want praise, ask your mommy if she likes your writing.  If you want to avoid a public slaughter, find a CP who is more butcher than bleeding heart.  There should be a worldwide shortage of red ink after a good crit because let’s face it:  you have a choice.  The negativity can stay right there between the two of you (crit) or it’s there for the whole world to see (review).  Which—after you thank your critter—brings us to the bad review. 

Bad Reviews
            Of course, there’s something to be said for the anonymity of the e-diss, but being able to pull that review link up a few dozen times to see if it really was as bad as you thought can turn tragic if you discover—again and again—the flogging was every bit as bad as you first read (and nowhere near as delish as an actual flogging … if you’re into that sort of thing, that is).
            Yeah, a bad review is public.  And yes, if it’s online, it’s there forever.  But aside of making you crazy with its sheer permanence, it’s an important tool in your arsenal of writing survival (and, um, surviving writing).  It’s a common—and perfectly correct—adage that a review is “one person’s opinion,” but it’s also an opinion less epically concerned with your feelings than even your cleaver-laden crit partner should be.  Therefore, no matter how cringe-worthy, a bad review is worth a second glance. 
            Reviewers are there to entertain their audiences, so the best thing you can do with any review—good or bad—is to look past the garnish and rhetoric.  Try to be totally honest with yourself:  does the reviewer make a valid point?  Sometimes the truth stings, but if you stop wincing long enough to take a good look inward with those words, you just might find you’re a stronger writer on the next go round.  And strength does things way cooler than making your next book more epic than the last.
            It’s also pretty darn handy for stabbing crit partners with forks.

Sarah’s ‘World out of Ballance’
           Sarah’s latest release, HAWTHORNE , is now available exclusively from Astraea Press for just $3 with all profits donated directly from the publisher to benefit Japan earthquake disaster relief.  Please consider supporting this great cause by grabbing a copy of your own, and do tell a friend!  Meanwhile, to observe Sarah from a safe distance, visit her at her blog or check out her website.  Blog topic disclaimer:  No crit partners or reviewers were harmed during the writing of this blog.  (Sarah misplaced her fork.) 
            A stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of six, Sarah has two other available titles:  RUN TO YOU—a romantic suspense that will have you rethinking that trip to the beach—and her debut DOWN IN FLAMES, both available from Noble Romance.

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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32 Responses to Guest Fox: Sarah Ballance

  1. Laurie Ryan says:

    Hi, Sarah! Congrats on the release of Hawthorne.
    I agree. Bad reviews do strengthen us…eventually. They make us evaluate our writing for weaknesses. The difficulty lies in that thin line between a true weakness and simply a difference of opinion.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Good morning, Laurie!
      You’ve hit the nail on the head: some people are pin-headed and the ‘ONLY’ way to do something — mow a lawn, write a story, whatever — is precisely the way they do it or think they WOULD do it (if they could). — [And some of the most caustic I’ve encountered are people who *talk* about writing (& what they’re going to write) but don’t actually do much of it.]
      And, I’ve also encountered situations where if I didn’t follow so-and-so’s SUGGESTION (to save my ms.) — completely and to the letter — that they figured I just “didn’t get it.”

      Like

    • Hi Laurie, and thanks for commenting! I totally agree about that fine line, and it’s muddled all the more when a reviewer is mean-spirited. Even when there’s nothing to take from a bad review, closing the page is one thing … shaking that lingering ick factor is another. EEP!

      Like

  2. Tonya Kappes says:

    Hi, Sarah! Congrats on your novel, Hawthorne!! I think bad reviews really do help out your career. For instance, as of yesterday I’ve sold over ONE THOUSAND books. And all the reviews weren’t great, but it taught me that 1)not everyone loves my books and 2)the categories I placed my book in may not be my target audience. And number two is where it’s at. Think about that. If people are saying it’s not true “women’s fiction” then maybe I need to recategorize my books in light humor, family etc….so it does teach you lessons. And remember that anyone who writes a review of you had some type of emotions, good/bad, to take the time to write it;)

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Gosh you get up early, Tonya … thanks for being here nearly every Thursday!
      Excellent point that ‘not everyone loves’ ANYTHING.
      Mine is a silly example, but a true one. Went to supper with a couple — brand new friends from church — and their kids. So, the entire party was our four and their four — 8 folks. It was a pizza place. When the waitress came to order, the husband of the other family said, loudly, “Bring us two large pepperoni pizzas … everybody loves pepperoni.” [Evidently he didn’t think there was time in the universe for each family to make their own decision, or for us to hear preferences of the kids, etc.] Well, guess who cannot STAND pepperoni? Yep … me. Can’t eat it … won’t eat it.
      I was too startled to speak up at the time — I’d never had ANYbody pull the rug from under me at a joint meal before … and preempt my ordering. In a misguided effort to ‘go with the flow’ and not offend these new friends, I just ate the pizza and left the pepperoni in my plate. [In younger days I was sometimes rather unassertive.]
      My point of that pitiful pizza tale?
      That guy ASSUMED, with great authority, that everyone loved pepperoni, just because he did, or because he’d not yet met anyone who didn’t.
      In Fiction, as you said, Tonya, “not everyone loves _______” Whether that blank is chicklit, romance, action, paranormal, whatever. If we try to please everyone, we’ll please hardly anybody. One size does not fit all.
      So we write what’s inside us and do our best to market it to the readers who also like that kind of voice, or approach, or material.

      Like

    • Wow, one thousand! Wow! Can you breathe on me so I can capture some of that essence? LOL. Congrats to you on a huge milestone, and thank you re HAWTHORNE! I’m hoping as I build my backlist (HAWTHORNE is my third release, and my next is set for Aug 22) I’ll take strides toward your milestone, LOL.

      I think you’re right in a trending of reviews (people pointing out something with consistency) is one of the biggest lessons to learn. Also in the time to write the review, because if they like (or dislike) an author’s work enough to offer feedback, the one thing you do know is you managed to engage them, or at the very least to strike a chord.

      Like

  3. danicaavet says:

    Hi Sarah, thanks for stopping by Four Foxes, One Hound! I agree with you completely, especially about the CP. I stress to all new authors (or those who’d like to give it a whirl) that your critique partner can’t be someone who will pander to your ego. My CPs (bless their hearts) can be very sharp and snarky, but when they finish with me, my stories are better. And reviews (good or bad) at least shows you what your readers like/don’t like about your work and you can use it as a tool to do better next time.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      I agree with ‘sharp’ — as in incisive and perceptive — but, personally, I do NOT like ‘snarky’. I fear it’s too easy for CP to be dismissive of a story (or certain elements) by being dismissive or snarky.
      An example of dismissive which I doubt I’ll ever forget, though it happened some 34 yrs ago. — Exchanging poems with a CP. I’d done a thorough and perceptive job with her poems, but when she got to a particular one of mine, she said, simply (and dismissively), “It doesn’t scan.”
      Okay, I understood that: she felt the meter was off. Fine. But tell me about the poem, about the content, about the imagery, about the rhyme. Give me a reaction … tell me something! Nope, it didn’t SCAN, so it was not worth her effort to read the @#$%^& thing.
      Not sure if she was snarky, but she was definitely dismissive.

      Like

    • Hi, and thanks so much for your comment! I shudder to think what my published work would look like without my crit partners, LOL, and bless them all the more if they can point things out without tiptoeing. There’s a definite line between blunt and mean–if I ever came across the latter, I wouldn’t keep that CP at all–but I happen to adore blunt. Maybe it just feels honest? LOL. At any rate, it’s a must to have CPs on the same page. If they don’t get you and your voice, it will be a clash of epic proportions. I had one crit try to turn my egotistical, piggish character into a sensitive, poetry-spouting sort. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it was totally wrong for him. (Moreover, his attitude was essential to the plot). I spent a lot of time doubting myself over that–not because she tried to change my character, but because she was so far off what I wanted my character to be I thought I must have failed at creating and expressing him. Now, with the book published, it turns out he’s a fan favorite–bad attitude and all. Go figure! LOL.

      Like

  4. Thank Jeff for the personal intro/plug. You are too sweet.

    And Sarah is a tremendously talented author. I’ve read both Down In Flames and Run To You and I have to say, she has an amazing way of describing things. So many times, I stopped reading and nudged my husband. “Listen to this…” and I’d read off a line or paragraph she’d written, impressed by her natural cadence of plot pace, and her descriptive imagery. She was born to be an author!

    Wishing you nothing but the best!

    Like

    • Ummm…speechless! No, seriously, I typed that and sat for a few minutes, speechless. Or, err, wordless. Thank you SO MUCH, Renee! You and Jeff are going to make it hard for me to get my head through the door, LOL. Considering the scope of your talent, Renee, that is HUGE praise. I’m flattered right out of my words (other than the babbling. I can usually accomplish that, LOL.) Thank you!

      Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Wonderful to have you stop by, Renee.
      So far, I’ve read only some excerpts of Sarah’s books, but they’re on my ACQUIRE list and hopefully I’ll get them soon. Of course, I still have (on the floor of my office) a stack over three ft high — no exaggeration — of books I’ve bought but haven’t had time to read yet.
      but, naturally, Sarah’s books would have to land near the top of that stack.

      Like

  5. Sarah, if I see you anywhere near a fork, I will come after you with a spoon. I enjoyed reading this blog – your insight is so helpful. Being surrounded by so many great authors makes us little people thing there’s hope. 🙂

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Glad to have you visit our group blog, Melissa. Come back every Thursday for what the Hound has on his mind … or any other weekday for the Resident Foxes.

      Like

    • Girl, I am SO sending you a box of forks. Yes, a BOX. Sam’s Club style! Thanks for the visit and for the flattery. I’d like to say it will get you everywhere, but we all know you don’t want me to be nice. BUUUUAAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, um, *looks around and clears throat*

      Like

  6. I am so glad I took the time to look at this now.I will get to Sarah’s site as soon as I get through the major overhauling of clutter here in my house during these few incredibly rare days of being ALONE…(which I would love to use for writing, but if you saw what I have allowed to go on here…)I also want to order Hawthorn…fantastic of you, Sarah.
    I would love to find a good, critical partner.I have those who rubber-stamp anything I put on paper, or family who are either highly critical,(hating that I write), but more of those who feel that they aren’t treated well in my family stories, say that it is good but they aren’t sure if it is because they are familiar with the characters.
    I haven’t found someone who wants to read my work and tell me if I am being redundant , too wordy , not clear enough, poignant or funny…whatever I’m going for…I know that a ‘yes-man’ , no matter how kind they are trying to be, is a writer’s worst enemy.
    Way to go, Sarah…I homeschooled my sons for many years. Done right, it’s wonderful; done wrong or when others aren’t cooperative, it is well, it’s hard either way…as is life in general.
    Thanks for introducing Sarah to us, Jeff.
    No surprise that Sarah and you fell in together; you are an easy fella to like.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      I was hoping you’d show up, Tonette. It’s a shame your ‘home alone’ time couldn’t be focused exclusively on your W.I.P.
      Thanks for the compliment!

      Like

    • Girl, you should SEE my clutter! The eight of us live in a 1500sf house with three bedrooms and ONE BATHROOM. We have no storage, so when you consider the cumulative years of homeschool books and paperwork, hand-me-downs, and other stuff we actually NEED taking up space, well, let’s just say I live in the land of 66qt clear plastic storage bins! LOL. (Only not quite hoarders-style…they’re out of the way and labeled, at least, LOL.) Anyway, all that to say I can relate, and I applaud you for having survived homeschooling. Some days … let’s just say it’s nice I can order my husband home from work so we can put the boat in the water and escape.

      A good crit partner is very hard to find. I’ve said before it’s pretty much like a marriage. You’ve got to click, and the best ones understand what you’re trying to say even when you can’t quite get the words on the paper. (Well, other than the part where you want to throttle them for making YOUR words look easy and pulling it off when you had your head through the wall out of frustration, LOL!)

      Very nice to meet you, Tonette. Thanks for commenting!

      Like

  7. I absolutely loved this post, Sarah! Humor (but with a dash of honesty) can help you survive anything. Your article makes perfect sense. I don’t know how you manage to write with six children. Hubby and I raised five (Okay, Mom! They aren’t cattle; we reared them.) children, and I often told people who visited, wide-eyed at our constant ruckus, that all would be okay: I was one child short of suicide. lol You’ve earned my respect with nothing more than that.

    I’m adding you to my TBR pile — (or TBR list when they’re ebooks) — and can’t wait to read your work. Jeff deserves an extra thank you for sharing you with us. Looking forward to hearing more of and from you!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Runere, we had two kids. As much as I loved them, I don’t think I could have survived any more. My brother had three and my sister had four — and I thought they were certifiable for going on that ‘mission’ voluntarily.
      I once worked with a woman who had 8 kids I think, and she said that she’d wanted more. I just looked at her like she was daft. [No, it wasn’t the octomom … this was a long time ago. Ha.]

      Like

    • LOL! “They aren’t cattle” – I love that! We had the first five on purpose, then I had my tubes tied (=cut, partially removed, and ends tied and burned) and two years afterward we found out we were expecting baby #6. SAY WHAT? LOL. Truly our miracle baby, though. I have MAD respect for anyone who survives a houseful of kids. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it’s truly like a three ring circus at times. (Or, um, all the time). I just try to sit back and NOT thing about how crazy things will be when they multiply and add grandchildren to the mix, LOL!

      Thanks so much for adding me to your list. I’m honored!

      Like

  8. Lynn Rush says:

    Great post! Gosh, I almost don’t want to read any reviews…you know? I’m super scared. But I have Debut Novel syndrome, I think. LOL. Logically I know I’ll get bad reviews mixed in with some good and average ones, but, still, the worry sometimes kicks in. LOL.

    Thanks for this post. It was awesome!

    Like

    • Thanks, Lynn! I have to admit knowing what you mean. I have NO self confidence (really, I’m pathetic) so I rather expected them. But the worst that ever happened was someone gave my debut novel a *3* on Goodreads, then went back the next day and changed it to a *2*. For whatever reason, that stuck me as hilarious and I’ve laughed about it off and on ever since. There weren’t any comments so I don’t know if it was one of those *3* is average people or if they thought it tanked, but it really put things in perspective from the beginning. I’d LOVE to know what happened to make it go downhill so quickly!

      But ultimately the best measure of your novel is how YOU feel about it. If I ever look back on one of my published titles and DON’T see room for improvement, then I feel I’m done as an author because I’ve lost my drive to improve. That said, these naysayers are just job security! ;c)

      Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Ah, your’s will be fine, Lynn. After all, didn’t you just sell a 3-book deal?
      Somebody in high places knows how well you write!

      Like

  9. Carol says:

    Oh….my….God.
    As one of your crit partners….and one of your MEANEST crit partners….you mean to tell me that there has been a FORK poised at my forehead for two years now? LOL!!! And I’ve somehow miraculously managed to dodge it? Thanking the old lucky stars right this moment! LOL…

    Seriously, though, you’re absolutely right. You can keep your crit comments between yourselves and a reviewer will be only too happy to hi-light those errors for you. A good, honest crit partner will do their best to keep it from going that far.

    And reviews. Ugh. Had my share from five-stars in Hollywood lights to…well…the other kind. Sigh. Like you said, they are opinions, and like Russell Crowe says, “The important thing to me is that I’m not driven by people’s praise and I’m not slowed down by people’s criticism. I’m just trying to work at the highest level I can.” That about sums it up.

    And, last but not least. Sarah Ballance is indeed a hoot….a marvelous sense of humor…but, more importantly, she truly IS a classy lady. Good to see you , Sarah, and hats off to you, my friend!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Well … one of Sarah’s crit partners steps forward!
      And, evidently she has not yet been mutilated by fork-stabbing. [Thank goodness]
      Glad to have you visit, Carol. Hope you’ll come back on other Thursdays when I’m yakking about other stuff on Hound Day.
      On the other weekdays, you’ll find the Resident Foxes here.

      Like

    • Fortunately for you, it wasn’t one of them thar TEXAS sized forks! LOL. Seriously, if not for your very gentle coaxing me through the early mistakes, there’s no way I’d be sitting on a small-but-growing pile of titles to my name. I love the quote you put there – that really is THE thing I strive for. It’s not always easy to look the other way when people are less than enthused with your work, but just like anything else in life, as long as you’re true to yourself, you’ve always got that upon which to stand. Thanks so much for stopping by with your comment, thereby proving there are survivors of my acquaintance, LOL! And, girl, you flatter me! ;c)

      Like

  10. jeff7salter says:

    Well, folks, it’s been along day and I’m checking out — it’s nearly midnight in Possum Trot.
    I love hosting Guest Foxes because I get to meet new people here. I hope you first-timers to ‘Four Foxes and One Hound’ will come back and see us.
    I’m sure some of Sarah’s other friends will stop by tomorrow as well.
    To Sarah B. — many thanks for guesting today. I’ve really enjoyed you being here and I hope you’ll want to come back for another guest shot some time in the future.
    A final plug to buy ‘Hawthorne’ … because the proceeds go to help disaster victims.
    And anybody who wants to laugh better visit Sarah’s own blog.
    Good night, folks!

    Like

    • Thank you SO MUCH for having me, Jeff! I have to admit I was nervous about standing in front of a whole new crowd, but you have a room full of warm, friendly folks. It was an honor and a pleasure to stand beside you today! And extra thanks for the great plugs. I can’t think when I’ve blushed so much! ;c)

      Like

  11. Kimberley Troutte says:

    Great article, Sarah.

    “Bad” reviews of any sort can hurt, but if the author can learn from them, it’s all good.

    Best,
    Kimberley

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks for visiting, Kimberley … we haven’t spoken in a while. Both been too busy, I guess. Missed talking with you.
      Yeah, writers need to learn from bad crits / reviews.
      And here’s the flip-side: authors should also take the glowing crits / reviews with a grain of salt. If a writer ever gets to the point that she/he thinks their stuff is PERFECT … then something’s wrong with the ‘screens’ that filter info and feedback.
      There may be an exception but I feel safe in saying: nothing is perfect … everything can be improved. It boils down to when do you stop improving it? That’s usually when it’s published, though some writers keep revising even after that and put out new editions. Sure, that’s more often the case with non-fiction … but I’ve heard of it in poetry also.

      Like

    • Hi, Kimberley! Thanks so much for visiting with your comment. ;c) I certainly try to look for the good in the bad, but sometimes there’s not any, LOL. Perfect time to just move on! You’re right, though. I think they’ll probably always sting a little!

      Like

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