Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dealing with negative book reviews

I don’t mind negative book reviews. I really don’t. Every writer will get one at some point. I think it’s important to know what people don’t like about your writing as much as what they do like. Nobody should get pats on the back 24/7. It’s just not good for the soul. So I try to glean from them any bits of information that I can to improve my writing.

I know that a lot of authors worry that negative reviews will affect their sales…well…negatively. I have found that not to be the case. My books are still selling steadily, even with a few one-star reviews. I have seen books that remained on the best-sellers list in spite of a majority of bad reviews. People know what they like. I’m not saying reviews have no effect, but maybe not as much as we like to think.

Then there are vitriolic reviewers who will lambast you for daring to write something they don’t like. They hate your style of writing, your characters, your plot, maybe even the fact that you live on the same planet and breathe the same air they do. I have had reviewers comment that they couldn’t believe someone would publish such garbage, that only my friends gave me favorable reviews or that I wrote my own reviews under a fake name, and on and on. Not that I’m anyone special, but I can’t help but detect an undercurrent of jealousy or envy in some of those so-called reviews, especially after signing with a new publisher and a new agent.

I have found that the best thing anyone can do in those cases is to ignore it. Or do like me, and blog about it. Either way, it’s best not to engage with people who write hateful reviews. It only encourages them. Just let them fade into their own little corners of existence, and instead, focus on the good reviews and the people that support you. After all, they’re the ones you’re writing for, not the people that hate your writing.

Critique is a different thing. I love critique, especially from people who make writing their business, like editors and agents, because it makes me stronger. I like critique from readers, too, because it helps me gauge whether my audience is satisfied, or if I’m going in the right direction.

But ultimately, I have to write for myself. It has to please me first, because if I’m not really happy with what I’m doing, then what’s the purpose in writing at all? If I’m not happy with what I’m doing, regardless of the haters and the naysayers, then I’m not only letting myself down, I’m letting my audience down, as well.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

My journey to finding a literary agent

The day has finally arrived when I can say, “I have an agent!” —but not just any agent, mind you—the awesome and talented MacKenzie Fraser-Bub of New York’s Trident Media Group. Now when the phone rings and I jokingly say to my wife, “That might be my agent,” I won’t be joking. 
That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s time to kick back and take it easy. It’s more like a new beginning, kind of like stepping up my game and saying, “Okay, I’ve made all this noise, tooted my horn and got the attention of a major agency. Now, it’s time to live up to the hype I created for myself.”

Which I fully intend to do.

But how, you may well ask, did you get this far? What’s your secret? To which I answer: perseverance and persistence. I would also like to think I write good books, as well. Put those three things together, and you have a winning combination.

But five years ago, when I started my agent search, it seemed like an insurmountable hill. Actually, it was more like Mount Everest. I had just finished writing my first complete novel, a supernatural thriller, and had no experience whatsoever as a published author. I had virtually no short stories published, just some articles in magazines and the stories I wrote as a full-time newspaper journalist.

I wrote up my query letter, my biography, and my story synopsis, and then started firing off emails to any legitimate agency that represented my genre. I got a few full manuscript requests, but after a year, I had amassed nearly 100 rejections. By that time, I decided I was going to try some small presses, which I did, and got interest from two publishers. DIABLERO was eventually released by Nightbird Publishing in Oct. 2010.

For my next book, a supernatural technothriller, I was still unable to find an agent. I got an offer from DarkFuse to publish, and in Dec. 2012, LILITH hit the streets in hardcover, paperback and eBook. I was happy.

Soon after, Crossroad Press published my young adult sci-fi thriller, GOD PARTICLE, and I eventually did another book with DarkFuse, a horror novella called THE BLACK CHURCH

When I finished writing the follow up to LILITH, a book called PRIMORDIAL, NY Times bestselling author Douglas Preston agreed to read the manuscript and give me an endorsement if he liked it. Two weeks later, here’s what he said: “Primordial by Toby Tate is an exceptionally well-crafted sci-fi supernatural thriller that tells a gripping story of ancient evil and modern horror, with exotic settings, vivid characters, and a plot that moves with the speed of a tsunami. The atmospherics are excellent and the story offers plenty of surprises right up to the shocking end.”

Can’t beat that for an endorsement. With that blurb in hand, and four published books under my belt, I went on yet another agent hunt. Once again, there were no takers. I was flummoxed.

But then, out of the blue, I got an offer from Permuted Press, publishers of zombie and apocalyptic fiction, who were looking to expand into other types of horror and sci-fi. They not only wanted PRIMORDIAL, they also wanted the sequel as well as a novella prequel, and they offered to reissue my first novel. Four books altogether. I was ecstatic.
They sent me the contract, and I realized upon printing it out that it was 20 pages long. The longest contract I had ever signed was three pages. I had to get an agent. I really did not feel comfortable signing a contract that long and involved.

I asked them to give me a week, which they did, and an author friend of mine suggested a few agencies I should contact. I contacted exactly two. They both wanted to read the manuscript. When MacKenzie from Trident made an offer, I knew I couldn’t pass it up, because Trident had been one of my dream agencies since the beginning. 

So there it is. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t have a NY Times bestselling book right off the bat, because where do you go from up? I believe that things happened exactly the way they were supposed to, and still are. I’m just slowly climbing the ladder, and I have to admit, so far I’m enjoying the journey.

For more info on my books and my music, go to, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.