Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Authors: "Independence" is Not Freedom to do Whatever You Want!

Lately, there has been an imbroglio in the book world. I don't want to get mired in details, so, in brief, the problem is that several "Indie" authors are claiming that they are being "bullied" by anonymous reviewers of their work. This has led to a petition to and others that, if heeded, would require that all reviewers have to give their full, real name when writing reviews. Anne Rice, among others, has signed on to and supported this position. Others feel that stripping reviewers of anonymity will lead to an overall drop in the number of reviews given as reviewers try to avoid being bullied themselves by authors who disagree with assessments of their books. Apparently, anecdotal evidence suggests that both of these things have happened, though it seems that this is a very limited problem.

Let me get this out of the way: In the name of authors and reviewers whose names are being sullied by attacks from either side, STOP IT! I'm an author and a reviewer and, frankly, I'm getting sick and tired of the drama. Grow up, people!

Yes, your livelihood as an author (ha, ha) or reviewer (chortle, snicker) is at risk. Right. Get over it. No one starts a business venture without risk. That doesn't mean that you just get to lord it over anyone who disagrees with your opinion. In fact, if you're not willing to receive criticism as a writer or a reviewer, you are simply not cut out for this business. I've been lambasted for my writing and chided for my reviews (especially when I give bad ones to books that I felt deserved them - as a warning to other readers). This has happened several times. I've been pegged as overly baroque in my writing, then too sparse, been told that my plots are too simple, then too complex, my reviews have received ranting comments from people who have liked books I've panned and who panned books I liked.

I'm over it. You should be too.

Most of the stink seems to be coming from the "Indie" crowd. Now, I've self-published a few pieces of my own, mostly novellas, but also a short fiction collection. The reason is that most publishers don't take novellas unless your name rhymes with Reevin' Ring. Same with short story collections. There is simply no money in these two forms. So I decided to self-publish them. One of the novellas had already been published in trade paperback form by a now sadly-quiet publisher. The rights had reverted back to me and I asked for permission to do an e-book version, which the publisher agreed to. All of the short stories in the collection but one had been published in juried venues such as Diagram, Exquisite Corpse, Gargoyle, American Letters & Commentary, and others. These stories had been rejected many times, some of them were reworked, all of them that had been submitted eventually found a home in a magazine (print or online) after having been critically examined by an editor or (usually) multiple editors.

In other words, I submitted (most) of these for critical review to another human being or human beings who judged that they were worthy of publication. Or not. I have a short novel (as yet un-reviewed!) that my agent thought was in good enough shape to send out to publishers, but it's not a good fit in *any* genre category, so it's been a tough sell. In fact, one publisher told us that "it's written too well". But I wasn't about to dumb down the writing for them. So after a long line of "we don't know how to market this" rejections, I self-published it.

I'll admit that two of my other self-published novellas had not been submitted and critically reviewed by an outside judge. Again, I published these because no one seems to be publishing the novella form unless you are a Very Big Name Author. Still, I've received reviews on these two novellas, some of them great, some not-so-flattering.

And I appreciate every one of them.

Here's the deal: There is no such thing as a bad review. If you don't understand this, you don't understand the craft of writing. Oh, you might have written a book and put it online for the world to see and force-fed tweets to people all day long about how marvelous your book is, but until you've received a bad review and dealt with it gracefully, you're not a writer. I've been there. I can think of at least one review that I responded to and should not have. If you dig around on the interwebs, I'm sure you'll find my response in some dusty corner of some server that hasn't fired up in the last ten years or so.

But I learned, and I repeat: There is no such thing as a bad review. The only bad review is the one you respond to badly. Think about it: You've got a bad review; you've just gotten free writing advice. Now, like any other advice, you ought not to take it all and apply it. But that reviewer might just have pointed out something you've missed or maybe a bad habit or two you've fallen into as a writer. Heaven knows I've had these things pointed out to me from time to time. Would it have been better to catch these things in an earlier editorial pass? Sure. But you're not going to catch everything. And if you can't afford a good editor, you're not going to catch every one of your errors. You're not. It's a pretty good idea to submit the piece to your writing group or at least have a friend who can be critical and honest in their reading of your work do a close reading for you. Even then, even with professional editing, you are likely to have an error or two creep in unawares. This happens in almost every book on the shelf. So if someone points it out to you, great! If it's in your power, go fix it!

Here's another thing: Controversy sells. Don't think it's true? Have you watched reality TV lately? Case closed. You want to generate interest in your work? Get disparate reviews, watch the sparks fly, watch potential readers shake their heads at the reviewers (both positive and negative) and buy the book so that they can read it and decide for themselves.

Did I mention that any mention of your book, good or bad, is a mention? No. I don't have the data easily at hand, but I *think* (I could be horribly wrong here) that in order to effectively stick in someone's memory, that person needs to be exposed to your product six times. That's why twitter is so cluttered with indie authors advertising their work (yes, I'm part of the problem). How much more pleasant for your "mention" to come in the form of a review, where a reader can make a judgement on the review on their own time, rather than seeing it flip past them at light speed on twitter.

You see, readers are smart consumers (after all, they're choosing to look at books rather than, say, tabloids or TV reality shows, at least for a little while). If they read a bad review, they'll consider it and carry on an internal debate about whether or not they should add your book to their wishlist or not. If the reviewer is someone they know and respect, someone with very similar tastes to their own, then, yes, they might not read your book as a result of that review. But how many readers (I'm not talking about author-readers or professional reviewers here, I'm talking about people who just read for the sheer enjoyment of it all) personally know reviewers or follow certain reviewers or even agree with everything a given reviewer posts? That number is very, very small. It's more likely that the reader will take the bad review into consideration, read the "blurb" copy, stare at the cover a while, maybe look up other pieces of your fiction (What? You haven't had a short story published online somewhere? You're not trying hard enough!), consider the price, then make a decision to walk away, put your work on their wishlist, or purchase your book. And if there is a bad review and a good review, the reader will weigh both. In fact, if there are ten bad reviews and one good review, the reader is likely to consider them all. The long and short of it is that no single bad review will condemn your book to ignominy. And if you have a plethora of bad reviews for your book, maybe it's time you pull it down (if it's an e-book), heavily revise that sucker, and re-publish. In other words, do the work you should have done the first time through. I know. I've been there.

Now a question for which I don't have an answer: What *EXACTLY* does "Indie" mean? I've heard the term bandied about a lot online lately. Some reviewers refuse to review anything that is not written by an "indie" author, while others refuse to review anything "indie". I've been told that I'm "hybrid," because I have books that are self-published, but I was published in the traditional manner before I ever self-published and I my newest novel is being published in the traditional manner. So am I indie? Would the reviewers who only review work by "indie" authors review my traditionally published work, only my self-published work, or none of it at all? Same with those who refuse to review "indie" work at all. Do you mean me, or just my self-published books?

On second thought, scratch all that.

I don't care.


I've written work that I love. I've published using whatever method seemed to work best for me, as the author, at the time. I love my work, warts and all. Yes, there are flaws, some of them still needing to be fixed. Readers and reviewers have made that known to me, for the most part, or publishers/slushpile readers/editors/my agent.

But just because I don't choose to become embroiled in the whole "he said, she said" BS that is peppering the internet at the moment, that doesn't mean I just get to do whatever I want to do. I get to publish how I want to, but once the deed is done, I'll let readers decide whether or not the work is worthy of further consideration. Of course, I'll try to reach out to new readers via whatever marketing tools I have available. But I refuse to ever get suckered in again to snapping on reviewers, like some authors who are behaving badly in the current environment.

Frankly, I'm just sick of the whining.

Give it a rest. I don't want to hear about how you are being bullied by reviewers anymore. Just shut up. If your work warrants it, it will eventually make it into my to-be-read pile. Or not. Why should you care? You wrote the book. Let me know about it however you like. Then, when I read it, get out of my way. Don't try to railroad my opinion by crying about the bad reviews you've been getting. That will make it much less likely that I even consider reading your book. I'm either going to like your work or I'm not. Either way, I'm going to let people know what I think about it. Get used to it.

And get used to letting readers decide whether your book is or was good enough for primetime.

Meandering . . . rant . . . done!

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