On Reviews

When Shawntelle and I gave our talk on “The Review Game: The Shy Girl’s Guide to Getting Noticed”, I declined to have our talk recorded. We also gave many caveats that what works today might not work tomorrow during our workshop.

That’s the only way to guarantee that you’ll say something that’s absolutely spot on in a lecture — by warning people that everything will change. 🙂

It seems like reviews are the everlasting lament of authors. It seems so hard now to get noticed at all and when your book is languishing with a few reviews on Amazon put there by your best friend from high school and your mom (Thanks for the three stars, Mom. Tough love, man.), it just seems like further proof that no one will ever find your work.

And there’s all sorts of advice on how to get more reviews. All of it good and yet at the same time, hair-rendingly frustrating. Street teams. Advance review teams. Netgalley. Giveaways. Lots and lot of giveaways.

And then people will review on Goodreads, but not Amazon where buyers and advertisers look.

Yes, all this gets to me too. I’ve always been neck deep in the Review Game and, I must admit, I used to love the fight. It was all part of the game, you know?

But…and I’m about to say something more vulnerable than perhaps I should. For this reason, I am closing comments off on this thread because I don’t want a string of bolstering comments from well-wishers because I’m about to say this. Thank you for those positive thoughts. I promise you, I know where I stand and I know what sort of writer I am and I feel the love in the ether — I don’t need to see it on this comment stream.

After a string of complete flops on books that I felt were some of my best work so far, I stopped playing the Review Game. And for this last book, A Dance with Danger, I felt so awful about it, I buried my head in the sand and didn’t send out or request any reviews at all except for providing a book to my chapter review program. I wanted it to just go away.

It’s…it’s gut-wrenchingly awful not to feel so proud of your work that you want to shout it from the rooftops. This is coming from an admitted attention whore.

Come on…we’re authors. We’re all attention whores to some extent. I didn’t write my books so no one would read them.

But…if you’ve stayed with me, you’ll realize this is not a mope-fest. Jeannie does not mope for too long. She just doesn’t have the time.

As I was burying my head, bloggers who had read my books in the past started reaching out to me to ask me about the book. Asking when it was coming out, how to get review copies. Reviewers picked it up and reviewed it anyway, some good, some bad.

I don’t have a hundred 5 star reviews on Amazon, so take my review advice with lots of salt, but some things are still true. At least, I still believe them to be true, from this nice dark place beneath the sand:

  • Write a fucking good book. You might not get noticed at all
  • So write another fucking good book. You’re probably still not going to get noticed.
  • So write another and another and another.

There will be a time when even when you don’t want to be noticed, people will still be looking for your next book. They’ll want to know what’s in it. They’ll want to talk about it. Maybe it’s only ten people, but that doesn’t suck.

And yes, you’ll do all the other things. You know, the teams and the review copies and the Game.  But I just can’t speak to all the other stuff very well. Except for this one thing. This one thing I used to hear everywhere, but seems to have fallen out of vogue.

It’s not sexy advice. It’s not bestselling, revenue-generating, algorithm-busting advice.

It’s just the only thing that I can bear to say right now without feeling like I’m giving awful advice.

Cause hey, at the very least, you wrote a pretty darn good book.

Cultural stories in the mass market

Sunita from Dear Author mentioned a few of my books in her editorial post “POC romance and the authenticity question” and I started to reply, but in typical Jeannie fashion, it started to become an essay, so I thought it best to put my thoughts down here so not to bore the readers with a TLDR answer.

As you know, I think a lot about what it takes to write in a niche setting while trying to succeed in the mass market. Here are some thoughts I’ve compiled:

I want to add a theory that I’ve been pondering — I do bring my culture into my POV when I write — it’s actually very hard not to. I wonder if depictions from more mainstream viewpoints, to use a blunt instrument here — the white male perspective — are simply more easily consumed by the reading public. Because this is the perspective people are used to consuming. For example, would GGK’s Under Heaven be much better received than a Chinese author’s works in the US mass market? Neil Gaiman announced that he’s working on a project based on a Chinese legend and I’m sure that will be well received. Now, those are powerhouses and it’s impossible to separate out their clout, fame and skill from a possibly more palatable perspective. Perhaps pure skill makes their works accessible. I loved GGK’s Under Heaven, BTW.

If we take the example of Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer where no attempt for Japanese cultural accuracy was made, it appears that appropriated cardboard representations (he proudly admits to basing his worldbuilding off of manga and anime and little attempt at research into Japanese culture, so I feel justified to say that)  were very well-received and widely adopted, perhaps more so than a culturally accurate depiction.  Of course, he was creating a steampunk fantasy and can argue he never meant it to be realistic — but that goes to my point. The stereotype is easier to consume than a fleshed out depiction.

This question may never be answered due to the process of 1) creation 2) public acceptance being shrouded in so many variables, but it’s an interesting thought, right? Theory 1:  The mainstream voice, the dominant voice, is still the one readers are used to hearing.  Theory 2: The stereotypes and the cardboard representations are more easily accepted by people who have limited exposure to the culture (there is cognitive science research to back this idea) Theory 3:  This is felt more keenly in mass market genre fiction where books are aiming for wide, common denominator appeal. (i.e. in literary or other markets, where readers are seeking the unique, unusual, unexpected, it may not be as much of a factor)

That may not leave us in a happy place when we think of POC authors with “authentic” voices writing cultural stories at least for the mass market, but I think this is something authors should know they might be up against. It doesn’t change much — just write your heart. Write your heart out. But it may be a fight.