Posts Tagged ‘reading’

On the Importance of Reviews for Authors

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You’ve probably seen writers asking their readers to leave reviews of their work at places like Amazon or Goodreads; if you read any self-published stuff, you’ve undoubtedly seen the call-to-action that is almost always at the end of any ebook: “Please take the time to leave a review of this book wherever you bought it.” It might seem annoying, all of this begging for extra attention from the reader, particularly if you’re not one to do reviews. It might even seem crass to ask at all.

But the brutal truth is that reviews are an absolutely necessary part of the business. Writing is a business, and as such, authors have to treat it as one. Reviews are especially important to new writers, who don’t have selling-power connected to their name yet, and thus can easily find themselves languishing in obscurity not because they’ve written a bad book but because few people take a chance on them because their book has few to zero reviews at the vendor. I know that I, for example, am much more likely to turn away from a book if it has zero or only one or two reviews, even if it’s free (and I’m particularly suspicious if all of the reviews are 5 star ones). A book that never gets read never gets reviewed, and so in turn continues to not get read; a vicious circle.

But this circle is even more never-ending. One of the best ways to reach a larger audience that just doesn’t yet know a specific book exists is for author to get a promotional ad with places like Bookbub. Some of you may be familiar with BB, but for those who aren’t, it’s a daily advertising burst, telling its tens of thousands of subscribers about books that are deeply discounted or free. Bookbub gets an author’s book in front of that many people each day, and while I’ve seen some authors who say their ad only got them to the break-even point of sales, I’ve never heard of anyone taking a substantial financial loss on an ad (the ads have to be paid for, and they aren’t cheap by any means). In fact most folks I’ve seen report profits on their ads, which means literally thousands of downloads in a single day. That’s a newer author’s dream-come-true (and even for some of us less-newer authors who are quite obscure). But here’s the deal: while BB will look at practically any book for consideration, they have limited space in their daily emails, and so the number of reviews a title has plays a really big part in whether or not they will seriously consider a given book. A title with only a dozen reviews stands practically no chance when it’s going up against a title with hundreds of reviews, or even fifty. BB’s audience is looking for good books, and BB relies on reviews and average rating at retailers to determine what will appeal to their audience. And competition is fierce (only 20% of submissions get accepted for promotion.). So those who could really benefit from a BB ad aren’t able to get it because of the lack of reviews, because of the lack of exposure. The circle continues.

So authors aren’t just asking you to leave reviews for ego reasons; there’s solid business reasons for asking for those reviews. As much as we’d all like to think that books are all about the art, they are also about the business; they cost not just time to produce, but money as well; cover artists and editors must be paid. And so does the author, regardless of whether they’re traditionally published or they are publishing themselves. Bills must be paid in order for the stories to be produced. The two things reader can do to help authors continue producing quality work is to first buy their work, and then also leave honest feedback (either positive or negative) at the point-of-sale. Even a negative review has its place and usefulness; personally, the first thing I look at on any product I haven’t already committed to buying is to look at the lowest ratings, to determine if there’s an actual problem (like poor editing or quality issues). Sometimes the low ranking are written by idiots who blame a completely unrelated issue on the product itself (“the seller sent me a copy with the cover bent, so one star!”), but sometimes low ratings have actually convinced me to buy a book, because the things that reader was ranting about are thinks I really like.

Help out the literary ecosystem by leaving reviews of the books you read. It can be as simple as a one or two sentence review stating why you liked or didn’t like a book, or it can be a long, detailed gush or rant. Just let folks know what you think. And always be honest. Authors and your fellow readers will thank you for it!

Misogyny in SF/F – Some Thoughts

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This last weekend I attended the local MALcon just a few minutes down the road from my house. I only went on Saturday, to see if it was something I’d like to participate in in the future, and with departure for Loncon just days away, I didn’t want to spend too much time away from home. On the whole it was rather enjoyable; quite small, but there was a good variety of panels on writing and topics of interest to me.

DCF 1.0I was particularly interested in the panels on powder keg topics and misogyny in SF/F. The latter one had only two men scheduled to be on the panel, so I was invited to join them up front, but I declined because I’m not good talking about political topics, even the ones I’m passionate about. They did find a really well-spoken woman from the audience (I’m pretty sure she was a scientist) to join them in the discussion. My one disappointment though was that the topic got so derailed onto gender differences being cultural vs genetic that we seemed to spend very little time actually discussing misogyny and bigotry in the SF/F field. Near the end, the discussion turned finally to the problems women and minority writers face in the field, but mostly to talk about how boys won’t read female narratives and how women writers can get boys to engage with their SF/F. It was suggested that writers could start out with male characters then ease them into female characters.

While I’m in favor of trying to get boys to read more female narratives, my personal feeling is that this method is just more of the status quo: female characters must be propped up by male characters. And what about adult fiction? Must we hand-hold men lest they scoff and close the book? Should I have made the Bone Flower Trilogy a mixed narrative of both Quetzalpetlatl and Topiltzin’s POV, even though Topiltzin’s story has been told over and over again, in hundreds of years of myths and even in modern books such as K. Michael Wright’s Tolteca or Kenneth Morris’s The Chalchiuhite Dragon? Maybe I should have, then I wouldn’t have been told by a big publishing house that my story was “too feminist” for their predominately male epic fantasy audience. Despite all this, I have no regrets about making Bone Flower Quetzalpetlatl’s story rather than Topiltzin’s; her voice was one lost to time and reduced to little more than a tool for the amusement and ambitions of male gods. This method of couching female narratives through the filter of men and their experiences feels an awful lot like telling stories about native cultures through the eyes of their white colonizers, so the perceived predominately-white audience has someone to grab onto and relate to without having to do any work on a personal and cultural level (and man did discussion of this particular literary device cause a yelling match on a panel at WorldCon in Reno a few years back! I thought one panelist’s head was going to explode when a female panelist said that was a crappy way to write about alien cultures, or other human cultures, for that matter).

Because of the direction of the panel for most of the hour, we didn’t get into much discussion about the negatives of this approach, or what other options are available to writers, which is a pity. These are important discussions to have. From my own experience, there’s multiple points where blockades are put up against women/minorities and their stories; most are cultural and will be extremely difficult to overcome, but some are inherent to the capitalistic nature of publishing and are perhaps a bit more easily changed. Readers can only read what is available to them, and if publishers are not publishing women/minority writers/stories, then readers aren’t going to see them. The chance for exposure and change is being cut off at the source in favor of narratives that are “safe money-makers”. I often hear people defend the status quo by telling those complaining, “Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you go write the stories you want to read then?” Newsflash: lots of writers do this, but those stories aren’t being published because they aren’t the safe, time-tested product that publishers know they can rely on to sell. Thank goodness for self-publishing and small presses these days, or else truly deserving and compelling narratives–like Sabrina Vourvoulias’s Ink–would never see the light of day. I’m torn on the whole publisher part of this equation; I understand their need to turn a profit so they can publish more books and not go under, but at the same time that very factor is contributing to the silencing of important narratives and stalling the expansion of the art form, based mostly on an inkling of what does and doesn’t sell (not to mention that often when they do take a chance on a non-status quo book, they don’t put the necessary push behind it to help it succeed in the competitive marketplace because of fear of investing too much money and losing it all).

file4501243625430Culturally speaking though, we need to teach boys from a young, young age that women’s/girls’ stories are worthwhile, and provide them with a multitude of narratives throughout their early lives, and get away from the whole “this is for boys, this is for girls” BS. Girls are already being taught from early on that men’s narratives are as worthwhile as women’s narratives (sometimes even more so than women’s), so we should be doing the same with boys. To me, it comes down to parenting, and is supplemented by teachers at the elementary school level. The more we expose children to a multitude of view points, the more open-minded they will be as adults.

One of the panel members mentioned a comic he saw on Facebook where two skeletons were sitting at a table holding beers and the caption said something like “what happens when men sit down to try to understand women”, and pretty much every woman in the room agreed that it was stupidest thing they’d ever heard, but also not surprising. Boys are taught from a very early age that they should only immerse themselves in things considered male while avoiding things perceived as female lest it taint their masculinity, so no wonder they grow to view women as mysterious. Quite honestly, if men want to understand women better, they can start by reading women characters and writers, and reading those genres supposedly geared towards women. Read a romance, read an epic fantasy that follows the lives of female characters rather than male characters, read mysteries with female sleuths–like Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta books–and read literary fiction centered around female characters. And even better, seek out books from minority female writers about the female experience. One will soon find out that women are not inscrutable and mysterious, but are in fact human beings, and in turn their relationships with their mothers, their sisters, their girlfriends, their wives, their daughters, and their female friends will greatly improve. This doesn’t mean giving up reading the comfortable male narratives they enjoy, just expanding their reading horizons to include more challenges to one’s view of the world. Let us teach our sons that not only is Harry Potter’s story awesome and meaningful to their lives, but so is Katniss Everdeen’s; Superman and Batman are awesome, but Buffy kicks ass too. If we do this, then there will be more demand for Katnisses and Buffys, and then maybe publishing will take more chances on female narratives in epic fantasy, comics, and hard science fiction (places where androcentrism is currently at its strongest).

Men, stop living your whole literary life in safe comfort and the selfishness culture has taught you, because your comfortable reading habits are making things more difficult for those of us who don’t have the privilege of being white male cis. Be part of the solution, not a part of the problem. And women and minority authors, continue writing your narratives and trying to get them heard, no matter what publishing or the broader culture tries to tell you about their worth. Keep fighting the good fight, for your stories deserve to be told and heard.

The Books I Love: Watership Down

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watership_downWatership Down was the only book I’ve ever read in secret.

In sixth grade, we spent a couple of really snowy days sitting inside during recess, watching movies. One of those movies was Watership down. At the time, I was really into cartooning, but most of my experience with the medium was Walt Disney movies and shorts and Don Bluth movies like The Secret of Nihm. This was a completely different animal from anything I’d seen before–violent and gory, with a bittersweet ending, and the story was compelling as all hell. I’d always thought of rabbits as cute, sweet little creatures that were fluffy and gentle (and if the Cadbury commercials were to be believed, they pooped those delicious Creme Eggs). The movie was an eye-opener to say the least. I wanted to check the book out from my elementary school library, but to my dismay, someone had lost it and the library had never replaced it.

So I casually mentioned at home that I was interested in it, and I was taken aback by the strongly negative reaction that drew. “It’s an awful book, so pointlessly violent!” I didn’t mention that we’d already seen the movie at school, afraid of getting my teacher in trouble (because I adored her), but it seemed quite clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to convince anyone to take me to the public library so I could check it out. No one explicitly told me that I couldn’t read it–the only time my parents plainly stated they didn’t want me reading something, it was Stephen King’s work, though even then it was couched as “I’d rather you wait until you’re 14 to start reading those. They have a lot of adult content in them.”–but I read the conversation to mean that I wasn’t allowed.

49766Seemingly shut down at home, I enlisted a friend to help me procure a copy . She checked it out from the public library for me (oh the trust that entailed…or the youthful foolishness we can sometimes display), and she became my Watership Down dealer. I was astonished the first time I saw the hardcover; it was monstrous, the biggest book I’d ever seen. But I wasn’t deterred. I read it when I wouldn’t get caught, keeping it hidden under my mattress when I wasn’t alone, and taking it to school with me to read during recess. It was the perfect plan….

Except sometimes I wasn’t the brightest kid. I casually mentioned to my teacher that I wasn’t supposed to be reading the book, and following her teacherly obligations, she phoned my mom and told her what I was up to. When mom came home that night, she came to my room (just seconds before I’d managed to tuck the book under my comforter) and I fully expected to be in serious trouble. To my relief though, she gave me permission to go ahead and read it, but warned me, “You probably won’t  like it. It will give you nightmares.” I considered putting it aside at that point, even though I was really getting into it, but since I no longer felt the need to read it clandestinely, it seemed a waste to give up. So I continued reading it, searching for the terrible things that were going to give me nightmares.

WSSketchI never did find what was so vile and scary about Watership Down; in fact, the more I read, the more I liked it, and the more I fell in love with the characters, especially Bigwig. The book became a minor obsession of mine for a couple years in middle school (and I habitually checked it out from middle school library–which did have a copy–until Mom bought me a copy of my own). In the end, it became one of my favorite books and I’ve read it numerous times over the years, always marveling how my eleven-year-old self managed to not only make it through such a huge, poetically-written book but fall in love with it too. I spent hours drawing the characters and plastering my bedroom walls with scenes from the book, like the one to the right; though they were often in full color, complete with the blood and gore. When my mother would ask me about all the blood, I’d tell her, “It’s art, Mom!” She still gets a chuckle out of that.

The Books I Love: Where the Red Fern Grows

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Where_the_red_fern_grows_1996SPOILER ALERT!!!

 

Where the Red Fern Grows is the first book I remember ever falling in love with; my second grade teacher read it to us in class, and being someone who really liked dogs, I was immediately enthralled. I remember one kid kept telling the rest of us, “the dogs are going to die, you know?” but none of us believed him–no one would ever kill off dogs in books (this was long before I read Old Yeller). And even though he was right, I still loved the book dearly; I loved Old Dan and Little Ann, and I desperately wanted to be Billy Coleman–I stole my brother’s raccoon-skin cap he’d gotten at Frontierland at Disneyland and from 2nd grade until middle school I wore it almost everyday: I would have worn it to school if my mother would have let me. I also wore overalls all the time and I named my Pound Puppies after Dan and Ann, and I swore that someday I would get some coonhounds of my own. I definitely had what Rawls had called “puppy love” in the book.

I don’t know the exact number of times I read this book, but it has to be up near fifty; my teachers had to force me to read other books, and when I was flunking math in fourth grade, my mother didn’t ground me from my friends or from the television–no, she grounded me from reading Where the Red Fern Grows. And it worked, for I busted my hump to get my math grade up and get my book back. Wilson Rawls was also the first author I ever wrote a fan letter to; unfortunately he’d succumb to cancer about five years earlier, but his wife Sophie sent me a nice letter that I kept for years and years, until it got lost as some point. I read the cover off of at least two copies, and before I had my own copy, I kept my school library’s copy almost constantly checked (I adored the cover of their copy, which isn’t the one shown here–I was unable to find a picture of the actual cover they had–and often thought of reporting it missing just so I’d have it forever, but my mother didn’t raise thieves for children….). It didn’t matter that I bawled my eyes out over and over when I read that book; nothing has quite held my heart the way this book had, and continues to do so today.

I tried reading it to my daughter, but to my sadness, she had very little interest, and when we were halfway through and she heard from someone about what happens at the ending, she didn’t want me to finish. It was just too emotionally brutal for her and she wanted nothing to do with it. Years later I tried again with my son and this time we made it all the way through, and when I closed the book for the last time, he just kind of hid his head in his pillow and cried, and nothing I said comforted him. I figured he’d hated it too, but to my surprise, when we came across a $5 copy of the 1974 movie version, he begged me to buy it and we both sat down and watched it, and he cried again (it takes a lot to make me cry anymore). We haven’t watched it since then, but I was glad to have least been able to share my love of this story with at least one of my kids.

LilyAnd back in day, I’d always talked about how someday I was going to get myself two coonhounds, just like Billy had, and wouldn’t you know, that is one childhood dream that came true. I wasn’t looking for a hound, but when I saw Lily’s adorable face on the Humane Society of Boulder Valley’s website, I fell in love immediately and made sure I was at the shelter first thing the next morning. I really considered naming her Little Ann, but in the end we settled on Lily, which suits her just fine. She’s not a Red Bone, like the dogs in the book–she’s a Treeing Walker–but she’s every bit as sweet and smart, and I really can’t believe I waited until my 30’s to finally get a coonhound of my own.

Summer Madness: Week 2

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cn_participant180x180So, this is a couple days early, but I’m not intending to write again this week. This week went really well, with hitting my 3k minimum each day, and a couple days when I went 500-1k past that. Total words written this week: 16869. And I’ve totally strayed off my outline but am now in the process of veering back to it. I like the detour though, so it will stay in the next draft. Things are trucking along nicely.

Now that I’ve got a significant start on this project, it’s time for word meters again:

28398 / 120000
(23.67%)

At least I’m hoping that it won’t go much over 120k. In my last (failed) manuscript, I was very concerned about even getting to 100k (I don’t think I did in the second draft; in fact, if I remember right, I was down in the upper 80’s). This time though I don’t think there will be any issues hitting 120k, maybe even more. Preferably more since I write pretty loose in first drafts and always have to cut.

Anyway, instead of writing this weekend, I’ll be spending my time reading. I’m worried I won’t finish the book (Wolf Hall) in time, not because it’s difficult or boring, but because it’s a huge book, and with it being NaNo time, I’m spending more time writing than reading. We’re halfway through the month and I’m only 25% of the way through the book. Will have to make a big push today and tomorrow and hopefully get at least 15% done (hopefully 25%, so I don’t have to spend as much time reading during the week). I’ve joined a reading club with some friends (I definitely need to read more) and we will chat about the book at the beginning of next month, and I’m determined to not go two months in a row without finishing the book we’re reading.