This is something I struggle with. Whether or not to review another author's work. Like any book worm I always have a book for pleasure on top of whatever I'm editing or formatting for JEA and my own projects. I just can't get enough of the written word. However, this brings up some ethical debates.
Reviews and ratings are an author's life blood. We live and die by them. Think about it. When you are on amazon or a library site looking for something to read, you first look at the star ratings. You organize your list so the highest ratings show up first. Then you find a cover the jumps out at you and click on it. Next you look at how many reviews the book got and how many were 5 star and so on. Then you finally read the description. It is essential that your book keep good reviews and lots of them. No one spends 20 minutes deciding on a book (well I do, but I'm a strange author type person).
As a new author I need to generate contacts with other people in the industry to get more exposure. I want everyone to read my books and review them and recommend them to other readers or folks in the industry, but then everyone wants me to do the same thing. That sounds simple and fair, but it's really not. This whole system can easily lead you into media and career hot spots you want to avoid.
Let me throw you some what if's. What if I read your book and love it? I leave a good review and you're happy so now you read mine, but you hate it, however you don't want to upset me so you fudge over the true critique the work needed. Well now you put a stamp of approval on a piece of drek. You have a bad reputation and now I do by association.
Okay so that one is a little far fetched. Try this one on for size. What if I read your book and hate it? If I put in a good review I've just associated myself with terrible work and whenever anyone reads it because of my recommendation their opinion of me goes down. If I give you the review you deserve you get mad at me and might either bash me publicly or leave me a bad review and hurt my career. So what do I do now? There is very little recourse. I can complain about bully reviews, but you can do the same to me. Who decides which review was fair and which wasn't?
One response to this is to only review books you genuinely like and hope for the best. Well now you've opened another can of worms. Sites like Goodreads tell the public how many reviews you've done and what the average star rating was for those. So if my star rating on reviews is high people think I'm a pay for review kind of person, no one trusts what I have to say. If my star rating is low, I'm mean and persnickety and just out to hurt people. Neither is true of course, but that is the perception.
It feels like because I'm an author my reviews would never be taken seriously. At the moment I've set my amazon to anonymous to avoid some of these pitfalls, but that doesn't help me generate more reviews or ingratiate myself to the industry. I've tried to look for creative solutions to this mess, but every way I go it seems another stumbling block.
Okay so are you all sick of hearing about it yet? Too bad! I'm just so excited, you're going to hear about it again. What the facebook group knows and the few who occasionally stop by the website know, but the GoodReads folks don't know yet, is that I am officially moving out of the indie market and into the mainstream. Frankly I'm still a little shocked, but a publisher actually wants my work...current and future work too if you can believe that. I've signed with J. Ellington Ashton Press. It's a little operation that's just beginning but these folks know good work. I feel like they want to take a chance on me, so I'm going to take a chance on them. I think this is going to be great. Sometimes you just know in your gut it's gonna be good.
I'll be honest. I went straight to self publish and skipped all the usual agonizing steps trying to land a contract. Fear effects us all. Kind of funny that most of my heroines teach themselves to rise above their own fear in impossible situations. I never thought I was that good. I knew I was better than some that get published but more like high school essay good, nothing that would hold up to critical analysis in the mainstream. I put my books out on the self pub market more as an experiment than anything else. Then the weirdest thing happened. People liked it. Strangers. People I have no connection to what so ever were reading my words and liking it. Amazing.
I'm a bit of a chicken really. I don't think I would have submitted my work to JEA at all if it weren't for a friend insisting I talk to one of his friends. He wouldn't even tell me why I should talk to her or how he knew her, just that I needed to talk to this woman. One day he asked me if he should go get 'Catt'. I said I had no idea and laughed it off. Next thing I know I'm having a conversation with the CEO of this little publishing company. I never felt more like a writer in my life than at that moment. I'm asking intelligent questions and words like 'distribution' and 'royalties' are rolling off my tongue. Two months prior I'm not even sure I could have told you what a good or bad distribution was. That convo made me say, 'Why not?'.
Just to be clear I didn't get any special treatment. These people don't publish crap no matter how much they may like you personally. I had to go through the same submission process as everyone else. I had to sit for a few weeks wondering if I was good enough.
This was rougher on me than it normally would have been. Towards the end of my wait my husband ended up in the hospital. He does have heart problems to begin with but this visit was hard. They shipped him 2hrs away from me. I *shame faced* do not have a licence so I couldn't get to him. There were complications. The kids were acting out from the stress... Life was kicking my ass all over the place. There are no words for how stressed I was. I'm still feeling the after effects. I almost *almost!* went to my friend and said, 'Look if it's good news I really need some now, if it's not please wait until this is over.' I stopped myself but only barely. Then the night my husband finally came home, very late in the evening, the contract was waiting in my e-mail. I'm of the opinion they were watching my facebook and waiting to see what happened before sending it, which I greatly appreciate. Made for a very good ending to a long day.
Now I'm just so excited. My dreams are coming true. All the things I've worked so hard for are paying off. Life while you're writing your first manuscript is lonely. Everyone sort of brushes it off as a pipe dream until someone in the industry recognizes it. They might accept that you love to write, but you have no credibility. Being signed is huge! There are 100's of amazing writers in the self pub market that never get noticed, never make a dime. I suppose a lot them are like me and afraid to submit anything and others are getting lost in the hustle and bustle of the larger companies. Give an indie writer a chance. You might find a jewel in the rough.
Don't worry I'm still working on polishing 'Morning Song'. I haven't put that one aside entirely, but I've done as much editing as I can do for the moment and I wanted to give my readers a break between books, so it is percolating for a month or two and then I'll go back into editing. In the meantime....
I have about 20 books in various stages of development on my hard drive. I picked one I have been thinking about and pulled it out. I'm not 100% it's going to be my next project, but it probably will. Besides a friend who helped me with research wants me to publish this one (mostly because I promised I'd dedicate it to him lol). I don't have a name for it yet. It will be something about life and death. Very simply it's a semi-dark novel in which death falls in love with life. It's probably going to be another stand alone. I can't see how I can turn this into a series, but you never know. I do have one that will be a series, probably a long one, but I have a touch of writer's block where it's concerned so I have to play with other projects for awhile.
Here is a short sample of it. For now we will call this one Lychee and Corin after the main characters.
Death walked through the alley casually, in no hurry. His prey would be waiting for him. It always was. Sometimes in his more philosophical moments he believed that prey was born to be prey and while they would put on a chase, in the end they knew their place. Eventually whether he rushed or not, it would be waiting for him, ready for the final fight. Some prey would fight, wanting to end their lives in some twisted idea of honor—he respected that—but mostly they were tired. Sure, there was fear in their eyes, but they still resigned to it, like it had all been fate.
Corin was a big man, strong and broad. He was taller and wider than most humans, though humans had gotten taller in recent years. He had been built for speed, strength and agility. He was aware the appeal this had for women. On the rare occasion the mood struck him, he held no qualms about using this to get what he wanted. He was a predator. In those moments his quarry had simply shifted and the method of satisfaction changed. He would binge until the mood passed and then he went back to his prey.
His boots kicked away the random trash that followed humanity and crunched on the filthy, cracked cement. His long grey hair was tied tightly back from an eternally young face in a queue. His long grey coat trailed behind him as he moved effortlessly around a corner looking like some movie version of the honorable assassin. The irony was not lost on him. Sometimes it helped to dress the way humanity thought he should, sometimes it didn’t. The boots and the coat were useful though. He may hold on to them after culture changed its expectations again.
He turned another corner following a trail only he could perceive down the dark expanse; something as elusive as the change before the change in the wind signaling a storm. Some places in the city were vast networks of alleys and sewer systems. A shadow city all its own hidden from the light in the perpetual warm of the southern United States. He knew these streets as well as he knew the streets that stayed in the sun and the endless electric lights of night. He walked the roads of man since before they were glorified foot paths. He’d seen societies rise and societies fall. This society would fall too, as surely as the Romans had, and those that came before them.
There was a sound to the side of him. It was small and harsh, like silent keening when all the horrors of life had taken your voice. He slowed down enough to open his senses beyond his prey. Something shifted in the pile of trash and refuse that somehow missed the empty dumpster. He turned slowly, tracking the sound. Everything went still. That was more an indication of someone hiding than anything else. An animal wouldn’t have stilled.
He could smell the fear in the air. It was deeper and sharper than what his prey normally felt. Blood mixed with it. Something was wrong. He took a step to the pile and suddenly everything exploded. Boxes, trash, papers, rotted food all went up in a whirlwind clattering harmlessly about him, all the while a scream cutting the still night air like a jagged knife.
It was over as fast as it started. There was nothing else to be thrown. He saw a part of a leg and an arm trying to hide under what was left of the pile. The box on top was quivering slightly as if the person was shivering with cold. He reached down and pulled off the box...
...And the rest you'll all just have to wait for. :-)
Still I do welcome comments and critiques. Especially at this stage.
Susan is a plural writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends.