Believe it or not, for a published writer, critics and reviews are as important as ever. I think there was a bit of a sigh of relief when it started to become clear the Publishing world was changing forever, and we were not going back to the exclusively curated world run by “BigPub,” and some writers thought they were no longer going to be ruled by New York Editors and Critics.
They were partially right.
The literati in the Big Apple no longer offer the only “non-vanity” route to being published. Don’t get me wrong, Editors, BigPub bosses and the gaggle of intellectuals who will gladly spend a couple hours skimming a work that took years to create, and for reasons completely divorced from the quality of the work, name it “superb” or “a waste of paper.” There was a time (not long ago, by the way) where to succeed in that business, a writer had to navigate those waters, and I’m not just talking about writers of books. Kurt Sutter, show-runner for the brutally…brutal Sons of Anarchy in his very smart and hugely entertaining (oh shit, I think I just became a critic) videoblog “WTF Sutter,” where he talks about a certain “douchebag” critic for HuntingtonPost.com. At least I think he was talking about that website, because I don’t think there is actually a “CuntingtonPost.com” as he referred to the site (ed. note – There isn’t, but since I just registered the domain “cuntingtonpost.com,” there now could be). SOA is seriously good stuff, but I can’t even begin to imagine the crap he must have to deal with. Much respect to him.
Thankfully, we who publish books don’t have to deal with that nonsense to practice our craft any longer. We can, of course, if we decide to publish the traditional way, and I have absolutely no problem with any author who does. For many of them, it would be stupid not to. In a recent interview, Daniel Silva, whose protag Gabriel Alon makes his appearance in a new novel every summer, said in a recent interview that eBooks now make up 50% of his sales. That’s a lot of dead-tree books, and he’d be stupid to chuck it all for a completely digital publishing venue.
I think, however, that Silva and his type are the end of the dead-tree exclusive line. The Kindle could go away and Mr. Silva wouldn’t miss a payment on his private jet (if he has one, but I’m guessing he doesn’t).
Now, all of this suggests we who publish in this new paradigm no longer have critics to deal with. We do, and in many ways, they are every bit as important as the critics (douchebags or no) of old. I regularly check for reviews on my books (I’ve published under my own name as well as, for various reasons, others) and am constantly touched and pissed off by what is written. In terms of sales on Amazon, you need reviews, positive and negative, to get search placement on the site. Amazon is looking for books that create engagement and reviews are a good indicator of this. As the number of reviews rise, so do sales. Getting to that magic “20” seems to get a book to a higher level of exposure that can really jumpstart sales. It’s important to be reviewed, even if some of the reviews aren’t glowing. In fact, too many 5-star, glowing, “this guy is the next Kurt Vonnegut” can kill you, because they appear fake. So, most all reviews are appreciated and welcomed.
That’s not to say some reviews don’t leave me unsettled, however. A great example of this is a reader of my book, Time Flying, who criticized me for an “anti-semitic” rant where I “compared Jesus to terrorists” and got a comparison backwards because Jesus was a Jew. Though I appreciated the lady’s reading my book and taking the time to review it, I couldn’t for the life of me understand what the hell she was talking about. Here’s the offending section of text:
I remember such a morning, 26 years before when I stood, not too far from this spot, looking at the statue of Jesus beckoning the cars driving by. The statue had creeped the 19 year old me out, the Jesus depicted there seeming to be the Angel of Death, looking for new residents for his little community here. This time though, thanks to either the wisdom that comes with age, or a more mature, religious outlook on life, the same Jesus seemed more reassuring, telling the drivers speeding by all who rested here were safe in his arms. I think that was the sculptor’s intended message, anyway. In the end, it was a statue of a guy who while he almost certainly lived, and may well have been the only son of the creator of this universe, probably physically resembled a rock-throwing Palestinian whose house was being bulldozed by the Israeli Army, more than he did the white bread, midwest rock star Jesus so popular in Middle America.
I thought what I was saying was pretty clear here, but obviously not. Normally, I’d simply assume she read it too fast, or was distracted, but in this case, she took the time to criticize what I’d written (or what she thought she read) by posting on Amazon.com. Again, happy for the review, but unfortunately, it raises more questions than it answers. If she misunderstood that passage, what chance did she have to understand some of the more subtle things I did in the book. Did the fact that the epilogue to Time Flying was written in first-person present, and the rest of the book in first-person past even register with her? Or with anyone? That last short chapter sets up the second book, which a couple other reviewers have complained cuts the book short. I read these comments, knowing that there’s no way I could write the story as one book, because of the stylistic differences I need to employ. If I did put both books in one, it simply wouldn’t work.
In reading reviews of other books, I always feel blessed to have such great readers, who appreciate my storytelling and truly understand what the book is trying to say. But, it demonstrates that every change in paradigm, like the one the publishing world is going through, brings new challenges as it eliminates old ones.