Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Obsession: An Epiphany

Most writers dream of the merry-go-round ring of publication -- and beyond that, all the things we imagine goes with it. Getting paid is high on that list. Another big-ticket item is recognition. Finally! People who are not related to us and therefore obligated to say nice things will read and enjoy our stories! We will have fan mail! We will have starred reviews! We will have horrible reviews that will nonetheless generate reader interest -- if only so they can see for themselves what a train wreck we've made of our oh-so-lucky published book!

Oddly enough -- for me, at least -- being published (even with multiple titles out) still feels pretty much the same as it did back in the day (if you're not sure what feeling I'm referring to, check out this hilarious post from YA writer Tahereh).

Pursuant to the general cricket-inducing feel of my inbox (and the cruel, heartless Internet in general), I had begun to despair. I did receive a few bits of fan mail, which made me jump up and down repeatedly and squee. I did receive some really glowing reviews, for which I am eternally grateful, and some not-so-glowing reviews, for which I am ... refraining from making an Internet jackass out of myself over. But there is no landslide here, no echoes of stadium crowd cheering. No great burst of star ratings on Amazon or delighted reader comments on Goodreads. The world remains stubbornly indifferent over my arrival as An Author.

I thought: indifference = no sales. No sales = no more contracts. No more contracts = go back to work making burgers, loser.

But the other day, I realized something. How many times have I reviewed a book I loved on Amazon or Goodreads, or anywhere else for that matter? About twice, for dear author-friends, and if I weren't a writer myself I probably wouldn't have. How many times have I given a book a star rating -- good or bad -- on any site? Zero. How many authors have I written to, in order to tell them how I drooled over their books and read them to dog-eared shreds? None.

Why not? It just never occurs to me. I read a book, I love it, I go and look for more books by that author. If I can't find any more, I wait until another one comes out, and buy it.

I further reasoned that if these are my reading habits, perhaps I'm not alone. So I gave it some thought. My husband, an avid reader, has never written a book review or given stars. My sisters, both book lovers -- nope, not them either. Fellow copywriters I worked with for many, many years, heavy readers... no, they don't write reviews, they don't star things online. They read, they love, they buy more books. The same goes for people I've worked with in restaurants, at convenience stores, in other various odds-and-ends jobs. For people I know in "town" that I run into at the grocery store. For mothers of friends, and associated acquaintances, who volunteer at the library. None of them write Internet reviews or click on stars. Yet they all read, they all fall in love with good stories ... they all buy books.

I know this to be true. Because once I had my epiphany, I asked them. :)

So, I shall no longer despair that no one is reading, and that no one cares. And I think I'll endeavor to write a few more book reviews, and leave a few more star ratings. After all, there are probably a lot of other writers who are just as neurotic and obsessed as me.


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Right on, S.W.!! And you know, some time when you least expect it, you'll get the most wonderful letter from a die hard fan about how your characters changed their lives (or got them through tough times...) and then that heart-stopping wonderful review will swipe you from outta nowhere. You have made it, in my opinion. And I'm so proud to know you!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Awesome post. It puts things right where they belong. Thank you. cheers~

mulcahy67 said...

definitely have to agree. i have never really reviewed things online or written some amount of fan mail, if anything i'll just discuss the book in some forums and that's as far as it gets. maybe i should try doing that a little more....

Marta Stephens said...

As usual, you've struck at the heart of the matter. I guess it all boils down to our purpose for writing. I've reviewed a few books, but I don't do it very often either.

As for me, my last release was in late 2008 and although I’ve finished my work in progress, God knows when it will go to press (must start sending out queries and you know how long it can take to get responses). There’s little I can do about it, but the time lapse between releases does worries me. The big question is, will my readers forget about me before the next book comes out? Eeek! The funny thing is, I’m still getting mail from folks who have read my books and posted reviews … and like you, I dance the jig when they do.

You’re an excellent writer, SW, so don’t fret when things get a little too quiet. Books are timeless treasures and even though sacks of mail aren’t landing on your doorstep (or your in box)on a daily basis, word of mouth is still the best form of exposure. I bet someone, somewhere is holding one of your books right now based on one of your reader's opinion!

Sheila Deeth said...

I still leap in the air over a single book sale. Not very often. Still dreaming. But one day I'll read one of yours and review it. Soon I hope.

Anonymous said...

30+ shelves of books (at roughly two feet wide each) dominate my apartment and I may have written one or two online reviews.

I think most online reviews are written by people with a political axe to grind, and not necessarily avid readers.