14 July 2014

One Thing Never to Blog About: Reviews

You know how things happen when you least expect them to but they leave you with a feeling like you just gotta say something? 

Yes? Well, here's my something. It will read like a rant, for which I must apologize. However, I assure you that I was probably drunk at the time so it's not really my fault. I should probably blame Facebook, where it is so easy to post things you regret the next morning. In the end, I intended no offense to anyone, anywhere. Honestly.

One of these days I'm going to remember to promote my novels again. Until such a time, look me up at Amazon. And if you can add to my review tally, I'll send you the book of your choice as a Kindle gift to read. 
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[Returning to that Facebook post the next day...]

Oh dear. Did I really post that? I thought I was drunk. 

But, yes, I had a fair number of reviews before the great Amazon purge, when they removed everyone's reviews, believing they were all fake. I only had two novels out at that time but lost about a dozen reviews.

Then I got lazy. For me, being lazy means locked in my own mental ward writing something new...which is always preferable to doing the promotion thing. Besides, I'm rather altruistic and introverted when it comes to promotion; hate to foist anything upon anyone. And there's no accounting for taste; sometimes a story is just not someone's cup of tea, no matter how well written it may be.

I've always written stories that interested me, following the axiom of write the kind of stories you want to read. I've been very good about following that idea. Whether others want to read them is, of course, another fair question. But, really, that is the lesser question because I have always, right from the start, written to entertain myself and gave little thought to what to do with them next. Maybe I'll be accused of coming to this conclusion after not selling massive amounts of books, like it's a kind of salve for the soul. Possibly; only a psychiatrist would know. Perhaps I came to this conclusion while deep in a meditative pose? Would that make it more or less valid?

At any rate, selling some and having the readers express enjoyment of them is the most basic measure of success to me. My only rule is that I will never make a book free--unless given as a gift to a specific person, of course. I believe "free" cheapens the product, and for what it's worth, I put in a lot of time and effort to produce a novel, as all writers do. It's worth at least the token 99 cents.

I must be drunk again to write a rant such as this. Never mind. I've got my latest novel, the vampire story, locked away for the two-week crap test. If it survives, I'll seek a gamma reader and go from there. Onward and upward. The day job awaits!

[And returning the following day...]

It occurred to me this morning as I was preparing to go to school for the summer class I'm teaching, that someone will remind me to consider the reader or some variation on that meme.

The quick and easy answer is I do consider the reader. I consider the reader during revision, editing, and proofreading. The first draft, however, belongs to me: I am trying to please myself and not really thinking of who else may one day read it. Only later do I take on the role of objective reader and try to shape the manuscript into something perhaps more palatable.

The longer and more complex answer is that there is a fine line between challenging the reader and, for lack of a better phrasing, making it easy for the reader. I see the dumbing down of education every day and I am swept along with that tide. One sign is the reluctance of young people to read anything which requires sustained attention and reflection. The Tweet is the perfect medium for these people.

So should an author make it easy for a reader? I'm sure if I tried I could boil down a novel into a paragraph, but it would necessarily lose a lot of deeper meaning, nuances, the beauty of the language, and heart and soul of the fictional people dealing with their crises.

I prefer to lean toward challenging. Not challenging in the way, say, James Joyce did with Finnegan's Wake. I want the text to be clear, certainly, and the meaning not obscured. But the story must flow with its own inner fire and sometimes that means the reader must meet the author half-way, at least.

In fact, what keeps a reader going? It's bizarre enough that someone willingly chooses to read about something he/she already knows is a lie. Fiction is a lie we accept for the sake of entertainment...and perhaps some kind of catharsis. So it's rather like a performance, a stage play: Here is the play which I have created. Sit back and enjoy it. If by the end, or somewhere in the middle, it is not to your liking, you are free to leave. It would not be the same medium if a reader could intervene in a novel.

Unlike the interactive video games available today, can we allow the reader to decide at any point in the story what a character should say or do, or how the plot should turn or twist, or who actually is killed in the end? No, it's already set, just like performing a play. You can have endless debates afterward, of course, but in the product itself (a play or a novel) the performance is already done and the reader must experience it as it unfolds according to the instructions of the author.

Yes, there's plenty of room for self-indulgence in the author's tasks, but most of us weed out those examples of purple prose and kill our darlings to a reasonable degree. (I wrote about this in a recent blog post.) But how are we as a society, as a civilization, as the keepers of literary culture supposed to go on without some maintenance of the standard, any standard, which assures our performance on the page is welcomed and ultimately appreciated?

New things always come and then, for better or worse, always go. Ebooks then self-publishing then whatever is next occupy our attention, but the imagination, the construction of texts never ends.

Sorry for all the literary criticism jabs. I was considering my readers when I decided to make short paragraphs and add blank lines between them to make the reading easier. 

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.


  1. Professor--your work never makes me feel both intelligent and smart (for choosing to read it) Blatant fawning aside, I really do like your work, because you DON'T assume I (your reader) am uneducated. You state things cleary, your action moves along at a good clip, and you use a wide vocabulary.

    I'm thinking about a short story you wrote, where the piano was central to the story, and I think the atmosphere you conveyed in that tale was memorable. The title escapes me--I'm old--but I loved that short piece so much that it has stuck with me.

    Your work proves that economy of words does not mean dumbing-down.

    Okay--my rant is over.

    1. Oh dear! Obviously I pay you enough for these fawning comments.

      The story in question was in an anthology of the previous publisher-who-shall-not-be-named. The story was called "Rendezvous" and was a cross between a vampire tale with a reincarnation theme.

      However, we both know that the crucial element in the whole process is getting a book into the awareness zone of a potential reader. Only then can we await a review.

  2. Hi Stephen, as a recent visitor to some of my posts recently I thought I would just return the courtesy. Would that I could resist the temptation to comment on your literary genius. I found my self sitting here reading your blog like one of those little nodding dogs that people used to place on the parcel shelf of their cars when I was a kid. Maybe we authors have insular personality's that make it hard for us to put ourselves out there in the advertising world. I know it makes me very uneasy trying to promote myself no matter how much I believe in the story's I produce.
    I also write for myself, my only real consideration to the reader is to try and wrap a story up completely and not leave them hanging, unless of course I am planning a sequel.
    Again I found myself nodding when you mentioned not letting your novels go for free. I did that once in a bid to gain a little interest and over a thousand copies were downloaded in a week. I sat back in grand anticipation of the flood of reviews I was going to receive with a wee smug grin on my face. The only thing I ended up with on my face was egg. After spending weeks in delicious anticipation of this flood of reviews I had been promised by other so supposed authors on amazon, I began to realise that maybe, just maybe I had been duped into giving away free copies of my books. After a few months had passed by, it had by now became obvious that they were never going to materialize. A few weeks later I spoke to an avid reader who owned a kindle and they confessed that they had over 500 free books on their kindle; however they only read them when they had ran out of paid books, which wasn't very often. Even a if a book that only cost them a pound , they would far rather read that first. So you are right again, maybe I should have talked to you first. Anyway on that note I will bid you good night. J W Murison

    1. What an outstanding comment! I feel honored you took the time and thought to share it. Thank you.

      Readers tend to read the ones they pay for before the free ones, unless a free book happens to hit their interest at that moment they discover it is free.