Discussion: Who are Book Reviews For?

One night as I travelled down the terrible depths of YouTube I came across several videos of authors ranting about reviewers and book reviews in general.  Later that same week I was given a link by a reader to a particularly incoherent rant that I won’t link to.  All of this vitriol and empty rhetoric really made me thing, though: who are book reviews for?

Well, my opinion is pretty simple:

1.  Book reviews are primarily for my own enjoyment because I like analyzing books but in general book reviews are targeted at readers.

2.  This is not to say that authors, publishers and/or editors can’t benefit from book reviews, but that those benefits aren’t intentional.

If you’re an author and expect an unpaid volunteer book reviewer like myself to write a 2000+ critique of your novel, you’re insane.  Hire yourself an editor if you need a critique that detailed.  (Also: a person can have an informed opinion about literature without having a degree in English Literature or the like.  Just like a person can be perfectly fluent in a second language without having a degree in it.)

My question for you guys this week is this: Who do you think book reviews (and other reviews) are for?  Why?

Off Topic: Gremlins and Traumatic Veterinarians

As you guys probably noticed, I didn’t post a thing on Monday and this post is pretty late today.  Well, that’s in part because little Tyrion is still settling in but also because I discovered one thing: he has ear mites.  The poor little guy was born in a garage on a farm so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised but taking him to the vet was a little unexpected.

While the vet was syringing a cleaning fluid into his ears as I held him (he was not happy in the least) he pooped on the examination table and promptly fainted.  In hindsight it’s funny but at the time he gave me quite a scare, just laying there like a limp rag with his tongue sticking out.  Apparently fainting is a normal nervous response to getting fluid syringed into ones’ ears; it’s how my RN friend told me they check for brain dead patients in the ER.  So at least I know Tyrion’s brain is working fine?  (Although he’s really not too keen on vets right now.)

On the upside though, he’s making himself right at home and the gremlins that were plaguing me seem to be gone for now.  I have consistent internet access and I think I’ve discovered what’s wrong with my printer so things are on the upside now.  And now that I have wireless internet I can finally download the books that have been sitting in my NetGalley dashboard for a little while.  Things are looking up but even if they weren’t, there are no such things are gratuitous kitten pictures:

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Guest Post: The Growing LGBT Fiction Market And What It Means For Indie Authors

One of my earliest memories of the growing acceptance of People Like Me happened about 20 years ago at Barnes & Noble. There our authors were—on the shelves of a mainstream suburban bookstore, arranged just as nicely as the nearby rows of history and self-help books. I paced this special wall of GAY & LESBIAN books carefully, judging if it was some kind of bait for a trap-door. But the only person who approached me was a staff member reminding me that it was near closing.

That was my first purchase of a gay novel from a non-gay bookstore and I felt as though my receipt was a political statement. My sale counted; it would create an order for a replacement copy for another gay customer to buy, and keep our GAY & LESBIAN literature in circulation.

Looking back, it was also a turning point in how I saw myself, a validation that I’ve never forgotten. Life in The City still called, for I couldn’t imagine living as a gay man in the conservative suburb where I grew up. But the fact that I found myself represented at that mainstream bookstore gave me a little more hope for my future, that maybe The City wasn’t the only place I might eventually find acceptance. I don’t even remember fearfully looking over my shoulder on the way to the parking lot: representation without repercussion.

Much has changed in the world since then, including the term GAY & LESBIAN itself. Buying alternative books first went from in-store to online, offering privacy in the transaction but not the product. All books then still had covers, titles, and artwork that might make a reader think twice about pulling out her purchase on the train to work. But today, with e-readers, there is privacy both in the transaction and the product—that gentle, elderly lady two train seats away could be reading Emma or erotica. The e-reader offers endless options, and privacy for it all.

At one time, the friendly question, “What are you reading?” would have prompted someone to tip the book backward to show the cover. With a Nook, someone will tip the device forward and show the words. How do you judge a book, and a reader, without a cover? You don’t.

And therein lies the potential in the LGBT market—it’s not solely about the intended reader, but the read. Movies and television shows have expanded their casts to include more “diversity” not as sidekicks but as central characters, reflecting the everyday interactions many people have with LGBT folk in real life. Our stories, and lives, are in the news almost daily and our marriages are celebrated in the Sunday New York Times.

This niche market, GAY & LESBIAN, has grown to include bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, and ally voices—visibility that transcends gender, age, class, race, and sexual orientation itself. I have received responses to Gaybash from heterosexual women in their 70s as well as from gay men in their 30s and 40s. All drawn to the same book with primary characters who are gay, all finding something in the story that speaks to them.

Readers crave authenticity from fresh voices—of lived experiences, of fantasy, of tragedy, of science fiction. While there are some technical barriers to entry in the formatting of an e-book, these barriers are nothing compared to the sentinels who decided what did and did not get published, and largely still do. But sharing a personal journey has never been easier and blogs abound, just a few search words away. Though there are still biases in how traditional media covers e-books, e-publishing has expanded to the point that it’s no longer “suicide” to DIY. And with the wide reach of social media, I can’t predict precisely who my readers—and champions—will be. What fun!

This is an exciting time for indie authors, particularly those who don’t see themselves, and their lives, represented on today’s bestseller lists. The marketing of LGBTIQA e-books, whether fiction or nonfiction, proves that the hard work comes after the writing. But to tell your story, personally and honestly, and have it “out there” for others to read and absorb is a feeling of true liberation.

It’s the same feeling I had when I purchased that book so long ago at Barnes & Noble. Except now, the words are mine.


 

David TestDavid Collins lives and works in Chicago. Gaybash is his first novel.

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Murphy’s Law: Tech Edition (Part Two)

Remember how on the 5th of July I said that nothing could possibly go more wrong with technology in my house?  Well, it seems I tempted both fate and my friendly neighbourhood gremlins.  So now here’s a catalog of what’s wrong:

1.  My TV will no longer talk to my DVD player, meaning that I had no sound on any DVDs I wanted to play.

2.  One of my computers refuses to talk to the printer (and yes I tried a different printer that works with another computer but it still doesn’t work).

3.  That same computer has a disc drive that won’t open unless you push the button in a special way.

4.  My new modem crapped out and won’t talk to the router any longer.  So I decided to order a wireless modem and cut out the router crap.

5.  That wireless modem isn’t scheduled for Sasktel to turn it on until Tuesday.  I got it Friday.  Needless to say I’m pissed off at Sasktel again.

The only upside to this whole week is that on Friday I brought Tyrion home.  He panicked a little in the car but he promptly settled down to take a snooze on my couch after playing himself out.  He’s now attacking my toes as I write this because toes are so much more fun than toy mice or pieces of string.

I won’t say that now all of my technology has broken down for fear of jinxing myself, but there’s really not much technology left in the house that hasn’t broken down by now.  Maybe the gremlins will finally move on?