Question for readers

Because I’m really lazy busy writing, I’m asking you to provide content today. Answer in the comments.

Is there any author of whom you read a book or two (or three), when you became aware of this author’s offensive political opinions/offensive online behaviour/general arsheholery and then stopped reading this author’s books?

I’m asking the question, because there are voices like Dean Wesley Smith, who say that your personality or opinions don’t matter at all, and I’m not terribly sure that this is true, at least not if you’re not extremely successful already. Or even if you’re extremely successful.

This is kinda related to the J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith thing. I believe that the author is the brand, and if the brand says “I’m a homophobe” or “I’m a defensive, up-my-backside pick”, I’m having an extremely hard time believing that this doesn’t have some sort of influence. It might not have been so important pre-internet and when all reviews (and author retorts) were printed and had a limited audience, but I think the internet has changed this.

So. There you go. Attack.

Buying books: how do ratings influence you?

The other day there was a thread about ratings on a forum I belong to. Someone argued that a one-star review killed sales. Someone else argued the opposite. In combination with a survey reported by Dean Wesley Smith on what influences book buyers, people wondered how much rating influences someone to buy a book.

I only ever once bought a book solely based on a review. It was not a good review by any stretch of the imagination. But the review made me so curious about the supposedly bad ending that I wanted to see for myself. I read the book and saw where the reviewer came from. The ending was unusual, in that one of the characters made a decision that would not have been mine (neither would it have been the reviewer’s, I guess).

The funny thing is–because of that very negative review, I bought the book, and to date, I still remember the book, whereas I’ve forgotten countless other books I read around the same time. I spoke about the book at home, and my daughters read it as well.

So, yeah, one bad review, and three reads. Mostly, I don’t care about ratings at all. Sometimes I read the reviews. What I’m looking for in reviews is more setting and subject matter related comments, and much less what the reviewer thought about them. I find the bad reviews a lot more interesting than the good ones.

Do bad reviews stop you picking up a book?

I did some very unscientific research. I looked at the Amazon reviews of a number of my favourite big-name authors. By far the majority of books averaged 3-3.5 stars, sometimes over hundreds of reviews, including many one-star reviews. Obviously, bad reviews do not stop buyers.

Do you want your reader to feel like this?

As a reader, I find it enormously irritating when a writer refers to a book, movie, fictional character, or tv show I am either unfamiliar with or I can’t remember well enough to ‘get’ the reference. I feel stupid, because I don’t know what the pun is about, and I feel that the writer is making an implied statement about my intelligence.

The reality is, there are many more books than I have time to read. Even if I’ve read a book, there’s a fair chance I won’t remember it that well, especially if it was long time ago.

I think as writer you should play this on the safe side, and assume very little about a reader’s familiarity with aspects of culture.

Some considerations about readership: English-speaking countries have a large immigrant population, who often haven’t had the same exposure to English classics. Even different English-speaking countries have radically different tv shows. If you’re talking classics, I think many people would have read them under sufferance in high school, and not paid all that much attention. Younger or newer readers have a different starting point. For example, I’m too young to have been around in Heinlein’s heydays, and while I’ve read some of his work, I prefer to read more current publications.

When a cultural reference is necessary, I’d try to do it in such a way that those unfamiliar with the reference can understand and maybe learn something. You don’t really want the reader to feel stupid.

Science Fiction – too geeky, doldrums or what?

I love science fiction. Although I read and write science fiction and fantasy, and a bit of mainstream (shh, don’t tell anyone), my heart is in science fiction. Therefore, it pains me when agent Kristin Nelson says:

I just wish the market was stronger in SF right now. I did just sell an SF novel a couple of months ago but that wasn’t an easy task.

And she’s right. I haven’t read or bought any fantasy for a while, because I’ve been catching up on SF. There is some good stuff out there, but… anything that’s recently published is likely to be a work of an established author, or a collection/reprint of older work. Why? Why aren’t as new science fiction writers getting a break as there are new fantasy writers?

Here are a few points to consider or discuss:

1. Science Fiction may be one of the last bastions of male dominance (see also this excellent post by Alisa Krasnostein). Since the reading audience is female-dominated (how much – reply if you can provide a link, I’ll put it up here), this implies a reduced market.

2. Science Fiction seems to suffer an identity crisis. While some purists would like to see science fiction limited to works which extend the boundaries of known science, in practice, science fiction includes all those works that involve futuristic technology and/or concepts, extra-terrestrial intelligence or space travel, whether any of these things are intended to reflect reality or not.

3. Hard science fiction has become too geeky. Science fiction that extends the boundaries of known science is becoming both harder to write and harder to understand. Since the boundaries of science have shifted into regions few people without degrees in quantum mechanics will understand, the audience for this type of science fiction is shrinking.

4. Science fiction has the reputation to be all about the ideas and not about the characters.

To a certain extent, I would say bollocks to all these points. There are good female science fiction writers. Not as many as men, though. Frankly, I’m disappointed that at this day and age, such a stupid point should matter. I don’t care about the gender of the author of a book I read. But apparently, men are less likely to read a book by a woman.

Science fiction is a very wide genre, and readers embrace that. To argue that a book that doesn’t adhere to strict realistic facts isn’t science fiction is just plain silly. Ditto the requirement that science fiction should somehow push the boundaries of science. Ow-come on! Readers love McMaster-Bujold’s Miles books. Do they push the boudaries of science? No. Does anyone care? No. Does that make the Miles books ‘not science fiction’? Tell me where else you’d classify them.

We do see character-based science fiction on the shelves. Again, the Miles books are a good example. Again, this falls in the sub-category some people would classify as inferior science fiction. Soft science fiction, space opera. Not real. By the same token, Star Wars isn’t science fiction.

Tell me, if part of the science fiction community disowns part of its own genre, what hope is there the genre will grow? Do we see epic fantasy writers try to exclude books written about vampires from their genre?

I would like to promote ALL science fiction. Frankly, I’m sick of vampires.

I’m not dissing anybody

You are a member of a writer’s group. Every now and then, somebody will make a comment about how bad they thought Harry Potter/Twilight/ The Da Vinci code was. Everyone else will chime in and nod sagely.

Does this sounds familiar to you?

What is it that makes ‘Hating Harry Potter’ a mandatory attribute for aspiring writers?

I’ve read all Harry Potter books. I’ve also read all Stephanie Meyer’s books. I must be one of the five people in the world who hasn’t read The Da Vinci Code, but this has nothing to do with its success. It’s because the subject of digging into religious history doesn’t interest me, and I have a lot of other books I’d sooner read.

I quite enjoyed Harry Potter and Twilight. Sure, when I look at them with my writerly eyes, I can see places where I thought things got a little wobbly, but I can’t think of a single book I’ve read where that wasn’t the case. The overall reading experience was a positive one. Which is why I totally don’t get why so many aspiring writers take delight in dissing these books as pieces of crap. The universal writerly crapometer seems to be set at a particularly sensitive setting for very successful novels.

It seems to be OK, expected even, amongst aspiring writers, that you hated these books. Admitting that you liked them feels like treason.

Why? Why? Why?