Some people have committed to never buying another book again. Their e-readers are stuffed full of all the free books they could load. They’ll probably never get to most of them. Downloads do not equate to reading. When they do give your book a chance, some nasties are predisposed to one-star reviews. They’ll give your books less of a chance than you dare hope. They’re far less invested in reading it because they’ve got way too much to read already. And “How dare you attempt to entertain me for free!”
It gets worse…
From several literate sources, I’ve heard intellectual folks complain about having a book recommended to them. On the Book Fight podcast (which I generally enjoy), the hosts — who honestly love literature! — talked about recommendation fatigue. Attempts to share the glory of a good story might be viewed with a cynical eye over there. Instead of an open hand of welcome for a recommendation, book boosters can expect to be seen as mindless parrots and promoters. Holy crapballs! These guys write and teach writing. Maybe they’re tired. One host yearned to have a job fixing cars instead of writing for a living. Somebody needs a vacation, or to remember how much hard labor can suck. This? From people who love literature?
But it gets much worse…
The Slate Culture Gabfest, a podcast you’d hope wouldn’t have room for cynicism, is not a safe space for books. You’d think people who talk about culture professionally wouldn’t be so disengaged and full of resentment when book recommendations come their way. One of the hosts even said they were less likely to read a book because someone suggested he should. I guess host Stephen “I hate everything but the counter-intuitive” Metcalf is past the giddy burble some of us feel as we read a book that genuinely excites us.
You know that feeling, right? When you consciously slow your reading to make the experience last longer? Remember those books that disappoint, not because they’re bad? Remember those books that, as you close them, it feels like the last roller coaster ride of the day is over and the amusement park’s closing up for the night?
Someone’s forgotten that wistful love. The three Slate podcasters felt “bludgeoned” because they got too many recommendations. (From here, that sounds like they’re complaining they get too many valentines.)
How’s their wariness and weariness working out for them? So far, they’ve successfully avoided A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan, or any Barbara Kingsolver or any Alice Munro. This, from culture critics. Culture is their business, but I guess that’s no reason to get too bookish about it. Let’s nerd out over Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, instead. Lord knows that poor director never had his proper shot at fame and fortune. I guess I won’t hold my breath for them to give Bigger Than Jesus a go.
Where does that leave authors who don’t get to meet Stephen Colbert on their fabulous press junket?
(Hat tip to Slate’s Emily Bazelon. I still love you, Emily.)
Stuck in the desert with a cactus in our ass is where that leaves us. You can pump your books on Triberr and Twitter and Facebook and pay for all the advertising you can afford, but some people who review books are overstimulated and it seems to have soured their milk. One of the Book Fight guys suggested that if you hardly ever recommend a book and then you finally do, he’d give that recommendation more weight. That paradigm doesn’t fit into most authors’ promotional campaigns very well, does it?
That last point struck me as particularly disagreeable this week when I ran across a brilliant author who does no promotion. I won’t embarrass him here (but I’ll promote him later). For the purposes of this post, I’ll simply say that being brilliant might get you readers in the long-term, but he isn’t getting the attention he deserves without promotion. A good marketer who writes will outpace a better writer who fails to market well.
Slate’s jaundiced eye toward any recommendation I could make suggests his brilliance will stay a secret. The gatekeepers to publishing have been sent into the forest to learn other trades and reinvent themselves, but there are still gatekeepers to publicity and attention. And they are sick of us, no matter how casually and sidelong our book recommendations.
How am I going to pull this post out of its dive into a dark, hard place?
This has been a test of the emergency broadcast system. If this were a real emergency, everybody would feel this way about book recommendations. However, there are still plenty of readers who are not fatigued and may even thank you for reviewing and sharing. They might love our books. I sure hope they love mine. When you get depressed about people who seem predisposed to ignoring our efforts (or even despise us, our silly dreams and possibly even our dogs) focus your energy elsewhere. Continue with the quixotic! Quixotic is the most noble category of quests.
Now please go write something the critics can’t possibly ignore.
Or go write something someone will dare to recommend to someone, with shamefaced humility,
in a passive way that somehow won’t erect some critics’ inborn defences against a kind suggestion.
(And don’t tell them what kind of day to have.)
- Getting Reviews (selfpubauthors.com)
- The Culture Gabfest: Auteurs Gone Wild Edition (slate.com)
- Promoting Day-to-Day Literacy (rasmussen.edu)
- Suits You, Sir, Stephen Graciously Gabs at Slate’s Political Gabfest (colbertnewshub.com)
- Moral policing – When it is right? When is it wrong? (vinayjap.wordpress.com)
- The Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor … But Not on the Basketball Court Gabfest (slate.com)
- Gabfest Radio: The Biggest Flop in History Edition (wnyc.org)