Monday, July 23, 2012

The Fishbowl Is Feeling Rather Big

Two blog posts in one day. What's wrong with me?

Maybe the first was meant to clear my head. Although, do take it seriously. Especially my recommendation of Kerry Nietz's books.

So now that my head is clear, or at least as clear as it can be at the moment, I want to get to something that is really rolling through my mind lately.

This whole being published thing has been one wild ride, and one that has left me happy, angry, thrilled, disappointed, and surprised.

I've learned a lot along the way. And not just about writing. Not just what goes into the process of publishing a book. I've been forced to learn some things about marketing and some things about the literary world.

At random:

Look around you. The people who will buy your book and love it, and the people who will never even give it a chance, are not the people you think.

Small presses flat-out do not get the respect that large presses do. We are generally lumped in with self publishers. For some of us, this is not fair, for others, it makes perfect sense. I adore my small publisher. I think she is professional, talented, and one of the coolest people I've ever known. She has an eye for awesome fiction and knows how to pull the best out of it. And our team of authors are amazing. That said, anyone can start a small press. Anyone can claim to be a book publisher. Many who do haven't the slightest clue what they are doing.

If you want someone to leave a review of your book on Amazon, you have to ask them to. Most readers who are not writers, and many who ARE writers, simply don't. They don't even think about it. I have no idea why.

Book review bloggers mostly are in a tight circle of their own. I blogged about this a long time ago. But truly--they get the big press books for free, so most of them aren't really looking to help out indies.

What works in marketing for one person, does not work for everyone else. And finding your thing is like searching for a needle in a haystack for some authors while others have it land in their laps. It's usually the haystack.

People who are more than willing to love you to death for helping them promote their work will suddenly forget you exist when you need promotion.

Other people will show up from the most unexpected places and promote you like crazy. Those people are awesome! Love them!

There are injustices and pettiness and unprofessionalism in writing and publishing. But speaking up about those things marks you in the industry and a good little unknown writer must keep her mouth shut.

How much you love a person and how much you love their writing are often completely unrelated.

Loving a person's writing often opens doors to incredible friendships.

There is intense pressure to give good reviews to your fellow writers.

There is equal pressure to give honest (translate--> negative) reviews to your fellow writers. No matter what you do, someone is judging you.

But the biggest observation, and the one that is really bucking inside my skull is this:

We are supposed to posture ourselves as professionals. We are supposed to exude literary knowledge. But the more I learn, the more I realize I know so little. I am a tiny, tiny fish in a big, big bowl. I wonder so often if I have the writing guns to justify opening my mouth on any subject related to writing.

Those reviews I mentioned. I've given a few honest/negative reviews that have put me in the minority. Does that make me wrong? Or are others just giving nice reviews out of friendship or for fear of backlash? Should I be doing the same? Should I just not give a review if it's not good? Does my review carry any weight at all? Maybe I have no right to express my opinion on a book at all if I'm not a perfect writer myself.

In my opinion, some writers are too focused on rules. But others love to point at the big names and scream, "If they can break the rules, why can't I?" I am in the middle of this spectrum, believing certain rules are in place to help guide us, but skilled rule-breaking makes for rich writing. Am I wrong? Maybe I just don't know the rules well enough. Maybe I don't know how to break them properly? Maybe I should leave such discussions to those who do know.

Re: my last blog post...Am I off the mark? Should I shut up? Do I simply still not know enough about writing and publishing to form a justified opinion on such things? On anything related to writing?

No matter how much I grow as a fish, the bowl keeps growing faster.


Caprice Hokstad said...

I have never noticed any pressure for authors to give any kind of negative reviews. All I have seen is the opposite, the great pressure to only write glowing, spectacular reviews for other authors, especially if they are friends. If I don't feel I can honestly give five stars, I am afraid to leave anything at all and many authors whom I have told this have been THANKFUL I didn't post the "negative" (in their eyes anything short of 5 stars is automatically "negative") review as if it would "ruin" their book's chances or ruin their careers or something.

The truth is, I don't like to review books at all. When I do it, it's mostly because I recognize it is important to have some reviews and if a writer has none or very few, I feel sorry for them. However, if they already have more than I do, I tend NOT to feel that pity. And I still won't post a review if my honest opinion isn't going to be helpful. One 3-star review out of 800 is no big deal. One 3-star out of 4 total reviews could be a problem.

But most of all, I hate reviews because I have a hard time explaining WHY I liked or didn't like a book, especially in a way that doesn't come across as petty. I often really don't know. It didn't "grab" me. It was okay, but nothing that would keep me up at 3am, turning pages. I wish I knew what to tell authors to write to produce that page-turner feeling. I'd write it myself if I knew what it was. But I don't know. I guess that means I'm an amateur too.

Kessie said...

Well, you know what you know right now. So write about that. As you learn new things, write about those. That way you'll have a great chronicle of your writer's growth in years to come.

Don't feel too bad about being small press. Trad pubbed authors over on the Kill Zone gripe about not getting enough exposure, too. One person remarked that even with lots of advertising, they only sold 500 copies, total. So much of marketing is dependent on the author, trad pub, self pub, or indie pub. We're all in the same boat.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Caprice, it's becoming recognized that there is a pressure to give only good reviews, and some authors--mainly ones sick of seeing tripe raved about--are starting to push for more honesty because it's coming across like we Christian writers are all holding each other up undeservedly.

That is where I feel the pressure. But what if I do just love a book? If I post a gushy review am I going to be seen as a suck-up?

I understand where you're coming from. I don't go quite to that extreme--I will review books with more reviews than I have. But not the big-biggies. The Hunger Games doesn't need my review :P.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Kessie, I am writing what I know, but sometimes with all the discussions going around it feels like writing knowledge changes. And being a little, indie, newly-published author....I don't know. Sometimes I feel like I'm seen as just "playing author." It has nothing to do with ability--I think my writing ability is strong and getting stronger. It has to do with my rank on the ladder.

Jennette said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I'm not there yet, but have seen some of this from a distance and have struggled with some of this as well. I'm not sure how or what I'm doing, but just trying to do...learning as I what Kessie said. (But at this moment, I feel more like throwing in the towel, but that's whole other story...)

I had started a blog at the beginning of this year, hoping to connect with other writers to discuss the art, craft, and business of fiction in like a study group since I couldn't be in person with my local writer's guild and then I read Kristen Lamb's post on Sacred Cow Tipping and how we aren't supposed to blog about writing. Sigh. I hope my blog posts on writing are seen as a place for us to discuss the rules not because I'm an expert, I'm not, but that we are learning together in all this...and if anything...I'm learning how to blog, write on a deadline, etc...

Anyways...there are so many observations here, I'd like to respond to all of them. Ha! thanks for deep thoughts this Monday :)

Kat Heckenbach said...

Jennette, I don't see how writers can blog without writing about writing! I mean, we eat, sleep, and breathe it, but we're not supposed to blog about it? Bah!

I've had that feeling before, too--throwing in the towel. It will pass, though! And probably come again and again...but it will always pass! Hang in there!!!

Thanks for commenting :).

Jennette said...

Thanks Kat. I'll get out of this funk soon. :)

I totally agree about blogging about writing. I don't think it is big deal if we are blogging time to time on the topic of writing and stuff, because, yes, that is one of our passions. But Lamb's point was that if we aren't striving to be a writer teacher/coach/etc, then we should be focusing our blog on other things. Some of our readers will be writers, but not all of them. Lamb's blog has some great info on social media and indie publishing, and she does a lot better job at explaining these things. :) Her blog is and I find her website a wealth of knowledge and humorous too :)

Kat Heckenbach said...

Ah, gotcha. Yes, I agree with that. some bloggers specialize in how-to, and that's great. I have never done that, but I do blog a lot about my experiences and observations regarding writing.

Thanks for the link! I'll check her blog out :).

Alan O said...

13 question marks in one post! And that seems fitting, since you're putting your finger on one of the great contradictions: "we are supposed to exude...knowledge."

The contradiction is this: Most people (particularly thoughtful, introspective, artistic types) have doubts. Insecurities. Question marks. Yet, loads of psychological research has proven that Confidence sells.

Those that "exude knowledge" tend to be more influential, more credible, and more prominent. *Regardless* of whether they are factually correct.

If you study the cases of famous Imposters...those who pass themselves off as airline pilots, business tycoons, or even (gulp!) brain surgeons, you find that the number one quality that enables them to pull off the deception is Confidence.

So, do we "posture ourselves as professionals"... or just be honest? There's a natural tension between the two.

In the marvelous book "Quiet" by Susan Cain, there's a great quote (I forget the source): "Some people are more certain about everything than I am about anything."

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thirteen question marks. That's kinda cool. It's my lucky number :).

I had a friend once tell me, back before Finding Angel came out, that I needed to "posture" myself as a writer. I do think confidence makes a difference, and I actually feel quite genuinely confident in many things.

The problem--I worry that it comes across as over-confident sometimes. Arrogant. That the industry doesn't really care about knowledge, but what you've got to back up your stance.

For example--an author like Stephenie Meyer. I tried reading Twilight and found it horribly written. But she is a millionaire and I am a virtual unknown. Does that mean she's got knowledge I don't have? Or just luck I don't have? Do I have a right to criticize her at all? And that goes for any and all authors I look at that way--the ones selling books left and right, books that make me shake my head.

I know, that doesn't clear anything up. But I think we need confidence, but we also need honesty. I won't--I can't--pretend I never have doubts.

Jeff Chapman said...

I feel your pain. As far as reviews go, anyone who has been published in a paying market must know something about writing. Lots and lots of people with even fewer credentials write reviews. Regarding negative reviews, if I don't like something, I don't bother to review it. If I think something could have been done better but still has merit, I offer suggestions.

Interesting to read about your problems with getting help with promotions. I do a lot of reviews on my blog of other writer's stories. I hope those people remember when I need to promote something. I suspect it will be hit or miss. Some will help. Others won't.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Yep, Jeff, just like there are armchair football players,there are armchair authors. Those who do not write at all, or don't write a given genre, but have all sorts of opinions about how it should be done. I'm not saying that in a snarky way. We write for readers, and most readers aren't writers, and yet the readers' opinions are the ones that matter most.

But within the writing world, there is much hierarchy, and much worry about saying the wrong thing about someone's book, because if you review their book poorly, then you are sticking your own neck out when it's your turn to be published. It makes me question whether I should be reviewing books at all.

Promotion has been so strange. I have found it to be an ornery beast, and one I don't like dealing with. But it's necessary. I just wish I could leave it up to someone else! :P

Jessica Thomas said...

"No matter what you do, someone is judging you."

Yes, yes, and yes. And I don't even have a novel published yet. It's exhausting...the fear that if I make one too many typos people are going to think I'm not cut out for this gig.

Eventually, I'll get over worrying so much about what other people think. After than, I will get over being so hard on myself. Maybe.

Rick C said...

I really appreciate your honesty! The bowl does seem to grow faster and I do seem to know so little. It is a process. Congratulations on your awards and thank you for your encouragement!

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thanks so much, Rick! I'm honest because I can't not be. It's a frustrating process for so many authors. We have to be professional, yes, and not whine all the way. But I don't think it helps anyone to pretend the road to publication, and beyond publication, is all smooth and happy-happy-joy-joy the whole way :).