(Most of you know Michele, I think; she’s a writer and reviewer, and someone I’m lucky to count as a friend. Don’t miss her Book Love website.)
Doin’ it All Anyway
by Michele Lee
So at this point a lot of you are wondering just who I am and why I’ve taken over Stacia’s blog. My name is Michele Lee. I’m an author (HWA qualified, but not SFWA, and an anthology featuring one of my shorts is Stoker nominated this year), a reviewer (for Dark Scribe Magazine, Monster Librarian and The Letter), editor (zombie review editor for Monster Librarian, though I have fanzine editing experience as well) and I’m a bookseller for Borders (at least until April when our store closes). About the only thing I haven’t done in publishing, other than the whole bestselling author with a three book deal gig, is agenting, and that’s because no one’s offered me the opportunity.
I’m here today because I am exactly the kind of person certain internet folk are claiming that Stacia and the YA Mafia say shouldn’t exist, and reasonably, I take issue with that. First of all, YA Mafia? Pu-lease, in the horror ghetto where I was spawned we have the Cabal, which has been ruining careers and sacrificing puppies to elder gods when they should have been writing for over ten years. I call your mafia and raise you ancient cannibal fauns, nasal parasites and zombie-fucking-apocalypses.
But I digress…much like the original discussion started about Stacia’s blog.
Here’s the down and dirty point I think she was trying to make: People treat you differently after you’ve been published. People treat you differently when you have book cred. They take your words wrong. They put intent there that wasn’t. And for some reason just because an author has a book or two to their name their opinion weighs heavier even when it’s still only their opinion and they’re still only people who don’t know everything.
That aside, let’s look at the real reason I’m here: Can authors also be reviewers?
Well, sure they can. Many of them do. Charlaine Harris recommends books on her blog all the time. Zadie Smith just took over the book column in Harper magazine and have you heard of a place called Publishers Weekly? Many authors have reviewed, anonymously and not, for PW.
Can if affect your career? Absolutely. It would be silly to assume it wouldn’t. Once you set out to have a career everything can affect it. Sitting around watching TV can affect your career, particularly if you’re not writing when you should be and Tweeting snide comments when you shouldn’t be.
Can they co-exist? Carefully they can.
I started reviewing after my second short story was published. I was looking for a way to get and stay involved in the publishing community, even when I didn’t have a story coming out. I was looking, like all budding authors, for a little legitimacy. Let me make this clear though, reviewing was always part of my plan of attack when it came to building a career.
Reviewing makes me read. A lot. Things I never would have picked up on my own. Things I loved and had to dial down the fangirl in order to assess. Things I hated and had to neutrally assess the pros and cons of.
Reviewing made me have to think, really think, about the elements of a story and why it worked or failed for me. Which in turn made me think about the elements of my own stories, whether they were as effective as they needed to be.
Reviewing for other people means I have to meet deadlines, both in actually doing the reading and in sending in my analysis.
Review editing pushes me to be more firm in my publishing presence. I have to made myself more comfortable with (or just able to fake it better) approaching authors, publishers and editors for review copies, interviews and other interactions. In short I can’t flake out when I’m feeling insecure because people are depending on me to do my job. And since those same people are the ones I work with in my personal writing I figure if I can ask them to send me free copies of books and do interviews with me I can ask them to add my query to the pile they’re already reading anyway.
Also, complete cheat here, as a writer knowing the market, supporting it, reading it helps me target my submissions better. What I’m reviewing is the same people I’m submitting to, so I can better target my submissions by sending to the places putting out work I like or am impressed by. Reviewing is market research (albeit harder than just buying magazines and reading them).
So what are some of the cons?
Reviewing sucks up as much time as writing. More if you let it because lots more people want you to read and review their work than want to read yours. And if you get stuck in a slump where you just need to feel like you’re moving forward adding more reviews to your credits and crossing things off your to do list feels a lot better than sending out another round of subs on a story that’s been out there for a year.
You have to read some bad stuff. Really bad stuff. That makes you want to cry, especially when you think about your poor rejected manuscript making the circuit, yet this is published. Also you have to read some really good stuff that isn’t going to get the attention it deserves because it’s not the current trend, or is a small press release that most people will never learn about.
Yeah, people get upset if you don’t like their work. Usually they don’t ever say anything to your face, they just quietly stop talking to you, or give you a polite cold shoulder if you meet them face to face, if anything at all. Why does being a published writer make someone not a human capable of disappointment? (Not that being disappointed means you should plaster it all over the intarnets.) You do have to consider what happens if you don’t like a book. Sometimes it’s not worth it to publicly state that you didn’t like the book. (Even though yes, negative reviews do sell books.) Other times the editor you’re reviewing for expects you to be honest. Honest doesn’t equal cruel. Usually if you treat it like a job you must be professional at, meaning mention positives as well as negative, consider who the audience would be, if it isn’t you, and avoid personal statements (“This books is…” not “this author is…”) and true nastiness you’ll be okay.
However bad reviews aren’t the only ones that can hurt you. What if publishers get hooked on the idea of you as a reviewer who is predisposed to like their work and decides to keep sending you things to review, and likewise rejects your work because they’d rather have you supporting them as a reviewer rather than having to support you as a writer? It happens, and it sucks. Just like writers can get pigeon-holed by fans into writing the same kinds of stories, reviewer-writers can get trapped in the role of reviewer and be completely unrecognized as a writer.
You can burn out faster if you’re playing writer and reviewer. You can get tired of seeing the same thing over and over. You can find yourself too tired of a genre to keep writing in it. When something becomes business, much less double business, it’s easier to get bored with it and groan when you see another zombie decorated cover with “Dead [Insert random word here]” in dripping gore letters on the cover.
Books are a solid, holdable thing, but publishing is an industry built on ideas. It is too vast., too varied, to wild a thing to be determined and controlled by a handful of people. Publishing is a sieve, and there are too many agents, editors, publishers, self publishers, magazines, anthologies and webzines for someone to be completely locked out of it by one or a handful of people.
Top that off with the insane crazy busy of the industry and expecting there to be some sort of collection of people who can be successful AND have time to blackball people is like expecting the ocean to stay still for a picture because you asked it to.
Yeah it’s easy to screw up if you’re trying to be a reviewer and a writer. The big mistake is not expecting the two to affect each other. But if they are both aspects of your job, a job you go about as professionally as you would a day job in every aspect that you can, they can coexist. The key is professionalism, and remembering to keep an eye on the overall goal, not letting the individual parts run themselves with abandon.
Someday I will probably have to make the decision between one or the other. Maybe it will be a happy occasion, because I’ll be forced to chose because I have a multi-book deal at auction and have to focus on writing. But I don’t ever expect that I’ll stop recommending the books I love to people. How and why I do it, though, is something that takes more care and consideration the more “well known” I am.