Tag: Indie Author Issues

Why I Don’t Review Fellow Authors

I don’t review other authors, not as a rule. This is for several reasons, starting with the fact that many of my fellow authors’ egos are easily bruised. I, on the other hand, went to college specifically to study the craft of writing, and I experienced years of peer review sessions where my work was constantly judged by my fellow classmates. This judgment was not always kind, and was sometimes even brutal.

That was fine with me, and with most of the rest of the serious writers in the classroom, because what we wanted most was to know how we could improve our work. Yes, praise for the things that we did well was important, but we also needed to hear what our areas of greatest weakness were, and how to fix them. That’s not the kind of lesson that we could learn if we were easily hurt by hearing what other people really think of our writing.

Consequently, I’ve built up a callous that many other indie writers often seem not to have.

Another factor is simply my own decades of internal critiques and analyses of various popular works. When I read a book, watch a movie/play/TV show, listen to a song, and so forth, I always come away from the experience with a list of praises and complaints. I vivisect the writings of others, and I discuss writing with other people, and I read reviews. All of which has thoroughly demonstrated to me that audiences as a whole have very different tastes in entertainment, writing included.

There have been many popular works of entertainment or education that I have personally loathed, and have felt were absolutely horribly written. That doesn’t affect their popularity. Likewise, there have been any number of critically panned and/or unpopular pieces of entertainment or education that I have personally found quite enjoyable and/or well-written. Again, my opinion doesn’t affect the overall popularity or success of the work. Just because some people dislike something doesn’t mean that everybody else will, and just because some people think that something is bad doesn’t mean that everybody else will agree.

I’ve learned over time to not take bad reviews very personally, because everybody has a right to their own opinion, but that opinion doesn’t necessarily mean much about how other people might view the same work.

Moreover, there are quite a few works of entertainment that are masterfully written, but that are simply not to my particular tastes, and there are any number of works of entertainment that are poorly written, but that I personally enjoy. Quality is only one aspect of appreciation, and personal taste accounts for a lot.

So when receiving reviews, I tend to take most criticisms in stride simply because I’m not likely to be much affected by one person’s opinion of my work. Not all authors have the same attitude, however, and cannot seem to take my review of their work as simply my personal view of their work, as just Some Guy’s Opinion. They can often take it personally, no matter how politely, and/or gently I try to express myself to them.

For that matter, some authors don’t even want reviews to be gentle, and can take that kind of soft serve response as an insult in its own right. Even when attempting to determine what kind of author I’m dealing with, what kind of feedback they’re looking for, I’ve inadvertently hurt people’s feelings. After reading one author’s work, I asked how they wanted the criticism, if they preferred it to all be super-nice, or more toward the soul-crushing side of things.

Just the fact that “soul-crushing” was a possible end of the spectrum greatly upset this author.

All of which wouldn’t matter much, except that there’s often a lot of drama that goes along with hurting another author’s feelings. Especially as an indie author, I try to avoid feuds and drama with fellow writers. It all gets in the way of accomplishing my goals of writing and selling my own stories. I’ve seen too many other authors get caught up in drama following a review of a fellow author’s work, and I’ve rarely seen it pay off very well.
Even if I was willing to deal with that kind of thing, yet another factor is that I don’t have nearly as much free time to read as I’d like, and I already have a reading list that would take months or years to get through. Adding to that list, only to end up hurting another author’s feelings, is not a particularly enticing opportunity.

In short, I am a picky reader who is likely to find some kind or level of fault in almost anything and everything that I read, and in my experience most indie writers cannot deal well with people pointing out their faults. That’s perfectly fine; I’ll be quite content to avoid reviewing them for that reason.

Of course, there are always those authors who feel insulted when they don’t get reviews at all.

Being An Invisible Writer

Conventional wisdom is that independent authors can’t ever achieve success by going around asking everybody they meet to buy their books, especially if they do it by spamming out social media posts, emails, and what not, asking people to do exactly that with no other introduction. Conventional wisdom is correct.

What you’re supposed to do is to come at things a bit more sideways than that. You have to create a “platform,” some kind of format or forum where people come for something other than your for-sale writing. Once you have the crowd good and hooked on whatever free thing or things you’ve been giving them, then you casually mention that oh, you’ve happened to have written something that happens to be for sale, in case anybody is interested. By this time, the people all know you, and they presumably like you, and they’ll be much more likely to be interested in whatever it is you happen to be selling.

Conventional wisdom is very likely to be correct again… but it doesn’t do me any real good at this point.

I’ve put in the time and effort to study my craft at a national university. I got my degree, but it’s not bringing me any money, so I have to have a day job to pay my bills while I try to fend off the student loan jackals repeatedly. I’m not asking for pity here–it’s all perfectly normal, and I’m not exactly a starving artist. But if I had it all to do over again, I’d do things differently, because the only real skill I picked up in college is writing itself.

I have the skills it takes to weave (hopefully) compelling stories, full of interesting characters and/or situations. I do not have the skills required to make a podcast, or to have a YouTube channel, or whatever else it takes to build a decent platform. So it seems to me a bit like going to law school, then graduating to discover that all lawyers must hand-build their own office before they can take any new clients. It’s a bit frustrating.

Not only do I lack the skills it takes to build a pre-existing audience for my work, I also lack the time. It can take years of dedicated work to build up a decent base of potential consumers who are all interested in you and what you have to say, and I’m in my mid-forties. Taking on what is essentially an unpaid second job, in a field I’m uninterested in, and spending a few years at it before seeing real results, just doesn’t seem like something that I’m realistically able or likely to do.

All of which means that I have to find other ways to let the world know that I exist.

I mean, sure, I’m going to try to work on my platform, and my brand, and so forth. That’s one reason why I’m dedicating this entire month of May to adding to my much-neglected blog. Blogs, actually, because in addition to my old Goodreads blog, I’ve set up another blog on WordPress, and it’s seeing some activity already. I only started my WordPress blog five days ago, and I already have 13 followers. That, plus my 150 followers from my Goodreads blog means that I have a potential platform of 163 people. Maybe it’ll increase significantly by the end of this month, and much of my irritation and hand-wringing about platform-building will turn out to have been for naught. I doubt it, but that’s okay–I have other plans.

Because I don’t envision much success with building my own platform, I plan to try to figure out ways to use other people’s platforms. For example, this year I’m focusing more on submitting work to anthologies, because while I only get a one-time fee for that kind of work, the people putting together and selling the anthologies are going to do the heavy lifting when it comes to promotion. The people will hear about the anthology because of the antho-makers’ platforms, and when they buy the book, they’ll read it, see one of my glorious stories, and think to themselves, “My! Who IS this Richard Bacula chap, and where can I read more of his wonderful writing?” Then they’ll go to Amazon, see my 30-something titles currently available for sale for as low as 99 cents (ahem!), and perhaps make a purchase or two.

Similarly, I plan to look into doing some guest blog posts on other people’s better-supported, better-promoted blogs. If you’re reading this, and you have a blog with any kind of decent following, and you might like a guest post from yours-truly, let me know.

For that matter, I’m always open to co-writing short fiction with other authors. There are plenty of authors who have the opposite problem that I do–they’re significantly better at promotion than they are at the actual writing part. For that matter, there are non-authors who have a platform and a following, and who haven’t really considered breaking into the erotic fiction market, and who could use a talented co-author like myself. Again, if this sounds like it might describe you or somebody you know, contact me or have that person contact me.

As things are, I feel that my main obstacle is simply getting the world to know that my writing exists. My sales currently make my writing a fun hobby that brings in beer money, or the occasional minor windfall like when my BDSM novel (which happens to be free for Kindle today if you want to check it out) “Letting Go” was mentioned in Women’s Health Magazine a couple years back.

I guess that’s all that I’ve really got to say at this point. I’ve got some other irons in other fires, and some secret schemes to rocket me to the top, but nothing really worth discussing at this point.

See you next time!