The night before Thanksgiving, I pounded out a blog entry that I held off on posting. I was pretty ticked when I wrote it and I’ve discovered it’s best not to share what you write (or say) in a moment of heat (I’m working on the keeping my mouth shut part).
Now that most of the turkey, the thanks, and the weekend of mad consumerism are all behind us, I have revised the post, retaining the ideas, excising the vitriol, and reflecting on just what led me to get so angry.
For the past few weeks, as I mentioned in my post about paying for reviews, I have been diligently searching online for places/ways to publicize “Dance of Souls.” Many of the links are dead ends, leading to content or opportunities that no longer exist. Many are not related to literary fiction. Many are interesting but when I click down to find out how to submit a book for review, I get to something like the FAQ from Mark Athitakis’s American Fiction Notes, wherein he states unequivocally that he does not review self-published books and goes on to explain: “One must draw the line somewhere, and I’m drawing it there. I’ve tried, honest, but I’ve yet to encounter a self-published book that held my interest more than it loudly broadcasted its failings.”
These, I’ll admit, were the sentences that caused my hackles to rise.
Never mind what I initially wrote in response. I do understand why reviewers have to draw a line somewhere. Even I can see that the world of self-publishing is filled with loads of dreck, just as the Internet is filled with scams, bizarre ideas, and things that are downright dangerous. (Though I couldn’t help thinking, in the case of the book reviewer, that perhaps the reason he hasn’t yet encountered a self-published book worth reviewing is that he doesn’t read them any more.)
Then I recalled a conversation I’d had with a friend earlier in the day. She asked how things were going with my book. I told her it was hard to find time to do all the necessary marketing activities and that many of them required money I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend. “That’s interesting,” she said. “So, maybe the books that get published and sell well aren’t necessarily better, they’re just marketed better.”
Juxtaposing her musing with my response to the reviewer’s blog made me realize that what I’m really upset with is not the beleaguered book reviewer trying to keep from drowning in a sea of bad prose. I am angry at a world that doesn’t consistently reward intelligence, talent, hard work, or skill–or recognize good writing. I’m angry that just because a book has been published by a major publishing company doesn’t mean it’s good, and I’m angry that the corollary is also true: just because a book hasn’t been published by a major company doesn’t mean it’s bad.
And now we have arrived at the heart of my emotional reaction. To judge another’s writing implies that there is an ultimate standard against which one measures “art.” I’ve always been uncomfortable with that idea, believing (as the good moral and cultural relativist my parents raised me to be) that our upbringings and the times we live in necessarily color our values. I’m upset because I can’t have it both ways. I can’t live in an egalitarian world where everyone gets to have their say and also in a world that recognizes and rewards greatness.
The best revenge upon reluctant reviewers would be to become, like J.K. Rowling or Amanda Hocking, a runaway success. Yet that seems far from something I can simply decide to do. So here I sit, unreviewed, contemplating the last of the cold turkey in the fridge and wondering if it might taste better with a little revenge on the side.