Sunday, February 13, 2011

Joshilyn Jackson: Publicity v/s Bad Animals

So, we are talking this month about publicity, and in the last week, I have heard I should register and blog and interact on places like Good Reads and Library Thing and Amazon for the sake of this very P word. I am told writers must “Be a presence” there. I hear this both from folks in my industry and from reader mail.

Really? A novelist being a presence on a site where REVIEWS of their own books happen seems weird and counter-intuitive. Like pouring olive oil and aged balsamic onto a perfectly good strawberry shortcake. I will admit that these things----books, reviews---can both be fun and nourishing, but who wants them in the same dish? The very thought makes me a little queasy.

It’s the first thing we are told---it is not professional to respond to reviews. Period. PERIOD. Not even the good ones. You don’t cozy up and snuggle with the reviewer who gives you the rave; they may not love your next book with such vim, and it is their JOB to say so. Certainly we also must not respond to bad ones. The book has to stand up for itself; if the reviewer is wrong, plenty of readers and other reviewers and your own strong beating heart will know it.

There is no way for the writer to emerge from a response to a review with ANY grace. You look either smug or hypersensitive. And perhaps you are both. You are, after all, a writer, and so we must presume you own a herd of mental illnesses.

Your head is filled with many, many bad animals that chew and scrabble at your innards and make the story come out. AND THAT’S OKAY. That’s GREAT. Without the bad animals, there is no story....what’s not okay is letting those bad animals romp publicly around while you try to explain all the ways in which you own them.

No, when reviews are posted, for good or ill, and the writer LONGS to respond...I say you chain those beasts up and point their savage yearnings directly at that damnable blinking cursor, you let them fill the screen with the next story----the next story is an act of proactive beastery. You can’t waste bad animal on reactive review responses.

But I don’t see how a writer can reasonably keep these beasts in check on a site where people talk and speculate so openly about the book---and you, because story is an extension of self. The book is the story that rises up unstoppable in the space between one’s deepest ugly hurt places and one's most secret beautiful hopes and pleasures. So the only way to win, Matthew Broderick, is NOT TO PLAY.

Forget the writer, though. The site is not for them, after all. Think about the READER. Do you WANT the writer there, Oh Gentle Reader? Would Gentle Reader (and Not So Gentle Reader) feel as free to speak his/her mind if the author is watching? If no, then something is lost, and if yes, God help us all. To expand:

On every review site, you find a healthy population of Angry Reader Whose Own Manuscript Has Not Sold Who Solaces Itself By Explaining Why Every Current Book Is A Product Of The New York Publishing Machine And PS Also A Sub Par Abomination. The road to publication is long and hateful, there are black pits of discouraging ruin along the way, and some individual paths lead only to more no, more ruin, more heartbreak. It’s hard. Good Reads is a better place than a bell tower to shoot those angry, hurt, and ultimately misdirected bullets as metaphors instead, of, you know...bullets.

And then there is always a sprinkle of Something To Prove Reader Who Needs To Show The Internet It is Smarter Than The Room By Writing Hilarious Scathing Criticism. If the author becomes human, then the blithe vivisection of a text becomes the blithe vivisection of a person...Perhaps reality TV is giving us a taste for this, but it doesn’t mean writers should participate by showing up to publicly paw through their own guts.

And those Reader-Types are the fringe. The majority of the population is made up of Sincere Reader Who Wants To Honestly Discuss A Book Fully, Both The Good And The Bad, Perhapd To Evangelize For Beloved Books And Vent About Angry-Making Books.

Does he/she want the author hovering about, looking stabbed if they venture to say, “But the character of the sea monkey didn’t work for me...” or preening like an unendurable preen-monster if they say, “The sea monkey was so REAL...”

So.Why would readers want us there? Do you? If you write, are you there? How? Is there an upside I am missing? Is this publicity or masochism, and is there a difference? And WTH does this have to do with Happy Valentine’s Day, other than the fact that thinking about publicity has made me desperately want to go face down in a heart shaped box of Godiva Chocolates?

Joshilyn Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of four novels: gods in Alabama, Between, Georgia, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, and Backseat Saints. Her short fiction and essays have been published in literary magazines and anthologies such as FC2’s no victims anthology, Calyx, TriQuarterly, and most recently in Don’t Quit Your Day Job, Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs they Quit. Jackson is currently at work on her next novel, a multi-voiced new Southern Gothic tale about sexuality, identity, and redemption set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. You can visit her on the web at http://joshilynjackson.com

21 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My book is reviewed on those sites, but I am not there. Mostly because it's all I can do to keep up with blogging and Twitter!

Linda said...

As a reader, an occasional "guest author Q & A" may be nice and even appreciated on these types of reader sites, but I'd much rather a writer spend time actually writing their next work...as Alex just mentioned, blogging and other forms of social media like Twitter already keep an author busy promoting their current work (and supporting the work of others).

Anna Michaels said...

Brava, hurrah, turning cartwheels, all my inner animals applauding that you just said exactly what I think!

Kate said...

There is no such thing as bad animals but bad human.I am working so hard tonight looking for the best blog to which I can post story about my rabbit in her beautiful rabbit hutch. To admin, please let me know your idea to this regard.

More power!

Jill W. said...

I am on Good Reads a lot- its where I store my To Read list. I have the app on my phone so that anytime I hear about a book I want to read, I can pop it in there so I won't forget. I never really pay attention to whether an author has a "presence" there or not. I don't think it would effect how I review a book.

I do like the Q&A stuff or other information in the author sections of Amazon and B&N, but again, it does not affect how free I would feel to express my thoughts about the book.

I don't know how other people feel, but I don't find it difficult to separate the author as a person from the book as a piece of work.

beonin said...

I wish I had sage words to impart, but none come to mind. My opinion is the same as most everyone here. I would add that an author I follow shares her blog on Goodreads. She is not nearly as prolific a blogger as yourself, but it's nice to get updates from her. You could link your blog to Goodreads, maybe? Then it would be one more way for folks to find you and read what you are writing in addition to your publications. That way, you don't actually have to peruse the reviews, and still yet, be available for some nice q&a's which I love.

Ann Hite said...

Thanks Joshilyn. I've really struggled with this writing topic. You nailed how I feel!

Jill W. said...

I like beonin's suggestion. That way you can link to teh presence you already have on the interwebs.

Susan Cushman said...

"Proactive beastery." Where DO you get these phrases? :-) Your inner animal is obviously much loved. Kiss him for me on Valentine's Day:-)

aimee said...

I like beonin's suggestion, too. I'm on Goodreads, and I have to say I'd be... weirded out, if a writer whose book I'd reviewed responded to the review. In terms of mental health, I think no good can come of reading reviews on that site, or ANY site. My husband and I posted some scripts on a couple of screenwriting sites. In some respects it's been good (three indie directors have found our scripts there) but the reviews were bad for the soul, even when they were good.

River Jordan said...

Just got in from the DeNTIST and your words and these photos HELP me more than the non-existant, not in my possession drugs for my pain. I'm stealing them. Not your words that is, but your photos. The Jaws pic- one of my fav lines of all time - we Need a bigger boat which is what I feel on most days.
* on the comments on reviews. I have thanked people and glad the words spoke to them. I have made an equal try at speaking to any horrible ones and said - sorry you didn't care for . . . thank you reading books . . . hope you keep reading . . try these authors . . . and so on. BUT how grand would it be if writers could just WRITE :).

River

jessica handler said...

I just want to know where you got the passed out, cigarette smoking jackal. That is all.

Anonymous said...

You are right. There is no way to win by posting; you can only make it worse. There is a lovely little website called "Rate My Teacher." I have one rating. It is by a student who said I was the worst thing on earth and to avoid my class like the plague. Funnily enough, the student said he or she took ENG 060. Well. There is no such class. In fact, I believe students who actually have taken my classes know this, as they are required to type their class and section in the header of every paper they submit. Is there any way to mention it to the site administrators? Um, no. Please keep posting on your site, and wherever else you would like to direct us. We come to hear you because we love your books. Amen.
JulieB

jen_alluisi said...

I love GoodReads as a reader. I could care less whether an author is there or not. In fact, the most times I notice an author is even there is when one sends me a friend request thingy, and I'm like, "Hmmm, who is that person? I don't know them." So I look at their profile and go, "Oh. They're a random author trying to build their friend list with just anyone who will say yes so they can bug the crap out of you with over-promoting. PASS." This is not always the way it happens; there are certainly great authors there who are just cool because they share info and whatnot, but there do seem to be an inordinate number of self-published desperate bothersome writers there...

planetnomad said...

I use GoodReads as a reader. Sort of, that is. Ok, I've visited twice. No 3...4 times! Possibly 6. But I never bother with author blogs, normally. I just want to read the book!
You are different. I found your blog first, and loved it, and then later read your books. (I was overseas and could not get your books! But I did as soon as I got back) But for me at least, your presence on amazon or goodreads or similar places would not affect me one way or another.

LAMusing said...

I go to Good Read quite frequently. I check out reviews of other readers that seem to have similar tastes to mine - good way for me to find new books and authors.

I've only interacted once with a writer on Good Reads - I won a copy of her book on the site. After I posted a good review she dropped me a note saying "thanks - so glad you liked it". Which was nice.

That being said, as a writer (playwright) I never read reviews - good ones made me smug and bad ones ... well, bad ones hurt even if they were idiotic.

I do love the Good Reads author spotlights and Q & A's or author blogs are enjoyable.

PS - Love that picture of disturbed kitty.

Editor @ the "Dew" said...

As a reviewer, when I post a review and suddenly an email pops up in my inbox that's from the author of said reviewed book, I have to grab the Pepto and a whiskey before opening it. Sends me into a panic - it's always a great relief if it's a simple thank you. (I tend to finish the whiskey anyway....)

So, as you can see, it goes both ways - I don't think I'd want to be on a site that the author was also on.... it would definitely guide my review, I'm sure.

Marleigh said...

I don't use Goodreads because authors are on it. In fact, I didn't know they were. I use it to talk about books with my friends. If an author responded to one of my reviews, I think I'd be completely mortified.

Anyway, it looks like you already have an author page there. Seems like you could also hook your blog up to it if you liked. Might get you some extra readers without much work. Couldn't hurt. *shrug*

Stephanie said...

I love Goodreads. I especially love finding my favorite authors there - and I love browsing their own reading lists and reviews :)

JoAnnabelle said...

I second beonin's suggestion about linking your blog (faster than kudzu) on Goodreads. It used to be there - that is where I found it originally - but sadly the link broke when the url changed a while back. I doubt if I ever would have found your blog otherwise, which would be a tragedy because you are hilarious!

Lloyd Lofthouse said...

I wish I had read this post before I responded to a few of the mean one-star reviews of my first novel on Amazon.com.

Now, I want to introduce this post to the readers on one of my Blogs. Do you allow reposts or should I just summarize and aim people this way with a link?