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Guest Introduction: I’m in UR Genre Havin UR Emotions

Guest Introduction: I’m in UR Genre Havin UR Emotions

AJH contacted me a few weeks ago to pitch a couple of ideas at me. I loved his self deprecating voice and the fact that he is a fairly new romance reader. We can watch his journey into romance through his eyes. 

Once upon a time, I accidentally read every romance Georgette Heyer ever wrote. My Grandmother had a box of them in her attic – I still remember those yellow-grey dust jackets and the faint smell of damp that rose from the pages – and I was still too young to understand that these were Girl Books About Girl Things and I shouldn’t have been interested. To be fair, I also tried her mystery novels but since there was more death and much less preoccupation with tight breeches and smart hats, I was not gripped. I subsequently developed an enthusiasm for books about dragons and that might have been the end of it.

Enlarged perspectives

In ordinary life, at least in my ordinary life, there are not many opportunities to interact with genre fiction outside your usual preferences, unless you count the Try To Read 50 Shades Of Grey Without Laughing party game. And, although I’ve been lent the occasional fantasy-with-romantic-elements by friends, I can’t say I’ve really made much effort to broaden my horizons or re-kindle my early passion for witty ladies and dashing gentleman. I am not speaking universally, as I’m sure plenty of other men read romance, but nevertheless it’s a female-dominated genre – and, at least in my little corner of the world, there seems to a mutual assumption of disinterest. Why, after all, should something that is targeted at, for and about women care what men have to think about it? And, if that’s the case, why should men bother with it anyway?

Truthfully, I think we over-essentialise about genre in general. We read a couple of books, don’t find them especially memorable and peremptorily decide we don’t like sci-fi, or thrillers, or fantasy, or whatever else it happens to be. Not so long ago, I did a bookswap with a friend.  I gave him a book about dragons and he gave me a  book about spaceships and we both came back with the same basic complaint: “dude, nothing happens in this.” To which we both responded with the same basic outrage: “dude, loads happens, there was like a space war / an epic mystical quest / a rift in the time-space-continuum / a dragon.” The thing is, reading genre fiction is an act of habituation (in a good way) and the tropes that are often dismissed by those outside that particular genre as stereotypes, acquire meaning and impact not just from the context in which they are presented in a particular book but the expansive, extensive, exciting backdrop of the genre as a whole. In short: you have to learn a genre before you can love it.  Unless you were fortunate enough to read it as a child or teenager, in which case – like a second language – those interpretative pathways will stay with you forever.

And, in my case, you’ll read quite terrible books simply because you remember the pleasure dragons gave you when you were young.

Of course, when it comes to romance, this becomes even more problematic because the process of habituation becomes about gender as well as genre (ohhh, did you see what I did there, all this AND puns).  Instead of merely saying “I just don’t don’t get this yet” it seems both fashionable and, indeed expected, to take the George Eliot approach,  dismissing these ‘silly novels by lady novelists’ as neither intended for us nor interesting to us. But just because something isn’t explicitly for you, doesn’t mean it has nothing to say to you. In fact, it’s usually a good indication you should be listening.

I would just like to say at this juncture that I hope I am not coming across as some kind of wannabe white knight venturing forth to do battle with scary girly stuff in order to demonstrate my open-minded sensitivity.

I’m just curious.  And interested.  In a basic human way.

And I’d like to share this journey.

The plan, such as it is, is fairly simple: tell me what to read and I’ll read it, assuming I can readily get hold of it.  It can be a book you love, a book you think defines the genre, a book you feel is historically important, any sub-genre you fancy, whatever you want, no limits, no safewords.  I won’t really be reviewing books as such because I don’t have any basis by which to judge, or arguably any right to do so.  And, equally, here’s my promise to you: I’m going to try to my level best not to be stupid about this.  Fresh perspectives can be invigorating, if they’re offered with grace, but there’s nothing worse than somebody standing on the sidelines of your genre, being clueless and demanding that every trope justify its existence.  So if I start sliding down Mount Stupid, just tell me to stop it and I will.

For better or worse, my journey starts with The Flame and The Flower. I’d like to claim some kind of scientific method for this but people were talking about it on Twitter, and thus was history made.  Nowadays I make all my important decisions through the medium of Twitter – I’m like the Dice Man for the electronic age.  Next on the pile is Lord of Scoundrels, again courtesy of Twitter and largely because I was promised shirt-ripping.  But from then on, I’m in your hands.

I believe it was Oscar Wilde who first said: let’s ‘ave it up.

Do Readers Owe Other Readers to Review?

Do Readers Owe Other Readers to Review?

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As more authors bypass traditional publishing to bring their products directly to the consumer, the greater the risk is to the reader that she wastes her money (albeit a low amount of it) and her time (possibly more precious) on a sub standard product.  The benefit of a book that is published by an actual publisher, whether it is a print or digital first publisher, is this idea that someone impartial has said “this is worth reading.”  With a self published book or one published by a house that is run by the author herself (this is more common that you think readers), there is no impartial person standing between you and the book giving a single stamp of approval.

But even with that impartial person given a stamp of approval, non discounted book prices drives down the number of chances readers can take on a book in any given month. With covers, titles, blurbs, and themes so similar from one book to another, relying on the old browse method can be tricky and expensive.

With the increase in pay to play reviews which will undoubtedly grow as the secondary publishing services market grows to address the needs of self published authors, readers’ opinions are more important than ever.

I’ve been trying to buy and read more books that are self published. I feel like I am a pretty forgiving reader and am willing to overlook any number of grammatical and spelling errors and typos so long as the story is readable but I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books out there, even for 99c.  I’m not concerned about the money as much as my time, although 99c failures can add up fairly quick.  In order to sort through the books, I rarely buy one that doesn’t have at least 30-40 reviews with an average of four stars and above.

I asked Ned about this and he says he feels absolutely no compulsion to rate or review anything he buys, reads, consumes.  “There are plenty of people who are willing to provide their opinions,” Ned said, looking at me pointedly.  But I rarely leave reviews at Amazon or even Goodreads, both places that I go to look for reader opinions of books.  I write reviews here at Dear Author and that is about it.  Since the turn of the year, though, I have started to leave one to two sentence reviews at Goodreads of every book I’ve read, kind of like one of reading list roundups here at Dear Author, as a way to give back to the Goodreads community.  I haven’t yet started leaving reviews on Amazon but I’ve been thinking about whether I owe the customers on Amazon to rate the books I’ve purchased there.

I don’t think readers owe it to authors to review or rate their books up or down but I do wonder if readers owe other readers to review/rate their books so as to help other readers.  Maybe it is to warn readers away or maybe it is to help a book you really think is a gem find an audience.  Of course one can say that some readers’ reviews aren’t worthwhile because they are universally “THIS IS THE MOST WUNDERFUL BOOKES EVERR!!! or “icantbelieveiread that cruppy book”.  Or you can argue that one good review outweighs a dozen one line reviews that tell a consumer almost nothing.  Nonetheless, a cumulative number of reviews, either good or bad, can help to create a general picture of whether a book is worthy of your time.

What do you think?