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I note that in the television world, reviewing has long been uncoupled from the process of deciding what will be allowed to survive and prosper–well-reviewed shows get axed all the time because ratings fail to hit whatever levels the networks think are sufficient. (And that doesn’t include all the focus-group pre-screening that has its roots in the Hollywood practice of pre-release test screenings. That goes back to the Marx Brothers’ live-testing bits to see which jokes would go into a picture.)
Which is one reason I worry hardly at all about the buyer’s-guide end of reviewing. A glance at any set of Amazon reviews, which have a lot in common with the focus-group/Neilsen-ratings model, tells me how much impact anything I write in Locus is likely to have on a book’s sales or reception. Instead, I carry on a conversation with an audience I hope is not entirely of my imagining–one that is more like what I see at the annual Minicon reviewers’ panel. That audience is compiling reading lists, but it is also interested in what’s going on in the field, in talking about current tropes and themes and fashions. That is also the audience that attends panels on the history of the field or particular motifs and themes, that goes to room parties where the talk is of books and stories and movies and how they work and what they’ve enjoyed and why.
To shift slightly: one of Stefan’s comments reminds me of what happened to my wife’s (non-SF) short story collection. It was the first release from a revived small press of some repute, but the inexperienced new management failed to send out advance review copies to the standard industry outlets. Absent a PW, Kirkus, or LJ review, no review editors at other outlets would consider assigning a print review after the book was released, so she got none–for a book with a blurb from Ursula Le Guin on the back. (It still sold a respectable 2500 copies in two years.) Now all she hears from agents and publishers is how important it is for her to have a “platform” from which to market her next book–in fact, it looks like possession and operation of a platform is becoming a pre-requisite for getting an agent, and since having an agent is a necessity for getting consideration from a publisher, it starts to look like Job One for a writer is not writing but marketing a brand. But perhaps I digress.
Guy Gavriel Kay
Fake ‘reviews’, invariably laudatory, seem to me an adjacent but not (quite) necessary issue in this, and I thought about raising it in my first comment. Peter’s daughter was a bit of a drive-by target of a piece on the ‘too niceness’ of Twitter and other social media then, right after, a young Canadian writer was hit by a crushing, atention-getting negative review in the NYTBR (it almost felt as if the review was a retort to the ‘niceness’ debate, but I doubt it was, it just appeared in the midst).
We may need to distinguish (or try) between marketing and reviewing. And the blogosphere can make that a challenge.
Bernard Shaw reviewed himself – negatively – under a pseudonym, in order to write outraged letters to the editor under his own name.
As someone who lives on the Internet, I always find it a bit odd when I trip across an author who doesn’t have much internet presence–what should I link to in the author intro? But there are certainly writers who are making it work both with and without the Web.
Almost none of the writers I was working with at the Iowa Writers Workshop had web presences; they’ve by and large had no trouble landing agents.
When my last book came out, the publisher sent me a booklet on establishing and maintaining an effective internet presence, and it was pretty clear that I was expected to do so. But I would do so for myself anyway. I’m sure there are writers who are successful without one, but of the writers I’ve seen who started around the same time I did, the most successful are also the ones who are on the internet on a consistent basis. They have effective platforms because they don’t really think of them as platforms: they enjoy being on the internet, socializing and sharing ideas. I’ve seen wonderful writers essentially go unnoticed, and their books go unbought, because they’re not connected to this network we’re all on. The critics and reviewers know who they are, and they sometimes win awards, but they haven’t connected with readers. I don’t like the idea of being a brand, but I do think having an internet presence is really important if you’re starting out.
Rachel, could that be a difference between literary and genre fiction? Also, I think the Iowa Writers Workshop is a brand of its own. I’m sure it opens doors . . .
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