Book reviews & audience in the Internet Age

Book reviews are the published writer’s reality show. Many of us cannot help ourselves. We peruse them to get a glimpse of our beloved audience, for better or for worse.

(Side note: A quick search on the history of book reviews came up with nothing! I cannot help but wonder when the first reviews were published in periodicals. Anyone?)

Remember, much of a writer’s time is spent alone in a room with a notebook or laptop, maybe in a cafe or library. Even when surrounded by people or pets, we’re often in our own worlds. By the time a book is published, we are hungry for ways to eavesdrop on the reader as she reads our words and enters our worlds.

Book reviews give us a window. Of course there are book signings, readings, and book clubs visits–all wonderful way of making contact. But for every one town we visit, there are hundreds we cannot. Historically, how did writers reach loyal readers and gain new ones? Book reviews.

Until the arrival of the internet. Suddenly writers (and artists, musicians, etc.) had new ways to connect with their audience and with each other. It started with message boards and blogs,  then myspace, facebook, and twitter. Ah, twitter.

I know that I’ve written about this before. Sure, there’s a lot of mundane filler on twitter, but there are also gems. For me, it’s nice to know that at 2am I can dip into twitter and connect with others also working during the witching hours, a patchwork picture of the creative process: Felicia Day peruses casting submissions for The Guild, Neil Gaiman works on his Monkey book, Leonard Nimoy shares an old photograph from his early days on film, Molly Robison writes a Ouija-inspired ghost song, Ellen Kushner listens to the final mix of her radio play The Witches of Lublin, Amanda Palmer composes an analysis of Rebecca Black and music today, Kabriel designs a new double-breasted vest, Kyle Cassidy shares his beautiful portrait of Michael Zulli. Along the way they talk to fans and to each other.

But back to book reviews. They carry weight. Depending on where they appear, they carry different types of weight. A New York Times book review is not the same as one posted on a personal blog. However both are online, are collected by google, reach people around the world, and can influence readers.

One twitter friend who reads The Silence of Trees sends out a tweet about how much she loved it. Perhaps ten of her friends go out and buy a copy on Amazon (or on kindle for $.99) Five of them love it and tweet about it, or post it on facebook, and so on it goes. The readership grows. It’s remarkable really. Word of mouth can become viral on the internet.

Speaking of viral and reviews, doubtless some of you have heard about the author who publicly trashed a book review and damaged her reputation (if not, here you go.) She broke the rule, you never respond to book reviews except to say, “Thank you.”

I don’t always share my book reviews, but I do read all that I can get my hands on (thank you, Google Alerts). I’m sure this will change in time. Published writer friends have told me that I will eventually stop reading the reviews. Perhaps.

This book review written by Kristen Thiel on The Nervous Breakdown made me happy:

“The Silence of Trees is a modern American narrative steeped in fairy tale. Though some scenes are rather laborious, most provide excellent vehicles for conveying Ukranian folklore and religion, the surrealism of war and immigration, and a woman sharing her story with both bluntness and wonder, the mixed result of finding her own voice after decades of restrained living.

Few book reviews start with a foot rub but, really, more should. In one of the most thrilling scenes in Valya Dudycz Lupescu’s first novel—exciting for its unabashed passion and feminism, and most important for the new story it promises to start even thirty pages from the book’s end…”    Read the rest here.

Tastes vary in style, story, genre. I understand that everyone will not like everything I write. I understand that people will take issue with a story or poem or book or a character for any of a hundred reasons. Some will love it. Some will just like it. Some will not. I guess that’s why they tell you not to read the reviews. So that you don’t get paralyzed as a writer.

As writers, we can read the reviews; we can share them (if we want); and we can bite our tongues and keep writing.

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to write a review for The Silence of Trees on their blog or on Amazon or Goodreads. For new writers, you are our PR teams.

And thank you, Kristen Thiel. You made my Thursday morning.

Magic and the Literary Continuum

When I was in grammar school, I discovered science fiction and fantasy. It was a natural obsession for me, since I loved all things fanciful and magical as a child. I used to save up earnings from babysitting and summer jobs to buy paperbacks from the used bookstore at the end of the block on the street where I grew up.

I already loved Bradbury and Tolkien and read everything I could find by Zelazny and Arthur C. Clarke, but the used book store was where I bought my own copies of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and where I discovered Douglas Adams, Heinlein, Le Guin, de Lint, and so many others. I would then carry their paperbacks everywhere, immersed in their worlds.

I devoured Charles de Lint’s Yarrow in junior high, during a time when real life was lonely and seemed hard to bear. Cat, the heroine of Yarrow, enters the Otherworld through her dreams. The story resonated with me on so many levels, and the writing swept me up and inspired me. After that, I read everything by Charles de Lint that I could get my hands on, and I felt at home in so many of his books.

This week, Charles de Lint reviewed my novel, The Silence of Trees, for the March/April issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The review begins:

“Before starting this book, I wasn’t familiar with either Valya Dudycz Lupescu or Chicago’s Wolfsword Press. But I’m happy to have that corrected, because I want to read more of Lupescu’s work…” You can read the rest here.

I thought back to my twelve-year-old self sitting on a swing in the backyard of our Chicago bungalow, reading Yarrow and dwelling so completely in Cat’s dreamworld. Reading Charles de Lint’s review is one of those moments I’ll treasure, like handing Neil Gaiman (whose storytelling I have loved since college) a copy of The Silence of Trees. There’s something so wonderful about being able to share one’s published work with a literary hero. After having lived in their stories, I get to invite them into mine.

In her “Gaga Palmer Madonna” song, Amanda Palmer sings that she’s part of the “music continuum.” I like that image. We are connected to those who came before us and to those who will come after. We are shaped by the books we read, and whether our parts are small or large, when we share our stories with the world, we become a part of a “literary continuum.”

As I write those words, I have this almost comic book image in my head of beloved authors standing behind me and the fuzzy silhouettes of those not yet published in front of me.

🙂

Do you see yourself as a part of some continuum: literary, musical, artistic, philosophical, mechanical, etc?