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.

More ripples

When I went out to Philly for Kyle Cassidy and Trillian Stars’ wedding party back in 2009, I met several people whom I now consider to be dear friends, not the least of whom are Kyle and Trillian. There I also met Lindsay (Silveringrid) and Maura (Tigerinvaseline), whom I adore.

Upon Kyle’s gentle nudging, Lindsay decided to have a “Party from the Future” nearly one year ago, and that’s where I met the talented Molly Robison who played for Kyle & Trillian in a live broadcast. So began another treasured friendship. (Has it really only been a year!?)

It was also through Kyle’s blog that I met Madeline Carol Matz, a friend and gifted artist who created the beautiful cover art for The Silence of Trees.

So many things are converging this Spring. The world keeps getting smaller and ripples stretch out in unimaginable ways.

A few weeks ago, Lindsay joined a few of us (including Madeline) on an adventure up to Wisconsin. This weekend, a few of us will be venturing back to Wisconsin, this time to La Crosse, where the wonderful Maura has helped to set up a reading/booksigning for me and Madeline at the People’s Food Co-op.

Today Molly Robison has released her debut EP, Bedrooms and Attics, on Bandcamp. Kyle’s photograph grace the cover and interior. For only $5 you can discover Molly’s music, and years from now you can take pleasure in telling your friends that you heard of Molly Robison long before she was playing those sold out shows at the Metro.

How different my life would have been had I not gone to Philly.


You never know how one decision can change your life, especially those acts of random kindness.

Congratulations, Molly. I am so proud of you, and I look forward to a future filled with your music!

Love Will Tear Us Apart (Musical Impressions Part II)

The week after I attended Marian Call’s house concert, I went to see another ensemble of talented, independent artists–this time a nontraditional performance in the traditional venue of the Park West.

Just as house concerts are bringing live music directly into people’s homes, so too is the internet; and Amanda Palmer is at the forefront, using twitter, blogging, and Ustream to break down some of the barriers between artists and their audiences.

Joined by Maryannerooney, Tabor330, Onesockshort, I had a fabulous view from a central table just off the main floor (thanks to the magic of Tabor), and we met up with Mcmatz who was in town for the Evelyn Evelyn show.

My husband had seen Evelyn Evelyn in Köln, Germany. Jetlagged on his first night back in Europe, he went straight from work and was able to catch the performance (thanks Neil) before hopping on a late train to return to his hotel in Frankfurt. He really enjoyed the show, especially Sxip Shirey’s performance.

When Evelyn Evelyn came to Chicago a month later, it was my turn.

In the first half of this theatrical music performance, Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley perform as a fictional set of conjoined twin sisters under the watchful eye of their handler (played by Sxip Shirey).

I’d heard the songs before (my kids LOVE Elephant Elephant): an album of show tunes, narration, a power ballad, and even a cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” However, more than just a collection of songs, Evelyn Evelyn is musical theater (complete with puppets), and it’s the personalities of the three artists involved that make the show successful and fun to watch.

The second half of the show featured solo sets by each artist, starting with Sxip Shirey who blew me away with his musical prowess. Innovative and sexy music from unexpected instruments: Sxip uses marbles in glass bowls, recycled bells and music boxes, horns and pennywhistles to make beautiful compositions. I was entranced, impressed, and instantly a fan.

Next Jason Webley took the stage with a voice that came booming out from somewhere deep inside what appears to be an ordinarily calm and unassuming exterior. I was unprepared for his music and utterly enchanted. Amanda Palmer joined him on the stage and after a few shared tunes, she turned to her own repertoire of playful and provocative songs that had many in the crowd singing along.

Photo by Christina Jones (@redbug138)

Amanda Palmer is an entertainer. She connects with the crowd, taps into their energy, and delivers her music in a way that makes it feel honest and personal. Her music is excellent, but it’s the personality and performance that set Amanda apart and endear her to her audience.

All three performers made their own particular brand of provocative music in the second set, and it was easy to see how these three could have been attracted to one another. Each artist has a quality of raw intensity and fearlessness in their music. The theatrics of the show were entertaining, but the authenticity of their work is what most impressed me. That’s what will keep me listening.

After the concert, Chicago singer-songwriter Molly Robison invited us over to her apartment, where they were having a little soiree because Sxip and Jason were crashing there for the night. There were tasty treats concocted by her roommate and much hospitality by her sister and friends.

Much of the time, I enjoy being in the thick of conversation. That night I had a comfy chair in the corner, a cup of tea, and was content to be the writer/mom-of-three-in-the-corner-who-didn’t-quite-fit-in-but-enjoyed-the-music-and-conversation-aflutter-around-me.

My favorite part of the night was when Molly Robison had the chance to play “Fake Plastic Trees” with Amanda, Jason, Sxip, and others. I know how much it meant to her, and she positively glowed. With that, I’ll share the video of the song and bid you good night.

Molly Robison and the Gang