Thursday, May 1, 2014

RavenCon Panel 1 - Online Reviews

We're back, and we're settled from the trip, mostly.  Whew.

Opinionated old curmudgeon that I am, I'll say a few things about the trip.  What, you expected that, right?  First, inasmuch as it happened at the same time as storm systems were dropping funnel clouds and ravaging through Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and elsewhere, I feel bad for everybody in their path.  For most of those, that's a third party kind of feeling bad--you know, the kind where you watch it on the news and say "oh, that's sad" and other good, human comments.  For me, though, from a first party kind of perspective, I can tell you that driving through it for two days was terrifying.  For many miles in both Virginia and Tennessee I had to keep pressing the gas petal, hoping that the people in front of me were smart and a) had their lights on, and b) didn't stop, because if they a) didn't and b) did, I'd likely plow into them without ever seeing it coming.

I'd also like to gently thank Stephenie Meyer for the story that we listened to through the drive.  It was The Host, her "I'm done with the mega-hit, so now what do I write?" effort.  Her storytelling has improved quite a bit, I think.  I'd still like to see her banned from ever writing a story with young love involved, mostly because the way she presents the female side of it makes me wonder how she, herself, ever managed to get laid.


Anyways, that brings me to the present, which involves me sitting in my nice, warm little office.  Writing.  Nowhere to go, no driving to be done.  Plenty of time to think back and to remember how much fun RavenCon was.

Oh, and time to talk about the panels, just like I promised.

Now, I'm not going to give a comment-by-comment synopsis; I was too engaged to take notes, and besides, that would cheat people of the joys of actually being there.  I do, however, want to do some justice to the topic at hand.

In this case, specifically, I want to comment about Online Reviews.

The panel ended up being a fairly rare blend of agreement and pleasant talk.  An effective moderator guided a nice blend of panelists--a mid-sized press manager, a traditionally published author, and me, representing the Indies--through some interesting (if somewhat predictable) questions.

Have we experienced bad reviews on our own works?  Yes, yes, and oh, hell, yes, from the panelists, one of whom (not the Indie) it turned out was quite passionate on the topic and even had to be invited to simmer down by his fellows a couple of times.  I pointed out early on that, to me, there are three kinds of reviews: good, bad, and ugly.  Good reviews everybody loves, of course, because they stroke our little egos and power our little pens for the next work.  Bad reviews can be tough to read, but we all agreed that they're both necessary and useful to the author.

It was the ugly reviews that really got us all going.  One panelist was in the Marines, and his novel was set on a Navy ship, and though he knew that commands were repeated to a repetitively obnoxious degree on board in order to ensure their successful transmission, he had chosen to shorten that in his book for the sake of readability.  Yet, he said, he'd had reviewers who pointed out that he obviously didn't know what being on a Navy ship was like due to his artistic license.

I pointed out a couple of mine--"it's a good book, but he's not Stephen King" being a funny one (to me, anyway, and as it turned out, to the panel's audience as well).  I've also had reviews complaining about my mythic novels bashing Christianity--though they're about a Greek god coming back to life--as well as one work of prose that explained my main male character--Ares--wasn't enjoyable to read because he behaves inconsistently and childishly.  That is, I should point out, the personality that Ares is quite famous for, as well as the one I wrote the book series around.

Anyway, we all got some good giggles about some of the troubles we've seen in the reviews.  The comment was made at one point that some authors believe we shouldn't read our reviews at all, thanks to there not being enough blood pressure medicine on the planet to fully manage the reaction, but we all disagreed.  There's simply too much to be learned from some of our reviews.

What about the barrages of all-positive reviews, or the troll camps who harrumph along giving all-negative reviews to authors who get in their sights?  Doesn't bother me as a reader, and I think the other panelists agreed with me.  Yes, we want to see reviews that are all thoughtful and deserved and useful to a reader's choices, but we can't expect the world to be so well-put-together.  Instead, as I pointed out, there's a fairly typical profile that a good book has: plenty of 5-star reviews ("squee, sparkly vampires are sooo kyoot!"), lots of 4-stars ("I enjoyed the work, but here are a few things I like to see done differently, and here are some good things about it"), plenty of 3-stars ("a mediocre book, and here's why:") and then some 1-stars and 2-stars which seem largely interchangeable and, often, entirely useless to a reader.  The expected profile looks like the side of a hill, rotated 90 degrees.  When a book doesn't have that kind of profile, I usually look to see why.

Do we respond to reviews?  Universally, the answer was "hell, no."  Granted, I don't think the guy from the publisher said "hell," but I'll bet that he thought it good and loud.  We all said that responding to bad reviews is just feeding the trolls, giving them the attention they seek.

So there--hope this helps!  Can't wait till next post, when I get to talk about magic systems.


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