The TBR pile (on top of my ego-shelf), April 2017
I see it periodically on the Internet–a reviewer stating that they won’t bother reviewing stuff they don’t like because, why bother? There are only so many hours in a day, so much to possibly review, and–fuck–most of us aren’t getting paid.
I’ve been thinking of that a lot recently–unsurprisingly as Bones Are Made to be Broken (insert subtle link to go buy my book) ends its fourth month out in the marketplace. To date, Bones has gotten nine major reviews; made three “best-of” lists; and briefly flirted, in the “Long Fiction” category for the title novella, with a Bram Stoker nomination.
But the reviews, those that have come in and those potentially still-to-come (I think there’s one more around the bend–I sent a copy off to a place who would then offer it up to its stable of reviewers for any takers; we’ll see eventually if that happens), are the things I keep coming back to. Because of what was mentioned above, why reviewers do it, and why I kinda miss it (?).
My first writing job was as a reviewer. It was college and I’d fallen into journalism (as a rule, undergrads going for teaching degrees don’t have a lot of course-time for anything unrelated to education–as in, any. None.) because, a, my girlfriend at the time was a communications major and, b–dammit, I want my name in print. I eventually got a column (where I once spent an entire column planning my eventual funeral, because why not; I’m gonna have a marching band), a bullshit job title to justify paying me (except for the editors, contributors received either course credit or a “Hey, thanks!”), and a fuck-tonne of experience writing and editing. (A lot of writers start out in journalism and there are numerous reasons why it’s a fantastic idea. I’ll talk about it more at some point. Maybe.)
Reviewing’s weird–of all the various sections of an outlet, it’s the most overtly I’m-talking-to-you-the-reader. You have to encapsulate the entirety of a piece of art, without spoilers, give the reader a decent what-to-expect, and make a judgement on it. But, throughout all of that, you’re holding forth to a reader about something.
There’s a certain amount of ego that comes with that that probably seems quaint in these everyone-has-a-fucking-Facebook-Twitter-Snapchat-Instagram-Tumblr-YouTube-platform times; why does your opinion matter more than some dumb fuck on a street corner lecturing pigeons? Besides the paycheck, that is (maybe; I’m gonna come back to that)?
But, flipping that, reviewers are the audience. They’re the stand-ins, the avatars. They go to these movies, listen to these albums, play these games, read these books to help guide a potential future participant.
I’m weird–I like reading reviews after watching this show, reading that book, and seeing if my views jibe with the reviewer. They don’t, usually, but it’s fun to compare notes.
But reviewing’s undergoing a sea-change–has been for a while, actually. There’s always been some form of Amazon/Yelp/Goodreads out there (in the pre-Internet days of yore, we simply called that shit word-of-mouth), but now review sites pop up all over the place–some are built with some form of solid foundation and goal and focus, while others are a barely thrown-together blogspot website (is it me, or has blogspot become, like, the Geocities of the new millennium? Not like WordPress, though–that shit’s gonna be around forever!). But, they exist. They, occasionally, post content. They review.
This is what I keep coming back to.
I’m one of those fuck-you-pay-me writers. I don’t work for free. I won’t work for peanuts, particularly if I don’t know who the fuck you are (if there’s an opportunity I think is cool, I’ll lower my asking price, but that doesn’t happen often), and I sure as fuck won’t do it “for the love”–a concept I feel is so pungently obnoxious that it’s a blight on our industry, which is propped up by a legion of people too inexperienced to know any better. We work hard for our art, amateurs and pros alike; goddammit, if there’s money to be had for said art, even pennies, then it better well fucking end up in our pockets.
Naturally, this thinking extends to journalism generally and reviewing in particular. Of my nine blessed reviews (that’s not sarcasm; those fucking people rule), I would guess maybe three were by people paid by the outlet publishing the review and I feel I’m being generous there. So, following the logic of not bothering to review things they don’t like, I guess I won on that one (all nine have been awesome, if you haven’t already gone to the Press link at the top of the page to see for yourself). Because, if you’re not getting paid, you have to be highly fucking motivated to want to talk about this piece of art you’ve experienced.
(Side note: a part of me quails at constantly calling my stories about vampires, ghosts, nervous breakdowns, and dissolving relationships “art”. I tell that part of me “fuck you.” The shit we do creatively is art–especially if it’s terrible.)
But what if the book sucks? How motivated are you to talk about it? Shit, how motivated were you to finish it?
To get back to my roots a little, I’ve been writing reviews for the Goodreads Reading Challenge I’m doing (tangent; I’m going to fail hilariously at reaching my goal) and I’ve been wondering what I’ll do when I get to a real clunker. I mean, I’m not getting paid for this; I’m just talking about the books I’m reading. My page views are hysterically low, so it really is just me blabbing about something to myself. Will I bother with a bad review?
Oh, fuck, yes. In spite of enjoying talking about the shit I love, I also enjoy shit-talking the shit I hate. I can be constructive, I can be clear in my points, but I shit-talk (I once read The DaVinci Code, at the height of Dan-Brown-mania, for the sole purpose of tearing it apart and spiting my mother, who told me I couldn’t talk shit after reading a few brief passages; I enjoyed the fuck out of ripping it up; I also have a weirdly sarcastic relationship with my mother) and love doing it.
Also, it’s…good?…to be negative every once in a while. It balances out all the praise being heaped. Listen–in disciplinary practice (listen to this, I’m a teacher, here), neither all-negative nor all-positive reinforcement works. You have to balance that stuff out.
Same with reviews. I unconsciously tune out reviewers who only ever say these awesome things about these awesome pieces of art. When everything is awesome, nothing is awesome.
But when you get that balance? Oh man. Example, I’m a big fan of the site Dead End Follies–and not just ’cause Benoit (I don’t know how to pronounce his name and just call him “Benny” in my head) sang the praises of Bones. When he likes something, he will break it down. But when he hates something? Oh man, he will break that shit down. Immediately, his review of the film Joy occurs to me. It’s a great one. Go find it.
And that’s the point. Reviews are good or bad or indifferent–but they matter. Good or bad. That shit adds up–particularly if you’re an artist, who, at the end of the day, just wants to know that something they made left something of an imprint on the audience. Again, good or bad. You read/watched/listened/played something? Talk about it. Rant about it. Sing its praises. Whatever effect it had on you.
You don’t have a site of your own? Use the digital bulletin board of Amazon (I don’t know if there’s any truth to the “Magic Number” of reviews to get more attention on Amazon, but why the fuck not go for the brass ring?) or Goodreads or, fuck, just your own goddamn social media wall. But talk about it. People want to know about this thing or that thing, whether to avoid or go hunting it down.
Tonight, for example. I found one guy who’d picked up Bones Are Made to be Broken based on the strength of Shane Keene’s review of it over at HorrorTalk. Upon hearing this, some other dude went and picked it up. All because people were talking about it. That shit’s cool.
As for me, I like reviewing the things I’m reading, if only because writing shit out has always been the best way for getting my head in order, even when I hate something. So, if nothing else, being stranded in the Goodreads Reading Challenge Wasteland has gotten me back to thinking that way.
So, do your part. You can start by buying my book and, when finished, writing a review on it. Good or bad.