Justine Larbalestier — Some Views on Perceptions, Harrassment and Reviews

YA author Justine Larbalestier ran into a medical problem some time back that meant she could only type for short time periods. This limitation obviously greatly effected how often she could write and she stopped blogging much to concentrate on her fiction. But she got a voice recognition program — which as she explained doesn’t help much for fiction writing, but does work pretty well for blogging, so she’s been more active, as she’s the kind of author lots of people pepper with questions. So I’ve been catching up with her posts and she’s done several lately that reminded me of stuff that had come up re the Readercon situation and my conversation with author Scott Bakker in response to my post on You Can’t Defend the Balloon. Not surprisingly, Larbalestier and I dovetail on many points, but she talks about some issues that I haven’t thought about much or didn’t address, and I think her points are made with thought and humor. (Which pretty much sums up her fiction writing too.) Anyway, I thought I’d give links for some of them here. She addresses the Readercon issue (and many discussions that occurred on John Scalzi’s blog Whatever and elsewhere,) in “We Can’t Control Anyone But Ourselves.” And she addresses the general fiction brouhaha over book reviews going on lately — which I’ve mostly avoided because except for some issues about how female written books are handled by publications and sites that review, I find most of it silly — in several related posts:  “The Supposed Power of Reviews,” “Changing My Mind on What to Do with Cranky Authors,” and “How to Enjoy Critical Reviews of Your Own Work.”

The big point of all this is, negative reviews have very little to no impact on fiction book sales. A lack of reviews at all can, because then there are less opportunities for people to know that the book exists. That doesn’t mean that reviews as a device for talking about fiction books have no value (although they have a lot less than they used to realistically.) It means that authors spending great efforts to defend their balloon or themselves from negative responses is largely a wasted effort. It’s not going to work and the reviews and negative remarks really don’t have an effect on your sales. Good reviews can help — but don’t at all control — word of mouth and definitely help making people aware that the book is there. Bad reviews simply mean that good word of mouth is not generated, but it does alert people that a book with that title is out there. And they may check it out in spite of or because of — as Larbalestier points out — bad reviews and controversial commentary about the book and even the author.  So some things to think about there, perhaps.

*I want to again say that I really appreciate Scott Bakker coming over here and talking with me about the Balloon piece I did. I’ve met the man before and it was totally in keeping with the intelligent and enthusiastic person he is. (He is also tall, blond and thin — think Viking with glasses.) I find his fiction work complex and fascinating. I also feel great sympathy with authors who feel they are coming under attack. I just remain firm in my belief that authors will not find a shield in protesting the views that others hold about their work or their role as authors. The way that people deal with fiction simply doesn’t make it possible.

**Oddly enough, we had very recently had a conversation about cover design in the Writing Forum of SFFWorld, and in it, I first heard the rumor that publishers avoid green covers like the plague. This is categorically not true, especially in wood-filled fantasy fiction, but green is apparently a difficult color to work with for artists and so that may have created an idea that green was avoided. Apparently, this concept that publishers avoid it is widespread because Larbalestier mentions it as one of the magical thinking theories about why certain books don’t sell. But I can promise, as we covered in the SFFWorld thread, that publishers don’t actually eschew the color green in covers or predominantly green covers. Or even no-artwork green background covers.


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