Thursday, June 23, 2016

SM Johnson ~ Do reviews help readers?

How do I find great books to read?

How do you find books to read?

Amazon makes a lot of suggestions to me, and I get tons of book blurb promos from Facebook. If something gets my attention I usually follow a link to Amazon and check out the reviews (starting with the low star reviews) or see what people have to say about that title on Goodreads.

Five star reviews are meaning less and less to me, as a reader, at least.

It feels like every writer has sisters, friends, fans, and god only knows who else spewing out so many five star reviews that it's impossible to judge a book by its star rating. It's as if reviews are no longer geared toward readers, and are now just a mechanism authors use to game the system.

I can't even tell you guys how many terrible books I've given up on because the characters are flat, the narrative is boring, and the overall quality of a good read just isn't there. I really don't want to be with a character from the moment the alarm goes off, they roll out of bed, brush their teeth, shower, get dressed, drink coffee, put their cup in the dishwasher, etc etc etc. Unless they're thinking really strange and wonderful things, I don't need to be present for the drivel. I also don't need the same three sentence description of every person our character runs into on the street or in the office.

It is a task and a skill to leap into the narrative, to keep the pace moving, to allow your readers to assume that characters shower and dress and eat and poop.

I know it's a task and a skill because I work at it every day - the editing out of drivel and building smooth transitions from scene to scene. Keeping to the important bits is not as easy as it seems.

But the five star reviews of drivel are starting to get on my nerves. Give me a good solid wordy three star review - tell me what worked, what maybe didn't.

Not every book is a five star read. One good clue is when every single review starts with "This is the hottest book I've ever read." I start reading, kind of excited, only to be disappointed by an amateurish effort. There might be a really hot or perverse sex scene at some point, but if the narrative is shallow and poorly executed, I'll never get to it. When on page one, the main character divulges, "There are three things about me that are utterly true: I detest the alarm clock, and I love coffee more than life."

Pages later I'm still wondering what the third thing is. Maybe that the narrator doesn't know how to count? And the problem is... if you give me an idiot main character on page 1, I'm probably not going to make it to page 15 before I give up.

Sometimes I feel like authors are putting more time and energy into marketing and promotion than they put into writing their books.

So how do we find books that are actually good? The John Sandfords or the Stephen Kings of the erotica genre? That's what I want. A fascinating narrator who won't allow me to leave until the full story is told. A story can have a thousand great reviews, but if the narrative is boring, I'm not going to keep reading. I just don't have that kind of time. I've started downloading the samples from Amazon, and that does help me know what I'm getting into before I pay for a book.

I would like to find reviewers to follow who have liked books that I also liked. I enjoyed the Dear Author site, but there was some crazy blow up over there, and I haven't been back for awhile.

I've stumbled into some YA reads that have been great, and I'm finding that I typically tend to like books by the big publishers, too. Not because of the marketing, but the actual content of the books, the quality of the writing.

I am by no means a perfect writer. I'm the one who had a gay guy get a straight girl pregnant, remember?  So my characters have had their share of TSTL moments. It's an art, not a science, and sometimes we miss the mark.

None of my books have hundreds of 5-star reviews. And that's okay. The only time I've worked to solicit reviews was for the UnCommon Bodies anthology, and requesting reviews was part of the deal. Other than that, if they loved it or hated it, almost all of my reviews come from an organic response on behalf of the reader. And I have to say, I prefer it that way. They are honest. Sometimes brutally honest, but you know what? I can take it. And quite often there's some merit in a critical review.

I'm still learning how to write great books.

Monday, June 20, 2016

SM Johnson ~ Say Their Names

Listen, I'll be honest. I have been attempting to articulate a response to the The Pulse murders during the Pride celebration in Orlando... and I just... can't.

I don't have the words.

Please search out the names and photographs of the murder victims. Look at their beautiful faces, look into their eyes. Say their names out loud. Give each of them a moment of your respect and love. Give each of them a piece of your heart. It could have been my best friend. Or me. Or you. My daughter, your daughter or your son.

Just searched out a link for you. Someone else is asking you to say their names, too. Please do.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

SM Johnson ~ Love Letters ~ Intensity

Life should be intense.

Not every day or every minute, but intensity makes us feel deeply, care deeply, and work passionately.

Whoa. I am loving the adverbs this morning. Allow me to revise that sentence.

Intensity makes us feel, care, and work with passion.

And passion makes life worth living.

I have spent the last 10 months rushing through my life in a mad dash from place to place, rarely able to be still, relax, or settle. I have written a half a million words of academic papers, which feels somewhat insane now that I am back to noveling.

Noveling is so much easier.

And yet academics have allowed me to experience growth in areas I didn't even know I was lacking. My awareness of the human condition has expanded, as well as my understanding of many things good, bad, and ugly. I had one wonderful professor who adroitly challenged me in things I already believed I did well, and made the challenge in such a way that she brought me to self-reflection rather than making me feel defensive.

That's talent, let me tell you.

The most valuable lessons for me all involved self-reflection. I am not always wrong, but I'm not always right, either. I went into my Master's program with some degree of arrogance. I believed I had more years and more legitimate experience than most of my co-students. I believed, in fact, that my level of experience in my day job put me about level with my professors.

Today this notion is absolutely laughable.

I had a lot of experience in one tiny arena. My professors have a wealth of experience in many different arenas, and minds that are capable of thinking well outside the box, far beyond what I was capable of. I hate boxes, and yet I discovered that I had put myself into a really tiny one.

The discovery of all that I didn't know was exhilarating. Terrifying.


And all of this I hope to bring into my books.

Have a great week, my lovely Darklings. And be sure to pay attention to all of the things in your life that make you feel, care, and work with passion!