Two things are on my mind this week.
Firstly, there’s the whole Substack openly saying hate should have a microphone and a platform, which, I mean, all I got to say is, yikes, and I’m glad I have my own website and I’m also glad my audience isn’t tied to some tech bro in somewhere California.
Even though I still read every bigoted book I can get my hands on, that’s my own choice. It’s not being shoved at me in a pretense of having a conversation. It’s deeply ironic because I’d be one of the people that would be banned from the platform because I write adult romance. That’s considered porn to the, well, ahem, free speech people, and they can’t stand someone’s freedom of expression if it involves hot and steamy consensual love. I guess I don’t get free speech, right, Substack? Again, I’m glad I have my own space on the web. But, moving on to the bigger thing that’s taking up space in my mind.
The bigger thing that’s been on my mind lately is publisher hype. I used to think there was such a thing as bad press. Not anymore. Now, any kind of press, even if it’s negative press, is still good press in my book because people are talking about authors and books and series.
The worst thing for a writer is obscurity. This is why book bans are so effective. If a book isn’t read, nobody knows about it. I’ve written a ton about book bans, so I’ll just say here they still suck and should never happen.
The book and book series I’m referring to is Fourth Wing, part of the EMPYREAN series by REBECCA YARROS. This, ironically, caught my attention because a journalist attempted to put publishing under a critical microscope and ended up attacking the author instead. While I think the journalist utterly failed in their attempt at writing critically about publishing, they did get me to pick the book up and they did get me to read it, partly because someone said I shouldn’t.
This might sound strange at first, but if someone tells me a book is bad, or contains homophobia, etc. The first thing I do is pick it up and read it. I’ve said before how I read every ableist or hateful book I can get my hands on, but this didn’t cross those lines. Rebecca came under fire by a journalist that didn’t know how to be critical of an industry, instead of a person, because, while at an awards ceremony, she mispronounced Gaelic names she used within her own book. I’m not at all interested in saying if that was poor choices by the author. Instead, I’m interested because the publisher used those negative articles to fuel the hype train, and, thereby, possibly hurting their author in the process.
Publishing is not our friend. Publishing will never be our friend, as readers and authors, so when I see the publishing industry clearly taking advantage of a media wave, well, that intrigues me enough to want to read whatever the publisher decides is going to be the one big thing that makes them money. It also makes me watch what the publishers do and how they treat their authors, and how publishers get reviews.
The reviews were by far the most interesting to me. I do believe that reviewers genuinely don’t understand how they play into the hype train. I can’t describe how many people seem to love to hate this book. Firstly, the publisher bumbled the marketing, marketing it as a fantasy and not what it actually is, a romance set in a fantasy world.
Reviewers propelled this book to what it is. Thanks, reviewers, you did marketing for the author, now can you please create hate hype for me so more people will talk about me? I’m joking, slightly, but I began wondering if the publishers knew these reviewers didn’t have a clue what they were getting into. Quite literally, it seemed as though absolutely no reviewer at all understood that they were reading a romance book, not a fantasy book. I don’t know if that was done on purpose. My cynical brain tells me the publisher marketed it incorrectly to trick people into getting furious about the book, but that’s my own conspiracy theory and I’ve got absolutely nothing to back it up.
What I have yet to understand is, how did the publisher decide this was going to be their book of the year? Did they even decide? Who knows, and it makes me even more self conscious of my own stamina if my books ever blow up. I’m quite literally the most thin skinned person you’ll ever meet, offline and online, so I have absolutely no idea how I’d survive the hype as a disabled author. It has me over thinking things, and it makes me fear success even more. I want to have fans, yes, but I can still also be afraid of success, too. I think I’d be a fool if I wasn’t afraid of my own eventual hype train and hype machine.
It does disappoint me that romance is still such an undervalued genre that reviewers can’t even tell they’re reading a romance book, not a fantasy book. Then again, I don’t actively pay attention to reviewers anyway, even diverse ones. If a review crosses my way, I’ll read it, nod and say, yeah that’s a good point, and then never seek out another review until someone sends one to me. I get much more value out of reading diverse art and diverse books instead. I know criticism is important. I just think reviewers don’t have anything to say to me as a reader so don’t actively read reviews. I have outgrown actively paying attention to reviewers to find out what’s good and what’s bad.
As I finished the fantastic Graphic Audio version of this series, I keep thinking about the author and wonder how she’s dealing with the hype. Is she regretting it? Will she publish again after finishing this series? I know it’s gotten me to examine my own path. How will publishing change me when I hit my critical moment? Will I just retreat and never publish again? I’ve lived through much worse, so, well, I can take this too, right? I don’t know but I’m still afraid of that day when it finally comes my way. I wish I had a grumpy but protective Dragon to keep me company when it finally happens.
Addendum. I love the Graphic Audio version of this series! I’m having a really fun time.