Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are Readers Harder on New Authors?

I'm not sure there's a set pattern. But in the past few years I've noticed a slight shift in the way new authors are accepted by readers, reviewers, and by other authors. In the past, when a new author debuted, they usually received a little slack from everyone. This may be because there weren't as many new authors back then and everyone seemed to be more tolerant.

But now, with so many new authors entering the arena, I'm noticing in certain cases no one seems to want to give them a break. If their books aren't absolutely perfect, they take all the heat. I've seen new books with some editorial problems that probably weren't even the author's fault, and yet they still take all the heat in the end. And if there's one thing all authors will agree upon, it's that whenever it's time to take the heat everyone disappears and leaves you standing there alone...especially the publisher.

Let's face it, there is a lot of competition out there. Inexperienced authors are now competing with seasoned authors. And it's growing in numbers daily. Everyone who ever wanted to write a book is now able to write a book, thanks to the Internet. And I will agree that a great deal of these books are not ready to be published. But that doesn't mean the author isn't a great writer, and it certainly doesn't mean the next book won't be much better than the first.

With the concept of the "big" book slowly dwindling away these days, it's rare to see a first book by a new author that's ready to compete with books written by more seasoned authors. But that doesn't mean the potential isn't there. In the past, authors wrote constantly and suffered more rejection than they'd ever care to admit, before an agent or editor would take them seriously. For most, it wasn't until they started shopping their third or fourth book that anyone took them seriously. In many cases, it takes that long for the writing to be ready for publication. Rejection and criticism isn't a bad thing. Only in the past it was more private; now it's gone public...in some cases viral. Oh, I've read good reviews on review web sites that normally receive twenty or thirty comments a day. But the minute the reviewer goes after a new author with a snarky review, the comments rise into the hundreds and everyone jumps on the band wagon for sport. People send each other e-mails; it spreads within a matter of hours.

With so many new authors releasing books for the first time, I would have thought people would take a step back and go a little lighter on them. But these days it often looks as though people can't wait to dig into them and rip them to shreds, which is partly due to the fact that the Internet is so anonymous. Anonymity, especially on book review sites, creates a certain sense of power. And, simply put, mean people love this. I've seen comments where people even attack the author's name with snide comments and snarky insinuations. And I don't think I'm exaggerating on this. I've seen too many examples in the past five years, where new authors have been absolutely devastated by book reviewers using pen names, and sometimes for reasons that aren't even related to the book. Some were so devastated they stopped writing. Others took it hard, but continued. Personally, and this is mainly because I don't use a pen name for my m/m fiction, I refrain from following book reviewers who don't stand behind their real names. I find it hard to take them seriously as professionals and I dismiss them. I have a background in journalism and I was always taught that when writing non-fiction, your name is your best, most important asset. And if you can't stand behind your own name, what else is there?

The authors that continued to write after scathing reviews for first books have never let me down. The second book was better than the first, and each book after turned out to be better than the one before it. We speak of tolerance all the time these days. But no one ever talks about tolerance for new authors. If Moms treated their children this way, with mean comments and snarky insinuations, each time they made a mistake for the first time, we would have a lot of troubled kids in the world. So I think it's time we all take a deep breath, go easier on these new authors, and wait to see what's coming down the line. I'm not suggesting they should be coddled. If there are problems with a book there are constructive ways to express them. All I'm saying is give them a little slack and be smart about it. And please don't blame them for editorial problems, especially with digital books. Once the digital book goes to editing, there's very little the author can do to change things. And there's very little an author can do about a cover. If they are lucky, they can make suggestions. But the final result comes from the publisher, not the author.

3 comments:

missywelsh.com said...

As a new author :) I've had reviews and comments on both sides. The majority have been constructive--I'm seeing that, yes, I could've done better--but a few have been pretty harsh. No one wants to be called forgettable with no explanation as to why, after all.

My second book comes out in November and I'm feeling confident that it will be a definite improvement over my first book. It would be nice if those who judged it harshly would give me another chance, but I'm not holding my breath. I am, instead, grinning at the prospect that the ones who gave advice or loved me even for my flaws will stick with me one more time.

Thank you for your post, Ryan. :)

Pia Veleno said...

My debut came out Saturday and you're scaring me.

Okay, not really. My cynical side has tried to prepare me for that kind of reaction, but I still can't help but hold my breath this week, waiting for the initial responses.

I promise not to let any of it stop me from writing. I made that promise to myself before I sent the first query, and I expect certain friends and writers to hold me to it.

ryan field said...

Missy...Best on the new release. And just keep working.

Pia...Don't freak :))

Seriously, No one can predict how a book will be received. They'll probably love you, knock wood.

I just think we should all go a little lighter on newer authors by offering constructive criticism instead of snarky rants.