Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
October 24th, 2014

On Reviews

Halegate, on top of other instances of incredibly immature overreactions to book blogging, review blogs, and book reviews, has created (or perhaps revealed) fragments in the online book reading & writing community. Better scribes than I have gone through Halegate with a fine-toothed comb, so I don’t feel the need to add my voice to the fray.

I’ve been online since 1998, when my mom brought a computer home from work and we gathered around the screen to watch it boot up America Online. From day one I discovered the internet could bring me closer to people who shared my interests. Back in the late 90s, all of the stuff that is now considered mainstream/pop culture/”cool” (e.g. how proudly many are to latch onto the Nerd label) was not. I was the weird one amongst my circle–the band geek and cheerleader/track runner, the girl who was equally nuts over Buffy the Vampire Slayer and mainstream family sitcoms like Boy Meets World and Sister, Sister, who eagerly taped the latest hip-hop songs and bubblegum pop from the radio, who was equally comfortable sitting alone with a stack of books and, well, pulling pranks and other teenage exploits. But on the internet, I could be all of these things at one time.

As a result, I’ve always viewed reviews as an extension of fandom (so to speak). You don’t rant or rave about things you don’t give a crap about. You don’t engage with the text–or TV show or musician or movie–and are eager to initiate conversation about it unless you care deeply about the product.

From the standpoint of a creator, I won’t lie and say I don’t think 1 and 2-star reviews suck. I don’t go out to read my reviews because I don’t need that in my headspace, but when I do see a 2 star review, I’m that monster going “Grr Argh” over the Mutant Enemy logo. Oddly enough, I was more floored by a 1 star review of my non-fiction than a 1-star review of my fiction. I guess it’s because non-fiction feels like it comes directly from my intelligence, whereas fiction is an emotional/creative outpouring that I leave behind once I’ve completed the book.

So to wrap this up: Reviews are for readers, not because they want the freedom to tell you how much you suck and you need to stop writing, but because this is how they engage with their reading and their corner of the book-reading community. Rampage against reviews and reviewers and you kill the community. That definitely makes me Grr Argh.

May 28th, 2012

Fifty Shades of Readers

Since writing my post about FSoG, I’ve read the trilogy (in two days!) and absolutely loved it. I don’t feel a pressing need to justify and articulate just why they worked for me (I keep that on Goodreads) because this is about why reading them gave me a completely different perspective about myself as a writer.

An occasional meme on writing blogs is “write to your dream reader.” For the most part, I didn’t understand what the heck that meant–how am I supposed to know who my dream reader is when the only people who’ve read my writing are my critique partners and my agent? Don’t you find your dream reader when your books are out in the wild for them to find? Obviously, the concept flew right over my head, and the more I dug around trying to understand it, the more confused I grew because it didn’t seem like any other writer could break down just what that little nugget of “writer’s advice” really meant.

This, I now see, is part and parcel with the natural inclination to listen not to readers, but to other writers–who in turn gained their insight listening to other writers–and then to industry professionals. Not saying those voices are not important–I wouldn’t have a critique group or an agent if I believed they needed to be cut out of the equation–but once a writer jumps into the fray, we’re taught to write with our dream agent or our dream editor in mind, instead of our dream reader.

FSoG, or Master of the Universe, originated as Twilight fan-fiction, and as someone who was heavy into the Spuffy fanfic scene as a teenager, writing fan-fiction is purely about the reader response and experience. The second I’d upload a chapter of an ongoing fic, or posted a short PWP (Porn What Plot), or completed a challenge, there the comments, encouragement, suggestions, and critique would be. The instant feedback was gratifying, and meeting the expectations of those who enjoyed my work was utmost in my mind. It also challenged me to maintain or increase my skill level, to focus on the types of plots I enjoyed, and to always remember to entertain readers. I had peers and Spuffy writers whose skill I envied, but the immediate knowledge that I created something that people enjoyed increased my confidence.

Fast-forward to my career as a fiction writer and everything is completely opposite. There is no instant feedback because posting your work online, chapter by chapter, is a big no-no. Your audience is not the reader, but the agent or editor who must gauge your work on what’s sold, what sells, and what will continue to sell. Your career lives and dies on the mechanics of writing, as opposed to the mechanics of storytelling (I can imagine the horror if someone said they had no CPs, just beta readers). And worse yet, the isolation usually makes you turn inward on yourself because getting published in those few slots is a competition against other writers (and The Market, to an extent) as opposed to a shared celebration of a fandom.

When I read the reaction to FSoG on industry blogs, much of it is to express surprise or dismay over its success, to share that they wouldn’t have picked it up, and to reiterate that this doesn’t mean they would pick up books deficient in scintillating prose (this is not to pick on them, because the same type of conversation happened about Twilight, the Sookie Stackhouse series when True Blood first aired, and the other pop culture juggernaut, The Da Vinci Code). I know FSoG isn’t everyone’s cup of tea for a variety of reasons, but at the same time, I wonder if their knee-jerk reaction against the book is because industry professionals read it (or browsed through a few pages) with their “job goggles”–that is, studying the mechanics of the book, comparing it to other BDSM romances on the shelves, and dinging it for breaking rule numero uno in the romance genre: a romance novel must have a self-contained HEA.

Much of my writing inhibitions stemmed from this erroneous way of thinking. Sure, I was writing the types of books I would want to read, but I held it at arm’s length, not wanting to be emotionally invested for fear of rejection from agents, editors, and other writers. I never, ever once thought about a readers’ experience with my writing, or even the type of people I wanted to adore my books, because I was a lowly unpublished author who had no right even thinking about having a readership pre-publication/release (but it’s ironic that we’re told to have a platform, right?). I admit that I even hesitated to say I wrote novels on my own history blog (!!!), or even claim my readership there, because I’m not some big-shot historian with a cool job and major credentials, so why would anyone even give me the time of day?

Absolutely, stinking insane, right?

So when I finally got around to reading Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels, and aside from the warm fuzzies, I suddenly felt this great big honking sense of liberation–when the heck did I forget the real purpose of a book? It’s a great ego stroke to win awards and critical acclaim–and I certainly wouldn’t turn down a RITA or a DIK from All About Romance, lol–but one award or one great review is not the sum total of why I write. I even joked with a friend that if being hated or rejected by my peers was the price that came with touching millions of readers, I’ll take that success. Based on my past, that is a very out-of-character remark, so you can see how much of an impact FSoG has had on me. *g*