Friday, July 6, 2018

Your Reader is a Scorned Woman

Hell hath no fury like the woman given permission to be a bitch. Some girls have so much pent up aggression and rage and yet the desire to maintain a likeable and compassionate demeanor that they rarely let it out. The last thing you want to do is give them permission by being an asshat.

But enough about me.

Your readers are not the scorned woman who has just prior witnessed one wrong. I mean, sure, sometimes. That surge of hate-mail that floods inboxes after a controversial change is made? That’s the immediate anger of a scorned woman. However, that’s often a temporary, impulsive reaction when an audience member first realizes she has been betrayed by someone she thought she could trust. The unfortunate reality is that most readers are past that stage. They’re not the woman who has just found out about her husband’s selfishness, they’re the woman who has long accepted cheating as the inevitable part of the process.

She has her pick of the litter. There are thousands of suitors that she could choose from, none would reject her (books can’t pick their readers, if you’re following). And even though a casual relationship is not only possible, but guaranteed, she’s not looking for a quick, one-night stand in most cases. Sometimes, sure, but what she really wants is that head-over-heels in love, where she can’t get enough of him, where all she wants to do is experience him, and hopefully, while the relationship will have a shelf-life, that shelf life is dated far in the future. And even after he is long gone, she still can think back to him with fond memories. Even return to him when the next man falls flat.

However, you must realize she’s been cheated on. She has been screwed over, left in the lurch, brought to climax just to be disappointed. She’s given chances to those who didn’t care about first impressions only to have them prove that it was more than just appearances they weren’t concerned with. She’s wasted her time with a lot of losers, and the more they hurt her, the harsher her judgment becomes.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, writers say. Judge a book by its content. Typos can’t determine the quality of storyline. Just because my beginning doesn’t hook you, doesn’t mean that the story isn’t good. Appraising a book by its superficial attributes is foolish and disrespects art.

Which is all true.

People should refrain from judging books before they’ve read them. But let’s face it, we have to do a vetting process and that vetting process can’t be “read the whole thing” when determining what book to read next.

I’ve read many self-published books that I considered to be excellent, yet back when I first started to become active on the internet, I didn’t critic the external aspects of the book as harshly. I focused predominantly on setting or plot, trying to be intrigued by summary alone. Most times, I bought books because I wanted to support the authors. If it was a sci-fi or fantasy novel, then I would actually try and read it. I tried to be fair to my indie friends because I believe that self-publishing opens up a whole new avenue of diversity for literature, and I don’t believe in be snobbery. Morally. In practice, it happens.

But because I was trying not to be superficial or a snob, I usually picked books that were less appealing aesthetically, that were obviously self-published and gave me some strong red flags even before I bought it.

I found myself burned a lot.

It’s kind of like the young girl who believes in the goodness of men, who doubts the stereotypes who are given to her, who gives boys a chance. It’s not uncommon for people of either gender to ignore signs of a philanderer, a user, a sadistic narcissist, or even that person who we have no attraction to at all. We enter into bad relationships because we think, “He’s just not texting me because he doesn’t like to text,” only to find out months later that he’s not texting you because he has another girlfriend he’s talking to all of the time. Or he’s just really terrible at conversation in general.

When you give people a chance, when you give them the benefit of the doubt, when you try and find excuses for your red flags, there’s the possibility that you’ll find a diamond in the rough, you’ll have ignored happenstance and shallow reasoning and found something really great. There is merit to the idea. It’s just that it’s far more likely that whatever they’re presenting you with is actually them.

It only takes a few times for people to accept the subtle signs as fact. If you were to be cheated on by every boy who was texting his ex on a first date, how many would that need to be before you became stupid for ignoring it?

Even if a reader has all the time in the world, she can’t read every book presented to her. If I read one book a day, that would still only be 365 a year. I believe I come across more than that in a month.

So what is a reader to do? She has to choose which ones to give a chance to; she couldn’t give them all one even if she wanted to. Preferably, she’d pick the ones that she’s more likely to enjoy, but how can she know that without having actually read them?

I’ll admit that I have hated most of my favorite books and T.V. shows when I was first exposed to them. It wasn’t until the second (or third or fourth or fifth) chance that I realized how much I liked them. You are often afraid of writing something off and denying yourself a great love, so it’s not like we do it lightly.

However, once I began to vet my books, the quality of them started to improve drastically. When I picked up a self-published novel arbitrarily, it was often poorly paced, typo-ridden, and lacked an ending. When I started to trust my superficial instincts, I was more likely to come across something well written.

I picked up the genres that I knew I liked.

Setting is important to me. While sometimes I will give a chance to something outside of my comfort zone—and some of my favorite books fall into that category—I know that a great plot inside an uninteresting location won’t interest me.

People complain about the limitation of genre, and I get it, I really do. I think authors shouldn’t restrict themselves to being what people expect, but we have to acknowledge that the categorization of genre is there for a reason. When I started to only buy science-fiction and fantasy romance novels, I started enjoying my reading again. I wasn’t attempting to force my way through something just because I wanted to like it. I actually considered if I did.

The trick with genre is to explain it accurately. Use it to help people narrow down their options, then make sure to wave away any expectations that will not be met. As long as people have a general understanding of what type of atmosphere, setting, and reader’s motivation that will be in your book, you’re golden.

I look for typos.

In the blog “Why Typos Lose You the Most Sales,” I irritated an indie author who believed that typos aren’t a big deal. When I went to her Amazon page, I found, of course, many typos on the first page and in the summary. She had only five reviews, four of them that were written by authors who gave only five stars to every book they read, likely review exchanges. The one review, a four star, that seemed to put thought into it complimented her story line, but complained that the atrocious editing (my words) made it hard to understand.

I know that there are writers who believe that judging a book by the typo is snobbish. But this isn’t the situation of a woman meeting a great guy and overanalyzing a physical flaw. This is a woman who has been in many relationships with users to find that usually, if he makes selfish decisions in the beginning he’s going to make selfish decisions in the middle, and the end.

I’ve read great self-published books with typos. I’ve read traditionally published books with typos, but those typos were far and few between, and they were not on the first page or summary. When I give a book a chance despite the poor editing, I haven’t yet been unexpectedly surprised by a well polished storyline. Even though you might be great at content editing and terrible at grammar, truth is, it’s more likely that you don’t know what you’re doing and didn’t edit at all.

I read reviews for consistency, “typos,” “didn’t finish,” and an ending.

I’ve never paid much attention to reviews, though I like to read them for personal entertainment. Only once have I ignored one-stars and found they were right. Most one-stars are biased, exaggerated, and mean. I had honestly believed that what they hated would be refreshing—I was picturing it differently.

On most indie books, the bad reviews are frustrated writers telling authors not to use the word “anyways” and that the writer is fat, the good reviews are generic review exchanges by people who’ve never read them. For this reason, I don't read reviews for ratings, but purely content.

I look for comments about typos first. Again, it doesn’t mean the story isn’t enjoyable, but it’s just one of those red flags that I’ve ignored before to my detriment. Just because a review says there’s typos doesn’t mean I won’t buy it, but if I was suspicious about the work put in and the experience of the writer, this is often what will topple the balance.

The next thing is consistency. I look for commentary that was made throughout all of the reviews. What do the bad and good reviews agree on? This, again, doesn’t tell me how I should feel about it, but it does imply the sincerity of the review itself. Even if one person loved the rape scene and the other hated it, it still suggests that both actually read the book and the information I get (like the kind of setting, events and characterization) is more akin to what I’m actually going to experience.

If they say they didn’t finish or the book just stopped, I’m probably not going to buy. I know authors hate this, claiming that you can’t judge a story until you’ve read it all the way through, but I argue that Amazon reviews aren’t literary ones. They’re not intended to analyze the book’s artistic merits, just tell other readers whether or not they’d like it, and if they didn’t finish, I’m going to assume no, they didn't.

I hate not finishing books, but I hate reading boring ones more. There are things in the review that might convince me that the reason they didn’t finish isn’t going to be something that applies to me, and if other fans say they couldn’t put it down, I might give it more of a chance. But, at the end of the day, I'm not going to read a book that is hard to finish, and I appreciate the warning.

Lastly, if it is a cliffhanger or just has no real ending at all, that’s where you lost me. It’s not because I hate cliffhangers, necessarily, but a book without a payoff for me feels like a huge waste of time. Especially if the series is unfinished, but even if it’s not, I can’t count on I will ever be satisfied. At the end of the first book, while some threads can be left hanging, the writer needs to prove to me that he is capable of tying some loose ends together, otherwise we’ll have a repeat of Lost.

I look at the cover.

You can judge a book by a cover if it’s a good one. I still take this less seriously because I have found less commonality between bad designs and bad writing, but if the cover looks homemade, it can be a sign that the writer is new to the business, doesn't know how to self-evaluate, and didn't bring on other people's opinions and advice. If other aspects of the book have made me skeptical, a cover with amateurish graphic art will definitely throw me off.

If a guy comes to you on a first date without having showered or put on a clean shirt, it might not mean that he’s a bad guy, but it does suggest that he doesn’t care all that much. He’s not willing to do what it takes to impress you, which is going to bleed into other aspects of your relationship/read.

I look at formatting.

This one is much more direct. If you have extra spaces in the paragraphs or words cut off by the page or skewed images, it’s not a red flag you’re 'a cheater' necessarily, it just that I’m not going to tolerate being around you. I hate reading books with extra spacing and weird formatting.

Pandering to artificial expectations isn’t just about kowtowing to snobbery, it’s about making a person comfortable in a den of thieves, a potential girlfriend secure after a series of cheaters. Yes, you might be the one exception, (the main question to ask is, “Are you really?”) but why not go the extra mile to prove it? Dress nicely on the first date, don’t text your ex, don’t ignore her for the sports game, and don’t get annoyed when she doesn’t completely trust you on a first impression alone, especially if you’re claiming a first impression doesn’t dictate who you really are.

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