shaken & stirred

welcome to my martini glass

8.11.2005

informed consumer does not equal informed opinion

So Ron Hogan picked up the same item I linked the other day from Caitlin Kiernan on whether EW reviews sell books. He's collected some interesting responses, which you can read here and (especially) here. (Including a very interesting response from Richard Nash at Soft Skull that feels right on target.)

Anyway.

Ron quotes Consumer Mike B. saying:
"I'm tired of being held accountable by poor writers/actors/directors/producers for the failure of their product. If it isn't Stephen King telling me (in the pages of Entertainment Weekly) that it's my fault Kingdom Hospital didn't do well; or if it isn't the team behind the movies The Island and Stealth telling me that it's my fault for not liking their movies, or if it's the industry telling me that I'm to blame for how badly movies in general are doing--it's Kiernan telling me that her book should be doing better than it is. But it should only be doing better than it is if it's actually a good book."
Then Mike B.'s take gets a little more problematic:
Which, after checking Murder of Angels out of the local library, he doesn't believe to be the case. "She's better than a lot of the guys out there," Mike says, "But too much of her writing seems for show and not for telling... Also, I read about 50 pages and I have no idea what the plot is."
The top of my head nearly blew off. Murder of Angels is a FANTASTIC book and not at all hard to follow. If you don't know what the plot is after 50 pages, Mike B., then you're just not paying attention.

See my short take on MoA here and check out Caitlin's forthcoming To Charles Fort, With Love, an amazing collection of short stories.

UPDATED: Check out the comments for more discussion and a fuller reaction from Mike B. (But, still, I think BOTH Threshold and MoA really are wonderful books, though in vastly different ways -- MoA gets as good as Tolkien (for me, anyway -- and hey, talk about self-indulgent there) once we glimpse its other world. Oh, and see Caitlin's own recent characterization of self-indulgent as a criticism.)

11 Comments:

  • At 2:35 PM , Blogger Chris McLaren said...

    "90% of everything is crap" unfortunately includes the audience.

     
  • At 2:48 PM , Blogger Brian said...

    Anyway, do you really need to know "the plot" 50 pages in? Should a reader really know the plot before the end? I think not knowing how a story is going to work itself out is one of the joys of good writing. But it doesn't sound like Mike B. is interested in good writing anyway.

     
  • At 2:51 PM , Blogger chance said...

    Eh, it wasn't anything to do with the plot that did in MoA for me - rather I found the characters consistently unlikeable and the writing self-indulgent.

     
  • At 3:54 PM , Blogger Mike said...

    Hi. I'm Consumer Mike B.

    In my defense, it was Threshold I gave up on after 50 pages. I haven't picked up Murder of Angels yet. Ron from Beatrice.com asked if he could pull a couple of quotes from emails I sent him regarding both Entertainment Weekly (a magazine that I unashamedly subscribe to, much to my partner's chagrin since his copy of Harper's usually arrives on the same Friday that my EW does and he's worried he'll be called out as a fake) and Caitlin Kiernan's writing.

    She's not for me. Here's a longish bit from the email that I sent to Ron:

    "I picked up Threshold and A Murder of Angels (my library didn't have a copy of Silk handy) and looked them over while surreptitiously eating chicken (my boyfriend's a vegetarian and mostly I am, too -- but sometimes there's Peruvian chicken...so quickly). First off, to be fair, it's not my genre...however, if I ever had a job where I reviewed novels I would probably recuse myself from reviewing Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror. Fantasy novels are too much of a time committment, what with these multi-volume series that all read like poorly researched term papers on the Elizabethan era with some wands and an elf thrown in (p.s.: I read your interview with George R.R. Martin -- a writer who gets a big 'notsomuch' from me -- and reminded myself to keep watching because sometime, in the near future, he'll start referring to himself as 'G.R.R. Martin' and then his poorly pulled-off Tolkien transformation will be complete). Sci-Fi eludes me, personally. And Horror? It just doesn't do it for me. When I was a teenager, I thought Stephen King was the shit, pretty much. Then, somewhere around Tommyknockers, he went from being 'the shit' to just 'shit' until now he's just this bloated bag of self-referential ego. But The Shining? Still pants-wettingly terrifying."

    And as far as Brian's question, "Do you really need to know 'the plot' 50 pages in?" Yes. Especially if the book is only 250 pages. Especially (in the gospel according to me which -- turns out -- not everyone reads from) if it's an "action-y" kind of book rather than a character study. And I think that if your novel involves prehistoric/fossilized demon things (again, hi: only 50 pages in), I should have a bit more to go on than some suicides, a near bar brawl, and an albino. Unless I'm David Lynch.

    I also agree with chance's summation of Kiernan's self-indulgent writing. From the same email to Ron:

    "She's better than a lot of the guys out there. But too much of her writing seems for show and not for telling. Too frequently she pushes two adjectives together to make a new word -- like whispersoft or skinnytall -- that takes me out of the narrative."

    I wish I hadn't written "for show and not for telling" because even though I'm not a writer, I know it's better to show than to tell. What I meant by that was that her writing drew attention to itself and as a reader, personally, I don't like that.

    Again, I want to reiterate that Kiernan's genre is not the genre I enjoy -- and that goes a long way. I totally get author and genre loyalty (which is why I'll cut you if you say smack about Anthony Trollope, Leo Tolstoy, or Wilkie Collins). But I feel I get to not like her as much as another gets to love her.

    And this bleeds into my original reason for writing to Beatrice.com in the first place. I'm tired, as a consumer, of being blamed for other people's bad projects. As a consumer, I tried to explain, this is why I didn't buy your book. And I know I'm not the only one with this particular reasoning. So it isn't all poor marketing or poor publishing (though I have a beef with publishing houses as well) -- it's poor execution on the part of the artist.

    Anyway. I've wasted up a lot of your space in a dithering defense of my taste. But thanks for allowing me the opportunity.

     
  • At 4:35 PM , Blogger Dave said...

    Fantasy novels are too much of a time committment, what with these multi-volume series that all read like poorly researched term papers on the Elizabethan era with some wands and an elf thrown in.

    Mike, what you're describing is perhaps the most visible part of the fantasy genre but by no means the only sort or even the majority of what's being published. Off the top of my head, I'd suggest you try Sean Stewart's Perfect Circle to get a taste of another sort of fantasy.

     
  • At 6:57 PM , Blogger Caitlin said...

    I just wanted to take a moment to assure Mike B. that I'm not precisely blaming readers (I like that word better than "consumers") for low sales. The main problem I've experienced is a lack of advertising/promotion on the part of my publisher and their repeated failure to take advantage of "free" advertising, such as the EW review.. The books sell just fine, once they get into bookstores. My return rates are consistently quite low. The first printing of Threshold sold out before publication, and the book's return rate was below 5% for its first sales period.

    But you shouldn't be too quick to conclude that good sales necessarily equate to good books. You wrote: ...it's Kiernan telling me that her book should be doing better than it is. But it should only be doing better than it is if it's actually a good book. I'll set aside the issue of just what measure we use to define "good," and say that, from what I see, many good books fail, for many reasons. Many poorly written books thrive. It's not so simple as writing a good book. Without adequate promotion, most good books will fail in the marketplace. A lucky few might survive by word of mouth. I know that word of mouth has kept me afloat as a novelist.

     
  • At 7:25 PM , Blogger gwenda said...

    What Caitlin said.

     
  • At 7:40 PM , Blogger Jana said...

    Actually, I don't need to know the plot 50 pages in, or even 100. I'll probably just forget it anyway, since I care more about language stuff anyway.

    Pretty writing? Bring it. Is it self-indulgent? I probably won't care.

    I'll be perfectly happy if there is no plot at all.

    But maybe that's just me.

     
  • At 7:44 PM , Blogger gwenda said...

    (Jana Phipps! You big sneak: you've got a blog! Since when?)

     
  • At 12:26 AM , Blogger Jana said...

    Since about February, I think. I guess I've just been keeping the blog to myself because:

    1. I am sly. And shy.

    2. I'm the sort of perfectionist they warn people about. I wanted to see if the blog worked out. If it didn't, well, it wouldn't have failed out in public.

    But now I'm coming out like Diana Ross, only without the drama. The hair. The back-up singers...

     
  • At 1:56 AM , Blogger Colleen said...

    I thought I'd pop in here since I just reviewed Charles Fort for Bookslut and also read MOA last week. My review pretty much speaks for itself and is all about how much I loved CF. But those are short stories and much different (by definition) from MOA. I do like fantasy, (Charles de Lint, Bradbury, Pamela Dean...etc.) but I'm all over a good mystery or thriller just like anyone else. So I didn't choose MOA because of the genre. Mostly, I thought MOA was very original, quite arresting and I found myself becoming more and more deeply concerned with the characters as I read it. But it's not an easy, predictable book and I don't mean that in a snobbish sort of way, but it's true. The plot is very untradtional, the settings unfamiliar and the characters, in more than one instance, unlikeable. I figured out pretty early on that this was not going to be a happily ever after book, but that's not why I read it. I wanted to experience the place that Caitlin created and I wanted to consider what she had to share. I wanted to read a story, and get lost along the way in what that story had to say. It hurt a bit to read MOA because there is a lot of sadness within it, but I loved what created with this work. You just had to give it the long haul treatment I guess, and accept that it wasn't going to be the same old ride.

    As for the publicity end...I get pretty much all my book news and recommendations from the internet these days. I found out about Caitlin from Subterranean Press's site and then enjoyed her blog so much that I sought out Charles Fort. I bought MOA two weeks ago and also Five of Cups. So thank your publisher for being proactive Caitlin...he got me and hopefully Bookslut will get you some more readers!

    That's it for me........Colleen

     

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