By passionate reader, I mean readers who have signed up with various online organizations like Story Cartel to supply “honest reviews” for e-books in exchange for a free review copy of the book. These readers are not paid for their efforts.
There is a demand for such readers to service the growing population of authors who publish online. The key to success in the publishing business is obtaining good reviews (three stars or better), in sufficient quantity to stimulate sales. As sales and reviews increase, you, the independent author, become more visible in the publishing world and attract the attention of big time review sites, like BookBub, and agents and publishers who can open doors to your further success—maybe, depending on what rights you are willing to bargain for.
Given that, why would you fear these dedicated readers, who so obviously fill a need and “love reading books”?
Well, for one thing, they do not generally read deeply, I am sad to report. If you are a literary writer or a hybrid literary writer, as I am, you can expect that the subtleties of your prose and plot will go unnoticed. If the beginning and end of your novel are bookends, that is, they compliment one another, you might find that the passionate reader, driving through your story at speeds in excess of 90 mph, so as to get on to the next book, cannot remember the beginning of your carefully constructed narrative by the time he brakes at the end, even if he read it only 47 minutes ago.
The faster they drive, the less they see and comprehend.
I’m not saying that the only good review is long. An excellent review can be pithy. “I read your novel, I get it, and it stinks.” Well, that one was not so good.
Allow me to illustrate my thesis by using my latest novella, The Romantic, as an example.
I wanted to create a character who was way out of place in life, you know, like one of those New York cabbies with a Ph.D. in Physics from a university back home that no one in the West can pronounce, and so lacks accreditation. I wanted a more extreme example of the species.
So, I cooked up Sebastian Cloud, a poet-gladiator. Not the kind of poet who reads his chopped prose in his backyard garden, on PBS, or the mama who belts out her misery into an open mic on the Lower East Side. Sebastian is more of a proto-poet, someone who has a way with words, who is nonetheless a genuine Romantic.
By a Romantic, I mean one who shares kinship with the historical Romantics of English literature, of which John Keats was one. Keats is mentioned twice in the text. The Romantics were an edgy lot. They supported revolutions, did drugs, drank blood from skulls, and such. Sebastian is a Romantic in terms of his sensibility; the way he sees and thinks. He has some powers of prophecy. His signal attribute, which no reader could miss, is his physical prowess. He defeats his opponents in any number of ways, quickly and decisively. Sebastian has been fighting practically all his awful life by the time the story opens. So, he is no weakling, not that physically unimposing men are necessarily bad poets.
He says to his lover, and hence to the reader: “My words have been through blood and fire. They are not weak words.”
What sort of reference could you, the reader of this unusual tale, find to measure such a odd character by?
The closest we have to gladiators today is mixed martial arts cage fighters. They look plenty mean, and there might be a bard among them, I don’t know. The best boxer poet of my time was Muhammad Ali, who could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” One of the most entertaining chapters of American cultural history was his meeting with Marianne Moore, a little old lady poet of some reputation, who was thoroughly charmed by the young champion.
Then there are the soldier poets, not brutish like a gladiator once they are cleaned up, but who have seen and done horrible deeds on the battlefield. Richard Wilbur, the grand old man of American poetry, still going strong at the age of 93, was a combat veteran of World War II and wrote some of the finest verse in English to come out of that conflict. Before him, were the English poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen of World War I fame.
The Romantic’s closest theatrical ancestor, that I know of, is Cyrano de Bergarac, the historical figure as depicted by playwright Edmond Rostand, and most wonderfully played by Gérard Depardieu in the 1990 film by the same name.
Before that came the English Elizabethan soldier-poets, notably Sir Philip Sydney and Ben Johnson, soldier and duelist, and contemporary of Shakespeare. Before them came dour Dante Alighhieri, who rode with the Guelph cavalry into battle into 1289, and named his numerous enemies in the Inferno, and yet evolved, in his poetry, into higher states of love.
I don’t expect the average speed reader to know much of this. I don’t know what they teach in school anymore. The literary reader should have heard of some of these names.
Unless you write in an historical category, where you and the reader are on the same page and know what to expect from one another, you get pretty much pot luck when it comes to high capacity reader-reviewers. One reviewer of The Romantic claimed to be confused and disoriented through the whole thing, and decided the book should be called Gladiator Lovers. If you’re going to choose one conceit or plot point or character to write about, as you drive through the text, why not try to understand what the author has given to you, the central conceit of the story? Unless you’re just being perverse. Which is a whole ’nother matter, as people say. The reader as enemy.
Not all the reviews are poor. One likes the action—hard not to miss as blood is spilled all through the story. The only five-star review is so over the top in its praise as to be hilarious. But, I’ll take it. The worst review, so far, is lazy, dismissive and libelous, accusing me of publishing a first draft and therefore shoddy goods, which he could in no way prove in a court of law. It comes from a reader who says he has a passion for reading.
Sadly, not one of the half-dozen reviewers thus far has touched on the language of the story, particularly that of the main character, Sebastian Cloud, for whom language is important to his very being, as if language were the same for any action character, the same sort of lock-and-load grunt talk you might expect from Chuck Norris, say. Maybe they cannot reconcile beautiful language, on the one hand, and terrible violence, on the other. Maybe they cannot accept that poets and poetry can be associated with effective behavior. Hard to say what people think, who hurry like the March Hare, in Alice, from one story to the next.
I would like to hear from the dispassionate reader, one who reads more for quality than quantity, one who tries to meet the author half way, in the belief that the author might know something; a reader willing to do a trifle of research, if that would be helpful and make for a richer reading experience, and easy enough to do on the Web. One willing to think outside the box. One willing to think, at all.
I’ll stay with that thought a few moments and allow it to warm my spirits.
By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.