Thursday, December 1, 2016

Why Review? How 5 Minutes of Your Time Can Change Someone Else's Outlook

It’s a fair question to ask. I’ve bought the record/ book/ movie ticket. I’ve enjoyed—or regret—my decision immensely. What’s done is done, on to the next adventure or mistake. I mean that’s how most people think; and at times I’m just as guilty of that logic. Especially in the Age of Instant Gratification and too-busy-for-everythingness. Indeed, and because of this fickleness of which we all suffer, where we will make snap judgments in moments, reviews matter more and more; particularly to the artist. Let’s take a deeper look at why.

The struggle is real. We (artists) aren’t all the J.K. Rowlings, Taylor Swifts, Spielbergs or Banksys of our respective crafts. Barring a fortuitous rise into public awareness, we’re nobodies for the first few years of our career. Such status persists until our presence, determination, and, ideally, quality art creeps its way into the public consciousness. (Note: J.K. actually lived this very struggle as I recall—though her mention as a successful artist in her field stands.)

I’ve alluded before as to how much I’ve invested of myself, my savings and my hopes into this venture, now, I’ll pull back the curtain on a less-nebulous figure: tens of thousands of dollars. More than 30 grand, less than 100—that’s about as precise as I’m willing to go when divulging my financial records online. That’s how much of my retirement (or non-retirement at this point) I’ve exhausted to produce four massive books that have undergone deep edits, formatting, had NetGalley listings, as well as associated marketing, PR, advertising, web-design and visual media. I haven’t been throwing money away, either, I’m trying to squeeze as much value out of these services as I can. That’s just how much it costs. Before anyone starts crunching numbers and readying retorts, keep in mind my manuscripts have a bevvy of characters and threads and are all two hundred and fifty thousand words and growing. The more words, the more money to edit such words. If you know an editor who will do a pass on a manuscript of that size and complexity for $1000, then I have a goldmine in Nigeria to sell you.

Have I seen a return on ½ of my investment? No. How about a third? After four years, yes, just about—praise the Lord. I’m not attempting to paint a woe-is-me image here. To write has been my choice, and with that comes all the strife and uncertainty inherent to independently creative or professional ventures. I’m just offering frank realities of what it costs for repeated rounds of substantive editing, proofreading, marketing and all of the other professional services that I’ve mentioned (and more that I haven’t).

My hope is that eventually, once more of my consumable media is out, the seesaw of cost vs. reward weighs in favor of the latter. My hope. That may never happen. I could just be digging myself deeper into a hole. Point is, though, you never know unless you try, and the only failure in life is not trying. So I’m trying. And it’s not easy, each and every day with pressures mounting and an often constant sense of treading water. Other artists who don’t have the nest-egg I’d saved in my twenties, or don’t have the kind of encouraging support from a partner as I do, are barely hanging on. We need validation. We need support beyond our small circles. A review can be the lifeline between going under and soldiering on—until artists have grown to the point where they have a legion of supporters, and enough positivity surrounding them to counter the bad.

For artists–even the successful ones–eternally battle negativity: from themselves, though often from external influences, too. There will always be someone who hates an artist’s work, and the more popular you become, the more hate that’s generated. Because of how we’re programmed—pain being a starker lesson than pleasure, and the need to validate that pain as we must validate many of the experiences in our lives—those negative voices will assuredly make themselves known.

An example. Despite my work clearly being labelled on the tin as “dark fantasy”, I had one reader throw down the book after fifty or so pages and declare that the violence in my novel (which is calculated, relatively sparse, and well, unsettling, as violence should be), was so horrific that they were essentially left rocking in a corner. Hyperbole? I hope so–quite sad otherwise. I also pray the poor dear never gets any Game of Thrones novels for Christmas. Likewise, I’ve had some amazing DNF (did not finish), and three star reviews. I like those reviews, because they speak to a level of level-headedness that says: “while this wasn’t the book for me, it wasn’t horrid.” I think those reviews paint a decent picture of what to expect for others, too, since they rationally illustrate flaws as well as strengths.

Feedback is crucial to an artist. Feedback is crucial to the conversation that art often tries to initiate. Artists need you to be involved in their conversations. It is through art that we connect. Sometimes it’s our only outlet. 

Also, when it comes to business and to promoting books, a lot of promotional companies (Bookbub, for example) won’t even bother with listing a novel until a book has X amount of highly rated, verified, legitimate reviews. Some people are so desperate to crack into success that they pay for sock-puppet ratings or hire Fiverr drones for accolades. 

Fellow artists, don’t do that,ever. Take the high road, always, and even though you’ll end up with blisters and a chip on your shoulder, you’ll probably end up happier, and more confident in a body of work that has withstood and garnered fair critique. But it’s hard work, climbing that hill, hoping to reach the sunny summit at the top. I believe we can all get there, some journeys simply take longer unless luck is on your side.

I think we’ve talked enough about the business, blood, sweat and tears behind art. Now let’s talk about what you can do to help your favorite struggling artists; and we’re all struggling, trust me, unless we’re living in golden palaces, riding emus, playing lawn cricket with Posh Spice, and have told you to get off our property before we release the hounds, you filthy peasants. (In that future, we’ve apparently become a major asshole, too–sometimes suffering is better for the soul!) Anyhoo, here’s how to do a (literary) review, which likely applies in a similar fashion to any site or aggregate for consumers of artistic media. 

Honestly, this may seem pedantic, but the first barrier between action and inaction is usually a fear of getting something wrong. Follow these steps and you won’t. 

Alternatively, skip all my blather you savvy internet maven and meet me beneath the tutorial.

Decide where you’d like to place your review: Amazon or Goodreads. Or both!

If you do not already have an account on either of these sites, you will need to follow a signup procedure for each, which includes: selecting a username, a valid email, a valid physical address (for Amazon). Amazon also requires that you must have purchased a product—any product—from the regional storefront (Canada, US, UK) in which you want to write your review, before you are able to post consumer feedback. Also worth noting is that Goodreads has a quick signup option by using your Facebook login (the services can be linked and it’s quite safe—I’ve done it myself).

Once signed in, on the site on which you want to post a review, navigate to the “search” frame

Type in the field the name of the book you’d like to review. Hit enter.

A lot of information pops up now! Don’t panic! For Amazon, scroll down the page until you reach the right section then click: “add your own”. That should take you to a very simple page where you select a star rating, choose a title for your review (or not, and one will be automatically chosen from the first sentence of your review), and submit. For Goodreads, the process is even simpler, and right under the cover image of a book’s page, you will see a row of five blank stars. Simply click/ fill in however many stars you deem the book is worth, and afterward, you can add text to that rating if you choose.

Still, the tricky part…what to say in a review? Well, a review doesn’t have to be wordy, it doesn’t have to be grand or have immaculate spelling. It can even just be a few stars, as mentioned above. It just has to be your opinion. It has to be real and from the heart. You’ll see plenty of examples of both long or short, funny or serious reviews just by scrolling through others.

Again, if you’re really not interested or comfortable in writing something yourself, just assign a star rating on Goodreads, or, on Amazon, scroll through what reviews are already present and at the bottom of each you’ll find a “was this review helpful” button. Click “yes” (when signed in), to indicate that you found that review favorable, or no if you didn’t; all this without ever having to write anything yourself! Goodreads also has a similar feature with “liking” reviews—that button can be found just under the review’s block of text. You can also add comments under reviews on both sites, should you want to expand upon or defame another’s opinion (hopefully, the former, since we all need to be a little nicer). 

Pat yourself on the back for making an artist’s life a little easier.

I hope that was informative. At the end of the day, being social, interconnected creatures, we are all at the mercy of another’s kindnesses and critiques. I’ll leave you now to rush, en masse, to do your Feast of Fates, Feast of Dreams and Feast of Chaos reviews! No, really, please do.

And if not writing a review for me, take five minutes of your time, spread a little universal kindness, and go do so for your favorite author, singer or performer. They’ll appreciate it, I guarantee.

Feast of Chaos
Four Feasts till Darkness
Book Three
Christian A. Brown                 

Genre: Dark Fantasy/ Literary/ Romance

Publisher: Forsythia Press

Date of Publication: September 23rd, 2016

ISBN: 978-0994014429

Number of pages: 698
Word Count: 250K

Cover Artist: Dane at Ebookcoverlaunch

Book Description:

Menos has been destroyed. No corner of the realm of Geadhain is safe from the Black Queen’s hunger. Zionae—or the Great Dreamer, as she has been called in ancient tongues—has a thirst that cannot be quenched until all of Geadhain burns and bleeds. She preys on the minds of weak men and exploits human folly for an unhuman end. She cannot be defeated in her current state, but the answer to her downfall may lie in the land of her past.

It is with this aim that a Daughter of Fate, Morigan, and her brave and true companions venture to the mysterious Pandemonia, the land of chaos itself. Ancient secrets and even older power lurk in its swamps and deserts. Life itself becomes uncertain, but the Hunters of Fate have no choice: Pandemonia must give up its secrets if they want to find the Black Queen’s weakness.

Elsewhere in the realm, alliances form and break. Dead men rise and heroes fall. Eod prepares for war. In hiding, Lila, the bearer of its destruction, will be given a chance to atone and answer for her sins. Will her actions save Eod, or has she damned it with her crimes?

Heathsholme was quaint—Central Geadhain’s darling, as the locals proclaimed. Looking down upon it, passengers on skycarriages were often struck by the fact that the realm possessed the look of a joyfully made quilt. Red-leafed orchards, yellow fields of flax and corn, patches of blue brocade that were swimming pools and watering holes…all threaded with brown branching roads. Sweet winds blew down from the North year-round, bearing only cool and refreshing properties until winter rose to claim the throne of seasons. When the North wind came, it froze Heathsholme’s pools into skating circles and decorated the large trees with grand chandeliers of ice. In the depths of that season, the staunch apple trees finally died. Their fruits fell to the ground and were collected. Their blossoms broke from their branches and filled the air like flocks of migrating winter birds. During this season, families came from the West, South, and East to visit Heathsholme and enjoy great outdoor festivals of food, music, mulled cider, and wine—for which the region was also famed.
Partly on account of the season’s coolness, these celebrations happened around great bonfires. At night, when the happily drunk howled at the moon, a primal spirit took hold, and effigies of nameless spirits were burned in the pyres. No one could remember why or how the Vallistheim tradition had been born, only that it was a remnant of the customs once imposed by Taroch. The ancient warlord had been fascinated by the Northmen’s rites, and had introduced many of them to Central Geadhain. Vallistheim—the winter festival—was believed to bring bounty and luck in the New Year. Over time, polite society had done away with many of the less pleasant sacrificial details to make the ritual friendlier to outsiders. Now only one cow from each of the barns and byres that rose on rings in the hilled highlands around the heart of the township was cooked in a great feast, without having been ritually slaughtered first.
In the uncultivated grasses past the city proper and its farmlands, a dedicated explorer could find the remains of crumbled churches that had been built to honor the now vanished religion of Taroch’s fancies. Runes that the sages had translated into such names as Freyallah, Odric, and Helhayr were found chiseled in the mossy arches of these grounds. These sites of an ancient religion were thought by modern minds to be haunted or perhaps protected by the ancient spirits or warriors mentioned in the stones. It was the sort of refuge where a monster, fearful of being seen, could find sanctuary.

About the Author:

Bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Feast of Fates, Christian A. Brown received a Kirkus star in 2014 for the first novel in his genre-changing Four Feasts Till Darkness series. He has appeared on Newstalk 1010, AM640, Daytime Rogers, and Get Bold Today with LeGrande Green. He actively writes a blog about his mother’s journey with cancer and on gender issues in the media. A lover of the weird and wonderful, Brown considers himself an eccentric with a talent for cat-whispering.

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