I’m Think I’m Going to Start Reviewing Books Again

Recent posts by Alexandru Constantin and David V. Stewart have got me to rethink my policy on reviewing books.

What policy? Why, the one I elucidated for you fine people back on May 31. Back on that venerable day in history, I said, in relevant part: 

This hasn’t been an easy decision, since I enjoy discussing the craft of writing, as well as spreading the word about good stuff I think you’d all enjoy. But as a–ahem–published author myself, it feels wrong and a little gauche to write reviews about the people in my creative space.

. . .

This does not mean I won’t be promoting books, or even interviewing writers. I’m just going to dial it back in the review department so I don’t get accused of trying to curry favor with other writers in exchange for good reviews.

I think this is a fair policy. But is it a good policy?

Here’s the meat of what Alexandru Constantin had to say on May 4:

Mainstream science fiction and fantasy establishment lacks any semblance of intellectual or cultural diversity. For example, the 2020 Hugo Award novel nominations are all written by academic white women. All of them are LGBT except one, and it would be fair to guess that all of them share a far-left political allegiance. The reality is that mainstream publishing is No Country for Straight White Men and a poisonous atmosphere for anyone with slightly right-wing beliefs.

Therefore it is critical for us who crave ideological and intellectual diversity to read, share, and review counter-cultural writers from the right. NPR will take your tax dollars but they will never give you a fawning review calling your latest science fiction breathtakingly original and stunning. Your novel can sell ten times more than the latest light-romance mainstream fantasy and they still won’t bother with it. We don’t have the academic or media establishment behind us, we don’t have writer retreats, or trust funds bankrolling our hobbies. All we have is a love of fiction.

So I believe that we need to read and review each other, therefore I will continue to write reviews here on The Dacian, but I will take the stand that I am not a professional reviewer and have no obligation to review every single novel I read.

As a matter of professional courtesy, I will only write reviews of books that I enjoyed and believe that my readers would find interesting and enjoyable. I will not write critical reviews of contemporary fiction or nonfiction unless the topic is pertinent to a greater philosophical or ideological point that I am discussing.

He’s absolutely right. Independent authors of a certain bent–the bent that is to the right, more traditional, and aesthetically in-line with the writers, genres, and works that the mainstream publishing houses and pop-culture gatekeeprs find problematic–will never get a fair shake or a blast of hype from the big machine. No one is coming to save us, no rich patron who cares about culture (because, for all of their protestations to the contrary, conservatives neither care about culture nor create culture). We are the cavalry. We are all each other’s got. And we have to start acting like it.

David V. Stewart, in reaction to Alexandru, came to a similar conclusion on May 5:

1. Review books from authors you want to succeed and whose work you enjoy. Don’t force yourself to read anything!
2. Focus on what readers need to know to determine if they will enjoy the book – don’t just gush or say empty praise, but analyze. You want people to buy a book based on a review and actually enjoy it. You don’t want them to buy things they won’t enjoy.
3. Pass over books that are not to your taste from authors you otherwise like. If you didn’t feel like finishing a book, there is no reason to blast it. It probably won’t help a reader to make a decision anyway. 4 Negative reviews are not as useful as positive ones, even to people who will pass on a book.
4. Talk about larger culture issues or art when it is appropriate to bring in new readers. Limit talking about things like Brand X, though – you should focus on your brand, not make your brand dependent on Brand X.
5. Be controversial and pugilistic if you wish to be. Controversy drives views, but direct your fury against evil. Minimize “punching right” and try to be kind to the Average Joe, who just wants to read a good book or play a good game. Stick to the issues – save the drama for your mama.
6. Keep your ratio of positive social discussion and review to controversy and big franchise criticism at 1:1 or better. In other words, if you do a Brand X review, you should do at least one review or piece of content that promotes the Optimate side. Preferably, three. Remember, this is to bring in readers. The left keeps their ration at near 1:0 because they control the corporate franchises and have free access to the Average Joe.
7. Review items from the past to bring in readers. Things like Conan, John Carter, HP Lovecraft, Dunsany, etc. are great topics, have deep reader preferences, and are much more open than corporate brands. At the same time, you are promoting culture you want to revive.
8. Always be better than the other side. This doesn’t mean acting nicer. This means doing better reviews, writing better books, making better arguments, and using better rhetoric.
9. Always ask what you are doing to further the movement. Focus on OUTCOMES. If what you are doing is moving the culture in the right direction, good. If so, by how much? Complaining about Brand X can be a positive, but only up to a point. After that you are just promoting the corporate brand through controversy marketing.

Furthering the movement–the indie movement, whatever it is we decide to call it–has to be the paramount thing. We further this movement by promoting good stuff as an alternative to Brand X. 

Our own network of review, critique, and hype has to come from the ground up. So I, like Alexandru and David, am an author in this realm and not a professional reviewer. So what? I’ve come to the conclusion that this hang-up of mine will only hold us back. I appreciate it when others review my work. I should do the same for them.

Note that I haven’t stopped hyping other’s works I think all of you should check out. But a well-articulated review can do more to point out why one should check something out beyond a mere enthisaistic endorsement.

That said, I’m with Alexandru: I’m only going to review works I have mostly positive things to say about, and I’m not going to review every single novel or book I read. I think the three of us can start to create both a network and an intellectual framework of what we’re trying to do with our movement.

The time of atomized individuals doing whatever they feel with no aim and no coordination is over. IT DOESN’T WORK. We need to be strategic and tactical about this. It’s called a culture war for a reason.

I’m not going to be nasty. I’m going to be honest. So expect book reviews to resume. 

This will include some retroactive reviews, so stay tuned.  


Read and review my books all you want. I love it! And buy my books here!

29 comments

  1. Glad to have you back in the review chair, Alex. I’m looking forward to your analyses and conclusions!

    Once again, the cultural laser beam that is The Mixed GM finds the key element and highlights it!

    It’s no wonder I have you two in my RSS feed!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Duly noted and appreciated, but I am going to give this a shot anyway.

      We DO need some sort of intellectual criticism and promotion apparatus or industry to really get the word out as much as well can. I like to think of it as more in-depth signal boosting.

      It’s one thing to promote PulpRev or whenever we want to call it because “It’s good!” and “It harkens back to the golden age!” and “It’s a different and refreshing change of pace!” But it’s not enough. We also need to sell the WHY from a more technical and intellectual angle.

      And yes, rhetorical buttons will be pushed. They HAVE to be.

      Like

  2. This was a very interesting post!!! I’ve really been avoiding looking at other blogs (hell, for the last 2 years especially :O As my reading ability has become so challenging and I make too many projects for myself, which, ironically is the reason how/why I’m reading this post now and commenting on it) lately, especially ones on reviews, because it was brought to my attention more than once in therapy that I may be doing more….extensive commentary and analyses on books rather than enjoying them and I have to say it is still utterly mind boggling to even CONSIDER only reading a book and NOT reviewing it for an eventual, sometimes years later, worthy blog post.

    Like, I simply can’t wrap my head around that. Read? Sure. Don’t review? Whhhhhaaaaat. It’s unthinkable!! That’s like on the same level as not putting in page flags. I just. I can’t. Not anymore. Which is also why I don’t even read that much these days. Everything’s a project to me and it’s really hard to challenge it or move on from it. :/ Makes my life a little sad now that I think about it.

    Same thing with just skipping around in journals or starting a new book, or better yet, not finishing a book. I can’t do that, the latter, either. I HAVE to finish it. I got invested, I have to find out what happens next! And for journals, some prompted ones I do say you can skip around and that’s unheard of too because it HAS to be from start to finish.

    Ooof, I’m already getting exhausted.
    But for now, what I mean to say is, I look forward to what your reviews will be going forwards. I’m trying to remember why your book cover reminds me of something or maybe I’ve checked out your books before but there’s something there, something about that that I’m missing at the moment. Maybe in due time, I shall tackle one of your books. 🙂 Hehehe. (Not meant to be read as an evil chuckle).

    Thanks for writing up this post and sharing it!!!
    It must be cool to be a published author, yes? 😉
    Hope you stay safe during the quarantine xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thanks for the comment!

      I’m with you. It was weird for me to start reading books and not talk about them. I love getting into WHY some art works the way it does and why some doesn’t, whether it’s books or music or movies. And there are always the ineffable qualities that are great for discussion.

      Also, just spreading the word about stuff I think is good is fun as well.

      You stay safe too! And yes, it’s pretty cool to be published, which is why I’m so thankful the technology we have allows us indies to self-publish.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No problem! Thanks for reading my rambles and getting back to me! Ahaha. 😉

        Ooof, I’m glad someone can agree and have the same struggles! I’m totally taking my blog into that direction, even just behind the scenes for the last few years, where I want to share my thoughts on things and opinions with constructive feedback and even just praise and grappling with it in some respects, too. I’m finding it to be endlessly fascinating yet when I start really getting into it, I can make it a larger “project” than maybe is helpful and more often than not too “big” so that I never even get to say it or really work through it and publish it. It’s a struggle, ahaha.

        I really think that’s a great thing too. That was something in this post that caught my eye–the nature that discussing these product reviews, more or less, could help someone reading to either buy the product or pass on it, I had never thought of it like that before so it was really refreshing to see! 🙂

        Really? I was just talking to another author who self-published. Is that becoming a new leading territory? If you self-publish can you still get a copy in physical print or is it just online based? I’m definitely gonna have to look into this more, I think! I have ideas on things I’d like to publish but, like most anything in my life, I’m lagging behind in between the steps of dreaming of it and not finding time to put in the work to compile things, write things and research them. Is it best to have some of the work you want published together before you look into publishing companies/self-publishing alternatives or do you find that stringing along some research beforehand motivates you more to get the piece done altogether? I can definitely see how the latter could exist. Hmm, I’ll have to make some notes in my journal to look into this subject matter more.

        So, thanks for the inspiration and unexpected wave of ideas! Hehe. ❤ xxx

        Liked by 1 person

      • You can absolutely get physical copies when you self-publish. Like any book you can buy online, it comes in ebook and print editions. Amazon KDP makes the process pretty simple and it actually is relatively user-friendly.

        As far as motivation, I write mostly fiction so when it’s done, it’s done. I’m working on my first nonfiction book as we speak, and it’s harder for me. I do research in chunks, write, and then sometimes do research as I write to help fill in gaps where I missed something, or when I think of something new on the spot.

        I have found that nonfiction is tougher for me than fiction!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, that’s so awesome!! I can definitely see my dreams of being published coming into fruition, possibly within even the next year! I’m definitely gonna have to do some research into this and start compiling everything together. I’m super motivated and inspired, thanks so much for the information!! Do you have other people read over your work to edit it/point out grammatical errors before you publish it with self-publishing? Or how does that work?

        Awesome, that’s really neat! I think it’s kinda like the same when someone who writes predominantly nonfic and they try to write fic, sometimes it just doesn’t quite work or translate in the same manner. But being able to write both and do so well is definitely a skill that, I think, with exposure, practice and hard work, can be managed. 🙂

        ❤ I hope you have a great weekend!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • You know, I should do a post like a “Checklist for getting ready to publish” kind of thing. But I’ll try to address your comment here:

        “I can definitely see my dreams of being published coming into fruition, possibly within even the next year!”

        Great! Keep plugging away and remember: it’s never going to be “perfect” TO YOU, so keep a definitive end in sight.

        “Do you have other people read over your work to edit it/point out grammatical errors before you publish it with self-publishing? Or how does that work?”

        Yes I do. I edit it several times myself, of course, and then I have a professional editor edit for story/content/structure/grammar/etc., and sometimes a separate person who just does proofreading. And then there are beta readers, some I know and some I don’t, who read to give an honest opinion of how they liked it. It always helps to have as many other sets of eyes on your book as possible. They will see SO much you yourself will miss.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oooo, I think that would make an excellent blog post! Maybe you could even try to gather some FAQ’s from your readers or use common questions you think others ask from other sites/blogs etc.? Either way, I think it’d be super helpful and awesome! 😀 I’d definitely give it a read!

        Awesome, awesome, that totally makes sense. I’m really excited. 🙂

        Wow, that’s incredible, seriously! I never thought of beta readers that much or how getting other ideas could brighten up the piece. Do you find it difficult to accept constructive criticism on your work? Or are you emotionally distant enough that it doesn’t sting? Or do you get better at it each time you receive some?

        Thanks for all the tips and tricks!! ^_^ ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey glad you’re finding this useful. I think a checklist type post could be fun. Maybe I will get common questions too; the post could be a running thread that I update a lot.

        Re: beta readers, I have a thick skin born from years of playing music, so I can deal with criticism. However,
        if you can solicit criticism from people whose opinion you respect, and who aren’t mean (but are honest), that helped immensely.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Alexander

    Screw the the conflict of interest. Our enemies have weaponized it. So no need to be squeamish.

    The criteria are pretty straightforward :
    Did you like it?
    Why?
    What are its strengths and weaknesses?
    Were you entertained? Is it worth spending your beer money?

    And tie those questions to how close the stories the to the true good and beautiful

    xavier

    Liked by 1 person

      • Alexander

        Yup after all we need to signal boot good writers . Let’s being fedora topping spring bowtie poindexters.

        Let’s trumpet why these creators are worthy of our beer money and attention

        xavier

        Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly. I’m so sick of the conservative “Arts are a waste of time!/I don’t stoop to my enemy’s level/I don’t do groups!” hardbro posturing.

        One of the many reasons I no longer consider myself a conservative…if I ever really was one.

        Like

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