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?
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!