This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking about the Mentality of Negative Reviews. Specifically, the person who posed the question asked: do you recognize your fight-or-flight response to negative reviews and do anything to stop it?
I’m including the full text of the question because I’m disagreeing with the initial premise. I don’t think I have a stress response to negative reviews. It could be that I’ve been writing long enough (nearly thirty years *gasp*) that I’ve become more or less inured to negative reviews. I remember a review of my first book, the essay collection WYOMING TRUCKS, TRUE LOVE, AND THE WEATHER CHANNEL, that was mostly glowing – but also said I used adverbs too much. It came from a professional reviewer at a venue I can’t recall, and that was long before I realized that many reviewers are aspiring writers who cling to the “rules” of writing with the tenacity of an apprentice seeking the magic formula to catapult them to true wizard status. Mostly I was surprised that, if my professional, experienced editor at a university press hadn’t minded my adverbs, then why did a reviewer? I understand now. I also know more about the weird anti-adverb stance some writers absorb.
Mostly. <- See what I did there? Humor is key.
Anyway. Experiencing a flight-or-fight response to a review means that you feel attacked. I suppose some reviewers intend it that way. They like to speculate about the author’s emotional life, intentions, or deadline pressure. Authors are occasionally accused of manipulating readers to extract profit. Sometimes our moral integrity is questioned. But that’s all par for the course on social media. I think what’s most important for writers to do is separate themselves from their work. YOU didn’t receive a negative review; the book did. Even if the reviewer specifically attacks the author, they’re still not actually reviewing you as a human being, because they don’t actually know you. The author is a construct in their mind that has very little to do with reality.
Keeping your poise, a sense of yourself as a person separate from the work, and keeping a sense of humor about it all is what gets you through. After all, a review isn’t a tiger. No one’s going to die over a review. It’s fangless, toothless, and ultimately dust in the wind.
I’m sharing the incredibly gorgeous covers from the Czech translation of the Chronicles of Dasnaria trilogy, and also talking about covers in general, how self-publishing helps being savvy about them. Some spoilers for this trilogy and for Forgotten Empires.
This week at the SFF Seven we’re discussing Cover Trends. We’re asking “What was, is, and will be “hot” in cover art/style for your sub-genre? If you have a say in your covers, will you chase the trend or will you stick with the image in your mind?”
There’s a lot to be said on this topic, too much for even a week of blog posts. When I’m asked for advice on covers, which is a frequent request, I tell authors to keep in mind that a cover has two jobs: to attract positive attention and convey genre. This has to be emphasized because authors – both in trad and in self-publishing – tend to get caught up in wanting the cover to adhere to the story. One first-time author who was very upset with the cover her publisher gave her and came to me for advice said “but the cover doesn’t illuminate the story.” I had to tell her that the story’s job is to illuminate the story. The cover does different work: attract the eye and convey genre.
It’s that second that’s most relevant for this week’s discussion. Because trends change and a cover that accurately conveyed genre six years ago may find itself conveying something else entirely to a current audience.
These were among the first book covers I ever commissioned and I particularly adore the cover for book one, LONEN’S WAR. It does come straight from a scene in the book – a pivotal scene that was, in part, the genesis image for the story – and the artist (Louisa Gallie) exactly nailed what I had in mind.
I will always be grateful for Louisa’s gorgeous art and I will always love this cover.
But, recently, people have been pointing out that these covers no longer convey what kind of story these books tell. The fantasy romance genre has moved on. If I want to tell readers that this IS the kind of thing they’re looking for, then I should consider updating to match current trends.
I contracted with BZN Studio Designs to design new covers for all six books. Right now the series isn’t available, but once I have all six covers, I’ll re-launch the series with some fanfare. I’m super excited to see how they do with the new covers. I’ve heard some people (including my own assistant!) say scathingly that these look like all the other covers out there in this subgenre, and there’s truth to that.
AND THAT’S THE POINT.
The content is what makes the stories unique. The covers are doing the job they’re supposed to do. Caught your eye, did it? I hope so! And I’m hoping you also know exactly what kind of story you’ll get.
Our assignment this week at the SFF Seven is to give a shout-out to the non-author creatives who enrich our lives: illustrators, musicians, jewelers, painters, poets, voice-actors, etc. This one is an easy pick for me because I just released THE FATE OF THE TALA, which means I’ve been posting the cover everywhere.