I was in the bookstore the other day when who should I see in the aisle next to me but Cheri the Rev, reviewer extraordinaire. She was flicking through dozens of books, muttering under her breath, flinging some into the corner, I swear I saw her bite one. Slowly I sidled over and began one of my famous interviews…
Why and how you get into reviewing? And how has your reviewing evolved.
The thought to post reviews first came to me when I was addicted to Bad Girls fan fiction and had wished I had a resource that could point me in the direction of the really good stories. I wanted stories that had not only great representations of my favorite couple but ones that were also well written. Sure, there were lots of readers and writers on the message boards I found the stories on but folks were more interested in being supportive to the author than warning readers away from stories that were, well, less than good. So, like many people who can’t find what they need, I made my own.
Me, too. Only I wrote what I wanted to read. So, when did all this kick off?
I started out back in 2009 on Blogger with Fan Fiction Reviews and a few months later kicked off Lesbian Fiction Reviews, which featured published works. They were the foundation of C-Spot Reviews (http://reviews.c-spot.net). From there, I’ve expanded into audio and video reviews and collaborated with my dear friend, Andy (Peyton Andrews) to create Cocktail Hour Productions (http://cocktailhour.us) which is home to several different podcast venues.
What do you use as guidelines for your reviews, i.e. what constitutes a good book to you. How do you keep a level playing field across the hundreds of books you look at?
The only guidelines I have – for myself as well as anyone who posts reviews on C-Spot Reviews – is that I cannot have had any part in the creation of the book and, in general, I won’t review anyone who is a close friend. There are exceptions to that rule, however. If I feel that I can be completely honest in my review – I don’t want to hurt the feelings of a friend – and I give a disclaimer in the first paragraph or so of the post, then I’ll take on a friend’s work. It doesn’t happen often and when it does, the author doesn’t know what I’ll say before I post it. I’d say there are less than a handful of my author friends who I will review on my site.
One thing that I’ve said many times before, and I have a feeling I’m going to have to keep on saying it, reviews should be for readers, not for authors. While I understand that sales can be tied to reviews, that’s not my concern. My job as a reviewer – a non-paid job, I might add – is to help readers find a book that will they will enjoy. That’s it. If I become concerned with how a review will affect sales, even the sales of a friend, it’s too easy to gloss over issues and compromise my integrity. Integrity and honesty is very important to me. Besides, I’m a firm believer that if authors write good books, the sales will come.
As far as keeping a level playing field, I try to take each work on its own merits. My reviewing style isn’t like most other reviewers I know. I’m a very emotional reader and I write my reviews based on how a book made me feel. I’m a reader who has to be totally immersed in a story to get to the level of emotional connection I want and, unfortunately, I’m very easily pulled out of a story. Typos, misused words, extra words, overuse of words or descriptions, and any number of other things will yank me right out and cut my connection to the characters. That’s why those types of things end up being mentioned in my reviews. It’s not because I’m a picky asshole, or arsehole for my British friends.
As a Brit, Cheri, this is much appreciated. A lot of people wouldn’t make the effort to be both.
I always try to go the extra mile.
What do you think about the plethora of lesfic books we have available to us today? I can remember when getting my hands on a Naiad, any Naiad, was exciting. Is less more? Are we becoming fast food/fast read gluttons. Do you see lesfic burrowing deeper into its own niche or reaching out to the rest of the world?
I remember sitting down with Naiad books and being so excited to read about women like me. I was in the Marine Corps—
Oh…if I’d have known that I wouldn’t have so quick with the butthole quip.
Relax. So, I was in the Marine Corps when I first found lesbian fiction in a tiny feminist bookstore. I felt like the whole world was opening up to me. I took several years off from reading – life turned upside-down, standard mid-20’s type things I suppose – and stumbled upon fan fiction more or less by accident. I spent a couple years reading almost exclusively online works in the Bad Girls, Xena (where I first found your work), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandoms and when I did eventually move back into published lesbian fiction, the big names in publishing were with either Bella or Bold Strokes. There were other houses but those are the two where I spent my money.
Now there are too many lesbian publishing houses for me to remember off the top of my head. Some are full-service houses that offer editing, mentoring, and marketing but some, honestly, I don’t even know how they can be called “Publishing Houses” since all they do is format the final product and list it as one of their publications – and take a cut of the profits, of course. Then there are the authors who have decided to go the self-publishing route. There are just so many options for authors now and I think that can be both a great thing and a terrible thing for our genre.
So, Indie vs. publishers. Who is taking the risks with lesfic. Is anybody? Or are we all churning out the same old happy-clappy entertainment.
Obviously, it’s great because the reader has so many more options to choose from. Authors aren’t held to a specific publishing house’s preferred themes or formats and we, the reader, have more variety to choose from. I’ve read some seriously fantastic self-published books, same with those coming from publishing houses that no one really ever hears about. But, unfortunately in my experience, most of the offerings have been poorly edited – or not edited at all – and made me angry that I’d wasted, at the very least, my time in attempting to read them. It’s maddening to me that so many of these same books have almost solidly 5-star ratings on places like Amazon and Goodreads.
Even with so many sub-par offerings in the marketplace, there are some great publishers who truly care about working with their authors to create high-quality, well-written, well-edited books. And I love that publishers seem to be taking chances on expanding their horizons to include non-romance books and I’m very excited about where lesbian fiction will be in another five or ten years. I think that the readers of lesbian fiction – and many authors, too – are demanding more and that demand is being noticed by publishers. If we keep calling for better editing and proofreading and more variety in our books, it’ll happen. We deserve books that can stand up next to best-selling mainstream books. The authors in our genre are just as talented and skilled, we just have to keep proving it by publishing, and promoting, those books which meet the highest standards that we deserve.
Yeah, I know that sounds sort of preachy but I truly believe in helping to create a genre that is the best and as diverse as possible. I’m passionate about lesbian fiction and I would guess that I dedicate more hours in a week to it than I do to my kid. And now I feel like a really shitty mom. But a great advocate for lesbian fiction! So there’s that.
What would you like to read, see more of, hope for in the future?
I want to see more women of color, more poor people – or at least not independently wealthy, more women who aren’t runners or have perfect BMIs. I want to see more stories about real women. I want to see more well-written mysteries, more thrillers, more political intrigue. I want to see horror and literary fiction. I don’t want to see romance go away but I want to see more themes rise up to meet that quantity. I don’t want lesbian fiction to be limited but, instead, to go wherever talented writers and dedicated publishers have the courage to take it.
I feel like there should be some awesome orchestral music swelling behind me as I’m typing. But, alas, just barking dogs and a kid asking for help with his math homework.
And finally, have you ever said, “I could do better,” and begun to write for yourself? That’s what got me started; too much pulp and not enough fiction so I went all DIY.
I don’t know that I thought I could do better but more along the lines of “I couldn’t do any worse…” But, yeah, over the past several months I’ve found that I enjoy writing flash fiction. I stick to a limit of 500 words and just let my imagination go wherever it will. I’m proud to say that I’ve freaked out several of my friends. Turns out my imagination is much darker than folks suspected.
I also pushed myself to participate – and win – NaNoWriMo 2014. My 10 year-old son and I both kicked ass. It was nothing like what I expected and I’m not ashamed to say that I cried when I finished. I didn’t really believe that I would be able to write anything beyond a single scene story. I’m not saying it’s any good, but I did it.
I’m just getting started on the first round of revisions now and will decide sometime in the near future if I want to do anything more with it. But one thing I do know is that if I decide to really commit to it and try for publishing it, I’d need a really good editor. I can only imagine the reviews without one!
My flash fiction can be found on the Off Topic website (http://offtopic.c-spot.net/category/flash-fiction-2/).
By this time the bookstore owner was making towards us and the little heap of books around our feet. I decided now might be a good time to leave and see who else I could find to interview for next time.