Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Glimpse of a Reviewer's Life

On Amazon, you'll see the little VINE VOICE icon by my reviews because I'm in the program where they offer (by an email list) books and other things to reviewers, free, and in turn the reviewer has to review 75% of what they get.

So far I've been lucky and could review 100% of what I've chosen from their list.

I'm also the Science Fiction and Fantasy reviewer for a paper magazine, and do a monthly column with a New Age slant -- so some Paranormal Romances and Historicals with magic fit into the column.

Lots of paper publishers send me ARCs (advance reading copies -- a bound POD printout with typos glaring and no cover art), and Hardcovers and Mass Market paperbacks - and even Trade Paperbacks.

There's no way any reviewer can possibly read every book that's published! So we specialize.

Now I'm not complaining here. We're talking the joy of a pig in mud, a puppy scratched behind the ears, a ghost discovering a way to talk to the living!

This part of my life is currently pure ecstacy.

But -- isn't there always a but? That's what makes stories, you know.


As sales volume goes down, the number of titles in each category has been going up. Worse yet, as genre walls dissolve, bits and pieces of what I specialize in (impossible Relationships that change reality) are now turning up in several genres -- where numbers of titles proliferate.

With the addition of small press, epublishers, and self-publishers, it is a total explosion of titles to read.

I try to give authors who send me copies direct, editors who send ARCs for cover quotes, and general ARCs preference, but titles I really REALLY want to read are piling up.

Here's a picture of 6 months of pile-up -- (this does not include all the stacks and stacks of books I have read, some of which are already reviewed on http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/ PLUS a 3 ft. stack of to-review books I've already read not shown here)

But my "beat" also includes SF/F on TV and film.

Have you noticed how many "impossible relationship" driven TV shows there are this year?

The last few years I could watch everything (Except for Buffy and Angel, pretty much only on the scifi channel which is now gone, renamed syfy and just not the same). I only watch 6 hours of TV shows a week. That's all the time I have, and it's usually while doing something else because I really don't have six hours a week to myself.

Suddenly, I'm recording about 10 hours of TV every week, and still only watching 6, so my DVR has overflowed and started not-recording shows on my scheduled recordings.

And that's not counting FILMS.

I know there are things I'm missing, important things. I scan goodreads.com and amazon.com Communities, facebook, and twitter for a perspective on trends and look for how trends in fiction mirror trends in our real-world problems (and I find a lot I haven't space to discuss even on this blog).

Trends are my main focus, the big picture, the hidden significance of the microscopic. An obscure book here, a self-published book there, an Independent film, a story in Variety, a headline in the New York Times, a tidbit from Locus, a sudden best seller, or a prize winner that didn't sell so well being made into a TV Show (can you name 3 such shows on TV this year? Include cable channels.)

There is something going on now that needs further analysis. I believe what we're seeing in today's fiction has significance on a scale of thousands of years of human history - perhaps tens of thousands.

There are huge problems facing us, like Global Warming (is it real? Should we do anything about it? If so, what? Is anyone lying or fudging the data? What does it really mean? Who's hiding what from whom? Or "never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.")

There's the increasing pace of epidemics bursting across species lines.

There's the species die-off that so many heroic people are trying to slow or prevent.

Perhaps there are new species evolving that haven't made headlines yet.

There's the threat of nuclear war again.

There's the increasing UV concentrations, rainfall shifts, and infectious plant diseases, diseases of the bee populations, all limiting the tons per acre of food we can produce. There's food supply contamination. There's pesticide and fertilizer chemical contamination affecting the fertility of animals, plants and people. There's food-distribution methods leaching nutrients from warehoused food. And there's hitting the global limit on how much more farmland we can put into service, plus the problem of CO2 emissions as we increase acreage cultivated.

And then there is the ever increasing power supply requirements of our ever-increasing global population.

Back in the 1950's there was a rash of SF stories about how civilization would collapse - giving rise to the genre called "post-apocalyptic" -- of which my Sime~Gen universe is an example, though of the more optimistic variety. Sime~Gen stories generally focus on a thousand years later, and humans of good spirit and good will put together a viable civilization again. Against all odds, they succeed, overcome, thrive and prosper because of love. They do more than restore lost civilization. They advance humankind.

Star Trek, too, is post-apocalyptic and optimistic -- for in Star Trek, Earth's history includes a vicious breakdown of civilization in the 1990's called The Genetic Wars. But everything comes out OK.(except for Ricardo Mantalban ).

Today the biggest trend is Urban Fantasy (turning up in every genre from Mystery to Historical) showing contemporary culture oblivious to the magical threats seething below the surface. Our Hero has to protect us from those threats and keep us oblivious.

It's not about "rebuilding" civilization, winning against odds, advancing where No One Has Gone Before. It's about preventing catastrophe, holding the status quo.

And that may be the view of an entire generation currently growing up, that all the problems that beset our world are inherently unsolvable even by the best science there is (maybe because scientists lie; they know something important they're not telling us? Secrets. Conspiracies. Darkness.).

Holding the status quo seems to me at the moment, the single biggest trend in fiction, a trend that is so big we (who absorb fiction one novel, series, or TV show at a time) can't see it as a pattern.

If the best we can hope for is holding the status quo, then we're living in a horror film. The Horror Genre definition is "the hero can't win - a draw is the best you can expect."

The Star Trek universe conception was that humanity not only can win, but WILL.

Today our world concept seems to be "hold on tight or we'll slip backwards."

If we don't change that attitude, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Consider how the USA (yes, I know some readers of this blog aren't in the USA) is handling Iraq and Afghanistan - Israel and the Palestinians. Consider the issues fueling those controversies and parse them into the paradigm of "hold on tight or we'll slip backwards."

Which way is "forwards?" Point me at a novel or TV show that blazes a trail "forwards."

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Wow!

    You have a very large stockpile. I now don't feel so bad if I'm a few weeks over the ideal time for writing a review (I aim for within a month). I currently do not get as many books as you do. :D I'd love to though! Wow! All those books

    *goes off into happy daydream*

  2. Whoa, look at that ARC stack!

    There's no way I could keep up with that. Not with my massive herd of rowdy offspring.

    I learn about books by word of mouth or put out a request for them on Twitter or in the blogosphere, but only accept what I'm sure I'll like. Sometimes, books are sent to me unsolicited and they go to the bottom of my stack, unless they're from favorite authors and then they jump the line.

    It's easy to get sick of one or two elements when you read a lot, like the Kick-Butt Heroine. Reading across genres helps though. I love all the genre bending and blending. I'm a buffet kind of girl.

    I don't watch t.v. except for the occasional DVD, like the new STAR TREK movie. I just don't have any time at all for t.v.

    As a writer, I've learned a lot from book reviewing. Tons. And when I need to learn something new, I find a new book to review or I can email any one of the authors with my questions. It's been great, but if I ever publish I'll have to hand the reins of Enduring Romance over to someone else because of time constraints.

  3. Yeah, it's a lot of books, but you know what? The real problem is that I actually WANT to read all of them!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  4. Heehee. I don't see that as a problem! :D

    Kimber An - I love kick-butt heroines :D Wish I read more books with them in.

  5. I'll suggest you next time one's offered to me then.

  6. Wow, I was going to ask you to review my book until I saw that photo. You really don't have enough hours in the day. I have to agree with your view on books and movies concluding with a draw or the glimpse of a future of neverending war while the hero holds on. I don't like books to end that way and always conclude my series be they romance or fantasy with a win. Go team!

  7. Susan:

    Ah, well, the purpose of the photo was not to deter folks from sending review copies. Quite the contrary. It's an open call to arms and an insight into why it's so hard to get reviewed that you need to do as I've advised previously in this column.

    My "to-read" stack is pretty much common among professional reviewers, and yes getting reviewed is competitive.

    That's why I stood up at the panel at Worldcon Denvention where the Agent Kristin Nelson was teaching how to write cover copy and told writers that the formula being presented is the correct one for getting the most possible reviews from professional reviewers.

    More than that, the way to get reviewed is to start out writing the cover copy before you write the book. Then make sure you actually deliver what the copy says.

    Here's what the Agent giving that instructive talk said about what I said during her Q&A.


    And here's the blog I wrote here about what she said that I thought writers needed to know.


    You can find examples of how I apply this lesson in my own writing at
    http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com where you can read free chapters.

    You probably don't need to get the books to see the lesson; just read the free chapters and compare to the professional cover copy (written for me) and what I put on my web page with the first 3 chapters.

    Now, if your book meets those criteria and you bring it to my attention and have the publisher send me a copy with press release enclosed, there's a very good chance of getting reviewed by me here, or on Amazon whre I"m a Vine Voice, or even in the paper magazine I write for.

    Depending on the theme and content of the novel, I try to find a place for anything which stands out as significant contribution to its field.

    Endings that depict SUCCESS at solving the main problem (at least) are very likely to draw comments from me simply because I do like them.

    But every ending is a new beginning, and every villain is the hero of his own story. That's why a writer must handle point of view well.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  8. Out of interest Jacqueline, how long have you been a book reviewer?

    (I'm just in complete awe of that pile! My book levels are looking a bit low so I just had to buy some books today :D)

  9. Yunaleska:

    Oh, I answered you by email not realizing you'd posted your comment here.

    I've been the SF/F reviewer for The Monthly Aspectarian since 1993 and you can find all my reviews for that magazine at

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  10. Jacqueline, pleeease blog on the Catalyst moment next!

    I've been chasing my characters around with a metaphoric chainsaw over this own for about two weeks now!

  11. Kimber An:

    I'm thinking about it, but could use some direct questions.

    The problem is that it seems OBVIOUS to me what Blake Snyder meant by "catalyst" but that's because I know how to find it and place it for a text narrative and I've noted how it's done in film.

    So what exactly is bugging you about it? Of course, if you knew the answer to that, you wouldn't have to ask!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  12. Seriously! I know what it is in the story but it FEELS muddled. It's not *clear* and concise, like I feel it needs to be. I think maybe a Red Flag's gone up in my subconscious mind, but my conscious mind is out playing the hokey-pokey and hasn't caught on.

    I think the problem is rooted in the beginning which I've had so much trouble finding for this story. I keep backing up and critters will say, "Oh, this is great, but it feels like you're starting this too late. I want to know more about..." So, I let it rest, go back, re-read, and realize they're right, so I back up the starting point again. And again. I've lost count how many 'agains.' So, nailing down the catalyst with everything that needs to come together and happen has been like bopping weasels.

    Which explains the mallet my meez is swinging there.

    Oh, yes, I went back and reread all the posts on Beginnings, First Lines, First Chapter Foibles, several times. And I'm clinging to Theme like a drowning victim.

    I'm not so worried about coming in under wordcount this time though!

  13. Kimber An:

    OK, I see the ball of twine you're tangled up in like a kitten.

    As noted on twitter, spent the day cleaning house with a sudden, inexplicable energy and determination. When that happens, you have to just go with it.

    It happens with writing, too. I hope I'll be able to clarify the CATALYST in terms of the astrology of the protagonist, and the plot-generating event.

    Backing up the starting point is not always the way to solve the problem. Let's see what we can come up with.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  14. Jacqueline: I empathize with you re. your stack of to-be-read books. Between writing and "real life" I don't have anywhere near as much time to read as I'd like. (Most of my reading time goes toward writing.)

    Regarding your comment: 'Which way is "forwards?" Point me at a novel or TV show that blazes a trail "forwards."' might I suggest my 2010 EPIC Award-nominated novel, Sunrise Destiny?

    Without giving too much away, it's a paranormal sci-fi/detective novel set in the near future. When the daughter of a mob boss disappears, private detective Donatello Sunrise is ordered (or else) to find her. What he finds is a much bigger case involving dozens of missing young women. Soon the cops are after him, the mob wants him dead, even the kidnappers are after him.

    The trail leads Sunrise and a hooker friend to telepathic aliens, a romance, an adventure that spans the stars and leaves the fate of Earth in doubt, and ultimately a resolution that has implications for human evolution.

    If this sounds interesting, I'd be happy to send you an ebook copy (published, not ARC) to read/review.

    Yes, I realize this only adds to your review stack--but at least it's an ebook, so it won't increase the size of the pile on your desk. 8^}

    Either way, thanks for the interesting blog!


  15. Mark:


    Sunrise Destiny sounds like it may have the elements my professional review column is looking for, but with all the conflicting motifs, it had to be very hard to write.

    If you can send it as mobipocket, html or rtf, I can read it on my antique PALM.

    First send me your email address so I can whitelist you, then send the attachment.

    In this age of spam, the best way to exchange eddresses is via twitter Direct Message or one of the other services.

    On Twitter I'm jlichtenberg

    Or you can find my email address at the bottom of my homepage simegen.com/jl/ or my current releases page

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg