Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Genre: The Root Of All Amazon Comments by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Genre: The Root Of All Amazon Comments
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this series on Genre:





And here is the page that lists the Amazon comments for DEAD LETTER DAY (A MESSENGER NOVEL)

The subtitle A MESSENGER NOVEL or the author's name is necessary because there are many novels titled DEAD LETTER DAY.

You can't copyright a title, so many novels have the same title, and are distinguished by the author's name.  In general, when titling a novel you are writing, it is a good idea to look at Amazon to find out what other novels by the title are "out there" and what, exactly, they are about.

For example, I lifted a classic Vampire line, being used by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro in her St. Germain novels, to use for the title of a Vampire novel which is actually a Science Fiction Romance set on the Moon. The title I chose is THOSE OF MY BLOOD (free on Kindle Unlimited)



The publisher's (St. Martin's Press Hardcover) target audience was Vampire and Fantasy fans, and the title bespeaks the Vampire core of the novel -- which explains the source of Vampire legends using Science.

So when I was doing book signings in Mall bookstores, sitting up front at a table full of copies of the book, with a big easel sign outside the door saying THOSE OF MY BLOOD with an image of the cover, (the old hardcover cover; it has had several editions since and is currently being released in audiobook edition from audible.com), people came up to me asking about my book on GENEALOGY.  Check out the search results on Amazon and you will find some of those nonfiction books.  True, this Vampire novel is all about family relationships, but not exactly genealogy.

So DEAD LETTER DAY is an appropriate title for the novel by Eileen Rendahl, but can be confused with many other books.  Eileen's "Messenger" delivers deadly objects at risk of life and limb.

When titling a novel, be sure to check Amazon and Google search for the phrase you are using.  The title represents or symbolizes the Theme, which is always a "universal" and as a result, can be commonly used to make other sorts of statements.

Throughout 2015, there has been a running battle between Amazon and "reviewers" and publishers and even readers.

Here is an installment in that battle:

As I have noted in previous posts, we are carving out new territory in a new world when it comes to communication and information.

The connection between "information" and "communication" is crystal clear in the explosive blasts of "fantasy" type statements by politicians and retorts of "that's a lie!" and euphemisms for that retort such as "disingenuous."

We, as writers, are seeing this same fog blurring the line between information and disinformation in the online comments pages -- Amazon being only one such venue.

I'm not talking about Library Journal, The New York Times Book Review (both of which have treated my mass market novels very well indeed) and not even about online blogs that "review" novels.

I'm talking about readers who post on the products page comments such as "I liked it" (i.e. personal reactions offered to people who do not know that person), or statements such as "the characters are wooden."

Without knowing the commenter personally, a potential reader can not tell whether this book would be an enjoyable read.  Enjoying reading a particular book is a very personal experience, an investment of time, energy (and money), and emotional wear and tear.

So the open comments page on Amazon which is called "reviews" really have nothing at all to do with "reviews."

A "review" is an analysis of a novel to communicate information about that novel to people who would (or would not) find that novel worth its cover price.

With novels like Dead Letter Day (A Messenger Novel) by Eileen Rendahl, you see a Kindle Edition price of $7.99, which I consider exorbitant.  The recent negotiations between Amazon and Publishers (and lawsuits flying every which way, including iBooks on Apple platforms), have "settled" in such a way as to push people back to Paper Editions by raising the price of the ebook.

So grabbing a "cheap" ebook edition in case you might like to read the book in the future (collecting a series so you can binge-read it) is being discouraged.

This makes "reviews" by other readers much more important, and gives readers a whole lot more to consider before buying a novel.

It muddies the decision waters -- which is something marketers are taught to avoid at all costs.

So Amazon has been "cracking down" on "reviews" written by "reviewers" for money.

The problem is not that "reviews" are being posted for money -- but rather that the words posted by such "independent contractors" are  not reviews at all, but comments.

Comments are different from reviews.  As noted above, comments take one or both of two stances:
A) I liked/didn't like it, and
B) My disappointment in this book was the book's fault, not mine, so YOU will be disappointed, too because the writer is bad at writing.  It's not my fault I chose the wrong book to pay my hard earned money for.

Neither statement has anything to do with whether YOU will like this book, or what properties are inherent in the novel itself.

Reviews, on the other hand, focus entirely on whether the book delivers what the cover, title, genre category indicate is inside, and which particular audience is targeted by the publisher.

Yes, audience targeting is done by the writer as I've described


... but the target can be adjusted by a clever editor issuing rewrite instructions.

The Editor's job ...

Here is Part 7 of Editing -- with links to previous 6 parts:

...is the 'get reviews' via the Publicity Department.  That means the Editor must carve the material into a shape a Publicist would recognize as being in demand by a specific market.

"Reviews" are a marketing tool.  "Reviews" are INFORMATION.

"Comments" are a sharing tool.  "Comments" are COMMUNICATION.

Amazon has gotten the two distinct forms confused, which is why they are in such a tangled muddle.

Reviewers GET PAID to read, analyze, and write up their analysis, specifically targeting mass-buyers such as Libraries, Bookstores, Retailers, Warehousers, and yes, even newspapers such as the New York Times Book Review.

Commenters must not get paid in money, perhaps not even with a free copy.  The whole point of "sharing" a reaction you, personally, experience when reading a novel is that you are COMMUNICATING to the world something about who you are.

Comments are about you -- and are useful to people who have something in common with you, who know who you are (via social networking, for example), and would like to discuss a particular book with you, personally, because you have something in common.

Reviewers get paid to prevent you from wasting your money, and have no interest in hearing back from you.

In other words, COMMENTERS (as distinct from Commentators) get paid via your response to their comments.  REVIEWERS get paid by someone else to "get the word out" to the specific market the publisher intended.

Both get paid, but in different "coin of the realm."

I know this distinction because I've done both, in fandom and fanzines, online in social networking and Twitter chats, as well as professionally paid by a paper print magazine to review free copies of books.

That is I get free copies and a salary, to sort books out into piles, and direct the piles of books at those who would benefit from the content.  Dead Letter Day is one of the books I was sent, free, to review but without a salary or stipend, just the free book.  The review I write here is "optional" -- I will still be sent review copies even if I do not review Dead Letter Day.  A Reviewer is assigned titles they must read and review, and turn in their review by a certain date.

I only review books that will still be a great read and instructive by whatever date you might happen to pick them up.  Timing "reviews" is all about marketing.  My commentary on titles is all about what you can learn by analyzing, contrasting and comparing certain novels to other novels, and I recommend checking your library for ebook or paper copies to read free.

Reviewers are paid to part you from your money.  Commenters are trying to get your attention.  I am intent on illuminating the dark corners of writing lessons your readers can benefit from.

What I choose to say about a book has a lot to do with who is listening.

Here, on this blog, I am talking mostly to Romance writers who use elements of science fiction, fantasy, and/or Paranormal genres to broaden their audience reach.  Other readers here are working toward selling novels with several of these elements.  Still others are readers who love knowing how novels get made and published.  You might be surprised how many readers love seeing how writers do it!

Right now, due to the whole self-publishing, internet, ebook, social networking phenomenon, the world of publishing is redefining the concept Genre, not just the content of books with a genre label on the spine but the very parameters that define what constitutes a genre.

So new experimental genre names are appearing on book spines, and a wide variety of twists, blends, and content are being included under genre labels that sell well for no reason the publisher understands.

As a result, many readers are being led astray by the publisher, then blaming the author for their disappointment in a book.

A track record of disappointing readers is one of the legitimate reasons for an author to change their byline.

I've covered Pen Names in previous posts.


Here, though, I am telling you to study the comments on the Amazon page for this particular Messenger Novel, and then read the book, and discern the difference between a comment and a review.

Also read this article on the whole 2015 Amazon dust-up which I mentioned above.

Think about what you, as a reader, want to know about a book before you put down $8 to get a copy.

DEAD LETTER DAY is 294 pages, and the  3rd in the MESSENGER series -- DON'T KILL THE MESSENGER, DEAD ON DELIVERY are the prequels.

I recalled reading the previous ones as I was reading DEAD LETTER DAY, but only vaguely. I didn't find anything in Dead Letter Day that tripped me up or made me think I should reread the prequels.

The series premise is that there is a paranormal world interspersed with our normal world, and it has werewolves and vampires and other "things."  Marlena Markowitz is a young woman whose magical talent, training, and obligation is to deliver packages to paranormal beings -- wherever the recipient might be.

A friend of hers, Paul, a werewolf, has gone missing, and his pack does not seem as concerned as she thinks they should be.

This is an Amateur Private Eye novel, set in a Fantasy universe, with Romance and many other genres skillfully interwoven.

Marlena investigates Paul's disappearance until she puzzles out the motivations of the various paranormal characters involved with her friend, Paul, and locates him.  She is indefatigable and relentless, despite many discouragements that would stop most people.

Meanwhile, Marlena delivers packages and runs her dojo for young children, and trains her own apprentice Messenger.

With so much material compressed into such a short novel, the author still makes room for a Romance thread.  This is an installment in an ongoing Paranormal Romance story which reads well as a stand-alone, but is enhanced by memory of the previous novels.  It is not a Romance.  It is a Private Eye Novel.

I highly recommend Eileen Rendahl's Messenger Novels to those who like a variegated Paranormal world revealed through multiple plot threads and a cast of vividly drawn Characters.

But more than that, I recommend studying the contrast between the comments on Amazon and your own response to the novel.

Try to discern what you, as a Romance writer, can do to attract "reviews" on Amazon that point specific readers at your books, and other readers (who would not enjoy your book) away from wasting their money and posting bitter comments.

As a reader, try to figure out ways to avoid wasting your money.

Genre used to be the sort-mechanism.  You would walk into a book store, glance up at the signs, and go right to the shelves which had all the books you might want to read.  Then you'd pick one by some hint of content, or author's name, but all of them were "good."

Now readers are aswim in a turbulent sea of indistinguishable titles, and the readers do not know why they are whipped around and pointed at "bad" books.  They blame the writers for bad writing, when in fact it is the blurring of the lines between genres coupled to the blurring of the distinction between Review and Comment that is causing confusion.  Add to that the plethora of ebooks that are really early drafts needing work or perhaps fan fiction recycled for publishing.  Review Blogs are strenuously trying to fill the gap, but still falling short.

Publishing needs new ways to sort books for readers.  Can you think of a new one using tech in novel ways (as Uber applied tech to the taxi problem?)  Then write a novel about that method.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. I don't think it is whether or not a person writing about a book gets paid to do so that should make the difference between a comment and a review. After all, even independent bloggers make money off their blogs. The only significance of being paid is whether the reviewer is paid by the author or publisher or paid by an independent publication that makes its profit off readers and not writers. That's why, in my opinion, when Kirkus Review started selling its reviews to authors and publishers, giving them an option not to publish unfavorable reviews, the value of Kirkus reviews went down. The people writing the reviews got paid, in either event, but once the publication was paid for by authors, it was no longer impartial.