I have a friend who is an author and her first novel, which is of the historically romantical nature, is up on Goodreads. It hasn’t dropped officially yet—don’t worry, I will definitely spam Groupthink when it does because I am a good friend like that—but it’s been available for review to book bloggers/reviewers for a couple weeks now through her publisher. As a result reviews are trickling in and I am watching them like a HAWK on her behalf (I am pretty sure she’s trying not to look herself).

Throughout the process of her writing I’ve been learning a lot about the publishing industry, stuff I never would have known from the outside even though I’m a voracious reader. It definitely adds a different perspective to some of the critical comments about books that I see.

Because I’m her friend I am looking only, never responding (bad form and not helpful, people can have their opinions, etc). But some things are bugging me because I know too much now, and so I have a couple teeny, tiny vents:

  1. Why do people think authors in a traditional pubbing situation have a lot of control over their covers? From what I witnessed they definitely do not, and their agents also do not, and if they don’t like something they have to compromise with the publisher who has its own ideas about what will work best. Critiquing cover design is of great interest to me personally because I’m a designer myself (mostly wine labels though, not books), so seeing that part of the process was kind of painful. In short, the publisher has a formula for “what sells,” and they’re not all that interested in input that goes against that. Even if what sells is Fabio on a hilltop with no shirt on and it’s been done to death and since when do historical novel-era men wax their chests?
  2. People have ideas about what is and isn’t “historically accurate,” and those ideas are sometimes wrong! This issue is a bit more nuanced, because impressions of history—and what’s important to portray to ‘set the time’—vary. Having seen someone do actual research into this it makes me wonder how much of criticism in this vein is due to false perceptions of past times. For example, the level of a women’s agency is sometimes both greater and less than people assume based on social status, connections, and immediate culture. (For what it’s worth this particular criticism hasn’t been levied at my friend’s book yet, I saw it on a review elsewhere and questioned it.)
  3. To continue #2 a different way, it’s interesting how some reviewers attribute certain choices of phrasing and so on to authors instead of their editors. In a traditionally pub’d book all those little ‘catches’ are the editor’s job!

So obviously the main danger of Goodreads is that I can’t stop checking it and thinking way too much about the relationships between writers and readers. The whole culture of “readerdom” is fascinating—and even though I read all the time, I’ve never been part of it so it’s all new to me. Plus I am experiencing a little bit of vicarious authorship, it seems. :)

I can totally see why some authors might be tempted to reply to reviews now too, even though I think that is a 100% terrible idea.