Monday, September 8, 2014

It's Monday and I'm Going To Brag

Last night I sat down with the pre-publication copy (commonly known as an ARC, for Advanced Reading Copy) of my upcoming novel, The War That Saved My Life. ARCs look quite a lot like paperback versions of the novel, complete with the cover art, but they're not quite finished--good thing, because we caught a timeline mistake on page sixteen.

I read parts of the book, including the last hundred pages, because now that the Super Secret Special Project has disappeared I'm back to working on the sequel to TWTSML. (Teens who love John Green's novel The Fault In Our Stars--that is to say, all teens--refer to it as Tif-ee-os, from TFIOS. There's no way to pronounce TWTSML. I've tried.) I've never written a sequel before--the closest I've come is my second book, which was a companion book to my first and also the worst book I've had published--but TWTSML cries out for one in all respects. In fact, my current editor, coming into the project when my previous editor cruelly abandoned me in favor of caring for her newborn son, wrote me early on: What are we supposed to think about the ending of this book? It's happily-ever-after even though their house just got blown up? What about Ada's foot? What if Mam returns? (Okay, Sarah, sorry. I guess there are some spoilers.)

To which I replied: "sequel." And that made her happy.

Then she wanted to know what Tough Issue I was going to tackle in the sequel. I gave her a one-word reply there, too, which made her say "oooooooh," but I'm not going to spoil that surprise.

Anyhow, let me tell you about Amazon reviews, or most other internet reviews you might read. (Goodreads are slightly more reliable than Amazon; regular blog reviews are pretty reliable, but check the background of the blogger for hidden agendas.) Amazon reviews fall into several categories:
1) Those written by the author's friends and family. These are usually very favorable.
2) Those written by sixth-graders who were forced to read the book and post on Amazon for school. Some of these are favorable, others very, very unfavorable. You'll know them by their brevity and misspellings.
3) Those written by people who aren't actually reviewing the book. Many unfavorable reviews fall into this category. For example, I saw someone give Neil Gaiman's exquisite Coraline one star because, "I didn't know this was a children's book." It's not really cricket to blame the author for your own ignorance. Ditto giving the author one star because you bought it from a used bookseller and didn't like the condition of the copy you received.
4) Those written by people with An Agenda. All my one-star reviews for Jefferson's Sons come from a small group of people who really passionately do not want to believe that Thomas Jefferson had sex with a black woman. They don't care about my book; they mostly haven't read it, because the very idea of it pisses them off. One suggests snarkily that the book "should be filed under fiction." (It is.)
5) Everyone else. You can probably believe these reviews, so long as you can distinguish them from categories 1-4. If the author in question has friends and family who are quite talented this may be difficult.

So you'll have to take Amazon reviews lightly. I know I do. But let me quote you a review I got for TWTSML:

"Not all wars are fought by nations; some are fought in small rooms, but for the same issues: justice, opportunity, respect. In Ada's small war lies our large hope that love cannot, will not, be overcome. I read this novel in two big gulps."

It's not on Amazon. It's on the back of the ARC. It was written by Gary D. Schmidt, who wrote Okay For Now and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy , and I swear I'm going to have that blurb embroidered on a pillow and sleep on it at night, because every time I read it I think I've finally done something right.