Yesterday was one of those days every writer hopes for. That day when someone mentioned your book on social media and the result was a nice bump in sales. (Thanks, Sarah!) But along with that nice bump came the naysayers, reminding me why I should never read the comments. It also brought home something we need to remember as readers–remember and try to correct. Those who have something to bitch about seem to be more willing to write about the perceived issue than those who have enjoyed the book and who may have verbally recommended it to someone. It is time we turn that equation upside down.
This isn’t a post bitching about those naysayers, not really. However, I will use some of the comments, generalized because I don’t want to go back to them, as examples.
Sarah offered some of us the chance to promote a book on sale for Cybermonday. I jumped at the chance since I suck at promotion. I made my way to my KDP dashboard and put Battle Flight, the prequel to the Honor & Duty series, on sale for the week. I did so because it allowed me to not only promote the series but to, hopefully, build interest ahead of opening up Risen from Ashes, the next book in the series, for pre-orders.
Thankfully, Amazon didn’t waste any time and the price change went through without a hitch and without delay and everything was in place for Sarah to post the link promoting the book. Huzzah!
I got up yesterday morning and saw the beginning of the day’s bump in sales and went looking to see if Sarah had made the link. She had and there were comments. Blame it on curiosity or on the fact I hadn’t had enough coffee yet, but I went to look to see what folks had to say. Then I began beating my head against the desk.
One person said no one should buy the book because–gasp–a man was writing about a female lead character. (Wow! I’d somehow grown a penis and didn’t know about it.)
A couple of others bitched about the cover. It wasn’t realistic enough or it was too sexual or something.
There was the not so subtle jabs about how women shouldn’t be serving on the front lines of the military now or in the future.
As I read, I remembered why Sarah so long ago told me not to read my own reviews. . .and why she used to ask me to check hers for her and let her know if there was anything she needed to be aware of.
Okay, fallout isn’t the right word but I’m still caffeine-deprived this morning.
I spent a few minutes wondering if I’d made a mistake in letting Sarah link the book, in my choice of covers, etc. Then I quit feeling sorry for myself and looked at the comments with a clearer eye.
When I did, one thing became abundantly clear. Each and every one of those naysayers were passing judgment on a book they hadn’t read and, in at least one instance, hadn’t even bothered to click through to the Amazon page. In doing so, they illustrated a very large problem plaguing fandom–the old guard and the new–right now.
It isn’t done this way now (or when “I” was in the Army/Navy/whatever). Women don’t serve in combat roles.
Yes, I’ve heard that and have had it thrown at me from the first day Vengeance from Ashes was published. As I wrote the book, I knew there would be those who would take that stance. Objections from those folks ranged from women don’t have the strength to carry everything necessary to be a front line warrior to what happens if she’s on her period to she won’t have the emotional strength to do what needs to be done. After all, we all know women are nurturers.
Pardon me while I think of the girls I knew in middle school and laugh hysterically. That last one is about as steeped in reality as the belief that if women ran the world we’d no longer have any wars.
The joy of writing science fiction is that, if done right, basically all those objections can be dealt with in a believable way. David Weber does so in his Honor Harrington series by dropping in on a couple of occasions text about birth control implants that keep Honor from having to worry about things like getting pregnant while the implant is active. Implied is that she doesn’t suffer from some of the effects of the monthly period. All of which is believable as medical science improves.
As for the strength issue, implants and powered battle armor can overcome the physical limitations. So can lighter weapons (lighter in weight, not firepower). It is my job as a writer to get those things across. But someone who prejudges without reading the book won’t know if I’ve done that job or not.
I can’t do anything about how folks look at the cover. Well, I can. I can change the cover but I guarantee there would be someone who didn’t like the next cover. There is always someone who doesn’t like a book cover. Because of that, I don’t tend to worry about those complaints. What I do look at is if the cover cues the reader to genre and this one does.
Which is really nothing more than a variation on the old. It used to be that if you were female and going to write science fiction, especially military sci-fi, you needed to use a masculine sounding pen name. I had that in mind when I started the series and chose to write it under “Sam Schall”. For the first few books, it was an open pen name–if you followed this blog or my own–but I didn’t link my name to the book on Amazon. I changed that later on. While Sam’s name is the only one to appear on the cover, my name is linked on Amazon and the copyright notice shows that I wrote the book using the name “Sam Schall”.
Which is why I know the person complaining of the fact Sam was male writing a female character hadn’t bothered going to the Amazon page for the book.
Worse, at least in the parlance of the “woke”, this person made an assumption about Sam’s gender. (Yes, my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek.) After all, Sam could be short for Samantha.
I will admit, however, that it is the first time I’ve been aware of anyone saying not to buy my book because I have a penis–which I don’t. I should have. After all, we’ve seen all too many of the new guard in fandom demanding readers step away from the patriarchy and read only female authors. There was even one author who campaigned to get her fans to read only female writers for a full year.
Sorry, but no. I don’t give a damn about a writer’s gender, sexual orientation, color of their skin or anything else. The only thing that matters is if they write an entertaining story or, if they are writing non-fiction, they show knowledge of their subject and aren’t just pulling “facts” out of thing air.
What to do?
If you go online and visit sites that don’t necessarily review products but link to them as recommendations, etc., you often will see that many–if not most–of the comments are negative. Part of that is because the internet is anonymous and folks thinks they can say whatever they want (whether their comments are based on facts or experience or not) and get away with it. Part of it is because some folks just feel the need to say something–again, whether they’ve used the product or not.
As readers, we need to make sure we let folks know about those books we like. Yes, leave a review on Amazon or other storefronts where the book is offered for sale or download. But when you see it being linked elsewhere, leave a comment there as well. It doesn’t have to be long, especially in the latter situation. But those positive comments go a long way. (and I appreciate the reader who pointed out I do not, in fact, have a penis but possess a vagina. LOL )
As writers, we need to remember this is social media where folks don’t always think before they hit “enter”. So we can’t take all those comments to heart.
As fans, we need to call out those from both old fandom and new who want to impose their own rules or prejudices on authors simply because of the feelz. I honestly understand and can see the problems some folks have with having a female in a combat role, especially combat command role, than I can those saying you shouldn’t read a book because of the gender of the author. In the former, those critics are usually judging based on personal military experience and are doing so without considering how improvements in tech can change things. Those folks are also the ones willing to concede the point if you have done your homework and write the tech into your story so it becomes something they can see happening. The latter, well, there is no reasoning with them (in general). They are allowing their personal prejudices to color everything about the book. How do you convince them you might actually have written a good book when they won’t pick it up in the first place–and won’t simply because of your gender (or your presumed gender)?
Anyway, it’s up to you to decide if you are going to judge a book solely on the presumed gender of the author or on the cover without even bothering to check out the blurb or sample. (And yes, I have been known to be turned off by a book’s cover. But I do try to read the blurb before completely ruling the book out.) I don’t know.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I just wish those who are often the most vocal spent a little bit of time actually reading a book before condemning it.