Wednesday 30 June 2010

Who cares, as long as they FUCK, right? (A rant)

Today was a day of WTF. Catching up on my various author loops, one thing is the main theme at the moment. First, "Dear Author" started an interesting discussion on why accuracy matters in m/m historicals. A few of the comments already had me groan.

Then on an author loop, people are talking about how much research is "enough". (Personally, it's enough when nobody can catch me on a mistake, when I live in those people's heads, when I know what they wear, how that feels and what their childhood was like). One example, I've started my research on "Iron Cross" with a series of three books that begin to tell the history on Nazi Germany in 1871. My book's set in 1941-1956ish. But I need to know about my characters' parents and what events would have influenced them in their childhood. Were they hungry often? How bad was the French occupation of Germany's industrial centres and were reparations payments too high or just right? How bad was inflation (pretty fucking bad - Germany has no reason to laugh at Zimbabwe)?

In various forms, shapes and iterations, today I've read these statements/reasonings:

1 - Who cares, it's FICTION after all.
2 - Who cares, it's just ROMANCE.
3 - Who cares, as long as the main characters FUCK, right?

Who cares?

Readers do. Your paying customers.

It's true, readers fall into two camps. The first group - let's call them the "neutrals", won't notice (the style handbook I just read at work calls those "the ignorant/dumb masses" - but hey, the place I work for now is pretty damn elitist. As far as I'm concerned, everybody has the right to not give a fuck, APART FROM THE AUTHOR.) From a commercial viewpoint, these readers will just keep buying the stuff. They don't care. Which is cool. As a writer, you can "bag" those pretty easily. No investment necessary.

The second group is the group of people that do notice. And after a lot of interaction with my readers, I had to completely revise my own expectations what "romance readers are like". Because, surprise, a huge amount of them are have degrees, careers, are widely-read and/or discerning. And while porn/erotica/explicit romance is often a bit of a guilty pleasure, they love stuff that takes them seriously. They have brains. Saying "it's just fiction" is mind-bending arrogance towards fiction readers. Saying "it's just romance" is mind-bending arrogance against YOUR readers.

If I get a complaint about a book (they have happened, I did have my one-star reviews on Amazon), saying "hey, it's just fiction/I made shit up/oy, it's just romance" in defence is like saying "what? I thought you were too FUCKING DUMB TO NOTICE."

Newsflash, readers hate being taken lightly. Me, if I detect that form of arrogance and the lack of trust in my basic intellectual capabilities in a writer, I will never again buy a book from that author.

Worse, I'll review what I've read and call them arrogant, lazy, stupid, and a bad writer. In public, and to my friends.

How do you sell books? People saying "WOW, I loved that book!" It's not the cover, it's not even really your stylistic quality as a writer (or Dan Brown wouldn't sell so many books). It's people that say "wow, this book is awesome" in public.

Who reviews? Hardcore users/readers. People that have read so much they have very strong opinions, a well-honed taste, and aren't shy about expressing both. They are your "multiplicators" - they sell your books to their friends and readers.

Telling those people - who are, in 99% of all cases NOT "neutral readers" - "oy, it's just romance/fiction/hey they fuck, what ELSE could you possibly want?" ... is, in short, a very, very bad mistake.

So, who are these readers?

I've had great conversations with some of my readers. A "military brat" told me my depiction of "the soldier psyche" is spot-on. A woman involved in finances said "yes, your bankers/investors - they are exactly like that, only the guys I go to meetings with aren't as witty, fierce and sexy... but otherwise, they've been taken straight from life!" another reader with a history degree stopped by to chat extensively with me about medieval bathing culture based on ONE paragraph of writing.

These people read romances, too. I'm in awe of every one of them, because, shit, they know their stuff. They know the real thing when they see it. To them, it's not "just fiction/romance."

Sex is great, but many of them want a story, characters, real research and HONESTY. I'm working my ass off for these readers, because I know they'll catch me out if I get lazy or complacent or believe I know my stuff. Because I don't. I'll never know enough to completely trust myself.

And just as I was typing this up, in comes a link where a reviewer calls out a writer on terrible research and the writer practically says "oh, but I'm just a romance writer." Perfect illustration of the points made above.

Those mistakes?

Could be fixed with just using Wikipedia (I'm NOT endorsing Wikipedia as your only resource, but it's a start).

It's funny how writers who don't even put in five minutes of research at the same time expect readers to put in hours of their time to read that drivel.

Who cares?

Readers do. Reviewers do. People that PAY money for that badly-made crap.

Life's too short to do shoddy work. Do I want to be remembered for being a lazy bastard who didn't take his readers seriously, just to save time and make twenty bucks?

Fuck no. I don't give a fuck if they FUCK. Take me seriously as a reader. Take YOURSELF seriously as a writer, a crafter, a maker of reality in people's minds.

What we do is magic, you don't fuck with that.

/Rant out.

ETA: Changed one sentence to apply it to generic "writers", since it might have been mistaken as an attack against one individual.

ETA2: Removed the example & link.


  1. I hate when authors don't do their research. It drives me insane when I read a book about a topic I know a lot about and see so many inaccuracies.

    I do tend to give authors a little bit a lee way, I mean everyone makes mistakes. But they should at least put in the effort. I cannot read a book about martial arts since 90% of the writers barely research it when they write about it. I can only read about Tae-Kwon-Do being this awesome epic self-defense style so many times before I want to pull my hair out.

    Thanks for giving other writer's a kick in the ass to do their research!

  2. Say what they may, but I'm one of those readers who, when assaulted (or insulted, take your pick) by poor or obviously non-existent research, do let them know where they went wrong.

    One romantic suspense writer had her book set partly in Singapore and had her characters wading through mangrove swamps and escaping crocodiles ala Tarzan on the Singapore-fucking- River! She had her villains taking an expressway that was running north-south to the airport when said airport is located in the East. Worse, instead of having her character arrive at Changi Int'l Airport, the writer said he landed on Seletar Airport. That airport ceased being used for commercial flights about half a century ago and today is used as flight school, flying club and chartered flights to nearby islands. All this can be gotten from Wikipedia and Aleks, having been to Singapore not too long ago, I'm sure you can confirm the Singapore River isn't teeming with crocodiles and mangroves along the banks. The only crocs I know laying in wait there are the real estate developers and their agents selling the multi-million dollar apartments.

    Language is another area romance authors tend not to do research on. I don't know why they bother to set their scenes in foreign locales but don't bother to look up basic facts - such as the Sinhalese-dominated (99%) Sri Lankan military speaks Sinhala, not Tamil (which is the language of the separatist group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (TTLE).

    Since this wasn't the first time that author didn't bother to do her research, I stopped buying her Tradeback books because I just got too disgusted with being treated like an ignoramus or end up believing that the majority of romance readers are barefoot, pregnant ho's who've never been out of Godforsakenville, USA.

    Many of my friends who read romance are professionals - lawyers, doctors (one is an assoc. professor of pediatrics), directors of multi-national companies and such. We read romance to chill and while we love our hot, sexy heroes, we don't switch off our brains the minute we pick up a romance.

  3. *stands up and applauds*

    Oh, and ninja are mythical? Where the hell did that come from? o_O

  4. I must admit, I wrote a book about a Scottish Werewolf and have never been to Scotland. Bad me.

    But then, and since that character totally refused to be moved anywhere else in the world, I decided, to just stick to the things I DO know, which was surprisingly much, though. -.-

    I don´t read historical romance.
    Especially not that type of pre historical romance, that floated around for a while.
    In Germany novels about the Nebra Star disks were very much en vogue for a while, and I just wanted to run screaming. Nobody messes with my Bronze Age!

    Oh well, where was I.
    The other subject, I usually don´t read is PTSD. Half of the time I want to throttle the idiots, who wrote it.
    Salute to Aleks for not provoking that reaction.
    That was a first.

    Research, is a must.

    If you can´t bring your own knowledge to a level, where you KNOW the subject. Where you can out of the blue say, for example, if bronze age people used bronze arrowheads... don´t do it.

  5. @Ralph: Yeah. If I was to use a martial art in a book, there's plenty of clips on youtube that gives you a good idea how stuff looks (and buying into the hype of anything makes you look stupid).

    I'm happy to make allowances. Personally, when I just facts during writing, I try and validate anything with a 5minutes internet search. In 99% of all cases, that's enough.

    @Elaine: I must have been dreaming the hippos walking down your streets, then. Kidding. :)

    See, a quick search of a Singapore tourism website, a Singapore tourism guide or even just bleeding wikipedia would have prevented that. As law studied taught me "ignorance is no excuse."

    It's not just middle America that's reading English-language books (this is a good start for a blog post, thank you for the idea).

    Languages are another problem. I once called out a writer on using wrong German. Their response was "but my readers are American who don't speak German." And I said "well, guess what, I'm in Ur Language, paying Ur royalties."

    And yes, I will never understimate romance readers. I mean, I read that stuff, and I'm pretty belligerent when the writer is taking the piss. And many of my readers are formidable people I wouldn't want to mess with.

    @Kate: I assume she watched "Ninja Scroll" as "research"? Would that work?

    @Kat: You don't have to have been there, but I'd asume you did do some reading about Scotland? :) i've never been to Afghanistan, either.

    Pre-historical stuff? I think that's been done to death after "Ayla".

  6. As for the languages: When Jet Mykles wrote Heaven Sent - Hell, she explicitly asked me to check her German sentences and correct them.

    There´s nothing worse, than wrong language use in books. Bleh

    And no, sadly there are always people, who think that prehistoric stuff is SO cool.
    And then write some Victorian stuff in bronze Age.

    Double bleh!

  7. Loved this blog post, Alexs! What you said is spot on. It's completely crazy to me that a writer would NOT take the time to make the story as authentic as they could. To not take the time to make the story the very best it could be in every aspect from the romance to accurate details of the time period, setting, ect.

    I spend time researching the littlest things sometimes. I can spend hours reading up on a detail I want to add to my work because I want the reader to believe the scene and get lost in its authenticity.

    The assumption romance readers don't need the extra effort is ridiculous and insulting. As a reader, I want the romance/sex in a well- developed story that builds up to the culmination of the characters having sex,unless I'm reading straight erotic, but even then I want a researched story.

    I love reading romance/erotic but I also enjoy thrillers, sci-fi and horror. I expect the same level of excellence from them all.

  8. Outstanding blog. Research is a must, especially if you (the author) are exploring unfamiliar territory. Even a sprinkling of truth is better than not bothering at 'tall.

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  12. Ninja lover here... If anyone did their actual research on the Ninja they would know that the sect was in fact considered mystical - part of their MO was to confuse and scare, which would appear as mystical powers to the uniformed.

  13. @Anonymous: absolutely. What we call "psychological warfare" today.

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  16. What sort of motive do you need to have other than desire to improve the standard of the genre you write in?

    I back Aleks up 100% on this and the other part that needs mentioning is that is that the extent of knowledge has to relate to the viewpoint character unless you're writing in omniscient.

    If the POV character is unlikely to recognize a weapon's name, they shouldn't mention it.

    They can describe it or its effect, but unless you have a plausible reason already there be careful of including facts.

    You as an author need to know, so you can describe plausible effects, but that's it.

  17. @A B: I think the only motivation is really to try and be the best writer you can. That includes getting it "right" or at least as "right" as possible. Five minutes of research take care of about 99% of issues. A cavalier attitude to that stuff is a dealbreaker for me as a reader.

  18. I also find it strange that an author is allowed to dish a reviewer, but when the reviewer is supported by factual argument by other authors, it somehow becomes a personal attack.
    Authors need to learn from every review that's honestly written. Critical or not.
    As for blogs as Damien says in "Mardi Gras":
    "If you don't like my blog, don't read it'. I wrote what I felt to be correct. If they disagreed with me, fair enough. But they couldn't tell me what to write and what not to write. I sat and stared at the screen. What was wrong with having an opinion? The world would be a dull place if we agreed on everything. Diversity rules, okay.
    Snigger, got my plug in too.....
    You can remove it if you like *winks*

  19. @A B: Oh no, all signs of disagreement are personal attacks, clearly.

    I'm looking forward to the bitch-fighting when my next reviews go online on Speak Its Name. That will be fun. /sarcasm.

    And Mardi Gras is an awesome book.

  20. Ohh so many deletions. Now I'm curious to know what happened...

  21. Then again maybe I don't want to know what I missed. my confirmation word was thret.