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?
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.
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.
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.
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.