Lukewarm

A little late on my weekend post. Shoo…. Now that we have snow covering the driveway, I’ve got a smile on, a mug of hot chocolate, and time to process some thoughts.

I had the idea to give a 2018 books-I-read post that would evolve into reviews of the series I consumed last year. I got through a lot, primarily through Overdrive and listening to audiobooks on my commute. I did make an attempt at another goal though: read through targeted fantasy books that are in the genre I’m looking at writing in and that are moderately successful.

This experiment was brought on by reading Chris Fox’s author books on writing-to-market concepts. You need to know what else is out there, what folks are enjoying, and find some intersections. Not to blindly follow, but at least to know the tropes, expectations, and what’s worked.

I used a simple metric to find my candidates: mid-hundred numbers of reviews on Amazon and in the Fantasy category or one of its subs. Many were books picked up by big name publishers, often after the writer independently published (either the book in question, or previous books before being contracted by a house).

Honestly… mweh.

I’ll try to spend some time on them in the future, but overwhelmingly, I was left underwhelmed. A few things stood out to me, in no particular order:

  • My tolerance for starting a new series is much higher than I thought. Unless I had something to draw me in early, or outside recommendation, I just couldn’t stomach more than half a first-in-series.
  • My tolerance for tropes and fantasy genre expectations has changed. I worry this was due to overanalysis.
  • I found it hard to just enjoy the story. It felt harder to connect with the characters in meaningful ways to make me actually care.
  • I found I have little tolerance for bad language. This was actually a great insight as I write a military fantasy where soldiers would be expected to curse… a lot. I need to figure out how to write more effectively rather than go the route of foul language (not a huge surprise, but I found myself going back to authors who got it right, balancing the feel of uncouth troopers with creative exposition and dialogue rather than four-letter failsafes.)

I suspect a large part of that feeling is due to changes in how writers are writing these days. In 2018 we saw the result of the early-2010’s goldrush in digital publishing: write more faster. For independently published authors to make a decent living, they had to push more out the door to maintain visibility and interest. It also provides social proof through a large body of work: looks at me, I’m a huge author. Huge!

When I look back on the books I did enjoy in 2018, they were all very long. In audio, 25-40 hours per book. That’s hundreds of thousands of words. You can’t just turn out a 300,000 tome in a month or three. Yet, in order to draw me as a reader into your worldbuilding, it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of investment to make me care about your characters. Why should I be moved, frustrated, angered, sad, joyful, whatever? It’s just not enough to make it a crap-sack world full of orphans.

I hope my reading informs my future writing. I know it is, but I feel stronger about it now than a year ago. I feel more convinced that it’s better to take time to do things well than rush. And, I’m not in a position that I’m forced to make that choice for my livelihood. I’m penalized by a day-job that doesn’t allow as much writing time, but I’m not stuck on a hamster wheel of production trying to chase the white rabbit to put kibble in the bowl.

What I found last year is a return to my old favorites and to mature properties that came well recommended, that were long form, but that were intensive in experience.

No epiphanies there. I’ll do my best to get some reviews up and going in future posts, including my critiques of books that fell short for me and why I suspect they did. I’ll also admit, 100%, my tastes have changed over the years, and the market has changed as well. I know there’s plenty of good reading out there and many awesome new authors in the mix.

How do you characterize your reading? Few and deep, or many and wide? Would you rather reread old classics to glean a little more, or only consume the newest and shiniest and never grow bored?

Photo credit: umjanedoan

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