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Confessions of a Second-Rate Author

Confessions of a Second-Rate Author

          I’m second rate, maybe even third. Feels good to admit it, like coming out of the closet. After ten books in eleven years, I’m still not making much money and probably never will.  Do I have an excuse? Mais oui.  I’m Canadian, published by small presses with tiny print runs.  Case closed, as Patricia Cornwell would say. Crunch the numbers: Print run 2000, book $15.00, profit 10%.  Even selling out won’t finance a Mexican vacation.  Neither do I have an agent, ticket to a large publisher with megabucks. No self-respecting agent would settle for 15% of my profits.

          On the other hand, I write what I like. No pandering to the masses. Vampires, time-travel fantasy, serial killers, cats who talk, moo-cow-creamer-collector mysteries.  I like a strong female lead, no gore or mutilation, plenty of action, a few eccentrics, and a clear sense of place, wilderness if possible. Urban settings are a best-forgotten part of my distant past. 1948 to 1977 was spent in bland Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. The next thirty years perked up in the bush in Northern Ontario, where I was teaching in a community college. Finally I was paroled to Canada’s Caribbean, Vancouver Island.

          But I’m a lucky lady. I have sweet pensions, and this is Canada, so health care is part of the package.  But because of my cut-rate status, I have another secret. Every few months, when deadlines aren’t pressing, I stoop to a very low form of entertainment. I read bad reviews of best-selling authors.

          Don’t get me wrong. I would never write a negative review. In fact, as the former VP of the BCYukon chapter of the Crime Writers of Canada, I clocked many supportive reviews for our members, especially new ones. Check Amazon.com and ca if you don’t believe me. I’ll eat my moose hat with velvet antlers if they don’t make you want to run out and read the books.

          Maybe this habit started with my own bad reviews. I’ve had a few stingers. “Mystery Fails to Excite” was one London, Ontario, newspaper headline. Someone else threatened to throw the book across the room if I mentioned one more local business. Hey, people in Sudbury, the Nickel Capital, loved that part. Here’s another secret. The weight of a bad review carries about 100X the weight of a good one. It’s a psychological axiom.

          So whenever I feel a bit down, I can count on a wee smile to read what some disgruntled fan has to say about one of the greats.  It’s a short fix because after only a few, I start feeling sorry for the author, which makes no sense. Like Liberace, the author is crying all the way to the bank.

          For most bestsellers, it’s 99% possible to find a one-star review. Complaints about the book not arriving don’t count. With 150-1000 reviews, even those predominantly five-star, there are always a few malcontents.  So far, the only exception is Louise Penny.  Out of her seven books, nothing but raves. Not one singleton star. May I mention that she’s Canadian? Her well-deserved rise has been meteoric.

          Let’s get to the good stuff. These quotes involve both men and women authors. Don’t expect any names. And I have gone the old Confidential route with XX and altered a few inconsequential words “to protect the innocent.”

          “XX might have been kinder if she/he had just murdered Y several books ago rather than to subject them to a slow and painful death.”   Now that’s getting personal. An author identifies with a series character. Ever wonder why so many silverback males have nubile young girls falling into bed with them every other chapter?

          “The people were flat, the plot tedious, the characters meaningless. “ Don’t hold back. How was the setting? Everything spelled ok?

          “The same disappointing drivel.”  Short and pithy. At least the author is consistent.

          “A conglomeration of events and choices that made no sense.” That diction runs off the tongue, especially the last three spondees.

          “How many times have we readers been given this boring pattern: The dead body of a young woman found…and 472 pages later finally we get to know who killed her? Something ideal for insomniacs.”   Did the reader expect to know in the beginning who dunnit? And remember, some people choose books according to weight.

          “The author rips off every stereotype she can find.” At least the author reads widely. And down deep, isn’t everything a stereotype? There haven’t been more than a dozen plots since the first storyteller sat down with her friends in a cave, making shadow plays and narrating them.

          “Numbingly dull backstory, which brackets the one third in the middle where something actually happens.” There’s something nicely symmetrical about this plan.

          “I would have given this book great reviews if someone had told me that it was written by an eighth grader.” A very creative comparison.

          “Mind-bendingly awful.” Nice rhythm. There’s a certain poetry to a bad review.

          “Hideous, boring, and unbelievable.” All that and heaven, too?

          “It is all too easy to continue out of loyalty to buy garbage from once-inspired authors.” Hey, at least the writer had the magic once.

          Phew. I’m starting to sweat for these authors. But do they read these reviews? Not unless they are masochists. Why would they flagellate themselves because of the ignorant opinions of a few malcontents? The exceptions make the rule.

          Maybe e-books will help. The $21 I made this month on Kindle is a new record.  I could buy a sack of potatoes and technically claim to be self-supporting…if I lived under a bridge and got my clothes at Value Village. It’s all in the perspective.