Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, August 17, 2009

Goodreads, Lost, & Chapters

I’m going to be all over the board with my blog today, but the good news is that if you don’t like one topic, you can move onto the next.


Last week, a friend and fellow author forwarded a funny exchange between the author and a reader who ripped his book on a Goodreads review. The exchange was actually very lighthearted and humorous for both the author and reviewer, but it spurred a discussion on other reviewer experiences that were not so lighthearted. In fact, some were downright spiteful by the authors whose books were reviewed.

As an author, I love Goodreads. I know some authors can’t stand to see bad reviews of their books. I’ll admit, I get a sick feeling in my stomach when I read a really bad review. But at the same time, I would never in a million years give up the chance to see good, honest feedback. Goodreads provides not only ratings, but lots and lots of personal feedback from the people I am trying to appeal to. I am a Goodreads junkie. On Amazon, I have about twenty reviews. On Goodreads I have over a hundred and many more ratings.

As a reader, I also love Goodreads. How cool is it to be able to see thousands of people rating a book you might not have read? And these aren’t just any people. These are my kind of people—our kind of people. People who not only read a lot of books, but care enough about them to go on-line and list and rate what they’ve read. These are people who talk about books the way most people talk about sports or movies. I LOVE these people. It makes me so happy that I’m not the only one who feels this way about books.

So what’s the problem right? I love Goodreads as an author and as a reader. The thing is, I don’t love Goodreads as an author who is also a reader. Why? Two problems. First, when I review a book—especially a contemporary book—I am reviewing my co-workers. I am placing a star rating on people I may run into at a conference or in a league or on an on-line board. I read a national YA book the other day that I really didn’t like. But in a roundabout way, I know the author. I’ve never met the author before in person, but a friend of a friend, kind of thing. And, assuming that author is a Goodreads junkie like me, that author might see my poor review, notice I am an author too, and remember me when we bump into each other. (Ouch!)

Which brings me to my second problem. I want honest reviews. I know of many, many authors who get a bad review and immediately go to their friends and ask for good reviews to be placed. I personally HATE that. Not that the authors want good reviews. We all do. Or even that they ask their friends for good reviews. But that the review process is now being corrupted. We are rigging the game. It would be like a sports star asking his friend to let him score an extra touchdown because he got blanked the week before. Even without the issue of me reviewing other people’s books, I worry that if authors regularly respond to Goodreads reviews, readers might start to be afraid to post honest reviews. As much as I don’t want bad reviews, I do want honest reviews. I learn a lot from reading the negative and positive reviews of my books and others. It makes me a better writer to see what some people don’t like.

So the questions is, do I remain a Goodreads author? It’s great to make friends, have discussions, post my blogs, do contests, etc. But are people less likely to review a book honestly of they see the author is also a member of Goodreads? Are you less likely to give a poor review to an author is a member of Goodreads? If you are an author, how do you feel about reviewing books by other authors you know?


Okay, this is going to make me look like a total dweeb, but I am not a fan of the TV show Lost. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying I dislike it. I’m saying I don’t watch it. At least I didn’t watch it. James Dashner and Jessica Day George would kill me on the spot if news of my dark secret got out—so don’t tell them, okay? There is a reason I never started watching Lost. If Lost was a book or even series of books, I would have read them at once. A book or series has a set lifespan. The author chooses how long the series will be and should know in advance how it will end. A TV series is not like that. It can end any time the network decides viewership is too low. Or it can go on as long as people keep watching. I don’t want to get caught up and hooked only to be left hanging or dragged along after the series should have ended.

With all that said, I am now a Lost junkie. I discovered and watched the first episode. And like any other addict, I see all those other episodes just calling to me—almost commercial free—and I click. Since most of you who are Lost viewers have seen all the episodes I am just now discovering, and those of you who haven’t watched it probably never will. I feel like I can review the series without giving away spoilers.

Having watched the first episode through the eyes of an author, I am impressed. Most people would think of Lost as a plot driven show. People are stranded on an island with some really freaky stuff going on. Even I knew that, and I hadn’t seen a single episode until last week. But where do we start the show? Through the eyes of a doctor who I assume will be the protagonist. He wakes up disoriented in the middle of a jungle. He runs out of the jungle to find a beach filled with burning plane parts and crash survivors. For the next third of the show. We meet different characters through a series of action scenes. The pregnant woman. The mysterious couple who are only looking out for themselves. The slow-witted but nice guy. The aging musician. The helpful lifeguard and his snotty girlfriend. The love interest. The man with his son.

We get to see just enough of each charter to place them and generate some interest without getting completely confused. In fact the writer goes out of his or her way to not introduce very many names very early. I love that the protagonist is out there saving everyone, and it’s not until he feels things are under some control that we learn how bad his injury is. Authors take note here. We didn’t see the plane crash at first. We didn’t know exactly what was going on. We started in the middle of the scene and expanded from there. The very fact that we didn’t know what was going on kept our attention. Next, we focused on characters. If we don’t know who to care about, we won’t care. But we did it through action scenes that were showing us who the characters were, not telling us.

Not until we knew the basic cast (with plenty of other players we will meet later I assume) did we see something huge moving through the jungle actually knocking down trees. Yes, the show is about weird stuff going on, but it only matters because we care about the people the weird stuff is happening to. Finally, once we knew the cast and saw that something weird was going on, we sent the protagonist and the protagonist’s love interest into the jungle. By separating them, we can focus on who the writer wants us to focus on.

I’ll watch more this week and let you know what I think, so if you are a big Lost fan, don’t tell me how full of it I am because this or that happens in the next episode. But feel free to tell me what your reaction to the first episode was. Or if you are not a fan yet either, hope over to Hulu and watch it on-line with me.


I promised last week I would post the first two chapters of Land Keep. So here they are. I considered telling you why I started the way I did, just like I reviewed the beginning of Lost. But I think I will let you give me your feedback, before I tell you why I did what I did. Enjoy!

(Click on the fullscreen button to make the document more readable)

Farworld Land Keep, first two chapters

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At 8/17/2009 2:24 PM, Blogger Traci Hunter Abramson said...

I agree that the whole point of Goodreads is to get honest feedback. And I've also worried about rating books by authors I know. Often, my solution is to list the book as "read" but not to rate it unless I have the time to write an actual review.

I've found that the rating system varies so greatly from one person to the next, that it isn't the number of stars someone awards, but rather what the review says. I've had people rate my book 3 stars and give a more glowing review than someone who rated it 5 stars.

At 8/17/2009 2:55 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

I agree with Traci that people use the star rating system very differently.

I'm useless on Goodreads because I can't stand publicly rating colleagues' books unless I loved the book. The idea of giving a two-star review to an author I know--and knowing the author will very likely see that I rated their book two stars--makes me shrivel up inside. I've done very little in the way of reviews and ratings.

At 8/17/2009 3:03 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

I watched Lost for the first season and a half, and then I got the feeling that they were just making crap up for no reason--just weird for the sake of weird--and I gave up on it. I have since heard that things have improved (or, at least, there are some answers to a few of the many mysteries). Maybe I'll give it another shot, eventually.

At 8/17/2009 3:10 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

I refused to watch Lost because JJ Abrams is a part of it and after Alias I decided I wouldn't watch any more TV shows of his because he can write amazing beginnings that hook you, (the first three seasons of Alias were amazing), but the rest just sort of sucks after a while. Of course that is just my opinion.

As for Goodreads, I need to use it more. I've gotten a lot of recommendations for books to add to my to read list there, though, and I like that.

My son is going to be thrilled you've posted these chapters. Can't wait to read the whole book!

At 8/17/2009 4:29 PM, Anonymous Wm Morris said...

I love GoodReads. I suggest that you just not do the star ratings.

I still do them because a) I'm not an author and b) I like being forced to make a decision. But I know that if I could do half stars, that'd lead to a more accurate representation of how I rate them. And I'm very sparing with 5 stars.

But there's no reason why you have to assign stars. In fact, because of what Traci mentions above, I tend to give little to no credence to what my friends rate a book (other than if it's a 1 or a 5 star), but I always read their reviews and take those very much in to account.

At 8/17/2009 4:59 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

I don't know that I'd say I'm particularly cultured when it comes to what I'll read, but I do cringe at the thought of telling an author that I'm acquainted with something bad about a published book, when nothing can be changed. (Kerry, I swear this is not about you!) Goodreads is fun, though, if just to see what my friends are reading.

Jeff, stick with Lost. The first half of the 3rd season drags, but the rest is pretty good stuff. I agree, the first episode is just amazing. I can't decide whether the writers really knew where they were going with some of the later story-arcs, still it's good storytelling, no matter what. (Polar bears in the jungle?)

William: I just have to say that you are the most prolific reader I've ever known (based on your Goodreads list) and I know a lot of readers!

At 8/17/2009 7:35 PM, Anonymous Wm Morris said...

People keep saying that, Jon. I'd love to be able to claim some sort of special power or dedication related to it, but it's very simple math:

Since my mission, I have always had a daily commute on public transportation that was anywhere from 60-100 minutes (one-way) AND access to library that's either very close to my house or at work or school. I'm also too cheap to buy an ipod and so have a cheap little Sansa MP3 player that I have to manually load songs and podcasts on to and doesn't do video. Thankfully, I'm now at the shortest commute of my life so far -- 55-60 minutes, but that's still 110 minutes a day of time where I'm either waiting for or on the bus. Take away 10 minutes for gospel study every morning and a few stray minutes here and there that's 90 minutes of reading time per day or 450 per week. I can read about 100 pages per hour (this rate slows way down if for academic writing, but I don't do much of that anymore). So that's around 750 pages per week. Even accounting for the fact that I'm a fairly fast reader (although not remarkabl so), anyone with my commute could read 2 books a week without taking any time away from work or home (e.g. no lunch breaks, no reading in the evening or on weekends, etc.).

I have to say that GoodReads has helped me immensely in branching out with my reading. First, because it helps me track what I want to read (before I had every dumped in this huge Word doc). Second, because the categories help remind me to not just stick to literary fiction and sci fi/fantasy (although those remain my mainstays). And third, because I get to see what other people read and use their reviews to add to my to-read list.

I have to admit to some guilt over the major lack of Mormon fiction and nonfiction read over the past couple of years. It's just too easy to switch between GoodReads and my local library and order books that they have. I really need to repent and start ILLing titles (like Jeff Savage's -- although my library might have the Farworld books).

Also: I too am a total non-Lost watching dweeb. Which is silly because it's exactly the kind of show I'd like and because such a huge cross spectrum of my friends are in to it. But it started when my daughter was a baby and somehow my wife and I just never got back in to it (even though we use Netflix mainly for TV series rather than movies) and now it seems so daunting.

At 8/17/2009 8:21 PM, Blogger Melanie J said...

I did a blog post about the exact same conundrum with Goodreads a couple of weeks ago. My solution is what other commenters suggested: if I can't honestly give it four or five stars, I simply don't mention it. I'd love to be more honest about LDS fiction but I don't want to hurt the genre as a whole when it's improving so much by ever highlighting the lowlights, you know? Other genres I'm far more open about.

At 8/17/2009 9:31 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

What Stephanie said.

At 8/17/2009 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jeff, for letting me (and the other Frog Blog readers) read the first 15 pages of Land Keep. It was five star! I had no doubt it would be. Yes, I rated it. If I hadn't absolutely loved it, the coward in me wouldn't have let me say anything but thanks, and then left it at that. My copy is already ordered. Wish there was a way to get it, and Water Keep, autographed. Someday.

You know, you can hulu old shows too. Adam 12, Emergency, CHiPs, to name a few. Actually, I think any serialized show can be called up on that website. You can spend hours, days, probably even years, watching shows, that after a while your brain really will turn to mush. Forget Lost. You'll be disappointed in the end, like I was with China Beach. Write/read a book, or a hundred, like William.

BTW ... would you, perhaps, give us the first couple of chapters of Shandra's next story, hum? I know it's not released yet, but I really need to know the paramedics reached our detective in time. ... Okay, I know they reached him in time or the story pretty much ends before it begins ... unless that's the story--Shandra hunting down the cold, heartless villain who set up the trap and killed ... Oh, heck! What about it?


At 8/18/2009 9:50 AM, Blogger Wm Morris said...

I don't know if I even watched the end of China Beach. But it was the first show I remember watching and realizing that serial television could be a legitimate form for powerful storytelling. I wonder if I'd feel the same with a repeated viewing of it after all these years.

At 8/18/2009 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last season turned ... weird. I'm not sure I really understood it. I just know I was sorely disappointed in it after putting so much time and heart into those characters. I loved them. I wonder now if they lost their core writers and the producers brought in someone else who had a different "vision". I might hulu a few episodes to find that out.


At 8/18/2009 5:27 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

That looks suspiciously like a Prologue, Jeff. Oh, I know, you called it an Interlude. What does it intervene between, there at the beginning of your book? ;)

At 8/18/2009 10:04 PM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...

Jon, Jon, Jon, always trying to trap me. As it happens, there are five interludes; one before each of the four parts and one at the end.

One of these days I will post why 90% of all prologues are used incorrectly and you will understand why I am against them.

At 8/18/2009 11:01 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

I am a huge goodreads junkie. And I don't rate books of other authors unless I can be positive in some way. I may not leave five stars, but I almost always leave four. I am not stingy with my stars.

If I can't rate the book that high--then I don't rate it at all. Like you, I am afraid of offending people I know and love. These are my friends and I would rather walk twenty miles barefoot on broken glass than hurt them so I stay silent. On the other hand-- if I think they rock, they are soooo getting five stars.

I would never respond to a bad review left for me by someone. I want people to feel safe leaving their reviews for good or bad.

I've never seen Lost. Don't tell Jessica or James on me!

Way to go on the chapters!

At 8/19/2009 2:52 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

I already know why you're against them - because they start the reader off in the wrong place. (Which yours seems to.) At least it has some action. =)

Also, regarding Cascade - if he doesn't get wet, does the water get him instead? [Nobody knows, Particle Man]

At 8/24/2009 1:52 PM, Blogger Tristi said...

I'm an author and I'm a media reviewer. I face this all the time, and I've decided that if someone is going to come to me and ask my opinion on something, I should share it. That doesn't mean I have to be cruel, but if I didn't care for it, I should be honest. It doesn't win me any points in heaven if I lie and it doesn't do my author friends any favors if they think they did a fabulous job when I know they are capable of more. I never rip books - that isn't constructive. But I'm not going to give a book a fake rating.


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