Sunday, April 7, 2013

It's time to be more discriminating in the books

 This is a post I made on a the group I moderate on Yahoo called Lesfic_Unbound.  I'm sharing it here as a thought to put out to the community.

I had contact with an author this weekend that I think needs to be shared if we truly want to see the literature get better.  I suspect many of us have talked to lesbian friends about reading the books only to hear, "I tried a couple.  They weren't (very good/had too many mistakes/were poorly produced/nothing but an excuse to write about sex - you pick) so I won't read them anymore."

The author who contacted me has quit every group she belonged to and is considering not writing anymore because, and I'm going to quote her, "I don't know who I can trust anymore."  I suppose the fact that she reached out to me means that she thinks I can be trusted.  That's nice, but it's not relevant to the point.

She has published more than one book, all of which got rave reviews from the standard people - friends, group members, some reviewers.  She was feeling pretty pumped up.  Then other reviews started coming in and they pointed out the mistakes and weaknesses in the books.  Yes, one of them was a review by me.  I actually thought the story was very good, but it needed some work.  The author said she went back and looked more closely at her books and realized that there were some problems in them.  I've only read one book, so I can't speak to the others.  Anyway, the author apparently felt that the people on the groups had let her down.  She was led to believe something that wasn't quite true.  Now these books are out there, with her name on them, and people are pointing out weaknesses.  She's embarrassed and didn't know what to do.  I think we settled that problem between us.

I know there was a time when there weren't many lesbian novels out there and we lapped them all up like they were honey.  We cherished every one of them and applauded the authors in every way we could so that we could get more.  Those were the days when I could read every lesbian novel that was published in a year in that year and did.

Those days are over.  The books are flooding out now, whether from companies or indies.  Some of them are truly outstanding, some are very good, some are fine for light entertainment and then some of them are just not good.  I don't mean the topic doesn't appeal to you.  You're not into romance or mystery or science fiction.  I mean they're not good.  They're full of mistakes - words missing, misspelled words, incomplete sentences, sentences that don't make sense - and the plots are either mundane or full of holes.  I started reading a book not long ago and began telling myself that I'd already read the book, but I didn't know how that could be because the book was a new release and I remembered reading it years ago.  Then I realized that it has a plot so close to another older book that it's difficult to distinguish them.  I know there are only so many plots, but you can put fresh angles on them.  I have stacks and stacks and stacks of lesbian literature that I'll probably never get to read now and still the books are pouring into my mailbox or onto my Kindle.

Don't we owe it to the authors?  Don't we owe it to the readers?  Don't we owe it to the literature to stop treating EVERY book like it's a masterpiece?  They aren't all good stories.  They aren't all well produced.  They aren't all worth reading and sure not worth spending money on, I don't care how cheap they are.  Or, at least be honest about the kind of book it is.  If it's the lesbian equivalent of a Harlequin romance, just say so.  Harlequin romances are tremendously popular with some people.  I have no problem with that.  My mother consumed them like M&Ms and it made her happy.  I don't want to read them though or I at least want to know that's what I'm going to be reading if I buy it.

The emails with this author went on all day.  I felt deeply for how she felt and I hope I gave her some suggestions that will help.  Let me repeat though that she isn't upset with the critical reviews.  She's upset with the community that told her how "wonderful" her books were when there was a lot of room for improvement. 

Haven't we reached the point where we need to be more discriminating in what we say? Or do we just put up with the people who say
"I tried a couple.  They weren't very good/had too many mistakes/were poorly produced/nothing but an excuse to write about sex so I won't read them anymore."


  1. WOW was this a post that needed to be written! I get that there was a point that we were glad for any lesbian book we can get, but we're at a point where we need to start improving, and yes, clearly separating the trashy romance from the general fiction from the literary/classics. There are some fantastic lesbian books out there, but they're lumped in with guilty pleasure reads and badly edited novels, and we need to be able to offer more to new readers, especially if we want anyone but lesbians to read these books. Thank you for writing this post, and I'll love to hear more in this vein!

  2. great post. i'm struggling to improve my plots and characters with every book, but as a reader this is something i've noticed not only with lesbian romance, but across the board. i've read two digital first books (one was lesbian, one hetero) from a large publisher that were full of errors. i'm talking i had to go back and reread whole paragraphs because something key was missing or the wording was just so off. plot problems, all sorts of stuff. i liked reading everything from trashy romance to epic dystopian tales, but i want the product to be clean as a reader. as an author i do want to know if my work is not as its best when it hits the reader's hands.

  3. Excellent post, Lynne. Exactly why you are one of the few lesfic reviewers I read. I trust you to tell me where to spend my hard-gained time and money. Thank you.

  4. Oh, thank you thank you thank partner Kate and I (both of us are authors) have been so discouraged by this very thing! -That there are so few good lesbian books, and all the lesbian readers give them five stars, even when they are HORRIBLE, for exactly the reasons you state. Where is our pride, really? It's amazing how many lesbian books make money when they are so poorly done, and meanwhile, quality lesbian writers are overlooked or ignored. We should expect the same excellence from lesbian writers as we do from others. I addressed this issue in one of my recent blog posts:

    Again, THANK YOU for saying this PUBLICLY, instead of perpetuating lesfic's dirty little secret.
    Kelli Jae Baeli

  5. I find myself agreeing with you on many levels, and I look forward to discussing this topic in more depth at GCLS. The whole reason I started reviewing was because it seemed that I had a vastly different definition of "wheat" and "chaff" than many of the "reviews" I was finding. Lesbian literature—beyond simple "lesfic"—has grown by leaps and bounds in the last five years, yet standards and expectations of "quality" remain fairly narrowly defined. I have found some true gems in the books that have found their way into my review pile, yet many have sales that are in the tens, not the hundreds or thousands even—despite being very well written and edited, having the most innovative plot lines, and sporting the most well-crafted characters. You hit the nail on the head when you said that readers and writers have very specific likes and dislikes, which is not to be dismissed. Still, as a genre, Lesbian Literature is moving out of its "tween" years and into fledgling "adulthood." Some authors, readers, and (yes) publishers will have wider, more complex, and more progressive expectations and experimentations. Some will be successful, if we let them. Some will not. We need to be honest in our likes and dislikes and explain what it is that makes it good or not good, be respectful in our approach to things that are outside of our individual wheelhouses, and not be afraid to try something new. We don't have to like everything that's out there, but we're lesser for it if we don't give it an honest opportunity to change how we think. If we're lucky, we very well may be delighted by what we find—that is when our worlds open up.

  6. Oh my gosh, reading the above responses to Lynne's post is like a balm to my soul. I had to laugh (sadly) at the part of Salem's reply that mentioned books that sell in the tens, not hundreds or thousands (I can only dream...). I don't know what Rebekah and Baxter and Kelli's sales have been like, and I have to admit that I've not read any of their books, but I know what my sales have been for Miserere and it's depressing when I look at what other books are doing that I know to be full of errors - grammatically and in punctuation, plot holes, etc. I, too, love Lynne's reviews because she never jumps on anyone's bandwagon. I use her reviews to guide my reading, and I treasure her reviews as a writer, precisely because a good review from her MEANS I did what I meant to - write the best book I can. I'm not familiar with Salem's reviews, but from what she wrote above, she's a kindred spirit. I won't be at GCLS, but I sincerely hope the reviewer panel discussion is able to tackle this thorny issue of, as Kelli put it, "lesfic's dirty little secret." Sadly, lesbian fiction is in such a state that I don't really want to write "lesbian fiction." I want to write good literary fiction that has "us" - lesbians in all our normal, dull, everyday lives - as its main characters. That's what I'll continue to do until I run dry.

  7. I think the problem lies in the process. I'm a writer, struggling with self-confidence, but I am determined to put out the best books I can. That means getting them professionally edited before I send them out into the wild.
    While the advent of indie-publishing has been great for writers and readers alike, and especially great for finding new lesbian authors and giving them a chance to sell their wares, I think some over-excited writers forget that a first draft is exactly that - a first draft, and mostly not ready to be read yet.
    Having said that, I've read some books by publishers, mostly smaller houses, that leave a lot to be desired.

    When it comes specifically to the lesbian genre, I think the problem is amplified by the fact that we had to publish through smaller publishing houses, and there weren't that many authors out there for a long time, so anything was a good thing. Now is the time for us as readers to get tougher on authors, and as writers, we need to be better.

    I also blogged about a similar subject a few months ago: