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Anne Rice on Publishing, Online Reviews and Indie Authors

Anne Rice
Anne Rice
www.annerice.com

Anne Rice, iconic author of “The Vampire Chronicles”, “The Lives of the Mayfair Witches” and “The Wolf Gift Chronicles” is well known for her strong opinions on everything from the Catholic Church, to women’s rights to the state of the publishing business today.

On a daily basis, the over one million followers of her widely popular Facebook page have read her posts and offered their own opinions on these and a variety of other subjects.

As of late, one of her most passionate topics has been the proliferation of the online reviewer and how everyday people can influence readers and writers with both their positive and negative reviews.

These reviews by ordinary individuals can be a blessing or curse to the fledgling independent author trying to make a name for themselves as a writer. It is a phenomenon of the social-media age in which we live and one that shows no sign of slowing down.

As a great proponent of the indie-author, Mrs. Rice, whose new novel “Prince Lestat” is scheduled for publication on October 28th, 2014, has graciously agreed to answer some questions on this subject as well as, the pressure a writer feels from their fans and criticism of a writer’s motives.

As always, her answers are honest, thought provoking and more than worthy of further discussion.

Here is Anne Rice:

1 - Why do you believe authors are often criticized for their motives when writing a particular book more than other creative people (i.e. she only did it for the money, she was contractually obligated, etc.)?

Yes, I do think authors are the target of some very specific criticisms that other creative artists do not receive. And it's puzzled me for years. When readers become disenchanted with an author, when they find a new book unsatisfactory, some have a tendency to slam the author saying "he wrote it for the money," or "he wrote it to fulfill a contract" or even "he's insulted his fans and shows he doesn't care." And no, you never really hear this kind of criticism thrown at opera singers, actors, directors, painters and the like. I cannot say why this happens. Perhaps it is because we are the most accessible of all creative artists, and many readers have discovered this. A stinging and hateful criticism of Barbra Streisand may never be read by her; but many authors do read their reviews, and reviewers know this and know that they can draw blood with these sorts of insults. Another reason however has to do with something deeper: a kind of suspicion that surrounds the idea of the writer, a suspicion that does not surround creative people in highly institutionalized art forms. Actors, directors, opera singers, dancers --- all these people work in collaborative art forms with hierarchies of people in control and their work comes before the public in highly structured venues --- plays, movies, etc. Even painters are presented through famous museums and galleries. ---- But we writers do it all on our own; we create our books individually and they come to the public free of any sort of institutional framework. True, we have publishers, but it's not the same as an actor appearing in a movie that involves producers, directors, musicians, and studio money and PR people. We are pretty much the lone creators and presenters of our books. ----- So there is a kind of suspicion of us, and sometimes even a resentment, and kind of "what makes you think you're good enough to be a writer?" mentality that can stalk us right through our careers. In other words, we do what we do privately and somewhat mysteriously, and when it doesn't suit, doesn't entertain, we can be slammed for being corrupt from the core. ----- That’s about as well as I can explain it right now. It's a question I've been pondering all my life. Why do we get so much hostility from the disappointed reader? Why do we get so many insults? In time perhaps I can figure it out a little more.

2 - Do you believe writers are influenced to some extent by the demands of their readers and that it's possible, for some, to produce upon demand when pressured? Can that type of situation produce a good book?

Yes. I think all authors are influenced by the demands of their readers. The big question is how to respond to those demands and what to do when you receive wildly conflicting demands and there is absolutely no consensus amongst your readers as to what they actually want or don't want. The author has to be sensitive to what he or she can learn from the readers, but the author has to dig down deep in the heart and come up with the book the author believes to be the best response to everything he or she has learned ---- In other words, no matter what one group of readers might say, or how much another group might disagree, the writer has to write the best book he or she can write. And that is really what ALL the fans want: that you do your best. Readers can tell you wildly conflicting things. I remember once a journalist telling me that "the internet had declared 'Queen of the Damned' a failure." Was I to believe that? Was I supposed to respond to it? The book was No.1 at the time on the New York Times list. It was receiving some of the best reviews I'd ever received. Readers at the signings seemed to love it. Another time a young woman called my home and told me "We don't like 'Queen of the Damned.' We don't like all those other characters. We want Louis and Lestat." Was I supposed to cater to that demand? --- Was I to take these comments as truly reflective of the success or failure of "Queen of the Damned?" You listen to your readers, you care about them, you don't want to disappoint them, but you must again and again return to your own deepest values, obsessions and concerns and produce the book that you think is the best. It's not easy. If you look on Amazon, you'll see there is no consensus whatsoever among our readers as to which is my best book; every single book I've written has been called a bad book, a failure, and sometimes even "the worst book ever published." You take note. You reflect. Then you go back to what drives you to write and you steer a course that feels right for you.

3 - With an ongoing debate about the power of negative reviews and the very real possibility of black-listing authors for defending themselves, do you think there is anything an indie author can do to defend themselves?

Indie authors today need to be aware of what they're facing. The internet has changed reviewing. A person ten years ago might have said, "I enjoyed the book, but not all that much. I don't know why. But I'll try the author again if he writes another. “Today that person goes on line and says, "I am giving this book one star because I feel plotting and characterization was poor, and I did not like the characters, I felt the heroine was a 'Mary Sue' and I can't stand that kind of character, and there was too much description, and I found a typo on page 263 etc." Does this help the author? Probably not at all. Does it help other customers? Very likely no, because for all its "details," it's entirely subjective and not particularly expressive of why the reader didn't have a good time with the book. So indie authors have to keep a cool head with the new internet hobbyist criticism. Just realize that the book didn't do what you wanted it to do for that reader, and move on. As for the roving gangs of gangster bullies on Amazon and Goodreads, they will remain a fact of life for indie authors until websites begin to clean out these people. Ignore them. That is really all you can do. On Amazon you can report attacks that are vitriolic and obviously involve gang related negative voting, but the management does not regularly apply its guidelines. Again, move on. Keep writing, keep working. Learn what you can and ignore the rest. Be assured there are people working on solving the gangster bully problem and maybe someday they will be successful. There has never been any justice in the world of book reviewing. And it has never been clear whether book reviewing benefits anyone but the reviewer. Word of mouth is what sells books and always has, lots of readers ignore reviews and wisely so, and the author's greatest strength is his or her ability to keep writing, keep working, keep getting the work out there.

4- You have often mentioned that a substantive review (pro or con) can be immensely helpful to any author. In what way?

First off, let’s remind ourselves: reviews aren't written for authors. They're written for other readers or book customers. That being said, an author can certainly learn from a substantive review. I've been surprised often by substantive reviews, to discover how much some aspects of a book mattered to readers, aspects that I didn't think too much about when writing. After all, when you're writing, you're thinking of everything! You have to think of everything. And the substantive review can confirm that you succeeded in many ways, but also surprise you with an enthusiastic riff on something you might have thought was insignificant. Readers come to book with a wide range of expectations. Some want characters. Some want story. Some want heavy action. Others want emotional passages. Some love description. If they take the time in a review to tell you how their expectations were met or not met, it can be very helpful.

5 - Are you, at all, concerned about the public’s reaction to Prince Lestat and why?

Of course. How could I not be? But there's nothing I can do about the public's reaction. I wrote the best book I could, the book I saw and felt, and wanted to write. There's nothing I can add to that.

6 - What do you think authors like Hemingway, Austen, Dickens, Kerouac and other greats would have thought about anyone being able to review their books, press a button and have millions of people read it instantly?

Most writers, as far as I know, are brutally sensitive to reviews, and can be harmed by them, and they learn early on to protect themselves from reviews in a number of ways. Some simply don't read reviews -- ever. I'm not sure what the authors you mention would have thought of the internet age. I suspect most would have sealed themselves off from the voices that could block and hurt. The internet is a jungle. There are gangs of "readers" who enjoy nothing more than trashing authors, and they roam from site to site doing that. They think it's fun. It's better for writers if they ignore that kind of thing. Myself, I do read my reviews, and I do learn from them and learn from the experience. But I wouldn't advise any other writer to do that. It's too risky. It's a personal choice.

7 - Do you think authors (as a group) do enough to support each other or defend themselves as well as indie authors?

In the past, writers didn't do much as a group to support themselves and other writers. We were all loners. There were organizations, yes, but each writer was really on his own out there. Today, however there are more convivial organizations for Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers, and the like, and these authors come together, make friends, and do support one another, and I think that is wonderful. After all we aren't in competition with one another really. We're in competition with ourselves. There is plenty of room on the Best Sellers Lists of the world for a great number of authors to enjoy success. When it comes to supporting the indie author, well, I do see authors giving support, and I see indies coming together to share experience, and give one another pointers and suggestions. I think it's great. ------ The main thing is this: there are no rules in the world of authors and readers. There are many ways to succeed, and many ways to get the support you need as you pursue your life as a writer. It's a great life really. No other art form offers such freedom and flexibility, so many ways to succeed, and involves so little expense. Setting out to be a film director is a nightmare by comparison. Studying all your life to be a ballet dancer involves no end of expense, travel, sacrifice. But a writer with a laptop can create a novel at the kitchen table that will eventually win her fame and fortune. It's a great life, a great profession. True, the nasty internet gangsters are making life miserable for authors right now, and it's ugly and unjust. But the freedom of the indie author to publish on his or her own handily makes up for that. When the literary story of this age is told, many authors will have a place in it. The internet gangsters will be utterly forgotten except as collective garbage. And we all from time to time have to avoid and step over garbage, don't we?