Saturday, August 31, 2013

Guest Post: Nenia Campbell on Self-Publishing, Reviews and Goodreads.

We at The Book Lantern are big fans and friends of Nenia Campbell, a reviewer turned self-published author. She's smart, funny and unafraid to call out author drama BS wherever she sees it (not that we're biased or anything). Since self-publishing is everywhere right now and recent dramas have come and gone with increasing regularity (check this fab post for the Lauren Pippa mess), we thought it would be good to hear from an author in the middle of it. 

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For practically as long as I can remember, people have told me “self-publishing is for writers who can't write.” Maybe that used to be true—and, you could argue, in some cases probably still is—but as that medium explodes, and more people get drawn in by the chance to see their name in twelve-point font, I'd like to think that maybe, with a greater sample size, more and more people will prove to be the exception to that rule.

I tried traditional publishing first, and got far enough along in the process that the editor requested to read a complete draft of my work. Ultimately, though, I was rejected because I did not really fit the parameters of what they wanted for their romance genre. It had been a process that took several months, and even though everyone I talked to was incredibly sweet and encouraging, it was still a major blow to feel that it wasn't enough.

One of my friends actually suggested that I go the route of self-publishing. We were on Gchat, and I was angsting about my fragile writer feels. To make me feel better (or maybe just to silence me for a little while), she sent me a link to Createspace and said, “It's free and it's easy. See how easy it is?” It was, indeed, quite easy. Disconcertingly so. There had to be a catch! What was the catch? DOOM! DOOOOOOOM!!!


I suppose the catch is that people assume that if you are an indie author you are going to spam the living daylights out of everyone on your friends list and have temper tantrums every time someone declares your book to be anything less than awesome. I hadn't really counted on just how icky some authors' behavior is—but I have seen things escalate so quickly that it can make your head spin, to the point where each instance is like deja vu.

“WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT?” I want to say. “DIDN'T YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LAST GUY WHO DID THAT?” To quote Mugatu, “I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!”

My circumstances are pretty unique, I think, because I blogged on Goodreads for—oh, I want to say about four years before making the announcement that I was self-publishing. I developed a reputation as a stern but fair reviewer with a dry wit, and ended up befriending a lot of people who shared my tastes in books and liked my sense of humor.

I've been posting my work for about seven years, and originally posted my work at I built up a considerable fanbase there, then went AWOL for a few years because of college, and also because of a massive outbreak of plagiarism. (Several of my short stories were plagiarized on Wattpad and Tumblr, and turned into—of all things—One Direction self-insertion fics.)

After that, I tried posting on Authonomy for a while, but the superficial environment there did not work for me. Feedback was, for the most part, unequivocally, aggressively positive, with the expectation that you would return the favor. I found the whole process incredibly exhausting, and when one of my friends from FictionPress invited me to post in a private group with some other individuals who were frustrated with the plagiarism of online works, I was pretty quick to agree. I met some lovely, creative individuals there, and still talk to many of them in spite of time zone differences and busy schedules.

Since I started writing at such a young age, I like to think that I got a lot of the special snowflake syndrome out of my system as a teenager. I quickly learned that the feedback that hurt the most hurt the most precisely because it tended to be the most astute. I also learned that if one person had a criticism, there were probably at least ten others who shared that opinion but were too shy or intimidated to say so—although they would be quick to point out improvements in my subsequent rough drafts.

FictionPress was really great because, since it was a free site, a lot of people read my work who probably wouldn't have ordinarily. A godsend for someone who likes to write outside the tried-and-true genres. I played around with drafts, rewrites, endings, and really tried to get a sense of what people liked and didn't like. I learned that, while a happy ending may be pleasing, a slightly downer ending can be more satisfying and realistic.

The most difficult aspect of writing is learning to deal with your readers and feel comfortable doing so. Remembering that these are the people who make it possible for me to get paid to do what I love most really helps eliminate the feelings of entitlement. It also helps that I'm my own worst critic. I just assume that everyone is going to hate everything I write. That way, if they give me one star I can be like, “Well, yeah, I probably deserve that.” And if they give me anything more than a one, I can be like, “Yay! I don't deserve that, but yay!”

My experiences on Goodreads have been positive for the most part. I get friend requests every day from people who like my reviews or books or both, and that's wonderful. I will say that I've been the recipient of attacks from authors and reviewers, alike, and it can be frustrating knowing that there is nothing that I can say or do without making things worse, and that keeping silent can sometimes feel like letting the attackers win.

I've experienced everything from revenge-reviewing, to slurs about my appearance, to speculations about my personal life and habits, to comments so hateful and angry that they have made me cry. If I cannot stand up for myself without resorting to adhominems, I either use the “flag” button or try to ignore it. Because, at the end of the day, there isn't really much I can do. There isn't much anyone can do.

As long as there continues to be an internet, there will continue to be trolls.

It makes me really angry when I see other authors claiming that they're being bullied when people call them out on their bad behavior. It's an insult to actual victims of bullying. I was bullied throughout high school, to such an extent that I would actually fake sick so as not to have to go to school. It was a painful experience, traumatic, and I never really fully healed from the experience on a psychological level. That's one of the reasons I try to defend reviewers' rights. Nobody should be made to feel as if their voice isn't worth hearing.

That's why I became a writer. So I could speak, and be heard.

I think that's why people become reviewers, too.

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Nenia Campbell was born and raised in the United States. From infancy, she was fond of books- especially the cardboard ones; they were the most delicious. As she grew older, she learned that 'devouring a book' was a phrase not to be taken literally. As a result, she became a very enthusiastic reader. When she discovered that the stories she wanted to read did not exist she became an enthusiastic writer, as well.

Nenia's Goodreads. 

Nenia's Twitter.

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