Fantasy. In my opinion, it’s probably one of the most written genres in literature (next to science fiction). Romance stories have touches of fantasy built in, general fiction seems to have it too these days, and, of course, historical fiction is rife with it. Lately (and fortunately for me since I like to both read and write it) there seems to be a progression away from the shiny-happy, good vs. evil epic fantasy. Now fantastical tales of darker, more adult natures have become more common place.
Perhaps a little (or a whole freaking lot really) has to do with George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (or as known in television – A Game of Thrones series). Martin delights in writing realistic and gritty fantasy where the good guys almost never “win”. Despite that fact, readers find themselves rooting for these so called “villains” – even justifying their evil deeds. The prize is that, because Martin writes with such simplistic beauty that captures each reader, most don’t realize they are rooting for these knaves.
But the question is – How dark is too dark in fantasy fiction?
As someone who has penned an adult fantasy (and no, I’m not talking erotica) novel, my book Sister Light, Book One: Of Shadows (out of print) took heavy criticism on several points for the graphic nature of controversial subject matter like domestic violence, pedophilia, and rape. There were dozens of people who contact me demanding I change many of the situations in my book. Basically, they wanted me to “clean it up”. My response was simple: “Each of these situations, during the period of time I’m writing about, existed. I will not turn a blind eye to the historical accuracies of the past to ‘pretty up’ a story, no matter how abhorrent those accuracies are to modern intelligence or sensibilities.”
Blunt? Yes. A bit bitchy? Heck yes. But the fact of the matter remained that I would not change key components in my story to make the world seem a little less dark than it was portrayed.
However the question does remain: How dark is too dark? When do we, as writers, cross a line between historical accuracies and plain distasteful portrayals?
Writing, especially when discussing controversial topics like abuse, rape, incest, and pedophilia, can tease a fine line. And it is incredibly easy to cross that line while writing. While striving for accuracy, the writer can forget to treat the situation with delicacy and tact. I know, during the first drafts of Sister Light, I was guilty of that. I even, from time to time, would re-read and be disgusted. But I knew where to edit and when to edit heavily while still leaving the necessary essence of the topic. However even those heavily edited scenes and plot lines were met with resounding criticism, with outcries of ‘Too much’ and ‘Disgusting!’
I stand by my work as written. But I can admit to having read some fantasy (and even general fiction) that has made me wince. Despite that reflex I’ve tried to keep in mind the overall topic of the book and the time frame it is written in. Humanity has undergone (and is still undergoing) dark, brutal times that many would like to forget. A writer’s primary job (other than to entertain) is also to educate. By highlighting the crimes of yesteryear, a writer fulfills their role of educator as well as remaining true to the past. The primary focus of the writer has to be to use these topics to further their plots, not for mere shock value. Doing so, no matter how dark or ugly the topic, keeps them true to their craft.
“As an indie author, it’s hard to get people to review your book.” This is one of the most reiterated statements I hear from other authors. And it Simply. Isn’t. True.
The self-pubbed world of literature has literally EXPLODED in the last one- to two-years thanks to success stories like Amanda Hocking. What used to be a phrase (“self-pubbed”) that was more whispered than spoken, being an indie author has put the power of the written word back into the hands of those who count – we who hold the pens/laptops!
But, despite this shift of power, there are still daunting tasks for any author going the self-pub route. If writing, editing, formatting, cover art, promotion and sales weren’t enough to make most people want to run for the hills. As authors, we also have the overwhelming tasks of garnering –yipes!– REVIEWS for our books.
What used to be a difficult thing to do without the backing of a powerful agent or publishing house, indie reviews have gotten so easy to come by it’s almost too easy. The big thing is getting your new writing out there for book bloggers, voracious readers, and sometimes-only readers.
Um, how? Well, you utilize every tool you have in your arsenal. Book blogging sites are numerous; almost everywhere you look online, there is a link to this book blogger’s site or that one’s. We simply have to do the small amount of research required by clicking over to their blog, actually reading it (highly suggested if you don’t want to just be a “solicitor”), and finding out what their submission requirements are. Then you email, DM, submit the form, do whatever is required of you to submit to this book blogger and, well, wait. Most book bloggers do what they do for the love of reading; and in part, I’m sure, for free reading material. What do you have to lose by it? Nothing.
“But I’ve lost a sale.” Whenever I mention this to people, this is what I hear. And the truth of the matter is that this statement couldn’t be less true than someone saying the world is flat. This book blogger you’ve given a free PDF to wasn’t in your fan base and probably didn’t even know you existed. If they never knew you existed, then they were never a potential sale, were they? So we haven’t lost a sale; we’ve gained a review, a fan (hopefully), and the notice of that particular blogger’s following. Think we might get at least one sale out of that free read? You bet your sweet tuckus!
But book bloggers aren’t the only place to seek reviews for indie authors. There are thousands of full time book review sites embracing their love of indie skill and creativity. And, yet, there are still old standbys like your friends, family, and acquaintances on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Make an event and send it out to select individuals you think would like a free copy of one of your books; you can even make this fun and maybe toss in a contest. Who wouldn’t want a free PDF of a book and the possibility to win an autographed print copy? Sure, they may already have it but an autograph is an autograph (they’ll want it when one of us becomes the next J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyers). Plus, they don’t necessarily have to get it signed to them; maybe they liked it and want to give it as a gift? Who knows!
Does all of this take a little time out of our day to accomplish? Sure. An author might have to send out 200 review events to get even 5 back. But who cares? That’s 5 more reviews we didn’t have before. Does it take time to read and research book bloggers and review sites out there? Yep, sure does. But would any one of us want to pass up the chance a book blogger with 10k followers loves our book and suggests it as a ‘Must Read’ to their fans? Um, probably not.
Remember: yes, you are giving away free copies of your book, but you can’t look at it like that. You have to think of it as part of your marketing strategy, part of generating BUZZ. As people we look at the reviews an item has to determine if it is “worth” the money or time we’ll be spending. It would be just plain silly to let the idea of a loss that was never a loss in the first place keep us from gaining more than we ever could have thought possible. It’s one thing to think outside the box, but sometimes you also have to think outside the straight jacket. 😉
Any other indie or traditional house authors out there want to chime in? Did I forget to mention something here – another circle or type of review-getter?
BC Brown ~ Paranormal, Mystery, Romance, Fantasy
“Because Weird is Good.”
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