Microgenres and new publishing models

The other night, I had to stay late in the office waiting for documents. Too tired to do meaningful work in the meantime, I followed a link I had recently come across to a novel published online by its author, a novel also available for purchase in the normal fashion.

Reading that novel has inspired me to talk a little about the publishing model that its author, David Wellington, is using. Along the way, I’ll need to dip into microgenres, before returning to wider publishing issues. I’m going to save my thoughts on the novel itself until the end of this piece, as I’m aware there will be readers who might be curious about the publishing model but who have no interest in a horror novel which for me was in any event unsuccessful. I’ll flag when I’m turning to the work itself, so those with no interest can know to duck out gracefully at that point.

Put simply, when David Wellington has a new work, he publishes it on a weekly or biweekly basis online, chapter by chapter. Each chapter comes with a comments section, allowing fans to directly comment and discuss the work with each other, and a sidebar asks those who read the whole work to buy his most recent novel in print form, and encouraging those who enjoy his works online to also buy copies of those also in print form.

The essence of the approach then is free access to the work, interactivity with fans (of which more shortly), and an honour system to encourage fans to buy that which they can obtain at any time for free. I have seen David Wellington’s novels on sale in London in mainstream bookshops, so while I cannot say how successful this model is for him, my impression is that it has worked.

David Wellington’s approach is not of course unique. Recently, some bands have taken to putting albums free online, either for a limited period or indefinitely, counting on the free distribution to itself boost sales. Stephen King experimented with online serial publication, albeit for a fee, for one of his works. An experiment which in his case ended in failure. Other authors have tried placing example chapters online, so that potential readers can read a fair selection of the relevant novel, before making a buying decision. Writer Jeff Long, author of bestselling (I think, I could be wrong on that actually) novel The Descent took this approach, placing the first chapter of his novel at his website – a move which if nothing else shows he has confidence in his own story (and although I didn’t like the chapter and so didn’t buy the book, clearly plenty of folk disagree with me given its success). The, on its face fairly risible sounding, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies took a similar approach (god help me, I read the first chapter of that online too, from morbid curiosity. It is, if anything, worse than the title would suggest. Again, clearly many disagree with me).

Of the examples above, David Wellington is the only one I know of that has published his entire output online for free, Jeff Long and the PP&Z author are merely using online publishing as a method of giving tasters of normally published books, extended versions of the Amazon “see inside the book” concept. Wellington is much braver, much more experimental, the question arises then why does this technique work for him and could it work for others?

By now, it should be apparent what all my examples have in common, all are horror writers. I have no personal interest in the horror genre, save early examples such as Poe, Lovecraft and MR James. It doesn’t, as a genre, speak to me or interest me. I am, however, aware that in the 1990s it saw a fall in popularity that led to many bookshops discontinuing or reducing their horror sections, but in the last few years has seen a popular resurgence, helped in part by the emergence of the young adult supernatural romance genre.

Still, whatever fall or partial reprieve in popularity the horror genre may have suffered, I suspect it still significantly outsells most literary fiction, it’s possible then that though the two have little in common, there may be lessons capable of being learned.

David Wellington is not only a horror writer, he is also to be more precise a writer within a microgenre – zombie apocalypse fiction, which turns out to be a fairly vibrant subgenre – and which is as specific a niche genre as I can imagine. That niche quality, however, has certain advantages. I doubt that zombie fiction has a vast number of fans, but with the internet that doesn’t matter as however dispersed they may be it’s easy for them to find each other. Being a microgenre, it’s perhaps easier for an author to engage more directly with fans, to have a feel for their expectations and so produce works that will build a solid and reliable fan following. Further, lowering that barrier between author and fan, creating a sense of a relationship (a rather illusory sense, I suspect) must help with relying for income on an honour system. A fan who reads a work online, who feels they have a relationship with the author, that their comments are invited and valued, will I suspect then want to support that author by buying the print editions of their works.

Turning to the comments aspect of David Wellington’s publishing model, while reading his novel I dipped into three or four of the chapters’ comments sections. The comments were generally pretty content free, lot of “OMG! This so rocks!” and “Wow, great chapter” which while probably cheering for Mr Wellington didn’t add much to my life. More interestingly, it became apparent with Plague Zone that several fans were (rightly in my view) unhappy with the final section of the book and in particular the ending, Wellington let those comments stand, showing firstly a laudable fairness on his part with regard to his fans input, but also illustrating that he has received valuable direct feedback on what his fans liked and what they didn’t. On another note, Wellington conducted a competition, the winner of which was included in a chapter as a minor supporting character, so further drawing in fans and involving them in his work.

As best I can tell, Wellington didn’t actually change the course or content of his novel as a result of fan feedback. I don’t know if he writes it as he goes along in line with a predetermined story outline, or writes the whole thing and then releases it bit by bit (I suspect the former), but the fact of serialisation and fan comment doesn’t seem to cause him to change his direction. Equally, he doesn’t himself appear much in the comments section, leading to my own comment earlier that I suspect the relationship fans feel with him is largely illusory, the real relationship being still one of author and reader. This isn’t then a shared writing experiment, an interactive novel, rather it is simply a publishing model.

Could it work for other genres? Perhaps, the hyperniched nature of David Wellington’s work must I think be a factor in his success with this model, but much literary fiction is also read only by a very narrow readership base. Admittedly, literary fiction enthusiasts have the benefit that newspaper review sections take their interests seriously, a luxury Mr Wellington’s fans don’t enjoy, but for all that external support literary novels still aren’t that widely read – with some deserving writers getting only a few thousand readers.

Over on The Asylum, Linda Grant (who likely has more than just a few thousand readers) has appeared to discuss works, and both at The Asylum and The Mookse and the Gripes I have seen authors give interviews, discussing their works with John and Trevor, the bloggers at each of those sites. Would it be such a large step for an author to take control of the process themselves? To publish their work free online as well as in print, to discuss directly with their readers their thoughts, to engage with their readership as Mr Wellington has with his?

David Wellington uses fan loyalty, competitions, the ability to comment as a work develops and a self-created fan community to encourage his readership to actually buy print copies of his books. Were a literary author to do the same, I suspect they would in some ways find it actually easier, few readers of literary fiction ultimately will want to read such works on a computer screen, they’ll want a physical copy. I’d guess that many more zombie horror fans will be happy just with the online version.

David Wellington has demonstrated with his works an alternative publishing model, one that sits not in replacement of normal publishing, but alongside it supporting it. It’s an interesting experiment, one that appears to have worked for him and if for him I would have thought could also work for novelists such as say Indra Sinha (a very online-aware author), potentially allowing him to reach more readers than is presently the case.

That ends my thoughts on publishing models, I’m now going to talk about Plague Zone, the novel. Those of you who’ve stuck with me this far may want to bail at this point if a discussion of a specific zombie horror novel is outside your interests.

Right, I suspect I’m now writing for myself even more than usually. Still, here goes. Plague Zone is a work of zombie horror by David Wellington. It tells the tale of a librarian, Tim Kempfer who while embarking on an affair at an out of town librarians’ conference sees a news report of a zombie attack, a news report in which he recognised both the zombie and the victims – his wife and sitting in the unlocked car next to them his young son. Tim decides, through what fairly clearly is a form of guilt displacement, to get back to his home city of Seattle and have revenge on the zombie that killed his family. In other words, to find and kill one zombie in a whole city full of them.

The writing style is straightforward, it’s very much about telling the story without effect, recounting events. In my view, that’s appropriate, the genre wouldn’t support overly clever attempts at narrative technique, indeed given the inherent improbability of a zombie apocalypse a relatively flat writing style is perhaps an advantage. Some flaws emerge, twice Tim encounters zombies that were once women in print dresses, it’s clear what’s attempted there. A zombie that was once a woman in a print dress is a reminder of normality lost, that the monsters were once our friends and neighbours. Two such women though is a bit clumsy. Still, it’s the only such problem I noticed.

You don’t read this sort of novel though for the literary technique, and to analyse it on that basis wouldn’t really be fair. There is a strong tendency to tell rather than show, but that fits with the generally flatly descriptive approach taken:

He turned around, the fear threatening to paralyze him if he kept looking at the slowly creeping mass of droolers. He turned toward the entrance of Safeco Field, then to the street that ran past it. If he kept his calm, if he didn’t trip over something in the dark, he knew he could outrun the infected. He could put them behind him and after a few blocks of pursuit surely they would lose his scent and give up. He didn’t need to shoot every drooler he saw—that would be a waste of time and ammunition.

And:

Tim slammed the office door shut behind him, twisted the deadbolt. Backed up until his legs hit the desk behind him. He could hear the droolers coming up the stairs. They couldn’t climb fences but a simple staircase was still within the limit of their powers, it seemed. Before he’d even caught his breath they were pounding on the door. He could see one through the rectangle of glass set into the door, its face pale and patchy, broken with sores. It felt a film of black drool on the window as it pressed its mouth against the glass, its lips making an obscene seal there. He could see its blackened tongue lolling for him.

The writing then is workmanlike, efficient and adequate to its task (hm, damning a bit by faint praise there, but I do think a more nuanced writing style would actually be an error for this genre). The problems with the book don’t arise from that, particularly given Wellington’s many fans clearly enjoy his writing technique.

The book does however have three significant problems, characterisation, the fact that Tim is the sole hero (I’ll come to why that’s a problem shortly) and sheer (even given the book’s premise) implausibility.

Tim is not a terribly persuasive character, although badass librarian has a certain ring to it, he is basically a moving plot device and viewpoint character. At the opening of the novel, Tim is about to have an affair, we’re told he hasn’t had one before, there seems no reason for him to have one now, really my impression was that the only reason he was uncharacteristically about to have an affair was so as to give him something to feel guilty about, and so send him on his bizarre assassination mission after one zombie.

Other characters act equally without reason, a military commander who is easily the book’s best character effectively imprisons Tim for his own good, and is running a small and hyper-surveillanced militarised state consisting of a town full of survivors and refugees. That’s fine enough, but when Tim inevitably escapes the commander is so keen to recover him (his mission apparently being to protect everyone he finds alive) that he sends troops into a zombie-infested city and uses massive resources to recover one apparently suicidal man. It just didn’t persuade, there seemed no good in-character reason for him to go to such lengths. Other characters risk their lives for Tim, even offer to die for him, but precisely why is never terribly clear. The characters act as the plot demands, not as what little we see of their personalities would dictate, and it’s a fatal flaw.

Tim himself is not terribly sympathetic, in part because the zombies aren’t really literal zombies. They’re actually living victims of a disease that causes aggression and severe brain damage. Tim’s mission then is to kill an admittedly dangerous, but actually profoundly neurologically impaired disease victim. To Wellington’s credit, the distinct lack of heroism in this is intentional and several characters do query whether Tim is simply mad in pursuing his pointless, suicidal and ultimately cruel quest for vengeance.

That’s fine, characters in a survival horror context need not be sympathetic, but with Tim unsympathetic more weight is placed on other characters, and other than the military commander they can’t really carry it.

The book is also weighed down in places with tremendous implausibility, I’ve mentioned the military commander’s quest to recover Tim, a quest a deranged as Tim’s own. Much worse though is the ending, which I won’t go into here but which given the already established abilities of the zombies simply makes no sense, a point made by several in the comments following the last chapter. That said, the ending does involve a degree of psychological subtlety in Tim’s character that is welcome, though sadly which I cannot discuss without giving that ending.

Finally, there is the issue of Tim as sole survivor. Zombie horror is an example of what is known as survival horror, the horror comes from the possibility of sudden character death, from the frequent randomness and sheer unfairness of such death. Wellington tries to include that here, but with only one central character we know that Tim must at least reach the last chapter. That undermines any suspense, Tim will make it to Seattle, he will get past the obstacles trying to stop him, if he’s to die it won’t be until the end of the book – all that has to be true as Tim is the only viewpoint character and without him the novel stops.

It’s a big problem, without the possibility of random death, of bad luck or a single bad choice killing a loved character (not that I loved Tim, but that’ not quite the point), there’s no suspense and thus no horror. The choice of having a sole protagonist undercuts the genre, means we know pretty much what will happen in the book, and indeed I guessed the ending very early on and was right in pretty much all key particulars.

So, Plague Zone didn’t work for me, reading the comments it looks like David Wellington has written more successful novels, and since I wish him well in future I hope he continues to push his craft and extend his range – my strong impression was that here he wanted to write a more psychological study of one man under terrible pressure but didn’t wholly succeed. He is, however, an author with many fans and while I don’t think the zombie horror genre is the best place to explore psychological trauma, Stephen King moved from supernatural to psychological horror and I see no reason why with time David Wellington shouldn’t do the same, if that’s where his talent leads him.

Plague Zone

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26 Comments

Filed under Horror Fiction, Publishing

26 responses to “Microgenres and new publishing models

  1. I forgot to add, in this already overlengthy piece, while looking at David Wellington’s site I glanced at a few chapters of his earlier novel Monster Island. I’m still not a fan of horror fiction (movies are another matter), but I could see there why he had picked up the fans he has. There were some interesting ideas in the few chapters I looked at, and some genuine originality within the constraints of his chosen genre. That still doesn’t make him a writer for me, he’s just not writing stuff that interests me and I’m not huge these days on novels that depend more on plot than writing anyway, but it seemed worth mentioning for balance.

  2. Interesting piece.

    My problem with this emerging business model is that it effectively means that authors have to serve as their own PR agents too. You see this a lot in the SF world and I find it vaguely off-putting as it gives me the impression that the authors are constantly on the make and that everything they say is about increasing their online visibility. For the flip side of this, see Torque Control’s recent post about an author refusing to publish a negative review because she feared the damage it might do to her ‘brand’.

    I have something of a love-it-and-hate-it relationship with horror. A while back I picked up a short story collection by Thomas Ligotti. Ligotti’s the big swinging dick of the non-mainstream horror genre. Had he been about in the 70s he’d have sold millions of books but because he is working now he’s largely out of print.

    The short story collection is weirdly uneven He writes a lot about the horrors of work and how dehumanising human institutions are and when he gets it right he’s sublime (there’s one particular story about town planners that is unhinged) but when he gets it wrong it seems horribly tacky.

    My basic problem with a lot of the horror genre is that its imagery has been purloined by rubbish fantasy. So I think it is now very difficult to write proper horror without re-inventing the wheel. Their entire traditional box of tricks has been stolen. but even when they get it right, I feel that their points could more easily and effectively have been made without the fantastical or larger than life trappings.

    For example, if you want to write about how dehumanising work can be then the evidence is right there in front of you. You don’t need a literal demon or a serial killer as a boss to drive that dehumanisation home. Normal humans are more than capable of generating their own horror.

  3. Guy Savage

    I never read Horror, so I can’t really comment on that, but I did want to comment on the publishing aspect of things.

    Australian author, Max Barry is doing something similar. Here’s a link:
    http://www.maxbarry.com

    Don’t know if you’ve tried his novels, but I’m a fan. Anyway, according to the author (who writes a page a day of his story), he has 2700 subscribers who stick with it at a 93% rate. You can sign up for a free trial, read a few pages (he is saying 43) and then decide if you want to stick with it via paypal. The page-a-day arrives via e-mail.

    His novels: Syrup and Company are some of the funniest things I’v read. Jennifer Government was more serious. Initially optioned for a film, but those Hollywood bozos bailed. Don’t know a good thing if it’s right in front of ’em.

  4. Max, over here in the states I am pretty sure horror outsells everything but romance. The U.S. population is none too literate. As we recently had huge cuts in our publishing system, mostly editors, authors may have to start acting like their own agents. This might not be too bad, especially if they are just looking for sales.

    What could be possible is that some of those editors could start their own business online, not open to the public, whereby they provide editing services to the authors and the overhead of the publishing company is avoided. I wonder if someone has thought of this (they must have).

    As for publishing novels online, if this becomes popular, I would think it would cut into sales eventually. Since Stephen King’s venture fizzled it would seem people don’t want to pay to read online. I still prefer a book every time.

    Since zombies are the things that creep me out the most I never read the books or watch the films.

  5. I’ll leave the horror angle (since I don’t read it) but the new publishing model thread sparks interest.

    In one sense, it seems to me, this is simply taking the old notion of serialization in magazines and applying a new technology. Serials also tended to be in fairly specialized genres (romance and western action novels come to mind); the same restrictions/opportunities would seem to apply here.

    And if you haven’t heard about it check out this New Yorker article (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/12/22/081222fa_fact_goodyear) about a related phenomenon — the Japanese teenage novel written on cellphones and then eventually printed. Turns out it is an entire literary industry that I did not know about — then again, I don’t read a lot of Japanese.

  6. Thanks for all the comments folks, I’m stuck at work again but this time without time for reading novels, as soon as things calm down (most likely Thursday) I’ll respond properly to the various thoughts.

    Candy, interesting to hear the horror slump is a UK phenomenon, I hadn’t known that. I’ll give that more thought too.

  7. Right, after a brutal couple of weeks here I am again.

    Jonathan, I think it fails if it becomes a means of self-publishing, even though inevitably that’s what it is. It can only work I think if honest, if a genuine communication between author and fans, even if that communication contains an implicit equality or depth of relationship which is ultimately illusory. It requires therefore great confidence, because otherwise you will be tempted to screen out the negatives, but including them is part of what lends faith to the positives, and part of what keeps it a real dialogue – which it needs to be.

    On horror, Candy’s point about the US is interesting, suggesting the collapse of the horror genre which I thought universal may actually be a local phenomenon, I’m not sure if the issue is that its ideas have been purloined so much as they’ve become common currency, and unlike sf it’s not a genre that can get by on ideas where characterisation or writing fails. It needs suspense, drama, we need to care about the characters’ fate, all of which is hard if the writing is uneven as it so often is.

    I’ve heard of Ligotti, depressing to hear he’s hit or miss, but then even the horror greats are rarely consistent in their form. It’s an oddly uneven genre.

    Guy, I’d heard of Jennifer Government, this is the sort of thing I was getting at, outside here the horror field too. I note he too has an ongoing dialogue with fans, on his site he comments about emails he’s received and responds (in mass form) to common queries. Like Wellington, he’s having a sort of conversation with his fans, which is what takes it beyond a crude marketing exercise I think. I’ll dig into that site further this week hopefully.

    Candy, I suspect it could ultimately cut into print sales, though for some writers print sales are already weak so the loss might be worth the online gain. Indra Sinha sold less than two thousand copies of the excellent Animal’s People when it was in hardback (something I suspect owes much also to an increasing dislike of the hardback formula). I doubt Ian McEwan, the British literary world’s answer to Stephen King, would have much to gain, but Sinha might well. On King, I had heard there were quality issues with his online output, do you know anything about that?

    Kevin, it’s why I put the horror bit neatly at the end so it could be skipped. I figured some would have no interest. I think you’re right on the serialisation aspect, but then much of the internet is reinventing old ideas in new form, that does remind me though of a more old-fashioned example, Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road which I believe was serialised in the New Yorker chapter by chapter originally? I’m aware of the Japanese thing, there’s also services which email people a few paragraphs a day, I’m suspicious of both, how much quality writing can you get into that sort of space? And is a mobile phone screen a literature-friendly environment? Still, they are new delivery forms, and it is worthwhile knowing what’s out there as alternatives to the books most of us here love.

  8. Guy A. Savage

    I think that’s an excellent point about Max Barry & his fans/readers. He has maintained an active site with fairly frequent updates via e-mail. Readers (like me) read about his trip to Hollywood, the birth of his first child, and his newest writing project. He’s kept in touch, and that really connects him to his readers. Better than this once every-couple-of-years book business.

  9. Lee

    I’ve been following this discussion since I too publish solely online, in serial format. For me it’s the best format, since I get to preserve my independence. Quite brutally, I’m not interested in fans and not particularly in readers either. This is one reason why I’m not even going to enable comments on my new novel, Corvus, the serialisation of which is about to begin in a week or so.

    I have never had any expectations of earning anything from my fiction. It’s not why I write.

  10. Lee

    Perhaps I should add that I consider interaction between a writer and the readership quite obstructive. Y

  11. I tend to think writers should write for themselves, so that makes sense to me.

    My impression, as I noted above, is that David Wellington writes what he wants to write, that the interactivity is in part illusory. Still, it’s more engagement with fans than many writers desire. I can certainly see why you might find it obstructive.

    Fans often want a writer to just write the same thing over and over, but to the writer that’s death. Poor Arthur Conan Doyle kept having to write Sherlock Holmes stories, long after his own interests had moved on.

  12. Do you not find the lack of an editor an issue Lee? That strikes me as a potential pitfall with your approach, as they help identify possible flab or self-indulgence (well, until you’re a bestseller they do anyway, after that not so much). Is that a concern for you at all?

  13. Lee

    Hi Max, and thanks for the quick response.

    Most writers want to be read – and of course, I do too, only I don’t worry too much about it, and it’s far from my top priority, which is learning to write well. But it would be disingenuous of me to claim that I’m entirely immune to praise!

    As to the business side of things, the writer who wants to earn some money from their work is in a tough position, whether online or off. My first novel is downloaded regularly, maybe 50-75+ times per day from all sites, but the POD version sells very little (and it’s available at cost!), likewise the Kindle edition. I’m OK with this, but as an experiment I’ve decided to offer the POD edition of my new novel from the very beginning of serialisation for those readers who can’t wait, and I’m considering doing the same for an e-version of the entire novel. I wouldn’t charge much but I’d like to know if this model would work for the sort of writing I do. There’s no way I could make a living from writing, and I find self-promotion/book tours/interviews fairly distasteful, but a new laptop might be nice one of these days…

  14. Lee

    Oh, now I see your comment about editors. No, another reason I publish as I do is that I don’t fancy being edited. It’s the writer’s job to edit their own work.

    Flab? Well, probably lots of people consider my writing flabby. So what? It’s my writing – and my flab. (Can you guess that I’m overweight and fine with it?) I set my own standards, and though I’m still struggling with technical challenges, I tend to see my work in a state of constant development. And I’m perfectly willing to paint over a used canvas. One of the things that print has done is make it seem that there is such a thing as a perfect work.

  15. It is indeed, though possibly someone should tell that to Stephen King say, or JK Rowling.

    But that takes me to my bestsellers point, flabby writing tends to be an issue for writers who are hugely successful in my experience.

    There’s certainly no perfect work. I was curious because some writers find editors a useful part of the process, some not so much. I’m not a writer myself so I was interested in your views. Thanks for sharing them.

    I note your comments on earning money from writing, my impression was that making money was about the worst reason for writing one could choose, as the odds on doing so to any meaningful degree are astonishingly low. Even some of the best regarded writers of our age I suspect earn a pittance, and that’s probably been true for every other age too.

    A piece of advice I’ve often seen for aspiring writers, is simply to write. Writers write, non-writers don’t. Writers, as best I can tell, write whether they get paid for it or not, whether they get readers or not, though naturally they’d prefer both. But I trespass now on matters outside my personal knowledge and within yours, still, interesting stuff.

  16. Everyone benefits from an editor.

    Iain M. Banks doubly so.

  17. Lee

    Well, to be utterly frank, I’ve never had an editor, so I can’t tell if it would be helpful. It probably depends on the editor (and the writer, obviously), who is in the end just one individual, however experienced. My first and only agent did teach me a few things, though I’d like to pretend I might have come to them myself in the end, but it was our disagreements over further revision which precipitated the final break.

  18. Lee

    Jonathan, that’s my whole point. I’m simply not interested, and there’s no reason why I should be.

    Or let me put it this way: my editors are people like Colm Toibin and Robin Robertson and James Joyce and W.G. Sebald and Marilynne Robinson, to name just a few.

  19. Isn’t that a bit like saying “Jesus is my drinking buddy”?

  20. Lee

    I wouldn’t know. I don’t drink and I’m not a Christian.

  21. Max,

    Found this review of genre fiction really interesting. In some ways I read reviews as much for learning about reviewing techniques as for information on the book itself. And there was a lot to learn from this one.

    I didn’t think I was interested in horror now I largely read literary works, but I enjoyed the way you analysed the relationship of the characters to the plot, and the characters’ short failings. I suspect that I would just look at genre fiction blankly, and state that there was nothing to discuss.

    Zombies are not my cup of tea, but I do hanker after reading I am Legend. Better than the film, apparently and unsurprisingly.

    A bit after the fact, but I was interested in Lee’s comments. I try not to think about editing too much. It may be unrealistic, and the sort of wish you would live to regret, but I always feel that I would prefer to see the author’s vision warts and all.

  22. Hi Sara,

    I thought since I had read it, it was only fair to give it the same attention I’d give anything else, and to try to assess it on its own goals. It wouldn’t be fair to criticise it on say literary style, that’s not really the point, but I think it is fair to discuss whether it succeeds on its own terms.

    Oddly enough, I have a soft spot for zombie movies, but to be honest I think as a monster they just work better on screen than on the page. Horror films I enjoy, horror fiction not so much, though with honourable exceptions for HP Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell and the superlative Clark Ashton Smith.

    I am Legend is excellent, unsettling and in some ways quite challenging. I may be rereading it soon actually, as I was given a copy recently. It’s worth a go. I was uncomfortable in Plague Zone that the zombies are essentially terribly ill human beings, treated as monsters without thought. That’s true in I am Legend also, but there it very much is given thought, the morality of the situation is far from ignored. Great book.

    I hope Lee’s approach continues to work for him, I do think editors have a valuable role, perhaps because I’ve read too many crime and sf series where in later volumes you could tell the author had got too famous for an editor to be able to rein them in anymore, with a consequent fattening of the text but no improving of the work. It’s an interesting issue though, a process I wish I knew more about.

  23. Lee

    Hi Sarah,

    Finally someone who understands! People always talk about writing the best book possible – and how editors help you to do that. Maybe. Or maybe sometimes. (How many of us get to see the original MSS?) But I’ve yet to find any set of objective literary criteria which always hold upon really close examination. There are those who love David Foster Wallace, for example, others who find him bloated and unreadable. Who’s right? And ‘on its own terms’ requires a definition of those terms, in itself subjective. Basically, I tend to be believe that there’s very little in art which is not based on consensus. Undoubtedly there are some hardwired givens like the need for story, curiosity, the satisfaction of dramatic tension and release (mimics the whole sexual drive, too) etc. but otherwise I’m cautious in this regard.

    As to warts, well, I’m not one for makeup and hairgel.

  24. I found this incredibly fascinating for many reasons and – that’s a very constructive and careful “negative review”. I’m really glad you left a link.
    And the analysis of the subgenre which is by now (over two years later) become quite a movement. Coincidentally I’m reading my first zombie novel right now and thanks to you I see that some of the things I found flawed are part of the genre and not really flaws but some are true flaws of the novel I’m reading (The Forest of Hands and Teeth).
    I find the marketing strategy immensely interesting and would be tempted to do that if I was going to write in that niche. Too much interaction can be too time-consuming. I notice that writers are far less active on their blogs than those who read and review only.

  25. I’m glad you found it interesting Caroline. It’s not my best review by any means, but I did try to be fair. It’s hard writing a review of a book you probably shouldn’t have read, here because I was never really its target audience. There’s a question of how to be fair in assessing it.

    The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I’ve heard of it but only that. I’ve not read any zombie novel since this one (though I do read The Walking Dead comic, but then I read a few different comics so that doesn’t mean much).

    His interaction seems much more than it is. A comments section on a writers website doesn’t necessarily mean the writer spends much time reading comments. Bloggers I think need to interact as otherwise people will stop commenting and frankly because if you don’t respond to comments why are you bothering to have a blog? Writers though aren’t bloggers, and the drivers are very different.

  26. Pingback: Negative reviews and me | Pechorin’s Journal

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