I write to warn all who read this of a growing problem that has permeated deep within several groups I associate with, namely those referred to as book reviewers, a.k.a. “the damn critics!”

As a writer of fiction, myself, I am known in some reviewing circles as being “easier” on new/young writers than some of my peers, and thus have been sought out by hundreds of authors for a gander at their work and an opinion thereof. However–as of late–even I have had to draw a rather thick line in the sand regarding reading and reviewing certain genres of fiction. The various fads/crazes circling any popular novel induce a strange marketing phenomena that those among my acquaintance have dubbed “copycat” novels. Twilight mimics have lessened as of late, though a trickle of such titles remain… like a draining wound in the side of a comatose publishing industry. Supernatural thrillers penned in the oh-poor-me First Person Perspective—which seems to have lost all its art lately—are so common that they’ve attained that awful title of Glut, to the point where I cringe at any sentence beginning with “I.”

The zombie “apocalypse” craze is the latest fad, though–thankfully–it appears to be on the wane. Each month nine to twelve new zombie novels pop up on the revered List of Titles sent ’round to us hopeful reviewers, successfully washing the whole genre a bit paler with each new addition. One may write a great piece of undead/re-dead fiction but it may well get lost in the throng of poorly-disguised copycats. The chance for being “discovered” in such company is next to nil.

Now, it seems–to myself and many of my fellow reviewers–that quite a number of today’s writers are inspired by nothing else than what others write about, or by the latest movie that they’ve seen. The prose penned by such writers reflects a noticeable lack of real creativity, thus rendering them hard to read… or say anything good about. After several of these tepidly plagiaristic novels in a row, it becomes a delicate business to even select a title in a certain genre, regardless of writer. There are only so many ways one can say “I wish I could get those hours of my life back.”

Perhaps the saddest result of all this is that the once-bright fire of curiosity–that little voice that says “it might be a great piece a literature”–begins to die away in the mind of a reviewer, even to the point where some refuse to review fiction at all… only selecting a title when one is recommended by a fellow reviewer whose already taken the plunge, so to speak.

In writing this I am fully aware that it sounds a bit stuffy, and that some folks may absolutely love to tear through such novels as I’ve described, one after another, gleefully reading to the last page and scampering off to hunt for more. Feel free to continue doing so, but don’t ask to me to read them. I write fiction, but read it only on a referral basis now… or if someone pays me good money to. The latter has happened much more frequently lately. It appears that more and more reviewers are rejecting books, sick of reading repeating mirror reflections of whatever novel has preceded it, and authors are having to pay to ensure that their book actually gets selected.

How can you avoid becoming bogged down in the marshy part of Lake Literature? Write what you know… write about something you’ve actually experienced and researched… write about a vivid dream you’ve had… write about folks facing dark odds but emerging victorious, and as wiser people. Write about everyday things, as well as the spectacular and far-fetched. Anyone whose ever read Austen’s Pride & Prejudice–and bothered to do a bit of historical research on it—knows how extraordinarily normal the circumstances of that book were, for the author… and yet it remains one of the best novels ever written.

I want to read great literature, books that stand out. If it disappears into a dozen other similar titles, I won’t see it. It’s not that I’m not looking, its that I’ve looked for a long, long time, and I’ve learned that great literature doesn’t follow a fad, or a craze. It is written because the writer must write it and in this it stands alone. Until I find such work, I’ll stay by my interesting standbys of natural science, history, computer software, photography, cooking and knitting, waiting for today’s Austen, today’s Forester and today’s Dumas to emerge from the mewling hordes of fad-beings and stand in the sunshine… waiting to be read, instead of merely hoping to be seen.

[Via Meredith Greene’s Greene Ink blog]


  1. I am not a writer of reviews myself, but as a reader I had similar feelings the last times I went to bookstores or online shops: I don’t have much time at the moment to read just for my pleasure, so I want to spend that time on novels that are worth it.
    Unfortunately the problem you described above doesn’t seem to be restricted to the self publishing scene but reaches major publishers as well.
    I never bought a single book the last times I went to bookstores, nor was I even tempted to do so. Vampires, Werewolfes, Thrillers that look like the same old, chic literature which basically tells all the same story in different settings…

    Might be that the publishing industry fell victim to the same problem that plagues the movie and games industries for years: Stick with what was successful before and take no risks.

    (Note: I am from Germany, so my experiences apply to the german market.)

  2. I’m developing (very slowly) a review blog that I hope will address the problem. Under “Submissions,” there will be a rather long list of genres that we won’t be reviewing. There’s quality out there, but every reviewer is so swamped with sub-standard material that it makes sense to cut down on the slush that buries it by saying “Just don’t bother sending your zombie, elf, or shifter novel.”

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