When you publish a book, other authors tell you that you need to develop a thick skin. This is easier said than done. We authors, especially as first authors, fear the moment in which we will receive a negative critique or perhaps worse, someone will cover our book and write a review or article peppered with spoilers, unveiled plot twists, unearthed hidden book gems, and even mouths out-loud the ending. The horror!
The amount of fear is directly proportional to the amount of work and resources (financial and other) invested by us in researching and writing our book. Why would anyone want to read our book after it has been spoiled? All the time invested “has gone bye-bye.” With their five hundred words, our beloved eighty-thousand-word-plus child has been destroyed.
We feel violated.
In my case, it took me years to research and write my first novel, Antonio’s Will, the story of the first Puerto Rican and Hispanic executed by electricity in the United States (a century ago). In addition to the level of effort invested in the book, I placed a great deal of emotion in the work, as it deals with a family tragedy uncovered after 100 years. A tragedy within my own family.
The story was so buried in time, that even expert historians and journalists had not stumbled upon its detail. I knew that once I brought the story out in the open, not only would it likely trigger controversy, but some would salivate like wolves in the desert over the discovered prey. I expected this behavior. After all, the story was newsworthy in 1914-1916, and it remains newsworthy today.
Aside from the controversial noise and the expected piggybacking, I truly hoped that the book would generate a healthy discussion around the justification for the death penalty, defenses from capital murder, the criminal mind, constitutional protections, racial discrimination and other bias in our justice system, and the history of Spain, Puerto Rico and New York surrounding the stories within the novel.
Another great wish of mine was that genuine readers would focus on the carefully researched and crafted cultural and historical background offered in the story, the love, humanity and pain of the real people in it, the need to eliminate injustices such as the ones committed against Antonio Pontón, and I dared to hope that some readers would even grow interest in researching their own history.
Which brings me to the need to balance my expectations, hopes and dreams with the reality of book reviews and the spoilers that undoubtedly would come.
So far the sales and reviews have been good enough to place Antonio’s Will on the Amazon Top 100 Kindle Hispanic American Literature List on-and-off since publication, and on the Amazon Top Rated List in Hispanic American Literature based on book reviews (The book places #22 as of today.) These lists are updated hourly. The bad reviews have not arrived, yet (I know it is just a matter of time, all books get them.) But the spoilers came. And they arrived with a vengeance.
A blogger who had read (and said really liked) my book asked to interview me. I agreed to the interview but reiterated it was key that the blogger did not reveal spoilers. After what I thought was a wonderful exchange, the article came. The piece broke by stating who my main character killed, and aired how, and when, adding why his trial was unjust, all key elements of the plot. Then the blogger proceeded to conveniently summarize the entire book, including key plot twists, critical elements during the character’s execution, and even borrowed carefully selected quotes and language from the book, essentially providing a “mini Cliff Notes,” for all to read. There was no “Spoiler Alert” (a known etiquette of book reviewers and journalists) anywhere in the article. I was so taken by this. Why would someone want to do such a thing to an author, especially after being asked to protect the author and readers from spoilers? The blogger seemed like such a professional. Why then, would this blogger act this way?
Knot in my stomach, I thought: “The damage is done. Any potential reader of this blog article is definitively not going to purchase my book now!” Saddened (and perhaps paranoid), I began to read about spoilers in an effort to assess the potential damage to my investment. Below, I share five observations that helped me digest this uncomfortable situation and may also assist authors who find themselves “showered in spoilers.” Reviewers should also take a hint.
- “No Spoiler” Etiquette. The etiquette for book reviewers, including journalists, is clear: No spoilers. Just like with movie reviews, this practice is considered rude and unprofessional. But if a writer covering a book story must reveal anything that may spoil the book for a future reader, the accepted practice is to state this first by writing “Spoiler Alert,” before revealing the spoiler. This will give the reader the option to skip that portion of the writing. This is a challenge for some curious people (like me). Some will argue the spoiler warning does not avoid the damage, but this is the least a professional writer could do out of respect for the hard work of the author, and most of all, out of deference to those considering reading the book. (Additional 2 cents: I like the “no spoiler” etiquette and follow it for my own reviews.)
- The spoilers may be wrong! Some writers have actually revealed wrong spoilers. They have committed mistakes in perceiving the plot! Smart and avid readers know this often happens and do not give as much weight to the spoilers as we authors may. (Additional 2 cents: Totally agree. This is also embarrassing for the “spoiler writer.”)
- Promotional value. Interestingly, there are some who believe that spoilers really do not harm the sales of books. Instead, they propose that revealing spoilers may actually attract readers. They support the cliché that “any publicity is good publicity.” (Additional 2 cents: There might be something here. I am still monitoring the negative/positive impact of my experience. I will get back to you on that after I collect some evidence.)
- Readers are smart. Most readers are very smart and will look at book reviews and other material in order to make an informed decision about purchasing your book, despite the spoilers. When they read the additional material, smart prospective readers will realize that there is more to the book than a list of spoilers or a poorly summarized plot in someone’s article. In addition, believe it or not, there are some readers who actually like spoilers! (Additional 2 cents: This is a true epiphany. I am actually feeling good about this one at this point!)
- What’s done is done. There is not much you can do about someone “spilling the beans” about your book’s plot. They may have been mean-spirited, selfish, desperate for material, or they may not have meant to do any harm at all. In fact, they may think they did you a favor by writing about your book the way they did. And they might have. It really does not matter. You can’t change what they did. Just take a deep breath, and “let it go.” Unless it is a dedicated spoiler blog, writing book spoilers without a warning in the course of a book review or cover shows carelessness and/or lack of knowledge. Smart people notice this. It may hurt the spoiler-writer more so than the book’s author. (Additional 2 cents: I so agree with this. Move on. You may not be able to use the infringing piece to promote your book on your own blog, author page, or website, but there will be forthcoming opportunities to do this.)
So, although I would have preferred the “spoiler shower” did not happen, my skin is getting thicker. I think that after making the above observations, I feel much better about this challenging experience. It seems (at least for now) that this was really not as big of a deal as it seemed, but “the jury is still out” (no pun intended). I hope that you never come across this experience, but when and if you do, may “the force” of my five observations serve you well.
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