On Reviews and the Indie Movement – An Optimate Memo

I haven’t done much in the way of book reviews, either here or on my YouTube channel, but I’m reconsidering how I approach this.

First, take a look at this blog post by Alexandru Constantin, regarding where he has settled on book reviews:

There are few things I want to cover here related to all this, before I get to prescriptions:

  1. Tradpub may be a facade, but it is one that normal folks think is real – and perception matters
  2. What is the point of a book review?
  3. Is there any point to negativity?
  4. The “political right” doesn’t think strategically or operate well as a group
  5. Who should be doing reviews, and when should reviews be published?

Let’s go through all of these points before I make any prescriptions for action.

Tradpub is a facade, but perception matters

You have to think about who you are facing, in what arena you are facing them, and what victory means.

Yes, traditional publishing is in trouble right now due to store closures and paper supply problems, but that doesn’t mean they are dead. Most normal people don’t spend a second thought on the entire industry, and they certainly aren’t looking at any numbers to see what the problems within the industry are.

I’m not just talking about financial problems, but ideological problems. To the typical normie, the New York Times is an important newspaper and NPR is a reputable radio network. Book reviews in either of these publications are, even to people who don’t interact with them, a kind of proof of quality, and that is what traditional publishing leans on to shore up the hollow facade of both relevance and success.

It doesn’t really matter that the book they reviewed sells 1/10 of an indie title in the same genre – to outsiders, it looks important. The same goes for awards like the Hugos – we may know they are bullshit, but normies think they actually represent quality.

Why the focus on outsiders? Because, as I have said before, Normies matter. It’s the regular people that have to be engaged in order for any artistic movement to grow. We can’t expect to just sell books to established hard-core scifi readers and create something huge.

The internet offers great possibilities to end-run around the gatekeepers, but the establishment is excellent at coordinating all media to point to something, to essentially create relevance out of nothing.

What is the point of a book review?

I want us all to think wider. Hopefully you read Alexandru’s blog post, because he talks about some things I have pondered from many angles as a person who build a YouTube channel of 40k subscribers primarily by talking about movies and games – essentially, doing reviews.

As a reviewer, what are your goals?

For most it comes down to ATTENTION. That is, you’re trying to have a job reviewing stuff. That’s very simple and direct. You provide information on a product to a consumer, who then decides to buy or not. Simple.

Except it’s not that simple, because I am not just in the attention business – I’m in the book business. That means attention has multiple purposes.

As I said in my latest book, you are either building an audience, or renting one (in other words, advertising). If you want to build an audience, how do you do that?

Immediately things get more complicated. Do I review fantasy because I sell fantasy books, hoping that I can sell one to a person who reads a review?

Let’s go even wider.

When you review a product you are (possibly) gaining attention to yourself, but you are also giving and channeling attention to the product. You are therefore also channeling attention to the larger genre, movement, and similar works associated with the first one.

Reviews are therefore potentially very powerful for building an audience surrounding not just one person, but a larger group of people interested in a movement or just a genre.

To that end, we have to ask

  1. Can we be objective?
  2. Is there a point to objectivity?
  3. What do we do with negativity?

The Point of Negativity

I put out a video on Saturday that has 45k views and rising on Naughty Dog’s leaks of The Last of Us part II, which I was very harsh on. My typical views are in the 1-2 thousand range, or sometimes much less, so this one of those random success I often talk about.

I often lament the fact that my positive, helpful content gets a fraction of the views of controversial content, but this is reality. Things which are negative and provoke negative emotions are more immediately engaging than other forms of content. I can put out a video on one day that gets 50k views or more bitching about a random thing, but a free audiobook gets a few hundred views.

As a content producer, you are incentivized to be negative and pugilistic non-stop. I also get, in my experience, that the political right is more responsive to outrage than the left, maybe because they are the underdogs now in the mainstream media.

Negativity gains attention, but ultimately it is hollow – that’s something else I have learned personally. If you want to build a real audience, you need to make them feel good, especially if you are trying to promote your own art to them. At the same time, you won’t get any attention being positive.

That leaves us wondering about negative book reviews. What is the point of them? What do they do, given my points above?

Well, they channel attention to yourself and to the subject. Even negative attention is attention. However, those you attract might stick around for something else, which is where you want your real energy to work.

The Right Doesn’t Think or Act Strategically

People who have been in the political conversation in any way outside the mainstream the past few years know this: conservatives are committed to being gentlemanly losers.

To put it another way, they care more about maintaining principles (or more accurately the appearance of principles) than they do about actually winning anything.

I think this is a product of the type of personalities that represent the western “right” – it is a haphazard collection of individualists with little to nothing in common besides the fact that they want to be individualists. This is a two-fold problem:

  1. Conservatives won’t act strategically – They don’t operate as if in they are in a contest that ought to be symmetrical. Instead, they play by one set of rules while the other team plays with no rules and will still try to enforce the rules on the conservative team.
  2. They won’t act as part of a group or movement – They don’t protest, and they don’t coordinate their attacks. They all act according to their own feelings in the moment and are thus easily overwhelmed by foes that would be their inferiors in a fair game.

What does this have to do with reviews? A lot, though it may not be obvious.

The left will bend over and praise any work of art, no matter how bad, as long as it is from the “correct” team, and they will do the opposite with art from the “other” team, no matter how high the quality. Just look at the reviews for the Last Jedi.

Actually, it is worse than that. They pay no attention to art from the right. Since they own all the media corporations, they think they can ignore it – only the reality of newpub and social media reveals the facade, but like I said, normies aren’t aware of this (yet).

The idea of objective art criticism in the mainstream media is absurd, and yet, anyone outside of it quests for objectivity rather than self-honesty. Hell, most of the reviewers that are “independent” are in the bag for Disney, if for no other reason than they are reliant on early viewings and the big views corporate franchises bring in.

Reviews are also part of popular opinion and culture. The right, as individualists, tends to ignore culture, instead pushing for atomization in the name of liberty. This is part of why lefties infest the arts – they want to change the world; conservatives just want the world to leave them alone.

See the problem yet?

The world isn’t going to leave you alone.

This is why I want to abandon the term “conservatism,” which has conserved nothing, and replace it with “Optimates”: men who are for the good.

Who should be writing reviews?

I’ve hesitated to review my friends’ books, even if I like them a lot, simply because I think it is a conflict of interest. But it is only a conflict of interest if you are attempting present an “objective” face, which, as I have pointed out, is a flat-out lie for most reviewers.

Instead, I should be reviewing and promoting them, because it is in my interest that they succeed. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the more we have on board, the better we will be.

Likewise authors on the left have no problem gushing over the books of their peers, no matter how bad they are. I’m not suggesting we be dishonest, but just because my friend benefits from my review doesn’t mean I should withhold it.

So yes, authors should review books. It will also help with your seo. People looking for reviews of other authors will find you.

And if you aren’t an author, you can be a huge help to the indie movement by reviewing. Everyone can do something.

My Prescription for Reviews.

Here is my basic prescription for book/movie/comic/game reviews as they pertain to the greater Optimate/right/center/anti-sjw movement, given the above points:

  1. Review books from authors you want to succeed and whose work you enjoy. Don’t force yourself to read anything!
  2. Focus on what readers need to know to determine if they will enjoy the book – don’t just gush or say empty praise, but analyze. You want people to buy a book based on a review and actually enjoy it. You don’t want them to buy things they won’t enjoy.
  3. Pass over books that are not to your taste from authors you otherwise like. If you didn’t feel like finishing a book, there is no reason to blast it. It probably won’t help a reader to make a decision anyway. Negative reviews are not as useful as positive ones, even to people who will pass on a book.
  4. Talk about larger culture issues or art when it is appropriate to bring in new readers. Limit talking about things like Brand X, though – you should focus on your brand, not make your brand dependent on Brand X.
  5. Be controversial and pugilistic if you wish to be. Controversy drives views, but direct your fury against evil. Minimize “punching right” and try to be kind to the Average Joe, who just wants to read a good book or play a good game. Stick to the issues – save the drama for your mama.
  6. Keep your ratio of positive social discussion and review to controversy and big franchise criticism at 1:1 or better. In other words, if you do a Brand X review, you should do at least one review or piece of content that promotes the Optimate side. Preferably, three. Remember, this is to bring in readers. The left keeps their ration at near 1:0 because they control the corporate franchises and have free access to the Average Joe.
  7. Review items from the past to bring in readers. Things like Conan, John Carter, HP Lovecraft, Dunsany, etc. are great topics, have deep reader preferences, and are much more open than corporate brands. At the same time, you are promoting culture you want to revive.
  8. Always be better than the other side. This doesn’t mean acting nicer. This means doing better reviews, writing better books, making better arguments, and using better rhetoric.
  9. Always ask what you are doing to further the movement. Focus on OUTCOMES. If what you are doing is moving the culture in the right direction, good. If so, by how much? Complaining about Brand X can be a positive, but only up to a point. After that you are just promoting the corporate brand through controversy marketing.

The Big Challenges

  1. Operating as a group. The left is able to coordinate articles to bomb the public consciousness with an idea. We need similar coordination. We should all issue reviews of one thing at the same time to maximize its exposure. Exposure is convex – it is always better to have it be concentrated.
  2. Build a movement as a brand. Again, individualists like to be individuals and reject labels. But we need a label. Is it #pulprev, or something deeper? Opmtimate Lit? Op-Lit? I don’t know
  3. Ejecting drama. It’s hard. The left tends to eat its own, and we shouldn’t.

This has been a very long piece for what should be a simple subject, but I intend to revise my work schedule to account for what I prescribe, which I am already doing to a large extent.

I don’t make any of these suggestions liberally or without experience. I built a YouTube channel on doing this, and have learned a lot. A few quick lessons in parting:

  1. I was miserable forcing myself to review things, particularly movies. I could have been a movie review channel at one point, but I couldn’t stand watching the movies that would give me views.
  2. Casting a wide net with controversy does not yield big sales. Brand X fans really want to keep buying Brand X, so its best to think strategically, like a marketer – What kind of things would people who like my book also like? I should review those things. At the same time, the big net is necessary to catch those few golden fish – real readers who like my books and like me.
  3. One person who loves you is better than 10 who kind-of-like-you. The parable of the sower is apt – many of the seeds will not have yield, but those that do will yield much. You can’t convert everyone.
  4. You can’t make people who hate you buy your books by being nice to them.

That’s it!

Oh, and I do have books for sale, of course:

5 Comments

  1. This is awesome David. I like the term Optimates. I’m not sure it should replace PulpRev, since PulpRev still has SOME recognition, but Optimates does cast a wider net to catch those who many not necessarily be into the old pulps but are otherwise in our orbit.

    And I like the review policy. Yours, coupled with Alexandru’s, has forced met to rethink my own policy of not doing reviews. We’ve got to stick together.

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