By Mark McNease
I finally joined Goodreads this year and started exploring the site. Among the groups I found there was one for lesbian mysteries, which I promptly joined. I noticed immediately how thorough and thoughtful the reviews are, specifically those written by the group’s moderator, Megan Casey. Megan recently became a Goodreads Librarian, and when I reached out to her about asking some questions for our readers here at lgbtSr, she was more than happy to answer them.
Megan works at a small library in Montana and she’s an amateur literary critic whose interest these days is focused on mysteries with lesbian protagonists.
MM: Why did you start the Lesbian Mysteries group on Goodreads?
MC: I began to get interested in the genre when I bought an iPad and had access to e-book reading. At that time I was downloading books exclusively from Smashwords. In checking over their new releases, I immediately found several titles of interest: Liz Bradbury’s Angel Food and Devil Dogs and Iza Moreau’s The News in Small Towns come to mind. After I got a feel for the genre, I found out several things. First, there were no groups on Goodreads that discussed only mysteries with lesbian protagonists. Second, I realized that the genre was an important one, but almost totally ignored by the reading public and critics. I wanted to change that. The Goodreads Lesbian Mystery reading group was formed to bring these authors and books into the public consciousness. Of course, I also wanted to discuss the books I was reading with others. And, soon after starting the group, it became a place where I could post reviews of the books as I found and read them, and give an indication to interested readers which books might be the best in the genre and which not.
MM: How has the group grown since you started it, and what has the participation been like?
MC: Like the genre itself, the group has grown slowly and with little participation. This isn’t necessarily bad because I run a very tight ship and I’m learning as I go. The group has grown from just myself in October of 2013 to 32 members today. I am glad that there are a few authors of lesbian mysteries in the group—such as you, Mark—but if all 250 of you dropped in at once, I would be overwhelmed. I would probably feel inadequate to the task and give up! So although I wish I had more comments to my reviews and more reviews themselves from group members, the group growing slowly has allowed time for me to become knowledgeable about this genre and to feel that I have things to say to help begin the conversation about these books. Because here’s the thing; in time, I think that the Lesbian Mystery group will be one of the largest sources of information on Lesbian Mysteries in the world. In fact, it already is. The group provides a critical visibility that furthers the exposure of these mostly unknown books and helps place them in a historical context.
MM: What’s your general take on Goodreads? Not everyone knows about it or belongs to it. Any pros and cons?
MC: Goodreads provides a platform for readers to get together for discussions of their favorite books. It is a very busy site and not always easy to negotiate, but if you target your interests specifically enough, you should find something you can work within. A lot of people join just for the purpose of promoting their own work, so there is often a lot to plow through and there are a number of trolls who join simply for the self-importance they feel in panning other people’s work. Goodreads’ restrictions on length and setup are particularly hard for a moderator to work within, which is why I have such strict rules on posting. Overall rating? Probably just okay, and the fact that it is now owned by Amazon has removed much of the cachet it might once have had. I have briefly checked out other sites such as LibraryThing, but that site seems even harder to negotiate than Goodreads.
Its faults, by the way, have made it necessary to begin my own web page, The Art of the Lesbian Mystery Novel: http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/ . Here you can find almost exactly the same information as on the Goodreads page, but in an easier-to-use form. It also makes the information twice as easy to find in general Google searches. Brief note: many of the lesbian authors I have reviewed come up much faster in Google searches than before I started this work.
MM: You write very thorough reviews. What are some of the things you look for in a lesbian mystery?
MC: Yes, I try to be as thorough as I can, not only to delve into as many aspects of the books as possible, but to give a professional and objective view of the books. Professional, I think is the key. I have read far too many peer reviews that give a single star and say something like: “Ewww! Lesbian sex!” Or “I am giving this book only 1 star because I couldn’t get past page 10.” These are bogus comments and should be deleted and forbidden by Goodreads staff. Not liking the LGBT lifestyle has nothing to do with the quality of the writing and no one has the right to review and give a starred rating to a book they have not finished.
Because I don’t like the rating system and because I realize how important starred ratings are to authors, I do not post my reviews in the normal way. To read my reviews you have to go to the Lesbian Mysteries site. I mention stars as a general term and my reviews will not show up under a book’s title. Nor will my review affect the author’s overall ratings. Giving a book three stars—which to me means that the book is above average—may hurt the book’s overall rating. I would rather explain in depth why I like a book or dislike it. If I find that I can’t finish it, I will explain why in as much detail as possible, without giving it a rating. Recommending a book is important, but so is warning potential readers that some books are simply not written well enough to justify the time it takes to read them.
Here are a few things I look for when I am reading.
a. Interesting and believable characters and relationships.
b. An interesting plot.
c. A sense of place.
d. Points of historical or sociological interest.
e. A well thought-out mystery or puzzle.
f. A professionally written and professionally edited manuscript. And by edited, I don’t mean copyedited, although it has to be well done in that way too. Way too many lesbian mysteries have not had an editor that was capable of seeing the book as a whole—to make sure that the pace is even, the facts consistent, the relationships believable, the solution of the mystery not insanely implausible. In fact, a good editor will make sure that a, b, c, d, and e are well done.
MM: You’re a Goodreads Librarian now. What does that mean?
Well, essentially it means that I can go in and change things that other members can’t. I’m not familiar with all the possibilities and probably never will be. I applied because I was concerned that some of the lesbian mystery books I was adding to our bookshelf had placeholders instead of images of the actual book covers. I am now able to scan my personal copies of the book covers and add the images to Goodreads’ database.
MM: Any suggestions on how to get the most out of Goodreads, as a reader or an author?
MC: Of course, that’s the question everyone wants to know, isn’t it? Kind of like asking, “How do I write a bestseller?” I am focused on the group Lesbian Mysteries. I’m trying to make it the best group of its kind and I am doing it my own way. By providing information about as many books and authors in the genre as I can, I am hoping that it gets popular enough not only to help readers who may be interested in reading, discussing, and studying books in this genre, but for authors to interact with other authors and with readers for the benefit of both. This is what a well-constructed Goodreads group should do. I am providing some of that word-of-mouth that people talk so much about. Readers will eventually be able to discover reviewers who share their opinions and can act as well informed guides for their reading hours. Authors need to realize that—at least most of the time—there is no way to get the most out of a poorly written and poorly edited book. Non-friend reviewers will catch you on this every time. Contrariwise, good books will rise to the top as long as authors, publishers, readers, and critics make the crucial effort to keep these books in the public eye. The Goodreads group, Lesbian Mysteries, tries to help this process along.