Goals for using review agencies:
You’ve just finished your Magnum Opus and you’re ready to share it with the world! Now, how do you convince readers that this is a serious work, worthy of their time and interest? Of all of the various options to establish credibility, I went with the professional review agencies. Did it work? What would it look like if it did work? This seems to be an appropriate time to make an analysis of my expectations, goals, and hopes for taking this route to credibility.
I first had the notion of using review agencies when the first potential publisher for “Paradigm Lost: Jamari and the Manhood Rites, Part 1” wanted to sell me a package deal in which I could pay them money in return for them submitting my work to two different agencies. I checked out what they wanted to charge me for that service and then went to the two agencies listed and found that the potential publisher had simply doubled the cost that the agencies themselves would have charged me. Instead of paying that publisher (I ended up not using them anyway), I submitted my work directly to some agencies I had found by researching online, looking for ones that I felt would be more beneficial to my goals.
But, just what is a ‘professional review agency’? There are well-known reviews out there in the world. Everyone knows of the New York Times book reviewing history. But, how does an aspiring author get into that exalted listing? You certainly won’t find out by visiting their website. There’s not a single option for an author to submit their works. It almost seems as if they are tied up so deeply into the ‘traditional publishing model’ where agents present author’s works to them that they still haven’t realized the potential of a vast pool of able authors. That’s about as professional as you can get in the review agency world. So, what to do for an Indie Author?
Let’s get my initial hopes out there first. Why would I take this route? Putting my writing in front of a wholly dispassionate audience and paying them to tell me what they think was a scary step. What motivated me to take that risk? My first answer is that I held hubris in a high and overflowing vessel. I just KNEW that I had produced an amazing work of art. How could any self-respecting reviewer not see all that I put into it?
Really though, my first hope was to validate my work. Along the way I hoped that a decent review would help me to promote the books as well. Like any author, I also wanted to sell enough copies to allow me to continue writing.
In using this route, I paid money to these ‘professional’ agencies for a dispassionate review, hoping that they would provide material that I could then use in promotions as well as giving validation to my work as a whole.
Did that work? Did I get reviews good enough to help me promote the books? I’ll start with “Paradigm Lost: Jamari and the Manhood Rites, Part 1” published in December of 2015 (a product of NaNoMa or whatever that November writing blitz challenge is called). The Manhood Rites is not necessarily a complete novel by most modern definitions, yet, like Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion”, is necessary to have completed in order to establish the ‘legend’ of this fictional world. I attempted to give some life and entertainment value to that back story. I have a vision for a community culture that embraces sexuality instead of vilifying it. Along with embracing sexuality, I also envisioned that future community as encouraging homosexual relations for the norm and utilizing heterosexual interactions for procreation only. There are multiple plot lines woven into this rather simple story of a boy (age 18) deciding to face his tribe’s coming-of-age challenges (called The Manhood Rites). The book covers the first three months of Jamari’s efforts to gain full adulthood in his culture. It is expected that most young men will take at least 4 years to complete this set of challenges and training.
This post will be composed of two parts. This one, the first, will discuss the issue of validation. The next will discuss the issue of promotion and sales.
Jamari and the Manhood Rites:
So, what are some of the plot/story lines? I’ll start with those so that I can then highlight whether any of those professional readers ‘got it’ about this work.
First, the existence of the Manhood Rites is a scathing commentary about our current culture that simply pushes young ones into adulthood because they’ve reached the magic age of 18. There is a lot of compare and contrast built into dialogue, training sessions, and reading materials, that highlight the differences between simply declaring someone to be an adult versus making them demonstrate adult competency first.
I also wanted to establish a fictional culture wherein human sexuality is a valued and personally-affirming activity in lieu of the shameful act that our current culture has made it into. In order to build a realistic culture like this, I had to envision what that community’s responses and activities around sex would look like while at the same time attempting to write in such a way as to not violate too many of our current taboos.
Next, I wanted to build into this work a reverse discrimination: one where a society and culture that embraced homosexuality treated heterosexuals as the misguided creatures that they truly are. My hope was that building this reverse-discrimination atmosphere would highlight the idiocy associated with homophobia in our current culture. I presented this concept via satire.
Another story line is a commentary on our current culture’s reliance on, and gullible belief in the value of, social networking. There is an entire chapter dedicated to this effort.
Finally, I wanted this book to teach. I wanted it to teach young gay men how to safely engage in sexual acts between two men. I wanted to teach the lead character in this story how his community and culture were formed and how they operate. Along the way, I wanted to teach the reader these same concepts.
There are other, lesser, plots tangled into the overall story. Most are intended as foreshadowing for future sequels.
So, how did the reviewers do?
I plan on including each review in whole (including all of their spelling, grammar and punctuation errors) and then discussing the review afterwards. I’ll start with my favorite first. My favorite because the reviewer ‘got’ the majority of the plot points.
From Serious Reading:
Rated 4out of 5 Stars
R. Roderick Rowe has recently published his first novel: Paradigm Lost: Jamari and the Manhood Rites, Part 1. His fresh and unique perspective of our current society has brought him to write for the survivalist genre in a satirical manner. To bring satire to the still-taboo subject of homosexuality is quite a risk, but it didn’t fail him.
Set in the dystopian setting of the year 2115, Paradigm Lost sheds light on the subject of homosexuality by contrasting the perceptions of today’s cultural challenges around sexual assignments with a completely different level of acceptance and understanding in his fictional culture. The story evolves in southern Oregon and also mentions northern California. The United States’ west coast has been shaken up with several earthquakes. In this post-apocalyptic land, the series of natural disasters have been titled as The Fall. There is a man called The Founder, who creates a community where its members overcome struggles to get their hands on the basic necessities of life, but there is a twist.
In this community, called The Tribe, newborn babies are separated by sex, and are raised to believe that same-sex relationships are the natural course to take and are alongside the basic human needs as food and shelter. The protagonist of the tale is Jamari, a Youngling, who has developed deep affections and lust for his mentor. But every Youngling is required to undergo strict training and trials prior to becoming a fully accepted adult. Jamari finds his way through adversities and as he accomplishes each goal he discovers his true self and strengths along with some challenges he may not be able to overcome. Will Jamari be able to uphold the expectations of his tribe? Will he be able to perform the expected tasks of a man? Can he accept, and live with, the Rule of Attachment?
Rowe’s words have an effect on the reader’s mind in an unexpected way: even though you are reading Jamari’s story, you slowly realize that the purpose of using his perspective on the world is to question our current society and its methods, along with teaching the reader about this new community.
First, did the reviewer ‘get’ all of the plots? No. None of them did. This, however, was the ONLY review that noticed the teaching element built into the book (last paragraph of the review comments). You can tell from reading the review that the reviewer was not a writer. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation (all items which I would expect a review agency to focus on) were a failure in this review.
Next, I’ll include the review which, due to some very favorable comments, I made into the centerpiece of my presentation of the work.
From the San Francisco Book Review:
Rated 4 out of 5 Stars:
Paradigm Lost is a post-apocalyptic satirical tale set in 2115. America had experienced many disasters, which were later named The Fall. Along with some friends, a man known as The Founder had the foresight and knowledge to create a new community called The Tribe. Paradigm Lost deals with the community’s Founder’s coming out story at a time when gay relationships were not widely accepted, as part of its lessons. The Tribe separate male and females as infants, and raise them to accept same sex relationships with basic needs such as food, water, shelter and procreation met.
This book has some interesting concepts, one being that children choose when they are ready to become adults, regardless of their age. Paradigm Lost explains from the Founder’s point of view that in today’s societies, the age of maturity fluctuates widely from society to society. Even those societies that see children as becoming adults at 18 years of age, there are still restrictions until they are 21. In order to eradicate the confusion, The Tribe separate children from adults so that they are not misconstrued.
The story is mainly told through the eyes of Jamari, a youngling, and his experiences of the Trials once he decided that he was mature enough to become a man. To attain adult status, Jamari has to traverse certain mental and physical trials.
Paradigm Lost contains explicit sexual descriptions between the men so is obviously not for younger readers. I would recommend this book, as it encourages original thoughts, make you think outside the box and I am always pleased when authors depict gay interactions as normal.
Reviewed By: Michelle Baker
Two inaccuracies are built into the review. One misnomer in this review is that ‘children choose when to become adults regardless of their age’. In actuality, the trials of the Manhood Rites are presented as very daunting, purposefully discouraging the younger ones from attempting the first steps AND making it daunting enough that some of lesser courage choose not to face the rites at all! Those individuals are discussed in the next book. The other misnomer (one common to every single reviewer): the review focuses only on the homosexual interactions, completely ignoring the fact that young men are also taught about engaging in heterosexual interaction. In fact, there is an entire chapter focused on a heterosexual encounter, how it fits into the tribal culture, what an inexperienced young man might expect from a heterosexual engagement and how to perform the act. The concluding sentences of the novel show Jamari reassessing his personal reality in regards to heterosexual interactions as a result in his participation, yet it seems that every single reviewer was so amazed that there were homosexual acts that they completely missed the presence of procreation activities!
The Manhattan Book Review
The Manhattan Book Review gave me some heartache. Their initial email response to me included a rating of 4.5 out of 5 Stars. The final online rating was actually shown as a 3.5
In Paradigm Lost: Jamari and The Manhood Rites Part 1 conventional U.S. societal norms and rules have crumbled, and some areas in the west have formed tribes that follow the teachings of founder Justin Knight. These new communities’ fundamental ideologies are different than that of the past. Tribes are run with male and female groups raised separately. There is a strong tribal government and an individual must complete rites to become an official citizen and have a vote. Homosexuality is the norm, and heterosexual interactions are only used within the tribe as a means of continuing the population. Jamari has finally reached the age where he can begin “The Manhood Rites” to become a full citizen of the tribe. He is excited to have reached this stage in his life, and looks forward to learning more about the tribe as well as how to become closer the men in his tribe who are training him, both about the workings of the tribe and physically. Showing great interest and potential with both, Jamari moves through the rites and gets closer to becoming a citizen. When he is finally tasked with mating with a female, it turns out to be a girl named Sophie he met as a child, who specifically asked that he be the one to impregnate her. Having enjoyed his intimate time with his male companions, he begins to question all that he has known and believed so strongly in after being with Sophie. Will he continue to hold tight to all that he has learned about the tribe and why it runs as it does, or will this change everything?
Author, R. Roderick Rowe, essentially takes current day society taboos and makes them the norm in the dystopian society in Paradigm Lost: Jamari and The Manhood Rites Part 1 as far as governing bodies, family make up and sexual preference. He does a great job of integrating events that have happened in our lifetime (i.e. September 11th, ISIS, use of natural gases, etc.) and adds them to the story as history for this society. As far as the role of government and how society is run, readers are allowed to see another, albeit fictional, possibility. The acceptance of homosexuality as a norm in this society and heterosexuality as merely a means to an end is a clever way to address how taboo and unaccepted homosexuality is now. Rowe’s approach does not try to force it as the right or wrong way, rather he puts it out there and readers can take it as it is. Some may find this uncomfortable when reading, however some may find that if they look at the story of Jamari’s journey as a whole, they will see that the changes in this society and how they got where they are makes Paradigm Lost: Jamari and The Manhood Rites Part 1 an interesting read.
Reviewed By: Amy Synoracki
Just to read the review, it seems that the reviewer really enjoyed and recommends that the book be read. I can’t help but think that the rating of 3.5 would act as a deterrent though. When I asked why the lower rating, the reviewer was kind enough to offer some feedback outside of the official review. She had found a disturbing number of errors in the work. It was obvious that most were the result of the editing process, where the editor had altered content and left now-conflicting content in place; where sentence portions had been removed or altered, leaving two commas where only one should now be; other minor yet disruptive-to-the-reader irregularities remained as well. This feedback was instrumental in allowing me to find and alter those faults before I issued the book in print form. I really valued that this reviewer was able to capture the internal conflict which Jamari went through after his mating assignment without actually giving up too much of the plot.
The Portland Book Review of Portland, Oregon
rated the book 3.5 out of 5 Stars.
The story Paradigm Lost: Jamari and the Manhood Rites Part 1, by R. Roderick Rowe, is about a post-catastrophic time where a new society has come to rule; built to function with its societal structure like that of a Native American tribe. Within that, they create a new system of rearing children to grow up with a lack of prejudice and a new set of rules and responsibilities, set up by their founder. Jamari, the main character of this story has decided he is ready to become a man and to take on the teachings of what that entails. This story is largely homosexual themed and is suitable for mature audiences only.
This book is well written. The author seems well versed in his knowledge of politics and the structures of a society. It is heavily political, as the structure of the society in the book is built to correct the political mishaps of our current politics. The author presents a lot of flashbacks, which transition well to supplement the reasoning behind how the story is structured.
A timeline of past events is presented at the very beginning of the book to help the readers orient themselves to the presented era.
If you are looking for a book with romance, this is probably not the book to read, as the second rule of the tribe you learn about is “the rule of attachment,” where you are not to become overly attached to your friends. There is plenty of homosexual fornication and even some heterosexual fornication in this story, but overall nothing dripping in romance or any real romantic interludes. Most interactions are purely on the basis of learning to pleasure another for casual companionship and propagation. There is a slightly off putting aura towards heterosexuals due to the use of the words “breeder” as a derogatory term, but again this may be due to the theme of the story.
The book is well edited, with no extravagant grammar errors. The way the timeline is presented is slightly confusing and one may have to read the book twice to fully grasp all that is presented. The story is very slow and there is not much action or excitement that takes place in the book besides a lot of setting up a feel for the environment and the characters and what is accepted in the tribe. It feels like it is leading up to something big but never delivers. This may be because it is part 1 of a series, but it leaves off quite anticlimactically.
Overall the story Paradigm Lost: Jamari and the Manhood Rites Part 1 feels more like a prequel to a larger story, but the society presented to the reader is interesting and the characters are well developed. Readers uninterested in politically heavy narratives, or books with homoerotic content may want to look elsewhere.
This particular review is the only one I chose to simply discard. Why? The reviewer identified multiple audiences that would NOT be interested in the book, but would not list even one audience type that might be interested. The reviewer took the satire and made it into a negative comment, failing to even recognize the existence of satire as a literary concept! Also, the human sexuality that I was attempting to build into something MORE for human interaction, the reviewer simply described as ‘homosexual fornication’ and ‘heterosexual fornication’. I discovered one very important thing with this review. When these review agencies give a review, there is no appeal. The reviewer is treated as a minor godling and not challenged once they’ve issued their verdict. I was completely okay with a 3.5 rating on my first novel, but, simply asked that the reviewer try to identify at least one possible audience type that could enjoy the work in addition to the listing of all of the various types who would NOT enjoy the work. What one thing did this particular review get right? Yes, this book is a prequel. The next book in the line, the one that will be discussed next is the first adventure based on the characters fleshed out and created in The Manhood Rites.
The one thing I can say without doubt regarding this foray into professional book reviews is that these reviews are very subjective. They don’t agree on the quality of the writing. Some say it’s brilliant writing, excellently paced with wonderful details. Some say it’s stilted and awkward. Some say it’s a great story, others say not so much. Some say there is too much detail, others say not enough.
Even the less subjective areas of a review managed to become vulnerable to opinion instead of simply stated. Are there sentence fragments? Misused words? Spelling errors? Story line inconsistencies? All of these should be easily identified as technical aspects, yet even these types of observations are not agreed on by the various reviewers.
The biggest disappointment of all of the reviews is the uniform lack of insight brought to the task. Even the reviewers who whole-heartedly approved of the work failed to even notice the novels’ literary elements. Each individual focused only on the most external and obvious of plot lines that appealed to them, either ignoring (or simply not noticing) included symbols, fore shadowing, pacing, order of revelation of detail and submerged plot lines.
Did my writing get validation? This would be a qualified ‘yes’. Qualified since there are certainly some reviewers who recommend reading the works, there are also others who found little to no value at all. I certainly am proud of the 4 Star Reviews for the Manhood Rites. I’m proud of much of the praise offered by those reviewers who enjoyed the story, but, no, they didn’t validate my writing. Why? Because none of them bothered to read and look for deeper details which would have made the read much richer and more enjoyable. I get the feeling that every single one of them took up the work at the last possible minute, quickly reading it in order to find a bare-bones understanding which they could then express in the fewest possible words while still satisfying their contractual obligation.
As an alternative, I want to share a completely voluntary review offered by one of the book’s readers. In terms of validation, I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than to have a reader take the time to offer up their appreciation for my work in written form.
A genuinely, unique masterpiece. Although the cover may mislead some readers, it is not strictly about male sensuality at all—it's about adulthood. It is for 'real' adults who have matured beyond superficiality and subjects which are considered to be taboo. It touches many topics which need to be open for discussion.
I believe anyone who takes this journey will be captivated regardless of lifestyle or religious concepts. I fell in love with the characters immediately. Jamari is almost a complete contrast to most young men of this generation and perhaps many before. In a sense, I find it to be somewhat prophetic; it is 'unbelievably believable.' :)
There are so many valuable lessons readers can absorb from it. Rowe's writing style is so descriptive that you're actually sucked into this post-apocalyptic world—able to see, smell, taste, hear, and feel everything.
Furthermore, I strongly suggest this book for any parent who has issues about the sexual orientation of their child(ren). I also recommend Paradigm Lost for preteens and teenagers—it's nothing like the lukewarm fiction of Judy Blume... R. Roderick Rowe gives it to you straight from the heart like an arrow in the wind.
WELL DONE. I am certainly looking forward to part 2.
-Marc (Phoenix) Peterson
It would be a valuable thing indeed to have more reviews from happy readers as has been suggested by other authors. If you were to look at the Amazon Page for “Paradigm Lost: Jamari and the Manhood Rites, Part 1”, you would find that only 3 readers have offered reviews for the work. There could be any number of reasons for this. Did some dis-like it and don’t want to offer a negative review? Are closeted homosexuals who read this book likely to take the chance of being ‘outed’ by offering a review? Probably most likely is that the book has simply not sold too many copies. I’ve heard from 90% of the buyers via email contact and the majority have joined my list of ‘followers’ on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ParadigmLostPt1/ It seems that getting customer reviews is a topic I need to investigate further since this one customer review seems far more validating than any paid review ever did.
Below are links to the various ‘professional’ agencies I utilized.
Links for my books:
Jamari and the Manhood Rites print edition:
Jamari and the Manhood Rites Kindle:
Jamari Shaman (all versions):