On Reviews, And Why My Baby Isn’t Perfect

As you read this, I am officially less than two months from the release of my debut novel. Yes, that’s lovely and I’m proud of myself and so forth, but it’s also terrifying. Because in two months, anyone with an Internet connection will be able to purchase a copy of A Dangerous Invitation, and evaluate it to their heart’s content. In light of all the reactions to the third book in the Divergent series this week, Allegiant, I’m keeping my head high and trying to remind myself that the relationship between readers and writers is weird, made even weirder by social media and the instant accessibility of everything.  I’m not really sure how to process fame like author Veronica Roth has, or that intense level of fandom.

While I highly doubt A Dangerous Invitation will suddenly launch itself into a crazy battle about the characters like what Roth is at the center of, the reviews will inevitably come. Some will be fabulous—they’ll say things like I appealed to a deep part of them, or that my hero and heroine’s emotional journeys struck a nerve. They’ll like my brand of angsty grit, and they’ll be as excited as I am about being able to blow things up and still have it be historically accurate. They’ll champion my combined romantic suspense and historical romance efforts. I firmly believe that every story has an audience (you might have to dig a hole to China and sell it under to subterranean people who call themselves the Whirligigs, but an audience exists), so I have no doubt that inevitably ADI will reach an encouraging audience.

Bells

Hey look, your hole will take you here. Aweeessoommmme.

But for as much as I believe in the power of positive thinking, I’m also highly, highly aware that not everyone will love my book. I am, as I’m sure I’ve said before on this blog, the very definition of a niche writer. It’s one of the reasons I decided to self-publish in the first place—there just aren’t many books out there in the current market that combine the elements I do. Comparisons can be made to Deb Marlowe’s Half Moon House series, Delilah Marvelle’s the Rumor series, and Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, but it’s still different (as really, every book is, if you think about it). My niche may be awesome for creating a specialized market, as I’ll fill a hole for people wanting nontraditional historical romance, but it also ends up being very bad. Because there are certain people who will read my books and go “What is this?! Why is there so much blood? Why are people so unhappy? Where’s the dukes? The debutantes? Why does everyone have a dialect? Oh my God, is that a frank description of prostitution?! This is awful. BURN THIS BOOK AND EVERYTHING ASSOCIATED WITH IT.” Okay, so maybe they won’t say all that, but there’s always a possibility. Currently, while completing some of the deepest, hardest edits I’ve ever done on a book, I’m saying this right now anyhow.

Go to the bottom of this post to watch the Trogdor video, and you’ll understand why I’m including this.  BURNINATING THE BOOKSIDE.

Writing, as my dear friend and blog sister Amy Pfaff likes to tell me at every turn in the road, is a subjective business. She writes what is lovingly termed as “wallpaper” regency romance, where it’s light and fluffy and comical. I am happiest when I’m in the middle of a book because the emotional stakes have been set up, and I can up the suspense with either an explosion (see, noted desire to blow things up without harming real people) or something equally awful. My critique partner Emma Locke—who is awesome, by the way, and you should check out her Naughty Girls series—tells me I have a talent for torturing my characters. For some writers (and readers) that doesn’t work.

Weird Cat

I AM AN EVIL GENIUS, I think, as I bring misery to all characters.

Readers looking for a fun, breezy read will most likely throw my book against the wall while shrieking obscenities. At this juncture, I’m pretty cool with that because hey, I like obscenities too, and not every book works for me. But when I start to see those reviews trickling in that tear apart my baby, I imagine I’m going to feel different. Hell, I didn’t even process it well when beta readers got back to me with corrections. (WHAT?! You mean I’m not the first writer to ever write a perfect first draft?!)  There might be crying. Let’s face it: that’s how I process.  Other blog sister Jessica Grey, who is equally wise, informed me that crying is quite normal in the writing game. You get it out of your system, you grieve the fact that not everyone in the world thinks you are the next Shakespeare, and you move on.

Crybaby

This is totally a mature way to handle all my problems, people.

That’s the key thing to remember, I think. Yes, writing is a joy and it’s wonderful and oh my goodness, you get to create whole worlds with just the power of your mind. Go you! But for me at least, given that I’ve now quit my day job (see this post for how I’m adjusting to this brand new world), I’ve got to keep producing if I want to eat. Given my intense love for food and the fact that I married a chef, my grocery bill is not negotiable. This is a business. My career now is writing. I can’t waste months on end huddled in a little ball bemoaning the fact that I’m not going to reach every single lover of historical romance. Nor can I allow the success of the positive reviews I do receive go to my head. I must remain staid in my determination to continue on as an artist, true to my vision and what I want for this series.

Ultimately, I’ve got to put the intense fear behind me. People are going to react in weird, visceral way to this book. Maybe they’ll like my anti-heroine, who shoots first and asks questions later. Maybe they’ll loathe her because she isn’t your typical Mary Sue. Maybe they’ll think my hero is weak because he’s trying to overcome an alcohol addiction. Or maybe, just maybe, it’ll help them through their own tough time. I don’t know—and I probably won’t ever know. Human beings are strange, capricious creatures. They often react in odd, odd ways that I certainly can’t predict. They like things I don’t understand (Fifty Shades the musical, anyone?) and hate things I love (NBC, I’m looking at you for cancelling Chuck. You pain me).

I am so, so confused by this. (Image from 50shadesthemusical.com)

I am just one person. All I can really control is the product I put out into the world. So as I enter the final stages of my content edits now, I take into consideration the opinions of my handful of beta readers from various backgrounds. I look at my story from every angle, and I try and remember all these pithy things I’m saying here when I want to cry about how people don’t think my “baby” is perfect.  I make the changes my copyeditor recommends. Because really in the end, my obligation to you as a reader is that I produce a good story. It’ll have taken seven drafts by the time ADI reaches you, but I know in the end it’s the best damn book I could have produced.

Jumping Girl

I will be doing this when this book is done.

And that, my dear Teatime readers, is the most important thing.

Without further ado, please see Strongbad and Trogdor the Burninator. You’re welcome.

7 thoughts on “On Reviews, And Why My Baby Isn’t Perfect

  1. It took me a cup of coffee to try and figure out what to say, except this. I’m having a “mom” moment. I’m so damn proud of you. We can’t control the reaction to our work. We can only pour our heart and soul into it and hope that others will tread carefully.

    My fear of all these “impassioned” negative reviews will keep artists from producing there best work and sharing it with the world. Can you imagine life without Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare? What if they never took the chance because someone trashed their life’s work and threatened them?

    As artists, we must push forward and put our babies out there for the world to be. Storytellers are so important in human culture. We teach. We bring light to those less fortunate. We soothe and we cheer. We do what authors have done for centuries. We can’t let a few bad reviews keep us from being storytellers.

    Okay, I’m pontificating and I didn’t want to do that. Good job girl. I can’t wait till your baby is out there for the world to read and enjoy, because it is an awesome piece of work.

    Amy

    • Awwwh, Amy! This made me all teary.

      My hope, especially with writing such dark, angsty romance is that someone in pain will be able to find relief through my words. Maybe not a permanent fix, but at least a few moments where they’re so lost in my story that they won’t think of their own problems.

  2. Because you linked Trogdor to historical romance (and not just historical–Regency) I am your fangirl forever.

    And honestly, if readers except dukes and balls and debutantes after seeing your cover and reading the blurb, well… If they don’t like your book, it’s not your fault.

    Just be aware of one thing. A five-star review will make your day. But you will believe every single word of those one-star reviews that tell you how bad you suck. Or I do. Maybe it’s just me.

    • Ashlyn, this is further proof that we are hive minds from different generations. TROGDOR!!!

      I originally thought I’d have my husband read all reviews first, but let’s face it, I have the patience of a gnat. I can’t imagine sitting around waiting for him to come home. So most likely, I’m going to be all sad and weepy–I just need to learn to turn that into motivation to do better. (Or something.)

  3. Great post Erica! There will always be people who don’t like your book because it’s just not there cup of tea, and that’s fine. if we all liked the same thing, we wouldn’t have so much variety. There are also those who will give you a 1 star because they don’t like the formating. I kid you not. Then there are the trolls, those who not only don’t like your book, but don’t want anyone else to like it either. And they are mean about it. I still have not figured out what, if anything, I should do about that.

    Tweeted and shared.

    • I think the best response when dealing with trolls is just to leave them alone. They want a reaction and they’ll do anything to get it. I dealt with internet trolls in high school through the Star Trek forum I was on, and when I went after them, it resulted in an escalation of the situation and really embarrassing stuff for me. I’ve found over the years that the best thing to do is simply block them. Sigh.

  4. I was on a panel with other historical romance authors at RWA 2013 & someone in the audience asked about reviews. Interestingly, only two of us regularly read a lot of our reviews. I’ll repeat my advice here. If you plan to read your reviews, read a lot of them (provided you get a lot–it’s gotten harder to get reviews due to a glutted market). By reading many of them, you’ll understand in a very real sense that much of it is just personal taste. The ones that matter come from RT, PW, Library Journal, etc. You can also get your agent, editor, or a beta reader to cull out the good ones to put on your site. That way you avoid any potential emotional downer that can mess with your head. Some writers are more sensitive than others, too. If it really bothers you, don’t read them, because that can make writing the next book difficult. All best with your release!

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