WHAT TO DO WHEN A READER DISLIKES YOUR WORK?
The traditional answer to this is, believe it or not, NOTHING.
Because a reader’s review is as much their opinion as your book is yours.
And you are grateful to have a reader who was moved to take up keyboard and leave you feedback.
And because you cannot please everyone.
And, most importantly, because have negative reviews is a rite of passage for writers, and now you’ve had yours.
And here you thought having all 5* reviews was a mark of a good writer, and now your stellar reputation is trampled forever.
Is acceptance your only option, then?
The first instinct may be to send out destroyer missiles, but that may not actually remove the stain on your reputation.
The review stays.
But I came across a very creative way to use and benefit from that bad review on a blog post of Tahani Nelson, a fantasy writer. She turned a negative review (a reader got almost to the end of the book quite happily until she realized, oh dear, the warrior princess was gay!) into a great ad for her book. I won’t spoil her thunder – she deserves people to go read her post. Or at least scroll down to her ad. It’s gorgeous. Go ahead – I’ll wait.
So, I thought – YOU have some 1* and 2* reviews
What creative use are you going to make of them?
First, two of the ads (maybe written by the same person?) have the same error: ‘It is 545 pages long.’ Um, no. The book is 485 pages long.
The reviewer accused me of writing tedious descriptions about everything. Um, no. If anything, I am extremely parsimonious in the description department for a peculiar reason: Pride’s Children is written in very deep close multiple third person point of view, and I only use descriptions a character would actually THINK at the moment, which eliminates most descriptions (characters don’t do more than noticing a detail or two most of the time). Whether they’re tedious or not, that I’ll leave up to the individual reader, but I try to think of something obvious but fresh or relevant.
One reviewer must have thought the first paragraph of the prologue – a short excerpt from a faux New Yorker article that is my link between books, and the ‘outside’ view of the story from a magazine writer’s perspective years later – was actually the first paragraph of the book – and called it a run-on sentence. The paragraph is 79 words, a complex sentence but not a run on. The prologue is labeled Prothalamion – in honor of Dorothy L. Sayers who used one brilliantly in Busman’s Honeymoon.
The actual first sentence in Chapter 1 is 11 short sentences in 93 words. With periods or ellipses between them – clearly delimited.
I was accused of needing to prove I have an immense vocabulary. Why, thanks, I do know a lot of words, but all I try to do is use the words the characters would use. Which sometimes is very constraining.
The missing clues to my bad reviews (so far)
Several pieces in the negative reviews clued me in to the problem, and it’s a different one than I originally thought.
“I read Pride’s Children because of my daughter’s suggestion. I am not a fan of romance novels”
“the book was much too long. It could have been easily condensed to 2/3 the length”
“The number of quotations before each chapter was overkill – for the most part they only made sense to me after the chapter had been read.“
And these pieces from positive reviews give different clues:
“These relationships do include romantic attraction and love (and even have it as a central focus), but it’s not the sole focus; family relationships, friendships, working relationships, etc. -some healthy and some not– come under the lens as well. And the development of the central attraction isn’t a “romance,” except in the sense that a Jane Austen novel could be called one (and allowing for differences in setting and literary conventions between the early 19th and early 21st centuries, a comparison to Austen isn’t entirely inapt!)”
“I cannot recommend this book, this trilogy, highly enough – but not to everyone. This is a book for readers who appreciate literary fiction and a very deeply developed romance with a thoughtful debate on ethics. I believe the pace and the delayed gratification will frustrate many modern romance readers who look for fast-burning romance, titillation, and simple love stories. However, if you are a reader who will appreciate a modern ‘Jane Eyre’, this trilogy is for you.”
There are MANY Romance readers and writers in the world – and they do extremely well by each other.
But they have styles and tropes and limitations and expectations, among others:
- only two characters in the relationship (excepting the exceptions for subgenres)
- a point of view that goes back and forth at certain times between the two lovers-to-be – in the same scene
- relative short
- a particular style of covers
- a happy ending (HEA – happily ever after) or (HFN – happy for now)
And somehow or other, even when the cover, description, and ad copy try to convey that Pride’s Children is NOT a Romance which follows what the readers expect, some readers picked it up, read, noticed things were not what they expected – but kept going all the way to the end (skimming, I’m assuming, in some places) – and still decided they were not happy, and left a review. An unhappy one. A 1* or 2* review.
I think that may mean I need to work on my ad copy. I don’t know how to say ‘mainstream love story’ as opposed to ‘Romance’ – because it sounds horribly condescending somehow, but wouldn’t you want to know there were supernatural beings or zombies in a book before you chose it to read, given your preferences either way?
If you read, or even prefer, mainstream love stories, and haven’t signed up to be notified about mine, please hop over to the Pride’s Children blog, and follow so you will be informed when they come out. Not frequently – I’m dreadfully slow – but they’re big fat complicated stories when they do.