Friday, May 25, 2012

the positive light emanating from bad reviews....

I always believed that being a successful writer was about writing well technically and telling a good story that made sense. I thought if you could weave different threads in and out and draw them all together to knit a whole by the end, and if you gave readers something they didn't have when they began reading your story you were doing even better. Mmmm, maybe not.

Having joined Goodreads in recent times and been reviewed quite a bit myself I have given a lot of thought to reviews; both giving them and receiving them. Getting a couple of bad reviews has stung me but I know people must be free to react and respond to my writing as they see fit. Sometimes I disagree with how something has been perceived and I want to point out where I think the reviewer might have gone wrong. Sometimes they pick nits about a wrong word or typo. Sometimes they call you out on an element they see as incorrect or inconsistent. And yet other people either don't care or disagree or are enjoying the rest of it too much to see any issues at all.  Some readers love the books completely and find no fault. Others just hate it. When I am feeling particularly exposed by a negative review I go check out the reviews of my favourite books and feel a little better that they too have bad reviews. Crikey some people can be passionate about their loathing of particular books. And I am sorry to all you writers that I have felt better after reading your bad reviews.

Anyways, I know that I can't accept the positive reviews and then just dismiss the negative. No reviews are more right than others. They just reflect whether my book met the readers expectations and fitted with the kind of books they enjoy most of all. The ideal plan I guess is to help your books find the readers that will enjoy them most. But knowing your potential fan base is not a simple exercise. I am working on it.

While perusing reviews for a particular book the other day (not one of mine) I was initially shocked at how polarising the book had been. I understood some of the criticisms but was surprised at how much people had taken it to heart - they wanted to throw the book and/or the writer across the room. And I realised that sometimes these responses, although negative, actually said something positive about the book. The book had provoked thought, challenged the reader and made them ask questions, often about the issues raised by the book (why did that happen, what did it mean?) or about how a particular character behaved (no one should or would behave like that, why didn't they do this? where were the answers I expected). Sometimes anger, confusion and frustration are the right response. Sometimes books can't provide easy answers. Or turn out the way we hoped or expected them to (how many people wanted things to turn out differently in the Hunger Games trilogy - Suzanne Collins was always going to disappoint at least 50% of the female readers with the romantic choices of her heroine). And because we've written about particular issues doesn't mean we condone these things. Check out this post over here at Justine Larbalestier's blog on this very topic.  I have been horrified to see a suggestion that YA books be rated. My YA includes some swearing (apparently behaviour that rates well with teen readers) and some close contact of the boy/girl kind. If they based the rating purely on the appearance of sex and swearing my book might be rated beyond its intended readership, and yet the close physical contact has a result that I think is honest and true to the character but that any concerned parents wouldn't be unhappy with. Who would judge the rating (teens or parents? or someone else?), and how would it be applied? Would it be the mere appearance of certain things or how they are handled or how they conclude? And as reviews have shown me, what is true and right for one reader will be a load of old rubbish to another. Who says some teens might not benefit from the more contentious books. Sigh. There's this very sensible link here too on the topic of including gay characters in books and ensuring they are not just token inclusions.

And now because I'm feeling extra generous here are some more juicy links that you might find instructive on the whole traditional vs. self publishing debate, with Nathan Bransford and Victoria Strauss et al at Writer Beware. I've made my mind up on this subject, but if you haven't, these could be helpful.

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