I am often asked for help and advice by new writers. I answer them. I am a big believer in karma; it only takes me a couple of minutes to answer their questions, or to send them a document that I have previously prepared on how to post stories on fanfic or whatever. Who knows? They could be the next JK Rowling and my kind words might have set them on that path. At least I’d like to think so.
I have made it a point to reply to every review in my stories on fanfiction and I kind of miss that connection with my readers on other sites.
I don’t mind if they are polite; it’s the ones who tell me what to do that I dislike. For example: “I’m writing a story and you can beta it for me.” Excuse me? Or one of my favourites. “I really like the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and I noticed you do too. I’m kind of busy right now, so you can write a LOTR Twilight Legolas Bella crossover fic for me.” What the? There is just so much wrong with that sentence, I don’t even know where to start.
One of the big issues for people posting their first story is holding yourself out there; putting your words out in the real world to be read and criticised by others is a nerve wracking experience. It takes a leap of faith that some people are terrified of making. I know I was. Words and stories are personal experiences. Each one has some small part of you in it, or has taken hours of your time. Even if it was just a phrase or an emotional experience that you recall. I remember when I first posted on fanfic, I sat there manically checking my statistics and seeing how many hits my story had recorded and who had reviewed it. I laughed when a new writer I had encouraged, confessed to doing the same thing this week.
I kind of do the same now with my e-books. I found them on the Barnes and Noble website the other day and was stoked to see that ‘Alejandro & Maela’ was Sales rank: 8,681 and had two anonymous reviews. My erotic encounter on a train, ‘The man in the white linen suit’ was sales rank: 8,672 and had three stars from four anonymous reviews. ‘KissingCousins’ has passed one thousand downloads on Smashwords and is ranked 510 at diesel ebooks. All positive reinforcement for me.
I suppose, at least the anonymous reviewers didn’t say anything truly horrible. I think writers have to develop very tough skins to cope with some downright awful reviews. I got one this week that just said, ‘you suck’. Charming. I guess it is human nature that you remember the awful reviews. As I have said before, I got a zero star review because someone objected to the romance tag on Kissing Cousins.
I read a lot of blogs about writing. One, Catherine, caffeinated posted about looking up book reviews on Amazon. In this post she looked up books she loved on Amazon, and read their one-star reviews. As she pointed out, even a book loved by most people will have some people who hate it. Personally I disliked one of her favourites, ‘Eat, pray love,’ so there you go. What tickled her fancy was the reasons people gave for disliking it.
She’s right, it is truly amusing. And as a new writer it gives you some comfort. If the big, grown up writers still get such awful reviews, then it makes me feel better about my own.
I really liked Sunshine by Robin McKinley; a book that Neil Gaiman described as ‘practically perfect’ and I adore his books. I borrowed it from the library, and then ordered my own copy. It just landed on my doorstep from the online book shop today. I will admit that it is crying out for a sequel and is unfortunately on the fanfiction ‘no’ list, so I can’t write it myself, but it is one of those stories that stays with you after you have read it. So, in Catherine’s vein, I looked up its Amazon reviews. One reviewer said “I thought Sunshine was going to be fun and very romantic but it turns out to be a joke. Sunshine is the worst heroine I ever read about. She complains and talks too much! I hate having to read several long pages about Sunshine's personal life and blah blah stuff.” Gosh! Imagine filling a book with the main character’s story? Another complains that the heroine jumps in and out of bed with multiple lovers. What the? By my reading she had one; her boyfriend, but I haven’t reread it yet to confirm. Another accuses the author of having sex with Neil Gaiman to get her good review from him. The question of why women choose to attack other women like this, might have to wait for another blog post, but honestly, would they have said that if she was a man?
A review that is a critique is fine, but a personal attack on the author is unkind and unnecessary. Karma? Remember? It’ll get you. Ilona Andrews said today on her blog that she was very saddened by the back lash from other reviewers when an author posted a review to another author’s story on goodreads. Surely authors are entitled to an opinion, too? One that they should be able to express without people threatening to never buy their books again.
I know there are lots of blogs and websites out there where bloggers spend hours of their valuable time reading and then reviewing books. Let me know if you review my works and I will say thank you, same as I do for other reviews.
The next time you are reviewing, remember those hurtful words hurt. And bullying is bullying whether it’s done in real life or online. Tell the author something useful about why you disliked the story. Did they screw up their tense in chapter five? (I am always slipping in and out of tense... makes me nuts.) The author spent hours writing it and you spent hours reading it. It’s understandable that you might resent the waste of your time, if you really disliked it. But also remember that these days, e-books are editable. If I’ve mixed up a name or made an obvious mistake, for goodness’s sake tell me and I can fix it. If it annoyed you, chances are it annoyed somebody else, too. Probably me, if I knew it was there.
But either way, you keep reading, and I’ll keep writing. Deal?