The Vampires of New England Series--Inanna Arthen



Rewriting The Rules


March 24, 2012

A brief reflection about (bad) reviews

Over the past couple of years, there have been a number of instances in which authors responded rudely to negative reviews online, leading to furious arguments and violent accusations in the comments sections of book blogs, the author’s blog, various third-party blogs, the book’s Amazon page, everyone’s Twitter feeds…etc, etc, etc. The basic rule that all this unpleasantness has reinforced, for authors more mature than a twelve-year-old, is: Never Respond to a Negative Review. EVER.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. No book can appeal to every reader. Accept the criticism with grace and see what you can learn from it (even if only, “don’t query that reviewer again”). Etc, etc, etc.

But this is bothering me lately, because I’m currently finishing my third novel, All the Shadows of the Rainbow, which is the direct sequel of my second novel, The Longer the Fall. Readers have not been as fond of The Longer the Fall as they were of Mortal Touch, the first book in the series. It isn’t selling nearly as well and it’s gotten, and is getting, much more luke-warm reviews from readers.

The thing is: I’d like to know why.

I really would. Seriously. I’d like to ask the people who just weren’t sure about it, or even the readers like the one who gave it one star on Amazon, “Why didn’t you like it?” Because most of them don’t really say!

I wish I could ask them: “Can you be specific? Can you say exactly how the story failed you? Can you pinpoint where it lost you? Can you tell me what you hoped it would do? What changes would have made it a better book for you?”

The Longer the Fall has its champions, including people who like it better than Mortal Touch. I like it better than Mortal Touch. But when I read people’s comments about The Longer the Fall, I feel that I failed to make the story as clear as I should have. I felt that Mortal Touch should have been edited more tightly, and so I edited The Longer the Fall so ruthlessly, I’m afraid that I took out too much, assumed too much, left too many points unclear.

I won’t say “readers aren’t getting it,” because that’s condescending and puts all the blame on them. I failed those readers in communicating what I needed to. I failed them as a writer. They wouldn’t have started reading the book at all if they hadn’t had positive expectations. They wouldn’t have finished it if something hadn’t kept them going. How did I, as a writer, end up disappointing them so badly?

Now, as I work on All the Shadows of the Rainbow, which like The Longer the Fall is all about magic, and features the same protagonist, Diana Chilton, I really wish I could access my readers’ expanded evaluations and reactions, especially the readers who are critical of the second book. And I can’t ask. At least, I can’t ask directly. Maybe these readers can’t really analyze their own reactions any further, themselves.

But for a writer, nothing really matters (or should matter) more than the reactions of readers, because writing is a collaboration between the author and the reader. When communication is the essence of your being, and you feel like you’ve messed up in a major way, well, it doesn’t feel very good. It’s really frustrating that etiquette so sternly denies us writers the chance to ask our disappointed readers, “I appreciate your candor, could you tell me more?”

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