Monday, March 7, 2011

"Someone already hates your book."

No amount of philosophy can ever prevent the screaming. 
Those are my husband's grim words of wisdom on the topic of reviews. They sound harsh, but he means them philosophically. As many writers will agree, we live our lives in cycles of pain and joy, fear and delight. I'm now entering the pre-release phase on two books, my first two romances. I already know from my experience publishing erotica that book pre-release is a time of jitters, of both the happy and terrified varieties. Excitement for the world to finally have access to my work, and fear that it will disappoint them. Greater fear that it will disappoint them and they will share their displeasure with the internet and shave away a little sliver of my self-worth. (Luckily, self-worth regenerates, much like a starfish's appendages.)

I'm at a funky, unnerving point this week. Advanced review copies of my two romances are circulating, and the paperback and ebook versions of my April Blaze seem to already be available to buy from eHarlequin.

Reviews and ratings are already trickling in for both stories. Positive ones. Out of the blue I discovered that Caught on Camera (the Blaze) had earned four-and-a-half stars from Andrew Shaffer at Romantic Times (you need a subscription to view the review for the time being, but the highlights are on my books page). The story also received glowing praise from Penelope's Romance Reviews—Penny and I are RWA chaptermates, and she told me up front in her charmingly blunt way that if she hated it, she'd be diplomatic enough not to post her opinions. She doesn't mince words or kiss asses, so I was relieved as well as surprised when I earned a lovely write-up from her this morning. Also today, I Twitter-stumbled (twumbled?) across this review from a self-described Harlequin aficionado. Colored me flattered!

So I'm on cloud nine, right? Dear God, no! I'm terrified.

I've never owned a new car, but I have to imagine this is what it feels like, right after you've been handed the papers and keys to your dream ride. At this moment in time, it's perfect. Unmarred by scratches and mud and spilled drinks. The second it leaves the lot, the danger begins. You almost beg for a dent, just to get it out of the way, so that you may give up the suffocating dream of perfection and the pressure that comes with it. That's where I am now, waiting for the first inevitable ding. Practically praying for one, so I can breathe and move on in glorious, dignified imperfection.

When I reach this phase and become nervous and self-doubtful and sometimes downright paranoid, my husband likes to lay that line on me. "Someone already hates your book." What he means is, no matter how great a job a writer did, somebody, somewhere, won't like it. Quite possibly, many somebodies won't like it. It's a scientific fact. When he says that to me, he does so hoping to set me free from my own expectations. It pretty much works, at least in theory.

This job comes patterned in alternating stripes of relief and fear. Relief at the hands of a satisfied reviewer, fear that the next one that won't be so kind or impressed. Relief to have finished a book, sold a book, seen its cover, smelled its pages. Fear of what will happen to it, thrust out into the world and the interwebs. For each book, this pattern has a peak, and the descent down the other side eventually smooths out as my release day [or week, or month] high fades and my focus shifts to the next story. I'm not there yet, though. With a double romance debut ahead of me in the next month, the white-knuckling is just beginning. I am making the jerky, clunky ascent to the zenith of the roller coaster's highest drop, awaiting free fall, twists and turns before I'm deposited sweaty but safe back on the ground. And wouldn't you know it? The second I am, I'm already counting my tickets and scouting for the next ride.


  1. I got my first 1-star rating at Goodreads this week. At first, I was bummed. Then I realized the "reader's" name was also a rock star, had a "private" acct which could not be accessed, no reviews, no friends, and 50% of the ratings are 1-star, which makes me think it's not too kosher. Anyhow, then I thought it was sort of cool. You know you're a real writer when someone's hatin' on you. hee hee....I can dig that. Your hubby sounds like a wise man, but your books are so good, I find it hard to believe anyone really hates them.


  2. As a reader, I disregard both one- and five-star ratings of books I'm interested in, unless they're accompanied by a write-up. Both of those opinions are too strong to accept unless the reader explains what the author did to inspire the marks.

  3. I unabashedly give *every* book five stars. What can I say? I love books. And as an author I hate the thought of another author sitting at her computer being bummed out for even a second about something I said. If I can't give a book 5 stars I just don't post anything about it.

    I've been told that no one will take my reviews seriously if all I give are 5 star reviews, to which I replied, "I don't care, I'm an author, not a book reviewer!"

    Plus I think when you dis a book, you're dissing not just the author but the editor, publisher, agent, etc etc. *shrugs*

    Anyway congrats on your new releases! Someone already loves your book :)

  4. Also a good philosophy, Shoshanna! I've actually stopped publicly rating and reviewing romances since getting published. It feels like the surest way to keep my author friendships and acquaintanceships free of politics. Unless of course I lose friends because I appear selfish for never reciprocating their ratings of my books…double-edged sword! Watch as I impale myself!

  5. Yeah there's pretty much no way to win :)

  6. I just wanted to hop on and say even a review that isn't five stars, a++ can still be beneficial if the reviewer seems to understand and relate to the material. I first came across your work ( as Cara McKenna) due to a review on Dear Author. The review gave a great synopsis of your story (Willing Victim) complimented you on your writing and provided enough exerpts from your story that I got enough of a feel for your writing style that I thought I would enjoy it. I would have called it a glowing review and was surprised at the letter grade the reviewer assigned, a B-. I also enjoyed how you responded to the discussion about your story and thanked the reviewer for "the nicest B- review ever" or words to that effect. Because of all that I went ahead and purchased the story for my Kindle and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was tricky subject matter that pushes a lot of buttons for people and a story I probably never would have heard of let alone bought if not for the review. I also noticed the reviewer added it to her best of 2010 list which I think must be a first for a "B-" review and shows how much the story resonated with her. Bottom line, the reviewer's less than A++ review, combined with your graciousness in response prompted me to shell out the money to try an interesting new story outside my usual genre (romance) which I loved enough to investigate your other work and end up here. When your new book "Caught On Camera" makes it to Amazon for the Kindle next month I will be snapping it up. I'm just one reader but you never know, especially online, where one review or comment, good or bad or great can end up. :0)

  7. Thank you, Christine! I got a little misty, just then.

    I was actually thinking about something like what you touched on, just this afternoon on the train into Boston. I've received more than one lower-rated review (two- or three-stars, for example) that I think have actually done me far more good than a five-star gush-fest ever could. I'm talking about those reviews where the reader took the time to explain what they did and didn't like about story…perhaps they hated a certain theme another reader would find intriguing. Maybe they can't stand first-person POV, while another might take no issue with it. I've even seen a review where a reader couldn't get into a story of mine because they didn't like the heroine's name. Well, shrug. No harm, no foul, and if the next reader couldn't care less about that same name, all the better that the reviewer took a second to explain their low rating. I so appreciate when people spend the time to elaborate. At worst it helps others make a decision not to buy my work…or not. At best, it just might make me a better writer (God knows there's room for that).

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing, Christine! And thanks even moreso for reading!

  8. Meg, my pleasure. Thanks for the response and the great writing. The odd thing about the review from Dear Author is that for some reason it stuck with me, maybe due to the unexpected grade or because the reviewer really examined why they liked the story despite it's "controversial" subject matter. I read a ton of reviews at different sites because I like to see what books people are enjoying and why. I'm such a geek if a site has multiple reviewers I'll look up older reviews to get a feel for what a particular reviewer likes or doesn't like to give me a point of reference for their current review. Long story short, I read a lot of reviews and for whatever reason that particular review of your story stood out even among the many A+ reviews I have read.

    I like to discuss books on different boards as well and I often think of the authors when I do because any criticism I find unfair of a book I have particularly enjoyed can trigger an immediate thought of "who is this foolish person with no taste insulting this great book?" I never post a response like that of course (and try to avoid the overzealous posters on both sides of the fence) but I often think, if I as a reader am offended, how must the author feel when their book is criticized? Particularly if it seems undeserved or cruel. I think authors who have an online presence are in a tricky spot. I've heard of horror stories where authors have gone on the defensive (or offensive) and alienated a lot of readers. I think you hit just the right note in your responses to the criticisms, gracious and explaining any possible confusion that may exist about interpretations of the characters and story. As you aptly said, there are a lot of reasons why someone may not like a story but I just felt you should know that for every person who posts about something they don't like, there are probably many more people who enjoy just that aspect.

    Keep up the great work! And enjoy the makeup!

  9. Thanks again, Christine! I'm such a dorky Miss Manners about bad reviews; my m.o. has always been to thank the reviewer for their time and energy, express my honest disappointment that they didn't love the story, answer any questions or politely correct any major facts that are wrong if appropriate, and leave it at that. I figure if nothing else, a bad review is a great chance to advertise yourself as a rational, gracious person. Nothing makes me cringe harder than a defensive or aggressive author. I figure if a review ever makes me that angry, it's not worth my energy to leave a comment.

    When I was newly published, I left a thank-you comment on nearly all of the review posts I came across, no matter how big or small the site, or how mean or kind the write-up. I was just so grateful anyone had read my books! I've sinced toned that down, after realizing some reviewers / bloggers may be disconcerted to have the author pop up in their online social circle—like a parent walking in on your sleepover. Arguably they're inviting authors to weigh in, since it's their work being publicly criticized or praised, but I'm trying to respect reviewers' online personal space.