Sunday, April 28, 2013

Words for you, words for me

A friend inadvertently posed an interesting question to me the other day.  Because I don't talk a whole lot about my writing, she was surprised when I told her that I had written several books.  But when I told her they were historical romances, she wrinkled her nose and said, "Oh, why don't you write mysteries instead?  If you wrote a mystery, I'd buy it, but I don't like romance novels."

It was easy to just laugh it off and tell her I didn't write mysteries because I didn't know enough about them to write a good one.  End of discussion.  Sort of.

But then I stumbled upon a review of a self-published historical romance in which the reviewer gave the book one star and blasted it for containing a particular plot element that she considered grossly offensive.

It was not a plot element *I* would find grossly offensive, but I won't argue anyone's right to be offended by something in a novel.  Nor their right to give a one-star scathing review.

But I did think that review was just another reason why authors should seriously consider not reading the reviews of their books and why they should never respond to them.

Most of the books I've written have contained one or more elements that large portions of the romance-reading demographic might find offensive.  If I were to write solely with the objective of not offending anyone, I wouldn't be able to write anything.  Someone, somewhere, is going to be offended by just about anything.  Swearing.  Explicit descriptions of sex.  Mere implications of sex out of wedlock.  References to homosexuality without condemnation. 

So it's impossible for me to write without the risk of offending someone's sensibilities.  And if they are offended and choose to castigate me for it, well, there's no much I can say.  I mean, I'm really not sorry that they were offended, and I'm not sorry for writing whatever it was that offended them.  I just wrote what I wanted to write.

I do think it's possible to write for a specific sales market, but I also think the author who wants to be successful should first and foremost write for herself.  I write the kind of books I like to read, and I since I like to read the same kind of books other people do, it stands to reason that maybe they'd like to read the books I write.  But am I writing for the reader?  No, I'm not.

I'm really writing for me.

Understanding that concept takes a great deal of the sting out of the negative review that conveys the reader's personal dislike of elements of the story.  That's not to say the review or the reviewer is wrong.  But as the author, I have no control over that reaction.  Will that one-star rating hurt my sales?  Well, yeah, maybe it will.  But I can't do anything about it. 

And why should I do anything about it?  The reader is free to like or dislike the book just as I'm free to write or not write it.

Criticisms based on writing competence or research accuracy or plot consistency are another matter entirely, and most writers (especially ones with little experience) should probably pay some attention to review comments about the writing quality. 

But if you write the book you want to read, there's no reason to argue with anyone who didn't, unless they're you.


  1. Amen! Well said, and sage advice. But easier said than done when one has felt the sting of that negative review.

    BTW, were you on Prodigy back "in the day"? I remember your name.

    Best wishes on your digital conversions. And much success be yours.

    1. Hi, Kathy Fischer-Brown!

      When I saw your name, I thought it looked familiar. Yes, I was on *Prodigy back in the day, eons and eons ago. And I'm still causing trouble. I may have grown older -- goodness, is that really 20+ years ago? -- but I sure haven't grown up! ;-)

  2. I guess it was at least an eon ago, maybe even a light year or two. My daughter was in kindergarten then. She's 27 now. My son was in 2nd grade and now he's married with a cute little 8 month old son of his own. How the years fly.

    It's always a good thing to stir the pot, especially in this new age of trolls and nasty souls. And it's great to stay young on top of it all.

    I miss those old Prodigy boards and the fun we had. Not to mention the support.

    It was nice bumping into you again :-)