I know not everyone likes to read the same kinds of books. And I know that I have been pretty lucky with the reviews of my weird stories. Most people do like them, or at least don’t hate them… or maybe they just keep their dislike to themselves? idk. Also I’m not very popular so there is less reaction overall to my work, which limits the ‘bad’ responses proportionately.
But lately there have been a few posts on facebook where people have bemoaned the fact they read a story (always remaining nameless) which disappointed them, usually making criticisms of the weak writing, trite plots, shallow characters, and tired tropes. And on each of these posts a lot of people were ready to chime in, agreeing that the quality of popular m/m is pretty bad, how hard it is to find “the good stuff,” and how reviewers can’t be trusted.
I agree with some of that. I commented on facebook in response to one of those posts about my loss of innocence re: review blogs. And I have blogged here about the horrors of fake friend reviews on amazon and goodreads. It was a difficult thing to accept, for me, that so many people will outright lie in reviews just to help/hurt authors. I don’t know why it shocked me? I guess I should have known people would do that kind of thing, but it still surprised me. Call me naive.
But what I want to talk about today isn’t fake amazon reviews, or review blog favoritism, but the expectations we seem to have as readers.
If you have had a similar reaction to a book, you should probs remember that the character “Pat” (played here by Bradley Cooper), is meant to be a mentally unstable individual. Just saying.
Perhaps I am just way too easy to please. I have read books with beautiful, lyrical prose – and plots as holy as Swiss cheese. Books with great stories written in dry, boring language. Books with characters I fell in love with who made horrible decisions and spent the story in ridiculous situations. Books with dialogue so grammatically perfect it seemed as if robots had taken over the earth. But all of them entertained me, somewhat.
Sure I’ve been disappointed. (Land of Painted Caves, anyone? Ugh.) And I’ve been mislead by fake reviews. And I’ve read a lot of crap that was free and not worth a penny more. But generally, I’ve never been angry or upset enough at a reading experience to write a bad review.
I guess I just feel surprised at the amount of anger on sites like goodreads. I scroll through reviews sometimes, and I can’t believe the kinds of things I read. I should probably just stay off that site, but it’s like a train wreck I can’t tear my attention from. Also every time someone goes on facebook and complains about their goodreads reviews you know I go there and look them up. (Come on, you do it too.) And when I read these reviews, I wonder at the entitlement that so many reviewers seem to have. Like somehow, this author was supposed to know you didn’t like that trope, or that you’d read that kind of story before and are bored with it now, or that you wanted more sex or less sex or a different kind of sex. Somehow, the author should have made the whole thing more to your liking.
I read another blog post the other day about trigger warnings in books, and the new push for protective labeling in college texts. There were a lot of opinions, and as usual I kind of agree with everyone. But what I kept thinking was how powerful the reading experience must be for some people, if they are so affected by books as to need a trigger warning. Now, I’ve been through some shit in my life, but honestly even the worst, most triggering scene in a book can’t lay me low. It sucks to feel like I don’t want to go on with a story, or to be disgusted by a scene, but I can always stop reading. I can shake it off. And anyway I choose books based on blurbs, so I know pretty much what I’m getting into.
But obviously some people, a lot of people, are so immersed in what they are reading that they have actual physical and psychological reactions.
And other people are so angered by disappointing reads that they feel compelled to write scathing reviews to tell everyone exactly how upset they are. Some even go so far as to personally attack an author.
I don’t understand it, and then I think: is there something wrong with me? Shouldn’t I, as a writer, be just as passionate about books as anyone? shouldn’t I be among the most passionate? Do I take literature too lightly?
I don’t know. To me, reading has always been a form of entertainment. I’d rather read than watch television, and I don’t really care for movies. I love reading, and I love the fictional-friends I’ve made. But I have never been all that serious about it, I guess. To me, the latest Romance I read is not much more life changing than the latest episode of Big Bang Theory. That isn’t to say books don’t stay with me, or that they don’t change me. They sometimes do. And when they do, that is great. I just don’t get pissed off when they don’t.
All this adds up to a lot of nervousness about what I am writing. Every “bad” review makes me question whether I should change things about my story, or if I should just give up entirely. How can I create something good enough for these readers who take fiction so seriously? How can I keep going, knowing I will disappoint some people? What if I send someone into a fit? what if someone starts to hate me?
Then I saw this, and I felt better:
Write the book YOU want to read. You will not please every single reader. Each and every author is influenced by unique characteristics in their lives. Your experience will be different from mine. That’s what makes us human.
Authors, especially new ones. Stay off the discussion boards. You will NEVER please everyone, so stop adjusting your story, your characters, your settings. Your story is your ART. It is a personal expression that has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else.
Keep ya heads up.