Sunday, January 4, 2009

Okay RT I surrender!

One of the more agonizing things about being a writer is waiting around to see how the readers respond to your book. Most of us tend to write in a vacuum. We become so immersed in a story that we really can't judge it. When we get to that point mostly we think it sucks but that's a whole other issue. If there is a problem with it our editors will most assuredly inform us and we do whatever we can to take care of it before it goes to print.

While writing FALLEN, which I wrote during a very difficult time, mostly in hospital waiting rooms waiting to hear if my dad was going to survive his latest medical disaster from his bout with lymphoma, I realized that it wasn't truly a romance. It was more about the journey of Captain John Murray, and how he came to realize that there were things more important in life that what others thought of him. I laughingly called it the book of mistakes with my editor. People in the story made mistakes, including John and Izzy, and it greatly affected their lives. My editor laughed and said "Lets not say that a lot or people might think the books a mistake."

Well guess what, another mistake was made. When discussing FALLEN with my editor we both agreed that it wasn't a romance and should be categorized as historical fiction. I used great detail in including an actual battle that occurred during the Revolutionary War. We sent it to Romantic Times Book Reviews and asked it to be featured under the Historical Fiction category. Our main reason for doing this is because the hero, John, and the heroine, Izzy,are separated for eight years which makes it hard for romance to bloom.

Imagine my shock when my RT arrived on Christmas Eve. I looked up my review. I couldn't find it. Finally I did. In historical Romance. It got three stars. Why did it only receive three stars our of a possible four and a half? Because the hero and heroine are separated for too long to make it a romance.

Head meet desk.

Why did you not review it as a historical fiction as we requested? This is not my first time having problems with RT and the way they review things. I have gotten all kinds of rankings from them. From 2 up to 4 1/2. However the low rankings I've gotten have come from complaints that I write a series and the reviewers didn't know what was going on because they didn't read the previous books. Hello! If your reviewing a series shouldn't the reviewer read the entire series, for instance, you reviewed the first book, here's the next and so on? I mean it only makes sense. And yes I have mentioned it to the reviewing staff.

Actually I can't complain too much because the review is really quite good. Its just frustrating because there are so many things that are out of our control as a writer and I was just trying to make sure this book got the best chance it could when it was turned loose in the world.

Here's the review from February's RT with a three star mild rating. It's done by Maria Ferrer. And Maria, I know its not your fault. You were given the book to review as a historical romance and I really think you did a great job on summing up its strengths and weaknesses.

From the lochs of Scotland to the shores of America comes a gentle romance about two lonely hearts who find each other only to be torn apart by betrayal. Holby's sweet tale is set in the midst of the harsh realities of war, but the lovers are separated for too long before they find forgiveness and redemption.

SUMMARY Against all odds, British Captain John Murray falls in love with Scottish lass Isobel Ferguson. But there's not much hope for a union between a Sassenach and a Scot. When her brothers try to break their father out of jail it leads to deadly consequences for all. John loses his position and is transferred to the colonies, and Isobel and her family are deported and sold as indentured servants in VA. It will be years before the lovers find each other again, in another war-torn country, and rekindle their love.

So what do you think? Do you rely on reviews to pick your reads? How do you decide what book to pick up or which new author to try?


Barbara Caridad Ferrer January 5, 2009 at 5:44 AM  

I've very, very, very rarely ever depended on a review to choose a book. And even then, I treat it as suggestion, in terms of the story and writing style, making it a point to actually read an excerpt or a back cover blurb.

The biggest problem with most reviews these days is that they're not actual reviews pointing out strengths or potential flaws, but rather serve as a reflection of the reviewer's personal taste and too many so-called reviewers today can't put aside their personal biases in order to give a fair and balanced review.

Can you tell I have strong feelings on the subject? *g*

EmilyBryan January 5, 2009 at 6:06 AM  

I think the best stories are the ones that can't be easily fitted into a genre box. Life isn't divided up into neat little categories. It turns on a myriad of chance elements and choices.

I understand that bookstores need to know how to market our stories, but romance is character driven fiction. If we are truly letting our characters be real, they'll be doing more than just concentrating on one part of their lives.

Sometimes, my editor gets after me because my characters will have great sex and then have a conversation about God. She worries it will give my readers whiplash. The thing is--we are all physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual beings. You can't pull part of the equation out.

Your story sounds wonderful, Cindy. Sometimes, people who love each other are torn by other responsibilities. It sounds like the characters were given difficult choices, a chance to really show their mettle, before you reward them with love everlasting.

If love and honor cost nothing, they are worth nothing. FALLEN sounds like my kind of story.

Bonnie Vanak January 5, 2009 at 6:59 AM  

Oh Cindy, sorry about the disappointing review. Fallen does sound like a great book, the kind of saga that readers really can dig into.

Reviews? I read them for a synopsis of the book. Never have I ever bought a book based on reviews, except once, when all it got was bad reviews so I decided to read it and judge for myself.

As an author, I'm grateful for good reviews, shrug off the bad ones and take all reviews with a grain or two of salt. Reviews are a matter of one person's opinion, and everyone has a different one.

Alyssa Day January 5, 2009 at 7:28 AM  

FALLEN is a beautiful, poignant and haunting book (I was privileged to read it in ARC format). I'm sure the gorgeous cover and your name will draw in readers and the book itself will keep them hooked.

Terri January 6, 2009 at 3:46 AM  

Can I say that I looked at the comments and this blurb with great interest. I seldom read reviews due to I just don't have time. I have some favorite authors that I try to buy everything that they put out though sometimes I get behind! However, I probably read more than the average reader as I write reviews. I try very hard to stay unbiased even if it's not something that I would normally pick up. Yes, I've written good reviews for books that if not for the commentment that I've taken I would never read and had little interest in reading. On the flip side, I have been introduced to authors that I would have never picked up and now can't wait until their next book comes out.

My biggest problem has been what does the author want from a review...besides good stuff. I mean, how in depth. My style is a few paragraphs about what the book is about followed by a few paragraphs giving what I think are the strengths, weaknesses and my overall impression. For months, I've asked for some feedback. I finally have been getting some and I think I'm on the right track.

So, new authors come by way of NOR for books to review. Most of the books I currently read also come from them. I have a stack to get through currently and of course some of my favorite authors have books that either came out in the past couple of weeks or have books coming out in the next few weeks. Why do they all seem to come out at the same time?

Thanks for your opinions on what you want to see in a review. I want to do the best possible job that I can for every author I read. That is not to say that I'm going to love every book I read or that I'm not going to hurt someone's feelings because I have but that I want to be able to express why I didn't like the book or what bothered me because it may be something someone else has no problem with and given the other factors of the books will want to read it. Yes, I've had that happen too!


EmilyBryan January 6, 2009 at 6:12 AM  

Thanks for sharing, Terri.

A review is, by definition, subjective. Like all readers, a reviewer brings their own personal biases to every book they read. We all filter life through our own eyes. Why should a book be different?

Of course, authors love to get raves. One of the things I like to see is an example of why the reviewer liked the book. Maybe just a sentence that leaped out at you and made you say "wow!"

One thing authors hate is too much info about the plot (and this is even worse when the mini-synopsis is inaccurate which happens with astonishing frequency and makes us think the reviewer didn't really read the book) or worse yet, a spoiler.

I think the best gift a reviewer can give an author is an honest "here's what I liked/didn't like and why" with specific reasons. Here's an example: My GoodReads Review of Delicious

Thanks for giving us the benefit of your opinions, Terri!

Cindy Holby January 6, 2009 at 9:22 AM  

I think a review should contain a synopsis of the book, without giving away too many plot points, and what the reviewer liked or didn't like. I think my review is a great one. The reviewer said she marked it down because the hero and heroine were seperated for far too long. However, if it had been reviewed as a historical fiction instead of a romance would the same thing be true?

Most of my reviews have been great and this one is too. The thing that bothered me was the fact that RT did not categorize it correctly, even after the publisher specifically said its historical fiction, not romance. That's my beef. Judge it correctly for what it is, not for what it isn't.

Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner January 6, 2009 at 9:46 AM  

Cindy: What you say about Fallen makes me eager to read it!

I completely understand your frustration that it was judged in the wrong genre. My January release (Mortal Temptations by Allyson James!!!) is paranormal erotic romance (not paranormal mainstream romance--there is a big difference). Some of the reviews I'm getting are from puzzled reviewers who have read my paranormal romances, but obviously have never read an erotic romance. They're unhappy with me.

I was lucky that RT reviewed it as erotic romance, where it was read and judged by people who are used to reading that subgenre. They gave it a 4.5. (Other sites I think were fair to it as well.)

As a reader--I never use reviews to pick what books I read. I use my own taste, whether I've liked the author before, recommendations from a friend, or just something striking me at a bookstore. I will read a review to get the plot summary. But I'm way too interested in my own opinion, LOL.

I recently bought a book from an author who was new to me, based on the blurb and cover alone. This was a cold buy, book spine out on the shelf, no hoopla, no reviews, no prominent display in the store, and I'd never met her at a conference. I'm glad I purchased! I'm hooked now and will read the rest of the series. (The book was Acqua Alta by Donna Leon if anyone wants to know.)

Cindy Holby January 6, 2009 at 12:26 PM  

I've talked to many readers who say they find new faves by recommendations. A reader says this is great so they try it. That's how I found my new fav, Ann Aguirre. I love her Grimspace series and can't wait until the next one comes out.

The biggest problem is there's just not enough hours in the day to read everything I want too, and reread my favorites.

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

Bonnie Vanak

Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

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