Fantasy • Magic • Romance

Book Reviews: Those Occasionally Crazymaking Things

I've been lucky that Kismet's Kiss has been blessed by excellent reviews, so I found it interesting that today two bloggers weighed in with somewhat inter-conflicting verdicts. That, plus a friend's apparently mixed Romantic Times review for her debut, has me mulling over the amount of angst writers invest in other people's opinions.

Many of us start by revising our novels to please our critique partners. (Fortunately, those CPs are often brilliant people who understand our strengths and weaknesses as storytellers and give us smart advice. 😉 )

Then we may go on to refine things based on contests. (I was a Contest Slut, er, Queen, for a very long time. Some judges' comments were truly insightful suggestions. Other comments, however, completely conflicted with one other. Same contest, same entry, and yet what one judge loved another hated. That was my First Major Lesson: the subjective nature of writing.)

Then comes feedback from agents and/or editors. Since these people are higher up the publishing food chain, writers tend to put more stock in that feedback. The problem is that it can be just as subjective as anyone else's. Yes, those employed in the industry have often read a ton of books and have a good sense of what will work and what won't in the traditional marketplace. But not always. That's why a book can be rejected by twelve editors and yet bought and adored by the thirteenth.

Next come the reviews, whether from Romantic Times and Publisher's Weekly, blogger sites like Dear Author and SmartBitchesTrashyBooks, or from readers themselves at Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Of course, everyone has their own likes and tastes. And just as with the contest judges, reviewers may disagree. That's what happened with Kismet's Kiss today.

Exhibit A, from the new Pink Owl Reviews:

“Like many of the reviewers out there who spoke of Kismet’s Kiss, we were wary once we got the whole picture. A man with six wives? Falling for a beautiful healer who believes in monogamy? Now how on (their) Earth would this work out? And would we even be rooting for it to?

Well, it does. And we did. And it was beautiful.”

Final rating: 9 out of 10.

Exhibit B, from Lovin' Me Some Romance:

This was a nice review (3.5/5) that took issue with the basic premise of Kismet's Kiss–the same premise the above reviewer at Pink Owl ended up loving. (The LMSR review is wonderfully detailed, though, and worth a read even if I–perhaps not surprisingly–happen to disagree with the reviewer's inferences about the storyline. 🙂

Anyway, getting these two reviews on the same day underscores that it's not possible to please everyone. What one editor or reviewer or reader loves may really bug another.

The funny thing is that as authors, we usually hope–deep down inside–that we can please everyone. We know it's impossible, but hey, our stories are our babies. Of course we want the whole world to love them.

Don't you find it funny that the Universe has a way of nudging us in timely ways? This morning before I knew about either of the above reviews, I read a blog post by Zoe Winters that preemptively reminded me of the First Major Lesson. Zoe's post definitely made me think, although I should warn you that she…um…does not tend to mince words. Here it is: “Readers Aren't Co-Authors.”

I understand where Zoe is coming from. I can't change my vision or the multi-novel arc of my story world to suit other people. Some readers (or reviewers) may disagree with my choices, but that's to be expected, considering the breadth of human tastes and opinions. No writer can run a poll for every decision (or the soup/novel will be spoiled because there are too many cooks in the kitchen).

But I feel just a little bit differently than Zoe does. I certainly write for myself…but I also write for my readers. If I didn't write for them, I would never have bothered to publish my work ('cause what would be the point?). Readers' enjoyment of my stories keeps me going.

The world of Alaia is no longer simply mine–it exists in some real way because other people have now spent time with it. I'm incredibly grateful for their investment and imagination. Those are precious things. Readers' questions and excitement about Alaia remind me why I do what I do–even if some of them disagree with my choices.

I now realize that's the Second Major Lesson. 🙂

13 Responses

  1. Wonderfully said, Cate. I always wanted to be a writer who made people happy with my stories, but I knew going in that I wouldn’t make everyone happy.
    I’m no different than any other writer. There are many stories friends have recommended, even praised, and I couldn’t get into them.

  2. Thanks, Autumn! Yes, I’ve had that same experience. I remember when I had a conversation with my best friend about Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. I adore those books. I’d have their babies. But my friend couldn’t get into them because she felt they were badly written!

    Ah, vive le difference…

  3. Just last week, my 2 critique partners handed me back the last section of the book I’m editing. One wanted me to delete the last chapter, the other loved it. I’ll keep it until someone at a major publisher tells me to take it out. Even then, I’ll argue…

  4. Great post. And to underscore the absurdity of it all — I just got an email from Goodreads indicating that my dear darling daughter (who is in an MFA program at Columbia College) gave my book 4 stars.

    On the face of it that’s not bad, but hey, this was my dear darling daughter! She couldn’t spare me five?

    Go figure….

  5. Great post, Cate!

    It really is crazy-making…and, Hope, I can’t believe your daughter gave you 4 stars!! but if she’s as tough-minded as her mama, I’d bet she meant 4 stars as high praise.

    I know in my gut Welcome to Last Chance is stellar (even though I can’t get my hands on a copy yet), and can’t wait to read it!

    And, Cate, Kismet’s Kiss is gorgeous!

  6. I think I (for one) feel differently about these kinds of reviews because I know other people are going to use them to make a decision about whether or not to buy my book. That said, I don’t do sackcloth and ashes over it, it’s not all that 😉

  7. Hi dear Cate!

    It’s fascinating that the 2nd reviewer saw Varene and Kuramos’ relationship so differently than I did. Amazing how we bring our own views of the world to what we read. But also lovely of her to point out to everyone how talented you are!!

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