I’m experiencing the review-syndrome. You know when you put a book out there and you get really great reviews, really bad reviews and some scratch your head reviews and you try not to take them personally and be all philosophical about it but really, you’re dying to claw someone’s eyes out because they just don’t get it, but you know you can’t because that would be unprofessional and reputation-ruining so you just sit at home, pulling up those reviews again and again and again…right? You know that syndrome, right? It’s not just me? Cool.
We’ve been very lucky so far to have received some really awesome reviews of the Writer’sCompanion. I’m not talking about the star ratings, because to me they’re meaningless in most cases. I like to read what readers have written. This is where you learn the real dirt. Almost all have been detailed and honest, pointing to both what the reader did like and didn’t like and I have to say, in most cases, I’ve been pleased and agreed with all that was said.
Yesterday though, I read this review of the companion, accompanied by a 4 star rating:
This ain’t a book – it’s a tome!
An extremely useful tome. 🙂
Have not read this cover to cover (mainly because some topics I’m not yet ready for), but it does live up to its promise of being THE go-to reference for Writing.
This is great, isn’t it? Well, turns out that this review had a “but”…
(One slight point – IMHO, the examples written by co-author Renee Miller contain too much sex, and not only her examples, but other statements in here. Nothing is too racy or salacious – and I am no prude – but I honestly think this book could be improved by a “G” rating instead of “R/NC-17”. It’s for this reason alone that I’m knocking off a star – and this is just MHO.)
Now, I’m going to do what every author/agent/publisher advises authors to avoid doing. I’m going to pick apart a review on my book. Why? There are several things that can be learned here. I learned a few things and so can you.
But first, can I just say that I never imagined getting such a comment based on a handful of excerpts of my work? Can I say that? I hoped to get such “this woman is dirty and salacious” comments over the content of an entire novel—not a few lines here and there. I should add though, that I looked up the word salacious just so I could define it accurately here, and I have to say that “arousing or appealing to sexual desire or imagination : lascivious” and “lecherous, lustful” sounds about right. Not when describing the content of the Companion, but when describing me. So, she isn’t totally off the mark.
Second, the Companion is not and was never written with the intent that it be placed in the hands of a child. It is written for writers, serious adult writers who want to improve their craft. Is it possible some of those writers might not be adults? Sure. But the content, including the excerpts, is no more racy or salacious than most YA fiction out there.
I’m not angry about this review, so I don’t want anyone to think I’m about to attack a reviewer. No, I’ll save such things for assholes and idiots. This woman is neither of those things. But her review brought me back to a pet peeve of mine. Her last comment was kind of like getting kissed and then backhanded for your trouble, and it reminded me of how subjective reading really is, and that reviews are simply opinions. Nothing more.
Let’s begin by examining just what an “R” and “NC-17” rating means, shall we? These are not ratings typically used in publishing (to my knowledge) but rather in film or television. But I get what she’s saying, sort of. She’s linking those ratings to the level of nasty in my examples. Why is she wrong? I’ll tell you why.
R ratings imply that the work in question contains some adult material which includes adult themes, activity, language, intense violence, nudity, drug or alcohol abuse or other elements generally considered to be inappropriate for a child under the age of 17. However, children aren’t “banned” from R movies. They simply require adult accompaniment. But most parents are not going to bring their kids to an R-rated movie or let them watch an R-rated television show. NC-17 on the other hand contains these elements and other adult content that is completely and totally too adult for anyone under 17. You go to a theater and try to accompany your kid into an NC-17 movie and they’re going to kick your ass back out. No children admitted. Period. The two are different ratings and honestly, do not apply to the Companion. I’ll give you PG. Definitely. Not R or NC-17.
Okay, we’ve got that out of the way. The Companion contains no explicit sex, violence, language or depictions of drug abuse or any other kind of adult situational shit. Carlos barely let me have any profanity at all. (I did slip one or four in there when he was experiencing a weak moment.) There are some aberrant behaviors described but we keep sexual references to a very subtle level. Okay, so the purple prose section is somewhat racy, but to lay that content at my feet alone?
There is this example we used to show readers what might be too purple:
He dragged her roughly against his rock-hard body. She felt his manroot pressed against the soft recess of her secret place.
“What did you say?” he queried, raising a chocolate brown brow.
“I said I hate you.” She spat, bravely attempting to extract herself from his impossibly powerful grasp.
His gaze, now an azure blue, meandered down to the porcelain skin of her heaving bosom. Tears stung her eyes as she endured his loathsome scrutiny. Vile; he was the most vile, obstinate, arrogant creature she’d ever had the displeasure of laying eyes on.
“No you don’t hate me at all.” His generous lips curved into a derisive grin. “You want me, and you despise yourself for that fact.”
But it’s not attributed to me or Carlos. Just an example. Readers don’t know who wrote that section and we don’t use examples from my work there…so I’m not sure how I’m the racy one. (I did write that particular example, by the way. Maybe this reader is psychic. Creepy.)
I think this is as “racy” as it gets in the examples attributed to me:
Each time their eyes met, the naked hunger in his gaze made her want to climb over the bar and drag him off somewhere private. Hell, she’d have probably settled for the alley outside. She’d lived long enough in denial and she couldn’t fight anymore. Why would any sane woman fight Wade anyway?
Leaning over the top of the computer, Kristina traced a finger across the python tattoo that coiled around his right arm.
He shook his head. “You’re asking for trouble, little girl.”
I guess whoever finds the Companion to be a lewd little books full of sex and raciness should not ever, under any circumstances, NEVER read anything I’ve written. Nothing. It’ll just offend and shock you
and you’ll be forced to describe that horrific experience in a review.
Okay, so I guess this review did irritate me, but not because she considers the book too adult for kids. I don’t really care about that. We didn’t write the Companion for children.
What irks me is that I was singled out as the dirty mind in this venture. I’ll have you know Carlos is much more creative in the dirty department than I am. He’s as salacious as they come and you know, I think you’d be surprised to know which racy content is actually his. I also don’t like that some people reading that review may believe that it’s just a book full of porn or a poorly disguised reference manual on the art of intercourse. Boy, won’t they be disappointed when they race out to buy it.
This is a good lesson though, both as a reader and a writer. Don’t put too much weight in a reviewer’s words. If you obsess over one person’s opinion, you’ll drive yourself bonkers. If they’re critiquing writing ability or plot, sure I think most often the reviewer hits it on the head and writers should take notice. If they’re raving about the book saying it was “unbelievably awesome” or something along those lines, you have to be a little wary. It’s likely to disappoint if other readers if they go into the book expecting the same wow factor. Maybe it is awesome in terms of plot, but others might find the writing mediocre or the characterization flat. (Yes, it is possible someone will find your writing mediocre and flat. I’ve admitted it, so should you.)
On the other hand, when a reviewer rants about the awfulness or the explicit content of the book in such vague terms, you have to take that ranting with a grain of salt. I’ve noticed that many reviewers who prefer “clean” fiction or “Christian” fiction, for some strange, masochistic reason like to pick up general adult fiction and then act all scandalized when it contains profanity, violence or sex. It’s adult fiction, folks. What the hell do you expect it to contain? Characters that shit unicorns and butterflies or relationships that involve holding hands and sharing good old fashioned pecks on the cheek after church? Please.
Before I go, I want to add that the rating is not in any way annoying to me. She gave us 4 stars despite the nasty unnecessary sexual content I put in there. That’s great. But honestly, we’ve received a 3 star review that I was more proud of. The reviewer conceded that she hadn’t read it cover to cover, but she also pointed out what she gained from the parts she did read and that’s all I hoped for in writing this book with Carlos. I wanted writers to find something valuable inside. Every writer loves the 5 star reviews, I’m no exception, but now and then, take a look at the lower ratings. See what the reviewer is actually saying. Don’t get all caught up in the numbers. We’re writers. Read the white space. This is where we learn to become great writers.
And I am not a pervert. I just play one in my books.