Thursday, November 5, 2015

Reviews Matter

Most writers I’ve talked to and posts I've read about reviews suggest a mix of feelings about reviews. Reviews are an odd dynamic. I mean we give blood, swear and tears to our work... then hand people a knife and wait. No it's not that dramatic but people are affected deeply by the words we share. 

Everyone believes people have the right to an opinion and the right to express that opinion. Writers maybe better than most understand the time it takes time to stop and write a review so most of us truly appreciate the effort.

Some writers read reviews and some don't. Some study and utilize the feedback so they can apply it to their writing and their critique partner’s work. Some engage and well, we’ve seen how that plays out. Mostly we try not to talk about reviews... but they matter.

But back in 2011 I was alone. I published my first novel while living in a complete vacuum aka China. I had no critique/beta partners, no Facebook, no GoodReads, didn’t even know other review sites existed, didn’t use English much in my day to day existence, got my news from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and I had limited access to anyone in the M/M romance community. I was in my own little bubble… I didn’t even know an entire tribe existed. (Yes, it was a dark time).

I had NO clue how readers would receive With Wings. On my next visit to the USA at 230am I braved GoodReads (which is banned in China).  I’ll admit I was terrified. I got a decent number of four and five star reviews but almost every new writer knows those aren’t the ones you carry with you…

My self injurious nature allowed my confidence to be shredded: 
“A too faithful copy of a Jet Mykles story without any of her charm and way too sappy.”
“The writing style just didn’t gel for me…”
“Not a bad effort, but the author has a way to go to achieve the charm and quality of the "Heaven Sent" series.” ((Which was a four star review))
“Not working for me, so stopped reading.”
Someone else shelved it as junk.

My low self-esteem tried to wipe out the five and four stars:
“A beautifully written book Z.Allora has made a fan of me, and I want more.”
“Pure, sexy, rock star yuminess!”
“This was such a GREAT book!”

Well, case closed. The reviews were clear to me: I should NEVER EVER share my writing again. I wouldn't stop writing because no one could make me do that but I'd stop publishing. That was the answer. This would appease the writing police so they wouldn't come crashing through my door and scoop up my laptop to save the world from my drivel.

In my devastated and jetlagged state I don’t remember how but I found Elisa Rolle’s review of With Wings, which gave me perspective (& hope).

“A pure yaoi novel, like it was long I haven't read; it’s like the author wanted to claim, I love Yaoi, and so what? She never once tried to make it pass for something else, and she pushed all the by the book buttons: young, cute and pretty characters, long hair, big eyes, pop start, I’m straight/I’m not gay, Gay for You, Gay Virgin, and if you toss some other rule, it’s probably here. So no, this is not a novel for whom doesn’t like this type of story, otherwise they will start to find the “flaws”: yaoi is yaoi, and we all know it’s to entertain and not for realism.”  
((At the GRL 2015 I was finally able to verbalize to Elisa how much her words meant and how she kept me from hiding under a rock))

Her review helped me gathered up all my ratings and make sense of my world.

The one and two star reviews made complete sense now. While all opinions are absolutely validate, Elisa’s review helped me realize that some of these reviewers may not be my target audience. The same way I’m not the reader for a bittersweet romance, these folks do not like the over the top nature of my yaoisque writing style. And that's okay.

Whew! I don’t have to stop sharing (aka publishing) my writing!!! But I needed to make sure the readers understand what they are getting when they pick up a Z. Allora book. This has to do with "branding". 

I started thinking about how to clue in readers so I could help readers make the right decisions. 
I don’t want to disappoint them with my yaoified smexy world view. My covers are distinctive and thus far drawn with a clear yaoi style. I try to ensure my blurbs are clear. 
My e-mail suggests HAPPILY EVER AFTER as well as SEX. When in conversation I’m the first one to say if you read my rockers or sexy zombies as a contemporary you are going to think I’m a loon!

Now some of the negative comments about my writing style, editing or issues were dead on and I spent 2014 re-writing my entire first and second series. The feedback encouraged me get a beta/critique partner team together to help untangle my Z. speak because I didn’t get it all on the page the first time. The reviews helped me strive to become a better writer.

Reviews are critical. They can help guide people to or away from your books. And if you see over the top, insta-love, and lots of sex as a negative please follow your instincts and don’t buy my book. 

Not every book is for everybody and that’s okay.

While reviews still scare me but I’ve tried over the past four years to develop perspective. Much like more established writers, I designed a kind of a filter to help me utilize the information. 

Reviewers know your words can impact the writer, other writers, readers, publishers... Words matter continue to use them with care.

Much love and appreciation to the reviewers and review sites who help guide the readers toward and away from our books.
Hugs, Z.

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