Friday, April 25, 2014

The Value of Book Reviews

Many writers claim they never read reviews of their books. They are sufficiently confident in their own abilities and their editors' insights not to seek validation in the comments of readers and reviewers. Of course, by doing this, they also avoid contact with the dreaded Internet book trolls. I've been lucky, so far, never to have attracted the attention of one of those beasts. I can certainly understand refusing to allow baseless negativity to affect one's creativity and drive. However, I do think there's a lot authors can learn from their readers.

Reader response was especially important to me for UNWRITTEN RULES. I was changing genres from Western historical romance to contemporary romantic suspense. I also decided to try self-publishing for the first time. I asked a multi-published friend who writes in the genre to edit the manuscript for me. She was tough and pushed me to make substantial improvements prior to publication, but editing is not her primary occupation. I was basically relying on our combined writing experience to "get it right". Reader reviews have been the best way to judge if I succeeded.

My first three books garnered only a handful of reviews, mostly from people I know. This time I wanted more. Based on the advice of other self-publishers, I added a polite, personal request for a review to the Kindle version right after the end of the story. That did the trick. After my KDP Free Days, the reviews began pouring in. To date, UNWRITTEN RULES has garnered 67 reviews on Amazon, many times the number I've received for any other title.

So what have I learned from these reviews?

  1. Many men have read and liked this book. This was a shock to me. As far as I know, I've never had a male reader before. Now I have to consider the possibility that my work has become more mainstream and choose whether to pursue that.
  2. Readers overwhelmingly enjoyed the "mystery" aspect of the plot. I had never attempted suspense in any form before. I'm not even sure why it worked in this book. I'll have to study what I did and try to replicate it.
  3. Readers would enjoy reading more about these characters. I had held off on putting the time into writing a series until I saw whether UNWRITTEN RULES was a success. Now I've decided to pursue the Phoenix, Ltd. series, although with a different hero and heroine for each story.
  4. Graphic love scenes are neither necessary or expected in this "crossover" genre. Not one reviewer mentioned wanting more or less sex. I'm actually relieved by this. At some publishers, romance editors pressure writers to make their writing hotter. I'm glad so many ordinary readers were satisfied with the heat level I'm comfortable with.
Without the feedback from reviews, I would have wondered and worried about all these aspects of UNWRITTEN RULES. Reader comments have allowed me to make adjustments and move forward with confidence. 

Fellow writers: do you read your reviews? What do you get from them? Readers: do you ever write reviews? Do other's reviews help you choose books?

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Opposite of Easy

For the last two decades, one of OG's favorite observations of life has been "it isn't easy". This applies to minor daily annoyances as well as boulders in the path of progress. I usually agree politely then dismiss these comments as whining. I'm a "cinch up your belt and scale the boulders" kind of girl. However, the past couple of weeks have given me pause.

After a year of major remodeling, we moved into our new house four weeks ago today. Moving is always stressful, but we've moved ten times in the past, so I wasn't terribly concerned. Unfortunately, OG (who has always been a mountain of moving strength before) succumbed to the stress of this one. In the months leading up to the move, he allowed every complication and uncertainty to pile on top each other until they crushed him. After the move, he worked himself into a frenzy by trying to conquer his self-imposed to-do list faster than his mind or body would allow. The result was the worst headache of his life that ultimately landed him in the hospital for 3 days. 

OG has always jokingly referred to himself as a sufferer of DFS (delicate flower syndrome), but nothing could be further from the truth. He tries to do everything himself and ignores the fact that he'll be sixty-five next month. This hospitalization brought that truth home with a thud.

Because of his age and the fact that he has no history of headaches, the doctors had to rule out everything from a brain tumor to an incipient aneurysm. After he had a CT scan, they insisted on a spinal tap to make sure there had been no bleeding in the brain. OG fainted, and I don't blame him. I would have run screaming from the building. Even after that was clear, the neurologist insisted on an MRI. 

OG has crippling claustrophobia, and has physically broken out of an MRI machine in the past. We warned everyone, and saw that it was written on his chart. He needs massive sedation. However, on the morning of the test, the nurse missed the note. I'm glad I wasn't there to see the result. On the next try, they gave him a little sedation and let me go in with him and hold his hand. No go. By this time he was completely traumatized. However, the next morning he was willing to try again - anything to get out of that hospital! They gave him more drugs, I went in with him, and he psyched himself through it. Ten hours later, I finally got to take him home. 

To top it all off, he picked up a horrible respiratory bug in the hospital and gave it to me. No, it hasn't been easy.

Why were the doctors so insistent on the MRI, you might ask? Because they had seen the scar from a previous stroke on the CT scan. We had no idea. However, it does help explain some of the neurological symptoms he'd been complaining of for some time. We were actually relieved to know the cause wasn't some ongoing disease process like MS, but now we're both coming to grips with the fact that he may not be able to do everything he wants, the way he wants to, in the future. That's very sobering, especially for him. The adage "aging isn't for sissies" has come home to roost.

I'm very proud of OG for the way he's approaching things now. He's making a strong, and so far successful, effort to remain calm in the face of frustration (not like him at all). He's prioritizing his projects and completing them with my help. He's accepted that it makes more sense to hire people to do some difficult tasks. And he's looking at his bucket list to make sure he gets to do the things that really matter. Life doesn't come with guarantees.

As difficult as it's been, this experience may have taught us an important lesson about aging gracefully. We'll see if the lesson sticks.