We Learn Something From Every Review + a Giveaway

We Learn Something From Every Review + a Giveaway

Being part of the small #Austenesque writers’ community (although one which grows every day), I have observed in myself something which undoubtedly (given the posts and comments I have read) is common from author to author. We all obsess over the reviews of our books.

Now, that is nothing new. All we need to do is to watch any Black and White offering from the 1930s or 40s where the actors, producers, and director are clustered in Sardi’s awaiting the reviews from the opening night. However, these notices in the six or seven major New York dailies would spell life or death for the show. Good reviews and the show would go on. Bad reviews mean that losses must be cut. In the end, the show quickly closes, never again to be mentioned except in the obituaries of its creators. And, even then, if theirs was a generally successful collaboration, the failures would be relegated to an obscure mention.

While it is true that good or bad reviews impact the sales of print and e-books, neither good nor bad comments will affect the actual availability of the book (unless the author withdraws it). The offering will always be there with its trail—either long or short…or in between—of stars shining for all to see. An author’s legacy is based upon reader impressions of their work.

So, it is a natural human impulse to focus on the ratings given by our readers. Yet, sometimes it is an equally normal behavior to only focus on the number of stars awarded. “Oh lord…a two-star just got posted!” or “Yipee…another five-star!”

I have found that I, myself, am guilty of this. Part of me wants to replicate the broader memes within works that generated a positive reviews and to avoid stylizations that earned two-stars. The danger of this is that the rating is not the review. And that is the purpose of this post.

Uncomfortable as it may be, an author (not a writer) needs to read the motivation behind the rating. And, boy does that hurt!”

However, #Austenesque readers are quite astute. They quickly understand that authors do what they do because it satisfies some inner urge and not just to lay thousands of words down over the course of weeks and months in order to make money (although we must recall that Charles Dickens was paid by the word). Thus, consumers of works #InspiredByAusten offer cogent and erudite comments that can be useful to authors seeking to improve their craft.

I offer for your consideration (apologies to Rod Serling) some reviews with annotations by this commentator.

3 Star Review of “The Keeper” by H. Bok

“I knocked off a star because the author’s grasp of Regency language, manners, and mores was not up to the level of his grasp of history.”

This caught my eye. You need to recall that The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey was written between October 2015 and April 2016. T’was my first foray into the genre. I dove back into the manuscript and re-read it with an eye toward if not the actual language, then the tone. What I found was a 21st Century transliteration of the imagined Regency World. I am now on the third polish (obviously a work in progress) of The Keeper.

Plus, I discovered that I needed beta readers who were versed in the dimensions of the genre. I am not faulting either of my betas for The Keeper, but neither were imbued in the styles of two centuries ago. Others now critique my first drafts.

As for the language itself, I have sought to moderate my worst tendencies in my use of modern English. While I do not actually try to recreate 19th Century British English, what I do write is my best estimation of what readers (not scholarly ones) imagine the speech of the 19th Century was like.

2 Star Review of “The Exile Part 1”

“While I’m intrigued by the premise, (spoiler alert, sorry!) I’m not one to read scenes of violence on females.”

Yet a 4 Star Review for the same…

“The story is a fascinating one and I understand why it has been told in this manner:…I worked with abused women and children and know that it is very difficult now to allow things done to a person to forever make a mark on one’s life. This story has the best treatment and rehabilitation for a person so scarred.”

How does one deal with this? There were similar comments about the graphic scene in Hyde Park in Of Fortune’s Reversal.

I can and do understand that some readers may ascribe a certain misogynistic intent when a male author writes a scene involving female rape or physical violence to a woman. I get it. I will be frank, I cannot write, let alone read or watch, any scene where a child is endangered. That rises from a personal tragedy now 31 years old. Yet, there is a story in the Bennet Wardrobe universe waiting to be written where the death of a child will play a major role. T’will be written, albeit with tears.

However, with The Exile, Of Fortune’s Reversal, and The Maid and The Footman, I was engaged in a process that did demand just that…a violent act committed against a woman. If we can agree that the act of writing is a creative effort, then authors, if they are willing to be honest with themselves and their readers, cannot self-edit to avoid uncomfortable topics.

This is not written in arrogance. On the contrary, if I follow an organic path and if that trail leads to a menacing or violent situation against a man or woman, then I will compose it. However, much like Law and Order SVU, I have decided that if I am going to offer challenging or disturbing scenes in my work, I will give readers fair warning.

See the following from the Preface to my upcoming Lessers and Betters that brings the paired novellas Of Fortune’s Reversal and The Maid and The Footman under one cover.

Finally, some readers earlier have expressed concerns about the violence committed against Miss Bennet and the graphic nature of the subsequent life-saving surgery undertaken by Mr. Maturin and Dr. Campbell as it is portrayed in both stories. I do regret any discomfort these cold douches of realism may have caused. However, neither sequence is in any sense gratuitous nor were these scenes intended for sensational purposes. Rather, I felt that the narrative truth of both novellas demanded that all who become immersed in this specific story of Kitty Bennet, Richard Fitzwilliam, Annie Reynolds, and Henry Wilson also would become occupied by the same despair and desperation that was experienced during those terrible weeks of November 1815.

All of #InspiredByAusten authors go where our stories lead us. But, we also go to school on the wonderfully prescient pointers provided by our readers. Sheila M will note with pleasure that I now include a Dramatis Personae at the front end of every book…and have gone back to include a cast of characters at the opening of the older books.

My next release is entitled Lessers and Betters. Anticipated date for the book is May 28, 2018. The cover is being revealed today on another website.

Lessers and Betters is a combined presentation of paired novellas—Of Fortune’s Reversal and The Maid and The Footman. They were certainly not composed together. OFR was penned four months before M&F. Now, I did not answer the following review by creating Lessers and Betters, but the new book responds to the confusion that may have been engendered when only the first novella existed.

Four Star Review for Of Fortune’s Reversal

“What I didn’t like: lack of explanations. I am sorry to say there were several situations where I was left with a big question mark [?] in my head, yeah, like that one. What was the deal with Wickham? What happened to him? I may need to read this again. Did I miss something? And who was behind the kidnapping in the first place? Or did the culprit act alone? That was not clear. There were a lot of people running around; half of them were related; I was confused as to who they were; why they were there, what was their purpose, what did they want, and now that I have forgotten my original thought, I don’t remember what I was talking about.”

So, JW, herewith is your solution, I hope. Again from my Preface to the Combined Volume:

I offer both books together under one cover because it is my belief that the experience of absorbing the two discourses—that of the betters followed by that of the lessers—will offer the most rewarding experience as a reader considers the themes flowing through Great Britain as its social structure metamorphosed. Moving directly from one to the other without an intervening gap of weeks or months will (hopefully) create a deeper inner dialogue over which readers can mull.

Please be sure to enter the drawing for a copy of the Lessers and Betters e-book (worldwide) and paperback (USA only) by leaving a comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EDST, Wednesday, 3/30/18. Winners will be announced on June 2, 2018.

Please enjoy the new cover designed by the remarkable Janet B. Taylor. I look forward to your thoughts on the new book.

Here is the book blurb as it appears on Amazon (e-book now available for pre-order for delivery on 5/26)

Experience Love As It Blooms Upstairs and Downstairs

Lessers and Betters asserts that class is an imaginary distinction conferring no better manners on the haves and no lesser nobility on the have-nots and that the deepest human emotions are universal and ignore wealth or status.

Now for the first time under the same cover, discover the paired novellas that explore the remarkable events of November 5, 1815 when the Cecil Governess, Kitty Bennet, was grievously injured as she defended her charge. What rests behind the attack? Readers of Lessers and Betters will experience a unique literary unique approach that offers both gentry and servant perspectives presented in their own self-contained novellas.

Of Fortunes Reversal: A brisk Hyde Park morning is shattered by a child’s scream. How two gently-born adults react in those next few desperate moments sets the plot in motion that is a unique reconsideration of the traditional Pride and Prejudice memes. Of Fortune’s Reversal is a novella-length tale based upon an inversion of Mrs. Bennet’s exclamation that with one good marriage, the other girls would be thrown in front of rich men. What if the well-wed sister was neither Jane nor Elizabeth?

The Maid and The Footman: Explore the growing affection between a young lady’s maid, Annie Reynolds, and a retired sergeant, Henry Wilson: ultimately a love story as great as any written by the immortals. In the Jane Austen universe, the celebrated novels are written from the point-of-view of the landed gentry. Servants are rarely seen except to open doors, serve dinner, or fetch smelling salts. Follow Annie and Henry as they combine with General Sir Richard Fitzwilliam and Miss Bennet to defeat an awesome threat aimed at the heart of the British Empire. (Total book is approx. 82,000 words)

32 Responses to We Learn Something From Every Review + a Giveaway

  1. Don, I have to admit with shame that ever since I was hospitalized for 30-days last August/Sept. with my open-heart surgery I have not caught up in reading the e-mailed blogs I subscribe too. The last several days I have once again been going back and trying to pare down the list. I do like to read my books over reading blogs so I don’t devote enough time as is needed. I blushed and then laughed to read the mention of my need for the list of names and relationships for your Wardrobe series. I did print that out for myself so your efforts were not wasted. Now if I could get around to reading the rest of your stories. I must say I am a creature who is lured by a good review written by my friends on GRs so I will even drop what I am reading and go off to read something that sounds better. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Thanks for sharing. I do appreciate all the work authors put into their stories and know that I could never have the patience myself. Regency language is one place I would fail but I do know that my ear tells me when it just doesn’t sound right in a story I am reading. So…good luck with your writing and with your publications.

    • Thank you Sheila for your note which brought a smile to my face! I do look forward to your thoughts about my stories. As for the language; I make no claims that I am even attempting to write in the Regency style. I offer, rather, my interpretation of what the language and styling may have sounded like if written by someone in the 21st century…and read by others likewise in the 21st Century.

  2. The cover of Lessers and Betters is stunning, much better than the original novellas. You are fortunate to have the talented Janet Taylor as your cover designer, Don. I already owned both novellas so my question is what is the difference between the earlier books and this one? Did you change something to tighten the story or just combining both stories into one book with a new cover? Should I read this latest book instead?

    • Hi…If you have both books, there is nothing different except that I have smoothed the writing (as part of creating the script for Audible). However, I put them together because there is no obvious connection between the two books when simply searching for a P&P variation on Amazon. As I noted in my Preface, I believe that reading the two in tight sequence (OFR first then followed by M&F) will deliver a different and optimal discursive reading experience, allowing the participant to arrive a new understanding of the broader meaning of the events. Imagine if you read M&F first and then read OFR…confusing! Touch base with me using mss…have a thought.

  3. Well Don… looks like I will get the answers to my questions in the following books. You know we love you. I already have books 1&2 and look forward to the launch of this new book. I loved the General in book 1 and your second book is trapped in a traffic jam on that TBR pile of mine that is a mile high. I can read them together. Thanks for posting today and many blessings on the launch of this work.

    • Thank you JW. I appreciate that you like what I do. As I commented to Luthien, I believe that reading the two books in close sequence will deliver the best experience. I am shooting for a deeper appreciation of both the gentle and servant life and relationship, especially as roles begin to change with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Lessers and Betters is designed to put readers in that frame where I want them to be as they become involved with the world I am seeking to create.

  4. When I had a business, I got fan mail and once in a while some complaints. The fan mail was great. Who doesn’t like to be liked? But I always carefully looked at and was thoughtful about any complaints. They were the most valuable to me. I hope that authors will take it as constructive or a personal preference and not an attack. Sometimes, people do leave very negative feedback but if it made no sense to me, I would think it was more about them then about me or my work.

    As a reader, it is hard for me to leave a bad review and with JAFF books, I am pretty generous. Still, sometimes, I do leave a negative review and find myself writing lukewarm reviews. I think that most of us in the JAFF world want our writers to be successful and open each book wanting to love it. We want to be your best friend and fans so that is a major gift right out of the gate.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments. As humans we tend to focus on the truly negative aspects of any poor review. T’is a natural inclination, I think. However, as authors, I hope we can look deeper to find the kernels of gold hidden there that will help us tell more relatable and interesting stories. Good luck in the give-away! Please also check out JustJane1813 for an excerpt and another giveaway opportunity.

  5. Enjoyed your take as an author on reading reviews. I completely understand how important reviews are to an author for it is basically sending your child out into the world. This, however, is for authors who care about what they write and the readers who will read their books. Respect certainly works both ways. As a reader, who has only been writing reviews since 2016, I take to heart what I read and what I feel into my reviews. A lack of confidence in myself by putting my opinion on book out there was rather intimidating! There are books that I have read that have not resonated with me and I try to say why. Mostly, it is lack of proofing which drives me nuts and I will not buy the authors book again unless I hear otherwise. Other times, it just doesn’t grab me, and that is where I struggle to determine what is missing. Sometimes I can explain it other times I cannot.

    Congratulations on ‘Lessers and Betters’! I love the book as well as the front and back cover that Janet Taylor and yourself have created. The eye patch and music sheets along with the glove are a brilliant touch! Please do not enter me into the giveaway.

  6. I am an avid JAFF reader, but I have a difficult time writing reviews. I struggle to indicate my level of enjoyment in the story without revealing critical content. My reviews are usually very short, and I do not post a review if I truly do not like a book. I do know how important reviews are so I do usually post a review. I look forward to reading this book, and I love the cover.

    • Hi there…I think that negative reviews have a purpose since there are no real gatekeepers in this new world of publishing. Prospective readers have no real way to know what to expect unless they have reviews from those who have gone before them, so to speak. That said, of course, I do believe that responsible reader/reviewers will offer clarity when they offer a negative–or positive–review. I hope you will find the reading of “Lessers and Betters” to be a truly rewarding experience.

  7. I don’t leave reviews very often, but, when I do, I try to write something meaningful — not just a “didn’t like it” message. I am so far behind on my TBR pile, but I promise, you are in there! Thank you for the chance to win a copy.

    • I really do see the modern publishing model as much more collaborative. the relationship between reader and author is a critical nexus. Thank you for your good thoughts!

  8. Well, for what it’s worth, you’ve got one reader out here who will take a romance with a side of surgery (surgery with a side of romance?) but it sounds like I’d better prepare myself for some bad reviews of my own – my current project involves the hero becoming enamored with a patient’s sister and having to try to bring her past the frankly awful (if necessary) things he’s done to her brother! It’s not JAFF and I will have to do some serious thought about who the audience is supposed to be, but who am I kidding – I’m out to flip literary tables. I’m a mean writer. I can’t afford to be too hurt about mean reviews.

    • Summer…Sounds like we need to change your meds! Seriously, though, I seriously take my responsibility as an author to bring my readers to a different state of awareness…to challenge them…to provoke a reconsideration of norms. I cherish your feedback and look forward to your thoughts on Lessers and Betters.

  9. Interesting post. I imagine that it would be hard to absorb all the positive and negative reviews as a writer. As a reader (and consumer) I try not to only pay attention to the total stars. I go looking at why the rating was given. Many have nothing to do with the product itself. Thank you for the giveaway and congratulations!

  10. Interesting post. I imagine as an author it’s very difficult to read the negative reviews particularly those that are negative without any reasons given.

  11. My aim is not to leave bad reviews on Amazon just the good ones. If I don’t like a book I do try to be constructive in my review, but in the past year I just stop reading them and remove them from my tablet – there are just too many books I want to read to spend time on a book I don’t like. Reading lots of mysteries I do read about violence a lot, it is the swearing that puts me off a book. I still get amazed by the range in reviews -some books which I have hated get 5 stars, others which I have loved get 1 or 2. My husband who writes does try and accept that not everybody will like his books but gets frustrated when people give one star reviews because they didn’t realise it was a horror/fantasy etc book – then why did you buy it then?

    • Hey V…Honesty is always the way to go. In-depth reviews always have nuggets of pure gold that will help in future (and in my case…because I can keep on editing and uploading fresh files until the day I die!!!!) books. I do not like swearing, although if it fits the essential nature of the character…recall the great Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda? They could never do a live interview with him because he used that wonderful old/middle English word that sounds like “fructify” as an adjective, pronoun, noun, and verb! I do not do gyno-correct love scenes. Just not needed as far as I am concerned…although I did imply a lot in the scene in The Exile where Astrid Winters raped Tommy Gardiner.

  12. Thank you for your honest reviews of your writing. I agree that it is hard to detect tone in Regency writing, and I appreciate how you are able to embrace a review even though it is hard. It is difficult to read about violence against women; however, it exists today and also during Regency times. Thank goodness that women have recourses to take now. I would love to read Lessers and Betters to see how you have linked the two books. Thank you for the giveaway and keep writing!

    • EE…thank you for this wonderful comment. My wife laughed when I told the title of this blog. We both knew from where I “stole” it. There was a great movie from many years ago….”Crazy People” starring Steve Martin as an ad executive (a trade which resonates with me) who suffers a complete breakdown. He opened an ad shop in the asylum. One of the headlines in particular (for United)…”We learn something from every crash”…yet, there is a subtle and profound truth to be found therein. Even a well-thought-out scrorcher of a review should give the author pause…even if it is to suggest (as Dick Cavett once did) that the writer has placed their head “where the sun never shines.” Wish you well!

  13. As a new author, I am learning that there is something to take out of every review.

    Congratulations on your new release and thank you for the chance to win a copy. 🙂

Comments are precious!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.