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.
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)