Thursday, February 27, 2014

Heartbreakingly Beautiful Writing and One Star Reviews

As a genre writer specializing in mystery and suspense, I have to admit the tiniest bit of contempt for literary authors--the ones who spent years in higher education, only to stumble into the Real World with an MFA in Creative Writing and a six figure student loan debt.

They come out having learned how to write for each other and especially their instructors. A librarian friend once told me she’s received many books from recent MFA recipients where she can almost see the praise the authors were seeking from their professors written in the margins.

Okay, maybe my contempt is not all that tiny.

But that attitude changed dramatically after reading This Is Not an Accident: Stories. It’s a collection of short stories and a novella. The stories all deal with dysfunctional people doing the best they can to function. These stories are quirky, sad, funny and darkly humorous. And the writing is often heartbreakingly beautiful. I gave the book five stars in my review, a rating I rarely give out.

Full disclosure, I received a free copy from the publisher.

When I finished the book, I found myself wanting to forget about writing books that entertain people with puzzles to solve, and devote myself to writing stories that are just as heartbreakingly beautiful. I want to put together words in such a way they would touch your soul, make you feel and make you think, possibly change your life.

I even thought about taking the last of my Jeopardy! winnings and enrolling in a creative writing program. (Not going to happen. That bit of cash is earmarked to give my husband a fantasy racing weekend at the Virginia International Raceway).

Imagine my dismay when I read the reviews on Goodreads for This Is Not An Accident. Out of the 15 reviews posted, the book received a pair of two-star reviews and five one star reviews. It has an average rating of 3.48, hardly a ringing endorsement.

Even more disturbing for me was the fact that the five of the seven negative reviewers disclosed that they had received a free copy through Goodreads Giveaways. And for all I know, the other two had received free copies as well and just forgot to mention it. 

As an author I know that when you offer your book as a Goodreads Giveaway, an honest review means an honest review. The possibility that the winners may not like your book is always there. I’m of the “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All” school of reviewing for everyone except established authors--I figure E.L. James can handle my trashing Fifty Shades of Grey but a new author should be encouraged. Of course, not everyone feels that way.

I don’t fault the reviewers for saying they didn’t like the book. That’s what Goodreads is all about. Readers share their opinions on books with other readers.

But I do feel bad for the author. Her publisher went to the expense of sending out books to readers in an attempt to promote the book and through whatever mysterious algorithm Goodreads uses, the books were put in the hands of people who did not like them and said as much online, making the book appear below average in ratings.

I hope that potential readers consider the positive reviews for this book as well as the negative ones. I don’t want this writer judged by the opinions of a few random book winners who found the book wasn't their cup of tea.

I also hope that Ms. Wilder is not affected by the poor response for her book on Goodreads and that she’ll continue writing.

But I’m pretty sure I don’t need to worry about that. I would bet that April Wilder couldn’t stop writing even if her life depended on it. It’s the sort of thing no amount of coaxing, or prodding, or one star reviews on Goodreads can change.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. Hi Judy, wonderful to e-meet you.

    I disagree with you, somewhat, re: encouraging non-established writers with nice (or non) reviews. There's a lot of (mostly but not all self-pubbed) dreck out there. I don't go out of my way to find it, nor to trash ANY writer, but I don't think that anyone is ENTITLED to make a living as a writer (or an architect, or a painter). When a writer only receives good reviews, no feedback on what readers disliked about his/her book, s/he has no way to fix that in the next book. And let's face it, some writers rush a not-ready-for-prime-time work "out there" without paying the craft the respect of working to learn it, joining crit groups and using a real editor.

    I am intrigued, however, by your description of this book and am adding to my TBR list.