Too Real For Fiction?

 

A Fact Checker Is Born

I’ve always been geeky, more so at some phases of my life than others. Back in the late 90s, when I finally gave in and started internet service for my work computer, I was instantaneously hooked. All that lovely information out there, right at my fingertips! Suddenly, I could easily and quickly access facts about any subject I chose, no matter how obscure.

Besides being geeky, I’ve also always expected authors to know at least basic information about their settings, and other elements of their books. Put a key Civil War battle in the wrong location, call a mare ‘he’, or place a wild animal outside its possible ecological range, and the book turned into a wall-banger. Add the internet, and I could immediately check facts that just didn’t quite ring true.

WRONG!!!

And apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Today’s reading public is more demanding than ever for accuracy and realism in fiction. We want police procedures to ring true, manufacturer-model-caliber of firearms, medical facts accurate enough for the JAMA, and so on.

As a result of all that, countless readers criticize certain genres for being unrealistic. Make up a creature? Can’t exist, so it’s unrealistic. Alternate history? Yeah, right. A man who treats the woman he loves with respect? Absolutely not!

If you’re going to do something like those things, as an author, you’re often expected to make sure everything else in your book is accurate. No fudging historical details. No bending of physical laws. No hedging of medical details. No liberties with geography. No contriving logic. Well, you can, but someone, probably lots of them, is going to give you grief about it.

The info hound in me is glad for this insistence on accuracy. In part, because it means that as I read, I might be gathering little bits of trivia that could prove useful eventually. Also because I don’t like misinformation being distributed as what someone might mistake for truth.

Creativity v. Real

But the creative part of me wonders just how much realism and accuracy I should expect in fiction. It is, after all, fiction. Inherently not real. Do I really need the author to give the right police code for a kitten up a tree, when the responding officer is going to fall victim to the spree killer? And do I seriously care what kind of suture the surgeon uses to close the gut-spilling, as long as the hero survives it? And what the hell difference does it make whether the germ causing the pandemic is correctly named and classified, if the heroine doesn’t manage to get the cooler with the cure in it across the city so it can be put to use? Do I really care if the heroine’s ball gown is a color that won’t be widely available for another 75 years, as long as she manages to escape the evil countess’s clutches and entice the duke into falling in love with her?

Seriously?

As a reader, why do I get pissed if the author fails to correctly name an obscure object, if the characters are multi-dimensional, the plot interesting, the conflicts exciting, and all the elements of the story well-written? Is it really that important?

I’m not questioning whether the big things should be realistic, things like key battles in the wrong location in a historical novel, or sending low-slung sports cars along heavily rutted logging tracks in a contemporary novel, and that sort of thing.

I’m talking about those little insider details that no one outside a particular field of expertise would know. Do you care that the little container a tattoo artist puts the ink in when tattooing someone is called an ink cap? Or that the narrow band at the top of a horse’s hoof is the coronet? If it doesn’t matter to the story as a whole, do we need our fiction to be that real?

What’s your preference, as a reader? Do you like books filled with excruciatingly real details? Or can you tolerate a little laxness, if the story is good, and otherwise well-written? What are some of the glaring errors you’ve spotted in books?

A Hero To Die For

**Just a note before your regularly scheduled post. WordPress has offered the opportunity for bloggers to protest SOPA/PIPA, either by going dark today, or displaying the “Stop Censorship” Ribbon until the Jan 24th  Senate vote on SOPA/PIPA, or both. I decided to go with the ribbon, for various reasons.

As a writer, I am 100% against online piracy and theft of Intellectual Property. If I choose to give my work away, I will do so, but I don’t want anyone stealing it from me. But I do NOT believe this legislation is the way to go about protecting against those crimes. I urge EVERYONE in the US to contact their US Senators and tell them point-blank, “Do NOT support SOPA/PIPA if you want to SERVE another term!” Remind them they serve at the pleasure of the people, to represent the people.

If they do not accurately represent you, WORK against them in their next re-election bid. Don’t bitch about the poor job they do if you sit home on election day and justify your lack of fulfilling your civic responsibility by whining that the rich dude or the corporate dude or the insert-your-own-adjective dude will win no matter what. He absolutely WILL if you, and everyone else, continue to sit on your ass and do nothing about it. If you do the work, and he wins anyway, then at least you have the right to bitch. And next time, work harder!

OK. ‘Nuff said. Let’s get on with it.

A Hero To Die For

This piece originally appeared on GraveTells.com, Nov. 4, 2011. I wrote it as part of “The Hero Chronicles Discussions Series”. I’ve decided to run it again here, as part of my ongoing “Nailing Down the Essentials” Writer Wednesday series. It’s the second (here’s the first) post in a series on character development that I’ve been thinking about for a while. You can expect further entries on other types of characters, like heroines, villains, sidekicks, secondaries, and throw-aways/red-shirts.

So, here we go. (Oh, and despite serious temptation, I left out the NSFW pics that really wanted to be included. *sigh* The sacrifices I make for you.)

A Hero To Die For

You know him – the one that makes your heart pound at the thought of being near him, and not just because he’s so beautiful. Being the woman that wins his heart would satisfy you in a way nothing else could. He’s the Hero.

Impressive Cardboard?

Romance novel heroes tend to get a bad rap in the rest of the literary world. What’s that? …Oh, right. The rest of the world, literary or not. Many people believe heroes are just gorgeous faces with chiseled jaws, ripped bods with washboard abs. And don’t forget the “impressive manhood”.

Paranormal Romance heroes have an even worse rep. They’re supposed to be all-the-above, plus they’re either emo vampires, or savage werewolves, bad angels, or redeemable demons. Sci-Fi Romance has its misunderstood aliens. Historical Romance has the rakehell noblemen. Non-Romance readers probably associate all the subgenres with some stereotypical Hero or other.

The few who are so one-dimensional are the ones to get noticed, and perpetuate the misconceptions. No wonder non-Romance readers don’t want to get to know them. I wouldn’t either, if that were truly all they were. Fortunately, there’s sooo much more to a good Hero.

The Perfect Hero

But what makes a really good Hero? What makes him who he is? Can he be imperfect? Damaged? Not physically beautiful? That’s what we’re here to figure out.

A person’s appearance is often our first impression. Our, and the Heroine’s, first impression of the Hero is no different. What is it about him that catches her, and our, attention? I’ve read Heroes with phenomenal good looks, and just average appearances, and a few who were horribly scarred. But there’s something more, some indefinable quality, about all of them. Whatever it is, that quality makes them utterly beautiful to their Heroine.

A man’s actions can tell us a lot about him. There are good boys and bad boys, both in novels and in real life. The bad ones seem to be favored right now, just begging to put the past behind them and start all over with the right woman (though we all know that in real life, bad boys usually stay bad). But just because he’s bad, doesn’t mean he can’t have a good side. And even the good boys will do bad things if they have to, and since life is messy, they often do. Then we have Alphas, who take charge naturally, and Betas, who step up when it matters, and both can be sexy as hell.

But appearance and personality are just parts of the person, like so many pieces of the puzzle. What really brings a Hero to life is change. If he’s the same man at the end of the book as he was at the beginning, he’s just window dressing – a hot body to fill in certain empty spaces in the book. Not a real person.

At a bare minimum, he has to have a conflict, and work to resolve it. Ideally, he’ll be conflicted in several areas of his life, both internally and externally. Real people can fight the bad guys, and work on overcoming a phobia stemming from a childhood trauma, while seeing that their elderly mom has what she needs, and making bullies leave the neighbor’s kid alone, all while they’re coming to terms with the monster that lives in their heart, and so can a Hero. While he’s dealing with whatever trouble the author throws at him, he can also handle issues from a bad childhood, along with a jealous ex. Our Hero might not settle all his conflicts, but he will grow as a person because of them.

Romances from a couple of decades ago were full of Heroes who swooped in on their white horses and rescued the Heroine, whether she wanted to be saved or not. Today’s ideal Hero (with an action based plot) fights at his Heroine’s side to save both their asses, and is just as likely to need rescuing as she is. If there’s no bad guy, he’ll still fight, in whatever way necessary, to win his Heroine’s heart. He might start out being an arrogant a$$hat, but he’ll learn to respect his Heroine’s opinion and abilities, and to rely on her.

But what really tops it all off, turns a hot, exciting man into the perfect Hero? Love. Whether he’s a good boy, or bad, alpha, or beta, his love for his Heroine makes him perfect. The kind of love that makes him willing to give up his own life, or the very essence of who he is, for her. He will go through hell and back, and we hope for an ending that allows him to survive, win the heroine’s love, and spend the rest of his life loving her.

One of my favorites is JR Ward’s Vishous. What I like about him is that he comes with baggage of several varieties. He’s also not just a muscle bound warrior – he’s fearsomely intelligent and tech savvy. Definitely not a good boy, he’s a stone cold killer when necessary, and into some pretty hardcore BDSM, but he’ll do anything for the people he cares about. While he’s gorgeous, he’s not the traditional so-handsome-it-hurts-to-look-at-him beautiful. Doc Jane, his Heroine, is his reason for living. He might be a character in a novel, but he’s real.

Who Are Your Favorites?

Who are your favorites? Why? Do you prefer bad boys, or good boys? Alphas or Betas? Movie-star-handsome, or not? Describe your perfect Hero – not just how he looks, but those aspects of him that make him who he is.

What The H*ll Do You Want???

What do you, as a reader, want on author blogs? I see all kinds of things, and some pretty nonsensical advice from gurus claiming to know what readers want from author blogs and websites. So, as usual when I want to know something, I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth. BTW, if you’re a reader, that’s you. So, here goes.

Not All Readers Are Created Equal.

A large percentage of the visitors to writers/authors blogs and sites are other writers. What they want may be vastly different from what the non-writer reader wants. As a result, we each have to decide which reader we want to target. Do we go for other writers, and have a pretty much guaranteed audience? Or seek out people who might actually buy our books and enjoy them?

Or, do we perhaps try for a mix, other writers and regular readers? If we do that, how do we achieve some sort of balance, or even separation, so that everyone gets what they want, without the parts they don’t want? Separate blogs/sites, one for writers, one for readers, aren’t an uncommon solution. The writer has to split her time and efforts, often inefficiently, and often leading to one blog being of far inferior quality than the other. If we take that course, which side gets sacrificed?

Other Writers As Readers

See, while writers tend to be voracious readers, we also tend to be 1.) very selective in reading material, and 2.) often, many of us are on a pretty tight budget. We often read extensively in our own genre, sometimes with a very narrow focus within it, but not much else. Or we read lots of writing craft books. Or only authors we wish to emulate. Or… Anyway, often, we don’t look at all the carefully placed marketing materials on author blogs.

With frequently limited reading time, as we push to write our own material, we look for blogs and sites that have materials that will help us improve our writing, find an agent, get published, and sell our books. Word quickly gets around about blogs that provide such useful materials, and they develop large followings.

So, if we’re aiming our blog or site at other writers, we need to focus on materials that will help other writers be more successful.

Readers As Readers

Here’s where things get tricky. What if we want people who are looking for books to make our blog their favorite online hang-out? Of course, we’d love to have the avid reader, the one who consumes multiple books per week, reading our blog. What does she look for in an author’s blog?

Our avid reader might be up for an occasional day-in-the-life sort of post, if she’s a little curious about how and what writers actually do. Writing craft posts aren’t too likely to catch her attention, though. She might like reviews, to help her choose other books to buy, but do we want to send her to buy from the competition?

How can we keep her focus on our work? Cover art, blurbs, and buy links should probably go without saying. How else will the reader know what books we have, and how to get them? I also see excerpts on quite a few author sites, of all levels, so the conventional wisdom would seem to favor excerpts. Give the reader a little taste of the product, as it were. But where do we go from there?

Leave It To The Imagination

One author (I’m sure there are many more doing this, too.) has a page on her website dedicated to artwork related to her books. That sounds good, on the surface. The problem is, she uses these computer drawn images of her characters, which can be gorgeous, when well done. Hers aren’t. They’re very took-one-class-and-now-I’m-a-professional-artist looking, with uneven proportions and colors that resemble dog-puke together. Such things, done purposely, can work, but not in this case. It ends up making her look like an amateur, almost childish, instead of a professional author.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but even before I came back to writing fiction seriously, that sort of thing really turned me off as a reader. If the representations of characters aren’t extremely well done, I greatly prefer my imagination.

Involving Readers?

I know of one mid-list author whose fans sometimes sent her original, professionally done graphics, just to share their enthusiasm for her books. She, with the artists’ permission, used the graphics on her website, and when the collection grew, on merchandise. She has gorgeous hoodies and tees with the graphics, and short quotes and slogans, for sale on her site. I have no idea how well that’s going, but with fabulous artwork, reasonable prices, and good quality, I’d be surprised if it weren’t successful.

How that can translate to other authors, I have no idea, but it seems worth exploring.

Other authors involve readers in various ways – giveaways and contests, responding to reader questions publicly, social media interactions, interviews, blog tours, reviews, newsletters, and etc. The problem with these things is that everyone is doing them, making it tough to stand out from the crowd. We’re told by all the experts that these things will translate to book sales, and they probably do for some. But isn’t there more we can do, without wasting effort and money?

The Question, Then, Becomes:

What can writers/authors do to draw actual readers to our blogs/sites, and keep them involved and returning? Even those of us just starting out, perhaps not even published yet? What can we do to build a loyal following of readers, eagerly anticipating the release of our (next) book?

Do any of the methods listed above catch your attention as a reader, bring you to our blog/site, and keep you coming back for more? Or do they all just get lost in the shuffle? What kinds of things writers do to promote their work annoy you? Would you buy their books even if you’re a little put off by their marketing?

What can authors do to make you feel special, and valued, as an individual? What can we do to convince you to be our reader?

 

No Authors (or Elephants) Allowed!!!

A recent post on Dear Author sparked a discussion in my blogging network about whether authors should thank reviewers. According to the post, even a simple Thank You in the Comments of the review will kill discussion among readers.

I can see that happening if the review, or the ongoing discussion, is negative. Most people are uncomfortable saying unflattering things about a person’s work if they know that person is listening in. Especially if the phrasing is less than tactful. But if the discussion and review are positive, why would the readers abandon the conversation?

DON’T?

Now, in my Rethinking Reviews post, I stated that the best advice I’d ever seen for responding to reviews was simply DON’T. But, like everything else about writing, that approach doesn’t work for every author. Some feel compelled to acknowledge the roughly twelve hours the reviewer put in to read and review their book. In that case, a strictly professional Thank You comment or email seems to be the answer. Saying “Thank you for taking the time to review my book. I’m sorry it wasn’t right for you,” in response to a scathing review can be an effective method of taking the high road, and refusing to stoop to that level. For some readers, it gives the impression of class and professionalism.

No, see, what I really meant was…

One of the dangers of responding to reviews is giving in to the temptation to explain what we really meant when the reviewer obviously misunderstood. As much as we want readers to see exactly what we think we’re showing in the book, explaining can look like making excuses. We don’t want readers to think our writing is so poor that we’re unable to express what we mean, and thus have to provide explanations after the fact. Note – If we’re asked in an interview to explain something about our book, it’s a different situation. We’re expanding on, rather than making excuses for it.

What’s your motive?

Most of us write because we love it, and have a passion for writing. Like anyone else, we like to talk about what we love. So, are authors welcome to join in readers’ discussions of other authors’ books? Like the rest of it, we have to be careful of the impressions we give. If we didn’t care for the book, some people will assume it’s sour grapes, that we’re jealous of that author for whatever reason. And, if we loved the book, some will decide we’re simply promoting our friend’s book, hoping to boost her sales.

Squeee! Fangirl moment

Before I joined online writing communities and became acquainted with several of my favorite authors through the online conversations I’ve had with them, I would have been thrilled if an author deigned to discuss her book with me. These days, I’m ecstatic if an author talks with me about her book. There’s just something about talking with someone who created something that you enjoy.

 

How do you feel about authors joining in book discussions? If an author discusses books, hers or anyone else’s, do you doubt her sincerity and motivation?

Which Pants Are You Wearing?

Okay, so I’m not talking about clothes. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Are you a pantser, or a plotter?

Translation: Do you write by the seat of your pants, with no plan, or do you outline and plot your project?

I used to be a pantser, but over time, became a plotter. As my writing evolved, so did I.

Have you ever taken a walk on the other side of the fence?

The debate about whether it’s best to outline, or not, often becomes heated. Anything so integral to our writing becomes intensely personal, with about as much emotion involved as debates over various child-rearing techniques. So “heated” is a gross understatement.

The point is, everyone thinks their way is best. Several writers, all using the same approach, will each individualize that method until it becomes their own, each finding what works best for them. And once we find something that works, we stick to it, sometimes to the point where writing becomes highly ritualized. Outlines longer than the finished book. Successive drafts in different colors or fonts. One particular location. A certain shirt. Hey, if it works, use it.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

I’m issuing a challenge. The goal is to adapt and expand as a writer.

If you’re a plotter:  Choose a plot question. A What-if? scenario. Something like… What if an angel fell in love with a serial killer?

Once you have your question, without any further thought, start writing. Don’t make any notes. Don’t think any further ahead than the end of the current scene. When you reach the end of the scene, start a new one, no notes, no thought.

If you’re a pantser: Choose your plot question, as above. Before you start writing, name two characters and decide their roles in your scenario. Write down one major, and one minor conflict. Begin with inciting incidents, the course of the conflict, and the resolution, with a minimum of one sentence to summarize each. Then write your story.

Whether you end up with a short story, or a novella, or even a whole novel, maybe you’ll have a few new tools in your repertoire. And just maybe, you’ll find something to add to your current technique that will help you be a better writer. Hell, maybe you’ll even have a little fun.

 

Are you a pantser, a plotter, or something in between?

Everybody’s A Critic

Many online writing communities have a place for writers to post snippets of their work for critique. Several communities revolve exclusively around sharing and critiquing, often on a sort of tit for tat basis. In order to post your work for review, you first have to critique several other writers’ work.

These sites can be invaluable for honing your craft and getting your work polished and ready to submit to editors or agents. But there’s a dark side, too. They can utterly destroy a writer, even a talented, promising one, with the drive and potential to be really good.

How the hell can a writing community destroy a writer?

Not long after I started visiting writing communities, I became a member of a tiny writing forum. One of the writers who often shared her work usually posted really short snippets, almost flash fiction. Her writing needed a great deal of work, but there were good points, too. The rest of us had picked up that there was something different about her circumstance – perhaps she was very young, or had a learning disability. But she loved writing and was proud of her work. We all offered some gentle criticism, and a bit of encouragement.

After a couple of months, one of the other members, who rarely ventured into the share-your-work area, deigned to critique her work. This other writer had been a member for quite a while, and was generally respected as an authority among the dozen or so regular posters. He posted a several hundred word long diatribe about why her work was “utter crap”. When challenged for his cruelty, he continued to rant, saying she didn’t deserve to call herself a writer.

In a very sad post, the first writer apologized for taking up time and space for her crap and promised never to “bother” anyone with it again. She left. I have no way of knowing if she continued to write or not. I hope she did. She enjoyed it, and what she lacked in skill, she made up in enthusiasm and unflagging support for other writers.

 Grow A Thick Skin

I’m not saying this happens on all share/critique sites. Far from it. But there are a few where the most out-spoken critics are harsh, even cruel, in their reviews.

So? Writers have to develop a thick skin. If you can’t take the heat… Rejection and harsh criticism are simply part of the game.

Of course they are. That’s not what I’m talking about. The fact is, there are people out there who totally get off on shredding someone else’s work in a way orchestrated to hurt the writer as much as possible. Even if a piece is decent, they do their utmost to find nothing good. Sometimes, it goes to the point of purposefully misunderstanding the writer’s words. If all that fails, it devolves into personal attacks.

These critics aren’t just critics. They’re bullies. Often, there are other writers on the site who jump in, backing up the bully. They certainly don’t want her attention turned to their work. In return for their loyalty, the bully gives their work favorable criticism, no matter how undeserving.

What about the writer whose work is subject to this form of bullying? Think about it. A dozen or more people, seemingly well-respected, tell you, in so many words, that your best work is utter shit. No one finds anything positive, and if they do, it’s something insignificant.

If you’re thick-skinned enough, you pack up your marbles and go play elsewhere, or perhaps you revise and re-post. If you revise and repost, chances are, the same thing will happen all over again, probably even worse. Heaven forbid you give a less than rave review of the bully’s work! To have such gall is to risk having the toxicity spill over from the writing site into other areas of your online life.

So, what do you do?

First, before posting work or critiquing, check out the community. Read the other members’ critiques, and their work. Do the reviews seem honest, offering constructive criticism that’s clearly explained, pointing out both the good and the bad? Do the reviews actually reflect the quality of the work, or is so-so work being hailed as the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Are the more negative aspects of the critiques worded tactfully, or cruelly?

Search for mentions of the site on other sites. Does it have a good rep among writers? Is there one person, or a small group, that makes the bulk of the critiques? Check the archives. Do people come and go fairly regularly, or do most people join and leave after a short period, with a few members staying for a long time? One or a few people making the bulk of the reviews over an extended period, while others come and go in rapid succession can be a red flag and warrants a closer look.

The answers to those questions will help you decide if the site has anything real to offer. If it doesn’t, keep looking. If you think it might, post a trial piece – something small that isn’t part of a work you’ve poured your heart and soul into. That way, if the critiques turn nasty, you aren’t hurt as badly. Once the critiques are in, ask for clarification of any points you don’t understand, to see if the other members are willing to explain their remarks, without flaming you.

Keep looking until you find a community that fits well. Above all, don’t give an anonymous stranger behind a keyboard the power to take away your dream.

What kind of experiences have you had with sharing your work for critique in online communities? Have you encountered bullies? Or have you found a site that works for you?

What can we do, as a community of creative individuals, to put a stop to this form of bullying, other than refuse to participate?

Writer Wednesday: Rethinking Reviews

There’s been a lot of fuss lately, on blogs and forums, about book reviews. Some writers feel reviews should be all about constructive criticism of the book. Others feel reviews are strictly for readers, to help them decide whether to read the book or not.

As a writer, reader, and reviewer, I firmly believe reviews are for readers. If an author gleans some nugget of helpful information from my review to help her make her next book better, so much the better. But my primary goal when I write a review is to share my thoughts about the book with potential readers. I’ve been fortunate in that all the authors whose books I’ve reviewed have been very professional and classy in their responses. Not all reviewers are so lucky.

Reviewer School?

Reviewers are coming out of the woodwork lately – far too many for authors to begin to keep up with all the reviews. Multiple reviews of the same book can be a good thing for readers, making the decision of where to spend their book $$ a little easier. But so many reviewers also means that not all reviews are created equally, to the consternation of some.

One writer recently accused a reviewer of not being ‘professional’, and not knowing how to write. Since when are reviewers required to be professional? How do they achieve that status? Is it some kind of correspondence school, or a degree at a major university?

Seriously, reviewers are readers. Nothing more. Some are highly educated professionals, some never finished high school, and everything in between. They’re all readers. Some have a great deal of sway over other readers, and within the publishing industry, while some influence only a few people, but they’re all still just readers. They won’t like some books. They’ll love others. It’s a fact of life.

Reviewers Behaving Badly

Most reviewers write tactful comments, and find something positive about even horrid books. They are simply sharing their reading experience, not trying to hurt the author’s feelings. But a few reviewers seem to take perverse pleasure in tearing out authors’ hearts. They find the snarkiest ways possible to criticize every aspect of a book, and if they can elicit an emotional response from the author, so much the better. Even better if that response (more about this later) is public and makes the author look bad. Thankfully, that kind of reviewer is rare.

Writers Behaving Badly

We’ve all heard of authors, some of them well-known and prominent, who spouted off at what they considered bad reviews. They’ve launched tirades against Amazon reviews, blogs, and newspaper/magazine reviewers alike. Anyone says something bad about their baby… uh, book, and they jump to its defense.

As a writer, I would be hurt if someone trashed my work publicly, especially in a hurtful way. But I’ll be damned if I would justify that kind of thing by responding in kind. To publicly argue with a reviewer, or any reader, is to magnify any attention their comments may already have drawn.

Those outbursts make authors look unprofessional, at best. Some, not content to leave well enough alone after the initial response, insist on dragging it out. Whether the reviewer responds or not, they fire volley after volley in defense of their work. And end up looking like a petulant child, a speshul snowfwake who must be handled with kid gloves.

Some readers will buy the book, just to see what all the fuss is about. I think the majority will just stand by and watch the train wreck, while they re-assess whether or not to buy any more of that author’s books.

The Bad Publicity is Better Than No Publicity theory might work for that one book, increasing sales. A few people who wouldn’t have otherwise bought it, will like it, and buy more of the author’s work. Most, though, are just curious, rubbernecking as they pass the pile-up. Those ‘sensation’ sales might not make up for the loyal readers who refuse to buy anything else by the author, because of her childish behavior.

So, what’s the correct response to a bad review? NONE. At most, a friendly “I’m sorry you didn’t like it”. The best advice I ever read about responding to any kind of review was really simple. DON’T. If politeness compels you to respond, a simple “Thanks for reviewing my book” will do. Anything more, and you run the risk of looking petulant in response to bad reviews, or like you asked your friends for a good review. Neither is a flattering view of an author.

Great Expectations (I know, I know, just couldn’t resist.)

I expect constructive criticism from my critique partners, beta readers, and, when the time comes, my editor. All before the book is published. I expect criticism from at least some reviewers, some readers, but not all.

If I (and my critique partners, beta readers, and editor) have done my job, my writing will elicit some kind of emotional response within my readers. Some readers won’t like the feeling they get from my writing, while some will. That’s what makes writing so satisfying. Every piece means something different to every reader.

Since reviewers are readers, some aren’t going to like how my work makes them feel. I expect that. I expect them to tell everyone if they dislike it. If they also tell everyone they do like some parts, so much the better. It would be great if they could tell me why they did, or didn’t like it, but I don’t expect that from them.

What I also don’t expect is for them to tell me how to do a better job next time. Figuring out how to improve my work is up to me, with the help of my critique partners, beta readers, and editors. If readers want to offer suggestions, fine, but I don’t expect them to do my job for me.

What do you think? Should reviews always offer constructive criticism? How should writers respond to reviews?