I had a review a little while back from a lady who hadn’t enjoyed my second book, Trinity Rising. She’d had a bit of a problem with the sexual aspects of Songs, but soldiered on because she liked my prose. The opening chapters of Trinity, however, had defeated her: there’s a couple of aggressive, non-consensual encounters that occur early on, and she hadn’t been able to finish the book.
I said I was sorry it hadn’t been her cup of tea, but thanked her for trying and taking the time to write her review. She seemed impressed that I’d bothered to comment on the opinions of a self-confessed prude, and that got me thinking.
As a writer, I expect negative reviews. I have to: they come with the territory. And guess what, they’re exactly as valid as good ones. No two storytellers will make the same tale from the same ingredients, and so no two readers will form the same impression of the results. And frankly, it’d be daft to expect them to.
Yes, I’ve lavished months or years of work on my books, made them the best I could, and I’m so proud of them I’ll take any excuse to talk about them or show pictures of the covers to random strangers in the queue at the supermarket (they’re my kids, after all) but I’m not entitled to a damn thing in return.
Sure, undiluted praise would be nice, and send me back into my office with a smile on my face, but it’s a vastly unrealistic expectation. People are individuals and that means we don’t all like the same things. This is why ice-cream comes in more flavours than just vanilla. Believe it or not, some people can’t abide chocolate. Others are freaked out by ickle fwuffy kittens, in which case they’d probably best not be reading this post. And so it goes with books, too – as the recent SF Signal Mind Meld: The Books We Didn’t Love reminded me.
I am not entitled to be adulated by all and sundry – nor is any writer. I’m not entitled to anything. I choose to put my work out there; I don’t get to choose how it will be received. About the best I can hope for from a reviewer is their honest opinion, and if that means they didn’t like my book, then that’s fine. People being what they are, somebody else is gonna love it.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Just finished Songs of the Earth and very much enjoyed it, but in order to avoid being accused of mindless adulation, I’ve taken a few minutes to try and identify why I enjoyed it. Interestingly, the first reason had nothing whatsoever to do with the book itself. Somehow or other I found myself following Ellie on Twitter (no idea why or how) and over a period of several weeks spotted her tweets scrolling by at the side of my screen. So, by the time I decided to buy the ebook I guess I was already predisposed to like it because of some tenuous connection I felt I had with the author. That said, it wouldn’t be enough if it was a terrible, badly written effort.
I’ve been a big sci-fi/fantasy fan for over 35 years now so, as is often the case when reading a novel, found myself building a mental list of authors whose influence I detected and this book was no different. Too many influences usually equates in my mind to being a “Bad Thing(tm)” but in this case, something new and interesting had been added to the mix that to me, meant it didn’t matter. I suppose the influences I think I detected were all authors whose work I love so perhaps that actually helped. I’m a terrible romantic at heart so the book appealed to that part of me, too.
Things I didn’t particularly like? Gair went from unskilled ‘wilder’ (to steal a term from Robert Jordan) to skilled practitioner in the space of just a few pages; too quickly in my view. It didn’t feel realistic and there were perhaps some missed opportunities for interesting background story. I would have enjoyed Gair’s successes and failures as he developed his skills.
It certainly was a page-turner. It sucked me in and I didn’t want to put it down until I got to the end.
My next decision is when to buy Trinity Rising. Not “if” but “when”. Do I buy it straight away or wait a couple of months for the Kindle price to drop? Probably the former. Worries about Trinity Rising: will it be despair from cover to cover? I hope not.
Hmm, sorry this has turned into a longer post than I anticipated and that it’s of some use to you
I love feedback from readers, hearing how they responded to the story and the choices I made in the telling, so thanks for dropping by.
There’s a reason why you don’t get to see Gair’s earliest lessons – it’s been done a bajillion times, by Rowling and Jordan et al, and I had nothing to add to the teaching-the-hero-how-to-use-his-magic corpus. Besides, I wanted to explore what Gair did outside the lecture hall, how he interacted with Darin and Aysha and Alderan. If I’d covered his lessons as well, it would have shifted the focus away from that and made Songs into just another Young Wizard Goes To School novel. Even touching on it as lightly as I did, I still get accused of writing precisely that, or ripping off Harry Potter.
No book is ever going to be exactly what every reader wants, because every reader is different, so I have to tell the story that I want to hear, and hope that enough of you guys want to come along for the ride. It’s all any writer can do.
As for Trinity Rising, it’s darker in tone than Songs but not wall-to-wall despair – Gair’s too busy to brood too much . . .
Well said, Elspeth. You can’t please everyone. If you did try, you’d end up with something so colourless everybody would hate it. Um…
I found your second book a bit hard to get into and was a bit concerned with the sexual aspects. It is not something you encounter in the fantasy book world very often but once you get past it and read on I could see where it was laying down the story. I think you did a good job with the book in general and look forward to the next one.
All the Best for the New Year
This is always the risk with second books – you’re trying to avoid doing the first one over again, and sometimes that takes you in directions the reader’s not expecting or that make them just plain uncomfortable. I hope you enjoyed it anyway, and thank you.
Happy New Year!