I am pleased to have Tamara Shoemaker as my guest today. Her article reminds us that we should be careful what we say–in life in general, of course, but also in book reviews.
Tamara and I have lots in common. First, we’re both fledgling writers who are learning to deal with criticism of our book babies. You may read about my own challenge in putting negative comments in perspective with my article “Warning! Prudish Characters on Board.” Another thing we share is the conviction that pasting Bible verses on a story does not make it Christian fiction. And we both refrain from using gospel sledgehammers in our fiction. Read my article “How not to Write Christian Fiction.”
As Tamara’s article points out, some reviewers fail to get that. I agree with her that it hardly seems fair to post a review for a book you didn’t finish reading. Another writer friend of mine is still smarting from a 1-star review she got because the book didn’t download to the reader’s Kindle properly. (No one else had trouble downloading.) Now, my friend waits for new reviews to come in to bring her average up.
Perhaps it sounds as if authors are obsessed with getting reviews. Well, we sort of are. You can read where I discuss their importance HERE. I’d go so far as to say we need reviews if we are to continue writing. So please remember to support Christian writers such as Tamara and I by posting reviews of our books. Personally, I believe the old adage, if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything, applies to book reviews as well as life in general. I never post a review unless I have at least something positive to say.
It’s not that we don’t need to hear the negatives to learn to be better writers. (Another belief Tamara and I share.) But there’s no reason the negatives can’t be said with kindness. We’re not asking that they all be glowing 5-star reviews (although we love those!) but please do realize that your comments are read and that they either encourage or discourage us. Now, here’s Tamara:
I recently pulled in a two-star review on Pretty Little Maids, the second book of my Shadows in the Nursery series. I stared at the screen, that horrid review sitting like a black spot in the midst of all my other glowing five-star and four-star reviews, tainting them, spoiling them and overshadowing them.
How is it possible that one tiny little review, representing one person’s opinion, could be so responsible for the nosedive in my confidence, in my enthusiasm for writing, in my mood?
Granted, I had just had surgery on my toe, I had a nasty sunburn on my legs that made it impossible to sit without shrieking in pain, and I had dropped my phone in a bowl of water the day before, so it no longer worked. All these things together may have pushed those drops of liquid out of my tear ducts. But the two-star review sat like the worm-filled icing on a repulsive dirt cake.
I’ve never been thick-skinned, to coin the term. Constructive criticism, though I’m well aware that it’s meant to be constructive, is still hard for me to swallow. I’m thankful that I have the privacy of my living room to dab at my wounds rather than sitting in the public eye manfully (womanfully?) gulping down the lump in my throat.
This reviewer’s criticism prodded holes into my story, making one fairly legitimate claim that I was willing to give her, but filling me with ire for the other things.
First, to blow off some steam, a reader certainly has the prerogative to put a book down and refuse to finish it. Not all books are for everyone, and some are far less enjoyable than others. BUT, I contend that if you don’t finish the book, then you’ve got no business writing a review, particularly a negative review. Pretty Little Maids, being a thriller, leaves a lot of unexplained happenings until the last few pages, and then all the twists, uncertainties and story lines come together in what I think is a neat and concise bundle. To skip the last portion of the book, then write a review about how the story line doesn’t fall into place, is, in my opinion, pretty foolish.
Secondly, the reviewer mentions that there is very little reference to God in the book, so much so, that she hesitates to call it Christian fiction. That blew me away. Without giving away too much of the story line, Rayna, the main character, has a dark past as an unfortunate victim who had been kidnapped and placed in the sex trade. Ten years or more down the road, we find her still scarred, but with a faith in God that keeps her steady through the trials she faces in the book.
One of my pet peeves with the Christian market today (and there are always exceptions) is the fact that publishing houses put out millions of fictionalized books that “Bible-beat.” There are three and four page sermons that preach to the reader, and it seems almost extraneous to the story. To me, if the story is well-written and carefully handled, the lives of the characters will preach the gospel to the reader without the necessity of striking them over the head with Biblical passages and trite Christian-ese.
I felt that I achieved the mark in Pretty Little Maids, preaching through actions and character, not as much through words. I was sorry this reviewer did not see that.
Of course, I read reviews all the time, some good, some bad on my works. Broken Crowns was my debut novel, and as a fledgling author, I had a lot of room for improvement. Still do. And of course, the reviews reflected that (a 4.0-star average instead of Pretty Little Maids’ 4.7). So I stare at the familiar Amazon logo and swallow hard and wish I had thicker skin.
But the fact of the matter is that I write what I believe God gives me to write. He has a purpose for whatever story goes from my head onto paper (and by paper, I mean Microsoft Word). Even if the story isn’t palatable to some, it has a purpose. I may never know what that purpose is, but God does and He’ll use it His own way.
I guess He knew someone needed to read about a former sex slave’s struggle to return to victorious living after a past in the shadows. It may not have been the above reviewer, but someone out there will read it and appreciate it, and maybe even be changed by it.
Tamara Shoemaker is the author of the Shadows in the Nursery series, which includes Broken Crowns and Pretty Little Maids.She is currently working on a third book in the series, as well as the first in a sci-fi/fantasy series for Young Adults. Broken Crowns has remained on the top of Amazon’s Religious Mysteries category since January 2013, and Pretty Little Maids has hovered near the top of the same category since its release in July of 2013. Tamara lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and three young children. She spends her days writing thrillers and fantasies between diaper changes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
It would be so nice of you to share!