It was only two or three months ago I was comforting a fellow writer friend who'd gotten a really nasty book review. I felt really sad for her once I went and read the review, because to me it sounded like an almost personal attack on her writing style rather than the content of her book. I've seen far, far worse reviews than that, don't get me wrong, but the review was enough to send the woman--who has a very sweet and quirky nature--crying into a pint of Haagen Daaz.
Even then as I watched all this happening around me, I thought: Buck up, Cora, girl. Your day is coming.
And it has. I received a truly scathing review for Crossing Borders yesterday. I received it by email and when I read it, I sat and stared, feeling numb for several minutes. I'd never heard of the review site before, but that didn't matter. It wasn't even so much that the reviewer hated my book. I knew from day one I was not going to be spared that little speed bump of the trade, and I've said as much publicly and privately. Just like rejection letters, I know bad reviews are part of the job. Not everyone is going to like what I write, or how I write, and they are not going to be shy about saying so. But it wasn't so much that this person didn't like my story than it was the little critique that came following all this about how my story might have been better.
Now, I am all about constructive criticism. It's necessary to better yourself as a writer. In fact, I've taken constructive criticism before with Crossing Borders. Although most people don't know it, Crossing Borders was originally a contest piece. The requirements of the contest were that the entry be of erotic romance genre and I think, between 5 - 12k words. Well, C/B didn't quite make the cut, but it was offered up a second chance after revisions. Although I didn't take the second chance offer, I did rewrite the story according to everything they listed on an attached sheet. And I feel I learned a tremendous amount from the short critique. The warning about passive sentences made the entire experience worth it. I think that, above everything else, has changed my writing for the better.
So with this review, I took note of the contructive criticism at the end. If I would have taken part C and placed it in front of part A and added more story here, it might've been enjoyable. That was pretty much it. I stared at this and felt a little sad, but none for the worst. Then doubt started creeping in. Had I really written something so terrible?
Crossing Borders takes place over a grand timeline of about an hour and a half to two hours tops. From start to finish, the hero and heroine, who have a long history together, do not have time to really sit and consider their actions. The story is a fast-paced, watershed moment in their lives. It's a turning point for both of them. They finally have a chance to be together again. Will they take it, or won't they?
Taking a cue from the review, I tried to picture my story written in the reverse. The backstory at the beginning, instead of fed in little parts throughout or told through dialogue. I tried to picture my characters curtailling their love-making after not seeing one another for two years. I took all these elements and did a mental rewrite of the story.
You know what I discovered? I decided if I had written my story like that, I wouldn't have liked it. Even more, I wouldn't have read it. I would have skipped through all the backstory at the beginning to get directly to the meat, the action. That's what I like, a story that moves. If I reach a flat section in a novel, I skip ahead and make a mental note to go back and read it later. Sometimes I do, but most of the time, I have to admit, I don't go back. Those books that read like that never make my keeper shelf.
I write stories that revolve around my characters. They are the story, and they are largely developed through dialogue, just as real people are. We as humans are mostly perceived to be who we are by what we say and what we do. How we project ourselves. If that's not true, then why would so many momma's out there say to their kids: Watch your mouth! I like to show action and reaction to both events and dialogue. That's how I function, and that's what I do with my characters. Everyone has a past, and it can help determine how they will react, but it is just that... the past. I want to know what's happening with Dick and Jane right now. If I have to spend 9 pages before the story starts explaining their past, I'm not gonna write that story. But then, that's just me.
I am not explaining the bad review, or trashing the anyone's opinion. I'm not snarking in self-defence. This reviewer didn't like the book. I gotcha. I accept that. There are more bad reviews to come, I'm sure. And I can only imagine the horrible, nasty reviews I'll get when I finally make it to a print publishing house. This is one more chink in the armor. Good practice for the road that lies ahead.
After all this, I feel like I've had a major growth spurt as a writer. I've realized that despite what other people think, I write what I write. Erotic romance. It is what it is: lots of steamy sex. I don't write suspence or mysteries or cozies or thrillers. I don't read those genres. I write "people" stories and after imagining Crossing Borders as something other than what it is, I know I wouldn't be happy writing anything else. And that's really the main thing, isn't it? Being happy with what you write. Loving your characters and missing them once you finish your story. That's what makes being a writer so great. You can't please everyone all the time. But you can write what you love and respect yourself for it. Love it or hate it, there it is.