Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hello World - Excuse The Mess; Didn't Know You Were Coming

I bet it's every author's dream to be the talk of the town, right? The Twitterati and other bloggers all mentioning your book ... What, you haven't heard?

You will soon, so you might as well go here and read now. You'll be gone awhile. I'll wait.

If the rest of you have come by hoping for a flame war or at the very least a rant, sorry to disappoint. The Dear Author reviewer has every right to express how she felt as she read Spoil of War. Whether I agree or not doesn't invalidate her reaction to it. By request, I've posted a response. It's #96 in the comments there.

I could bother to explain the points the reviewer found issue with or I could trust other readers to connect with the words in the way I hoped every reader would and get on with my promoting. I'm electing to do the latter.

Other reviewers feel differently about the book. They've come at the story from different places and experienced it through different filters as they read. They've been able to lose themselves in the Weltanschauung of the story.

I don't at all mean to be catty when I say this is something you need to decide for yourself. Simply repeating other peoples' perceptions about the quality or accuracy of the book without experiencing it for yourself is certainly as wrong as the review shilling I've been accused of. (Seriously, 5 reviews in 5 months on Amazon and 2 reviews on Goodreads and some people who don't even know me think I'm bartering reviews?)

The book has been researched. It's gone through beta readers and extensive editing. I've placed a cautionary note in the product description that the book contains violence toward women and children. When I explicitly mentioned rape and child abuse in the description, Amazon kept recategorizing the book as erotica, which it certainly isn't.

I am quite open to hearing how you would describe the story and what warning, if any, you as a reader would hope to see on a book in which some readers see a strong heroine overcoming circumstance and others see a heroine sleepwalking through a rapefest. What are the right words to balance that violence with a young woman's coming of age and learning to love? What words would you want to see on your own book?

Right now, the product description ends with this:
Please note: This novel takes place in a harsh era when spoils were often treated as commodities. While the violence toward women and children is period-appropriate and for mature adults only, it is never gratuitous. The story focuses on adaptation, survival and, ultimately, love in the Dark Ages before Arthur was made king.

Feel free to leave comments -- and especially suggestions. Speak your mind but please be respecful, especially where it concerns other indie/self-pubbed authors and reviewers anywhere who work hard to deliver the insight into books that helps you decide whether or not to read them yourself.

Thank you.


Wilkins MacQueen said...

I am devastated and have no idea of the degree of devastation you must be feeling from the shellacking dished up.

I read all the comments. You handled it like a pro. Tough to read. Really tough.

Deep sigh.

lexcade said...

It's reviews like that that make me wonder if she and I read the same like you said, to each his own.

I agree with Wilkins. You handled that in the most professional way. I'm proud :) I might be able to handle that after a long cry fit and possibly some vodka or an ambien.

I think your warning serves correctly for the book. It's not gratuitous or over-the-top, nor is it celebrated or whatever the actual word I'm looking for is (4.5 hrs sleep. Woohoo!)

My point is that not all books are for all readers. So, yeah... She's said her piece, you've said yours.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I especially like comment #101. It's a different POV and talks about the historical accuracy of what life was like for women. In many ways, we were property to be treated however the man pleased. And that hasn't changed as much as people like to think.

Having been raped as a child, I can say that, even in this day and age, no reaction is the safest course. At least that's how it feels at the time. Children have no power, no say, and sometimes no protection. It's not unusual for the abused to befriend the abuser to try to receive better treatment. It's survival at it's most basic. It's also not unusual for the one being raped to enjoy the act on a physical level.

Although I have not finished reading Spoil of War, I can say that I find it well written. It's true to the time as far as I can tell. Is it historically accurate? I have no idea nor do I really care. Arthur is legend and there are many interpretations of that legend. I see that some purists do care about such things. I find it interferes with my enjoyment of the book.

vkw said...

Hmmm. . . . wow. Actually, I think one should be happy about January's review.

I'm not an historian. But I know enough that the entire legend of Author and Camelot to know it is exactly that. Legend. Devil's tower in Wyoming was said to be made by a bear chasing seven sisters across the plains to devour them. They cried to their gods and . . . well devil's tower was born and they were lifted to heaven and made stars.

Geological studies have now affirmed with 99.9% certainty - the bear was made up. Those that study the stars are likewise in agreement that there are no stars made of Indian maidens. . . - that we know of.

I have a point and that is . . . I think it's a bit petty to tear a novel apart for not being historically accurate when based upon a legend. Camelot is like Atlantis and the Indian maidens. . . If I want to put Author England prior AD 65, I should be free to do so.

I am a huge fan of Cornwell who has a viking series that takes place around Alfred the Great timeframe. It is a horrible tale of slavery, rapes, murder and deception. It's about war and war hasn't gotten much more civilized since then. Have you seen the news today, oh my. I love uhtred! He does some murdering, raping and deceiving.

Cornwell is reknown historian. As I think about January's review, I ask myself, if Spoil of War was told from Leo's perspective - would it be more acceptable? If Spoil of War was written by a man or by someone with Cornwell's reputation and publishing credits, would January's review be as harsh?

I don't know. I also don't know if January's criticism to the heroine's flat affect to be overly fair either.

this is a girl who lived during a time when rape was not unusual - it was a very common practice of humiliation and a very expected weapon. If you rape a few dozen women and half become pregnant, you may not have to worry about your back - one your enemy isn't going to want teh child or the woman and furthermore your child could become an ally in the future. Women in Africa are experiencing the same treatment and they don't fight back because they have been raised to expect this treatment from their enemy.

January may take exception to the brutality of war, she probably doesn't want to know about impaling your enemy on a stick or nailing them to a cross. . .

but it doesn't mean it didn't happen and we should be talking about this - if only to get a perspective on what is going on in the world today.

too many coppers but I have right to my opinion as well.

T. E. Waters said...

I've been lurking and following your blog for a few months now, though I haven't read the book in question (aside from excerpts), and I have to say I really admire your professional response. I can't imagine how I would have reacted in your place... (And am a little disgusted that apparently some people have taken it upon themselves to vote down the reviews you got at Amazon.)

I think your warning is quite fair and well-worded, but I suspect that the grittiness clashes with most readers' preconceptions of the romance genre. People want their romance heroines to be relatable and likable from a modern (First World, middle class) standpoint. I'm having a hard time trying to figure out how to say this, because I don't want to say romance heroines aren't complex (many modern romance heroines certainly are!)... but it seems to me there is just a certain line that cannot be crossed for female characters and in particular romance heroines, despite women having just as much access as men to the full range of human experience, including the darker or more shameful impulses. Certainly people do approach historical romance with a slightly different set of expectations, but I think the more "unacceptable" attitudes and reactions are often still limited to men and secondary characters.

Just throwing an idea out there, but since you did try to promote via Game of Thrones before, perhaps labeling it with something along the lines of "If George R. R. Martin wrote historical romance" would help hammer in the point? That would serve as a clear warning to those readers who absolutely hate Martin for his "gratuitous" violence towards women -- I know more than a few people who feel that way. Gratuitous is really in the eye of the beholder, so the Martin comparison would give these people a better idea of the level of violence?

I'm not sure. Keeping in mind that I've only read excerpts so I can't judge exactly how your book compares, I've thought for a while that your book would probably be a hard sell due to genre labels -- it *probably* fits better as straight historical in terms of tone, but on the other hand, my (probably unfair) impression of historical fiction is "girls have cooties". Maybe call it historical fiction with a strong romantic element...

Or just keep doing what you've been doing. Looking on the bright side, you've probably done something right if you managed to procure such strong reactions, and clearly there HAVE been readers who were able to connect with your story. :)

Anyway, good luck. I found your query critiques very helpful, and am now avidly following your adventures in self-publishing (thank you for keeping us updated on your stats in such detail!). Figured I should drop in a note of support after all this time.

K.C. Gray said...

I couldn't imagine what it must feel like to have your book (I feel mine are my baby, and can only assume you feel the same way) broken down like that. The following is an observation, not a commentary on how you should view it.

While reading through the comments, it struck me that people were seriously debating your work. I find that fascinating.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I participated in that comment trail. Not sure if I got the point across that reviewing, liking, books is a very subjective business. Seemed to be quite a few over there who have the 'my way is the only way' attitude. It's very sad. Also quite a few who were willing to explore the subject and not afraid to ask questions. As in everything, it's a mixed bag.

Sarah Laurenson said...

One other thing that is bothering me about the whole post. I would venture to guess the overwhelming majority of those who commented have not read the book. They are only responding to the tiny amount of it that the reviewer chose to quote as well as the reviewer's words. For me it's hard to form an opinion on so little information.

I have no doubt they share the reviewer's taste and are therefore not your target audience.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thank you everyone for your kind comments. I'm definitely looking at all advice considering the blurb and categorization. Not sure how to handle "with romantic elements" on Amazon without actually putting it in the romance section, though.

With over 400 copies sold and most of the "also boughts" being romance, I would have thought others would have piped up in the reviews by now if they'd felt the book being touted in the historical romance section was terribly off base...

Many of you have left some detailed and soul-bearing responses. For those, I thank you as well. Forgive my not responding individually to them; I simply refuse to add fuel to the fire right now. Once the kerfluffle dies down in a week or two, I'll think about posting a recap of this weekend.

Sarah Laurenson said...

On a semi-related, but not really topic, this talks about what it's like in the real world for kids who are being abused. What help they don't get and what they can aspire to achieve - realistically.

It's also an amazing column for everyday life and what world you currently live in.

I've been considering the Romance category. Does it only include formula romance? Is it a one flavor satisifies all category? Or is there room for those books that are about a different kind of romance. That don't have a Prince Charming or a Cinderella. There are many types of relationships in this world. I like to say people will stay together if their neuroses match.

Matt said...

There are good reviews. There are bad reviews. It's all part of the game.

Don't get too high on the highs, or too low on the lows.

Kay said...

Wow! I read the review and skimmed the comments. Your book pushed some buttons for that reviewer!

I can't begin to imagine the emotions you must be feeling. Maybe it'll help when your sales double in the next few days.

Don't forget: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."
— Oscar Wilde

Hang in there.

Alice Aisling said...

I didn t finish reading the review (and didn t read your work, mind you), but for her to complain that someone in a historical novel is doing it with a corpse or a eleven year old girl is immature. it shows a complete lack of understanding of context.

just because someone is a hero doesn t mean he should be unrealistic. not so long ago (and in many countries today), young girls are considered mature enough for marriage or sex at the age of 12 or earlier. it s a realistic fact of life. not something an author should change in a historical setting because the hero should be all puppies and sunshine.

I don t know do I want to keep reading the review past this point. :D

Wilkins MacQueen said...

You've been handed a hefty marketing/sales opportunity with the controversy.

I'm betting this will increase sales.

It is very positive that a long and hot discussion could be generated over your book.

The long view is the only one that matters. You can be proud (not today, maybe next week) you were able to generate a considerable amount of passion from folks who hadn't even read it.

I'm positive a lot of readers will purchase the book to see what the bruhaha was about and make up their own minds.

Can't wait for the results of your tracking over the next little while.

Jo-Ann said...

Woah, Phoeonix! I was off-line for 24 hours, and I return to this maelstrom. Apologies, if I was late to rally. Holy crap, but that was harsh!

Are you ok?

remember: what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. As others have said, you responded with dignity.

Other stoires have included paedophilia before yours. "Love in the time of cholera", for example, includes a section in which the hero has relations with a preteen, when he was at least 40 years older than she, and her guardian, to boot! The author has the girl falling in love with her assailant (according to the author, this makes it all ok. The hero, as we are continually reminded throughout the novel, was a faaabulous lover, and that relationship was portrayed as the last in a string of "conquests" rather than a gross violation of trust).

Funny, but this never received the sort of reaction that your story did. And, unlike your story, there was no warning on the cover that the story features pedophilia.

THAT story was a bestseller and eventually made into a movie. Seems that it's easier to kick an Indie author than a nobel laureate.

I'll pop back to the review site and stick in a note of support.

Chelsea P. said...

I've gone. I've said my piece. I don't think I'll be going back there. I make it a point to avoid sites where people comment callously on things they haven't read.

But anyway! I'm so sorry about all of this. Take heart in the fact that there are those of us who interpreted the book totally differently and also those who haven't read the book yet but who are capable of making up their minds about it regardless of someone else's review.

People tend to stick together on those kinds of sites, just like, Hey, people stick together on this one. Those comments aren't indicative of the world as a whole. Not even close.


Chelsea P. said...

Also, @SarahLaurenson, I'm so glad you went to the site and shared your story and I'm SO APPALLED that some people tried to use that information to get you to take their side.


@Phoenix, I've always remembered this speech Tina Fey gave and I think no time is more appropriate than now to watch it: