Saturday, February 14, 2015

On Reviews

As of today, The Rogue Queen has been live on Amazon for just over a month, selling over 200 copies.  I've gotten five reader reviews there and five on GoodReads (also owned by Amazon).  Most of my reviews have been positive, but I've gotten three negative reviews.  As a newcomer to the publishing business, I've been trying to come to grips with that, especially when the reviews seem unfair.

The first negative review claimed I hadn't done my research.  That made me laugh, as I spent quite literally hundreds of hours digging up details on clothing, fabrics, colors, food, pastimes, human armor, horse armor, hairstyles, theology, songs, maps of London and Paris, not to mention the history behind Isabelle's story in both primary and secondary sources.  I was very careful to avoid anachronism not only in the story but also in my characters' speech.  Full disclosure: I did use the word "explode" twice in a 140,000-word novel even though it would not have been in their vernacular.  I tried but I couldn't find a way around it.  Likewise, I made carefully reasoned choices about the characters as I told the story.  For example, I moved one character's birth up a season and another character was childless because it worked better.  This was upsetting to at least one reviewer but I don't think I need to make excuses for those kinds of decisions.  TRQ is, after all, fiction.

I'm having more trouble with reviewers criticizing the way my characters speak, saying it isn't "authentic to the period".  Again, I made a conscious choice to have my characters speak in a natural way.  I didn't want to write Ivanhoe, nor did I want to create a weird mashup the bloggers call "speaking forsoothly".  I wanted my characters to sound like real people.  James B. Shannon opined about an excerpt from Bernard Cornwell's The Last Kingdom: "It derives its authenticity from its context. It contains names, activities, and values authentic to the period. The language seems less important. Cornwell’s world-building has already put us in the period and he is simply using the dialogue to reinforce what we already imagine. This type of writing puts more pressure on the author to do his or her research so that the world they are building is as authentic as possible. This then frees the author to use the dialogue simply to build character and to drive the plot forward. When considered in this light, the choice of speech and dialect seem less important."  And this is precisely what I tried to do.  Apparently, however, some reviewers felt I dropped the ball.  I could've written it in Anglo-Norman French, which was the language spoken in 14th century England--but what would be the point?  This kind of criticism recalls people nitpicking "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" because the actors didn't assume British accents.

I know that I shouldn't give a toss.  I told the story I wanted to tell in the way I wanted to tell it.  I'm proud of the characters I created.  Rationally, I know that you can't please everyone.  But when someone says your dialogue is worse than Fifty Shades of Grey, well, ouch.

Monday, February 2, 2015

On Publishing

I officially published The Rogue Queen on Amazon nearly a month ago, first as a Kindle book, then through CreateSpace print-on-demand.  Checking online today I was surprised to see that I've sold seventy-five copies!  It may not sound like a lot, but since I'm starting from scratch as an unknown author I'm well pleased.  One of the benefits of publishing digitally is there's no backlist.  In brick and mortar bookstores, if a book doesn't sell well it gets cycled back off the prime shelf spots and eventually disappears.  However anytime someone searches for historical fiction with TRQ's parameters on Amazon my book will pop up--forever, or until I take it down. So time is on my side.

Something I've had to work on since the book went live is marketing.  In my last post I mentioned searching for reviewers.  I've had two reviews on Amazon, and I'm waiting on a blogger and the Historical Novel Society to complete their reviews.  The more positive reviews I get the more often Amazon will suggest the book to people searching, so they're worth going after.  I've also looked into doing readings, one at a local independent bookstore and another at our town library.  If all of this sounds like a lot of work it really isn't, especially when you consider that I'm earning 70% royalties.  Most of it required only some searching online and a couple of emails.  If I'd gone the traditional route the publisher would've taken over the marketing while pocketing most of the royalties.  Since nobody wanted to publish the book the point is moot.  I took on the risk, so I make the money.

I was told before I published the book that it would essentially be a loss leader, an investment that would hopefully help me to build a following while not necessarily making a lot of money.  So far, thanks to the talents of my husband and a couple of generous friends, my only expense has been time.  In that regard it's been worth every moment.  I've also learned a lot, which will pay off even more when I publish my next novel, and the next.  In the meantime, The Rogue Queen is making her way into the hands of readers who seem to be enjoying her, and that is most definitely worth it.