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.

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