One of the most difficult aspects about being an author is knowing what to do with criticism. Now, I’m not trying to say here that I know everything, or that people’s opinions don’t matter, for they certainly do—to the person offering them. The trick is to know when a person’s opinion is a valid criticism of the work in question, or more an expression of their own taste.
You get both kinds in writing, as you do in everything. There is no accounting for taste, after all, and sometimes reviews are expressions of a person’s taste, rather than an observation to be used for improvement. I like classical music, I generally like a lot of 80’s, easy listening, some of what could be called techno, as well as a few odds and ends here and there. I don’t like country, rap (which I have a hard time classifying as music if I’m to be completely blunt), and even most forms of jazz. While I do think there are many evident and verifiable reasons to conclude that classical music is of higher quality and the great composers were superior in their craft to those who write music now, my expression of appreciation for it is an opinion. Many people disagree with me. I’m fine with that, as I tend to live and let live.
Why do I bring this up? Just as a sort of general assertion that it is my job to separate the “I wish you would have done X” and “It just wasn’t to my taste” reviews from those that state valid errors, suggestions, and encouragement, for it is that last category that has true meaning. I keep track of every review I get, and while some generate a certain level of appreciation or amusement, annoyance or frustration, it is the thought-provoking reviews that help me improve. I’ve had people correct grammar, point out misused words, or even state opinions (there’s that dreaded word again) that have resulted in altered future writing. On the other hand, I’ve had people comment and push thoughts that I considered silly. You run the whole gamut in reviews.
Though I’ve typed more words on this subject than I should have, I hope you understand where I’m coming from. Anyone who has ever posted, released novels or articles, or even submitted a paper for grading in an education institution will likely understand where I’m coming from. I cannot control what other people think or say about my work. What I can control is my motivations.
Motivations: there is another dirty word. I think most of us understand our basic motivations, but to understand our deeper motivations requires in depth examination of our thoughts and feelings. I’m not going to go into a deep discussion of this as I suspect most of you have an instinctual understanding of what I’m saying.
What got me to thinking about this? It was a few reviews I received from my last work. As many of you know, as I posted on this blog, I released a novella last month, which was the first in a series of four novellas, and some of the reviews I got were, to say the least, interesting. Most were complimentary as to the writing and the story, and several suggested they were waiting with bated breath for the next book. There were, however, several that expressed concerns. Some of them caused me to shake my head. Others caused me to examine my motivations.
The shaken head variety of reviews were those that expressed dismay that it was a series of novellas, and some wished they had known about it in advance. While I understand the frustration of waiting for a story to be continued, I can only refute the second critique with a quote directly from the book page on Amazon:
“A Tacit Engagement is a novella of approximately 39,000 words and is the first book in the No Cause to Repine tetralogy. The remaining books, Scandalous Falsehoods, Upstart Pretensions, and Quitting the Sphere, will follow in the coming months.”
Is that not crystal clear that the novella in question is part of a series? I have even provided the titles of the final three books in advance. Sorry, but I shake my head when people don’t read the description and then complain about it. As Elizabeth Bennet might have said, you can only laugh, as otherwise you might just cry.
The second criticism I got in a couple of instances was to the effect that the reviewer doesn’t like authors who release books piecemeal so that they will make more money. That provoked me to an internal review of my own motivations, of which I would like to share a little today. While I may be lying to myself, I think I have a pretty good handle on it, so I ask you to bear with me.
A Tacit Engagement was not supposed to be a serial. When I conceived the idea, I thought it was perfect for a short novella, and I planned it out accordingly. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out as planned—as Bugs Bunny might have said, “I should have taken that left toin at Albuquoique.” As I got into it, I realized there was a lot more story to tell than I could fit in a novella.
At that point, I began to think about making it into a full length novel. Then the idea came to me—why not make it a serial? I’ve never tried one before. Writing is about trying new things and going in different directions, especially when you write, like I do, in a space where you use the same characters and put them in different situations. I’ve never done a serial of this nature before; it was a perfect opportunity to learn something new. Each of the books has been structured the same way. Some of you who have read A Tacit Engagement will have noticed that there was a time jump between the 9th and 10th chapters in the novella. The first chapter in the next will fill in that time gap—go back in time and explain what happened, so to speak. The transitions between future installments will follow a similar pattern. Again, this is new for me, an opportunity to learn something new and do something different; I think my motivations are clear in my own mind. Furthermore, I have a certain amount of evidence that suggests that series just don’t do as well as a single book might from a sales perspective. In this instance, I’m willing to sacrifice sales for learning.
If you’re disappointed it’s a serial, go ahead and wait until all four books are out. We should reach that state of utopia by early next year! In the meantime, there are other great books by wonderful authors who can hold your attention. I mean that. I’m amazed at the talent of people who write P&P. I’m not in competition with any of them. If you don’t like what I have written, you certainly will like what someone else has!
Just a bit of housekeeping before I sign off. I work is proceeding on the next book in the No Cause to Repine series titled Scandalous Falsehoods. Though I cannot promise a release date yet, I suspect it will be in November. More to come. In October, I’ll have a release of a short novel, about 80,000 words. No further information to report at present, but I plan on doing a cover reveal for my next post, which would be about a week before the release date. The book Bonds of Friendship, the first book in the Bonds of Life duology, the idea proposed to me by our very own J.W. Garret, is scheduled for a December release. I’ve been pumping that one up for a while and am really excited about it. I haven’t done anything like it before. And last but not least, work on the second book of the Courage Always Rises trilogy is coming along, though slower than I would like. I hope to have an announcement about that series in the next could of months. For those who are concerned about how long it has taken to figure out how to do the second book in that series, I will note that books 2, 3, and 4 in No Cause to Repine have been fully outlined already, as are both books in Bonds of Life. I learned my lesson!
As a final note, I will also announce that I will not be pre-releasing my books any longer. Sorry to anyone who finds that annoying, but there are several reasons to stop pre-releasing. Keep an eye on the FB page as I always post when new releases are coming up, and I add the link when they go live on Amazon.