Know Your Audience

I’ve gone through a minor emotional struggle since the release of Tiem Mechine.

So far, it’s up to five reviews, all of which appear positive (although one is three stars and only one is five).  I was excited to read the new reviews as they cropped up, but I was a little disappointed with the fourth one.

My fourth review was a very generous, very detailed four-star rating.  The reader’s primary complaint was what he deemed a “gratuitous” use of the F word.  There is a lot of swearing in the book, and everyone has a different tolerance for that kind of thing, so I got over it pretty quickly and managed to be happy for an honest, positive comment.  Several days later, I got the fifth review, in which the reviewer admitted that she would have bumped the rating up to four stars if it hadn’t been for all the foul language.

newsroom come on

My initial reaction was that I’d been cheated out of an extra star on two separate occasions just because these people didn’t like swearing.  Of course, that’s kind of unfair.  The whole point of rating something is to express how much you liked or disliked it, and if cursing bothers you, then you should rate the product lower.  The reviewers had done nothing wrong (and I was glad just to get a higher number of reviews than my first book).  But somehow, I hadn’t anticipated this problem at all.  I’d somehow assumed that the kinds of people who would be interested in my book would be the kinds of people who weren’t fazed by liberal use of the F word.

Yeah, I know.  I’m an idiot.

I didn’t have any basis for that assumption.  I mean, I’m under the impression that the majority of American society isn’t particularly bothered by most swear words.  But beyond that, I hadn’t given it a thought.  It could be (I’m still hoping) a demographic fluke of some kind…that even though 40% of my first reviewers were turned off by the vulgarity, that percentage would be lower once I got to ten or twenty reviews.

But, honestly, what had I done to market the book toward the kind of people who wouldn’t mind a few over-the-top streams of expletives?  Nothing substantive.  I mean, I’ve tagged the book as “New Adult,” which is a category generally open to things like vulgarity and sexual content, but other than that…nothing.  The book blurb reads like it could be a young adult book and gives no indication, implicit or otherwise, about any possibly objectionable content.  I didn’t know my audience because I wasn’t presenting my work as well as I thought I was.

So what am I to do?  Well, the first step is to edit the blurb to give the prospective reader some kind of sign that there could be some naughty words ahead.  As much as I want people to like my work, I don’t want anybody to have to grit their teeth and slog through it due to aspects they find unpleasant.  And, coming back to what I perceived my original problem to be, I don’t want people to give me less-than-stellar reviews because I hadn’t adequately prepared them for what they would expect.  With future releases, I’ll have to be more careful about the audience I’m targeting and how to get the attention of that particular audience.  There will always be people whose opinions I will not expect, but at least if I’m more careful in my advertising I can avoid unduly offending my readers.

In the end, though, it kind of works out anyway.  Reviews, even ones that aren’t ringing endorsements, still help a book get some momentum and I’m grateful to have them.  The comments weren’t negative, and I still have a four-star average, which, although lower than I’d prefer, isn’t the kind of thing that makes people smirk and keep browsing.  Better yet, both of these people left detailed information about what they liked and disliked, which will be helpful to future customers.  And they’ve also helped a little with my accidental misrepresentation by alerting prospective buyers to the swearing.

I like to think I’ve learned something here.  There’s a pretty decent learning curve for self-publishing, even after you’ve gotten some kind of handle on the storytelling and the writing.  As long as I keep building my knowledge about the craft and the business, I’m hopeful that my success will grow proportionately.

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2 comments

  1. Here’s my $0.02. Don’t do anything. Your reviewers have done the work for you. My suspense thriller trilogy has a lot of spicy language. I’ve received at least one 1-star review from someone who DIDN’T READ BEYOND THE FIRST PAGE! ;-) That review stirred the pot and actually created dialogue among readers and reviewers. I steered clear of commenting and let the chips fall where they did. In the end, I think most people came out on my side and now the review makes me chuckle. It is what it is. Reviewers are going to do their thing. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, but it’s not for us to decide either way.

    That first book just crested 90 reviews (I ran a VERY successful BookBub ad in September). I decided to stop reading them after I crossed the 50 review mark. While the majority are 4- and 5-star, the 1-stars still sting. I’ve decided that reviews tend to create a false sense of your writing. If I read all the good reviews, I could declare myself the next James Patterson. Read all the bad reviews and I should just stop writing altogether. Reviews are important, but you shouldn’t let it control who you are as a writer. Don’t add disclaimers. Write unapologetically. Good luck!

    1. Thanks for the two cents!

      I’d like to point out, though, that I’m not trying to apologize for the content, I’m merely regretting my presentation of it. As part of the business end of writing, I think it’s important to let customers know what they’re getting in to. If the product doesn’t match up with how it was described, it tends to create some less-than-satisfied customers.

      True, the reviewers have helped alert other browsers to possibly objectionable material, but I still think some of the responsibility is mine. I’m not going to emblazon “CAUTION: THIS BOOK CONTAINS HEAVY PROFANITY” at the bottom of my Amazon blurb, but perhaps describing one of the characters as “foul-mouthed” might do the trick.

      But for the rest of it, I think you’re totally right. It is what it is. Reviewers are going to do their thing.

      Cheers and good luck to you as well!

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