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.
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.