I read reviews. It's ridiculous not to. You should know how your work is both received and perceived. The trick is to not let the inconsistent and unintelligent reviews get to you.
I once went off on a passive-aggressive review which opened the door for charges of being 'thin-skinned' (code words for 'why won't you let us unjustly kick you without you responding?). The passive-aggressive review said in essence 'this book is good for fantasy, which I never read, which is not really literature'. So you could see how that got me wound up.
I have learned since then to not feed the trolls.
There is an interesting trend in recent reviews of my novels. And, I'm going to share my insights as well as explain something that that insight informs.
First let me confess: My first novel, The Last Elf of Lanis needs some work. Not a lot of work. But some. It was my first novel and came from a place of desperation in my soul.
That being said, I assert that it is damn good, even with its faults.
...which brings us to my insight into the majority of recent reviews. There seems to be a consensus that The Last Elf of Lanis is a novel every fan of fantasy should read. I don't advertise and yet I still sell a lot of books every day. So people are talking about it. Many people love the book. And why not? It has important themes set in an entertaining world with high emotional stakes.
So the majority of recent reviews are either 5 stars-love it, or a begrudging four stars. "Yes, it's good, but I don't really like it."
That of course is okay. Nobody has to like anything. The real humor comes when a four star reviewer really reaches to find something to express their dissatisfaction with the novel. One said the book 'had too many commas' !
aghahahahaha. *cough cough* Sorry.
The four star reviews are usually of the vein "I know I should like this book. All my friends like this book. But, I don't, and I can't coherently tell you why."
Yes. Well. First let me say. It was my first book and I am the first to admit that it is a little clunky. I was still learning to write. Should I have put it out for general consumption by the reading community? Probably not. But I did, as I said before, because of a desperate need to express myself in some kind- any kind of forum.
And here is where I made a pretty huge mistake...
I wasn't writing to please the fantasy-literature consuming public. I didn't even consider that there was some kind of generally accepted form. I wrote the kind of novel I wanted to read: Complex narrative structure, bursting full of characters, challenging in perspective, fun with lots of action, filled with difficult emotions, in a completely immersible, fictitious world.
Readers who read genres other than fantasy have expressed surprise that I didn't follow the general formula for fantasy (although there are plenty of the elements, the poor boy/king, the hidden sword, heck, let's be honest, I borrowed heavily from Arthurian mythology).
But, mostly The Last Elf of Lanis is structured like something you might read from the syllabus of a Lit 101 course, and not the average fantasy novel that gluts the market.
And, the readers expecting something like everything else have been disappointed. So why did I write a book so divergent from the accepted, expected mainstream of fantasy literature?
Because I like complex, challenging books, and initially I was writing only for me!
Does that mean I should have kept it to myself? No way, judging by some of the passionate fans of the series. Should I have kept it back until it was perfect? Maybe, but as I mentioned before, I was in a place where, after nearly a lifetime of being denied entry, I had to express something- anything.
Will I keep it as it is with its few flaws? No. I am going to rewrite the novel and make it shine like a glittering diamond, specially now that I have some pretty awesome writing skills, but not this year. Maybe not even next year. A massive structure of interlocking novels is bursting to come out of my head, and, judging by sales, the readers want that more than me polishing my slightly flawed first gem.
Sarcasm to follow~~
So to those frustrated in understanding why you don't like the book, but give it four stars because you think you should: Don't. Be brave. Don't follow the herd of readers with more taste and intelligence than you.
The fact that you don't want to put on your big-boy pants and read something a little more advanced than a Jr. High School level novel is okay. Be yourself.
~~ Sarcasm end.
No, but really. It's okay if you don't like my book. Not everyone will. If there is a book that everyone likes, it's probably not very interesting.
So the obvious question is: If you wanted to write a novel that is full of advanced structure and ideas, why did you pick the fantasy genre? To which I respond: Why not? Why does a fantasy novel have to be simplistic, with shallow characters who follow a flat (boring) linear narrative path?
My answer is that the readers of fantasy are smarter than the market supposes. And I know this because The Last Elf of Lanis, without any kind of marketing or advertising continues to sell well every day.
Lastly, a thought about the complaint about the names I used. I think the initial complaint is generally when someone can't put their finger on the fact that they had to think a little and were challenged while reading a fantasy novel. "Oh, it's the names! That's why I didn't like this! The names!"
I wanted names that were unique. And I scoured the internet to make sure they were. But here's the thing, they really are not that unique. Most of the names come from European history. Most of the names I use are amalgams of very common historical names. I appropriated some of the names right out of Beowulf, just like Tolkien did when he grabbed a bunch of names out of the very first fantasy novel ever written.
Kellabald - Kell uh bald... really? that's hard?
Arnwylf - Arn wylf (wolf) ...Arn wolf ... that's hard to read?
Wynnfrith - win frith
Alrhett - all ret
Yulenth - you lenth
Ronenth - ro nenth
No. ...lazy reader who wants Jim, Bob, or Mary.
I will admit that Haerreth and Haergill were confusing. I shouldn't have used two such similar names. But look:
Haergill - Haer gill - higher gill.
Haerreth - Haer reth - higher reth
It looks very simplistic actually. The names are mostly old norse, old germanic, the root cultures of fantasy literature. And I wanted a feeling of distance in time and space. Get over the complaint about the names. They are easy and wonderful.
The elf names - well I had to create something alien. You really only have to deal with Iounelle for most of the series.
Iounelle - Eye un el
now a cool person will put a little 'ou' in that, but don't worry about it.
Enough about names. If your main complaint is about the names, I think we all know that you just wanted a simpler book to read. Check the YA section next time.
I don't blog much because I think my time is best served writing novels and not writing blogs.
I am nearing a final, polished draft of Magic and Mathematics Book One: Ancient Science.
This new book starts a new series that I am very excited about. And this new novel has turned out to be nothing short of wonderful.
In this book, Iounelle travels through Egypt as the Great Pyramid is being built; chases a psychopath through Hellenistic Athens; and is witness to the Roman siege of Sicilian Syracuse. It's a pretty kick-ass book. Just as deep as anything I have ever written, probably deeper. It's pretty damn outstanding, if I do say so myself.
I promise that once you have read it, you will be grabbing friends by the collar, saying 'you must read this!' It's that good.
It's coming soon.
That's all I had to say.
Starting September 1st, 2014 I will begin writing Berand Brave, the sequel to Berand Fool. and maaaann.... Berand Brave is going to be soooo good.
Lot's to look forward to.