I Hated Your Book!

So my historical fiction novel Mistress of Rome has been out and about in the world for just over four months now, and it has been a learning experience. Mostly a very good one–I still wake up every morning deliriously happy that I can work from my couch and not have to put on uncomfortable shoes and trudge into a cubicle where I stare at Excel spreadsheets and pretend to care when my boss says that my “Tell Me How Lucky I Am To Work Here” coffee mug is not in line with the company mission statement. But being a writer has its bad sides just like any other job, and top on the list is dealing with negative reviews. Which will come, because everybody gets negative reviews. You can go on Amazon and the Bible has negative reviews. Even God doesn’t get a break on this one.

Mistress of Rome has gotten panned a few times, and that’s okay. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, after all, and I knew going into this that I wasn’t going to please 100% of my readers. The last thing I will ever do is be unprofessional and argue with a reader about their opinion, whether in person or on the web. And I have learned valuable things from some negative reviews–a Latin scholar, for example, who tactfully pointed out a few places where my Latin terminology was shaky, leading me to do some more careful research for my next book. But I have gotten some negative reviews so bizarre, so off-beat, or so flat-out filled with loathing as to leave me scratching my head. Here are a few memorable gems from readers who have contacted me with negative feedback, rephrased for anonymity but true to essence:

1. You’re going to hell for writing such a book.

Well, frankly, this one delighted me. I thought I’d have to be really really successful before anybody told me I was going to hell. I find the prospect doesn’t faze me much–a reader like this probably thinks Stephen King is going to hell too, and I always wanted to meet him. We’ll toast our feet on a little cozy Hellfire and watch Red Sox games together. Plus, whoever wrote that review is by the Bible’s definition passing judgment on their fellow man, and so will be joining me down below.

2. This book is sick and depraved. I can’t believe I finished it.

Um . . . if it was that sick and depraved, why did you finish it?

3. This book is a rip-off of Francine Rivers’s `Mark of the Lion’ trilogy.

Francine Rivers? Who’s that? (Goes to library.) Christian historical fiction, okay, that’s why I haven’t read it. (Reads first two books) Okay, serene slave girl, check. Big tough gladiator, check. Slave girl’s bitchy beautiful corrupt owner, check. Prisoners thrown to lions in arena, check. Overall Christian theme, okay, I don’t have that. Still, definite similarities. Will anybody believe I never read Mark of the Lion until after Mistress of Rome was published? Oh well. At least this review led me to Francine Rivers, whose work I am enjoying.

4. This book is a rip-off of the Starz Spartacus show.

Do I have to defend this one? “Spartacus: Blood & Sand” had just begun airing when my book released. I may work pretty fast, but not fast enough to see the pilot of a terrific TV show, write a plagiarized novel, and whip it through production before the TV show in question gets to episode 6. I’m a fan of “Spartacus,” though, so thanks for the comparison.

5. Your bio says you have a degree in Classical Voice. But that’s music, not history, so what are you trying to pull here? You think we’ll read `classical’ and think `classical scholar’?

Not trying to pull anything here, actually. It’s just the bio my publisher put together for me. I’m no classics professor, though I do float a terrific high C. I think most people out there know the difference between classical literature and classical music. If not, please see “Dictionary.”

6. This book has orgies, torture, orgies, premarital sex, orgies, drug use, orgies, rape, and more orgies. A new low on my `Most salacious books’ list.

Glad you enjoyed it! And can you please put your review up on Amazon too? Five separate mentions of the word “orgies” is bound to net me a few more readers.

7. This book doesn’t promote good values. The heroine has premarital sex.

The heroine’s a slave. What’s she supposed to do, ask her master for an engagement ring before he rapes her?

8. Dude, this is a boring book. It’s in ancint Rome and very boreing. Lots of beheadings.

Um, no beheadings actually . . . but I don’t argue with the sleep-deprived or the chemically enhanced.

9. The point of view changes are confusing.

I got this comment from enough readers to make it a majority opinion. I promise I will delineate points-of-view more clearly and smoothly in future.

10. Yr buk sux.

Thank you for your opinion. I haven’t heard from many fourth graders so far.

As you can see, my approach with negative reviews is to keep my sense of humor. Plenty more bad reviews will come my way, so I might as well learn to laugh about it. And for those many people who liked Mistress of Rome and wrote such nice reviews about it (on Amazon, on Goodreads, in their blogs, or just in a nice note to me), thank you for all the praise. All of you really made my day. Glad you could join me in ancient Rome – it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I think it’s a pretty cool place.

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