Getting to know your reviewers

Over a decade ago I heard an interesting radio interview.

The guest did his thesis on how Bob Dylan and The Beatles shared a public conversation. The key was to the titles of their songs. Dylan would release a track, then the Beatles would respond to his ideas with their new hit. The dialogue would continue back and forth in an open forum.

One thing I’ve noticed after releasing two novels, is the unique connection I find with my reviewers on various book blogs. Sure, we may never have met each other, but like the ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ we all have on social media, I’m starting to understand how they think, and to a lesser extent, what makes them tick. And in some ways it’s a conversation I address as I write my novels.

It’s a philosophy I was trying to relay…

…while in the audience of a panel discussion at last year’s Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, however, not effectively. I was surprised to find that authors more successful than me still worried about reviews. I tried to say that I loved reading my reviews and for critics to ‘bring them on’.

My first novel, Drama Queens with Love Scenes, has mostly won hearts, and although what bloggers have said has varied, it’s their individual voices that have helped me both explore and improve my writing.

I’ve had the ‘pat myself on the back’ compliments like “great world building” or observations like the “characters were so real”. And some have wanted their own guardian angel similar to Guy in the novel. One even wished the main romance was between Adam and Guy, which is a theme I never thought of, but decided to toy with in the sequels.

On the flipside…

I had one Amazon reviewer state that as a writer I may not be sure if I wanted to “enter the world of serious literature or the world of gay novels of substance”, which at the time crushed me until I saw it as a back-handed compliment. Many other reviewers have favourably mentioned that the Drama Queens series mix genres. Plus if I have it in me to write more serious literature, let’s hope that seed sprouts one day.

And while the first book is set completely in the Afterlife, the second, Drama Queens and Adult Themes, takes place in both my home town of Sydney, and the Afterlife. I was relieved when readers and reviewers didn’t find this a problem, and some even loved this second book more. But one blogger who said he could see the first book as a film, was lost with the second.

He was an avid fan of the imagery I created for the hereafter, and using that setting for only half the novel did not make him a happy reviewer. So you can’t please everyone, but at least the third, Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes, should make him happy.

But this is why I love my reviews.

It not only gives me an honest appraisal of my writing, but also gives me an insight into what my readers think as they consume my words. Where have their imaginations taken them? What elements did they daydream about? What appeals to some but doesn’t appeal to others, and why?

As one reviewer said about Drama Queens and Adult Themes – “I found myself pausing as I read, thinking back over my long lifetime as a gay man in a rapidly shifting world”. If this is the response I get, then with the help of my critics, I must be on the right path.

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