Monday, 28 July 2014

The backseat review

Writers love a good review, that goes without saying. We also despise a narky one and, as I've blogged before, it can leave us quivering messes constantly second guessing ourselves and threatening to give it all up, such sensitive souls as we are.

But what to do with the 'backseat review'?
That's what I call a review where the reader tells you what to do next, where to take the characters and what they expect. In no uncertain terms, they make it clear they want more of one thing, less of another.
In other words: you're driving the wrong bloody way!

Passionate readers are my favourite kind, let's get that clear from the start. Better to have a fanatical reader who bosses you about than a reader who stumbled upon your book, read it half-heartedly and couldn't really give a toss. They're welcome, too, of course, don't get me wrong. But gee, a little passion is a wondrous thing.

However! With passionate readers comes a caveat: they not only think they own the characters, they believe they own the plot.
I recently enjoyed reading a review from an extremely passionate reader who was a little miffed that all her favourite Ghostwriter Mystery characters, especially Oliver, were largely absent from my latest book Words Can Kill. In this tale, Roxy packs her bags and heads to Europe to hunt down her ex-boyfriend, Max. He's gone missing, his Berlin flatmate has shown up murdered, and a cryptic text tells her Max's life is hanging by a thread. Roxy's good friend, and Max's sister Caroline, does tag along, but that's not good enough, not for this reader at least.

She desperately wants Roxy to return home. She wants her to trawl the familiar turf of Sydney, her motley mates by her side. And I get that. That's what made her fall in love with my books in the first place.

But it's also what makes them a little boring for me as a writer.
I travel a lot. I love exploring new terrains in my books and not just because my holidays are tax deductible, although that's an added bonus. I think it makes the copy more interesting, more textured and colourful. And it makes me a better writer.

I also love creating new characters and can get a little over the old ones. In fact, I got dreadfully bored with Roxy and Max's relationship. I felt it was verging on snoresville, hence the ending of my latest book.

This reader vehemently disagrees. She was not happy, she begged me to take Roxy home and deliver up all her favourite characters again. She even wants Max and Roxy back together and I almost wonder if she'll settle for anything less.

Will she desert the Ghostwriter Mysteries if I don't do as I'm told? And should that even matter?

My question to you, dear blog reader is this: How seriously should a writer take an avid fan's concerns? She's just one person, after all. Does she speak for all, or do the other readers (the hundreds who did not seem to have any problem with any of this) feel differently? I honestly don't know.

What's more, isn't it my book? Isn't it up to me where Roxy goes and with whom she goes there?

How important is one person's opinion when every reader counts (and when that one person is, perhaps, your biggest fan)? I don't know. I don't want to lose her, but I won't be directed from the sidelines either. It's a fine line.

In any case, it's too late now. This lovely reader is not going to be happy. I'm midway through Roxy's sixth adventure and she's already headed out of town, up the Australian coast. What's worse, she's headed off alone. (Although, thanks to this reader, I am considering some last-minute tweaks. Maybe a few of her friends will join her up the coast? Maybe she'll return to Sydney sooner than I had planned?)

Should I be doing any of that, just for one reader, albeit a passionate one?

It's an interesting question and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Jot me a comment below.

In the meantime, happy—involved—reading everyone! (And thanks to that beloved reader who has given me pause for thought.)
xo Christina

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