Some people stand by the road with a sign, “I work for food.” I should carry a sign, “I write for comments,” because readers’ comments are the only payment that I seek.
It should be no surprise, then, that I check sites for readers’ comments continually and compulsively. And, when I find one, I obsess over it until it is almost burned into my screen, trying to interpret exactly what my reader really meant.
Comments are my readers’ thoughts about my writing. So, comments tell me as much about my readers as about my writing. And one of the lessons is that not all readers are the same.
Some interesting trends have emerged.
Across all sites – BDSMLibrary.com, Smashwords.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Goodreads.com – about one reader in a hundred rates the story and about one in a thousand takes the time to write a comment. BDSMLibrary and Smashwords are a little different because a reader must write a comment in order to rate the story, but the numbers work out about the same when that’s taken into account.
I have no doubt that readers’ comments are a highly biased sample of readers’ reactions. Readers who find my stories uninteresting do not bother to comment. I always have to remember that. As well, I have to remember that even when readers love my stories, they often will not write a comment. I know that I’ve seldom written comments to other authors, even when I’ve liked their work very much. I hang my head in shame and vow to do better in the future.
On BDSMLibrary.com, the comments are universally complimentary and supportive. Readers encourage me to write more stories. They come to the site to read the kind of stories that I write, they find my stories, and they like them. I am flattered and encouraged, as my commentators intended, and I do write more.
People’s tastes differ, even among people who are self-selected by their interest in BDSM. Undoubtedly, there are many BDSMLibrary readers who do not take the time to comment on my stories because they do not like them. I don’t worry about that. As long as I have a critical mass of readers who do like them, it’s worth my time to write the stories.
When I bundle my stories into anthologies and publish them as ebooks on Smashwords, I get a similar reception: all positive reviews. This puzzles me. I bundled my two strangest novellas into Wives in Service, along with one of my weakest stories, and expected bad reviews there. “The Baby Machine”, especially, is an experiment in oddness with more intellectual than emotional content. Yet a half dozen people commented on it, all in glowing terms, and awarded the book the highest rating possible.
Everything is different on Barnes & Noble (and Goodreads on a smaller scale). This isn’t surprising. B&N is where the average readers come. The other sites get readers with special interests – BDSM on BDSMLibrary; and ebook enthusiasts on Smashwords. B&N gets a lot of people who are moderately interested in moderate books but are not dedicated evangelists to any literary cause.
All my books get an average rating on B&N – about three stars out of five – and many of the comments are negative. This is where Wives in Service gets panned the way that I expected. The other three anthologies get more positive comments, but also have their share of bad reviews.
Yet, even Wives in Service gets an average rating. At this moment, seventy people have rated it and its average is three stars. That means that for every person who gave it one star, someone else gave it five stars (or a couple of people gave it four stars). Possibly people who liked it didn’t comment on it, but equally likely many people habitually rate books positively and gave it a good rating simply because it was grammatical and had few typos.
My least favorite kind of reader is someone who doesn’t have any reaction to my work, positive or negative. I’d rather have readers who say, “Ew, terrible, not recommended!” than “Eh, whatever, yawn.”
But I think I also get a few comments from a different kind of reader – one I think of as the religious hypocrite. I imagine a man who sings loud in the front pew every Sunday morning, but sneaks porn into his ereader every Friday night to read all day Saturday. My blurb cautions that my stories are about masochistic women who seek punishment and include explicit descriptions of kinky sex. That does not warn him away, it attracts his attention. He downloads the book and eagerly reads every word from first to last. But when he’s finished, he’s wallowing in guilt (and his spilled seed). He blames the book and the author for his lust so he self-righteously goes back to B&N and posts a review about how terrible the book is and how nobody else should read it. The dedicated sinner never wants anyone else to enjoy the same sin.
That’s the only way that I can imagine someone who ignores the caution on the blurb, reads every story in the book, and then comments on how sick each and every story was. Because I expect that most people, if they find themselves reading a book that has little merit, stop reading. Time is too precious and there are too many good books out there to waste time on a bad one.
That reader must have loved the sick, perverted stories to have read them all and then taken the time to pan them in his review.
That’s how I can make myself feel flattered by some of my worst reviews. It pays to have a good imagination.