A Comment on Readers’ Comments

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.

Yours, Ashley

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About Ashley Zacharias

I'm a post-modern woman who lives a vanilla life and dreams about kinky adventure. I write BDSM pornography but have no interest in acting out my fantasies in real life. Find my work on SmashWords.com and Amazon.com
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10 Responses to A Comment on Readers’ Comments

  1. Lasse says:

    Hi Ashley, I just noticed your books today, I have downloaded “A Lady Pays Her Penalties”, I have spend most of my my evening reading the first two stories about Leslie, I have loved what I have read so far, you are very talented keep up the good work 🙂

  2. GwaiLo says:

    Hi Ashley,

    I have been a big fan of your books for a long time, though I don’t believe I’ve ever commented before. I have added a few to my ‘bookshelf’ on bdsmlibrary.

    I actually found some of your more ‘intellectual’ stories very interesting, albeit it not particularly arousing (The baby machine in particular comes to mind). I needed to think a lot more while reading them and definitely found them quite stimulating (just not in the way bdsmlibrary normally does 🙂 ).
    It was because of those that I was very happy to find your blog and read your thoughts on your writing and get an idea of the person behind the books.

    While I hope you go back to some of your earlier works (the backgammon series, Bless me Father, for I have sinned,

    I thought that there were a few that really bridged the two sides of your writing really well. Riding the Devil’s Horse, The Man in the middle were two stories that had a great mix of both parts and created a real sense of ‘incidental’ BDSM elements that were well written and fit very well inside the world you created for that story.

    To finish all of that, I have a soft spot for Suzie’s Lessons, though probably just because I love stories about ‘hidden bondage’ and that control where the subject needs to hide her suffering from the outside world.

    It’s truly a pleasure to find an author who puts so much care in to their stories and isn’t afraid to write what they want and not necessarily what the audience is looking for.

    So thank you for all the wonderful stories you have posted. Can’t wait to read more.

    GwaiLo

  3. DocMo says:

    Hi Ashley,

    I just finished reading “A Lady Pays Her Penalties”. I suppose since I obtained your collection from Smashwords, I might be considered an eBook enthusiast – thankfully missing the average reader designation, though I generally read on my B&N Nook.

    This was my first S&M story that I have ever read and my first erotic collection. That said, the aspect that I found most surprising about the experience was how well I enjoyed the style of your writing (as opposed to merely the content). In essence, I enjoyed how intellectually engaging your book was – how your portrayal of the characters was intelligent, consistent, and multidimensional. Your writing reminded me of methodical police procedurals, which I am in more of the habit of reading, and I enjoyed the elements of mystery, intrigue, and suspense that you wove into your stories.

    I was so interested in your style, that I Googled you as the author to determine what I could learn more. I was fascinated to find that you have a musings blog and that your writing style here is just as clever and engaging as I found your story. I chuckled as I read this post and thought about how I wanted to write a good review and provide a solid rating on Smashwords, but realized that I didn’t have an account. Your process here made providing feedback simple and inviting.

    So here’s my note to tell you that I enjoyed your book very much.

    DocMo

  4. Ashley, you’ve reminded me of the initial performance of Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps in 1910. The audience was so shocked it destroyed the concert hall. Stravinsky beamed with pleasure: “Now that,” he is recorded to have said, “is what I call a satisfying audience reaction.”

    In the realm of modern fiction, the “Consumer Reports” effect is paramount. Readers who are indifferent to what they’ve just read are highly unlikely to rate or review. Those who take the time and (minimal) trouble are the ones who’ve had strong reactions, reactions that would have pleased Stravinsky. I’d imagine that’s what accounts for your balance of reviews at Smashwords.

    My own little erotica collection, A Dash Of Spice, inspired glowing reviews at Smashwords…and highly condemnatory e-mails directly and privately to me. The effect you mentioned here:

    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….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.

    …could be at the root of it. I’ve learned to let it roll off my back, and I imagine you have as well. That’s just about the only thing someone who wants to write about human sexual behavior, and its interplay with our emotions, can do.

    Allow me to cite a beautiful and highly significant lyric by an underappreciated composer/performer:

    Mrs. Molly Jenkins
    Sells her wares in town,
    Saturdays, in the evenings,
    When the farmhands come around,
    And she sews all their names in her gown.

    Ah, but is she happy? No, no, no!
    She wants a better home, a better kind of life.
    But how’s she going to get the things she wants, the things she needs,
    As some poor wretch of a farmer’s wife?
    (He trades their milk for booze,
    And Molly wants new shoes…)

    So as she snuggles down with a stranger,
    In a back of the barroom bed,
    It’s much too dark to see the stranger,
    So she thinks of shoes instead!

    Old man Horace Jenkins,
    Stays at home to tend his schemes,
    Sends for pictures of black stockings,
    On paper legs with paper seams,
    And he drinks till he drowns in his dreams.

    Ah, but is he happy? No, no, no!
    He wants to be reborn, to lead the pious life.
    But how’s he going to shed his boozy dreams,
    When he has to bear the cross of a wicked wife?
    (She claims to visit shows,
    And he pretends that’s where she goes…)

    So as he snuggles down to his reading
    In a half-filled marriage bed,
    He’s so ashamed of what he’s reading
    That he gets blind drunk instead.

    Sunday breakfast with the Jenkins:
    They break the bread and cannot speak.
    She reads the rustling of his paper;
    He reads the way her new shoes squeak,
    And prays God to survive one more week.

    Ah but are they happy?
    You’d be surprised:
    Between the bed and the booze and the shoes
    They suffer least who suffer what they choose.

    (David Ackles, “American Gothic”)

    Be well, dear.

    • You’re certainly correct that anyone who makes the effort to comment on a story either likes it or dislikes it. Those who feel blah about it are unlikely to bother.

      I like the lyric that you attached. The close, “They suffer least who suffer what they choose,” taken out of context could be used as an interesting summary of my stories about women who choose how they’ll suffer.

  5. Valdez says:

    I have now read portions of five of your books. The only one I’ve actually finished is A Lady Pays Her Penalties. This is is not a criticism, but an inability on my part to handle the sustained intensity of the stories without needing a break. For me, the most erotic part of each story is the woman’s deliberate surrender to the torment. In a few cases, the violence has gotten to be a little more than I could easily enjoy, but the writing has been first-rate.
    In my own stories that follow a bdsm theme, the female characters are seeking humiliation and helplessness rather than actual physical abuse. I have had to teach myself to appreciate your approach simply because the scenarios you craft are so enticing, and the stories live up to that erotic premise and promise. Thank you for the writing. I am fighting with Barnes and Noble over my downloads of your books, but I hope it is settled by the time you have another title available.

  6. All my stories are over the top, but “A Necessary Beating” is probably the most objectionable. I think of most of my stories as fun but twisted fantasies. No so with “A Necessary Beating”. It is a horror story. But I didn’t present it that way, so people too often accuse me as condoning wife beating. If I were to re-write it, I don’t know if I would put a little moralizing in there to justify myself or not. It has a certain effectiveness as it is, forcing people to react against it, even though they do so by vilifying me.

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