“ON SUCH ENCOURAGEMENT TO ASK, ELIZABETH WAS FORCED TO PUT IT OUT OF HER POWER . . .”––Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
For an author, the desire to hear what people think of their book at first appears to be a tiny thread, but if we are honest with ourselves, it is simply a vein that leads to the heart of the silver mine. We even do little pep talks before publication. “There will be both good and bad reviews.” For To Refine Like Silver, still in its first month of publication, my exact thoughts were “People will either love it or hate it, depending on if they read the whole thing.” Since I chose a scripture reference as my metaphor that I based my plot on, I knew there would be plenty of people who might have an aversion to biblical themes or dialogue. It was a bold move, one that I knew was controversial. And just as I hoped, there was a huge influx of 5 star reviews where people said it was “Inspiring”. Surprisingly, even a few 5 star reviews came in from the nonreligious or those who deem themselves agnostic. I believe I know why this is. Some of the main themes in To Refine Like Silver are that gratitude and forgiveness help us through our trials. I may be a Christian, but I doubt too many people will debate that those are strictly Christian beliefs. Forgiveness and gratitude are qualities that make good people great! Have you ever known a vindictive or bitter person? How about a Negative Nelly who cannot see what is going right in her life. They are hard people to be around.
In preparation for those negative reviews that I knew would come, I made sure to “warn” people that it was a book where the characters learn to fully rely on God. It says exactly that on the back cover intrigue. I also help them understand that it is not just a romantic journey, but a spiritual journey as well. Needless to say, there were still those who, although warned that God might play a large roll in the book, still purchased and made an effort to read it. It is not surprising that the messages came across as too religious and they felt compelled to review the book according to their opinions. I am grateful that Amazon allows for their freedom of speech, but there is a significant duel that takes place in my heart.
One might ask, why read a book that differs from your value system? I am careful not to read books that have erotica in them because I do not take pleasure in those scenes. So why would I buy a book that had sex scenes in them? More importantly, why would I continue reading it if it went against my belief system? I read the reviews of each book I buy to screen for the sex scenes. Let us face it, I’m single, and getting sexually frustrated is just a stupid thing to do! And finally, what would possess me to review a book that I bought, was warned about, went against my value system, and never finished?
As you can see, the duel inside myself begs for notice. Part of me tries to prepare myself for negative reviews. Another part is extremely grateful for honest critiques because I learn when people give specific feedback; I grow as an author. I’m not afraid to admit it, another part of me begs for the encouragement. Any honest author will admit that. It is not everyone who can write a book, put the money and effort into self-publishing it, and not care if people will enjoy their words. So I fight an inner battle that as Captain Wentworth says, “I am half agony, half hope.” The battle will never get easier. There will be those who feel the need to declare their beliefs are different than what I wrote. But there is little I can do about it.
Some of my favorite reviews are those that give honest critiques of the writing, the plot and/or tactics I use to tell my stories. In fact, I am republishing a second edition of Mr. Darcy’s Promise in November because of the feedback I got from the readers. What you say matters! If you have an honest opinion that truly will help me be a better author, PLEASE tell me! I would love to have all positive reviews, but I know this will not help me improve. Knowing this, I continue to wage war inside myself as each and every review unsheathes their sword in this never-ending duel within myself.
And just as Elizabeth hopes to hear from her Aunt Gardiner why Darcy was at Lydia and Wickham’s wedding, I too find myself pathologically hoping to know what I did right and if there is hope for the book.
In closing, there is a song that we sang in church yesterday that I would like to share with you. As I do so, I am not trying to preach to you, because the message of this song is not just a Christian message. They are core values that make good people better.
Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
Has anyone’s burden been lighter today because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?
When they needed my help was I there?
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