Happy Saturday, everyone, and welcome to Gillian St. Kevern’s Thorns and Fangs blog tour. Read on to see what Gillian has to say about reviews, and then be sure to check out the Rafflecopter giveaway, where your entry will put you in the running for a $10 Amazon Gift Card and a credit for a free book from the NineStar Press website.
Don’t Apologize for your Reviews. Take a Bath Instead; Japanese Onsen and Goodreads Reviews
Recently, I’ve noticed a trend on Goodreads: reviews prefaced with statements like ‘I hate to say this. I feel like I’m the only person on my friends list that didn’t like this book’ or ‘There must be something wrong with me. Everyone else gave this book five stars but …’ The review that follows is thoughtful, giving reasons for the reviewer’s lack lustre reaction, but concludes ‘It’s not the book — it’s me.’
Stop this! Reviewers, your honest reviews provide a helpful service to readers and authors alike. You should not feel like you need to apologize for them!
I know. Easy for me to say. I can imagine long time reviewers shaking their head thinking, ‘Sweet summer child. If you only knew the depths of author crazy we’ve experienced, you’d understand.’ Or authors wincing at the above paragraph, remembering that negative review that cut straight to the bone, or the troll that never went away. Fair enough!
I struggle a lot with critical reviews, writing and receiving them. As an author, it is too easy for me to identify with the writer of the book I didn’t enjoy, imagining how hard they’ve worked on their story and softening my review accordingly. As a receiver of reviews, yes, I do take them personally. It’s a thing. I’m working on it. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Some of the most helpful reviews I’ve received have been critical. They called my attention to blind spots in my writing, or promises I’d raised that had been left unfulfilled. Did it hurt? Yes. It hurt a lot. I rode the gamut of negativity from ‘no one understands me’ to ‘I have failed as a writer because I did not express what I wanted to’ to ‘never going to write again.’ But the next time I opened Scrivener or Word, I demanded more of myself and my writing and … I got it.
Writing is scary. It’s a lot like taking off your clothes — all your flaws are out there for anyone to see. When we write we share not just our hopes, fears, but things even more basic and intimate — how we view the world, love, life, ourselves. It’s no wonder then that authors find it so hard to disassociate themselves from their stories — and so essential that we should.
What getting naked in Japan taught me about nonconformity
Before I came to Japan, I had a pretty good self-image. That changed rapidly. All of the women at the school I worked at were always immaculately presented. I never saw them without make-up (which they applied perfectly). One woman wore pearls to school. They were all tiny. This trend continued on TV, advertisements, every time I left my apartment. Beside this incredibly monotone femininity, I felt like a whale. My self-confidence plummeted and I became very conscious of how ‘overweight’ I was (I was below the average weight for New Zealand women my age, and a healthy BMI). That all changed the day my teachers took me to an onsen.
An onsen is a communal bath, usually gender separated. The bath water is sourced from a natural geo-thermal source and might have specific mineral properties — good for soft skin, healing incredibly specific ailments, etc. You wash beforehand then soak in the bath, which could be wood, stone or tiled, inside or outside, a wooden tub with no frills or a fancy bed with bubble jets. I’ve been to onsen in the snow, in rain, at the height of summer and in a cave. They were all amazing.
But what about that self-confidence, you’re wondering. Yeah, me too. I’ve got no idea where I found the courage to say yes to that first onsen — possibly, I had no idea what I was getting myself in to — but I am so glad I did. At first, I was every bit as self conscious as you’d expect. I imagined everyone judging me. After all, I wasn’t just a whale, I was an obviously not Japanese whale, doubly attention grabbing. It took me some time to notice that … no one cared. Every other woman in that onsen, she was naked too. All our flaws were out there in the open and — this was the amazing thing to me — my seemingly perfect colleagues had flaws, too. Not only that, but they didn’t care. It was a paradigm shift. I felt a huge weight lifted off me. Almost immediately, I began to feel better about myself.
I am now hooked on onsen. I have introduced many, many friends to them, and try to go a couple of times each month, even in summer. In addition to their positive effect on my body image, I love the honesty of onsen. I don’t think it’s any surprise that some of the most interesting and insightful conversations I’ve had have been in the bath. Onsen have an equalizing effect. Older Japanese women, who may have never talked to a foreigner in their lives and would never dare approach me outside the bath, will talk to me in the onsen.
Unfortunately, younger Japanese women, teenagers and women in their twenties, the ones who feel the most pressure to conform to the ideals of Japanese femininity are the age-group least likely to go to an onsen. I imagine that they’re held back by the very insecurities that onsen combat. Unfortunately, this pressure to conform to an ideal or stereotype isn’t limited to Japan or to women. It’s not always obvious either. Societal pressures to be agreeable, positive, or like what our friends like, can appear in unexpected places. Is this what is behind these apologetic reviews? I hope not. Imagining reviewers on Goodreads feeling pressure to conform makes me very angry.
The importance of nonconformity in reviews
There are reviewers I follow because we have the exact same preferences in books. Most of my Goodreads friends, however, have a wide range of interests I don’t share. There is one reviewer I follow on Goodreads precisely because we have opposite opinions on pretty much every book we’ve both read. Her favourites are the ones I struggled to finish; my favourites are the ones she gives one or two stars to. She is frank in her reasons for disliking books — ‘HFN ending’ or ‘too much plot, not enough romance’ (I am wildly paraphrasing) — but as someone who enjoys a good HFN in the right situation, and adores a twisty plot, her negative reviews are invaluable for me in helping me find books to read. Much more helpful to me than a 5 star review that simply says ‘OMG must read.’
But that’s as a reader, right? As an author, surely I’d prefer the five star review? Well, yes and no.
The hardest part of writing for me isn’t writing the book, or even editing it. It’s making sure the right people find it. And by ‘right people’ I mean, the people I wrote Thorns and Fangs for — people who want a vampire book where vampires are scary, a romance where there is more than one potential love interest, a story that starts with sex but develops into love. These are not things that every M/M reader wants to read or will enjoy reading! And as readers, I think we can agree that not enjoying a book is the worst feeling. However, I fully believe that thoughtful critical reviews will not prevent the people that love a book from finding it, while helping readers who won’t enjoy it know to avoid it.
What this all boils down to is, that, like onsen goers, reviewers and books alike have quirks and flaws. Rather than apologizing for the very thing that makes their reviews valuable, their unique reader perspective, reviewers should celebrate it. Instead of saying ‘I’m sorry, but this book wasn’t for me,’ try ‘this book wasn’t for me.’ Reading is like visiting an onsen, in that we take off our everyday expectations and immerse ourselves in something uplifting and relaxing. In the onsen, we’re free to be ourselves, flaws and all. Let’s be ourselves in our reviews and writing, too.
Blurb: Nate is caught between two dangerously hot vampires who can compel people to do whatever they want and a ruthless necromancer who wants Nate for all the wrong reasons—and that’s only the start of his problems.
Escort Nate prides himself on two things: his ability to please his clients and his normality – living in the monster capital of the world, ordinary is rare. Hunter, a darkly charming vampire with more charisma than is good for him, decides Nate is just what he needs. Nate’s sympathetic nature and skill in the bedroom are put to the ultimate test. But Hunter wants Nate for someone else – his brother, Ben. Nate is immediately attracted by the control with which Ben holds his sensitive nature in force. Too afraid of becoming a monster to allow himself to feel, Ben struggles to resist Nate’s generosity of emotion. As a vindictive necromancer makes Ben his target of revenge, Nate discovers that making people feel good doesn’t compare to making Ben feel. As Nate’s normal world crumbles around him, and he desperately searches for a way to save Ben, Nate is unable to escape becoming the necromancer’s latest victim.
But Nate’s death is only the beginning. Coming back to life in the bathroom of Gunn, a Department Seven officer who hates the vampire family that Ben and Hunter belong to, Nate doesn’t know who to trust or even what he is. As the necromancer’s trap pulls tighter around himself and Ben, Nate is forced to let go of normal and embrace powers he doesn’t fully understand. In defiance of Ben’s vampire sire and hunted by Department Seven, Nate and Ben finally learn to trust and rely on each other. But when the necromancer succeeds in capturing Ben, Nate alone can come to his rescue.
Author Bio: Gillian St. Kevern is the author of Deep Magic, The Biggest Scoop, The Ugliest Sweater and Thorns and Fangs. Originally from New Zealand, Gillian currently lives in Japan and has visited over twenty different countries. Her writing is a celebration of the weird and wonderful people she encounters on her journeys.
As a chronic traveller, Gillian is more interested in journeys than endings, with characters that grow and change to achieve their happy ending. Her stories cross genres, time-periods and continents, taking readers along for an unforgettable ride. Both Deep Magic and The Biggest Scoop were nominated for Best LOR story in the 2015 M/M Romance Groups Member’s Choice awards. Deep Magic also received nominations in Best Cover, Best Main Character and Best Paranormal, while The Biggest Scoop was nominated for Best Coming of Age.
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