book promotion, book reviews

Just Wanna Be Misunderstood

I think most of us small-time writers share at least one trait in common: we obsess over our reviews. I know I do. When a new review pops up, I scrutinize it, interrogate it for clues, for hidden meanings. Like a hermit living in a remote garrett, starving for news from the outside world, I read it over and over.

And it is, in fact, a completely pointless activity. Reviews are what they are. You can’t change them, and they may not even be all that important in terms of selling books (the subject is at least debatable.) There’s really no reason to read them at all unless you are one of those writers who plots his next book according to what worked in the last one—and if by worked, you mean earned positive feedback from reviewers.

I’m not, and I don’t. But I can’t deny my own fascination. Sometimes, even months later I’ll take them out and play with them, arranging them just so. Is this just an ego primp? Maybe. Though it’s often the the less-than-glowing reviews that keep drawing me back for another look. Some little comment, some bit of faint praise. What’s that supposed to mean? Why did he say that? Who says I’ve got pacing issues?

A while back, I received a review of Spark. It wasn’t bad. It was four stars and mostly positive. There were parts she found a little confusing (and very weird) but she praised the writing and the characters. She wasn’t wowed by the ending, which seemed incomplete to her (an occupational hazard. I tend to like a loose ending.) But the money quote, the one that knocked me over, came near the beginning:

“I have the oddest feeling walking away from this book that I’m not sure I can even begin to describe. Spark by Atthys J. Gage was not what I was expecting, and yet it hit the bullet points of everything it promised. Even now, half an hour after finishing the book, I sit here and marvel at what I just read in a strange state of confusion…”

(The boldface is my addition because, hey, read it!)

Near the end she added: “It was both better, and odder than I expected, and I was entertained.”

I can’t entirely explain why this made me so happy. I’m not one to value obscurity for its own sake. Ambiguity can be a powerful tool in writing, but it needs careful handling. It’s no good being abstruse if it’s just so people will assume you’ve got some heavy, brainy subplot going on.

Take it from me, Spark is not a particularly symbolic book. The story is pretty much right there on the page. I didn’t design it to be an allegory with deep hidden meanings. And yet, this reviewer found in it something so confusing that she marveled at it.  AND she still liked it.

All fiction is allegory. Real life, in fact, is rife with allegory, and even though we are usually at a loss to explain the hidden meaning that seems to underlie the mundane events of our lives, in transcendent moments we are at least aware of it, even profoundly so. And how do we typically respond to that glimmer of awareness? With confusion. A confusion so deep and disturbing that we marvel at it. Life is, perhaps, both better and odder than we expect it to be.

If a book can invoke that kind of confusion, even for one person? I’ll take that as a win.

Then again, maybe I just want to be misunderstood.

All right, enough of me indulging myself. How’s about you indulging yourselves for a while. Has a review ever changed your life or made you fundamentally rethink what you’ve been doing? It’s mostly just us scribblers here, so don’t worry. You have my permission to crow, just a little bit.


6 thoughts on “Just Wanna Be Misunderstood

  1. Changed my life, no. Given me a warm glow that lasts quite a while, yes. And the validation that comes with it remains important to me. Thanks for the insightful post – as well as that link to an excellent song. Ronnie Lane died before he got old, far too young.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That moment when I finally figured out that I was never going to be another Pete Townshend was the moment when I began looking around for a new creative outlet. Given a choice, I’d probably trade all my vast success as an author to have his gifts.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mimispeike says:

    I believe you will continue to be misunderstood, because this is not typical YA. Not that I’ve read much of it, whole-heartedly, since Nancy Drew, fifty-five years ago. It’s more imaginative, and way better written than, say, hot ticket Amanda Hocking, whom I’ve sampled out of curiosity. Is this a plus or a minus? Damned if I know.

    We write what we write. Let the chips fall where they may. Your lovely style will eventually attract a following. This is the same tasty voice that I enjoy on your blog. It is truly a delight.

    One thing strikes me. You have fine reviews on Amazon, but none of them sound like they were written by a YA. This may be par for the course for a newly published piece, the author beating the bushes for comments. Still, I’d be interested in hearing what a teen reader has to say. My gut feeling is this might be a tad too sophisticated. Do I underestimate them?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. atthysgage says:

    I don’t know if it’s a plus or minus either in terms of sales and audience, etc, but I’m glad to hear you say it anyway. I’ve never expected a big audience, but I’ve always thought my stuff might appeal strongly to a small core audience. Truth be told, most of my readers are not young people but grown ups who just like YA fiction, a surprising large group of people, though you’d never know it by my sales.


  5. GD Deckard says:

    Great post, Atthys. I never thought about it before reading this, but thoughtful reviewers really do tell us things about our work that we didn’t know. And yup, I often appreciate their insights.

    But if we are as good as we want to be, even bad reviews can be fun in retrospect.

    Faulkner of Hemingway
    “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

    Hemingway of Faulkner
    “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

    and my favorite …
    W.H. Auden of Browning
    “I don’t think Robert Browning was very good in bed. His wife probably didn’t care for him very much. He snored and had fantasies about twelve-year-old girls.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mimispeike says:

    As for reviews, I don’t pay a lot of attention to them. I don’t trust them. I’ve seen too many folks giving five stars to things that I thought were sorry storytelling, even for light fare.

    Reviews open doors, to Book Bub and the like. I might agonize on that account. Do they influence sales? Me, I would sooner rely on the synopsis for the gist of the story, and a Look Inside, to assess style.

    By the time I get to the review stage, I will be committed to my path and, again, willing to let the chips fall as they may. Am I smug? Yes. Will I eat my words at some point? I really don’t think so. I have enough smug to pull me through. I’ll please myself.

    Anyone of a mind to pile into my clown car for a kick-ass ride, welcome along. Fair warning: my alternative-reality sixteenth century is not for the linguistically faint of heart. I’ve got a smirking cat, but he ain’t Garfield, spouting cute one-liners.

    Not up for my elaborate antics? Your loss, not mine. I stand by my difficult choices, even if I never sell a book.

    Black humor meets purple prose meets faux-historical gobbledegook. C’mon, what’s not to like?

    Liked by 1 person

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