A review of a review

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: one of the scariest things about being an author is reading reviews about your work. You’ve poured your heart and soul into your story. It’s been revised and edited to within an inch of its sorry life. You know that at least two people love it: you and your editor– at least, hopefully you both still love it, and aren’t sick of the sight of it ;-) But now you’ve got to send it out into the big wide world…

…and if you haven’t already developed a pretty thick skin, you’d better grow one STAT. (It’s either that or spend your time curled up in bed with your duvet over your head and a box of tissues *g*)

Look, bottom line is that not everyone is going to love your story. In fact, some may loathe it with a passion that should only be reserved for eating chocolate. Not everyone is going to “get” it. And that’s OK–more than OK, because life would be pretty bloody boring if we all liked the same things.

For me, reviews are like rejection letters. Sometimes they’re not very helpful. By that, I mean if it’s just a form-letter rejection of the “thanks, but no thanks” kind, with no feedback, you can’t work with that. You don’t know whether your story sucks the big kumara, whether it was almost there but not quite, whether the agent/editor has already acquired a manuscript that’s similar to yours genre-wise, or whether they have a full list right now. Or whether you’ve named your hero or heroine after a person who stood them up on prom night.  (Okay, maybe I’m kidding on that last one, but you get my drift.) It’s a form rejection. It tells you nothing. And, unless you happen to be psychic or an empath who can detect emotions, or something equally useful, you’ve got squat to work with. You can’t improve your manuscript based on a form-letter rejection. You just have to trust that it’s as good as it can be and send out another query.

And when I spot reviews where there’s a rating and no feedback, for me, it’s kind of like receiving a form-letter rejection. All I can do is appreciate like heck that someone read my story and bothered to rate it all, and then shrug and carry on. Doesn’t matter whether its a 5/5 rating, or a mediocre rating, or a really low rating of the “ouch!” variety, it gives me nothing to work with. I can’t learn from it. It doesn’t tell me what the reader specifically liked about my story. It doesn’t clue me in on what they thought I did well, what I totally nailed, so that I might be able to replicate it in my next story. It doesn’t tell me what I could improve on, what I totally screwed up on, so that I might be able to prevent the same no-no in my next story.

So when I spot a review that is comprehensive and analytical, I’m thrilled to bits and beyond. Even if it’s less than flattering, here’s something I can work with! (Well, once I’ve gotten past the sniveling under the duvet part, anyway *wry grin*)

In the case of this particular reviewer, I don’t know anything about her other than she’s a member of Goodreads. I’m not a member, so I don’t know whether she’s a professional reviewer who got my book from the publisher, or a reader who makes a habit of posting comprehensive reviews of books she’s read. All I do know is that her name is Jacqueline, and she posted an incredibly detailed review of my December release, From The Ashes, analyzing a variety of  the important aspects that make up a story.

I’m thrilled that she liked From The Ashes–of course I am! Doh. Last time I looked, I was only human. But to be honest, even if she hadn’t liked it, her review would have been worth it’s weight in gold. Many writers fork out their hard-earned cash for that kind of detailed analysis.

So I’d like to say a huge Thank-you! to Jacqueline for:

1) reading the book in the first place,

2) publicly posting a review, and

3) taking time out of her day to write a review that has made me sit back and really think about the way I craft my stories. (For someone who tends to “pantser” her stories, and for whom writing is often an instinctive process, this is great stuff!)

I appreciate her feedback more than I can say. And I hope she doesn’t mind if I post the review in its entirety here:

FROM THE ASHES by Maree Anderson

4-1/2 stars

I enjoyed this Science Fiction Romance. It hits the high points of what I consider the necessary criteria for Sci Fi Romance.

First good world building. I could visualize the settings in which the action took place. There were two planets involved in addition to the ships. The first planet was a desert planet. The description was clear and the dangers were clearly described and pertained to the story. The populated planet where the majority of the story took place was easy to visualize. It was a hedonistic pleasure planet and the characters actions, either in accordance with the mores of the society or contrary to custom, caused them to either get along in the place or have problems. The cultural mores of the planet were clearly shown in the actions of the characters not by telling.

Secondly the romance was well done. The hero and heroine spent enough time in each others presence for real emotions to form. They grew to know and depend on each other. They didn’t just hop in the sack arbitrarily. The did spend a large portion of time in the middle of the book apart but struggling to get back to each other. I would have preferred that they hadn’t been apart but that is a personal preference and doesn’t mean that that part of the story was bad or unnecessary. Just not the way I would have preferred it. But I didn’t write it did I? :-) The emotions seemed real and there was some pathos and sacrifice involved.

Third – Characterizations in general for all major characters where clear and well motivated. The hero and heroine both were solid characters who grew over the course of the story. The secondary characters were clearly differentiated and were true to their stated motivations. The heroine was a kick butt kind of girl. She was tech savvy and could defend herself. When things got screwed up, she came up with a plan and acted on it. He was coming from a very different place and had to grow from being a slave to learning to be his own person. He seemed very three dimensional and real.

Fourth – The plot made sense. There was a clear beginning middle and end. Actions taken had logical consequences. There was a lot going on and much of it was fun. Some of it was sad and a lot of it was tense. Not a one note book at all.

These final two thing are not common to all SFR but were pertinent here.

Alieness and sex scenes.

There were some aliens but most of the characters were human or mutated humans. Humans had come from Earth so long ago that Earth was considered a silly legend and those who believed in it were scorned. Our heroine was unmutated and was a believer in Earth. The hero was from a planet of mutated beings who had been designed as sex slaves and they had a second set of genitalia. Only a man was described though so I don’t know what the women from that planet might have had. He was well written and the whole Phoenix aspect was new and interesting and really had a lot to do with the plot.

The sex scenes were not gratuitous. There were maybe 3 or 4 and only one that was completed as it were. Since he was born as a sex slave, that aspect of the story was pertinent but most of it was about what that meant to them in their personal relationship. I will say however that it didn’t seem really necessary that he have two penises. I guess it just illustrated that he was mutated to be a sex slave. An outward symbol of the inner purpose of his race. It did seem like it might be a little tedious to have to do both ‘ahem’ entrances every time you wanted a little nooky.

The writing in general was good. The sentences flowed and I didn’t notice any annoying word choices etc. There were some good quotes (example below) and it was very readable overall.

“If he found Calista hurt or damaged in any way, Asher would go after Nate and make him regret the day his father fucked his mother and inflicted their son upon the universe.”

Reviewed by Jacqueline

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