Shake it off. Shake it off. Managing expectations with respect to fans

When I wrote my first novel, Just Friends with Benefits, I basically winged it. I was walking to work one day when an idea for a story popped into my head. I made the decision to write a book and never looked back. I had no formal training and no experience, but the novel was pretty well received. I considered it a very positive start to my writing career and looked forward to releasing my second novel, A State of Jane.

Everyone who read A State of Jane before it was released commented on how much my writing had improved. The pacing was tighter, the story flowed easier, and the humor was sassy and fresh. I assumed if people enjoyed Just Friends with Benefits, they would LOVE A State of Jane. And many of them did. But then negative reviews came flowing in—Jane was unlikeable, the ending was not satisfying. Some preferred Just Friends with Benefits. Even though I stood by my plotting decisions, I was devastated. How could people not understand that Jane was a work in progress? How could they not appreciate the growth of her character and applaud her independence? How could they not notice how much I’d honed my skills?

My third novel, Blogger Girl, had both a “nice” main character and a more typical romantic comedy storyline. On top of that, I was still growing as a writer. If people enjoyed Just Friends with Benefits, I knew they would love my more polished but equally romantic Blogger Girl. And if A State of Jane wasn’t light and fluffy enough for them, I was certain Blogger Girl would win them over.

The reviews for Blogger Girl were by and large very good. It made it onto about ten blogger’s lists for the best books of 2013, has 111 reviews on Amazon with an average rating of 4.5 and only one 1 star and zero 2 star reviews. For the most part, it is the fan favorite. Still, there were some naysayers, especially on Goodreads—Kim is too aggressive and full of herself. She’s so insecure! And she doesn’t do any work. One person wrote a review on Goodreads that my writing gets worse with every book. In her opinion, Just Friends with Benefits was, by far, my best book, followed by A State of Jane. She hated Blogger Girl with a passion.

*Sigh* For the love of God, who do I have to sleep with to write a book that everyone likes?

My fourth novel, How Do You Know? was released last month. I thought: this is it. This is by far the most emotional and heartfelt book I’ve ever written, and my growth as a writer is evident. My fans will be delighted! It’s got it all—sass, humor, romance, heartbreak, likeable characters. I’m as good as golden!

And then I had two bloggers who adored Blogger Girl and who enthusiastically agreed to read How Do You Know? decline to write a review because they didn’t connect with it as much as they would have liked. I appreciated their honesty and willingness to refrain from writing a review, but “ouch.” Then the doubts came flooding in. What if I am a bust at writing women’s fiction? Should I stick to chick lit? What if everyone hates this book except my mom, sister, beta readers, and publishing team? But then glowing reviews for How Do You Know? came flowing in: “Meredith’s best book yet.” “Meredith Schorr has done it again.” “I loved this book as much as her others.” My confidence soared again until I received a four star review from someone on New Year’s Eve who said How Do You Know? was engaging enough, but she liked my other books much more. Despite the four-star review, I was disappointed that it wasn’t her favorite.

And then it occurred to me that I’m a multi-published author and to expect every reader to enjoy each of my new books more than the one before is…well…expecting too much. Not to mention that unless I want my previous books to stop selling, I should hope readers will have different preferences so that there is consistent buzz for all of my books. The reality is that not everyone has the same tastes. Some readers prefer pure escapism to depth. Some people love a flawed character they can root for even as they scream at her. Others don’t want a character who might remind them of their own shortcomings. Some folks appreciate an uplifting, but realistic ending; others prefer the fairytale. Some people get a kick out of grown up characters acting juvenile and making fools of themselves. Others think it just makes them look foolish.

The good news is that between four novels, I now have something to please or offend *almost* everyone. I say *almost* because you can’t please everyone. At least, as evidenced in this blog, I have not mastered that skill yet. But as long as I continue to please people more often than not, I will be happy. I’m going to keep writing the stories that inspire me to the best of my ability—which will hopefully continue to improve with each book, even if some fans still prefer an earlier book.

I’ll have a thicker skin, hold the ice, please.

As part of a cross-promotion with eight other authors, I temporarily lowered the price of the ebook version of A State of Jane to 99 cents over President’s Day Weekend and in honor of Valentine’s Day. Thanks to several very supportive bloggers, social networking in general and a well-placed ad by my amazing publisher, there were approximately 1,200 downloads of A State of Jane that weekend. To be honest, I never expected to sell 1,000 copies period, so selling more than that over a few days is, for lack of a better word, fantastic! I even made it onto a few Amazon best-seller lists and since I have no idea when that will happen again, if ever, I took screen shots and have them hanging on my bulletin board at work so I can look at them when I need a quick pick-me-up.

Although I am very excited about the volume of sales I experienced, I am also terrified. With more sales comes more readers (it ain’t rocket science…) and with more readers comes the increased risk of negative reviews. I’m well aware that even The New York Times best selling books get bad reviews as it is impossible to please everyone. Impossible. It stands to reason, therefore, that not everyone is going to like A State of Jane. Negative reviews are just part of being a published author, right? My head understands the logic behind this but my heart is a different story, not to mention my thin skin.

So far, the majority of reviews for A State of Jane have been very positive. Most of the ratings I’ve received have been 4, 4.5 or 5 stars and some of the reviews have included comments that the book is “chick lit at its finest”, “a must-read” and “hilarious”. Many people have asked me about a sequel and told me they want more Jane. Obviously not everyone has LOVED the book but most have said they enjoyed it. It has made the handful of two and three star ratings on Goodreads easier to swallow since, like I said before, no book is going to have only positive reviews if anyone reads it besides friends and family of the author!

Am I fooling anyone? I didn’t think so. Despite two published novels under my belt, negative reviews/ratings hurt like a mother fucker!

I’ve recently received two somewhat unfavorable reviews for A State of Jane from bloggers. Both reviewers did not like my main character and said that it took away from their enjoyment of the book. I’ll be honest in saying that I can live with that. It was my intention to write a story about a very idealistic and optimistic young woman who learns the hard way that life doesn’t always follow a to-do list. Unlike many main characters in chicklit, Jane is not merely an innocent victim of circumstances outside of her control, i.e. relationships that don’t work out, career aspirations that don’t take off due to an evil boss etc. When faced with disappointment, Jane tries everything (and I mean everything) to turn things around and becomes obsessed to the point of alienating her friends and family. As many readers have said, Jane becomes very unlikeable for a portion of the book. I fully expected readers to dislike Jane for a period of time and so reading this doesn’t surprise or upset me. My hope (and expectation to be honest), however, was that Jane’s antics would endear her to readers and that they would understand and appreciate why she acted the way she did and maybe even relate to her. For the most part, readers have expressed that this was the case but unfortunately for me, other readers could not warm to Jane. I cannot apologize for that because if I could go back and change Jane, I wouldn’t. If I did, it would be a completely different story and not the story I wanted to tell. And if I changed Jane to please those people who didn’t like her, I would thoroughly piss off those who did. (To those readers who did not like Jane, might I suggest that you pick up my debut novel, Just Friends With Benefits? The protoganist is much nicer 🙂 )

I obviously prefer to read reviews from readers who got a kick out of Jane, found her relatable and refreshing and laughed their way through the novel, however, it does make me feel better when the basis of a negative review is something I did intentionally and would not change. I did, however, read a review recently that really pissed me off because it did not seem like the reviewer even read the book. She got a couple of facts wrong and made comments that were just not accurate. She said that the book focused entirely on Jane’s dating experiences and that there were no other relationships or sub plots. Since the premise of the book was how Jane’s obsession with finding “the one” and controlling her destiny negatively affected her relationships with her best friends, family, co-workers and career aspirations, I got the feeling that the reviewer simply skimmed the book and wrote her review based on assumptions of what she thought it was about. That bothers me, especially if others rely on her review, but I guess that is the risk I take putting my book out there.

In summation, bad reviews suck. Despite my friends and fellow authors reminding me that even Sophie Kinsella, Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner get bad reviews, bad reviews make me want to cry and sometimes I do cry. Bad reviews even make me question whether I want to keep writing. But then I re-read all of the amazing reviews I have received, I look at the screen shot of A State of Jane reaching #6 on Amazon’s list of best sellers in humorous fiction, I recall how undeniably happy I feel after a good writing session and I move on.

Hollywood Hits & Misses – take 2

I initially wrote this blog for a third party website but, for reasons unknown, it was never posted. I’ve decided to post it on my own blog for your reading pleasure.

I would think almost all of us have read books that were made into movies and just as many of us have probably seen movies that were adapted from books. When I devour a book and find out it’s being turned into a movie, I literally count the days until I can watch the scenes play out on the big screen. (Most recently, I organized an outing for my friends to see The Hunger Games.) Most of the time I do not expect to enjoy the movie as much as the book and most of the time, it works out that way, for example, Bonfire of the Vanities – Loved the book, HATED the movie. But sometimes I am pleasantly surprised.

Listed below are my picks for three best movies that were adapted from books and three worst movies that were adapted from books. My list is limited to books/movies in the chicklit/rom-com genre because that was the “assignment” for the third party blog.

Hits:

1. The Devil Wears Prada – Book by Lauren Weisberger

Although I enjoyed this book, I preferred the film version for several reasons. Most importantly, I liked that Merryl Streep brought vulnerability to the role of Miranda Priestly. I also enjoyed Andrea’s makeover and watching her transform from a somewhat sloppy “plain Jane” to a sophisticated fashionista. And, of course, any film starring Simon Baker is cool with me.

2. Bridget Jone’s Diary – Book by Helen Fielding.

I recall finding the book humorous but, in my opinion, the movie kicked serious ass! The casting was completely on point and I found Renee Zellwegger’s portrayal as a British single woman very authentic. Also, while reading the book, I got bored with the diary entries of how much she weighed, drank, smoked etc., but the narrative during the movie made me laugh. I have watched this movie more times than I can count on my fingers and toes and quite honestly, I can’t wait to watch it again! HIT with a capital H!

3. In Her Shoes – Book by Jennifer Weiner

The movie perfectly captured the complex relationship between two sisters, Rose and Maggie. The casting of Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz, not to mention Shirley Maclaine was spot on. I don’t recall major discrepancies between the book and the movie but if there were any a) they were subtle and b) they worked. I loved the book but I think I might have enjoyed the movie even more.

Misses:

Something Borrowed – Book by Emily Giffin

1. Something Borrowed is probably my favorite chicklit book of all times. It is one of the only books I’ve actually read more than once and I was beyond excited to see the film adaptation. In fact, I actually counted down the months with a friend. Unfortunately, I was unimpressed. For one thing, I didn’t like the casting of Kate Hudson as Darcy Rhone. The character was supposed to be a dark-haired sophisticated head turner and, while obviously an attractive woman, I consider Kate Hudson more of a ham. Her performance actually exceeded my low expectations in that regard, but I HATED what they did to the character of Marcus. In the book, Marcus was a viable contender for Rachel’s affections and made Dex feel somewhat insecure. In the book, he was a complete train wreck, like a court jester. Additionally, the book character of Hilary, Rachel’s work confidante, was completely written out of the movie and much of her advice-giving role was given to Ethan. While I adore John Krasinski, the character of Ethan was in London for the entire book. The movie completely foreshadowed the eventual romance between Ethan and Darcy in the follow-up Something Blue and I just didn’t like it. The one thing I loved about the movie – Colin Eggilsfield was some serious eyecandy! But in sum, I wish the movie had followed the book more closely – why mess with perfection?

2. One Day – Book by David Nicholls

I admit to being torn by the book but the chemistry between the main characters Emma and Dexter was undeniable and I was completely sucked in as I waited to find out if they would eventually find the right timing to be together, as they belonged. Where the movie succeeded in spanning two decades, the movie felt too rushed, the connection between Emma and Dexter seemed forced and I was left thinking “is that all there is?”

3. The Lovely Bones – Book by Alice Sebold

This book will always hold a special place in my heart. I found it hauntingly beautiful. While the violent death of Susie Salmon at such a young age was tragic, the descriptions of her afterlife were magical and I loved being able to imagine what “her” heaven looked like. This novel touched me in such a major way that whenever I see the soft blue cover, I feel the urge to pick up the book and leaf through the pages. The movie adaption, on the other hand, was just too commercial for me and I was majorly disappointed. I also never pictured the parents as good looking as Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz and while I would never complain about watching Mark Walhberg on the big screen, it seemed a bit too hollywood for me and detracted from the magic that exuded from the pages of the book.

And there you have them. Agree? Disagree? Indifferent? What about you? What are your picks? They need not be limited to any particular genre!