Guest Post: Edith Maxwell

The Mystery of Reviews

Ah, reviews. Authors can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.a tine to live

My first book under my own name just came out. Last week! And it came out from a large publisher, which meant there were lots of Advance Review Copies (ARCs) floating around well in, uh, advance of the publication date. The publisher sent ARCs out to the big review sites, to local newpapers and magazines I had alerted them to, and who know where else. They sent me a box, and I scrounged up as many ways as I could think of to get them into the hands of likely reviewers, including hosting two Goodreads giveaways and sending one to Sister in Crime Gigi Pandian.

So A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die got some reviews. What does an author, particularly a sort of new author, do when she hears her book (that is, her baby, her cherished work, her…, you know what I mean) has been reviewed? More seasoned authors might advise you to Never Read Reviews. Of course, this makes sense. No one will like every book. All you need is enough people to like your book.

But still. As far as I know, I have read every review so far in the public domain. Publishers Weekly liked it. Woot! Library Journal liked it. Awesome news. An independent blogger/reviewer did not like it. Boo. The Goodreads reviews have been great. FB reviewer Dru Ann Love loved it. So far Amazon reviews are batting a straight five star.

Today, though, I opened a review I had been looking forward to. The publisher of The Natural Farmer, a quarterly publication that goes out to 10,000 organic farmers, received an ARC and said he would review it. I used to serve on the board of the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) with him twenty years ago when I operated and co-owned a small certified organic farm. Several other farmers and gardeners had read the book and liked it. I was eager to gain a whole lot of new farmer-reader fans.

The newsletter (a misnomer, as it runs to several dozen large newsprint pages) came in the mail today. I opened it and flipped through to the book reviews.

Jack, the publisher, wrote that this was the first fiction review the newsletter had ever done. And then proceeded to rip apart the willing suspension of disbelief that a mystery relies on. He  stated that no real farmer would ever have time to do all the detecting and romance and socializing my protagonist, Cam Flaherty does, AND run an organic farm in June in the Northeast essentially single handed. Oh. Gulp. Rats. True. He acknowledged that my details about farming, about farm-share programs known as CSAs, about certification were all accurate, but they would not be new and interesting to farmers who would already know all that stuff.

So, I guess this is one to chalk up to, “Oh, well.” I’m still going to go to the big NOFA summer conference (with my 24-year old farmer son!) and sell books. I’ll continue to reach out to readers who are also gardeners and locavores and, yes, organic farmers. I’ll try to make the next book a bit more believable to professional farmers. And I’ll end this post with the Goodreads review that a farmer in California, Darryl Ray of Sunnyslope Family Farm, posted:

“I really enjoyed reading A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die. It is one of those books that once you start it you can’t put it down. The story’s location (a new Massachusetts organic farm) and main character (a novice farmer) are interesting and believable. I am looking forward to more stories involving Cameron and her farm.”

So, there, Jack!

Writers, what have your reactions to negative reviews been, or don’t you read them? Readers, do you write negative reviews? Do you suspend disbelief when you read a mystery?

***

Locavore  Edith Maxwell’s Local Foods mysteries published by Kensington let her  relive her days as an organic farmer in Massachusetts, although murder  in the greenhouse is new. A fourth-generation Californian, she has also  published short stories of murderous revenge, most recently in the Fish Nets and Thin Ice anthologies.

Edith  Maxwell’s pseudonym Tace Baker authored Speaking of Murder, which features Quaker linguistics professor Lauren  Rousseau and campus intrigue after her sexy star student is killed.  Edith is a long-time Quaker and holds a long-unused doctorate in linguistics.

A mother  and former technical writer, Edith lives north of Boston in an antique  house with her beau and three cats. You can find her at @edithmaxwell,  on facebook, and at www.edithmaxwell.com

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14 thoughts on “Guest Post: Edith Maxwell”

  1. Edith, I’ve been following your progress as a fellow SINC member and I know you have worked so hard for this success, which must make it all the sweeter. Congratulations and best to you!

  2. Great post. Edith! Such a relevant topic for anyone in the arts. I know some people who never read their reviews and others who read them all. Love your attitude about the whole thing.

    Congrats on your book–can’t wait to read it!

    ps: Suspension of disbelief seems necessary: otherwise, there would be no such things as sci-fi or fantasy or fairy tale, right? All hail suspension!

  3. Thanks for stopping, Edith. I agree with Cynthia – some suspension of belief is necessary in most fiction. I mean, my middle-grade series involves a girl being transported into a video game. You don’t get much more “unreal” than that. Would a true farmer have time for detective work? Maybe not, but I think if you’ve created a likable character, most readers will go long for the ride.

    As a reader, I don’t like giving negative reviews.I either don’t leave a review, or try to only talk about what I liked. The few exceptions are where I think the book description may mislead the buyer (for example, something described as “romantic suspense” has absolutely no romance), or where the cost of the book outweighed my enjoyment, so I might recommend picking it up from a library or waiting for paperback.

  4. Hi Edith, Organic food and small farming is so important these days. George Eliot asked her partner to read reviews for her because they sent her into spasms of agony. And of course Keats is rumored to have been killed by reviews. Woolf says we shouldn’t mind, but that artists mind beyond reason. Hey, you got so many good reviews! Sounds like a wonderful book.

  5. Thanks, Mary. Good guidelines for reviewing. I don’t like giving negative reviews, either. And hello to a fellow technical writer!

    Theresa – wonderful stories about famous authors! Thanks.

  6. Welcome, Edith! Reviews are part of the process and even the not-so-favorable ones serve a valid purpose: to show that everyone’s opinion is different. Congrats on your successes!

  7. Hi Edith. This was a very timely post for me, because I recently published my first novel and am in the process of collecting reviews. As a reader, I find reviews helpful in WHAT they say, and not whether they love or pan the book/movie. If a reviewer says “too much romance and not enough violence,” then I’ll pick it up! I bet farmers will think: if I want realism, I have my life. Give me a good story. I don’t think this review will hurt you. Didn’t some say all publicity is good publicity?

  8. Susan, good point. When I was farming, I read a lot of cozy mysteries and suspended disbelief all the time! I sure hope the Natural Farmer review will spark interest in some growers despite the negative parts.

  9. Hi Edith! Great to see you here. I love your post. And I have to say when I hear authors saying they don’t read their reviews, I laugh. Not out loud or anything, but for the most part, I don’t believe them. I could see some of the “biggees” not checking out their reviews: Grafton, Peterson, etc. But I believe most writers not only love to write, but love to be read. At least, I am.

    As far as negative reviews, yeah, they sting. But I don’t resent them and, indeed, try to take a deep breath and fact-check them. When the comment has to do with voice or style, I let it go. Not everybody is going to like my stuff. (Despite the *obvious* fact that everyone SHOULD. Goes without saying, right?) If it has to do with editing issues or plot holes, then I put them on my To Be Revised chart.

    Anyway, congratulations on your birthing “A Tine To Live!” I look forward to reading it. In fact, I’m going to pick up a print copy for my niece who just started her own organic co-op farmette. Not that she has time to read, but maybe she can get to it in the winter.
    Best wishes!!

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