More Thoughts on Writing to your Audience

The month of August should have brought the rewards for many months of writing and revising (not to mention other hassles and expenses associated with getting a book into print). It should have been a month of gathering reviews, the fruits of my labors. I love reviews, all of them.

But there weren’t any.

Perhaps I exaggerate a little. I’m horribly disappointed because I consider THE CONVICT’S SWORD my best book. If any book of mine will ever make an impression, I thought, this is the one. Well, apart from a starred PW review, it fell dreadfully flat -- both in print and electronically.

Not only that, one reader, a gentleman in the UK, sent me an agitated e-mail, protesting against this “joyless” “soap opera” of a book when he was so solidly hooked on all the other Akitada novels.

So, what happened? I suspect the reason for the general silence is at least partially that THE CONVICT’S SWORD is a very dark novel. It deals with loss and the fall-out on the survivors. The whole novel, in one way or another, traces the pain that is part of being human. My protagonist deals with this in his own life even as he tries to ease the suffering of others caught in a terrible miscarriage of justice.

I tried to deal honestly with psychological flaws in Akitada and his wife, and discovered that readers like their heroes to be perfect. I tried to show how harsh life could be in those days, and found that readers like to visit a past that is filled with color and derring-do, where all hardships are temporary, and all adventures end happily.

Perhaps the idea of escape into a better time is why many genre novels succeed when literary novels fail dismally in the sales department. You have to give people what they want, and that is rarely reality.

Or at least you need someone to tell them why they should read the book anyway.

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Comment by I. J. Parker on September 7, 2009 at 4:10am
Well, in my case the progression of life did it. When you take a protagonist from naive youth to midlife crisis, it tends to affect character and atmosphere in a novel.
See no reason why you can't do the same -- though maybe considering my experience you may not want to. People sort of like what they've become used to. Why else would they still read Evanovich?
Comment by Jon Loomis on September 7, 2009 at 1:33am
I'm obviously not speaking about your series here in particular, but as a general question I wonder how one juggles complexity versus consistency over a number of books. There are a thousand ways for a series to jump the shark, obviously.
Comment by I. J. Parker on September 7, 2009 at 12:56am
B.R., I have a web site. Have had it for years. Yes, that is generally something one ought to have.
Jon, the first book always gets extra attention, but the dropping off of review numbers for my sixth has been somewhat drastic. I have fat scrapbooks for the other books. This one will only have 4 or 5 pages.
Keeping things fresh wasn't the problem. Moving forward with the characterization was a problem for one reader at least, though it may please someone else. If so, I hope that person will speak up at some point. But maybe some readers just expect complex characters, while others don't.
Comment by Jon Loomis on September 7, 2009 at 12:03am
It's one of the central challenges of writing a series--how to keep it fresh while retaining those elements that keep readers coming back for more. I confess that, two books in, I have no idea how to do that; in fact, I'm not even sure it's possible. I wouldn't worry too much about the lack of reviews--the online reviewers will find it sooner or later, and print review space is incredibly scarce these days, as more and more newspapers are stripping down to news, sports and weather. My first got reviewed all over the place--#2 got a couple of pre-pub reviews and some online stuff, but no major print. I was a lot more interesting as a debut crime writer, I guess; now, for reviewers, the novelty's worn off.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on September 6, 2009 at 2:29pm
I.J.---put up your own web site for Akitada. Get on Craigslist. com and advertise the hell out of it (for freee). Buy some ad banners space. You'd be amazed how much the word gets around. And you never have to leave your house!
Comment by Grant McKenzie on September 5, 2009 at 8:45am
Sorry to hear that, I.J. It certainly is a challenge trying to please the editor/publisher, reader and yourself. The three aren't always going in the same direction, and in this economy it's becoming even tougher. Pity, because a lot of darn good books are going to get lost in the mire. Publishers dumping books to save costs.
Comment by I. J. Parker on September 5, 2009 at 4:21am
Thank you, B.R. Well, maybe you're right. I'll have to take a look at the venues. The one hist/myst site I belong to doesn't interest itself in anything but European settings. I will not, however, go back to Dorothy L. That wouldn't help anyway. They are mostly cozy readers. Thanks for the thumbs-up on the harsh realities. I needed a reminder that I'm not totally out of sync.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on September 5, 2009 at 2:31am
Oh my, now I do have to really save up my pennies and read The Convict's Sword. Frankly, I like your Akitada series. I like the harsh realities of that time frame. I think they should be far more successful. If I have a suggestion, it would be to become, at least on the internet side of self-promotion, far more active. Obviously the publisher is not going to do much for you. So if you don't, who will?

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