17 June 2011

READERS WHO WON'T LIKE YOUR BOOKS AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM

Last weekend at the California Crime Writers Conference, Kris Calvin who had attended my workshop came up to me afterwards with a newly purchased copy of THE LIVING ROOM OF THE DEAD for me to sign. I gave her my standard warning: "That's the book of mine that's filled with the most sex and violence. You might want to take it with a glass of wine."

This morning, in a comment on Ashedit's blog, in reply to a comment on that blog by me, she wrote: "...as a woman of a certain age, I’m sure I looked like I was there for the cozies and just got in the wrong line. Under the circumstances, your comment was quite thoughtful."

She's already read the book and liked it. Thanks Kris.

Actually, I give the same warning to everybody, regardless of age, sex, creed, color or place of national origin. Call it a disclaimer, if you will. THE LIVING ROOM OF THE DEAD is a very tough book. It is filled with sex and violence and even sexual violence. I felt that it had to be to get the story told with the kind of impact I wanted it to have. I don't feel that those elements are in the book gratuitously, and most of the readers and reviewers who have commented on it seem to share my feeling.

Still, I did once talk someone out of buying it. And I felt really terrible about that. It was at a book event where only one very nice person showed up in spite of the store's and my efforts to promote the event. I chatted and drank tea for quite some time with the one attendee and it became apparent - obvious - that she was going to hate The Living Room of the Dead, probably wouldn't be able to get through it, and might very well hold it against me and the bookstore for the rest of her reading days if we sold it to her. (She was particularly fond of Lilian Jackson Braun's cat mysteries.)

I ended up spending nearly a hundred bucks in that store to assuage my feelings of guilt over having driven away the only customer I'd attracted to the store in the first place. (Apparently she appreciated it, though, and became a regular customer after that.)

What's an author to do?

I don't want to write books that everybody will enjoy. I'd then have to worry that they were wishy-washy books.

I like to challenge and provoke my readers, and myself, with ideas and surprises and strong scenes that evoke strong reactions.

But hey, I'm like anyone else - I like to be liked. I like it when my readers enjoy my books and say nice things about them.

And I don't like to make assumptions about people. Much of the time those assumptions are proven wrong anyhow. (Which is, much of the time, pleasing to me.)

But sometimes you do encounter people who you just know, with certainty, are not going to like your book/s. Is the meager royalty from that one sale worth alienating them?

So other than that one time, I have resisted giving anyone an anti-sales pitch. But in the spirit of caveat emptor, I try to help them make a somewhat informed decision.

What about any of you other authors out there who might chance to be reading this? Have you ever signed a book for someone you were pretty sure was going to hate it? Ever recommended to someone that they not read your book?

2 comments:

Elaine Ash said...

Hi Eric, and thanks for the link/shout out in your post! In my experience, honesty is the best policy. I routinely tell gal pals, "BTW, I edited this crime story but please don't read it. It's too hardboiled for you." They remain supportive of my career and they're not exposed to material that's not to their taste. So I, for one, would not hesitate to steer a reader away from a book. They appreciate that you're honestly looking out for their best interests, and you can always say, "Hey if you DO know a crime reader, please recommend me." I think most of them would, in that instance. Just my 2 cents.

Dianne Emley said...

Yep, I warn some book purchasers that my Detective Nan Vining books are "gritty." Sometimes the info is greeted with surprise because I seem to look like someone who'd write cat mysteries. Well, I am quite fond of cats.