Since my last blog for SMP (Insta-Love) addressed the same subject, I will qualify this entry, same general subject, as “additional research” (ahem).
As authors, we all come to realize—quickly—that book reviews are as individual as are readers. Some will love our characters, our premise, our plot lines. With others, we fall flat. As an extremely avid consumer of romance and women’s fiction novels, I will advise: never read the reviews first. Never judge a book by its Amazon star rating. Especially with books from big publishers who have hundreds, sometimes thousands of ratings. I’ve learned this the hard way (like I do everything else, unfortunately).
I recently listened to an audiobook by a Big Five published, best-selling author whose debut novel hit the charts high a few years back and has never flagged. The book has been recommended to me by a number of fellow readers, also lovers of the romance genre. Yet due to the blurb provided on both Amazon and Audible, I chose not to listen to a book in this author’s FIRST series. I began instead with Book I of another, more recent series.
Why? Because the story line interested me more. Pure and simple.
I loved, loved, loved this Book I of the new series. It was a five-star read in my opinion, although since I listened to it on audio, a less-than-perfect narrator kept the “performance” rating at a four. Still, I will most likely be returning to read/listen to the subsequent books in this series. The setting was vivid and lushly described, the characters so real and believable they jumped off the page (or through my ears and into my head!), and the plot just twisty enough to keep me guessing until the very last page. The story sucked me in, had me emotionally involved, and evoked both tears and laughter along with a few “aww” moments (and, okay, a few face-fanning moments as well).
After finishing this book, I thought, “I need to go back and read this author’s debut novel,” since this is where her fame, apparently, all began. How could I go wrong? The debut has over 2,500 reviews with an overall rating of 4.5 stars. I downloaded the audiobook and eagerly began my journey.
Sad to say, I will probably not finish it. It features an unlikable, wishy-washy heroine, a cookie-cutter, alpha rich-guy hero, and a flimsy premise at best. After barely halfway through, the book has deteriorated into one graphic sex scene after the other, with repetitive phrases used ad nauseum (enough with the soaked panties, already). The characters barely interact with their clothes on anymore, and when they do, it’s to talk about getting their clothes off.
I am bored. And, considering this book was NOT labeled as either erotica or erotic romance, but “contemporary women” and “women’s fiction,” I feel as though I’ve been misled.
Yet the other book by this author that I loved, although it has only 150 reviews as of yet (it is a recent release), has an overall rating of only 4.2. Why? More than one of the reviewers (which I read AFTER finishing the book) say “It’s okay, but it’s no Blah Blah Blah (the author’s smash debut). Both books are listed under the same genre categories.
Huh? I’m confused.
I understand that I am just another one of those “individual reviewers,” and everyone’s tastes differ. But the major difference between these two books (and I would assume, series) is that although they are both considered “contemporary,” one is a rich-bodied, fully developed love story with a few steamy sex scenes scattered throughout, while the other (the big debut) focuses much less on the development of the emotional relationship, and more on the sexual.
I also noticed this author’s new series (the one I like) came out from a different publisher (though still one of the big five). Hmm. That’s interesting as well.
So I ask you, fellow Soulies who write contemporary romance or women’s fiction—what are our readers really looking for? I’ve actually asked my own fans this question, through my newsletter: which do you want to see more of in my books—the story, or the sex? The answer I got was overwhelming—we like the spice but want our hearts to be captured by the characters and their journey first.
As an author, I am constantly trying to improve my craft. Researching books that are out there and doing well in my genre, hoping I can learn how to make my stories better. That’s why I’m a romance junkie, consuming books in paperback, ebook, and audio at an embarrassing rate. But I write contemporary, so I read/listen to contemporary. And lately, what I’m finding in this genre are books that truly belong in the erotica or erotic romance genre instead.
I would love to hear feedback from my colleagues as I put the finishing touches on my WIP and wonder—do I have enough sex scenes? Too many? Share your kernels of wisdom with me!