Research, reviews, and erratum

“Don’t read your reviews” is advice I’ve never been able to follow. I love reading my reviews. Most of them are warming. Even when someone doesn’t like the book, they’ll often say why, which either helps me to improve, or lets me know this wasn’t the book for them (vulgar behaviour, one recent reviewer said, when my heroine succumbed to temptation in the person of her hero; on another story, someone marked the book down because there was no on-page sex — you can’t please all of the people all of the time).

I’m really struggling with the very sensible prohibition against opening a conversation with a reviewer whose review is simply unfair, and based on false ideas about which she proclaims with great authority. Hence, this post, which will allow me to vent without (I hope) making a prat of myself.

I’ve written before about what to do with a bad review. And I’ve written about why book reviews matter.

I haven’t written about what to do when a reviewer claims you’ve not done your research. Mostly, the errors in their reviews are pretty obvious, and I’ve winced, picked myself up off the floor, and moved on. Yes, the Roman Baths at Bath had been discovered by 1805. New baths were built on top of the Roman baths in the 12th century, and the original ruins were discovered in 1790, during excavations for the Great Pump Room. And, yes, craftspeople (both men and women) wore  overalls in the early 19th century, for a given meaning of the term (I’m told there were three garments with that name, but I’ve only found two).

It feels different, somehow, when someone makes a claim other people can’t easily check, and justifies a two-star rating on that basis, even though she acknowledged the strength of the writing and the main characters. Somehow, the compliments and rating combined give greater emphasis to her certainty that I had made up the system of advowsons and benefices that existed at the time of the story, and was not reformed until the second half of the nineteenth century.

Yes, reviewer, my rector villain did collect the tithes, and they were his to do with as he willed. No supervision, except that perhaps the person or organisation who had gifted the advowson might use the threat of its removal to change behaviour.  In my story, said landowner had been absent and careless for years, until death brought a new landowner.

I make mistakes, and I appreciate the kindness of the reader community when they send me a message to say ‘I think you meant volunteers, and not militia’. I try hard to avoid errors. I research everything that occurs to me, and take nothing for granted. It’s the stuff that is so much a part of our life that we can’t imagine being without it that trips us up when we look at the past.

So what can I do? I’m thinking about adding Author Notes at the end of a story, listing the pieces of research I’ve done and some of the sources I’ve used. What do you think? Will it help?

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6 thoughts on “Research, reviews, and erratum

  1. It is most upsetting and downputting when readers question things we have researched and are certain about, but I suppose this goes with writing historicla fiction.
    End notes might be useful. I sometimes check them, when they are included, just out of curiousity (and especially if the story is set the time I write about), but this might be more of a writer’s thing.
    Personally, I think there’s nothing better than this blog. Readers who are interested in your stories and the time you are writing about will seek it out, especially if they have something to tell you. Here you can demostrate your expertice and may interact. I think this is a more effective tool than the end notes.
    Just my idea 😉

  2. Good grief, if readers want authentic history, they should read history and leave historical fiction and romance alone. I wouldn’t even check your research footnotes unless I felt I would like more information, never to check on the validity of your research. I read for the enjoyment of HR and my HEA and I do enjoy the history involved in the story. I also give the author room to entwine the history around their story.

  3. The people who are that upset may never get to the end notes or bother to read. But people interested in the period or about your writing will.

    I read some to see things to watch out for and sometimes what scenes/characters made their jaws drop. (fanfic does offer fast feedback) I will admit sometimes I read the weird things readers see in my stories. An early one criticized the smuttiness of a chapter. As I write sweet adventure, little more than kisses, I was boggled and rushed to find and fix it.

    I didn’t find anything and replied, asking to help finding it so I could fix it. (I figured there was a word or phrase that had a porn def in the urban dictionary I didn’t know) A few days later they replied, saying there was nothing there and thanking me. The tone was apologetic.

    Others plainly were not comprehending the story, and explaining may make me tweak. It’s not always my writing as this one reader did not absorb often major stuff, like the death of a character in in chapter one; they begged that I not kill the character in chapter four.

    • My favourite have-a-chuckle bad review was a one-star shortly after I published my very first book, which said “A yawn-fest. Liked the first book better.”

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