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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