"Do you ever get any negative mail from readers?" my sister asked recently.
No. Never. Not once in the roughly 1,500 letters and e-mails I've received in the past 2-1/2 years since my first book was published did a reader fail to say that she (or he) "loved" what I had written. Sure, both of my books received very good reviews, and Finding Hope even won a couple of awards. But I'm not foolish enough to believe that everyone loves my writing.
Some of my fellow inspirational romance authors talk about getting letters from readers who write, "Next to the Bible, yours is the best book I've ever read." I've received such letters, myself, but I always assume the writer simply grabbed her pen or rushed to the computer immediately after finishing a book that was designed to make her feel all warm and fuzzy about life and love. Still trembling with those emotions, she poured out what she was feeling at that instant and told me that mine was absolutely the best romance novel--the best book--she had ever read.
Hey, it's not that I don't want to eat up those lovely compliments with a spoon. But I'm a reader, just like the rest of you, so I know how common it is to fall hard for a story and then have only vaguely warm feelings about it a few months later. The people who write to me tend to do so immediately after finishing the last chapter of one of my books. Yes, I'm pleased to know they were deeply affected by what I wrote. But I believe most of them will very quickly forget me and my book.
Why do I never hear from people who don't like my books? Because if my story bores or annoys you, perhaps even to the point that you are unable to finish it, you're not going to want to waste any more time on me. You're not going to trouble yourself to look up my e-mail address and write, "Brenda, I just had to tell you how much I detested that book."
Because the only negative feedback we authors receive tends to come in the form of reviews, it's tempting to believe the people who pan our work must be stupid and wrong. We can "prove" that by trotting out piles of reader letters and e-mails, every one of them praising our books. But as I've said, satisfied readers tend to be the only ones who write to us.
From time to time, I stop to remind myself of that truth and give my ego a good slap before it gets too big for its britches.
To all of you who are buying and reading my new book this month, I just want to say thanks. If you write to tell me that you enjoyed it, you'll make my day. But I'm aware that some of you won't care for the book, and that isn't going to wreck my little world. I, too, am a reader, and I am very much aware that tastes differ.
If you have already read A Family Forever or if you're just curious, you might click over to the discussion taking place on the Steeple Hill message boards at eHarlequin.com. Not all of the comments are wildly flattering, but I have found them fascinating. Most of the discussion has centered on characterization. Is the hero too good to be true? Does the heroine need a good shaking?
I am endlessly fascinated by the idea that a book isn't "complete" when it's published. What I wrote was only part of the story. When you pick up the book, you must finish it for yourself. I've tried to tell you how I see the characters and their situation; when you apply your own experience and imagination to what I've written, you will see them in your own unique way. You will make the story come alive...or not.
As an artist, that excites me, even as I realize it means not everyone will end up loving my book. But I believe my story is pretty darn good, so I'll warn you that if you hate it I'll be far more likely to question your judgment rather than my writing ability. I know, I know: you've heard that writers are terribly insecure people. But this one isn't. So feel free to hate my book.