Jeanne: My First DNF (Did Not Finish)

censorship-3308001_640So I got a note from an old friend and former co-worker the other day, saying they couldn’t finish The Demon Always Wins because it was too scary. Pressed, she admitted that she never actually started it–just the idea of demons freaked her out.

I was sorry she couldn’t enjoy the book, but I didn’t really take it to heart. It didn’t feel like a rejection of my work so much as a rejection of the genre. Since I have no expectation that I’m going to convert anyone who doesn’t like paranormal over to reading it, I wasn’t upset.

What felt a little more personal was the lady at the gym who declined to read it because of the cursing in the first chapter. I pointed out that only the bad guys curse, but she wasn’t swayed. Cursing makes her uncomfortable.

I think the reason this felt different was because, for the first reader mentioned, there was nothing I could have done with this story that would have made her a fan. For the second, some fairly minor changes in execution might have altered her perceptions.

The problem with that is, the first scene in my book, which features God, Satan, Loki, Zeus and my hero, the demon Belial, playing poker in the ninth ring of Hell, is the one that grabs most readers. In it, the characters smoke cigars, drink whisky and rib each other the way men do when they’re playing cards. And the first cursing incident occurs when Satan calls Loki a “reindeer-f**cker.” That totally cracks me up. I wouldn’t change it for anything.

The fact is, while the book is often funny, it is not a lighthearted read. It’s about a demon who is absolutely determined to corrupt and destroy a very nice woman in pursuit of promotion to Chief Executive Demon of Hell. He throws everything he has–money, supernatural seduction skill, and his unique ability to see into the heart of who she is–into achieving that goal. Compared to that, a few f-bombs seem like pretty small potatoes.

What kinds of feedback have you received on your writing (or other artistic creations) that made you stop and reconsider what goes into your work?



17 thoughts on “Jeanne: My First DNF (Did Not Finish)

  1. Ah, and here we come to the tricky part about writing. I see lots of comments from writers (particularly in my genre, but that might be because we tend to stick together) complaining about their non-readers…the ones who put down the book because there’s sex or because there is swearing. Or the ones who gave the book a 1-star review on Amazon because of “lewd content” (which, if you’re not careful, will get your book BANNED), when the author stated very clearly in the book’s description that there is profanity and sex. And to be clear, I call them “non-readers” because they’re people who aren’t the target audience of their book. Why they picked up a Regency that clearly has sex/swearing when they don’t like that sort of stuff, I’ll never know, unless they didn’t bother reading the description, which I suppose is entirely possible.

    Here’s the thing — ultimately, I think the books we write are what WE would like to read. I was just discussing this with Jilly the other day. Read the content on my homepage and you’ll see that I write books with the old, romantic notion of a hero, albeit slightly altered. They are guys who take care of their women (along the lines of Shane in Crusie’s “Agnes and the Hitman,” or Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice”), but don’t step on them. There’s a difference. Will that appeal to everyone? Certainly not. I’m sure there will be plenty of women who feel the woman should do the saving/fixing. Great for them. I don’t like that, so I’m not going to write that.

    But here’s MY big question: Isn’t that what we did this whole self-publishing thing for anyway? I’m not writing to cater to the masses. I don’t want someone telling me to write WF because that’s what’s popular now. I’m writing because I have stories to tell and a certain way I want to tell them, and I figure someone else out there will like them, too. Will everyone? Heck no. So I have to not take it personally when someone says my book isn’t their cup of tea.

    As for swearing, while I don’t drop F-bombs in my book (mostly because that’s not how the word was used back then), I do have lots of “Damn this,” and other things referring to going to hell. And I’m sure that’s going to offend someone’s sensibilities, but oh well. I just keep saying, “They’re not my reader.” I can’t win every reader. (Most of the people who signed up for my newsletter and free download probably don’t even read Regency, so they’ll be a one-time reader out of kindness and that’s it.)

    Jeanne, that scene at the beginning would not have the same impact without that awesome f-bomb. I love it. I’m glad you’re doing you. 🙂

    • Thanks, Justine. I couldn’t/wouldn’t change it, but I’m still sorry to lose a reader whom I think would have liked the book, overall. On the other hand, I was perusing a friend’s Amazon reviews yesterday and I saw one that blasted her for suddenly putting cursing in the final third of the book. At least my readers know up front what they’re getting into.

        • LOL–there is that. I have a 3-star over on Goodreads, but no text to explain what didn’t work for her. I’m sure other readers will not be so reticent.

        • Also, there’s no way to know if 3 meant it did not work or they just thought it was “average” compared to other things they’ve read.

  2. I got some negative feed back about my first story from a critique. The prologue included a rape scene. Some readers felt like it was too vivid. I also got some negative feed back in a contest on the same scene. The story was a Contemporary Romance. I wanted to show why the heroine was the way she was. After I got some distance from that experience I decided they were probably right. This was the very first story I wrote and it sits under the proverbial bed waiting for it’s chance. I’ve decided if I ever return to it I’ll probably weave the rape scene in bits in the story, not all at once.

    • That sounds like a good plan.That first scene is so tough. It has to do so much–introduce the main characters and their goals, provide the setting AND give the reader a sense of what she’s getting into. It sounds like your rape scene, while it’s important backstory for your heroine, leads the reader to think she’s getting into something a lot harsher than the rest of the book really is.

  3. I love, love, love everything about that opening scene, Jeanne. It’s dark, and funny, but as you say, not lighthearted. Given that Satan and his minions are engaged in an eternal battle to corrupt and destroy mankind, I’d have found it surprising and not very credible if their vocabulary was clean and wholesome.

    One of the many good things about the scene is that it sets the tone for the rest of the story and gives potential readers a clear notion of what to expect. Anyone who’s not your reader should know by the end of that scene that the book isn’t for them (and vice-versa). And since you can’t please everyone, the best thing you can do is to make a story promise (title, cover, blurb, opening scene) and deliver on it. You did that perfectly, and better that your not-reader was warned off early than disappointed later.

    And to Justine’s point, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stories I want to tell. Some of my choices position me as niche, and I have to accept that more mainstream readers won’t love subverted tropes as I do. I hope when my turn comes to publish I can do as good a job as you in letting potential readers know what to expect.

    • Thanks. That’s kind of my takeaway, too. I suspect it’s better to have readers who abandon you at the end of Chapter 1 than readers who soldier on to the end, even though they’re not having a good time, because they keep expecting you to deliver something that isn’t in your blueprint.

  4. “You can’t please all of the people all of the time” — so true. If I can wind up pleasing about a thousand people on this planet of six billion, I’ll be quite happy, actually. So, what to do? Write to please me.

    That said, feedback is terribly important to me. Some of it I can discard easily with a “oh, it’s just not that reader’s cup of tea.” Other comments bother me for quite a long time, even though I think I’m in the right — I’ve come to realize that comments that bother me are trying to tell me something. Not necessarily that the reader is right, but that there’s something there I want to think about more. Like, maybe, what is profanity? Or, am I being too cute for a mass audience? Do I even want to appeal to a mass audience, if I have to cut the jokes?

    If a writer is writing a lot, there can be room to experiment. Room to cater to the crowd. “This one is for me, the next one is for the studio” is how one director phrased how he copes with the dilemma.

    But at my age, there’s an ungenerous feeling that I don’t have time to do both. (Well, that’s true. If I spend all my time dithering, there IS no time to do both — or either for that matter.) There are two I want to do for me. By then, maybe I’ll be good enough at writing that I can give a shot at writing one “for the masses”. Writing for the masses certainly isn’t easy, that’s for sure. Targeting which mass is really difficult . . . .

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  6. Sometimes when I need a good laugh, I read my reviews on Amazon for my book that has the most reviews. People finished it, but they hated it. Or they loved it and want the sequel. (Did I leave room for a sequel? No, I did not. There’s no sequel.) They thought it was about gambling. They thought it was about farming. They thought it was about family. They thought it had too much sex (one scene). They thought it was wholesome. Really, everybody has a different takeaway.

    Speaking to jancat051066: vis a vis your rape scene, some readers are very sensitive to depictions of sexual (or other) violence. I don’t know how graphic your scene is, but I know that depending on the treatment, sometimes I feel that violence, when treated too casually, reads like entertainment rather than horrible tragedy, and that is hard for me. As a reader, if there’s going to be violence, I’d rather see on the page that it’s horrible rather than have it glossed over, but not everyone feels the same. So I get your trying to figure out the best way to handle that information about your character.

    I wrote a book under a pseudonym (because it was so much different from my comedies) about an FBI agent and a computer hacker who locate and disrupt a child pornography ring. The children have major parts. They have agency. And they are abused. What was interesting to me was that I thought I handled the porn aspects just fine—I didn’t shy away, but they weren’t graphic. But I had several reviews tell me to put a warning label on the back cover copy because the material was too strong. Which I didn’t do, because I thought the back cover copy was perfectly clear about what readers could expect. However, I’m thinking about getting new covers for the two FBI books and putting my own name on them, and then maybe I’ll consider.

    • Even beyond “you can’t please all the people all the time” is the fact that a finished book only reperesents 75 or 80% (my estimate) of what the reader gets from reading the book. The rest is provided by their brain–their experiences, their biases, their triggers. And over that we have no control whatsoever.

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