Saturday, August 4, 2012

How Spouses Handle Bad Reviews, and No, Gay Men Don't Have a Hymen

Sometime last winter I remember reading an article about an author who wound up very embarrassed because her spouse went ballistic over a bad review she'd received for one of her books. My heart sank for her. I thought she was graceful about it, and she apologized for her husband's rants and for him calling attention to to the review. In any event, some didn't seem to think she was being honest about it, and I found that very distressing to say the least. If she'd said nothing, I would have wondered. But she went out of her way to apologize to everyone involved and she didn't even do anything wrong. It was her husband who went on the rampage.

I've been writing and getting published about as long as I've been with Tony...twenty years. And in all that time Tony has never mentioned anything about the reviews I've received. I'll admit there were times, though not in the last five years or so, Tony has had to listen to me complain about the occasional bad review. But I didn't do it often back then, and never do it now. And he's never actually paid any attention to any of the reviews my books have received and it's never been a topic of conversation between us. When I shut down and sign-off, I don't bring my work into my personal life.

Ever since I started self-pubbing a few novels on Amazon through the KDP program, Tony has been dealing with the tech details. This was new to our relationship because he never got involved in my work. After I get the book back from final edits, and go through one last final read myself, I send it off to Tony and he takes care of actually getting it published on Amazon. He understands HTML and all that good stuff about formatting. I understand a little, but not enough to trust myself to release a book alone. So I really depend on him to do this, otherwise I'd be paying someone else to do it.

What I didn't realize was that Tony was getting more invested in my self-pubbed books than I thought he would. He never even reads my books with publishers, or their reviews. But now that he's doing the tech work, he's also distributing the books to other online book sellers and he's checking sales figures and things I normally wouldn't check until I get my royalty statements. And this morning he checked a review I got (not on Amazon or goodreads) and went out of his mind. I came back from running five miles, exhausted in this heat, and found him waiting in the front hall with that vein sticking out in his neck that usually means trouble. Here's the dialogue, edited for this post because I'd like to keep this a pg rated blog:

Me: What's wrong?

Tony: You should see the review you got. It's ridiculous. It makes no sense. I've never seen anything more fucked up in my life.

Me: Calm down. Everyone has a right to express an opinion. And that's why I don't usually read my own reviews. It's not a big deal.(I'm thinking I just want a's too early for this.)

Tony: But someone questioned the fact that Jim Darling in Chase of a Lifetime is a virgin in the beginning of the book, but that he uses sex toys, too, and they didn't think it was believable. I couldn't believe what I was reading. Many gay men who are virgins use sex toys before they actually have sex with a man. I've shoved XXXX up my XXXX when I was still a virgin and I'm hardly a porn star. What kind of bullshit is that?

Me: I don't know. Maybe they don't think gay men who are virgins should be using sex toys. Maybe they think young gay men are like young women, and maybe they don't understand. It doesn't sound like a bad review to me. You can't blame someone for not knowing something. Let's talk about it later. (I'm still thinking: shower.)

Tony: But gay men don't have hymens! They don't have vaginas. And most gay men are in the closet so long, and so terrified to come out to anyone, they wind up not having any sex until they are in their mid-twenties. Of course they have sex toys...or something that resembles a phallus...for self-gratification. I've never met a young gay man who didn't experiment with sex toys, and none of them turned into porn stars. It's insane that someone would question this. It makes no sense at all. And it makes you look like you're wrong.

Me: No. It does make sense. There are a lot of people reading gay fiction that don't understand how gay men really are. And when you show them, even in fiction, they don't always believe you. Sometimes they even become vicious about it. We both know that most gay men experiment with sex toys long before they actually have sex with a man. I did, you did, and I'm sure most of the gay men we know did. And I think that most people who read my books understand this, too. It's just one isolated review, so stop worrying. Things like this that are so socially incorrect cancel themselves out. And the sex toy scene wasn't a large part of the book anyway. That's why I kept that sex toy scene short and I didn't get into detail. I didn't see the need to drag it out.

Tony: I don't know how you can stay so calm about something like that. It's just wrong all the way around. It's inaccurate.

Me: You learn how to deal with things like this in time. I'm thrilled that someone took the time to buy my little, humble self-published book, to read it, and to review it. So just calm down and stop worrying. Like I said, everyone has an opinion. And right or wrong, I've learned to respect those opinions. (I'm dying to get out of my running shoes; my feet are burning.)

Tony: I think I'll stay away from reading your reviews from now on.

Me: I think that's a good idea. I know a lot of authors who go through this with their spouses and their spouses all feel the same way you do. It's part of the territory and you learn to take the good with the bad. (I'm running wild into cliche land now.)

After that, Tony walked away shaking his head. I know he didn't totally get it, and I know he'll bring the subject up again, but I also know that he'd never go batshit crazy in public either. I was just surprised at his strong reaction because he'd never reacted one way or the other to any reviews I've had...never. I think because he was so involved with "Chase of a Lifetime," he became more emotionally invested than before. And for those seeking entertainment, Tony won't go into a huge rant on the Internet about this review or any other.

But the point of this post is that our spouses have to learn how to deal with the reviews we get, too. Good or bad, it comes with the territory and there's nothing they can do about it. And the last thing you want is for them to start ranting in public about a bad review. So sit them down and explain this to them in detail, so they don't make the mistake of doing what that other author's husband did I spoke about earlier in this post. I'm still feeling sorry for her as I write this post.


Anonymous said...

I adore Tony for defending his territory: you. At the same time it illustrates the folly of using a consumer-based evaluation system for a literary work. What if the consumer is too stupid to "get" it? Stupid consumer still spews his one-star review. Amazon reviews give new meaning to meaningless.
Matthew Darringer

Barb said...

Tony sounds like a sweetheart!

ryan field said...

@Matt...this why it is so important to vet reviews when shopping for books. After a while you learn to read between the lines.

@Barb...I wouldn't have been able to do it without him.

A.B.Gayle said...

As I keep saying, if we know the writer is a male and we trust that they're speaking from experience or at least know the thoughts, actions, attitudes, fears, fantasies and general facts are accurate why can't reviewers (usually female) STFU and LEARN!!..........
Sorry, Ryan. I'm with Tony on this one and would be just as ropeable. It's like when they comment gay men don't speak like that, think like that, act like that.... I can point you to some doozies....

ryan field said...

I just don't think they do it on purpose, and I also think it's a small number. At least I hope it is :) What often bothers me is that I feel as if I have to explain more...that I didn't get the point across by assuming everyone knows this is the way it is.

What I didn't mention in the post is that I was worried about that sex toy scene, so I actually self-censored and cut it down to a few paragraphs that didn't go into detail. I can't even imagine what would have happened had I used the entire original secene.

A.B.Gayle said...

Now, you've made me even crosser. Sorry. Because that's exactly what I fear will happen, gay guys writing gay romances censoring or changing what they write to fit the het female market.
Hence, gay guys who may read your stories don't get the satisfaction/amusement/experience they would otherwise.
Sure, cut things if they don't fit the flow of the story, but please don't walk on eggshells for fear of upsetting the one or two female reviewers who get their knickers in a twist.
hugs Alison

ryan field said...

I know what you're talking about, but it's not totally that way. And what I'm going to post about tomorrow with my next book is something I've thought about doing for a long time. All erotic romance authors, men and women, writing in all erotic sub-genres, get heat for what they do sometimes. It's not just isolated to the gay sub-genres. I once saw a literary agent blog about how much he despised erotica in all forms and wouldn't even consider an e-mail from an author who wrote erotica. Yes, sex sells. But not too much sex.

Have you been watching any of the new "Trueblood" shows? I'm amazed at the sex scenes in those shows and I'm amazed they are getting away with it. There's a sub-plot with one vampire character having sex with his sister. I would never go there in an erotic romance. And yet they get away with it on TV. Interesting to watch how it's done. Maybe it's different because they are vampires? I don't know.

A.B.Gayle said...

No, I haven't been watching it.

"Maybe it's different because they are vampires? I don't know."

But that's EXACTLY why paranormal is so popular.

You can have non-consensual sex, dispense with the condoms (and lube) because miraculously they don't need those, as you say they can have politically incorrect thoughts and contravene all sorts of laws that operate in the real world.

Originally, I liked the freedom of writing annd reading without those restraints, but over time, I've changed my mind.

ryan field said...

It's interesting to see on TV. I did do scenes without condoms in He's Bewitched, because it was paranormal. But that was a while ago.