This started off as a Facebook post but quickly became much longer and more involved, so I brought it over to the blog instead.
I am slowly (veeerrrrrry slowly) garnering reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for Woodwalker. At the beginning of this adventure, I wasn't sure how I was going to approach reviews. Some authors can't bear to look at them, good or bad. Some obsess over each one. I read my first few without actually meaning to---I went to Goodreads to copy a link a few days before the book released, only to find two advanced reviews already up. 4-stars and 5-stars. Nice!
My reviews on both sites are still overwhelmingly positive (I'm at 5 stars on Amazon and 4.27 stars on Goodreads, where I have more ratings). But as the weeks have gone by, I've started getting a few not-so-good reviews, too. I've found I approach them in a kind of detached, academic way. Maybe it's the vestiges of grad school--approach all criticism with full consideration. I suspect, though, it has something to do with the fact that the main theme of complaints about Woodwalker are things I've suspected or worried about all along.
"A run-of-the-mill adventure...all in all, very mediocre."
BAM! Shot through the heart...
The cultures in Woodwalker ARE very monolithic, and it drives me crazy, too--I can't stand shallow, lazy worldbuilding. I think in the beginning, I was going for a Lord of the Rings feel, where if you're in Rohan, you know people are going to be good with horses, and if you're in the Shire, you know people are going to be good at gardening and drinking, and if you're in Mirkwood, you know people are going to be good at getting their culture waxed and candy-coated by filmmakers. But as Woodwalker grew, this kind of characterization ended up giving a very one-dimensional effect to each country. Or at least, it appears that way based on the motives of the protagonist and the circumstances of the plot. The Wood Guard is a small, elite portion of the Royal Guard, but because Mae was one herself, they're the main focus of the plot. Pearl-diving in Lumen Lake is more of a cultural thing, like football or defacing National Parks over summer vacation--during their independence, there are some people who would dive professionally, but many more are doing the things a country needs to thrive--being merchants, artisans, farmers, politicians, homemakers, etc. But because the country is now under Alcoran control, and because Alcoro is only interested in pearl exportation, the setup of the country has been reconfigured to revolve solely around diving.
So on the one hand, yes, the protagonists do tend to reflect the main activities and mindsets of each country, but on the other hand, if the story was narrated by, say, King Valien, or a Silverwood silver miner, or an Alcoran soldier, we'd get much different views of each country.
I don't write this as a response to the people who didn't enjoy my book. The more people who read it, the more mixed reviews I'll get, and many will be far less polite than the few I've gotten already. I'm preparing for that. But, this is why reviews are so important. I love hearing that people enjoyed the book. But I also like looking at the common threads that pop up and then taking a critical eye to my current and future manuscripts and saying, "how can I make this better?"
And not everything is going to be relevant. Some people, like my mom, are so totally blindsided by the plot twist that they have to go back and read the thing again to see the clues I laid down for it. Others see it coming from chapter one. That's just a difference in readership, and that's not something I need to rework. My books won't be for everyone. That's okay. But hopefully I can make a concerted effort to think a little more holistically with each manuscript I write.
The moral of the story is: PLEASE LEAVE REVIEWS. PLEEA-HE-HE-HEEEAAASE
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator