Writing fiction is different, of course, but I still try to anticipate where I might alienate or lose readers. For The Gilded Hour my concerns were pretty straight forward: it’s a long novel, and some people just don’t like long novels. For whatever reason (something in the individual’s style, or about the novel, or both) they have trouble staying focused.
There are also some topics which are controversial and highly emotive. I won’t be surprised if I get comments or reviews that find these storylines disturbing or even offensive. I’m prepared for that possibility. I don’t have rationalizations or excuses to offer — I wrote the story I needed to write — but I won’t be shocked to hear that kind of criticism.
There are always criticisms about anachronisms. This kind of criticism I consider closely and I will do some fact checking. However, if the reader finds that the main characters are too contemporary for their time, that I leave alone. If you have to explain something you did in a novel, you didn’t write it well enough. Or your reader wasn’t paying attention. Either way, it’s not worth the effort to try to resolve the confusion.
And there’s the certainty that some readers just won’t be interested. I myself find it impossible to stay focused on cyber-crime novels. That’s about me, not about the novel.
Just after a novel comes out sometimes criticisms pop up that take me by surprise. Here’s what is happening now with The Gilded Hour:
Some readers get to the end of the novel and are irritated because storylines aren’t resolved. Who was responsible for X? What happened with Y? If there were a sequel, then maybe they could live with these questions.
This is the question (is there a sequel?) nobody anticipated. I didn’t, my editors didn’t. Nobody. It should have been made clear at the end of the novel: Sara Donati is hard at work on the sequel to The Gilded Hour.
Alas, that didn’t happen. People familiar with my work would probably assume there is a sequel, but other people will not. As is the case with one of the reviews that shows up both on Amazon and Goodreads:
Way too many unresolved storylines. Unless there is a sequel, there are way too many unresolved subjects in this book. Given that the book is 741 pages-counting the author’s notes-there was certainly enough time to address one or more of the above subjects.
This same review gets some basic facts wrong and includes spoilers that aren’t tagged, but I am in fact thankful that the reviewer was so clear about what bothered him/her: the lack of clarity about the unresolved storylines and a sequel.
I just don’t know what I can do about it.