"I Don't Like Her." Why I love Marcella and Annalise
June 15, 2018
Several years ago a reader emailed me to say she didn't like my female protagonist. As I recall, she didn't go into detail, but she didn't need to because that said it all. Let me pause to make a point.
I've never quite understood the logic behind writing an author to tell them "I don't like this about your book" or "I don't like your book...". So, PSA to readers. Once a book is published, it's not likely at all that a writer will pull it to do extensive revisions based on your specifications/preferences. This is especially true if the book was released by a traditional publisher. It costs big bucks for publishers to produce a book (staff salaries, cover artists, paper, etc). Trust me, they're not pulling a book based on even thirty plus such letters, let alone one. Likewise for us indie authors.
I'm not talking about typos or serious factual errors, but statements like "I don't like the heroine" or "I didn't like all the violence in your thriller about a serial killer". Ain't gonna happen. Here's the thing. What you're saying is, "This book isn't for me" or "This author's style, voice, or genre isn't for me". That's not fixable, nor should it be. It simply means you need to read the kind of books you like. Oh, and accept that you won't like every book you read. Duh.
So, back to that email I got. I suspect the author of said email expected me to try and convince her that my heroine is indeed "likable". Or apologize for not writing the kind of protagonist that suits her. Maybe she even thought I'd say, "Please explain so I can go back and change her". None of the above. Instead I explained that not every book is for every reader, and thank goodness there is such a variety of the kinds of books she will enjoy. You see, her comment was something that wasn't fixable because it was her subjective likes and dislikes. Which means she needed to just move on. BTW, this person had already told me she prefers reading romance novels but got my book anyway. Which isn't a romance, thus the female protagonist doesn't act like the typical romance heroine. Not by a long shot. Murder mystery, y'all.
PSA to authors. Learn to distinguish critiques that mean you should improve your craft and those that simply mean that person is not your audience. This will help greatly lessen the sting of bad or "meh" reviews if you keep this mind. Sometimes a reader's comment comes down to one simple fact -they're not YOUR reader. Which means your voice, style, or even genre isn't for them. Which in turn means both of you should simply move on. The reader to another book and author. You, author, to your next book.
Which brings me to Marcella Backland. I just finished Season 2 of Marcella, a series streaming on Netflix. The ending left me breathless. I mean that literally. I sat staring at the television struck speechless. Like Annalise Keating of How To Get Away With Murder, Marcella is a blue ribbon mess of a person. Talk about having issues, a twisted personal life, and flaws! Whew. But that ending though. It's a thing of beauty. I didn't see it coming. If the producers don't get the nod for Season 3 and run a Kickstarter I will be yelling, "Take my money!" Marcella and Annalise aren't "likeable". No warm fuzzies, cuddly sentimental scenes of them nurturing other characters, etc. Yet, if you like thrillers, you end up sympathizing with them. Even liking them despite the toughness they show, and even tougher choices they make. At various times you think, "I don't like her" and "She gets on my damn nerves!" But then you see the light, inside their souls. And you keep watching.
Which is why I don't write romance fiction anymore. The truth is, I never set out to write romance novels. At age ten I decided to be a mystery author. Which means I can write complicated women who cuss, slap somebody, and make not so morally clear choices. And that's okay.
Watch Marcella. If you think Annalise is complicated? Whoa!