As I scrolled through celebratory messages on my birthday, I noticed an email forwarded from my website. Usually people getting in touch this way are readers letting me know they enjoyed my books or asking for travel advice on an upcoming Cajun Country vacation. Figuring this email fit into one of those two categories, I opened it. The reader – I’ll call her Betsy – began by explaining how she acquired both my books through an inter-library exchange. I took a moment to revel in fact my books are actually in libraries, and then continued to the next line. Which read: “I hated Body on the Bayou because the victim was found dead in chapter six.”
Wait, what?! Betsy hated my book? Then I remembered that she’d checked out both books in the series. Perhaps she was doing an artful segue into how much she loved the first one.
“I had the same problem with Plantation Shudders.”
Betsy went on to write that my books reminded her “…of the British authors. They wrote with the same format. I like the mystery author (pseudonym) [sic] Laura Childs. In her books the victim was dead in chapter one and she used the remainder of the book and found the killer.”
I think I’m realistic about my strengths and weaknesses as an author. Am I Louise Penny? No. Do I write books that kill time during a cross-country flight? I believe I do. (Unless, of course, you like your murders at the end of Chapter One. Then I’m clearly not your gal.)
I tend to avoid reviews because I know, given my neuroses, I’ll dismiss the good ones and be haunted by the bad ones. So this “review” via website email broadsided me. Quick sidebar: I want to acknowledge how brave I am to share this story. A lot of us spend hours on social media hoping to send the message that our books are incredibly popular and loved by all. We’re trying to sell, sell, sell, hoping no one notices the occasional one-star-thumbs-down. But hate? That’s quite an extreme emotion for my little cozies to engender.
Oh, I had SO many reactions. The first was outrage. Who does this? Who goes out of their way to tell an author she HATED their books?
I composed a bunch of scathing responses in my head. And of course, there was the far more sensible option of ignoring Betsy entirely.
But then I began to think about the situation from Betsy’s point of view. Here was someone who wanted to read my books so much that she went to the trouble of an inter-library loan. And she didn’t stop at the end of murder-less chapter one. Betsy kept going for six more chapters. Did she give up on me after that? No. Even though she hated Body on the Bayou, she gave Plantation Shudders a shot. Betsy really, really wanted to like my books and was deeply disappointed when she didn’t. That’s legitimate, and I mean that with total sincerity. I decided she deserved respect for her efforts, not dismissal, and sent back the following email:
I’m sorry you hated my books, but I really appreciate you giving them both a try.
The wonderful thing about the mystery world is that there are so many different options for readers. I know of many authors who put a murder at the end of the first chapter, so I’m sure you’ll find other series you enjoy as much as Laura Childs’.
I hope she didn’t hate my response.
Readers, thoughts on this? And writers, have you ever received “hate” mail?