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Is Polorization a Good Thing for An Author?

Ms Sobrato blogged the other day that she feels like she is doing something right when people have strong emotional reactions to her books, be they good or bad. This principle is often derived from Revelations 3:15-16 (KJV):

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

But truthfully, is being polarizing helping an author? Is the test of whether she is really writing a believable, heartfelt tale whether your readers are hot and cold? Wouldn’t you rather get a C grade than an F grade? If I was lukewarm about an author I may try her again, particularly if that author got some good reviews. If I hated an author’s work passionately, I probably would never buy or read another of her works.

This is true for me in the case of Ronda Thompson. Her book, Isn’t It Romantic, received an A review at AAR. I went to an extra effort of tracking this down through abebooks and paying more for the shipping of the book than the book itself. I thought it was probably the worst romance I had ever read. Thompson’s hero and heroine were completely unlikeable and Thompson had some the crudest, least appropriate language come out of the heroine’s 11 year old mouth that I had ever read. Since that time I have never been able to read, let alone buy, another Thompson book despite any positive word of mouth.

But, being passionate about something is likely to get readers to talk and if you believe in the theory of any publicity is better than no publicity, then polarization is important. So, readers how do you feel about author’s whose books have totally turned you off – are they being successful? Would an author rather have lukewarm responses than hot or cold responses?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

16 Comments

  1. Jorrie Spencer
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 08:05:43

    I think it’s an interesting question. Sobrato seems to think sex and humor are polarizing in themselves. Which certainly may be true for some readers—given the whole Rita controversy. But within the romance community there are now lots of books with sex and they’re not all polarizing.

    Hmmm, getting offtrack. But anyway, I’ve read meh books (with sex) and, yes, I’ve tried the author again. But after a meh book I need a very strong rec.

    Otoh, my first Laura Kinsale was Shadowheart and the sex scenes weren’t working for me at all. So I set it aside. But I could recognize that Kinsale was a wonderful writer and I picked up For My Lady’s Heart and after that there was no looking back. I’m a total fangirl.

    So if I recognize that the author is a good writer but she just hasn’t written something within my specs, I’ll try her again. Then again, I read The Kite Runner and I will NEVER read another book by Khaled Hosseini, no matter how good a writer he is.

    So, it depends. That said, The Kite Runner did phenomenally well. I may have to conclude polarization is a good thing for the author, as long as there is sufficient positive polarization.

  2. Jane
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 08:11:31

    I think you are absolutely right, Jorrie, when you say that there must be sufficient positive polarization for this to be successful. But do you write with the intent to be polarizing? Is the mark of a good book polarization?

    Lord of Scoundrels is one of my favorite books but for some, it is meh. I feel the same way about Gabaldon. She’s a meh writer for me (scandalous, I know). Those are two successful authors that haven’t seemed to create the negative polarization. Or am I just ignorning the negative polarization?

  3. Keishon
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 08:12:39

    Bad publicity is better than no publicity, as you said very well. There are readers out there who are willing to try a book just to see if they like it if the book has received poor responses from readers. I am not like that, only if another reader whose tastes are similar to my own say the book is good, then I’ll read it. The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe received a bad from AAR but the book was actually pretty good because many other readers spoke up. Karin Slaughter is another author who gets mixed reviews and that’s a good sign that her books aren’t as bad as they may seem. Ok, so she enjoys writing graphic violence, her books are captivating nevertheless. Hot, cold, who cares as long as somebody’s reading your books.

  4. Jorrie Spencer
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 08:26:25

    I don’t write with the intent to be polarizing. I’m just trying to get my story on the page properly. But no doubt some people write with that intent.

    I don’t think polarization is the mark of a good book, either. But I can understand, as an author, that it might be worse to get a universal meh reaction and be mostly ignored, than to have strong reactions to a book. Also, the strong bad reactions can hurt, and no doubt this is one way to cope with them.

    As for Gabaldon, there are some who see Outlander as glorified hurt/comfort and/or a Dorothy Dunnett knock-off. But I think the negative reaction, though strong, is quite small in number. (Myself, I loved Outlander, but didn’t get much further in the series.)

    But you know, it’s true, that I pay attention to strong reactions. Bam recently wrote a review of Bonnie Dee’s Bone Deep (I had never heard of this author before) and I’m not going to forget that book soon. Her reaction may even sell me the book. Otoh (god, I am always full of other hands, I can never state something straight out!) I rarely go after books that get only strong negative reactions.

  5. Jayne
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 08:32:52

    As for Gabaldon, there are some who see Outlander as glorified hurt/comfort and/or a Dorothy Dunnett knock-off. But I think the negative reaction, though strong, is quite small in number. (Myself, I loved Outlander, but didn’t get much further in the series.)

    Oh God, Jorrie, I’m not alone about this. Thank you, thank you! When asked about Gabaldon, I usually say I enjoyed Outlander (which I did) then mumble, mumble, mumble when asked about the rest of the series. I got about 1/3 of the way through the next one and just lost steam and interest in it. I’ve heard so much about how her latest ones are basically Colonial breastfeeding manuals that I’ve never been tempted to try them.

  6. Jorrie Spencer
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 09:45:30

    I skimmed Dragonfly in Amber, enjoyed the first third of Voyager, and that was the end of the Outlander series and me. I know so many people who adore the entire series, too, but I’m afraid I lost interest.

    I did like her Lord John book though. I think I’d just had enough of Clare and Jamie.

    Oh, but talk about polarization! I read one blogger’s reaction to her latest installment and it was vicious. Wow! I think after such a long series, readers come to have a strong stake in the characters. Which does say something about Gabaldon’s writing.

  7. Karen Scott
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 12:24:48

    I kinda get what Sobrato is saying. Kinda.

    The thing is, I’ve read lots of books that I absolutely hated, but if the voice is ok, then I would consider reading them again. If the voice, the characterisation, the plot development, and the technical side of things were all out of cock, then nope, not reading again.

    The best example I can give is Daisy Dexter Dobbs. Her first book was a bit of a let down, but I liked her voice, so I was happy to read another of her books, which once again was a bit of a let down, but I’ve realised that after reading her third offereing, which was worse than the other two books put together, I shall probably not be reading her again, because we just don’t gel.

    I’ve finally given up on DDD, but it took a few books, whereas, there are some authors who suck so badly (read: Thea Devine) that I know that once is enough. I’m still smarting over spending $14 on one of her books.

  8. Fiona
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 16:36:38

    I think polarization is a good thing. Either way, the author is creating passionate feelings. Whether positive or negative, passion is good. I find I remember fewer luke warm authors. I find that authors who have a real negative effect tend to stick in the mind. You remember their name, you talk about them on boards/blogs and when I see their newest release on the shelf I pick it up and read the back blurb, because I’m interested in seeing what The Author From Hell is writing. And if they are lucky, the blurb could really hook me, make me read the first chapter that is written to my liking and ultimately get me to buy the book. A lukewarm author wouldn’t have had her book picked up in the first place.

  9. Tara Marie
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 18:07:47

    I’m one of those people who will try a book that has received a poor or bad review to see if it’s really as bad as the reviewer thinks. Usually, they are and I’m not likely to pick anything else up by the author.

    Strong negative reactions to a book can be caused by any number of reasons, if the writing is poor, I’m not likely to read the author again, but if my reaction is based on a plot or setting I don’t like, I’m more likely to give the author another try. For example, I hate amnesia stories, it doesn’t matter the author.

    …the sex scenes weren’t working for me at all.

    I must be a freak, if the book is working for me, but the sex scenes aren’t, I just skip them.

  10. Jorrie Spencer
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 20:02:39

    I must be a freak, if the book is working for me, but the sex scenes aren’t, I just skip them.

    This is my usual reaction. Shadowheart was an exception.

  11. Cece
    Jun 06, 2006 @ 21:23:28

    I keep thinking about this and I should probably wait until tomorrow to answer, but it’s an interesting question. Most of the books I haven’t finished, I didn’t finish because they were ‘meh’.

    I honestly can’t think of something I didn’t finish because I hated it or something about it turned me off!

    Wait, I lied! There was one.

  12. Shiloh
    Jun 07, 2006 @ 07:16:47

    I dunno… I can see where Jamie Sobrato is coming from. There’s just something about getting nothing but… blah…reactions. I’d almost rather get an outright negative one, I think.

    One of the weirdest reviews I’ve ever gotten was a reader review…

    “this was the the worst book i ever read… too short!”

    Um, well, if it’s bad, then wouldn’t short be good?

    I also remember hearing Nora Roberts say at a signing that she’s had readers tell her,
    I hate your writing. I’ve read everything you’ve ever written Well, since the lady keeps buying them….

    Lukewarm doesn’t always make good worth of mouth, but when somebody hears oh, man i hated that book, and all sorts of reasons why… they want to know if it was really that bad.

  13. Cece
    Jun 07, 2006 @ 12:38:59

    I gotta go with Shiloh on this. :)

  14. ag
    Jun 10, 2006 @ 09:39:32

    I’m really late but I followed May’s link here, and I couldn’t resist piping in:
    as they say in the land of PR, ANY publicity is better than NO publciity at all.

  15. andreas04: close to attraction
    Mar 21, 2008 @ 20:33:12

    […] by saying “typical Krentz” this or that, which isn’t a bad thing no matter that others might think polarization is better than the same old, same […]

  16. Krentz, Krentz & more Krentz « Bev's Books
    Feb 03, 2010 @ 08:11:32

    […] by saying “typical Krentz” this or that, which isn’t a bad thing no matter that others might think polarization is better than the same old, same […]

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