When Readers Misinterpret Your Book

I hadn’t planned to write a post for several more days, but an interesting thread came up on Kboards and reminded me of something I discovered yesterday on Goodreads. The thread asked, “How do you deal with being misunderstood, or your work being misinterpreted?” This is something that every writer probably experiences sooner or later, even if you’re an obscure unknown. If you’re a critically esteemed writer, there will be articles and even whole books dissecting your work and interpreting it in a multitude of ways.

It’s inevitable that some reader somewhere along the line will seriously misinterpret what you’ve written. If it happens in a review and it can can turn potential readers away, you can legitimately be upset. But there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. Public rebuttals don’t work very well, as many misguided authors have learned, to their regret.

What made the thread so pertinent for me was that I receive a lovely review of Hidden Boundaries on Goodreads. What caught my eye on the book page was something I don’t normally pay much attention to: the genres that readers have chosen for a book. It was startling (to say the least) to realize that three readers had put it in erotica and BDSM. The novel is primarily about the loss of freedom in a slave society, and it does evolve into a rather unusual romance. But there is absolutely no sex in it, much less any hint of BDSM.

Which makes me think that those readers are so dominated by their preconceptions about slavefic that they imagined something that wasn’t there. In other words, they interpreted the book in terms of the genre they were expecting, rather than what it actually was. Their choices are particularly ironic since I wrote it as a reaction against slavefic being almost entirely devoted to sexual encounters. Those three readers help confirm the notion that readers will always bring their own biases and preconceptions to what they read.

The only lesson here is that you can’t control how your readers see your book, and there’s no point getting upset about it.



8 thoughts on “When Readers Misinterpret Your Book

  1. It’s not fair, when you clearly state, “This is a mainstream love story like Jane Eyre,” for people to say, ‘This isn’t a very good Romance – too complicated.”

    But that’s how I got my first 2* review (she was polite about it and called it a credible first book).

    It’s a good thing I bothered to educate myself before I published (do NOT interact with reviewers, and do NOT disagree with them), or I would have gotten my knickers VERY twisted.

    I am tired of Romance as a category, its covers, and its conventions – but there are many readers who love it, and it’s not my business to tell them to read something else. Not that they’d listen – and they’d probably tar me and feather me, and I don’t sit well on a rail.

    But I’m glad I was forewarned.

    1. I love to read Amazon reviews of books that I’m contemplating buying. I start with one and two-star reviews, because if there are real issues with the book, that’s where an intelligent review may show up. The various types of ignorance, illiteracy, and just plain nuts, are fascinating.

      Romance isn’t the only genre with what amounts to a straitjacket about covers and conventions. Woe to the writer who violates them.

      1. I always read negative reviews, especially the ones voted most helpful.

        I don’t necessarily listen to them, like you, but if they list one of my pet peeves, and this is confirmed by a quick glance at the Look Inside, I have information to make an informed decision.

        If they DON’T have a Look Inside, I consider that a red flag – and rarely buy the book.

        1. I depend on that Look Inside, together with the reviews, but mostly for self-published books. Older mainstream books often don’t have a Look Inside, but professional reviews help me decide whether I should buy. Another area where LI and Amazon reviews are helpful is when SF by well-known authors is on sale. Good reviews will mention original publication dates, and possibly outmoded attitudes and plots.

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