It’s publication day for Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow tomorrow. When asked how I feel about publication day, I often say I’m nervo-cited – a mixture of nerves and excitement – but this time I’m far more nervous than excited and kind of thinking I’d like to hibernate for the day.
This is my seventeenth book but, as nine of my titles are re-issues, it’s actually my twenty-sixth publication day so you’d think I’d be used to it by now and not be fazed at all. Not the case. If anything, I think it gets harder and this one is the ‘worst’ yet.
I always knew that publication of this particular book would be a toughie because it’s the last book in a six-book series and there are so many readers out there who absolutely don’t want the series to end. Seeing comments on social media about being sad that the series is ending and how reading the last book will be bittersweet is exceptionally flattering, but it brings with it guilt and pressure.
I feel guilty that I’ve ended the series. I stand by it being the right thing to do, but I feel like the mean adult who has taken the toys away from the lovely children!
And I feel the pressure of wrapping up a six-book series in a way that satisfies, thrills and delights. Having said that, I’ve felt that pressure all along with each new book declared by many as ‘better than the last’. Part of my reason for ending the series at six was to end on a high note and not stay too long at that party, but there’s always been the fear that the next book would be the one that stayed too long. Would readers think book six was that one?
Early copies of the book go onto a site called NetGalley which is meant to be for genuine book bloggers/ reviewers/ influencers with a big platform of followers who get a free copy of the book in return for an honest review which will hopefully entice their following to make a purchase. Unfortunately this system massively gets abused and there are readers on there who grab free books without a second thought as to whether the book/ author/ genre is actually right for them. But that’s a separate story.
When used properly, NetGalley reviews give the author and publisher a sense of how well the book is going to be received on actual publication day and it should also give them some great early reviews to use in promotion.
There are always negative reviews in there – we can’t all like the same thing – but I’ve had more negative reviews than usual for Christmas Miracles. It has been so frustrating as they’re nearly all from readers who claim not to have realised this was the last book in the series and this is the first one of the series (and often the first one of mine) they’ve read. Personally, I think the parts of the blurb I’ve popped in capitals here would be a bit of a clue that it’s the last in the series: Jessica Redland WELCOMES YOU BACK to Hedgehog Hollow this Christmas FOR THE FINAL TIME IN THIS SERIES for a heartfelt story of love, family, friendship… but that’s obviously not clue enough.
Several of these negative reviews comment on there being a lot of characters and how confusing it was to keep track of everyone and their back stories. Of course it is! You need to have read the whole series to gradually meet everyone and get to know their stories. This cast wasn’t there from the first chapter of book 1. They have steadily grown.
In the main, I’ve been able to ignore these reviews because this is not a standalone book and I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone diving in at this point because it won’t make sense. It isn’t meant to. But over the weekend, I read a review (also from someone who hadn’t read any of the other books) that floored me…
It began with these words: “In the acknowledgements, the author says she is a “pantser” when it comes to writing, and girl…. I can tell.” Ouch! Clearly written by someone who has no idea what pantser means or an understanding that it’s not an inferior approach to writing. I got the full meaning of her comment here – that I’d just slapped down any old rubbish and had no idea what I was doing.
She writes, “I have never really understood when people write super mean book reviews but I honestly wish I hadn’t wasted my time on this book” and then guess what happens? She goes on to be that person who writes a “super mean book review” with a horrendous 1-star 550-word rant including one of the meanest comments ever: “Color me shocked when I realized this author has published 17 books and this is the 6th in this series… I am in complete shock that even one book like this got published, let alone 6.” This is really personal now. I get that she didn’t like the story and I completely understand why she’d be confused when she hadn’t read the others, but to suggest I can’t write and should never have had 17 books published! There’s no need for that.
Her closing words are: ““Miracles” is a bold word to use in your title when you made fictional characters just to give them horribly traumatic life experiences. I see no miracles in this fictional world, only pain, like the pain I feel when I realize I spent 5 hours of my life on this. Do not recommend.”
Wow! She certainly didn’t hold back on how much she hated the book. And me!
One of the key objections in the main body of the rant – which I haven’t shared because of spoilers – is the subject matter. I write about life and life can throw some tough blows. Across this series, there have been a number of difficult issues explored and they are alluded to in the final book along with the issues handled in that instalment, but this reader lists them all as though they all happened in one book. So I do know that part of the reason she hated it so much was that she hadn’t read the rest of the series and I keep telling myself that, but I just struggle to understand why someone can be so nasty … especially when they’ve declared that they can’t understand why people do this either!
Life’s too short to read a book that you’re not enjoying. You don’t need to invest ‘5 hours of my life’ on a book you hate, that you’re not following, whose subject matter you aren’t enjoying. Shut down the Kindle and accept it wasn’t for you. You haven’t paid for it. Nobody has forced you to read it. Walk away.
I know I should take that advice and walk away from this review and, in other circumstances, I’d probably lick my wounds and do that, but I’m struggling this time because I’m a bit stressed and rundown at the minute. I tend to get problems with my eyes when that happens and the worst-case scenario is that I get conjunctivitis which I have right now. It’s a virus and, although stress doesn’t cause a virus, the body is more likely to pick one up when a person’s rundown so this is my body telling me I need to take care of me a bit more – something I’m not very good at. In the great scheme of things, conjunctivitis is nothing compared to what many people are facing so I can’t really complain, but I think it has made me more sensitive to the Negative Normans and more worried about publication day tomorrow as a result.
I don’t shy away from tough storylines and, while there are loads of readers who love that about my books, there will always be something that somebody doesn’t like. Many of my regular advance readers have given superb reviews and commented that, although the storyline was tough, I’ve tackled it with my usual sensitivity. But a couple of my regular readers who have loved the series so far have said they haven’t liked this book as much as the others, with some even giving negative ratings because one of the topics I’ve covered is an uncomfortable one. Yes, it is, but it is not uncommon so I have included it. I also don’t give any specific detail. Having a couple of big fans of the series drop a couple of marks for that reason is adding to the nervousness around tomorrow.
As I can’t get away with hibernating – far too much work to do – I’ll smile and face tomorrow but my stomach will be churning all day, far more than usual.
A huge thank you to the wonderful Boldwood authors who have been so supportive and encouraging during my wobble. You are superstars.
To anyone who is going to be reading Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow this week (or listening to it from 20th September – slight delay on the audio version), I hope you love the story as much as I do. I’m very proud of this end to the series and, despite the negative comments from some, I wouldn’t change a word of it. It’s the story that Fizz and Samantha needed to tell and I’m honoured to be that conduit for telling it. I already know that a couple of readers have resonated with some of the subjects explored and have found it immensely cathartic.
Wish me luck for tomorrow! Brave face on!