Friday, June 21, 2013

The Reviews Are In....

I've been cyber-stalking Trials of Artemis, waiting to see a blog review, and finally found an online review today. Apparently even though many readers really love the book (based on Amazon and Goodreads reviews), this reviewer... eh, not so much. Such is life.

But this gives me an opportunity to talk about something near and dear to writers. Feedback.

What I mean is that feedback is vital. Essential. We can't live without it. But we use it in two very different ways.

First, most writers have their sense of identity bound with their work. That certainly isn't a trait unique to writers. I've met many an accountant whose sense of identity is bound up in their work. But, please take note, WHEN YOUR IDENTITY IS BOUND TO SOMETHING EXTERNAL TO YOURSELF YOU FEEL VULNERABLE. You need for others to approve of your creation because it feeds your sense of self. This can be a problem for anyone whose output has tremendous opportunity for subjective feedback. The key word there is subjective.

I'm going to tell you something here and I need you to hear me. No matter who you are, no matter what you write, there are people who are going to not like your work. The more people who see your work, the more people you will find who don't like it.

This is not your "fault." There is no fault. Tastes differ. Different people value different things. It doesn't mean they are a bad person. It doesn't mean that you are a bad person. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't mean much at all.

"What? How can it not mean anything?" cries the soul of those bound to their work. I know that your soul is screaming out for approval, but here is what you do. Ignore those who don't care for your work. Seek those who do. Simple but hard. And do that from the get-go. I know so many writers who want to find someone who will be "hard" on their work so they can "improve." Baby, if they're being hard on your work that means that it just doesn't work for them. At best you will become a hollow, uninspired (and uninspiring) version of a "good" writer. At worst you will give up. Ask instead for someone who really loves something in your work. Let them help you to find and hone what is unique about your voice and your story. Good things always come out of love. Always.

Second, we all need to be open to criticism. Wait, didn't I just tell you to focus on those who give you positive feedback? Well, yes, that's where you should focus your soul and emotions. Meanwhile, in other parts of the galaxy, your head needs to do some work. Once you succeed in decoupling your sense of self from that bouncing baby manuscript, and send it out into the world to do it's thing (that may not be publishing, that might be sharing in a class or some other broader group than THE SAFE PLACE where your soul lives), then you need to be able to pay attention to the feedback you get.

This is why you have to separate your sense of self from your product. Every ounce of attachment between soul and product becomes at least a pound (perhaps a ton?) of resentment whenever that product is criticized. Nothing about that is going to do you any good. Listen to the words that are coming out of my mouth: NOTHING ABOUT THAT IS GOING TO DO YOU ANY GOOD. You can't hear the useful feedback and, in some cases, you may create hard feelings with your reaction.

So what work should you let your head do?
  1. Check validity: Is this useful feedback? Are they suggesting something that I can/want to change? You may find lovely nuggets that make you think "Man, wish I'd thought of that myself." Excellent. They just gave you free help. Try to ignore if they were grumpy about it. Pretend that the whole thing was typed up by Grumpy Cat. If you're receiving it in person just imagine Grumpy Cat's head over their head. They will keep getting grumpier at your secret smile and eventually you will have to fall out of your chair cackling.
  2. Judge for yourself: You need to KNOW what you are good at and where you want to improve so that you don't become a puppet on a string, reacting to everyone else. When someone criticizes that I'm not descriptive (enough for them) my reaction is "Tell me something I don't know." I know that my strengths lie in dialog, character depth, and pacing. One day I may care about developing a more descriptive style. Or I may not. That's up to me now, id'n't?
  3. Decide what to pursue: Feedback is critical because once you see what people love you can DO THAT. I'm lucky in that pretty much everything that readers have reacted positively to in Trials of Artemis I already planned to use later in the series (Quince, Sam, and keeping up with Jack and Giddy even after their book was done). But I'm sure that something will come along that I haven't thought about. And it's as likely to be in a one-star review as a five-star review. You gotta stay open.
In closing, let me tell you one last thing. I am SO GLAD that I did not succeed in publishing twenty years ago because I would not have known how to separate my sense of self from my product. Even success would have been a horrible experience because haters gonna hate. You hear me? Haters gonna hate.

If you want to check out reviews for my work you can find them on Amazon and Goodreads. If you would like to receive a free review copy of Trials of Artemis you can email me at I don't mind if you give me a one-star review, just tell me something new. (Uh oh, I just opened myself up to a big font of creativity in criticism, didn't I?)


  1. Hi Sue,
    We had a discussion on goodreads. I did post my goodreads review to my blog, however, no one really reads my blog ;)

    1. Hey Amanda! Thanks for stopping by. Maybe you'll get a few hits from this post. It's too bad that blogger didn't automatically make a hyperlink out of your link there.

      When I read your review it makes me think that my book made you sad. Maybe not for what it was, but for what you hoped it could/would be and wasn't quite. That makes me sad. It makes me want to go find a different book on the shelf to hand to you and say "Read THIS one, Amanda. I think you'll like it better!" If you haven't read Danelle Harmon's "The Wild One" (and I didn't already tell you about it, because I TELL EVERYONE) it is free on Amazon right now. She entertains me.

      You did mention concern over whether or not Jack will succeed as a countess. She's in it for another eleven books so I guess we'll see. And yes, Gideon CAN be a real ass. In an email to a beta-reader back in March I wrote "dunno how we're gonna make it through another book without me throttling Giddy."

      Here's to hoping that I grow in the direction you like. But I can't promise it because my style hasn't substantially changed in the last 28 years. If you click on "The Case of the Missing Colon" up there at the top of the page - I wrote that in 1985 and have only done very minor edits to post it here. Last year I had a writing group friend who rewrote a section of a story to demonstrate how to show, not tell and I was like "That's beautiful. I would read that book. When can I buy it? Because I can't write it."

  2. Hello Sue
    Its a great thing to be able to talk to an author and give feedback so easily. So kudos for the website and for being so open to feedback. Not many are and its a shame
    Coming to the haberdashers, I loved (simply loved) the first book. Jack and Gideon were not perfect. Who is? But there characters were steady and predictable. A true blooded haberdasher as Jack was stood up to Giddy. Even as she fell in love with him she still fought for her right to be heard and stayed true to what you told she stood for. Her emotional outbursts WERE an embarrassment to even her and you explained and attributed it adequately to her pregnancy. Giddy, pig headed as he might be, stayed the same too.
    Unfortunately, the 2nd book disappointed me. I fell in love woth the moral Quincy in book one. He treated Jack so well there! How could he use Sabre so, then? And Sabre was supposed to be the head of the haberdashers!!! I can see her duelling with Quincy and I can see her fall in love with someone who can defeat her with a sword too. She is, you told us, as overbearing as Giddy so I can imagine her invading Quincys home too. But why did you turn her into a simpering mouse willing to prostitute herself to the duke? And how can dragon give up so easily? How and why did Justin turn marquess so suddenly at Quincys wedding? Who is the last member of the 4? Are they coming up in the next books at all? I think the stories might tidy up by the end but as a stand alone book 2 did not work for me :-(

    1. Aww, I'm sorry I disappointed you.

      Not sure if it helps but I'll try to explain. From his perspective Quince is actually being more moral (within his own moral code) with Sabre than Jack. He saw Jack as an opportunity to settle Gideon down (you'll note that Quince didn't particularly care for cleaning up after the hard partying earl). Not only did he do his best to see them married, he almost immediately saw the opportunity to use Jack as leverage against Gideon in their political feud. When you look at it that way it gets significantly unpretty.

      Now, why do I say the duke was actually MORE moral with Sabre? The thing to remember about Quince is that he is a very "modern" man for his time. He is a Romantic ( and also very much in tune with early feminism (ex. Under his own set of values giving Sabre the truth (i.e., he won't marry her) and letting her make her own decisions was an act of respect. His downfall is that with any other woman he probably could have resisted a physical relationship. But she's Sabre. And, well, that's that for him.

      What about Sabre? Why did our confident, overbearing, and, let's admit it, somewhat sociopathic leader of the Haberdashers turn into a complete mush over this guy? Find your most confident, overbearing, and somewhat sociopathic friend and ask her (or him) - because some people just "get" her. Sabre actually always had some insecurities (she did not have what we would call a stable childhood) that she smothered with energy and bravado. Quince gave her something she's never had so didn't know she needed - a space to really be able to feel. At first she didn't know what to do with that. And her feelings were primarily focused on Quince - including her fear that he could die. Nineteen years of never feeling but always knowing what to do? Heck yeah having an about face on that caused a melt-down and some chaotic decision making. And she doesn't see it as prostituting herself (thus why she said "don't sully this"), but she has transcended the need for social approval. She, in many ways, is acting more the Romanticist than Quince himself does. Ultimately her feelings, her experience, trump everything else.

      Why did the Dragon give up so easily? The Dragon is in it all for the long game. An opportunity to escape to fight another day is right up his alley.

      The marquess title is simply an honorary for the heir of this dukedom. It transferred from cousin Lionel to brother Jeremy (not Justin, who is Sabre's half-brother) once Quince made sure his brother was legally recognized, so it had nothing to do with the duke's wedding.

      And I'm sorry that you felt like it didn't tidy up enough. It is book two in a twelve book series, but I endeavored to "solve" the problems posed at the beginning so that the book was a loop unto itself (the duke being blackmailed, the attraction between Quince and Sabre).

      The last member of The Four is a comin'. We can't meet everybody at once. We've got ten more books to get through! :)

      Thanks again for dropping by.

  3. Hello,
    I agree with you entirely. Haters will be haters. Not only in your field of work but in your every day life. From the way you present yourself to the way laugh. Funny but true. Anywho, the way I see it, fiction books are just that, fiction, merely created for entertainment purposes. Made up stories. Period.
    However I have to admit that your characters are so imperfect that that same trait is what makes them so believably human and real. I can actually relate to the women of the stories. And your made up men are just as stubborn as I'm sure they were at the turn of that century. Also, we need to understand, as much as it pains us women, society did frown down upon certain issues. And I applaud your research on that end. Not only did you present a well written book, but dare I say, an accurate sociopolitical and historical romantic novel. But then again, I'm no expert and I'm well known for having been wrong before.
    There was a mention of Jack not succeeding as Countess. I wonder if it's because she's too intellectual or too much of the librarian type. Truth is, we don't know what we're capable of until the opportunity presents itself. And how could you not succeed with Gideon by your side!!!
    I understand why Quince was so reticent to marry Sabre. It's not that he didn't care about her, but there were just too many "men issues" involved. It wasn't until he realized that she could actually leave him (I guess he thought she would never do it? Yeah, men are that naive and egocentric) that he realized how much he wanted her in his life forever. If anything, I do have one thing to say about Quince. Did he really never have anything to do with another before Sabre? Really? And if that was the case, I would think that there would have been some talk about the Duke, don't you think? I don't know. Maybe I'm going too deep into the story and one thing has nothing to do with the other. And again, I'm no expert and what do I know. =D
    I can't wait for the other 10 books to come out but I will patiently wait. Masterpieces take hard work and time. Rome wasn't built in a day and Haberdashers apparently take weeks to fall madly, desperately, so-much-that-it-hurts in love ;)
    Good luck!!

    1. Hey there! Sorry for my delay responding. There is worry about Jack succeeding as a countess for many reasons, not least of which being that she was raised by the daughter of a merchant and an untitled gentleman. She doesn't really have the background to take on scads of estates and move in the highest society. But yes, she not only has Giddy but now her best friend (the one who always seems to know exactly what to do) is a duchess. Once Jack gets past her own fears she should be fine. We hope. ;)

      And yes, Sabre is Quince's one and only. He even says to Gideon that he figured there might be talk (when they had that entertaining man to man conversation). But haven't you ever known someone who manages to get away with things that others couldn't, simply because of their attitude? Quince manages to seem above it all and self-contained in a way that discouraged too much talk about his personal life. Heck, apparently even Gideon didn't suspect it. (Then again, Gideon can be a bit thick, can't he?)

  4. Same anonymous as above. Thank you for explaining the logic. I was just curious to see why Quince and Sabre behaved so uncharacteristically and you helped me there. And regd the church scene preceding Quinces wedding I got Jeremy and Justin mixed up :-) I can't wait for the 3rd book and yes, you are an awesome writer. To the comment above - I read roughly 11 books each week. This is the 1st time a story or series has moved me to engage with the author to seek out answers. How's that being a hater?

    1. Hi Anonymous! I don't think 1740bf8- was referring to you but to my overall "haters gonna hate" thesis. We've all seen haters, and you are not one. You were curious and genuinely upset. And I accept that some people just don't like the way the characters were drawn. It's a little insight into me, I suppose, that I'm surprised every time someone loves Trials of Artemis and every time someone hates Athena's Ordeal. I love them each for what they are, but to me Artemis was just this sweet little story. I didn't expect Jack and Giddy to cause such a positive reaction. Not that it bothers me. ;)

      Since I know that it is actually a tenet of speed reading to key on the first initial of a name, I shoulda known better than to name two characters with the same first letter! But I had already named Justin and realized that the Duchess would name her hidden child after social innovator Jeremy Bentham.

      This is the first story that moved you to seek out answers?!? Squee! Best news I've had all week.