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?)