After all, one knows one’s weak points so well, that it’s rather bewildering to have a reviewer overlook them and invent others. – Edith Wharton (paraphrased)
Asking a working writer what he thinks about reviewers is like asking a lamp-post how it feels about dogs – Christopher Hampton (paraphrased)
The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews – William Faulkner
And, of course, it all depends on the review, and the reviewer. We’re talking professional reviewers at the moment, personal reviews will come shortly.
So, what brought this up, you ask? Well, several things. One was a review I received yesterday, another was a request by a reviewer and the third was a dialogue about differences in a particular genre. As with everything we all bring our own preferences and prejudices, from both sides of the situation.
Reviews are critical in the writing business. At their most basic level they can help a reader decide if this is a book they want to read, at their highest they can help lift a book from obscurity. So every writer looks at them with both dread and anticipation. I know I do. (I’m not a reviewer although I have reviewed, but I won’t speak from that side of it.) I also view them as a learning experience and yesterday’s review was a wonderful example of that.
With my little heart going pitter-pat, I opened it and began to read, my heart rising with the compliments, then *thwock* wincing as the knife went in. *grin* And, being who I am, I took those criticisms severely to heart – as I should. Doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt, but as a writer every review is an opportunity to grow, to learn your craft.
So, was she right that I can sometimes be repetitious? *grudgingly* Yeah, sometimes. Do I head-hop – that is, change points of view among the characters, particularly secondary characters? In this case, and in the case of many of my series books, yes. I like to have my readers get inside the heads of my primary characters so they know, for example, that John is a little judgmental of other cultures. That can be a matter of taste, too. Some people like it, some don’t. None of my ten or so beta readers complained about it. Even so I went back and took another look, particularly in the beginning and took out some of both. (The benefit of an Indie writer, that I can adjust my writing on the fly, so future readers can benefit from what I’ve learned.) For those people that don’t like it, though, this review will either forewarn them or steer them away. Which is fine in either case.
She objected to the romantic elements in the book, she didn’t think it advanced the story. Again, this can be a matter of taste. Like the difference between hard and ‘soft’ sci-fi. Hard is more science-edged and tends to have little interpersonal interaction while soft tends to add some interpersonal and romantic elements. Although many tend to think of that as a male/female thing, the best sci-fi has elements of both. Asimov was a romantic.
For me, though, a book is somewhat incomplete without that soft side, the interpersonal side. Friendship, love and sex are a part of life. In all my books I want my readers to share the feelings my characters have for each other, whether it’s the strong friendship between Elon and Colath in The Coming Storm or the growing attraction between Kyriay, the Queen of the Fairy, and Morgan in Song of the Fairy Queen. Or Ky and Raissa in Heart of the Gods. Now I could have written the story as a straight action/adventure but I didn’t. It’s actually part of a series, the prequel of which will be released soon. When I wrote both books, I wrote them with the intent that they would be the first in a series and that strong relationship would be at the heart. Still, I had to ask.
A poll of my beta readers about the question, though, came up with an outcry against changing it – particularly and oddly, from my MALE beta readers, which surprised me.
And this is where those personal reviews come in. Now to other readers there’s no doubt some of those personal reviews come from friends and family. And some do. Because of that I cringed when an unsolicited review – quite wonderful otherwise – referred to me as Valerie rather than Ms. Douglas or some such. On the other hand, the writer knows when it’s friends or family, and when it’s not. I was thrilled to see a wonderful review on my novella Not Magic Enough – a fantasy that’s unabashedly romantic- and delighted to discover the reviewer, again, was male. So my perception that if there’s a strong romantic element to some of my stories it would keep men away is wrong. Hurray!
She also mentioned a disappearing character and the instant it was mentioned I knew who she was talking about – or at least I think I do. I thought I’d handled it, more or less. Sometimes people do just disappear, especially since he’d been taken away by the bad guy. You don’t always know what happened. The fact that she mentioned it, though, brought up that little niggling voice inside me. And I knew I had to fix it, or at least resolve it. So I did. (One of the blessing of Indie writing.)
Oh, and I forgot to mention a few important details. One, that she gave me a 3.5 out of five – slightly better than average. Would I have rather gotten a four? Absolutely. But some reviewers very rarely give out a five and I suspect from the review that she’s one of them. So, knowing that might be unachievable, it wasn’t bad.
The other details?
This quote – “…the recipe for a spellbinding story. This one makes a good attempt at achieving this, with a plot that kept me hooked and characters that carried the story forward strongly. There were a few twists that left me pleasantly surprised. The author clearly took care to do her research, and was able to artfully weave the finer details into the story without taking away from the narrative at all.” (paraphrased)
And this – “The story held my attention to the last page by riding on a fantastic concept and strong characters and a brilliantly quick pace. The solid ending has made me interested in seeing whatever she has in store for the team on their next adventure.” (paraphrased)
Above anything else those two comments are what are most important. Because a spellbinding story with a fantastic concept, strong characters that leave the reader wanting more is what it’s all about.
Those are the judgments a writer has to make – to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (reviews)… or to do as Faulkner does. And perhaps miss becoming a better writer and giving readers a better book.
Valerie Douglas is a prolific writer and genre-crosser, much to the delight of her fans. She reads and writes classic fantasy, romance, suspense, and as V.J. Devereaux, erotic romance. Who knows what will pop up down the road!
Happily married, she's companion to two dogs, three cats and an African clawed frog named Hopper who delights in tormenting the cats from his tank.
Valerie Douglas is the co-founder and one of the administrators of the 11,500+ member Indie Author Group - supporting writers around the world.
She blogs at her own blog, The Indie Author Group, FAQ@Indie Author Group and Two Midlist Indies.