Monday, May 25, 2009

No, really - tell me what you think.

Recently, another writer I know pulled her book down from a writer’s site where it was posted. I was surprised because it was getting good reviews. On this site, writers give each other feedback. Sometimes it’s simply glowing praise, sometimes it consists of in-depth critiques with suggestions intended to improve the work. She said her decision was based partly on the fact that she was receiving a lot of conflicting advice, which confused her more than helped her. Some of the advice, I had noticed, would have meant making major changes to her story, like removing subplots.

On our way to publication (let’s all think positive), we writers often seek feedback from other writers. We want to know what their reactions are – did they laugh at th humorous parts and cry at the sad ones? We also want to know if we’re getting the technical aspects right, like pacing, punctuation and word choice. A fresh pair of eyes can pick up on embarassing typos, or enlighten us to a basic flaw in our plot or character arcs. In short, we want someone to help us put all the pieces in the right places so our work will be undeniably brilliant and therefore merit publication.

But when is feedback worth paying attention to and when is it not? Hmm, sorry, I can’t answer that. Why? Because ultimately, only the agents you are querying, the editors considering your work, and the consumers deciding whether or not to buy your book are the only ones that matter… and you. If the suggestion or feedback flips a switch in your brain and rings true, apply it. If not, don’t. Trust your creative intentions. You can’t write by committee. Even books by bestselling authors are not going to be loved and adored by everyone.


Anita Davison said...

I agree with this totally, Gemi. It's too easy when we are insecure about our work to rush in and change everything to suit a raft of critiquers, each with a different viewpoint. But if you can honestly say, 'My character wouldn't do that', then is the time to ignore it. We all gain different things from books - some 'Belockbusters' I have read I really hated, and some who never got a sniff near Waterstones really touch me - where's the logic, or justice in it?

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Somewhere there's a balance between being humble enough to be open to suggestions and having confidence in it. We all seek validation through publication and until we get that the self-doubt is always hovering.

Sheila Lamb said...

I agree. You have to keep your story the way it is right for you. I do like critiques, especially when I find more than one person commented on the same issue -- then it's definitely time for a second look.

Jen Black said...

Six critiques, three in favour, three didn't like the chapter at all. Leaves one wondering if it is all worth it. I know it is, and I value the crits I receive and consider every suggestion because people have taken the time and trouble to think about my work. It is confusing when One woman's shallow is another woman's racy story and sometimes I think we have to match the story to either the US or the UK market, perhaps even to the specific agent whose attantion we wish to grab.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Agreed, Jen. I've had many lightbulb moments when a critiquer has made an observation. Usually I had some niggling beforehand that I didn't quite have it right, but couldn't put a finger on it. So I wouldn't do without the input. As long as we keep in mind that each reader has their own likes/dislikes/perspective, we know not to expect the same reaction across the board.