First, I am not trying to stir up controversy. I’m not on Goodreads. I’m usually the person who hears about drama after the fact. Everything I know about recent events (probably about 2% of what actually happened) came second-hand. I will not name names. I am not trying to add to the drama.
But I am going to talk about reviews, and their importance, especially for unpublished writers. I allude to the Goodreads drama only because I have a somewhat unique perspective on one part of it.
I had the opportunity to read and critique a draft of one of the books involved, before anyone knew it was being picked up for publication.
The writer approached me. At the time, she was unpublished as well, and looking for feedback, from a lot of different people. She was rather polite, and I said okay. I read her novel, and wrote my review as usual. I forget how long it took, but I doubt I finished in one sitting. I sent the review.
I got a response from the writer, who was not happy. She stated, perhaps a bit testily, that she didn’t agree with certain aspects of my review. I stayed polite, but wrote back to try and further explain my thoughts. I forget the specifics of what was said, but I’m 84% sure that I also said something like, “This was just the impression I got, but if I’m seeing this, chances are good that someone else is going to think the same way.” We sent a few messages back and forth. The writer was calmer, I think, by the end of it. And we eventually reached a point of “Agree to Disagree”. That was the end of it.
Except it wasn’t, really.
I give thorough reviews. I usually write down whatever thoughts come to me as I read, in all their witty/sarcastic/‘oh, isn’t this funny!’ glory. I try to find something good in everything I read. So, usually, I’d say my reviews are balanced between good and bad, serious and funny… I try to explain everything I feel about the story. Like I said, I doubt I finished writing my review of her novel in one sitting.
And the writer’s responses made me feel like she wasn’t going to pay attention to any of it. She didn’t agree with certain parts of my review, so she was going to ignore the whole thing. And even though I sort of shrugged it off, I couldn’t help but remember that writer’s reaction, especially when it would’ve been so easy for her to say, “I don’t agree with everything you said, but thanks for your time, and I’ll keep your concerns in mind.”
When I heard her book was going to be published, I’ll admit that three things were in my head. A moment of surprise. Some calculations of how much time she’d had to revise since I left my review. And finally a desire to read the book – mostly so I could see if she’d changed it much from the version I read. Mostly so I could see, “Did she listen at all to what I said?”
I don’t like saying it, but I probably wasn’t as happy for her as I would’ve been, had our initial exchange gone differently.
And now, when I hear of the drama, and hear a few words about the review in question that make me think it probably pointed out some of the same things my review did, before the book was published…
It is impossibly hard to hold in an “I told you so.”
But that’s not what this blog post is. This blog post is for us, the unpublished writers who are sending our works out into the world, squirreling away feedback and trying to polish our manuscripts into something beautiful.
For me, this has been a reminder to take every review seriously, even if you don’t agree with everything. Whether it’s a three-page monster of a review, chewing up your manuscript and spitting it out in disgust. Whether it’s one line – “I don’t like your characters.” Or whether it’s one little suggestion in the midst of a larger review, where a polite, professional reviewer suggests you change something that’s been the foundation of your story for as long as you can remember.
We need to hear our reviews.
That doesn’t mean listening to so many voices that we forget our own. But it does mean keeping in mind, “If one person feels this way, other readers might too.” Especially if more than one review points out the same issues.
We don’t need to act on every suggestion. We can pick and choose what exactly we change, and how much influence a review has on us. But when we’re still unpublished, this is our time to fix things. It’s our time to see what bothers people, and make our books the best they can be. Our reviewers now represent our future readers, and as such we cannot afford to ignore them.
We need to remember that everyone has their opinion. We need to be willing to hear those opinions. We can’t block out everything that hurts our feelings. But we can decide how to respond, both now and in the future.
Next week I’ll have a post about the reviewing side of things – how to keep things neutral, how to be truly helpful, etc.
And, because the time seems right. I’m holding a contest.
Leave a comment, on either this post or the one next week, and you’ll be entered to win a review from me, of either a short story or the first chapter of your book. Comment on both posts to get your name entered twice. :)
In two weeks, I’ll draw for the winner(s?)!
Keep writing, everybody. ;)
Do you like the idea of this contest? Are you on Goodreads, and if you are, would you recommend joining? What’s the most helpful review you’ve ever received, and why?