Handling Criticism from Reviewers

Our writing contains glistening pearls of wisdom in various colors, and we want to make sure those thoughts get understood by the reader so they can share our vision.

A critical part of the writing process is to distribute your pre-publication book to as many friends and family members as you can, to get them to provide constructive criticism.

This can be challenging emotionally!

When people criticize my work it is often very hard for me to hear. Some of my reviewers send me back a printout of my book with literally red marks scribbled all over each page. My aim is always to take a deep breath, to think as a first-time reader, and to imagine if they are going to understand my vision. Yes sometimes a specific red mark, after consideration, can be left alone. That is fine. But often the red mark will make me ponder that word or phrase or scene and then tweak it so it is even more clear to first-time readers. They rely on my words - and nothing else - to create the scene in their mind. So I have to make absolutely sure that every paragraph does its job to convey the information well to them, so that what they envision is what I am trying to get them to envision.

If I send my book out to 10 readers I get back 10 masses of red marks, all different. And itís part of the fun. My challenge then is to read through each point of view, like a kaleidoscope, and see where each view helps strengthen the overall conveyance of vision and clarity.

I realize itís hard to listen to criticism. Iíve published over 300 works on Amazon and I still have to take deep breaths when people send me those pages-full-of-red-marks. And then I try to look at each one as a potential savior for a hurdle I had in my novel. So I try to read the words as potential alerts, not as personal attacks.

If I wrote about my character "Laura" in my latest book and someone wrote "Who is this Laura and why should I care" - they are not attacking me, really. They are asking a very valid question as a reader. If they have 800 other books sitting on their Kindle all waiting to be read, what is it about this book that is going to catch their attention and then keep it? With the Kindle, people can read a chapter, decide they donít like it, and send it back. Itís just like someone in a bookstore picking up a book, reading the first few pages, then putting it down again. So an author has those first few pages to demonstrate to the reader why this character is someone they should care about and want to learn more about. Itís a good question to ponder as you write and rewrite that first chapter.

Iíve probably re-written each of my first chapters 100 or more times for that reason. It needs to be absolutely perfect in order to catch and hold the reader, so they keep going.

Harry Potter is a good example. In Harry Potter the intro is very clear, very thought provoking, and it draws the reading into wanting to know more about this boy. It gives us a focus we care about, it lets us understand, and then it expands so we can see what he is going through. So that is a great example. The story is dense and complicated - but it starts in a way we can get a handle on. A little boy, a strange situation, and we wonder why.

Each reviewer has their own angle, and thatís OK. The same happens with my novels. One person focuses on the historical inaccuracies, one focuses on the typos, another focuses on the character relationships. By having all those different views, I am able to sew together a final product that meets all needs.

When people read a piece they tend to comment on what stands out to them, which will be different from person to person. So Iíve found in my case that itís best for me to let them send what theyíll send, and then incorporate whatever parts I need to work on at the moment. So Iíll always fix typos for example. But if someone suggests specific wording for part X, and Iím about to rewrite that whole part anyway, then Iíll appreciate their efforts and then do what I was going to do.

It's far better to have reviewers who offer a lot of suggestions than reviewers who simply say "good job". There's always something to improve, and the more you can polish it before you launch, the more you'll get those five-star reviews once it's out and public!

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