Actors, artists, musicians, writers – we’re all creative, we all put ourselves out there, and we all get criticized. It’s part of the parcel for doing the thing we love.
For authors, these criticisms can come in many different forms: Feedback from beta readers, fellow authors, friends and family (if you have family like me who like to tell me that my books suck and are only mildly entertaining. Thanks, bro.) But the main form of feedback authors receive are through reviews.
I’ve written blogs in the past about reviews and how I handle negative feedback (reminder: it’s in the fetal position, rocking back and fourth in the corner of the room.) but this post is going to focus more on the feedback of others, BEFORE the book is released and the nasty reviews start coming in.
Nasty reviews are inevitable. No author is immune. Not everyone will like your work, not everyone will like how your story ends. And for most readers, who have NO idea what it takes to write a book, they will not hold back in their reviews. Everyone gains a certain amount of confidence behind a computer screen. I’m sure if they were told they had to deliver their reviews in person, to a real-life author, they’d be able to sugar coat their words a lot better, but because they’re anonymous behind a computer screen, they don’t really give much thought to the author reading them. They may not even realise authors read them at all. After all, reviews are for fellow readers, not to stroke the author’s ego. They’re also reviewing a product, not the author themselves (although some trolls have been known to attack an author personally, and that’s really unfair, but it’s important not to feed the trolls – they usually only do it to make themselves feel better, or to get a rise out of people so they can sit back and enjoy the ensuing drama).
So before us authors put out a product, we go through a series of reads and we rely on betas to tell us what could be changed or improved on.
I’ve read a lot of books lately where I’ve come across things that have me scratching my head and wondering how beta readers had not pointed out these flaws/plot holes/issues.
But after a string of beta reads I did myself, it didn’t take me long to realise that a lot of beta readers are too scared of receiving retaliation from their feedback. Something I have had happen to me recently.
I gave my honest opinion and was flat out told “you’re wrong” by the author who asked me to give me said honest opinion.
Actors, artists, musicians, writers- something else we all have in common: big egos!
I will be the first to admit that it hurts to get negative feedback. It stings when someone doesn’t like your work. We dedicate years of our life to our books, and to have someone rip it apart (even in the slightest), yeah, it bites. But if we all had the same opinion, wouldn’t life be boring as shit? (Sorry, my inner bogan is coming out here.)
However, after the hurt, after the swearing and muttering to ourselves that the person critiquing is dumb and stupid and doesn’t know any better… Perhaps we should sit back and take their opinion into consideration.
True story: I had a beta reader flat out tell me my work is not polished enough and then proceeded to tear chapter one of my work apart word for word before giving up and saying it NEEDED a professional edit as the copy editor I had obviously didn’t do a good enough job.
I found her remarks harsh and rude, and because I’m still a teenager at heart, when I’m told I NEED to do something, or I CAN’T fix it myself, I of course want to do the opposite just to prove them wrong!
After my initial overreaction, I sat down, evaluated her critique, and realised she was right. As much as I wanted her to be wrong, and as much as I wanted to dislike her for her words… I couldn’t. She was right, and fair, and I needed to get over myself.
So I’m not completely innocent myself when it comes to overreacting to critique, but I definitely know better than to retaliate or give a rebuttle stating why their critique is wrong.
Beta readers are doing is a favour by giving us their opinions ahead of publication. So when authors flip their lid at their betas for not giving them all glowing and fabulous feedback, we’re encouraging our betas to only give positive feedback in fear of being sworn at (has also happened to me). Meaning we may be putting out less than mediocre work. Then what happens when the reviews come piling in?
Writing is an industry where you need thick skin. The way I see it, if author’s can’t handle feedback from their peers, what is going to happen when they read a scathing review?
Scenario: you go to a five star restaurant and order the signature dish. It comes out and it is covered in garlic. You HATE garlic! Sometimes you like a little bit of it, but it looked good on the menu, so you ordered it. Your dining companion orders the same thing. They LOVE it, but it leaves a not quite nice taste in your mouth after a few bites. So you complain and ask for something else. Reasonable, right?
Well, what would you then do if the chef comes out of the kitchen, yells at you because everyone else loves the garlic, says you’re being too picky, and clearly you have the wrong taste because everyone else loved it?
You wouldn’t come back! (And if you did, you’d certainly be too scared to complain again!)
Same principles apply in writing. Not everyone will love it, and this is why it’s important to have more than one beta reader. You need an entire team, and you need to be able to trust them to tell you the truth, and you need to be big enough to take their advice into consideration without complaint. You need to not alienate your betas by telling them they’re wrong. Perhaps out of five beta readers, one of them hates a certain element. 1/5 isn’t bad, and perhaps you could ignore their opinion. But just remember, if one beta picks up on it, others will too and you WILL get reviews that represent that.
I recently beta read for a friend, and I admit, I was nervous about my critique because it did seem harsh. I really didn’t enjoy a major aspect of this book. But I spent the majority of the next day going over it all with my friend via email. We had about 27 emails back and forth by the end. She was appreciative and agreed with most of what I said. We did still had our differences of opinion in the end, but it’s her book, her choice. But she never once said “you’re wrong and I’m keeping it. End of story.” She took my feedback on and took what she wanted and left what she wanted.
Authors should be there for other authors. They shouldn’t be all compliments and bullshit like “I’ll stroke your ego if you stroke mine”. We should be able to state our opinions and have an open discussion without it turning ugly. We’re only trying to help when we give you advice.
As hard as it is to hear where our work is lacking, I’d rather be told while it’s still an easy fix, than after its published and I’ve had ten reviews stating the same problem.
So in short:
Stop treating betas like crap. You’re scaring them off doing it for others in fear of having their heads bitten off.
If you ask a question on a forum or group, don’t get defensive of people’s reactions if they are not of the same opinion.
Get more than one opinion. You may very well be right, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to tell the other person they are wrong. They simply have a different opinion to you.
And lastly: don’t take it personally. Betas aren’t attacking you!