Thursday, April 17, 2014

O = Obstinacy Never Sold Any Books


This sort of goes with yesterday’s post, although this one refers more to the pre-publication stage. The most polished and successful authors have a host of people who read their work prior to publication, whether for content and plot, or for typos, punctuation and grammar issues. These authors have learned to deal with others who sometimes ruthlessly say, “This has to be cut,” or “This makes no sense,” or even “Kill off this character; she’s doing your book no favors.”

Self-publishers, in many cases, have never had to deal with that type of criticism, no matter how constructively it’s phrased. When they show their work to someone (anyone), the typical result is praise, simply for having written a book. This is not to be confused with an informed opinion. (See letter “F” post about friends being cheerleaders only.)

A critique partner, beta reader, or editor has nothing to gain by telling the truth about bad writing, other than a clean conscience. Nobody seeks to hurt anyone’s feelings. Feelings, in fact, have nothing to do with the rules of writing. Those who cling too tightly to what they’ve written and refuse to fix errors will either sell no books (after someone reads their poorly written sample), or will sell only one book per person, with no repeat customers (after someone, having skipped the sample, reads their poorly written book).


Be open to criticism, especially if many people mention the same things in their criticism. They just might have something you can use.

51 comments:

  1. Yes! A writer has to be open to making changes to their manuscript (sometimes easier said than done!) It took some time for me to understand this, but now that I do, I realize the importance of an honest critique and how helpful it can be to improving my manuscript. Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kristin, I sometimes spend more time writing up an editing evaluation than I do for the actual edits. I try very hard to make sure I'm getting the major points across without hurting feelings or making it all sound negative. They know how to be creative; I know the rules that make it readable.

      Delete
  2. I volunteered as a CP recently. I tried very hard to illustrate all of the things that I thought worked SO WELL and be honest about what I thought wasn't working well. I don't have any idea how that was received, but I know that I felt guilty for not just saying "It's wonderful." I know that is what every writer WANTS to hear, but not being honest doesn't make you a very good CP. ugghh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never feel guilty for telling the truth. It can be wonderful and still have problems that need fixed. The trick is to highlight those problems while reminding the author that's it's not a personal attack.

      Delete
  3. I belong to a critique group. If I didn't, I wouldn't be a published author:) I value them sooo much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great perspective! If the goal is to be published, you want the truth about the pre-published work, and nothing but the truth.

      Delete
  4. My crit group are kind, but they do not spare my feelings when it comes to something I've written that's BAD! Thank heaven for them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm the same way when my husband gives constructive criticism. I usually end up saying, "It's not what I want to hear, but thank you for telling me anyway, because I needed to hear it."

      Delete
  5. So true. It's better to get pummeled ahead of publication by those who are in the know about good writing than to get lambasted after publication. When the book is out before the publication is the the time when reputation really gets put on the line.

    Lee
    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right, Lee. Your reputation will be made or broken, depending on whether it's your best work out there or not.

      Delete
  6. As a writer, I don't think it is possible "not" to have an emotional reaction to criticism. The reasons range from embarrassment to pure ego defense. While the writer must take a breath and overcome the emotional response, it is also helpful to find someone who is honest, objective AND understanding. I use a classic formula for the delivery of criticism: This was excellent, this was good, this is where you should improve. Most often it is not what we say, but how we say it - personally I find most of my errors really amusing and enjoy sharing a laugh with my editor

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it's because your writing is so stellar that your occasional errors make me laugh harder. It does make it easy that I can leave oh-so-professional notes in your manuscript like, "What the heck are you talking about??" and know you won't get upset because I'm laughing.

      Go big or go home, right?

      Delete
  7. We have the knowledge but the only thing is we just have to write it in a certain way. Easier said than done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If only it were as easy as getting it right on the first try!

      Delete
  8. Excellent advice! I have test readers, critique partners, and my publisher's editor, and I have no problem fixing or changing things based on their suggestions. Two of my critique partners in particular leave very humorous comments, and it's impossible to be mad or defensive when I'm laughing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like you have a great team, Alex. I do find constructive criticism is received a little better when cushioned in humor. I don't force it, but I just comment in the ms the same way I would if I were talking to them...whatever comes out, comes out.

      Delete
  9. When this series is done you should make it available in its entirety.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Silver Fox, I can always send you the Word doc with all my A to Z posts from when I got them ready...suitable for framing. :)

      Delete
    2. That's gonna be one biiiiig frame! But I'd love to have it.

      Delete
    3. I'll email it to you at the end of the month. I'd hate to spoil the surprise for you between now and the letter Z. Z is my favorite.

      Delete
    4. Right, don't spoil the surprises!

      Thanks in advance!

      Delete
  10. ALL I ask for in the pre-editing (your type) and pre-publication stage is for the brutal truth about what sucks. If it has to go, it has to go. If it needs to be clearer, then so be it. If it lacks description, or the MC is rambling on about irrelevant things, or a character isn't working, or the storyline is just plain stupid, I need to know.

    Praises are great but they aren't helpful. I guess I just have a no non-sense approach to this. The tougher the critiques the more I believe it. I don't have time for sensitivity when it comes to that. Is it a little bit embarrassing to have someone read all my mistakes? Sure, but I wouldn't allow anyone I didn't trust or whose opinion I didn't value to read it at whichever stage the MS happens to be in. If I need feedback and need to brainstorm, then that's what I need and I have to trust my person not to be judgmental. I am after all looking for help. I respect anyone who knows to ask for help, regardless if the work is published or not, and I guess I expect the same from others.

    Apparently I feel very strong about this. Is my comment longer than your post? How is that for irony? (Make your post shorter, Lynda. Cut the words! Ha! I guess I channeled my inner Lynda lol)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. HA! I knew you were trying to get me to trim my posts so you could steal the page for yourself. I like your spunk, lady.

      I think it's funny that you don't believe people when they're not tough. But I do wish more people went into it with that attitude so help given would be help accepted.

      Nice, short-winded comment! lol

      Delete
    2. I am glad to be one of those trusted people. I am also glad to have found a CP that takes this sort of critique and doesn't mind giving it. Also Lynda your post is spot on. Get the bugs out before hand. It is a hard lesson but one we all need.

      Delete
    3. Thanks, Brandon! I know you are trusted completely. Better earlier than later as far as getting the bugs out!

      Delete
  11. Very true. That is one of the reasons why I don't like friends asking me to read their writing. That's a sure fire way to ruin a friendship :D I always read them after they are published :)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Tales of colors
    MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, critique partners should be as trustworthy as a friend, but as neutral as a stranger. Tough balance, that.

      Delete
  12. I love this post. When somebody's about to critique my work, I have been known to first ask them to please critique it is if I were their worst enemy. That means I want to hear the bad stuff too. I can get the praise for my kids who don't want to get grounded.
    Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have the right method, Debi. It's tougher initially, but ultimately better for you. Definitely put those kids to work, lol.

      Delete
  13. Great post! I hope sometime in the coming months to self publish a short as an e-read. I didn't slack on a good edit or proof for it. As a reader if I buy a book and by the second, third or fourth chapter I cannot get into a book I tend to want to start ripping apart the story. My favorite genre to read is romance stories. I was once told I would make a good beta reader. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you can look at the big picture and see plot holes, character weakness, and other generalities, you just might make a good beta reader!

      Delete
  14. You nailed it. Taking constructive criticism and being able to lose the "pretty" sentences that are unnecessary to a piece of writing are things a writer needs to making a successful living.
    The View from the Top of the Ladder

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Su-sieee! (I feel like I'm hollering out my back door...)

      I'm so glad to hear from more authors who recognize the necessity of this.

      Delete
  15. Exactly. There've been a number of new additions to my CP group recently and with every crit they get from us, they spend a lot of time disagreeing and explaining why they meant to do it that way -- saying head-hopping or info-dumps are the only way to get their story across. I think a few have already flounced away in moral indignation that we didn't "get" them. But others are staying and learning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The flouncers will always flounce, and that's a shame, because they're only hurting themselves. If they have to tell you what they meant, then they're not telling it well enough. Right?

      Delete
    2. Randomly jumping in her, but I have someone JUST like that Lexa in one of my critique groups as well. It's hard to help someone when they'll just argue with you about why they are right.

      Delete
  16. Great post!

    Please visit my blog, http://www.thatgirlybookworm.blogspot.ca

    My theme focuses on books and the title of the day starts with the letter of the day!

    ReplyDelete
  17. This is really great advice, particularly not clinging to your writing so tightly. It's okay to love it, obviously you want to, but you can always make it better with the opinions of others. Though, you will know when to ignore what they are saying (maybe they didn't get the concept or something) but if a lot of people keep saying the same thing, it's time to listen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right, Kim. You want to love it, because it came from your own imagination, after all. But being blind to any faults is just bad news all around. Like you said to Lexa above, it's really hard to help some people.

      Delete
  18. Unfortunately , many people look at their book like they would a child. It is a ream of paper for heaven's sake. Don't get attached to it. My scifi novel I worked on for a very long time. It was frequently beat up. (I'll tell you about living in a family of writers another time) If you bring in beta readers, CPs, who ever listen to what they say. Especially if they all say something sucks. Lynda, you have hit it on the head. I am hoping your letter P post is the intuitive continuation to this post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. J.T., it drives me crazy when people say a book is "my baby." No, it's not. It's a book, and it may be tremendously good, but it's not anywhere near the same as a human being.

      Living in a family of writers! Oh, my. No wonder you have The Enforcers...um...the Persuaders...um...those guys who bring me chocolate.

      I'm enjoying the responses to all the A to Z posts so far! For some reason, people think I know what I'm talking about. I'm hoping P through Z are every bit as helpful as the first fifteen have been.

      Delete
    2. "Marketing Associates" and yeah the baby thing drives me up a wall.

      Delete
  19. I'm a realist, so I have no problem with people telling me that something is not working.
    When I put something out there (in the not-too-distant-future-I-hope... LOL), then I want to have the inner satisfaction of knowing that it's a quality product!
    I will NOT be obstinate!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Raise your fist in the air and stomp your foot as you say that. It also may help to pull the curtains from your windows and make yourself a gown, a la Scarlett O'Hara, while saying the words. But you have the right attitude!

      Delete
  20. A good critique partner is worth their weight in gold. I've given honest critiques to mixed reception. It gets frustrating when you spend the time to give honest feedback meant for improvement of a ms, and you get anger or denial or explanations about why their way is better (from a raw newbie) or how you just don't get their vision. Sigh. I've gotten quite a few reactions like these recently. It gets discouraging for me to put in my limited time. I've been a little choosier recently on whom I'll crit. Mainly because I'm pressed for any extra time right now. Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think many people don't realize that: you've put time into reading it, thinking about it, and giving feedback that undoubtedly took a while to write because of trying to be tactful. Honesty takes a lot more time and effort than giving a standard "attaboy!" and should be taken seriously.

      Really, if they're not going to be open to what you have to say, why did they ask in the first place?

      Delete
  21. It's so hard to open up our writing to others. Even though I've been doing that for awhile, it's still hard. And still hard to hear "nothing happens in this scene" or "too much backstory" or "Huh?" :) Funny that anyone would think they didn't need to share their work prior to publishing--then you're opening it up to the world to criticize and you can't take it back!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The hardest thing is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to others, Stephanie. It certainly requires the right attitude on the giving end and the right person on the receiving end. But to have your work made public without getting private feedback is just crazy!

      Delete
  22. "Self-publishers, in many cases, have never had to deal with that type of criticism, no matter how constructively it’s phrased."

    In many cases, but not all. Many successful self-publishing authors do use beta-readers, critique partners, and editors. I myself have twelve beta-readers who read pretty much everything I publish, and these people will tell me quite bluntly when I'm wrong or when they are 'disappointed'.
    Plus I have some experts who might not read the whole book, but only the scenes that pertain to their specialty, for instance, while my German isn't bad, I have German dialogue corrected by a native German.

    Hey, a serious comment by me. I bet you hadn't expected one! Hahaha, fooled you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Huh? What? . . . Oh, I must have fainted for some reason . . .

      You're one of the writers who takes his craft seriously, as do so many of those who've commented here. You go through betas, CPs, professionals for their expertise, and editors. And you deal with the criticism because you know it's necessary for you to hone your skills.

      I only wish more of those thin-skinned writers would learn by that kind of example.

      Delete

I love comments, and will always answer them, partly because I like having the last word and partly because I just like getting to know the people who read my blog. (Note: if the post is more than a couple weeks old, your comment will automatically go into the "needs approval" folder, but I will still publish it and reply!)