Wednesday, July 2, 2008

And We're Off!

The FARWORLD BLOG TOUR is officially under way. (Like how I put it all in caps? Makes it look more official. Can’t you just hear the bugles and drums?) But before I take you on a whirlwind tour involving much eating, drinking, reading, and generally being merry, I thought I’d answer a question quite a few people have been asking me.

Basically the question comes down to how do you feel about getting feedback from readers/editors/reviewers?

I think that learning how to request and handle feedback both positive and negative is one of the hardest things for new writers to master. They tend to overreact to both the positive and the negative. Combine that with the fact that often they don’t even know what they want when they ask for feedback and you can see where it’s easy for them to get their feelings hurt.

The first thing a writer has to understand is the level and type of feedback they are getting. I think I’ve pointed this out before, but I am not an expert on art. Not even close. But I have a co-worker who is. He graduated from a prestigious art school. He is an amazing painter. If he and I were to look at the same painting, we would each be entitled to our opinions. But, and this is key, my opinion would the opinion of an art patron. His opinion would be that of an artist. Neither is more valuable in and of itself, but they are definitely different. Let me explain.

Ultimately the person who matters most is the reader. That is who my responsibility is to. If most readers don’t “get” my story, I have failed, not the readers. Much as I want and would be thrilled by nominations, awards, and positive reviews from prestigious publications like Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, ALA, etc, what matters most to me is what the readers think. So I am every bit as thrilled by a 13 year-old girl who loves my book as I am by a big publication.

I also realize though, that not all readers are going to like my book. Some will be the wrong audience. But some will just have different tastes. Just for fun, I looked up the first books in several best selling series. Harry Potter got 68 one star reviews. Twilight 87. Artemis Fowl 58. In fact the more successful you are, the more likely you are to get a significant number of negative reviews, just by sheer numbers. The key is to focus on what people liked and what they didn’t like, determine what if anything you’d like to change in the next book, and move on. You can’t please everyone.

When it comes to constructive criticism, I place a lot more credit with professionals in the publishing industry: editors, other authors, and book reviewers. Because they read many books and understand the process of creating a good story, I want their brutal opinion. I don’t want them to hold back. I will usually let them know whether I am looking for a content edit, a writing edit, or a line edit. It’s not that their opinion is any more important than an average reader, but they can not only tell me what they liked and disliked, they can suggest why something did or didn’t work.

My suggestion for beginning writers? Don’t ask for brutal critiques at first. That’s hard on even the most successful writer’s ego, and you haven’t built up enough thick skin yet. Instead, ask people to tell you what they liked. Ask them what characters they felt were the most real. Ask them where they felt the most attached to the story. Once you’ve received enough positive feedback to convince you your story is not a piece of garbage, ask them what parts they thought were slow or which characters they didn’t relate to as well.

When you’ve received feedback from enough people you will be able to decide for yourself what areas need work, and where you have got it down right.

I know this sounds like I am setting you up for a bunch of bad reviews on the tour. But that’s really not the case. In fact, I’ve been delighted by all the positive feedback and excited to hear what people wanted to see improved. So let’s jump in.

For my first stop, I jetted out to Washington state where Annaliese and I had a wonderful meal in the Space needle. You can read her review and our Q&A on her blog, Life of a Story Engineer.

Next on the tour is She Reads Books, where Christine did six word reviews of her June books

Over at The Lyon’s Tale, Annette Lyon gave away all my innermost secrets

Then I raced all the way up to Canada for a gondola ride. (But don’t be thinking boats and long poles) with Melanie Nielson at The Nielson Family

Finally I enjoyed a . . . hearty? . . . meal with Murph of From the Mind of Murph at Darrow’s Bar & Grill, Home of the 10 Pound Haggis. Ummmm.

I’ve also had several fun reviews over at Goodreads.

Thanks everyone for the excellent reviews and fun content. There are lots more on the way, and nearly all of these blogs are doing contests.

PS Also wanted to wish a hearty congrats to my good friend James Dashner who just sold a book I happen to love called Maze Runner. You can read the details of his deal over at his blog, The Dashner Dude.


DesLily said...

whew... read them all ! you are off to a great start for this book tour! Congrats !!!

cat said...

I didn't think about the fact that by joining this tour I was suddenly going to find a ton more blogs that interest me and had to add to my feeds! I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS! GAH! :)

I owe you my questions, I know! I'll get them soon (life sort of kicked me while down in June, long story).

And wahoooo for the tour!

ssdawn said...

Wow! I am feeling intense pressure what I will say when it is my turn to blog about your fabulous book! I need to start practicing saying something witty before the end of July! I am enjoying the tour so far!

James Dashner said...

Thanks, Jeff. We shall rule the book world together.

Tamra Norton said...

You make some really great points here. And one thing I've found is that it's a lot easier to take criticism BEFORE a books is published, than after--another reason to join a critique group!

In the end, you just try to put your best work out there. Some will like it (hopefully lots!) :) Others wont. But you continue to improve your craft and do what you love--creating stories!

J Scott Savage said...

Thanks, Des! I'm having a blast.

You are not kidding, Cat. I'm spending way to much time on blogs. But there are so many great reviewers out there.

SSDawn. No pressure. There's only so much Haggis I can eat. :)

There's nobody I'd rather rule it with, Dash. Congrats on the new book.

Good point, Tami. And your books are a great example of getting plenty of feedback so they are great when they come out.

Kimberly said...

That is some pretty darn brilliant advice. Thanks for taking the time to give those of us embarking on our own adventures those important insights.