Jung's Sofa

Authors Want Confirmation, Not Reviews

angry-writer-catIf you’ve reached the point in your writing where as you’ve pressed <Publish> my guess is that you believe that you have just released one of the best books “ever.” Regardless of the genre, your work stands above the masses because it is well-written, smart, insightful and a host of other accolades that should – if there is any justice in this world – appear on Kirkus, the New York Times, and Amazon. There may be some writer out there just pumping out junk, but you take your craft seriously and certainly the intelligent reader will notice and the reviews will demonstrate your greatness.

I’m not standing on a soap box here. Everything in the proceeding paragraph I believe about my work. Maybe, just maybe, The Stand is better than my book. When it comes to zombie apocalypses though, I absolutely nailed it. Or maybe I didn’t. Unfortunately I already published so when I submit the work for a review, I’m actually thinking, “could you write a hundred words about how much you loved my book?” Now I am certain that there are a few authors around who would decree that they want an “honest” review of their books. And I would respond that if you wanted an “honest” review, you would have asked for such before you published it. What difference do suggestions make at this point? Are you going to pull it off the market and work these suggestions or edits into your story? I think the answer is “no.” What we really want is confirmation that our novel is five stars.

I didn’t realize how true that was until I saw a rating of one of my novels on Goodreads. The reader gave it four stars. Now that isn’t as good as five, but it certainly isn’t one or two. Still I found myself wondering why it was one star short of greatness to this reader and then I started to look at other books she had rated. That’s obsessive and it is ridiculous. How does one even differentiate between a 5 star and 4 star rating? I “liked it a real lot” and I “loved it” are divided by such a thin wall. Should it matter that it isn’t the absolute “best” book she ever read? Well no…but really yes. I thought about sending a little message to the reader. As I imagined the interchange, I finally decided against it. Here is how I figured it might go:

Me: Hi, Thanks for reading my book. Hey I was just wondering what I could have done differently to make it a 5 star rating for you.

Her: Oh you’re welcome. It was a really good story and I enjoyed it.

Me: Yes I saw that with the 4 stars, but why didn’t you think it was 5?

Her: Well I hadn’t really thought about it, I guess I wanted to see a little more romance between the characters.

Me: Sure, but it’s a zombie story and there is some romance but I didn’t think it made sense to expand on that.

Her: Yeah I get it, but no big deal because I thought it was great.

Me: Then why not give it 5 stars?

Her: Umm like I said, it was really good, just not 5 stars for me, but I’m sure other people will give it 5.

Me: Well it sounds like you’re just guessing with your ratings! I mean it’s not a romance story you know!

Her: Look I don’t give anyone 5 stars okay.

Me: Oh I get it, little miss perfect, if you think you can do better then write your own F-ing book!

Her: You’re insane, leave me alone.

Me: I’m sorry, I really am, writers tend to get really attached to their work. Again, I apologize, and thank you for reading the story.

Her: You’re welcome.

Me: So maybe in your profile you should point out that a 4 star rating from you is really like everyone’s 5 star rating – I mean just so people know.

Her: No response

Me: I knew you were a stupid poopie head.

Unfortunately I think most authors feel somewhat this way. No one intends to write a bad book and everyone who puts the work “out there” wants the confirmation that the writing was a worthwhile endeavor. The problem, however, is that one cannot improve his or her craft without constructive criticism on the key elements that make a great story. The obstacle for Indie authors is that the cost of developmental edits are sometimes beyond the writer’s available resources. On the other side, reviewers who could help most – that being other authors – are hesitant to offer such advice. If your book is already published, even I don’t want to point out the info dumps, the errors in spelling, or potential dead-end sub-plots that should be removed.

In many aspects of our lives we practice the principle of “ask for forgiveness, not for permission.” When we publish a book without input and editing we are asking the reader to overlook any shortcomings and to focus on just “what was great.” There is a lot of ego in writing, but to truly master our craft we need to be objective when receiving criticism. We need to be able to separate what the reader would “like to happen” from the suggestions that would improve our story-telling. It’s no easy task. It’s not one that I have mastered, but with each new writing I try to employ every lesson learned to improve my work.

But that’s just me…am I the only one secretly looking for confirmation? Would you submit your published work for such criticism? If you received such would you be willing to change the writing or would you dismiss the reviewer as “ignorant” to your intent, your style or the craft?

I guess it’s really a consideration of confidence. Over-confident leaves no room for growth. Under confident and the writer will take too much advice. I’m still trying to find the right level of confidence…until then can you just give me a five star review in exchange for my promise to improve?

12 replies »

  1. Yeah, I’d like confirmation as well. If more people would just review my books, I’d feel like there was a bit more worth in the fiction I write.
    Well, I’ll just keep advertising and hoping. That’s all I can really do, right?

  2. First, this was hilarious. You made me laugh, out loud, and for that you have a new subscriber. Second, there is certainly truth in much of what you wrote. Everyone wants confirmation. We want to believe the several hours spent with our book was the best time in a readers life. We want to know that we aren’t the only ones captivated by the world we’ve created.

    However, while it may seem “too late” to critique in a review, I don’t think that’s true. If I get a slew of reviews that tell me info-dumping made my book unreadable, well hell yes, I’m going to go back and edit again. If someone points out that I had a couple typos (which annoy me as a reader, as well) I’m going to fix them. As an indie author, I have the freedom to correct at will. I never publish a work I think is less than perfect, but sometimes even two dozen sets of proofreading eyes miss something. I don’t think it’s ever too late to polish a gem–and come on, we all believe our work is that.

    Personally, though, the reason I most want reviews (positive or negative) is simply that before I am willing to read a new author, I comb the net for reviews. I want someone (not a publisher, agent, publicist, etc.) to tell me what the book is about. Was the dialogue awful? The pacing too slow? The romance unfathomable? Maybe I shouldn’t, but I put a lot of faith in those who take the time to review a book. If the plot is interesting, the reviews thorough enough that I feel I have an idea what I’m getting into, then–and only then–will I part with my own hard-earned cash to make a purchase. Again, maybe this isn’t wise, but it’s the way I buy books…and there are too many out there like me that feel the same way. A review is powerful.

    • Elle did you just write a blog post in my comments section? Lol – great points and I also believe reviews are critical for indie writers…surveys show that is the way people make buying decisions…according to an article in Forbes and one of my next blogs. Thanks for adding to the discussion

  3. I know I changed a few of my stories around based on editors who were kind enough to tell me why they rejected them and I owe these editors a debt of gratitude for doing so and helping make my stories better, but at the time I received their critiques, (and I hope they never read this), quite confidentially, quite secretly, and quite irrationally in a deep emotional part of myself, I thought they were stupid poopie heads. 😉

  4. Well, I must confess that you won me over with “stupid poopie head.” I don’t know a single person who doesn’t resort to that thought on a regular basis. I just wrote a blog post about the importance of reviews, and firmly believe good authors need the stroking; bad authors need the spanking. If I don’t like a book because it’s just not my cup of tea, well, then I’m the stupid one who read it in the first place. But if I don’t like it because it’s poorly written…it’s your fault and I’m going to tell you all about it until I run out of words or get a cramp in my fingers from typing.

    • I do agree with you – until there is some standard by which to ensure books for sale meet some level of certified readability, then it is up to the readers to monitor and enforce authors who require more “craft” training.

  5. Hi Ray,

    I enjoyed your article and I’m now ‘following’ you. Not really, so don’t be afraid, ‘kay?

    Anyway, I have to say, reviews are not intended as feedback for the author, but as advice for a potential reader why they should or should not pick up your book.

    The time for feedback is between finishing your manuscript and publishing the book. That’s where beta-readers come in handy. Mine have grown steadily since I got the first ‘hey, what are you writing, that sounds neat, can I read it’. In the back of my books I have a note for my readers where I make the distinction between ‘review my book for other readers’ and ‘send me feedback if you think I could improve this book or future books’. Several people who emailed me with feedback are currently reading the ARC of the third novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, so they can post reviews when Rogue is published, but before that, I had 12 beta-readers provide me with feedback that took me another two weeks to implement into the ‘finished’ manuscript to make the final book more exciting.

    Good luck with your writing and blog!

    Martyn V. Halm.

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