If 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?