Friday, May 18, 2012

Be careful what you wish for

A recent comment left by an unsatisfied reader left me contemplating my Young Adult series, The Unaltered. I’m no stranger to bad reviews and I’m of the mindset that a critical critique can be made into a positive resource if adequate information is given. Frankly, if an Indie author can’t handle being cut apart, then they’re in the wrong business. The reviewer in question, most likely an adult female, didn’t like my writing style saying it was predictable, lacked description, and she was upset with one of my character’s behaviors in the second book feeling that other readers should be aware of the immoral, age-inappropriate conduct before going into the series.

My first reaction to any harsh critique is to take a deep breath and remove myself from the computer. Perhaps I’ll pour a glass of Pinot Noir and watch a movie, or I might surf the Internet and look at famous authors’ bad reviews while I let the new negative comment sink in. It would be a lie to say these kinds of comments don’t affect me, so I won’t say that. This particular review was posted on Barnes & Noble and unfortunately may deter some readers from entering my fantasy world--and that’s too bad.

I’m going to veer off in a different direction for a moment. With every year of life come experiences that make us who we are individually. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all experienced being loved on the basic level of parent/child, we’ve probably been in situations where we weren’t accepted by our peers, and we’ve all probably had a moment in life when we were extremely scared. However, the level of severity of these experiences varies from one person to the next. The difference between someone giving you sympathy or empathy is based on that person’s own experiences in life; if they’ve experienced the exact same thing, they can empathize with you… otherwise they can only give you sympathy. Every experience in life, whether good or bad, is cataloged in our brain and is often referred to when reading a book or watching a movie. Consider the phrase, “It leaves nothing to the imagination.” If a scene in a book or movie is painted in a way that “leaves nothing to the imagination” then the reader/viewer doesn’t need to access their own archive of stored experiences to fill in the blanks. However, if a scene is painted vaguely using euphemisms, harmless words that substitute suggestive or offensive words, to encourage the reader/viewer to fill in the blanks, the intensity of the scene will vary from one person to the next based on personal experiences.

For example, the disappointed reader didn’t like the character who I painted as a “player” who uses his “special ability” to “get what he wants.” To a twelve year old, whose own life experiences are slim to none in this area, the term “scoring” may mean kissing; to a college aged individual it means something entirely different. The point is the intensity of my writing is only as powerful as the reader’s own experiences. First and foremost, my books are in the Young Adult category, not Middle Grade; second, my own experiences as a teen and the stereotypes I dealt with are mirrored in my books in a vague way and anyone who has experienced similar things will pick up on what I’m implying. Lastly, I think it’s safe to say that my negative reviewer connected with my books on a much deeper level than she cares to admit. For her own life experiences to fill the blanks I left open in such a way that she felt others shouldn’t read the book, it says to me that she wants to protect youth from having to experience what she went through. That’s a powerful response. She would have an interesting story to tell, I think.

Fiction is all about imagination… for both the author and the reader. I’ve had a huge amount of feedback from teens that identified with the different characters in the book. In fact, some of my fans have attacked the negative reviewer defending the character and saying that the “player” behavior is what made the book more believable. I can’t even begin to describe how it feels to have fans defending my made-up characters and my writing style.

As for the other topics of predictability, lack of description, and a “writing style that left much to be desired,” I can only say this reader is not in my target audience and she won’t be the last person who doesn’t like my style. I won’t be reading any other negative comments from her because she said she “won’t be reading anymore books by this author anytime soon”; that’s good at least. She did say that my “idea was fairly inventive” and that garnered me a two star rating. And that’s good as well.

To all the aspiring authors out there who dream of thousands upon thousands of readers, be careful what you wish for. Understand that the more popular your book becomes, the more likely readers outside your target audience will read it, not like it, and then feel they have to tell the world about it. But take heart, once you reach this level you’ll know you’ve made it over the hump of obscurity. Don't ignore the negative reviews because sometimes you can implement changes based on the review. I will certainly work on my descriptive words and character building thanks to her critical critique, but I won't be doing it to please her, I'll do it to improve my own writing.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New Website:

My dot com website is up and running and ready for visitors. Please check it out and leave a comment on the contact page. Everyone who does gets a free cookie!