Tag Archives: critiques

Book Reviews Gone Wild: things I won’t listen to and those I will

I just sent Dear Daughter and five of her speech friends to speech camp. They’ll be there for a week, learning how to create and perform speeches in various categories for competition against their peers.

They will be judged.

Hopefully not too harshly, nor too falsely. Because, you see, they can’t get better if they are lied to. Even if it saves a hurt feeling or two, empty feedback provided in a way to only uplift and not to teach will not help them get better. It will not prepare them for the upcoming speech season. It will not help them pinpoint their flaws so they know what to work on.

Sound familiar?

Pull up Amazon or GoodReads. Now, click on a book–any book–and read the reviews. What did you find?  Something sugar-coated with no substance? A scathing review penned by the devil himself? Hurtful words, helpful hints or something in between?

Book reviews serve a purpose: to guide fellow readers in choosing their next beach read.

This type of publicity shouldn’t be directed by anything other than the reviewer’s opinion of the book. It shouldn’t matter if she met the author at a book signing. It shouldn’t matter if the author is the reviewer’s best friend. It shouldn’t matter if the author is Great Aunt Martha and she’s promised the farm in return for a glowing review.

Sadly, however, it seems to. More and more, books are reviewed with the author in mind, not the writing itself, and certainly not future readers. Blog friends return favors by selling word of mouth to reach a broader audience with their own published work. Amazon’s stars are not always given for unbiased purposes. Heck, rumor has it some of the bling is paid for. Or worse yet, it’s the author and his/her band of besties spamming stars on the bulletin board to trick readers into buying.

Gah! What’s a discerning reader to do? How do we pick solid books with content and writing style that interests us? How do we see past the ploys and make sure our money is spent wisely?

Personally, I’m wary of the all five-star books. If a novel has twenty-five reviews and every last one of them is a five, I run. And because of that, I very rarely give out five stars of my own. In fact, I think I’ve reserved that honor for a mere (and literal) handful of books.

I’m wary of the reviews that gush, yet have no substance. “It was amazing.” “Best book I ever read.” And…, why is that? If someone is either gushing or degrading, I want to know why. If they can’t tell me, I avoid the novel like I’d avoid the stink sac on a skunk.

If the review appears cautiously kind, I usually don’t read any further. This is a reviewer trying really hard not to hurt the author’s feelings. It means the book was not good. It didn’t live up to the reader’s expectations, yet he is too nice to say anything hurtful.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “So who/what the heck do you trust in a review?”

Constructive honesty.

Circling back to my speech kids and the critiques I want them to get this week at camp: constructive honesty.

I like hearing what works and what doesn’t. I like kindness with a purpose. I like substance–not a blow-by-blow of the novel (or speech)–but rather a gut reaction on how those words made the reviewer feel. And I like to know what needs improvement if it’s a real issue: grammar, spelling, characterization, etc…

What types of book reviews do you trust? Which ones make you cautious? Do you purchase books based on reviews and/or the star rating? Share your experiences about that great book with bad reviews or the five-star flop you got schnookered into purchasing. What made you choose to go against the ratings?

Curious minds want to know.

Newbies Matter

Yesterday, Dear Hubby took our middle son with him to a golf tournament. Eldest couldn’t make it due to another committment and one other player backed out of the foursome. Enter Middle as a back-up player.

He just turned eleven and until about six weeks ago, he hated golf. Yet for some reason this spring, he started saying yes to his father’s invitation to play. According to DH, Middle has a natural swing. But he’s young. And unpracticed for the most part. Still, they were short a guy and the tourney was a fundraiser for cystic fibrosis–a cause near and dear to our hearts.

During the game, they used two of Middle’s shots. Not because they had to, but because they HAD to. His two drives had the best lie. Nobody really expected this ungolfed youth to add value, so they were thrilled when he pulled through.

Over on AgentQuery Connect and other writing sites, it’s not uncommon to hear new writers claim they have nothing to offer in regards to critiques. While it’s true that more experienced writers have more experience to pull from, this doesn’t negate the fact that newbies still have something to offer.

As readers, they have an opinion. They know if they like a book, a character or a plot line and why. They know if something doesn’t ring true or if something feels forced. They either connect to a piece or they don’t. This is valuable for writers to hear, because the general population of readers don’t have writing experience. But they do know if a piece resonates with them or if something rings false. They, too, have opinions that can drastically impact the financial success of a book.

Newbies might not always know how to fix the things they feel or see wrong with a piece, but they can point them out. They can take a shot at giving the writer commentary that will ultimately lead to a better lie–and maybe a better reception with potential audiences.

Yesterday was a great experience for Middle. He got to practice his golf game, experience tournament etiquette and hopefully pick up on some of the nuances of golf by watching his teammates.  He also legitimately helped out his team. Not bad for a day’s work in the life of a newbie golfer.

Critiquers and writers speak up. What are your experiences with critiquing? Please share your memories and feelings as a newbie. Let us know how your critique style has changed over the weeks/months or years. What is your biggest strength in terms of critiquing, the one thing that comes natural to you as a reader?

Curious minds want to know.

Context Means Everything: Weighing Feedback

The other morning my Dear Daughter was in desperate need of an outfit.  She’s tired of wearing the same old-same old for speech and wanted a pair of slacks instead of a skirt.  I dug through my closet and found a pair of (shrunken) dress pants.  She slid them on.

“Mom!” said she as she held the waistband out inches on each side.  “I can’t believe your hips are this big.”

Now, I could have been insulted–especially since I knew those pants fit a little more snugly after their heated run-in with the dryer and my hips’ happy reunion with the salsa jar.  I could have taken personal affront at her comment and chastised her for speaking rudely.

However, she wasn’t trying to be rude.  She was actually giving me a compliment.  Regardless, her cheeks flushed and she continued, “It’s just that they don’t look that big.”

In defense of her, they don’t–generally.  Because I also have broad shoulders.  So, when taken in as part of the “big picture”, my hips are proportionate to the rest of me.  It’s only when studied alone, via a tape measure or a skinny girl in too-big-of-pants, that my hips can be classified as…uhm, wide.  Solid child-bearing hips, they be.

FAST FACT: Anything can hurt when taken out of context.  Over-sensitive types can blow things out of proportion, while narrowly focused folks tend to hone in on one aspect of the big picture.  Both of these traits can make us fail to see the positive side of something that otherwise feels negative.

Seriously, if we really wanted to, we could turn even the most caring and helpful statement into a tragedy.

What am I talking about?

Critiques, feedback from professionals and rejection letters.

Over the years, I’ve watched a fair number of writers (myself included) react to critiques from writing groups, partners, betas or rejection letters.  More recently, I see the same thing in the speech kids I coach when they get their critiques back from judges after a round.

FAST FACT: People have a tendency to focus on the perceived negative.  The one point that makes them really consider themselves, their writing or their performance in a way they absolutely do not want to.

Then, they twist this feedback into something ugly and hurtful and demeaning.  They toss it out as worthless and hateful.  They stick it in the shredder and refuse to acknowledge its existence.  In essence, they let their emotions get the best of them and they lose the opportunity to really consider the merit behind the words.

FAST FACT: If we would calm down and let our initial reactions take a walk around the block, we would see the big picture instead of an isolated statement or two.  We would put comments into context, giving us a better understanding of what the beta reader, judge, agent, editor, parent, speech coach or Dear Daughter really meant.

We would pause for a moment when confronted with loose waistbands and realize that wide might not be a synonym for fat like we first thought.  And while I get that we don’t always have the benefit of flushed cheeks and further commentary to clarify a critiquer’s meaning, we still need to consider each individual statement within the context of our work, the rest of the critique and the critiquers themselves.

Are you like me, occasionally guilty of taking feedback out of context?  Of totally dismissing an idea out of hand because the critiquer just didn’t get it?  How does this affect your writing and editing?  How do you give space to critique-induced emotions, and how do you know when you’re ready to evaluate the big picture of a critique rather one or two seemingly negative comments?  Have you ever come back to a critique or feedback of any kind and realized–despite your initial reaction–the judgment was correct? 

Curious minds want to know.

PS. Is “critiquer” really not a word?  WordPress Spell Check doesn’t think so.

Writing U-Turn

Yesterday I read a critique by a critter of another writer’s story.  That’s the beauty of critique groups, you not only get to hear what you’re doing wrong/right, you also get to hear what others do wrong/right.

The comment, in a paraphrased nutshell: I like that your MC is doing something instead of running.  Seems like every YA out there now has the Female MC running from the Big Bad.

This comment was a stab to my heart.  I’m currently pumping out words to fill in my NaNovel.  My MC had just exited a corn field and started heading west away from the Big Bad and toward her mother.  Now, in my MC’s defense (the worst word we can use when talking about our writing, btw), she planned to rescue her mother.

It was a plan discussed between her father, herself and her brother.  But then the BIG BAD got really ugly and she took off, leaving behind Brother and Dad.

I read that comment and my MC screeched to a halt.  She turned back around and entered the corn field to retrace her steps and DO something.

What?  I have no feckin’ clue.

Has your writing ever taken an unexpected U-Turn?  If so, how did that work out for you?  What prompted you to change directions?  Were you ultimately happy that you did?

Curious minds want to know.

Tell Me How You Really Feel: Spam Critiques!

I just checked my spam filter and found the most hilarious comment of all times.

Several of these replies on this post are garbage, You should delete them.

Now if I were a sensitive soul, I could take great offense to this.  I would feel hurt for my supportive bloggers and potentially swear off writing altogether because somebody didn’t like the vein of the post or my dear fellow scribes’ perspectives initiated by my post.

But I kept my cool and weighed the value of this feedback.

Yep, you guessed it.  Writers, weigh the words of your critters against logic, your vision of your work and what you know of the business.  Don’t let one critter get you down and destroy your passion.  Worse yet, don’t let them sway you into deleting the garbage if there is no garbage to delete.

I’ve been around the beta block a time or two and am in several crit groups.  I love the feedback I get.  Sometimes I confuse my readers.  Sometimes I shock them.  Sometimes I bore them or make them roll on the floor from laughing so hard. 

Always I assess their comments and determine which of these things rings true for my manuscript.  I love honest criticism.  I love the part in the process where critters challenge my skills as a writer.  I don’t love destructive criticism that dictates changes based on another’s personal agenda.

Find my flaws, but don’t change my vision.  Strengthen my skills, but don’t change my style.  Fix my plot holes or weak characterization, but don’t force your ideals onto my work.

This is my novel.  This is my style, my voice and my vision.  If you don’t like it, say so and tell me why.  I won’t be offended, as I know full well, I can’t please everyone.  If you love it, let me know why so I can get a read on what works.

If it truly is garbage, let me know.  But by Jolly Green Giant, make sure we’re talking the same language.

Don’t crit me out of bitterness for you own shortcomings.  Don’t tell me my writing is unpublishable unless you are every agent and every editor at every company across the globe.  Your opinion is one in the midst of many. 

Tell me how you really feel and I’ll accept or reject your commentary based on how it applies to my writing.

But whatever you do, don’t spam me. 

Several of these replies on this post are garbage, You should delete them.

What amuses me most about this comment is that there are NO replies on said spammed post.  None.

What do you do with critiques that represent spam more than thoughtful commentary?