At some point every author will get contradictory feedback—from contest judges, critique partners, editors, readers, etc. It’s inevitable. Someone will say something completely opposite of someone else. And we can only scratch our heads and say, “Huh?”
I’m always fascinated to compare those contradictions. I browsed through the 90 Amazon reviews on The Doctor’s Lady (released Sept. 1) and picked out just a few of the more obvious contradictions: (emphasis is mine)
About the romance:
“The scenes where the husband and wife are falling in love with each other are a little intense. Nothing vulgar or across any lines, but enough to make me blush at times.”
“I soured on inspirational romance in part because I didn't feel it dealt realistically with the physical attraction between men and women. The tension and desire between Priscilla and Eli in The Doctor's Lady, however, is tangible. Jody handles it so tastefully that even people accustomed to the hand-holding-only atmosphere of other inspirational romances won't be offended by it.”
About the hero:
“At first, I didn't particularly care for Eli. I thought him crass and kind of a jerk.”
“It didn't take me longto fall in love with Eli's strong, but gentle ways. Wow, he sure sounded like a hunk.”
About the story development:
“I was bit disappointed. Not completely, because I was very impressed with Jody's writing, and I will definitely pick up more from her. The Doctor's Lady isn't about the Whitman's mission with the Nez Perce. It's completely about their journey to the Nez Perce . . . I was just hoping there was more of the plot actually involving Native Americans.”
“I love every part of this book: the adventurous journey, the interaction with the natives, the beautiful description of nature, the struggle and courage of the characters, everything!”
About the ending:
“Althoughthe end is predictable, the journey there is heart-wrenching and engaging - never flat.”
“By the end of this book you feel things coming together and I felt like I could just explode in emotions and tears of joy andI was sad that it had to come to an end. This is one of those books that although you are satisfied with the ending, you are disappointed that you are done reading about the characters that moved your life!”
Comparing my first two books:
“After disliking Jody's first book, The Preacher's Bride, I was pleasantly surprised by Jody's second book, The Doctor's Lady, and I enjoyed reading it very much.”
“This is a good traditional romance, and while it lacks the power of Hedlund's first novel The Preacher's Bride, it will keep readers hooked to finally see Eli and Priscilla admit their love for each other.”
So what do I take away from contradictions? (And there are plenty more in the Amazon reviews!) Here are several things I tell myself:
1. There will always be contradictory reviews. Always. Expect them. Accept them. And don’t worry about them.
2. Everyone will view a book through his or her own worldview glasses. Our religious beliefs, values, expectations, personalities, likes/dislikes—all of that will come into play for how we experience a story.
Thus what is acceptable and enjoyable for one person, may be completely opposite for another. That’s just the way it is. And there’s nothing we can do to change that. What that means is that as writers, we need to stay true to ourselves and know what’s important to us, even if that’s not going to please every single reader.
3. Give the most credence to industry experts when weighing contradictions. I look to my agent and my editors for advice. They have their fingers on the pulse of what my genre readers like through feedback and sales statistics. Over time, they’ve developed an expertise and an innate feel for what will resonate with readers and what won’t.
My point is that when we face contradictions, we may need to involve those more experienced than our readers to help give us the bigger picture of what works and what doesn’t.
4. Writers have to develop a thick skin. When I read reviews, I try to stay in the middle of the road. I don’t let the really high praise flatter me, and I don’t let two star reviews crush me. Because yes, the two stars DO eventually come.
One of my two star reviews on The Preacher’s Bride says “Not my cup of tea.” And I just had to laugh and realize the truth in the statement—my book just won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s okay.
In other words, let the negatives add new callouses, so that eventually we can take the pricks to our ego without letting them deflate us altogether.
How about you? Have you gotten contradictory feedback on your writing? How do you handle it?