Reviews are starting to roll in for my newest book, Unending Devotion, which officially released on Saturday, September 1.
I always hold my breath when I click on a blog review or other reader review sites. Because I never know what to expect. The book may resonate with some readers. But then others . . . well, not so much. In fact, sometimes the reviews are outright contradictory.
For example, one reader said this about Unending Devotion, "This was Hedlund's best book so far." Another said, "Good but not Hedlund's best."
Over the past few years, I've come to accept the contradictions and even the fact that some readers won't like my books at all. Every author gets mixed reviews. Even the very best authors of the very best books have readers who really love the book and readers who couldn't stand it.
If you've ever been involved in a critique partnership, entered a contest, or asked beta readers for input, you may have experienced the same kind of dichotomy—having some who adored your story and others who couldn't seem to find anything nice to say about it.
And your gut reaction might be a big, resounding, "HUH?!?" It's always hard to make sense of how people can view the same story with such varying opinions.
On the one hand, it's incredibly rewarding when someone really "gets" your story, when they understand the theme or the characters or the symbolism. When someone else connects to your story, you're filled with a "this is why I write" joy.
But when someone doesn't "get" our story, we can't help but wonder why? What happened? Did we really do something wrong? Or is the negative opinion just that—an opinion.
So what do we do when a critique partner, friend, or book reviewer doesn't like what we've written?
Recently a friend emailed me with that very problem. She said her critique partner (of two years) had read through her latest manuscript, and when she got the document back it was peppered with cynical, snarky comments that hurt her feelings (which is the makings of another post entirely—because anytime we critique for someone else, we need to stay as kind AND professional as possible while maintaining honesty.)
The bottom line is that my friend didn't feel like her CP "got" her story.
So who's at fault? Did the manuscript have legitimate problems? Or was the CP being too subjective and interjecting too much of herself into the reading?
I believe the answer is "a little bit of both."
1. Many times our readers DO have legitimate concerns. If something doesn't resonate with a reader or especially multiple readers, we need to ask ourselves why. If we're writing stories we hope others will enjoy (versus simply writing for our own pleasure), then we'll need to continually try to understand what our target readers like the most.
I'm still learning how to please my genre readers. I look at what seems to work for other popular authors within my genre, asking myself what they did that resonated with their readers and how I can apply that to my own unique style of writing. I'm not copying them, but I'm studying reader expectations for my genre and attempting to discover what kinds of techniques give readers the best reading experience.
2. But our readers are subjective too. We're all unique and thus have different reading tastes. Someone may like that my new book is centered around white slavery and others may be completely turned off by such a serious topic. Some readers may appreciate that my book is filled with page after page of drama, while others might want a slower pace. Some might like a feisty heroine, while some might not be able to relate to her.
One of the best ways to determine what's subjective is to have a really good grasp of our genres. We should read and study everything being published within our genres. Then we can become intimately familiar with the techniques that are essential and what things are more negotiable.
For example, romances are most satisfying when the relational tension is kept high throughout the book. Readers count on a happily-ever-after. They want to know the couple will eventually get together, but readers don't want the couple to get together too soon. They want to be kept guessing how the couple will overcome all the obstacles keeping them apart.
My Summary: We can't always please everyone with our stories. But our goal should be to reach a point where we're pleasing as many of our readers as possible.
How about you? Have you experienced contradictory feedback on your writing? How did you determine which feedback to follow?
to learn some of my deepest, darkest secrets? ;-) During the month of
September, I'll be sharing secrets about myself during my "Fun Secrets" Blog Tour. On each blog stop, I'll also be giving away a signed copy of my newest release, Unending Devotion:
Wednesday, Sept. 5: Secret #3: My participation in a history-making moment.Deanna Rupp’s blog
Friday, Sept. 7: Secret #4: My hardest life experience so far. Katie Ganshert’s blog
For a list of all my secrets, check out my Events Page!