Lately I've been hearing a lot about how writers aren't supposed to ever, ever respond to reviews from readers -- in fact, that it's better not to read any of those reviews in the first place.

I understand why reading harsh critical reviews of a book you've already written and can't do anything about is a bad idea -- why crush your soul and wreck your confidence over something you can't fix? Especially with a debut novel, where the problems critical readers point out may well be unique to that particular story and won't ever happen again. (I do see the merit of paying attention to criticisms that surface again and again over subsequent novels, though.)

I also understand why arguing with critical reviews is unprofessional, pointless, and makes you look like a thin-skinned prima donna, so I'm in favor of staying away from that end of things as well.

What I don't understand is why some people say that you shouldn't respond to any reviews whatsoever, even the glowingly positive ones. [livejournal.com profile] faerie_writer has just had a great experience as the result of breaking this rule, and I've always been thrilled when I've made positive comments about another author's work on LJ or forums only to have that author comment back to thank me. It makes me feel, as a reader, that this person is not only a talented writer but a nice human being as well -- and that just makes me want to support them all the more.

So my question is, why shouldn't an author respond to positive reviews? I mean in moderation and using good judgment, of course -- I'm not talking about responding to every single one or even most of them, much less encouraging people whose enthusiasm borders on the stalkerish. Is there a downside to interacting with fans in this way that I'm not seeing?

X-posted to [livejournal.com profile] fangs_fur_fey.
You know what's really, really nice? Thinking to yourself that this week your goal will be to finish Chapter Four of your WiP, and then when you open up your working document and write the last couple of lines of the scene you'd left unfinished the previous week, you look at your page count and realize that... hey, I just finished Chapter Four!

So this week my goal is to make good progress into Chapter Five, instead.

Anyway, I said yesterday that I was going to talk about my attitude to writing, which I described as "literary busker". As you'll know if you followed the link from last night's post, I see myself as standing on an imaginary street corner, strumming (or in this case, typing) away in the hope that somebody, somewhere, will like what I'm doing and toss me a few coins of feedback.

Of course, now that I'm working on original fiction, I naturally look forward to receiving a few coins of the literal sort as well. But I didn't get into writing for the money (nobody in their right mind does), and dreaming about advances and royalties isn't what motivates me to keep writing, either.

No, it's all about the readership -- which is what has led me to the realization of what I'm finding most difficult about profic after several years of fandom. It's not the challenge of creating my own worlds and characters, because I'd already written two original novels before I got seriously involved with fanfic.

It's the lack of an immediate audience.

Let me explain... )

My experience in fandom -- where I went through a similar process of writing a chapter every week or so, sending it to my beta-readers for comment, and making revisions accordingly before starting on the next chapter -- served to cement my feelings about the value of feedback to my personal creative process. I am a storyteller, and a storyteller needs an audience. I want to know that someone is listening to the tale I want to tell, and that they're interested in hearing more about that world and those characters even if the story isn't perfect. I want to see their reactions, good and bad and indifferent, so I have an idea whether the direction I'm going is a good one or whether I should stop and retrace my steps. Of course, I know that the story is ultimately mine and not theirs, and that not all of my readers are going to like everything I write. But if there seems to be widespread agreement that a certain element or character either works or doesn't -- yes, that is going to affect me, and it should.

I am not recommending this approach generally, mind, and here's why... )

In my case, however, I write coherent first drafts, and I also know a fair number of insightful folk whom I can trust to tell me if a story is really working, or not working, or just Not Their Kind of Thing. So I'm thinking that perhaps I should put out an APB and see if I can enlist a small but dedicated audience (say, three to five people) who would be interested in reading Touching Indigo chapter by chapter as it's written, and letting me know what they think.

This wouldn't have to be a major commitment, either. All it would take is being willing to read the chapter more or less promptly when it arrives, and say something about it afterward. The response could be anything from an in-depth critique with suggestions for improvement to a simple "I'm hooked! Write more!", depending on the reader's inclinations and ability, but I would like to know that when I send out a chapter I can count on some kind of answer within the next few days, and that the people reading it are genuinely interested in the story and not disappointed that I'm not writing something completely different.

Any takers? ETA: I has peeps! Thanks to my new band of brave and possibly foolhardy volunteers.
Well, I have the first three chapters of Touching Indigo written -- finally, a proper partial to go with my synopsis. These chapters have already benefited from the critical eyes of [livejournal.com profile] lizbee and [livejournal.com profile] cesario, but I could use some more input, particularly from readers who have some experience or knowledge of:

a) criminal law, particularly in regard to psychiatric patients;
b) psychiatric counselling and therapy, particularly in the context of a hospital;
c) the effects of anti-psychotics and anti-depressants;
d) mental illnesses in general;
e) synaesthesia.

I've done a fair bit of research into all of the above, but I know without a doubt there will be things I've overlooked or simply didn't know enough to look up.

Anyway, if you don't mind reading three chapters of my original paranormal YA and giving me whatever thoughts, questions and criticisms that occur to you, I would be grateful. Though the down side to all this, aside from the work involved, is that you only get three chapters and then you will be stuck waiting for an indefinite period of time until I've written the rest! But if you like the book enough to want to continue, let me know and I will keep you in mind for future reference.

If you're interested, please comment on this post and let me know -- especially if you're an expert in one of the areas noted above. Comments will be screened for your privacy. Thanks!
[livejournal.com profile] raleva31, otherwise known as Uber-Agent Rachel Vater, is looking at a bunch of query letters right now and saying what does and doesn't work for her. As some of you will recall, I tried this a few months ago with Miss Snark and didn't pass muster, so I worked hard on revising my hook before sending it in this time. Here's the result:

Knife - The New Hook )

Ms. Vater's Comments )

So it seems I'm finally doing something right, hook-wise. Yay!

*phew*

Dec. 22nd, 2006 03:42 pm
rj_anderson: (Knife)
I made it!

KNIFE - The Hook

She didn't ask for pages, but she didn't stomp all over me with hobnailed boots, either. Now I just have to try and figure out how to incorporate a few more plot details into the hook so that the story's internal logic comes through. So... useful, yes.
Now this is the kind of thing that just makes a writer's day, especially at a time when one is at a low creative ebb and feeling rather gloomy about it. Thanks, [livejournal.com profile] stmarysalice.

And thanks to all of you who have taken the time, recently or not so recently, to encourage me and give me helpful feedback. [livejournal.com profile] yahtzee63 and [livejournal.com profile] shoebox2, I swear I have not forgotten I left you hanging, and hope to be able to get something new to you within the next few weeks, if you're still on board. Likewise all the kind folks who signed up for Round 2 of the Great Revision Project and are still waiting patiently to have something to comment on. Smooches to you all.
And O, this essay by Tara LJC O'Shea on receiving and giving criticism is a fine, fine thing that ought to be read and cuddled and taken to heart by every writer and reader I know. Not that I have an opinion about this, or anything.

This is not to say I have always been the best at receiving criticism graciously, especially right off the bat. Criticism stings, especially when it comes from an angle you weren't expecting (or worse, were secretly dreading but hoping nobody would notice). It's hard not to bristle and be defensive when someone points out, however gently, that you've messed up somewhere. And I have sometimes been guilty of arguing with my critics, when I should have just said "Thanks for your comments," and moved on.

Of course, even criticism which is intelligently voiced and meant to be helpful isn't necessarily valid. Sometimes the critic has read carelessly and missed the point; sometimes the critic simply dislikes or is ignorant of the genre in which the story is written. Every criticism has to be weighed by the author in his or her own mind, and either used or discarded according to its perceived worth. But the point I think O'Shea makes most cogently is that criticism is necessary and important to every author's development, and that if we are unwilling to hear anything but praise or the very gentlest suggestions for improvement, we are never going to be authors in any meaningful sense of the word at all.

My primary reason for not liking criticism -- I confess -- is that I am lazy. I don't like having to revise things that I've revised umpty times already. It's frustrating enough when I realize on my own that a chapter or a story I thought was finished still needs work; it's twice as frustrating when somebody else points out a flaw or inconsistency or weakness I hadn't noticed and I realize that it needs to be changed too. But laziness is my problem, not the critic's, and I haven't any right to take my frustration out on someone else who is simply pointing out the truth. Particularly if I asked for their honest opinion, and they did me the courtesy of taking me at my word.

And that's the last point I'd like to make. If you don't really want criticism, or if you only want a certain select kind of criticism, don't ask people to give you their honest opinion. If you don't really trust a particular person's judgment or think they have a bias that would make them unfit to judge a certain story, don't ask them to be your beta-reader on that story. But if you have asked for honest opinions and you have asked a certain person to tell you what they think, don't be surprised if some of the comments aren't phrased exactly the way you'd like or if they tell you things you're not particularly happy to hear.

If you privately decide that the critic is an idiot or a bigot and their criticism isn't worth squat, that's your business. But it's pretty unfair to tell them to their face that they're an idiot or a bigot and their criticism isn't worth squat after you asked for their opinion and they gave you what you asked for. As a beta-reader I've been stung by this kind of response a few times now, in spite of making every effort to be tactful in my criticism and to give the author a fair chance, and it really makes me not want to read or comment on other people's work at all.

Rant over.
I was busy packing up boxes, listening to the boy's new album, and steadfastly ignoring Chapter Sixteen of my novel, but [livejournal.com profile] lizbee and [livejournal.com profile] cesario nagged me into doing this. So...

Da Rulz )

So, that done, here we go:

Da List )
I received a piece of feedback this morning beginning with the words: I don't read [this particular subgenre] in fanfiction, I really don't, and then going on to repeat the same sentiment in a different way, before adding some words of slightly bemused, I-still-can't-believe-I-enjoyed-this praise.

Now, I know that some fanfic authors resent this type of approach. I've seen people become quite offended and indignant about feedback of this nature, because what they see in the feedback isn't so much your story is outstandingly good as your subgenre sucks. And if you're already feeling that your subgenre is maligned and misunderstood, you're not going to like the reminder that a lot of people who might otherwise have enjoyed your stories and given you great feedback will never even read them, because they are Of That Kind.

Well, I've written in a number of not-so-well-regarded subgenres. And yeah, it does get on my nerves at times that some people just dismiss my work out of prejudice, sight unseen, because of the ship or the presence of an OC or the fact that I'm archived on a site they hate or whatever. I also feel badly for other authors in the same subgenre whose work is superb, not at all cliched, and deserves wider attention.

Still, when I get a piece of feedback that says I don't usually like X at all, but..., I really can't take it as an insult. Quite the opposite, in fact -- I consider it a triumph.

Because if one person who doesn't normally read X got so far as to at least try my fic, and if they actually enjoyed it (however much that surprised them), then not only does that tell me my fic appeals to a wider and more critical audience than I'd feared, but there's always the chance that this person will be a little more open to giving other fics of the same kind a chance next time around, and perhaps even encourage their friends to do likewise.

In any case, I have to ask myself, what point is the feedbacker really trying to make? Do they mean their remarks to be in any way insulting or belittling of my tastes or my abilities as a writer? As far as I can see, that's not their intention at all -- in fact they're trying to offer what is, in their view, a particularly high compliment. I had some strong prejudices against this subgenre, but I enjoyed your writing so much that I forgot those prejudices. I wish I knew of more stories like yours. That sure doesn't sound like an insult to me.

Anyway, I don't know if the person who sent that particular bit of feedback is on my flist or not, but if you are, thank you again, very much indeed. As I said in e-mail, I'm touched and I'm honoured.
In case you missed it, Fit the First, which explains a lot of the background to this post, is here (though I've had to screen some of the comments because they were spoilery -- wonderful, but spoilery).

Anyway, just to confirm to the world my complete and utter stupidity, I'd like to announce that after ten years of living in denial for absolutely no good or sensible reason, I have finally broken down and admitted to myself that Knife is fundamentally a Young Adult novel. I didn't write it with that intention in mind, and for a very long time I resented and resisted all the suggestions made to me that it was or might be better marketed as a juvenile, but now I've been given a very good practical reason to reconsider that view, and once I stopped struggling the whole thing suddenly made a lot more sense.

The good practical reason? A couple of days ago, after I wrote the previous LJ post, I received an e-mail from a Real Live Editor at a major children's and YA publishing house, saying she was impressed by the first reader's report I quoted and liked what she'd seen of the sample chapters, and if I didn't mind the idea of having the book promoted as YA instead of adult fiction, would I like to send her the rest of the manuscript?

So after I finished running around the house pulling at my hair and squealing (hubby and the kids were pretty confused, I can tell you), I sat down and started thinking about what I would need to do to get the manuscript whipped into shape for the YA market. And what did I conclude?

Not a whole lot.

Ten years ago, when I first wrote the novel, things might have been different in the YA market -- or maybe they weren't really that different, I just imagined that they were. But it seemed to me then that the themes and concepts in the book were too adult for a younger readership. Now, however, I realize that it's really quite the opposite -- the book's central concerns and themes are in fact the typical preoccupations of adolescence. Feeling like an outsider, wondering who you are and what to make of yourself; sexual awakening, first love, questions of gender identity; questioning authority, choosing between tradition and conviction -- it's basically your classic coming of age novel.

Which is not to say that there aren't novels dealing with the above-mentioned themes which are decisively adult in nature, but when your book is about faeries and the approach is fairly straightforward, plus nearly everybody who's read the book has used the phrase "reads like YA fiction" at least once, it's kind of a no-brainer.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I am currently at work cleaning up messy bits of prose, over-wordiness and florid phrasing and such left over from ten years ago when I first wrote the book, and getting it ready to submit to the aforementioned major YA publisher. It's not a sure thing, of course -- nothing is -- but it's a fantastic opportunity, and at the very least, an encouragement.

I hope to have the book ready to mail out within the month. Here's hoping!

P.S. With her usual thoughtfulness and speed, [livejournal.com profile] friede has kindly created some fan art based on the chapters I posted in the previous message. Go look!
I was just going through my old writing files the other day, and paused to flip through the contents of my "Publishers" file. Like many other would-be pros, I have my share of "Dear Contributor ... we regret that this manuscript does not suit our present needs" letters. But I also have a rare gem -- a detailed report on my manuscript from a first reader at a major fantasy publisher.

A first reader, if I understand the concept correctly, is a junior editor or employee at a publishing house assigned to read through a manuscript and write up a summary and comments to help the senior editors make up their minds about whether to buy the book or not.

This is what the first reader's report for my original fantasy novel KNIFE looked like... )

As I was reading this over the other day, it struck me how stupid I was not to take this for what it really is -- an extremely positive sign that Knife is a saleable manuscript, including specific, helpful, constructive advice on how to make the novel even more effective. I did take the first reader's comments to heart so far as to try and revise the opening chapters, as well as explaining the motivation in the latter passage to which he'd objected. But since then I've really done very little to try and get the book published. I approached one agent with it (she said the mss. was intriguing but she was too busy to take on any new clients), and entered it in one competition, the Warner Aspect First Novel contest (Tim Powers turned it down). But even that was way back in 1998-99. Since then, though -- nothing.

Why is it so hard for me to work up the motivation to print the thing out, put it in a box, and mail it? Why, when I spent hour after hour writing the thing and dreaming about how wonderful it would be to see it published, do I find myself getting all parsimonious about how much toner it would take to print it and how much it would cost to make a photocopy and pay the requisite postage? Why, when I have let this thing gather dust on my hard drive for the past five years, is my mind still grumbling about how unfair it is that simultaneous submissions are discouraged when it takes anywhere from nine months to two years before a publisher returns an unwanted manuscript? Sheesh, if I'd just kept turning the book around and sending it out, I could have run it through seven or eight publishers by now, and one of them might even have bought it.

In life and creativity, I am an optimist. In marketing and self-promotion, I am a fatalist. "Why bother? Who's going to want an 85,000 word mystery / suspense / fantasy / romance novel with a cast that's 98% female anyway?"

Nevertheless, the book's been sidling closer and closer to the forefront of my mind lately. When I was mulling over what art project to tackle next, I decided what I most felt like doing was an illustration for Knife. And today I found myself writing a new scene for the Prologue: the very first scene in the novel, in fact. And although I ended up throwing out about half of what I'd written, I was pleased with the end result. It gives a much better idea of what the reader can expect from the rest of the book.

Here's a sample... )

The problem is, though, I ended up reading forward a few chapters and thinking, "You know, if I were writing this book today... a lot of things would be different." Since I first wrote the novel in 1993-94, my style's changed, my approach to character, my perspective on life, even. Part of me doesn't want to try selling the novel until I've rewritten it in my new, more mature style. And yet I know that's just my inner perfectionist/procrastinator speaking: it's a perfectly readable book as it is. Or at least, some people think it is. Whether a publisher will think so... that's another matter. But I won't know that until I give some more publishers, or agents, a chance.

Sigh. How can something so simple be so hard? I can't even blame it on fear of rejection. It's more like... inertia.

Anyway, if anybody wants to read the rest of that chapter, you can find it here. Oh, what the heck, have the first four chapters and tell me if you think they're still too juvenile-sounding or not interesting enough:

Knife:
Prologue -- Chapter One -- Chapter Two -- Chapter Three -- Chapter Four

Comments and criticisms gratefully received.

Hooray!

Oct. 21st, 2003 08:16 am
rj_anderson: (D&L Snape & Maud)
Finally, the D&L trilogy has been updated at all the major archives where it resides...

...except, unfortunately, Diagon Alley. Where, it turns out, somebody read it just last week and sent me e-mail, and they were very positive and all but I do wish they'd been able to read the revised version and not the old one.

Oh, well.
In other words, I haven't seen "Reunion" yet because I was so totally exhausted last night that I just fell into bed around 8 p.m., so would all the Alias fans on my Friends list please use cut tags when talking about it until this evening? Thank you.

In other news, gacked from [livejournal.com profile] naomichana:

Which Heroine of Victorian Fiction Are You? )

I may have to read these books now.

And finally, thanks to my all too brief participation in the Mod Squad chat last night (yes, I am a Zendom mod, albeit an embarrassingly useless one), I was able to witness the creation of a beautiful new thing: [livejournal.com profile] inflammable, where you can share the weird and wacky reviews your fics receive from readers who, for one reason or another, Just Don't Get It. Have fun!
...when you do a Search on a site you haven't looked at before, or at least not for a very long time, and find out that people are saying nice things about you behind your back.

Tonight I found lots of lovely unsolicited comments over at FAP about D&L in general and Maud in particular. And the closest thing to a negative remark was someone's opinion that it was a good fic but that I had "wimped out" in the interests of "simplicity and a happy ending". I can live with that.

*goes to bed happy*
Tags:

*is happy*

May. 17th, 2003 09:07 pm
rj_anderson: (Clay Weasleyesque)
I was having rather a dull day, and then all of a sudden I got two unexpected pieces of feedback for D&L, both of which were greatly appreciated and one of which nearly reduced me to tears, but I cannot write the person back to tell them what it meant to me because they did not put their e-mail address in their profile. Wah! But otherwise, yay! Because it really was amazing.

In other news, I have finally broken down and made a Clay Aiken icon. With an HP twist, because I blame [livejournal.com profile] firelocks for dragging me on board the Clay Train in the first place, and also because he really does look like a Weasley to me. Plus, well, it's a great picture. If you like skinny geek-boys, anyway.
Duck under the invisibility cloak... )

It'll be interesting to see what Seema does with this stuff. I'm intrigued.
The review of the The Potions Master's Apprentice is back up at [livejournal.com profile] lawful_fic. My comments on the revised version are here.
Further to my recent post on the subject, the original [livejournal.com profile] lawful_fic review of The Potions Master's Apprentice has been taken down. The author is reworking the review and plans to post a revised version on Wednesday.

I don't expect she will change her mind about disliking the fic, nor do I even think she should; but it looks as though she did think my complaint had some validity, and plans to make her criticisms more reasoned and careful on the second go-round. Which is good, and all I really ask for.

(Well, that and maybe one really witty piece of snark that I can giggle over, like the bit in the MarySues review about Maud's sense of self-righteousness having its own gravitational pull. That was funny.)

It is no doubt revelatory of my character, however, that when I found the author had taken down the review I felt obscurely guilty for complaining about it.
This is an interesting review of my HP fic(s). [livejournal.com profile] lizbee has already made a couple of comments on one remark she felt was misleading; but it was another part of the review that particularly baffled me.

MORE... )

I don't mind having my work reviewed critically. Some of my favorite reviewers have been quite direct in pointing out flaws, as well as being honest about things they personally don't like to see in stories (Oi! for instance, never gave a fig for Snape and didn't particularly warm to Maud either, and I still loved her reviews). I can even think of some pretty severe criticisms myself (for the record, those include wobbly characterization of Maud in the first story; a number of embarrassing continuity gaffes involving numbers, dates, and architectural layouts; a really cringe-worthy bit of dialogue in the first chapter of IWS; and too much schmoop in Snape's letters, among others).

But I do object to the reviewer misrepresenting the content of my fics and disparaging faults of which they are not in fact guilty. As [livejournal.com profile] lizbee pointed out, that's not a valid form of criticism.
...that I am on Fic Holiday until further notice. That doesn't mean, by the way, that I'm not going to write anything. It's just that I've decided to stop pressuring myself to produce a complete, finished work as soon as penguinly possible (sorry, I've sat through too many readings of Rumble Grumble Gurgle Roar in the last few days) and write solely for my own pleasure, and at my own pace, for a change.

More details... )

I'll let you know how it goes.

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