It’s got to be thick. I’m thinking rhinoceros-like. Maybe even armor-plated. Constructive criticism can sting the ego, but it’s a gift. It gives you another perspective and forces you to make tough decisions that hopefully make your work better.
Unfortunately, some authors seem to be allergic to criticism of any kind. They go into literary anaphylactic shock at the first hint of it. I’ve got bad news, kids. If you think my feedback is rough, wait ’til you come up against agents and editors that won’t even read as much as I did.
Here are some of my ideas of appropriate and inappropriate responses. Take note – considering feedback does not necessarily mean making changes.
Feedback: “This part is confusing.”
Appropriate Reaction: Assuming this person is within my target audience and thus has the requisite background knowledge, I’d better check that part. Is something obvious to me because it’s in my head, but it’s not coming across clearly on the page?
Inappropriate Reaction: This person obviously has no idea what they’re talking about. It’s all there in black and white. How can they miss it?
Feedback: “This formatting choice is distracting.”
Appropriate Reaction: Uh-oh. Last thing I want is for my readers to be distracted by something like format. Why did I choose to use italics/bold/double-quotes/single-quotes here? Can my purpose be served by something less obtrusive? It’s only one person’s opinion, so I’ll keep this as a note to myself. If others comment on it, I might want to rethink it.
Inappropriate Reaction: This is what makes me distinctive. I don’t want to look like every other book. If they think my use of reverse-indentation is hard to read, then they’re just missing out on my genius.
Feedback: “I had a hard time getting into this.”
Appropriate Reaction: Yikes. Is this person part of my target audience? If so, I need to figure out why I’m not drawing them in. If not, I should still consider my hooks and pacing, because it’d be nice to have broader appeal.
Inappropriate Reaction: How dare they attack the product of my blood, sweat, and tears?! Everyone else who’s ever read this (i.e., all my friends and family) say it’s the greatest thing since [insert name of favorite author here]. This person is clearly just mean-spirited and jealous of my massive talent, because otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to drag themselves away from my pièce de résistance.
For the record, I’m only mildly exaggerating.
Good luck in the publishing industry, kids. See you around.
[ETA: Eight months after I posted this, Pete Morin blogged about rhinoceros hide. Check it out.]
Anyone who’s made an attempt to get published knows about the dreaded query letter. Your first thought is, “What goes into it? What are the rules?” The more you research, the more you find that every agent’s rules will contradict someone else’s.
Someone got clever with this for a song contest. Check out the post at Janet Reid’s blog.
I feel better knowing I’m not alone.
When it comes to visual arts, I’m not the talented one. My siblings are. My sister, in her brilliance, designed the cover image. The thumbprint is obviously connected to the title Fingerprints. (The story behind that is … another story.)
The rest of the design reflects the following excerpt from the book:
I had this thought ages ago. Might as well document it for posterity.
Every time I go to the grocery store and see tabloid headlines about so-and-so breaking up with what’s-his-name, I wonder why I’m supposed to care. Every time I see fans gushing and going into hysterics over the hottie-du-jour, I wonder if they think of him as a human being.
Celebrities are like the popular people in high school. I have the same “outsider” perspective on both, since I’m not famous, nor was I popular in high school.
(I’ll pause while you recover from the shock.)
While I wasn’t popular, I was friends with some people who were, and I observed the behavior of others. This was easy to do for a quiet, shy person such as myself.
(Okay, I’ll give you another minute. I know, these revelations are earth-shattering.)
Bottom line: Some of the kindest people I knew back then were some of the most popular. Some of the social high-rankers were jerks. Scum of the earth. I could only hope they’d either grow out of it, or crash and burn when reality hit.
Their popularity had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of their character. Their popularity told me nothing about whether they were worth knowing. It only gave them a wider audience.
Same goes for celebrities. I don’t care about Jennifer Aniston’s love life any more than I cared about the head cheerleader’s. And if I ever ran into the latest piece of guy-candy, I wouldn’t go to pieces any more than I did if some cute guy said two words to me in high school.
(Okay, when cute guys acknowledged my existence, I’m pretty sure my heart rate skyrocketed. The point is, I didn’t show it … I hope.)
So in my perfect world (which I’ll run someday), people will be treated as people, regardless of social status.
Now, off I go to the grocery store.
When I wrote Fingerprints, I had certain things in mind. Certain characters had vivid personalities from the beginning, and I knew the general story I wanted to tell. Some symbolism was consciously incorporated.
Then a colleague pointed out a a metaphor that I was not thinking about when I wrote it. Not consciously, anyway. Thinking about it, though, it had to be subconscious on some level, because it was so obvious.
Teks and Tuits. The hearing and the Deaf. Two worlds that some believe to be mutually exclusive.
It had to be subconscious, because I see the pull between those worlds every day. Hard-of-hearing kids, especially … so often stuck in a tug-of-war. Like listening to music and using spoken English? Too hearing. Can’t understand what people are saying at a noisy party? Too deaf.
Can’t they be both?
So maybe the story can be a metaphor for a lot of things, groups and labels that the all-knowing “THEY” decide can’t coincide.
And as I think Raina would say, “Screw that. Watch me blur the line.”
Not so long ago, I thought to myself, “You have a lot of opinions about books, especially in the Young Adult market. Think you can do it better?” So I started writing a story that I would eventually title Fingerprints.
I completed several chapters before telling anyone I was even making the attempt. After I sent the first eight or so chapters to a good friend, she got on my case to send her more. Nothing like an impatient fan to motivate the writing process.
That friend was the first to read the “completed” story as well. She immediately demanded I get going on the sequel. (I have, but it’s making much slower progress while I refine Fingerprints.) My sister and mother were the next to read. The opinions of family and friends must naturally be taken with a grain of salt, but their enthusiasm gave me the confidence to go further – to let strangers read it.
So I posted the novel on Authonomy. The proverbial genie was out of the bottle. There’s a healthy dose of “reality show gaming” going on, but I’ve also gotten valuable feedback and even more confidence.
Now, free time is a thing of the past. I’ve been through the manuscript countless times – tweaking, streamlining, expanding … and leaving some things just as they are. Spare moments are consumed by attempts to draft a query, wrangle a synopsis, and research agents.
No more free time.
And I love it.