Do some readers hate your book? Good! You’re doing something right!

There’s been a big, uh.. kerfuffle… in the reader community recently that has had me cringing, stupefied and scared at turns. As an unpublished writer I have yet to experience first-hand what it’s like to get a negative review, so my post today is partly a way to mark down my thoughts on this so that when that does happen, I can read this post as a reminder.

For those unaware, the flare up happened when some authors ill-advisedly called out some online reviewers for harsh or negative reviews. And it got fugly. Fast. The gist of the complaint seems to be that reviewers should keep the author’s feelings and hard work in mind when writing their review.

Uh, no.

Reviews are for readers. Period.

Thinking about this has reminded me of my uncle’s 30-40-30 rule I posted about in the early fall, and so I thought I’d revisit this rule and put it in the context of the current hubbub. The rule is:

30% of the people are going to like you no matter what, 30% will not like you no matter what, it’s the 40% in the middle you need to worry about.

I think this rule helps put many things in life in perspective. In my post in the fall, I applied it to receiving critiques on our WIPs. It also applies to reader reviews. And this brings us to my blog title: if you’re getting negative reviews, you’re doing something right. Huh? Here’s the way I see it:

  1. It’s a measure of success. You’ve gotten your book out there and it’s getting noticed beyond your 30% circle of love. This is good! You don’t want it to wallow in obscurity do you?
  2. It means you haven’t written something so bland, so careful, that the collective response outside of your 30% love circle is “meh.”

If you write with passion and honesty, I guarantee you there will be people just as passionately opposed to it.

It’s what makes humans so dang interesting. I know I whinged last week in my post “Is my zipper down or do you just not like my pants?” about a critique that had me doubting myself and doubting the positive critiques I’d received, but I’m in the stage of trying to better my WIP and I really wondered if this negative critique might actually have merit. But I think this is a different stage than one where a book has already been vetted and put out as a final product. It’s now passed from the stage of feedback for improvement, to others voicing their opinion on whether they liked it for others who are looking to buy it. It’s no longer feedback for the writer to improve it.

My mom is a professional artist. (No, I’m not digressing!) I remember many a show as a child where I would sit reading behind her display or playing a quiet game (I hope!) with my brother and I would hear all manner of comments on her work. I remember the first time I heard someone walk by and say that one of her paintings was total crap (or something along those lines) and went on about why they didn’t like it. Naturally I was horrified and told my mom. You know what she told me? “Good! That means they felt some kind of emotion!” This lesson stuck with me and is why I was happy my mom hated my ending when she read my third draft.

Anyway, my mom pours her soul into her paintings and the worst thing that could happen for her when someone sees her work is to feel no emotion whatsoever and just walk on by. She is also a subscriber to the bad publicity is good publicity mantra. She also loves competition and encourages artist friends to enter shows she’s also competing for — she’s even picked up their paintings to enter! The way she sees it, is that her getting in a show (or winning Best of Show) means absolutely nothing if quality artists were not part of it. (Okay, I think I’m digressing now… Onward!)

So anywho, (okay, 30% of the readers of this post will HATE that I used that colloquialism!) my uncle’s and mom’s lessons have resurfaced in my mind this week as I read about what’s going on right now in the reader community. Others have posted their voice of reason in the midst of this much more eloquently and passionately than me, so I’ll just share a few more thoughts I have on this.

If you have a solid product, the 30% haters usually hate it because some hot button was pushed for them and the review is to alert the others who share that same hot button, that they probably won’t like it either.

That’s all. They can’t stand HEAs. Or sparkly vampires. Or adjectives. Or characters who smoke. Or characters that say “dang it”. You name something distinctive about your story or character, 30% will hate it. The 40% in the middle will be able to tell from the review that this is the case and would weigh it against reviews of others who seem to have their own likes and dislikes. We will drive ourselves nuts trying to please everyone. We just can’t. Unless we are willing to write something very bland and safe.

I caught myself at one point looking at a group thread on Goodreads about what words romance readers can’t stand to see used for sexy bits. Cuz, you know, I’d hate to turn people off when I want them turned on… And you know what? Some readers would say they didn’t like it when an author used “x” and preferred “y”. And I’m making notes thinking this is all good stuff to know. And then I’d see comments where others would say that actually they hated the “y” word and preferred the “x” word. Argh! Sigh. And then I gave up and reminded myself that I can’t please everyone. I need to stay focused on what seems natural for my story. And that’s it.

In reading other takes on the hullabaloo, it’s been said that many readers are suspicious of overly positive ratings.

There’s a reason for this. They instinctively know it hasn’t gone outside of the 30% love circle or that it’s rigged. It’s also why people who mediate elections in other countries to ensure fair elections know that the system is rigged if the candidate gets way over 70% of the popular vote. There’s just no way the guy is that popular with everyone. Or why a politician is in deep doo-doo if their approval rating drops below 30% (they are losing the confidence of people who normally would like them no matter what).

Anyway, this is all easy for me to say as I’ve only been dealing with critiques, not reader reviews. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to see my baby ripped to shreds by someone who didn’t finish reading it and/or obviously missed some major points, or claimed something was historically inaccurate when it is accurate, or just simply can’t stand dorky heroines. When (and I’m saying ‘when’ not ‘if’ as part of my positive envisioning of my future) I get my first book published I’m going to be scared shitless. Seeing the harsh reviews out there honestly made me wonder if I really wanted to do this writer thing. It’s scary! As epbeaumont commented on the 30-40-30 post recently:

The rule’s useful to bear in mind, because when that 30% who hate it get their buttons pushed, they don’t always play nice.

So I need to be resolved to the fact that it’s all part of the business. And hopefully I’ll remember this post and come back and read it.

Future self? You got some nasty reviews? Good for you! Pull up your big girl panties and deal! You dared to write something that wasn’t bland. You bravely risked that 30% will not like your character and/or story. Here’s hoping the majority of the 40% in the middle do.

Because all this is so damn easy for me to say, I’d love to hear from authors who’ve actually experienced this. How do you handle it? Does this advice make sense? Readers, what do you think of the recent scandal?

Smash That Mirror! Why Self-Referencing Critiquers Could Be Dangerous

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I’ve had a blog post in mind for a while on the dangers of critiquers that self-reference motivations for your characters and a post I saw yesterday helped sharpen my thoughts. So, today I want to explore why some critiques we receive might not be the best advice and could actually turn your unique voice into a pile of pablum. Yum. Yeah, not so much.

The kernel of my epiphany started when I read Amanda Quick’s Scandal a month or so ago and I had a reaction to the heroine along the lines of “Man, I would NEVER do that…” and at first thought her actions weren’t realistic because it was so different from what I would do. Then I stopped myself and realized that it was TOTALLY what the heroine would do and it made it more interesting to see how her decisions and outlook would work for her.

It got me thinking, since I was also receiving inline critiques at the time, about some of the feedback we receive when we submit our work. It also made me better understand articles I’ve read that said that readers are harder on heroines in Romances than on the hero, precisely because they insert themselves into the heroine’s shoes and so resent it when she behaves in a way they don’t like.

I feel like I’m rambling, so here’s my point: when we receive critiques, are we sure the critiquer has the character and story arc in mind, or are they basing the character on themselves?

I’ve received critiques myself that have made me wonder. They usually are along these lines: “If this were me, I’d tell that guy…” or “I would never react that way, this doesn’t sound believable.” These I used to heed blindly and is one reason I worry that my first chapter has been over-critiqued and become a Frankenstein mash-up of every critiquers’ POV. Earlier this past summer when I started getting inline critiques on critiquecircle.com, I was so new at this, I didn’t know how to evaluate comments. I hadn’t learned to match it against what I knew about the character. I remember one critiquer rewrote almost every sentence in my first chapter, stripping it of its rhythm and of the POV characters’ voice. One particular line I remember her saying, “get rid of this,” and yet it was something that was so how Isabelle thinks. All the other critiquers commented on that very line about how they loved it. Luckily, I did pay attention to my gut and the majority on that one, but I did rewrite a lot of sentences per that critiquer’s feedback. Sigh.

Sometimes, the feedback we receive from these types of critiquers might still be important, but am wondering if comments starting with “I would/would not” could be a useful indicator to take the comment with a spoonful of salt and really be extra vigilant about comparing it to the character’s motivations and outlook. I fear I also might have been one of these types of critiquers when I first started, yikes!

Why might heeding these types of critiques be dangerous? Everyone’s different (thank God!) and so if we end up conforming our character to each critiquer, we’ll end up with a non-character – all the things that made that character unique are gone. I touched a bit on this last month in a blog post on daring to defy 30% of the population.

But, if the critiquer writes, “This doesn’t sound like her. Up until now, she’s been feisty…” or some variation that shows that the critiquer is basing it on the past actions of the character and not on how they themselves would react, it’s more like gold. Especially if they have thought of the character in a nuanced way that you didn’t want. Their feedback might not be right for your character, but at least you know the critiquer is referencing it against the character and not self-referencing.

Yesterday’s post that shed an extra dimension to this realization was Lauren Harris’ The Four Temperaments (for You and Your Characters) – Part I. I almost skipped it because I’ve seen and read before about using the Myers-Briggs types to help with character development. But she did more of a big picture take on it (Sensing types vs. Intuitives) and with examples (love examples as they help my poor brain get it better) that showed how these two types would convey description and exposition.

Well, it made me wonder if this could be a way to look at critiquers as well. Wouldn’t one type be more apt to find the actions of the other type less believable? A sensing critiquer would be frustrated at the intuitive character for not taking note of certain things right off the bat, for instance. My heroine, Isabelle, is definitely an intuitive, and now I remember that I got some critiques where the critiquer said something along the lines of, “How could she make that hunch? Have her make note of certain things in the environment to justify this conclusion.” My thought when I read it, was, well, because she can. Doesn’t everybody? (Obviously, I’m an intuitive). Does this mean the critiquer was a sensing type and had a hard time getting that intuitives can come to conclusions in a different way than them?

Which brings up an interesting question. When I posted my comment on Harris’ blog, she said:

I hadn’t thought of turning the idea around and applying it to readers and critiquers, but that’s a very interesting point! I suppose it works if you know your critique partner quite well, or well enough to know their personality type. ;) It could also help in figuring out how NOT to alienate readers who are a different temperament from the character (or you), in figuring out what kinds of details matter to a wider scope. (bolded by me)

How far should one go in calming the anxieties of the readers’ of the other type?

Anyway, this all goes back to the caution you hear in many places about critiques: know your story and your characters WELL before you start this stage in your novel process.

I know for veteran writers, this is no new revelation, and you’ve probably already stopped reading this post. But for a new writer, this is a huge realization to come to, and I know there are other writers at the same stage as myself, so I thought I’d share. If any veterans have stuck it out with me (bless you!), I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.

New writers, have you received critiques that were waaay off base for your character? Were you able to recognize it as such? Veterans, do you have any other advice for us new novelists on receiving critiques?

Do you know if your heroine is sensing or intuitive? What are you?