You’ve poured your heart and soul into a book or a story. You’ve edited and polished. Now, you’re ready to share it with your critique partners. If you have a good relationship with your critique partners, they will tell you what didn’t work for them and what did. They’ll tell you your characters leapt off the page and into their hearts, or maybe they felt the heroine was too wishy-washy and the hero too arrogant. They liked your story and can’t wait to find out what happens next. Or maybe they didn’t get the point. What do you do when their comments don’t echo the love you felt when you sent them your pages?
If you want to be a good writer, a better writer, or an excellent writer, you listen to their comments with an open mind.
After careful review, you might decide that you know your heroine better than they do and she has to come across like this for now, or your hero is heading for a fall and his arrogance is going to drive the conflict. But is it possibly you left out something important from their backstory? Something you know inside and out, but your reader hasn’t got a clue to? Not that I’m advocating an information dump, but perhaps you need to revisit your pages and see where hints of their pasts could be inserted to give the reader a reason to love them in spite of their tentativeness or arrogance. Just maybe the reason your critiquers didn’t get the point was because you thought withholding some critical piece of information would make for a nice surprise later on in the book, but on careful reflection they had a point. They needed to know that bit in order to get why the hero or heroine was even doing this or that now. And trust me, your critique partners are only the first people who are reading your work. Next comes your editor who’s likely to be just as discerning and then your readers who won’t hesitate to shoot you down if you leave them hanging when they expected better of you.
If your crit partner or reader suggests that you should have started somewhere else, listen to them. Maybe you should have. We’ve all heard the lessons on the “HOOK.” The hook in the back cover blurb, the hook in the tag line, the hook at the end of the first page and again at the end of the first chapter. Once you’ve convinced a reader to pick up your book, you don’t want to give them any reason to put it down again until they’ve turned the last page and sighed with pleasure because the story was so awesome or groaned in anguish because there is no more. Some of my favorite books and I’m sure yours as well, were written some time ago, before this world of instant everything from coffee to news cycles to Skype and text messaging. If you revisit those books, how many of them take entire chapters or narrative and description before the action begins. If they were being written today they’d never make it into print because the reader would give up long before they got to the action. We read them over again because we already know we love the characters and the story, but we might be skimming over that boring beginning. So if someone tells you that you began your story in the wrong place, it’s worth taking seriously.
In the end, the story is yours. The voice is yours and the characters came to be in your imagination. You need to be true to all three, but the importance of keeping an open mind about negative critique can’t be overstated. Consider the comments objectively and then revisit your pages. Sometimes I’ve changed something I thought was great just the way I’d written it, but because my critiquers had brought it up, I tried rewriting it with the change they suggested and discovered that my story was stronger and better than before. Sometimes it’s a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. We are so close to our characters and their struggles, we fail to see what is obvious to anyone looking in from the outside. Other times you will decide it really is just fine and better the way it is, and you won’t change it. But being open to critique will always make you a better writer.
And what about those negative reviews? Sometimes they are frivolous, sometimes totally off the wall. A reader loves sweet romance and they pick up erotica because they liked the cover maybe. It’s not the author’s fault they didn’t like the sex. In another book a reader felt the language was coarse and the carnage too graphic, so why did they choose to buy a book written by a soldier about the war that gives him nightmares? Those reviews can be dismissed. Yeah, they hurt, but they don’t count. But if several reviewers all found the same problem, maybe it is worth considering. Unless you are self-published and can fix and repost the book, it’s too late to change this book, but the critique can be considered for all future books.
Not everyone is going to love your work, just as you aren’t going to like everything else that’s out there to read, but any critique or review might contain a nugget of wisdom that will help you grow as a writer. Instead of letting a bad review ruin your whole day or your whole week, consider it an opportunity to be better than you already are.