Thoughts on Giving and Receiving Feedback

I have decided to make up a TBR list on here to get focused.  I want to read a lot of books (preferably self-published ones so I can support my fellow indie author).  I’m going to aim for one book a week on average.  I will only review books I actually like.  I went ahead and posted a couple of reviews for books I didn’t like but made sure they were traditionally published authors. However, I have decided I don’t like leaving reviews on books I didn’t like, even if I aimed to be fair and objective. 

Yeah, I know.  ‘But Ruth, how will you ever help the author improve if you don’t give them constructive feedback?’

Here’s my answer: I don’t aim to help an author I don’t know improve.  Not only that, but I don’t aim to help any author unless I already know the author really well and that author comes to me and asks for my input.  I’ll be honest and say what I think, but I only do this for authors I trust.  Trust isn’t a one-way street.  I have to know the author can take my feedback and not get all uptight about it.  Some authors ask for help but don’t really want it, and I trust my gut to lead the way on that one.  And for the record, I only ask authors I trust to be nice and honest for feedback. Most of the time, I ask a few trusted readers.  My list is very small. 

So these authors who jump on the bandwagon and want input from a whole lot of people (most they don’t even know) is ridiculous to me.  First of all, how can a stranger who has no idea what your vision is as an author adequately help you?  I’ve been to critic groups and have strangers paw through my work.  What I ended up with was how they would write the story.  How someone else would write the story does nothing at all to help me improve my work.

This is why I say my fans are the very best people to offer me feedback because they are joined with me on my vision for my work.  Contrary to popular belief, not all authors write to appeal to the masses.  I don’t write for the widest group possible.  I write for a niche group.  That niche group has an understanding of my work, why I write it, and the best direction to take it in.  This is probably why I get so many 1 and 2 star reviews.  My books have a polarizing effect. 

In the beginning, that scared me.  But as I think about it, it’s probably a compliment.  I’m starting to think it’s better to either make people very happy or very upset because either way, there’s a better chance your book is 1) memorable (even a strong negative reaction is better than indifference) and 2) touches people’s lives for the better.   I’m starting to think that appealing to everyone is not necessarily a good thing.  If your book is striking a cord deep down, then there should be dissenting opinion.  I read quite a few books last year, and I can only remember a couple of them.  Those that I either loved or hated, I remember. 

Anyway, I want to end on a note based on a comment I made over at the Self-Published Author’s Lounge before I wrote this post.  There’s this idea in our culture that the customer is always right.  That would imply that the reader is always right, which would also mean that sometimes the author is wrong.  To this, I thoroughly denounce.  Just because I write a book someone hates, it doesn’t mean the book sucks.  It just means the reader and I don’t see eye to eye on what makes for a good book.  This is not a black or white issue. 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve wasted my time answering emails from people who, for one reason or another, didn’t like my books or thought I sucked as an author in one form or another.  Most of these were novice writers or ‘aspiring writers’.  BTW, I always laugh at the term ‘aspiring’.  I mean, you’re either a writer or you’re not.  To ‘aspire’ to be a writer implies that you haven’t put anything on paper.  A writer is a writer, regardless of publishing status.   But anyway…

When I answered those disgruntled emails in the way I’ve been told to (you know, to thank these rude people who think they have the right to dictate how and what and when I write as if they are my publisher), I always felt as if I had betrayed myself.  I’d be upset with myself for days.  How could I let someone tell me my book was crap or that I can’t write?  If I am writing the books I love, then that means the books are good and they are written well enough–at least for me.  If I don’t sell books, why does anyone else care?  If my books succeed, they succeed.  If they don’t, they don’t.  But I don’t understand why anyone should care either way. 

And just because that person doesn’t like my work and thinks I suck, it doesn’t necessarily make them right.  I’ve received emails from people who would disagree with that person.  A matter of liking a book and the way it’s written is all SUBJECTIVE.  Sorry to use all caps but I wanted to emphasize my point here and didn’t think the italics or bold would do it well enough.

Since liking or not liking a book is subjective, then I conclude ‘The customer is NOT always right.’  Therefore, to agree with these people when I don’t agree with them is a waste of my time.  Not only that, but it robs me of my self-respect.  Regardless of what some of you might think, my skin has gotten pretty damn thick after all I’ve put up with.  I am not a quivering wimp anymore.  I might have that fear of rejection, but I press through it and remind myself that as long as I am writing what I want to write the way I want to write it, then I’ve done the best I could do.  And that means I am a success.  I do my best for me.  My best is good enough for me.  That’s what counts.  Not someone’s dissenting opinion.  That person will go on to read some other book by some other author.  But I am stuck with my books, and this is why I write them the way I do. 

So yeah, I got plenty of thick skin.  The more I get unhappy people banging on my door, the less I care because I can put it all in perspective.  There are times when I still cry, want to give up, etc, but those times are getting fewer and fewer and lasting less and less at any given time.  Now I am perfectly comfortable ignoring the rude people of this world or those who come at me with a mandate on how and what to write.  What’s the point?  They think they’re right.  So let them be in their minds.  I know the truth.  And quite honestly, anyone who thinks they have the right to go up to an author and do that kind of stuff should be ignored. 

Look, I’ll answer anyone who’s respectful.  But I will not let anyone treat me like a kid who needs a time out, or worse, a spanking.  And if I lose sales or someone doesn’t like me because I didn’t grovel at their feet and worship them for their wise advice, so be it.  At the end of the day, I’d much rather have my self-respect than sales or popularity.  And that is what having thick skin is really about.

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to contemporaries romances and other genres (such as science fiction thrillers). For more information, please go to www.ruthannnordin.com or check out https://ruthannnordinauthorblog.wordpress.com.
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4 Responses to Thoughts on Giving and Receiving Feedback

  1. Excellent post, Ruth!

    I know what you mean about the “vision”. I have had several people over the years poke their nose into stuff, but there was only one who actually saw the characters, and the story, the same way I did. let me tell you, she is invaluable because she also calls me on it when I stray away and make the characters do things that aren’t right (usually for the sake of expediency).

    On a side note, though, the author can never be wrong because it is the author’s story! They may do something that the reader wouldn’t have done (I’ve read plenty of books where I thought “Well, I’d have had this or this happen” or “I wouldn’t have done that!” but it’s not my story, it’s theirs, so there is no wrong. Only, possibly, a story I may not like, but hey, they’re goal isn’t to entertain just ME. I think that’s something that some people forget. it’s not about THEM.

  2. rmriegel says:

    Tell it like it is, Sister! You’ve got the right idea. When I’m writing my story, I generally write it the way that I would like to see it play out. And half the time or more, my CHARACTERS are the ones who dictate what happens. If they don’t like where the story is going, they will tell me. I usually get the “this just IS NOT right” feeling, and then I change it.

    Ultimately, you must write what your heart tells you to, and people who read the novel need to understand that it’s not always going to go the way they want. For example, I’ve killed characters off. Some people who’ve read it HATE that. My response? It can’t all be sunshine and dandelions. It’s just the way the story goes.

    Keep writing. You’re marvelous!

    • lol Exactly. Some characters need to go, and if they do, it’s actually better for a story. I’ve had people email me about rewriting my book to suit their tastes and others who pretty much ordered up a story of their choice. The bottom line for any writer, I believe, is passion. If we aren’t passionate about our work, it will never be as good as it could be. I learned that lesson the hard way after trying to write to please my family members for a year. I had to go back and rewrite everything to suit me, and I am much happier now.

      You got the right response. You’re one step ahead of me from where I was at two years ago, and that was after publishing for several years.

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