Thursday, January 20, 2022

Quite. Indeed. I see. (And other ways to wither with Britishness) by Catriona

Q: Taking negative/critical feedback isn't often heralded as a skill but perhaps it should be. How do you handle it when it comes your way?

Oh, like a pro. I handle it like a secure, well-balanced, mature pro who has never over-reacted in her life. 

                                                                        THE MIRROR DANCE is up for a Lefty!

But seriously. 

If it's my agent, her editor, my publisher's editor, the copy-editor or the proof-reader saying "Eh?", "What does this mean?", "This is confusing", or "needs work", I'm fine. "Drags a bit here", "Couldn't most of this go?", "Do we need to know any of this stuff?" take a bit more deep breathing, but they're usually right. That's why acknowledgments are always so heartfelt: with a bit of distance, when you read the published book, and remember how long you fought against the advice before you finally took it, and consider that if you'd won the fight your wrong take would now be in print for ever . . . phew.

My acknowledgments should really say: "My bum was oot the windae. Thank you for hauling it in and putting my pants back on."

                                                                Never more so than with A GINGERBREAD HOUSE

Trade reviews? I used to hit the fainting couch pretty hard. Even a good review could send me reaching for the smelling salts if there was one brickbat among the bouquets. I've toughened up. Now, if there's a string of words than can be hoicked out and plastered on the jacket, I don't care what else the review said. Partly that's because any newspaper or magazine still reviewing books is a cause for celebration.

Book bloggers? Same. Given how few publications are still reviewing books in any number, we should thank our stars for the dedicated online reviewers no matter what they might make of any particular volume.

Goodreads, Amazon, Library Thing reviewers? Like Cathy yesterday I don't have any thoughts about bad reader reviews of my books. I don't see them. They're not for me. They're for other readers to help people decide what books to buy. Of course, when I use reader reviews as a reader, to help me decide what books I want to buy, it quickly becomes clear that some reviewers think the author will see what negative things they've said. Okay.

                                                                        IN PLACE OF FEAR April UK, June US

Then there is the group of readers who get in touch with authors to share negative feedback. They start a book, don't like it, go online, find the author's website, get to the contact page, and compose an email to share their feelings. These feelings are often quite surprising. Disappointment, you'd think. Regret at wasted time and/or money? Well, sometimes. But also regularly anger and grievance. It's a very odd thing, but there are people out there who feel genuine grievance at the existence of a book they happened not to enjoy.

How do I handle them? I write back saying I was sorry to hear they didn't get on well with the book and hope they've found something more to their taste, since life is too short to waste our precious reading time. Sometimes I tell them what I'm currently enjoying if I think, given the source of their disgust with mine, that this other book might be a good fit.

That's usually that. Very occasionally - actually twice in all these years - someone will write back to complain that I didn't engage with the criticism to their satisfaction. Both times that happened, I managed, through great self-control, not to send back a quote from Pride and Prejudice, when Lady Catherine de Bourgh goes, "I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment." and  Lizzie Bennet goes, "That will make your ladyship's situation at present more pitiable, but it will have no effect on me."

The email I did send back - "I see. Yes, you sound frustrated. All the best." - ended the correspondence both times so far.

SCOT MIST out in UK, coming US 1st Feb




Sherry Harris said...

Best line ever: "My bum was oot the windae. Thank you for hauling it in and putting my pants back on."

clpauwels said...

Such professional restraint!

And loved the "My bum was oot the windae" comment; we can all relate!

Catriona McPherson said...

"Yer bum's oot the windae" means "You are speaking utter nonsense" in a general sense, but it sums up the feeling of those unfinal drafts and the edits perfectly, doesn't it?

clpauwels said...

Much more colorfully, but yes!

And it made me smile ;-)