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My Mild Review Dilemma

One of the joys of eating cheesecake and swilling tea up here in the NAF granny flat is that you get to tell of life on the other side of the publishing coin. As Keven pointed out in a recent post, being published may not be what you expect and it is our job to prepare you for when you get that magical letter/email/phonecall. Personally, I’m still enjoying the buzz. It’s been almost a year and I still get a kick out of seeing my book out there. I agree with Keven that being published isn’t quite what I expected but I wouldn’t want to go back for anything. I remember seeing a documentary about lottery winners. They all said that winning the lottery brings its own set of problems. When asked if they would rather not have won, they all gave a wry smile and said no thanks. So, while being published may bring its own set of problems for a writer, it’s definitely worth the hard work it takes to get there.

Which leads me nicely to the topic of my post: reader reviews. I used the word “dilemma”, but that is probably too strong a word. However, it’s the best I can come up with to describe my current attitude towards reviews of Alpha Redemption. The reason I use this particular word is because I am having some mixed emotions when it comes to how people perceive what I’ve written. I thought it was just me, but apparently not. Just recently I came across another author discussing the same topic. A veteran, multi-published writer advised to take every review, good and bad, with a pinch of salt. They themselves had adopted the strategy of actually ignoring reviews completely, which suggests they can have a very profound effect indeed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I love reading reviews. It’s one of the best parts about being published. I love it almost as much as I love cheesecake. Okay, so that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point. During the eleven months since Alpha hit the virtual bookstalls, I’ve probably checked for reviews about ten million times. Okay, so that’s another exaggeration. Nine million is closer to the truth. The reason I checked so many times? I really want to know what people think.

I used to laugh a mocking little laugh when I read about authors checking their reviews every five minutes, but now I understand. As a new author I crave feedback. I want to know if the story works, if the characters are believable, if the premise is interesting. I want to know if all of that effort was worth while because, when you take away everything else, there’s no point writing if nobody will ever read what you’ve written.

I like to think I write for God, but He knows my story before I even type the first word. He knows how it’s going to end and how people will receive it. He knows where all my typos are going to be and how many times I am going to “tell” when I should really “show”. So, writing for God is, like everything we do for Him, really an act of obedience, sacrifice, and worship. I’m writing for God but, since He’s already read it, I’m actually really “writing” (as in “putting it on paper”) for my readers (both of you–you know who you are). And reviews let me know if I’ve won their trust or disappointed them.

So, what’s the problem, you ask? What’s the dilemma? The problem is that, while reviews are really really useful and desirable (and up to now way, way better than I ever expected), I have found that they can also be something of an obstacle. Last week I started the sequel to Alpha Redemption, called Alpha Revelation. I’ve got the story in my head and just have to work out the details. I wrote the first chapter last week and discovered that I had lost much of the joy of writing, because I was worrying too much. I was worrying that I wouldn’t be able to meet the expectations of those who liked the first story, and that I wouldn’t be able to gain the trust of those who didn’t like it so much.

When I think of the reviews Alpha has received so far, I find myself slightly torn. For example, most people liked the flashbacks but others weren’t so keen. Some people loved the ending, but there were those who had doubts. So what do I do? Do I go for the interesting ending or the less interesting, but safer, one? Do I use flashbacks, or keep the story unbroken? Do I go for hard sci-fi or stick with the softer variety? To be honest, I have no idea. And it’s cramping my ability to tell my story the way I want to tell it. I keep thinking of the tale of the man and his young son taking their donkey to the market, constantly being reprimanded by passers-by for doing something wrong. One person says the man should ride the donkey. Another says the boy should ride. Another says they should spare the poor donkey and walk. Yet another person says they should both ride the donkey. The moral of the story is that you can’t please everyone.

So what do I do? If God knows my story before I tell it, then surely the best option would be to forget the reviews (at least for now), trust in Him, stop trying to please everyone, and write my story the way God already knows it is going to be written. Just as He knows that eventually I am going to come to my senses and have an epiphany and stop fretting about what people are going to say in the next round of reviews. Assuming the book is good enough for publication of course… But that’s another worry for later (I keep my worries alphabetized in a filing cabinet for just such an emergency).

Right now I feel better. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just had an epiphany and need to write a few hundred words before the end of the day. For the next few weeks I’m going to follow the advice of that veteran writer and forget the reviews for Alpha Redemption and focus on my sequel. I think it’s going to be an interesting story, but then I’m biased. See you on the other side.

“KnoWhutImean?”

About P.A.Baines

P.A.Baines writes computer programs for a living but would much rather be writing Christian speculative fiction, which he does whenever he gets the opportunity. Educated in Africa, he is studying towards a degree in Creative Writing through Buckinghamshire New University in England. He enjoys asking "what if?" but is tired of how speculative fiction deals with religion in general and the God of the Bible in particular. His stories are for Christians who enjoy science fiction but who normally avoid the genre because of its tendency towards an atheistic world-view. His aim is to write entertaining and thought-provoking stories that stretch the imagination, but which keep God in His rightful place as Lord over all creation. P.A.Baines is British but currently lives in a small corner of the Netherlands with his wife and two children and various wildlife. He spends what little spare time he has keeping fit, watching films, and playing computer games with his children. He does most of his reading via audio books, which he listens to while commuting to and from work on his trusty bicycle. He speaks reasonable Dutch and is in the process of learning French.

13 comments on “My Mild Review Dilemma

  1. You’ve said what a lot of us — perhaps ALL of us — think. We love the praise, we want the feedback, but we grow nervous about losing our vision for the story because of our desire to please everyone. And you hit the nail on the head — you can’t please everyone. Now if 80 percent of your reviews disliked your use of flashbacks, that might be something to listen to. But otherwise, stick with your instincts. That’s why God gave them to us in the first place, right?

    Good luck with the sequel!

    • Hi Alex. You’re absolutely right. We do need to follow our instincts. With Alpha, flashbacks were so logical I couldn’t imagine any other way to tell the story. It just felt so right. I knew it was a risk from the outset but enough readers have said they like it that I know it was the right decision. The sequel is going to be much more traditional though. Thanks for the luck. I’ve got it quite clear in my mind. Can’t wait to get it written 🙂

  2. This seems like a good way to deal with what is surely an understandable dilemma. The other option is to trade the truth of the story for a the attempt to please everyone (a dubious prospect itself), and in so doing, to cut the heart right out of it.

    • I think this is an aspect of being published that I didn’t really anticipate. I figured I’d read the reviews and write the next book. I didn’t think it would be something I would worry about. I only realized how much it was distracting me when I sat down to write the first chapter of the sequel and found myself doubting my ability to tell the story, which isn’t good. I know what to do now, but it did take me by surprize at the time.

  3. My Dearest (Cheesecake gobbling friend) Paul,

    I know you have heard me say it a thousand times,but………….. just in case you didn’t! I’ll say it once more! Trust in the Lord and He will deliver you from any,stress,strain, bondage,and or mental block you seem to be having! To listen to what man says is fruitless,even though it feels good to get your ego stroked now and again,we must listen to Him in the end and we shall receive the sweeter fruit in the long run.

    • Hi Billie! Thanks for your ever-encouraging words. I’m a slow learner but it’ll sink in eventually ;-). But no worries. The dilemma is under control. I just figured I’d share my experience in case anyone else encounters the same thing. What I’ve learned: reviews are good and useful, but should not distract you from your writing.

  4. Amen you little sweetie!LOL

  5. Great question Paul. I used to enter contests and have one judge tell me to do one thing and another tell me to change this. So I would and re-enter and be given low points for the changes I made. It was enough to make me want to toss my computer out the window.

    I finally just wrote the book and decided whichever agent/publisher liked my book enough to offer me a contract, I would do the changes they wanted.

    I don’t know what I’m going to do about reviews. I have half a mind to ignore them and half a mind to read them. I guess I’ll let my mind duke it out later when they start arriving 🙂

    • Hi Morgan. Wow, that’s frustrating. How did your computer survive? 😉 I had a similar thing with a writing competition not so long ago. There was almost no pattern to the judges’ scores, so I learned absolutely nothing! I put it down to personal taste, and there wasn’t much I could do about that.

      Your approach is the best. Just tell your story and let the person who gives you a contract guide you.

  6. Such good points, Paul. I’m glad you’ve worked through the dilemma and are writing again. In the end it’s your story – and God’s – and ours to enjoy!

    • Thanks Lois. It was a bit of a surprise for me. I though they wouldn’t affect me at all, but they got under my skin a little bit. For me, there’s nothing worse than feeling like there’s something blocking me from writing. All sorted now though :-).

  7. I, for one, am curious about the sequel, so write on, brother!
    I’ll probably ignore my reviews (when I get some). I’ve got enough keeping me awake at night.

    • Thanks Robynn. I’m itching to get the story down.

      I hope you have more luck handling your reviews than I did. For me, knowing there’s a new review out there is like knowing there’s one more slice of cheesecake in the fridge -).

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