Friday, September 17, 2010

No Such Thing As An Objective Reader

Whether or not a reader enjoys a books is an entirely subjective experience. I have always known this, and yet I did not apply it to my own writing.

I am about 80% finished with a romance novel. Usually I would have finished it by now. I don't want to even though my ocd demands that I must. It is just that bad. Seriously.

I don't like the author's voice. There is no believability to the thoughts/actions of the heroine. She is not a sympathetic character. Plot twist after plot twist drags the story on forever, all of which would have been avoided of the two leads had had an honest conversation. All of it, dialogue, narration, and inner monologue, is written in a very archaic and formal way designed to reflect the era it is set in. Just not a good read.

It was one of those moments when I wondered how the book got published in the first place. It turns out this was the author's first historical fiction. Since then, that she actually has had multiple books published. Her reviews are stellar, yet when I read the pages available through Amazon, her writing style is just as off-putting.

I have read more books than I could count. In the past, the only times I have not finished a romance was when a rape was involved and the main character ended up liking it and loving the guy (Sorry, no means no all the time). So, unless I'm totally disgusted, I finish every book I start -- and almost every book has some entertainment value to it. I like to think I can see the good in most books in my genre. In fact, when a book is able to get through all the hurdles to publication, I assume it must have some redeeming quality. I really could not find any in this particular book, and yet it seems that many people enjoyed it. Heck, it got published!

My point: I entered my manuscript in the Golden Heart contest last year. Of course, I thought my book was quality enough to at least be a finalist. It wasn't. Eventually, RWA sent me the judge's score cards. There were five judges. One gave me an 8/10 and one gave me a 7.6/10. This means they liked it. Those judges thought it was good enough to go through to the finals. They wanted to read more. Awesome.

But wait, there are still three judges....

One gave a me a 6/10. To me, that means she didn't hate it or like it. Meh. Another judge gave me a 6/10 (and marked that it was not a romance). Okay, so I'm not connecting with everyone. I've read books that I would give a 6/10. I might not seek that author out on purpose, but if another one of his/her books came my way, I would read it.

The fifth judge gave me a 4/10. Really? That bad? At the time, I just didn't get it. What did I do wrong? How could the scores be so across the board? Either it's a good book or it isn't.

This brings me back to my original point. I would give the book I mentioned earlier (which I may or may not finish) at most, a 4/10 (in general -- I do not know all the criteria the Golden Heart judges were using to determine their scores). I just don't relate to it on any level even though it's set in a era of history I enjoy (but am not an expert on, so I'm not analyzing the accuracy). But many people would give it an 8/10 or better. It got published, for goodness sakes! I probably will not enjoy anything by this author, ever. Yet many people do. There is nothing that author can do to court my good opinion -- and there's no reason for her to try. Not everyone will like her books. That's just the nature of reading. It's entirely subjective.

As for me, I know that not everyone will like my book. The 4/10 judge? I don't think there's anything I can do about that. I can't please everyone, not even when those people are already predisposed to like my genre. There was something about my writing that they actively disliked. I can't let myself be upset about that.

The judges that gave me the 6/10 -- they're on the fence. Something about my writing did not engage them, but whatever that something is, their opinion leaves enough wiggle room for me to fix it. So long as 80% of my readers do like my story to some extent, there's no reason I can't be a success.

As a result of really disliking this book I'm reading, I am able to let go of any residual feeling of inadequacy left behind by the 4/10 score. In fact...

Dear 4/10 judge,

You have the right to dislike my book. I understand it is just a matter of personal preference. I absolve myself of the need to please you. I will be the best author I can be and understand that I cannot please everyone.

I thank you for your honest evaluation.

Erin Kane Spock

So, there was my spout off about hating on books and being good enough, smart enough, etc... Have you ever received harsh criticism? Something beyond a helpful critique? How have you handled it?

Addendum: I have since finished this book. I put it in the bathroom and made it through the last 50 or so pages a paragraph at a time. The good news is that the lead characters finally got their happily ever after. I wasn't sure they would. Then again, it is a genre requirement that the lead characters find true love.


Francine Howarth said...


Yep, been the harsh critique route many times. I tend to read them carefully several times looking for positive criticism but if I find none and it basically amounts to nothing less than vicious rant (and some have)I usually think F*ck You. It works wonders!

Other than that: one man's meat another's poison. I've got a blogfest snippet up for critiquing on my blog right now. ;)


Raquel Byrnes said...

I did receive a harsh criticism from an agent at a conference. I cried in the bathroom of the hotel and ate a lot of chocolate.

Then I realized that I still wanted to write. Even if people didn't like it...I couldn't stop myself from creating stories. I resolved to grow a thicker skin -- and keep chocolate on hand at all times.

Edge of Your Seat Romance

Candyland said...

I had one really harsh critique from an agent once. I politely thanked her and then cried for four hours.

Talei said...

Ah Erin, I haven't been done that track yet. It's interesting to see the variation in the judges scores though, I would definitely be wondering about judge #4/10.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience here.

Erin Kane Spock said...

Francine -- I have never actually received a vicious rant, but I did get one critique where they basically relied on spell/grammar check to supply their suggested changes. That's almost worse. At least in a vicious rant some emotion was inspired, right?
Raquel -- Thank God for chocolate. My dislike for the book I still haven't finished really helped me find zen about low score. I hadn't realized how I'd been holding on to that negativity.
Candyland -- I'm still waiting to talk with an agent. Any agent. lol.
Talei -- the variation was confusing at the time, but it makes more sense now. Sometimes you just don't enjoy a book. I wish I could pick the brains of the 6/10 judges. My very fist blog post was written after finding out I was not a finalist. I think I subconsciously expected to do well (even though I told myself that it was all just a learning experience and anything I took away from it was positive) so the disappointment was deeper than I had anticipated. I'm better now. :) I had planned to do it again next year, but I don't think I'll have my w.i.p ready by then.

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