Who Reads Book Reviews?

Whenever I choose a book to read, I almost always read multiple reviewers' comments before I purchase the book. To me, there's nothing more frustrating than buying a used book on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com and not being able to flip through the pages and see if I like the writing enough to read the book.

I can be critical of the books I read, as most readers are. We're all looking for specific things from our reading experience. The clarity and cohesiveness of an author's writing is a major part of the reading experience for me.

Do you like to read book reviews before you read a book?

I know some people that don't. At first, I couldn't understand why they wouldn't want to read what someone else thought and evaluate whether they wanted to invest their time and money on a book. 

But after reading hundreds of reviews, and sometimes pausing mid-way through a book in order to read some, I can see how a review can unduly influence your reading experience. There have been occasions that I did not notice a character's flaws, or the over-dependence on clich├ęs, etc., until a more discerning reader pointed them out in their review.

So when I'm looking for a book to read, I find thoughtful book reviews to be incredibly useful to save me both money and time. By "thoughtful" I mean reviews which pinpoint why they did or did not like a book, regardless of the star rating, not reviews that either praise or criticize with abandon.

When I read a review, I'm looking for several things. Those, more or less, correspond to what I notice when I read a book. This can be the quality of character development, or the uniqueness of plot, but also writing style, and anything that a reviewer points out about which strikes a chord with me. For example, if a writer uses too many similes to the point where a reviewer has complained about them, I can be certain that I'll probably notice, too. (However, there is the chance that when I read a review like this, then buy the book anyways, I will notice it now--whether or not I would have without reading the review.)

Do the pros of reading a review outweigh the cons?

For me, yes, the pros of reading a review far outweigh the cons. 

I want to know that the book I'm going to pay money for has many critical readers and that it can stand up under the weight.

The Best Sellers list is one instance where reading reviews really comes in handy for me. I poll a selection of each "star" rating. I'll look at a few 5 stars, a few 4 stars, 3 stars, all the way down to 1 starred reviews. Until recently, I've rarely read books on the Best Seller's lists. I find that when I do, I'm often disappointed in the quality, and I often agree with the dissenting reviewers. 

Reading a dozen reviews from discerning reviewers has saved me a lot of money. If it sounds interesting despite a few bad reviews, and I find myself still wanting to read it but the reviews have given me reservations, I'll check it out from the library instead of pressing "buy now."


Dusting Off That Old Manuscript (Or Revising Your NaNoWriMo Novel)

It's been nearly three full months since NaNoWriMo 2012. 

Which means, it's past time for me to start editing this novel, which I'll dub "WIP 2012" for the moment.

So that brings me to a question:  When do YOU edit your NaNo Novel?

My NaNo (and writing) philosophy is to keep writing and edit little on the first pass during November. If I do have a hard time getting started one day, I will go edit the prior scene, or return to another scene which I wanted to change anyways. That way, my Muse gets awakened, and the editing acts as my warm-up.

However, now, my first draft is completed, and I've been ruminating on it since the beginning of December.

By my estimates, it's past time for me to get working on edits. 

My biggest challenge will be in using this first edit to attack the main storyline of this novel, and ignore the grammatical errors. I have a horrible propensity towards constant line-editing.

My goals for my first edit:

1. Are there any any inconsistencies? Including those in setting/description, story threads and characters from page one to "the end."

2. What is my overarching goal of telling this story? Determine what it is and make sure it's smooth from beginning to end.

3. Does every scene have conflict? Is it left unresolved until later? Or do I resolve it too soon?

4. Does every scene have a purpose? Does it advance the plot?

5. How is my story different from every other one out there?

NaNo Challenges:
Because this is a NaNoWriMo novel, and NaNoWriMo clearly has an emphasis on quantity over quality, WIP 2012 is in especially rough shape. There was little that I cut during the month of November in order to have the most words possible at the end of thirty days. However, this should make it even easier to recognize what is filler and what isn't.

1. Cut all the filler. 
2. Focus the plot.
3. Make every word count.

I hope to, by the end of April 2013, have a second draft ready for consumption by some beta readers. 


Getting Over Your Fear of Feedback

If you had told me when I first started writing that I would share my writing online with strangers and ask them to tear my work apart, I probably would have laughed at you.

The first few months (okay, years) of posting my work for feedback was, well, terrifying. My first real interaction with peer feedback was through F2K, a free fiction writing course given through Writers' Village University (WVU), where the slogan is "Writers helping writers."

I don't think I first realized just how much that slogan is true. But now that I've gone through F2K and joined the parent site, WVU, the words resonate with me. Giving your WIP to a friend to read is great, but if your friend isn't a writer or editor, they are going to miss a lot of things. Conversely, putting a chapter of my WIP up on an online forum of other writers guarantees that they are going to see something I missed. They aren't just going to tell me "I like it," or "I don't like it," but they're going to tell me why. That's how writers help writers. They explain what works and what doesn't work. And most importantly, how it can be fixed.

As I continued posting my work, first through F2K, and then finally screwing up my courage to begin posting a WIP that I'd worked on for years, it was tough. Tougher than tough. 

Every time I went to post a new chapter, I would spend hours and hours upon those 2000-4000 words. I would take a fine-tooth comb to them, and I would rewrite the same sentences dozens of times. I would doubt my characters, the actions the characters made, my plot... I would doubt that I could even write, that I could ever make it. I would think no one wanted to read this. The list goes on. Every writer's insecurity about their work, I probably had.

But my challenge didn't end with pressing the "post" button. I would finally find the courage to post, and then I couldn't bear to look at the feedback! *insert shamed face here* I'd thought I'd conquered my fear of posting--then it would seem so much more terrifying to read others' thoughts about my writing! I would be afraid it would be less than flattering, it would destroy the little confidence I had, or that others just "wouldn't get it." 

I was unable to face the truth about my work and preferred to live in my bubble where it was "safe."

This went on for months. Literally, months.

I still have some of those early scenes, unedited from some of the most useful feedback I've probably received, because I just can't screw up the courage to look at my faults full in the face. (And yes, there were most definitely faults in those scenes, some obvious and certain, others more subjective.)

It took me a long time before I finally realized what was happening. 

I was letting myself get too close to a scene.

It happens to all of us. We love our "darlings," we love our scene, our plot (or lack thereof)... We have embraced this story inside of us until it demanded release. Then we release it and think there could be nothing wrong with it--simply because we like it. And there certainly couldn't be a structural issue, or a flood of typos which make reading it a chore rather than a pleasure.

But when I couldn't bear to look at the feedback other writers had so graciously given me, choosing rather to ignore the most valuable tool in my writer's handbook, I had to do some searching. Searching inside myself, not online, not in books, not anywhere else. 

Where did this fear of feedback come from?

Well, for me, I think it's perfectionism. That dreaded desire to be infallible. Pride, to put it bluntly. Instead of acknowledging that I was still growing as a writer, I chose to shut my eyes to the very thing that could help me grow.

You see, by trying to have a "perfect" piece of writing, I failed utterly. Every time I posted, there was always something I had missed. Sometimes big things, sometimes just small things. But always something. 

This started to wreck my confidence.

It's been a long time coming, but I am finally starting to realize that I am more blinded to my own work than I think.

I admit it. I have a critical eye--of both myself and others. Yet I may read a sentence of my own creation and think it makes sense because I know what I want to say. Then I pass that sentence to someone else, and it doesn't make sense at all. In fact, it may be a sentence that I'm immensely proud of for the specific word choice I used, or the metaphor I so majestically laced through it (ha ha). Then the feedback comes in telling me to cut that sentence because it distracts or doesn't make a lick of sense. *sigh*

You see, I need those other sets of eyes to tell me, "I don't know what you are trying to say here." Or, "This has potential, but it's not fully developed." Or, "I need more description here. I can't see the scene you're describing." Or even, "I thought there were only two people in this scene now there's three?"

You get my point. Each writer knows what they are trying to show. But only by sharing your writing with someone else can you see what you're actually showing. And if it works.

Pride is no easy thing to turn your back on.

I can say the right words, acknowledge my shortcomings, but when someone blatantly (even if kindly) points them out to me, it wounds my ego.

I haven't completely conquered my fear of feedback yet. Not by a long shot. But I have been able to distance myself from my scenes much quicker than I did a few months ago. 

Instead of spending days editing 2000 words so that they might be "acceptable" to post, I spend a few hours and hit the "post" button before I can stop myself. I've accepted that there WILL be something wrong with it. 

Absolutely, definitely, most certainly, something will be wrong.

I've realized that every single time I spent days and days and hours upon hours editing the same scene, those were the scenes that came back torn to bits. Those were the scenes that everyone had found something big wrong with--sometimes each seemed to find a different thing wrong. Those were the scenes that needed a total rewrite. How frustrating, embarrassing, debilitating!

Lately, I've taken the tact of admitting straight up: "Here's my next chapter. I'm not really liking it. I don't know why. Help." Or "I have to post this before I tear it up and start all over again." I'm taking my pride down a notch. And although my pride doesn't like, I do. There's no place for pride when you want to grow.

When you go in with less pride, less ego, you have more room to grow. 

You can see what needs work, and you can take it to heart. You can improve. 

When you think there's nothing wrong with your work, you undermine yourself. You hinder yourself from growing. Even the best authors need a reader's feedback. Even the best authors need an editor.

So how do you get over your fear of feedback?

My answer for this is two-fold.

1. Throw pride out the window where it belongs.

2. Bite the bullet and press that post button--it will never be "perfect."