Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Honesty Isn't Nasty

It seems as though there is something completely lacking in some of the writing communities.


In the course of the last two years, I cannot tell you how many books I've been asked to read by people looking for feedback. The truth is, I am more than happy to take time out of my schedule to edit and review people's work. I like to help. I want people to succeed.

I always preface everything I say in a crit with "I am not an editor". I'm not. It's true. I never went to a fancy editing school and I can't tell you whether an Oxford comma is necessary or not. Does that make my opinion less valuable? I don't think so. After all, I am a reader. I know up from down. And I can articulate myself decently enough to get across what is and isn't working for me in someones novel or short story.

Did you know there are websites where people can upload their work and ask others to comment on it?

It's true! I joined one about two years ago. It was called Authonomy and, unlike some of the others signing up, I didn't have high expectations. I wanted feedback on a little Young Adult novel I wrote called Seeking Eleanor. It surprised me when people didn't hate it. It shocked me when people loved it. And it flabbergasted me when it made it to the editors desk and it didn't get a BAD review from HarperCollins.

Here's the thing, while I didn't join this site to have my ego stroked, I am starting to wonder how many others did. In my opinion, the site is not a writers group, nor is it intended to be one. If you want people to coach, guide or tell you what a wonderful, pretty pony you are then you came to the wrong place. This site is, in my opinion, for feedback. It's a place where people can be honest, rip your book to shreds or do the reverse and fawn over it.

This is why it floors me when people get a comment and rebuff it, reason it away, throw a temper tantrum or demand it be removed. Are you not there for honest feedback? And I am not talking about some moron who comes along and writes 'this book sucks'. No. I am talking about well thought-out, detailed comments that list what they did and didn't like about the book.

People have gone out of their way to ask me to review for them. I take it seriously. I think it means they respect me as a writer and reader and want to hear the truth, no matter if it hurts or not. So, needless to say, it really lights me up when they ask me to remove a comment. This tells me they are far too sensitive. It tells me they will never make it in the publishing world. It tells me that when they end up self-publishing their work and get a bad review on Amazon they're going to go into meltdown mode, eat a tub of ice cream and neglect personal hygiene for a week.

Which brings me to a very important question, why ask? Why are you asking for feedback if you don't want it? I've had my work torn to ribbons and while it may sting, because we all know it stings a bit, I've taken the advice and moved forward. You can disagree with the review, but maybe you need to step around your big, fat ego and actually think about what it's saying.

I'm never nasty. I'm honest. And if people think honesty is nasty then they can count me out of their sugar-coated world of pats on the back and lies. What people don't realize is the comments that tear your book apart do more for you than the ones saying it is excellent. The comments that offer criticism allow you to learn, to grow as a writer.

I am a firm believer we all have room to grow. An inflexible, arrogant writer who doesn't question their art is not one I want to read. This business is subjective and you have to learn how to change with the times. No one's work is perfect and if you think yours is, you are sorely mistaken and in for a rude awakening.

Perhaps Authonomy is turning into a writers group, where people upload their Works In Progress and expect others to pat their bottoms and tell them how brilliant they are. Maybe the droves of people signing up have no interest in hearing what people actually think of their work.

The truth is, we can't all be fabulous all of the time. Some of us are going to suck from time to time. Some of us are going to miss the plot. I only hope when my turn comes to suck and miss the plot someone taps me on the shoulder and lets me know because I simply don't have the time for the 'no, you're the best writer in the world' game.

And if you don't want my honesty, don't ask for it. And if you ask for it, leave your sensitivity at the door. This isn't personal, no matter how much you coddle and love your WIP. We all love our WIPS. This is business. And business is booming.


Mr Ellis said...

Agree with it all. So long as it's said in a constructive way, then telling me where something is wrong is invaluable. And yes, if you can't take it on a writers' forum, you'll never survive if it ever gets published.
I'd love to know which book it was :)

Hannah said...

Great post, Tee. I love your honesty. I must admit I tread ever so softly around these sensitive egos most of the time and just pat them on the back and keep my own thoughts about their work to myself. It doesn't feel good, and it certainly isn't honest but I have the idea most people can't stand criticism. Am I wrong? I agree with you that I do love to hear what works in my writing and what doesn't. I am a coward where other writers are concerned.

Dan Holloway said...

I won't add to the many (Booth) who say what they *did* join Authonomy to get stroked :P.

I'd never dream of asking someone who's busy for feedback but if I did I'd be upset if they weren't honest because they wanted to spare my feelings - that would be a terrible waste of everyone's time, especially the poor sod who could have had the crit.

And I never love my WIP. Whip maybe, WIP never :)

Darlene Griffith said...

Perfectly stated. I valued your crits when you sent them to me and the others on Authonomy that took the time out to give me an honest opinion. I don't think it is fair to get all butt hurt with someone giving their opinion. When a person is given an opinion they have 2 choices, take it or leave it. Flying off the handle does nothing except make you look irrational and makes people think twice about voicing their thoughts.

Jasmine Walt said...

I know exactly what you mean, and I hate it when I take the time to actually write a meaningful comment and then get slammed for it.

I did a crit for one of my RWCG members and found a bunch of things they could fix, and that was all good with them and they asked me to then go back and read through what they wrote again to see if it was better. I did (and not a lot of people take the time to crit and MS twice!) and while it was better I found things that still needed fixing. Apparently I was supposed to pat her on the back and tell her that after one edit it was perfect, because she got super huffy about the whole thing.

It's likely I will never do a second crit again, unless I know and like the person.

On the other hand I really like it when people take the time to rip apart my MS-- thankfully I have a couple of authonomites who are willing to do that for me just now and who have been very helpful.