How to Listen to Your Readers and Take Constructive Criticism
Readers have very strong opinions about their reading material. Who knew? Some of those opinions will be in direct opposition of your views. A few may tick you off. Should you ignore them and assume their opinion isn’t worth a dime because it doesn’t mesh with yours?
As in most things in life, there is a lot of grey area to address here.
The first thing you should have done (hey—my blog, my opinion) when you sat down to write your story is to have identified your average reader. Are they a 20-30-year-old working on a bachelor’s degree without a lot of time or discretionary income, or a 65-75-year old newly retired individual who has read every main author in your genre? It’s important you know the answer to this, because they can differ greatly in terms of what they do or don’t like about your writing.
In the romance genre, there are several different sub-genres. These are broken down further by tropes. You can bet your sweet sassy molassy that they all have diehard fans who are looking for a checklist of things in your story that will either send them into raptures, or cause them to leave a scathing one-star review on Amazon because you went too far out of their comfort box and they must NOW TELL YOU IN ALL CAPS WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER WRITE ANOTHER BOOK BECAUSE THEY WILL NEVER READ ONE FROM YOU AGAIN.
Or, so I’ve heard.
Should you never write another book? Of course not. Should you ignore everything they said and continue on your merry way? Not unless you know Robin Hood and he’s going to bless you with some of his rich-man’s bounty.
For the rest of us, it pays to consider the underlying message.
One easy example I can give is from a review on Goodreads I received about The Raven’s Call. The reader expressed her frustration about the book’s ending and stated that she didn’t understand why I didn’t leave a warning about it. My first instinct, naturally, was to stick my tongue out and call her a poo-poo head. Then, I realized that I am a serious author now, and merely rolled my eyes until they got stuck in my head, just like my mom always said they would.
Seriously, none of that happened. I DID scoff at the notion of spoiling the ending of a story before someone even read the first page.
Um, hello...The Sixth Sense, anyone? I didn’t see that ending coming, but I wasn’t flying off at the writers, directors, or actors about it. I did, however, consider the amount of investment I had made in watching the movie. Sure, it had taken me on a fun ride into the land of damnit-why-didn’t-I-see-that-coming-I-never-get-these-wrong-ville, but had I read the story first...I could have blamed my lack of foresight on the author.
No, no... that isn’t right. I meant to say that most readers will tell you that the amount of detail they get in a book is rarely on par with what they receive from a movie. They will most likely be more emotionally invested in your story because you have given them more to care for. So, the chances of them feeling disappointed by the “wasting” of their time on a less-than-satisfactory book ending is exponentially higher than from a movie. And that, my friends, is not the take away you want to leave your reader with.
So, I left a carefully worded sentence in the book description about the ending, and now offer another way to enjoy the story that even negates the need for a warning.
Can a reader’s criticism offer constructive insight? Sure. Will it always? Anyone who has received the dreaded “I know I’m reading a book that states it’s a romance novel suitable for 18 and older but how dare you write sexual scenes in here, I had to skip like three pages!” review understands this. Some things really are a matter of individual taste. You will not please everyone.
However, I am a big proponent of the message many of us have received from our mothers and fathers...we “should never bite the hand that feeds us.” A gentle nibble, though, won’t hurt anyone. Especially if they read romance.
You are sure to get more than you bargained for but go ahead and absorb or discard whichever bits of feedback you receive. Just make sure you don’t roll your eyes while you do it: YOUR HEAD MAY NEVER LET YOU UNROLL THEM EVER AGAIN.