Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When Feedback Conflicts

Everyone has their own opinion. Look at the reviews for your favourite author, and you're just as likely to see people screaming about how much they loved this latest book as you are those spitting venom over how terrible it is. They're all correct in their view. No matter how hard an author tries, you are never going to please everyone. No matter how well written something is, it will simply not be someone's 'thing'. Or maybe it is badly written but people love the story and the characters anyway. There's been a lot of heated discussion over the poor quality of writing in some of the current biggest sellers. But they're still selling and people are still raving about them.

But what do you do if the difference of opinion is between two experts in their field? How do you settle that? 

This is what I consider my first year as a professional writer - ie published, and contracted to publish. Inspired by my Spacefreighter buddies and their shiny collection of Golden Hearts, I decided to enter a few contests myself this year. Keir made it as a Readers Favorite 2012 Finalist, but I also put the opening 5000 words of an unfinished WIP into The Rebecca. It didn't reach the finals (boo!), and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with that. However, receiving the score sheets back from the judges was a huge bonus and gave me some fantastic feedback. Two of the judges chose to make comments on each section, although the third only made a comment at the very end. One even made some comments in the MS itself. To see how the entries are marked and what specifically the judges are looking for, here's the scoring system -

Score Sheet

Entry No.       __                            Judge                                                                 
                                                                  

Land Of Enchantment Romance Authors
The Rebecca Score Sheet, 2012

Entry Title: _____________                                                                     
Category: ______________________________________
Total score:__________________ Finalist: Yes/No
(30 points total possible)

Scoring: 1 = Needs major work
2 = Below average
3 = Average, still needs work, but shows promise
4 = Close to being publishable, but still needs minor work
5 = Excellent, ready for submission to editor

___OPENING HOOK (1-5 points each.)
Story opens with a strong hook that pulls the reader in, and story opens at the right place.
Comments:
___CHARACTERS (1-5 points each)
Well-rounded and likable main character(s) with believable actions and reactions.  If the hero and heroine are present, their attraction and chemistry are suited to this story.
Comments:
___ CONFLICT (1-5 points)
Well motivated main conflict is hinted at by the author.  Internal and external conflict are balanced.
Comments:
___WRITING: (1-5 points)
Author handles voice; showing not telling; POV changes; dialogue; setting description using the senses.
Comments:
___MECHANICS (1-5 points)
Mechanics of grammar, spelling and sentence structure.  Manuscript is formatted for neat, professional appearance and easy to read.
Comments:
___OVERALL APPEAL: (1 – 5 points)
If you were a reader in this genre, the entry grabbed your interest and made you want to read more
Comments:
Please describe at least one area this author handles well:

Please describe at least one area this author needs to work on:

Judge’s signature (optional): _________________________

____Published Author in Book-length Romance         ____Unpublished Author
____additional (define)

Or you can check out all the details on the LERA website here - http://www.leranm.com/about-the-rebecca/ 

Overall I was very pleased with the comments, and it seems I'm doing several things right consistently. But there was one area of contention between two of the judges who chose to make comments. There was a conflict over the...well, conflict! One judge felt the elements of internal and external conflict were fantastic and well balanced. The other felt there was far too much of it, and that it was confusing.

So what do you do when the opinion of two experts is so opposite? You could base it on the merits of each judge. If the feedback came from an author who's work you loved versus one you hadn't heard of, which would you chose? Or would you take the opinion of a potential publisher over that of an author? In this instance, judging the judge isn't possible. Two of them remained anonymous. 

To me, the solution is obvious. Unless you have a very strong preference yourself, seek another opinion! It doesn't have to be an author, an editor, or a publisher. A reader is equally qualified as to whether a story is working or not, if it's someone whose opinion you value. Critique partners and beta readers are invaluable here. Don't have any? Then seek out a group like CritiqueCircle.com for feedback, or join a writing forum. Network. Find yourself a band of people you trust. But always remember that you CANNOT please everyone, and you'll tear yourself to pieces if you try. At the end of the day you need to feel happy with your story as much as satisfying at least a handful of others who love your work. Oh, and a publisher/agent of course. It's finding the balance between potentially mixed advice and a happy middle road. If you get the same flaws mentioned repeatedly, then it's something that needs fixing. If it's one voice out of a dozen...well, then it's down to you. 

BTW I'm currently trying to compile a list of useful writer's resources here including editors, cover artists and forums where you can link up with like-minded people. If you have anything to add, please leave a comment.

So while I'm on the subject, I'd like to say a huge thank you to those who've helped to kick various projects into place. As far as The Rebecca is concerned, my thanks go to Liana Brooks and SL buddy Laurie Green at this time, who both ran a critical eye over Tethered before the contest.

 Pippa's Journal 



Action! 
I'm currently waiting on my first round of edits for Gethyon - the scifi novella I contracted last month with the Burst imprint of Champagne Books. I'm still trying to finish off the final draft of Keir's sequel - now renamed Keir's Fall. I've had a tough decision to make regarding a major element in the latter part of the story which is holding me up. My aim is to have it submitted by the end of September - or else! (Not sure 'or else' what, but be assured - I will punish myself severely for any failure! *digs out the holo-whips*). In the meantime, the first round of edits for my scifi rom short that I'm planning to self publish have just gone back to my editor. Looks like I might release that before Christmas, woo hoo!

On the subject of shorts, the SFR Brigade are mulling over the possibility of a Brigade anthology to help boost the prominence of SFR. There's currently a poll up over in the Facebook group here - please come over and vote. If you aren't a member of the group and would like to be, you can request to join there too.

Happenings - I'm honoured to have science fiction romance author Aubrie Dionne guesting over on my blog here today, for the release of her new novel Haven 6. I hope you'll stop by to say hello. There's also a Rafflecopter for a beautiful piece of handmade jewellry to tie in with the novel, so get your name down! The monthly Amazon Tagging Party list will open on the 24th September with tagging taking place on the 27th.

Ping Pong - Huge, huge congrats to Sharon on receiving her first 5 star review on Goodreads AND a glittering 4.5 review from RT Book Reviews for GHOST PLANET! Not long now until you can all get your hands on this book. :)

3 comments:

  1. You're right that you have to use your own judgment about feedback from contests, Pippa. Comments can vary widely from judge to judge and from contest to contest. Of course, if the negative comments are trending in one direction, you can be pretty sure that's something you need to work on. Some things are a matter of taste, or are clearly a result of inexperience on the part of the judge. You have to remember that not a few of the first-round judges in local contests (heck, even in the Golden Heart) are untrained, unpublished writers just like the rest of us (uh, that would be like me, not like you, Pippa). They may or may not know what they are talking about when it comes to conflict or character or anything else. Take their comments with a grain of salt and move on. Easy enough to say, of course . . .

    The best advice I've gotten about contest feedback is to give it a few days, then go back to it and see if something might jump out at you as useful, one way or the other. I've found even the strangest comments can make me look at my ms. in a new way, which can be helpful sometimes.

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  2. It just proves the old adage - you can't please everyone. A couple of years back this kind of feedback would have had me pulling out my hair with a wail of 'what do I do?!' Not that I'm a veteran by any means, but these days I can view it all a bit more dispassionately and think 'yes, that area needs work, maybe that needs trimming down...' and get on with it. Being as this WIP is a project for next year now, I can leave it sitting and come back to the feedback with a fresh eye in the near future. :)

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  3. In addition to Donna's advice on how to deal with conflicting feedback, remember to always follow your instincts as a writer. The judges are generally only seeing the first 20-50 pages of your novel and may have no clue where it's headed or what foreshadowing and character development need to be incorporated because although it may seem superficial at first, it really matters later in the story.

    So just keep in mind--you're the subject matter expert, and they're the "hired" consultants. Their opinions matter and their experience is valuable, but ultimately you run the company and make the product, so you have the final say in production.

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