Certainly, as an author, ask fifty of your readers for constructive feedback and I’d put money on you getting fifty different opinions back.
Pleasing everyone is not possible – ever. So, why ask for a professional critique of your work if it’s just another opinion? Until you have one, it’s hard to emphasise their importance, but imagine that I’m a bridge between the author and their fifty, hundred, thousands of readers.
Author writes first draft…tidies it up a little…then places it up for sale, with only a vague idea of their readership, or why this market would buy their work (I know what I’m talking about, I see this situation played out every single day). Their initial enthusiasm and readers’ continued exposure to mistake-ridden self-published work results in a few sales – hurrah! That developmental editor wasn’t needed!
But try sending that book out to professional reviewers, the ones who really can make a difference to a book’s visibility, or to the wider public outside of this niche. Or fall on one of many discerning readers alive and kicking who do care about the quality of a story as well as its ability to entertain or educate. Then there may be a problem.
I concede, a literary critique is probably not for the author who only wants to entertain their family, friends and a handful of others, whose enjoyment at seeing a book on sale bearing their name is their driver. They don’t need it. But, for any author at the start of their career looking to gain continuous notoriety for solidly crafted books, a literary critique could make a huge difference.
A critique’s ability to flag up plot holes are a good example. An author is often too involved with the developing of the book overall that they miss glaringly obvious mistakes. Let’s take Bob (not his real name). Bob came to me with a story, set in present day. In his book, a revolutionary piece of machinery (one that actually exists in real life) malfunctions, sucking the main character into a parallel universe. Bob sent his protagonist, whilst in the parallel world, on a mission – to find that same machine in the alternative reality, and to prevent that parallel’s inhabitants from finding their way to our existence. I didn’t have a problem with any of that.
Bob’s plotline, however, insisted that, to save the day, the alternate reality’s three main scientists working on the machine project had to die, and that the machine’s plans had to be destroyed. Here, I intervened.
I argued that killing the three main scientists wouldn’t stop the rest of what would be a huge, collaborative team rebuilding the machine. Neither did his character’s mission of destroying the machine’s plans account for the fact that digital backups of every stage of the manufacturing process would exist (the parallel world was also set in present day, in a reality that had the same technology and society structure as ours), or that copies would be easy to find within other government departments.
Bob took umbrage to what I saw as simple flaws that made his story unrealistic and lacking credibility. The plot holes, in my eyes, undermined the whole book, as it made his character’s mission and ensuing sequence of events futile and unnecessary.
Bob wrote his book longhand, which makes huge rewrites hard. I suspect this contributed to the fact that he didn’t act on all the issues I raised. The other explanation is that he just didn’t agree with me. That’s fine – a waste of his money, but fine. I can’t make someone see a critique as an opportunity to iron out flaws if they don’t want to.
Anyway, from Bob’s plot and back to opinions….I had some opposing comments on a blog, about how retailers, particularly Amazon, present as many consequences as positives for the new writer with no platform. I qualified all commenters’ points on the particular platform it was published, but I suspect some of them didn’t even read the article before they jumped in feet first. “A disparaging view of Amazon….oh no, we can’t have that!” I just wanted to make authors think about whether selling via Amazon is worth it, in their circumstances. The piece was just my point of view, not the Gospel of Saint Diane.
Whether you see a professional critique, or a stimulating, provocative blog, as ‘more useless opinions’ – or whether I’m the a*sehole – is your prerogative. I can’t please everyone. For each client like Bob, there are many more who take my comments and run with them. Here’s what a client said about me only a few days ago: “I found Diane’s comments and advice to be very fair and extremely useful. She picked up a number of issues that I hadn’t thought about before which will undoubtedly help me to improve my book and hopefully make it more appealing to literary agents. I had previously relied on feedback from friends and family, however, Diane’s specialist knowledge and constructive approach has made it clear to me that professional input is vital in helping to deliver an enhanced product.”
‘Nuff said, really.
If a critique could help you, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details, or visit www.thewritinghall.co.uk.
Developmental editor and publishing consultant Diane Hall is the author of three books; she has also ghost-written books for others and created a plethora of content, on more subjects than you could care to imagine, for numerous clients since the beginning of her career. She is proud to have fundamentally shaped series of books and more than a hundred individual titles over the last decade with various authors, nationally and internationally.
Among her editing qualifications, she holds a linguistics diploma, which involves the study of language and speech. Diane employs this knowledge in the forensic linguistic work she sometimes undertakes.
Diane has seen the introduction and subsequent rise of self-publishing, and passionately keeps abreast of its disruption of the publishing industry. She is a thought leader when it comes to the future of book marketing, fuelled by the poor results authors see when employing traditional techniques.
Thanks to imagery majestic at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the image.