Thursday, November 5, 2015

My Open Letter to Readers

Hello! I have taken a slight break while finishing up writing Grace Triumphant. Now that it is in the hands of my beta readers, I am back!

My post today is controversial. Just bear in mind that I am sharing my heart. If you are a reader and reviewer, consider the thoughts of an author.




Dear Reader,

We are authors. Those new books that you look forward to with such eager anticipation do not just appear in CBD catalogs or on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. They have to be written. 

Writing. It's such a small word to describe what really takes place. It cannot depict the sacrifices of authors who stay home from fun social functions to meet their deadline. It doesn't describe the headaches from gazing at a computer screen, the countless hours of research, the agony of finding the perfect adjective or character name. It does not describe the heartaches of life that somehow bleed through our fingertips onto the page, as if wrung from our hearts. The hours of pouring ourselves into our manuscript, the sacrifices of sleep, sanity, and plain ole' fun, the vulnerability we face by etching our soul into a book - how can such a small word really convey all that?

The fact is that it doesn't. Writing does not and never can convey the full meaning of what we as authors do.

But we still do it.

And it just as much for you, our readers, as it is for us. 

Months, years, sometimes decades after we begin our project, our manuscript is finally finished. We look at it with love, with bittersweet memories, with tears, with heartache, attempting not to scream with delight and cry in relief over the words The End.

Weeks, months pass, during which our precious manuscript is critiqued, edited, proofed, formatted, and finally released. The big day comes. Our book hits retailers; it slips into the eager hands of our readers.

And then?

The negativity floods in. Oh, yes, the positive comments and reviews come in too, but the battle is very real against negativity. The long reviews that expound upon the reader's detailed whines and complaints about some element they somehow could not stand. The desperation to find something wrong. The dislike of personal style. The critiques, the questions, the complaints, the picky pettiness that is carried to haughty extremes.

My question is why.

Why?

Do readers not understand what it is authors put themselves through? Do they not appreciate it when a human being (no, not some tough macho author who can take it) is real enough, vulnerable enough, caring enough to put their heart on paper and share it with the world? Do readers not understand that personal style is, well, personal? That characters create themselves? That stories tell themselves? That it is not the author who builds the story, but only unleashes it from its cage? 

You see, for every positive review, there is a negative review sneaking up behind it. Sometimes even hate mail, which I have personally received. But it is the positive reviews that inspire us, that give us the courage to keep being vulnerable, to keep writing when the days are dark and we are bombarded by the horrible disease of Writer's Block. If readers knew how much positivism means to us authors, I think there would be a lot more wonderful reviews out there. 

And that is why I tell you, our dear and wonderful readers, how much positive reviews means and how badly picky ones hurt us. It is not that we cannot take criticism. Believe me, we go through a lot before the book is published. I offer the following tips for writing your thoughts on a book.

  • Books are meant to be enjoyed. If you doubt you will enjoy a book, do not read it. Do not accept it for review. Leave it to those who will enjoy it.
  • Accept personal style for what it is. It isn't your style? Fine. But don't belittle the author because you don't care for the style. Recognize authors as different, unique, and brave enough to be who they are rather than fitting in a mold.
  • Don't be one of those people who leave low ratings before the book is even out! Not only is it rather silly to rate a book you have not read, but it shows that you are coming at the book with negative expectations. So, logically speaking, why would you read it anyway? Remember, books are to be enjoyed - not read for nit-picking.
  • Did you come at the book with positive expectations but it still ended up being disappointing, poorly written, or had undesirable content? By all means, give your thoughts. Warn other readers if there is something inappropriate. But don't be critical, haughty, or mean about it. It is very easy to spot the difference between nit-picking and a gentle warning.
  • Don't belittle the author if the book's ending or characters were not what you wanted. Remember, good tales and characters tell their own stories. Authors should never feel pressure to write a story that will please everyone. Stories must tell themselves...and life is not always happily-ever-after. 
  • Historical-fiction is hard to write. Historians disagree on details. When I wrote From the Dark to the Dawn, three well-known historians who were all on the same PBS show all disagreed with each other on a particular detail. Fact is, no one is going to see history the same. Even some "facts" are not necessarily facts. Be gracious. Some one may look at a period of history different than you. (After all, Columbus called the Native Americans by a very wrong name - Indians. He thought it was a "fact" that he was in India. Mistakes can be made and differences of opinion are there.)

Thank you, readers, for supporting us. Thank you for reading and reviewing our work. Thank you when you are honest in your reviews in a gracious manner. Remember, it is not your opinions that hurt us - it is the way and the spirit in which they are presented.

But, most of all, thank you when you recognize that authors are human beings with hearts. Thank you when you read a book to enjoy it - not just to critique it. Thank you when you support us for being vulnerable. 

Thank you for reading. Please never stop. As long as there are readers who support authors, there will be books.

Sincerely,

An Author


Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!

16 comments:

  1. Really good, Alicia! This is great to keep in mind. :)

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  2. Great post!!! Thank you! As an amatuer author and reviewer, I appreciated learning this. ;)

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  3. Thanks for the reminder! Although I write, it is merely for pleasure at the moment and I forgot at times all the other effort put into publishing. I will be keeping this post in mind when I write reviews.

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    1. I am so glad. Yes, there is a TON of work involved! :)

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  4. Very true. You can say the truth in love or in a nasty way. And some things (writing styles especially) are a matter of personal opinion. What one person loves, another may find hard to read. But don't blast the authors for it.

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    1. Exactly. Truth in love or in a gracious manner. :)

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  5. Coming from the backgound that I do (academic), I do have some difficulty with this subkect matter. I don't necessarily see criticism as something that is intriscially bad, hurtful or wrong. When I submit drafts of assingments to my Supervisors, I almost know its going to come back covered in annotations and suggestions for improvement.

    Or even, for instance, a proposal I sent in recently, and gave to an aquaintaince for pre-reading, who suggested some changes.

    If some folk were to listen in to some of my one-to-one sessions with my Professor, then might think he was a terrible, mean, horrible person who delighted in tearing student's work to shreds- but I will say that I don't think I would be where I am today without him. He has years of experience and knowledge behind him, and although it doesn't always seem like it, is trying to help me do better.

    That's the difference I think- Constructive Criticism can be beneficial- and I for one would prefer if someone was constuctively honest about my work then heaping undue praise on it.
    ...and when it comes to reviews, I am appreciative of those who flag up something about a story which allows me to realize I will not like it. It saves me from reading something that would just annoy me.

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    1. Exactly. When I submit my work to my teams that I have specifically asked for advice and correction, I DO expect there to be some suggestions and criticisms. And they are always good for making my books better!

      You are right about the flagging things that would make people like you and I not want to read the book. I agree. But I still think the flagging should be done in a tactful manner. :)

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  6. Thank you! This almost brought tears to my eyes. I am so sensitive to reviews, that a less-than positive one nags me for weeks. This was really affirming, and actually helps me "toughen up" and face criticism. :) I will be rereading this when I need the reminder...

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    1. Kelsey, my sisters and I adore your book!! It's one of the only ones we can wholeheartedly recommend to other young ladies. ;)

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    2. I am so glad, Kelsey! I know I liked your book! But you can also take comfort from the fact that you are not called to write a book everyone will like. The story God placed on your heart is special, but it is actually the good authors who do not please absolutely everyone. :) It shows you have your own style and are not afraid to write in it. :)

      By the way, you are one of the best editors I know, too.

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  7. Very good, Alicia! And so very true. When I write, I pour my heart and soul into what I write. It is actually hard for me to share my articles with others because it feels like I am giving them a glimpse into my heart and soul. It makes me feel very vulnerable. So while I know that constructive criticism is good and valuable, it's the encouragement that really raises me up and helps me strive to do better.

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    1. It can be hard to be so vulnerable, can't it? I think constructive criticism should be worded graciously enough that it *is* a kind of encouragement, don't you?

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  8. Exactly! Encouraging constructive criticism. :)

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