Chances are your closest family members will love whatever it is you have written — even if it’s just a shopping list. They love you and, in turn, will love it.
But what about your author-friends? Those people who, like you, pen books? Many of my friends, who are authors themselves, have taken the time to read Baby Grand — out of the legions of books out there — and I am truly grateful for their time and their support. Many times, these author-friends will have positive comments (yay!) or have questions about plot and character and back story (that I love to answer!). But, other times, author-friends have had criticisms. And because they are authors themselves, we tend to take these critical comments — which can be very specific and very insightful — seriously. One author-friend went as far as sending me an email itemizing all the “errors” he said he found in Baby Grand. Now, THAT was a fun day. :)
Okay, so what do you do when faced with such criticism. What did I do on that fateful day I received an innocuous-looking email with the subject line: BABY GRAND? Did I open up a can of whoop-ass on him? Tell him he was ugly and his mother dressed him funny? No. Actually, I did nothing. There’s nothing TO do. Damn, I may have even thanked him for his time.
Well, first of all, I do believe — with all my heart — that, despite the laundry list of “errors” he was kind enough to send me, this person had my best interests at heart. After all, he is my friend.
Second of all, after reading his comments closely after the sting had worn off, I learned a little something, if not about my book (if I didn’t agree with what he wrote), but about readership in general.
And, lastly, I know that everyone — even novelists — are entitled to their opinion.
I remember in my graduate school creative writing workshops, it was policy that the author whose work was being torn apart…I mean, read…was unable to respond or defend herself until everyone was done. So if a fellow writing student said, “I didn’t find this interesting at all” or “This wouldn’t happen,” you couldn’t yell, “But…But…You don’t understand, I was trying to…” None of that nonsense. You had to sit there and take it. And sometimes that was tough. But usually by the time everyone had their say, and I, as the author, got my turn for a rebuttal, I had cooled down, or I had heard so may varying comments that all of them, on their own, seemed so much smaller — and thereby less hurtful or personal — than they had when I had first heard them.
And that’s the point. Even though we respect our author-friends — and we should, since they are right there in the trenches with us and KNOW what it’s like to receive criticism and KNOW how hard it is to write — their opinions are just that: opinions. Just like with beta readers: Listen and learn, but trust your voice and vision.
So the next time an author-friend graciously reads your novel and offers to give you some pointers, via email or otherwise, let him. Or her. Or whomever is kind enough to take the time to do so. The comments are coming from a good place and, when the dust settles, you may learn something. And if the comments aren’t coming from a good place, then you may have bigger problems on your hands than a few two-dimensional characters. You may have discovered a two-dimensional friendship.