Wednesday, September 5, 2012

IWSG - Sometimes, Somewhere Deeper Than You Know

First Wednesday of the month.

IWSG time.

Taking a deep breath...and...

As writers, we're often advised to "Write what you know."  With NEVERLOVE, there are a few things I know a little bit about, things I wish I didn't know.  One of those things is knowing what it was like for someone else's position in life to cast a shadow on my own.

As a teen, I accepted a job, nothing big, working with a prominent family.  I got to ride in Mercedes Benzes, picked up by my employer, occasionally, in a limousine.  Never mind these limos were used to shuttle mourning families for the owner's funeral home business.  I was the poor kid in a rich person's world.  And it wasn't all roses.  I was 14 with a couple of college-aged guys interested in certain...curve appeal I apparently was too nerdy to realize I had.  Lewd comments were whispered to me in quiet corners.  Approached while I worked alone.  Touched.  Inappropriately.

I rejected their advances, jokingly most of the time.  If the advance was too forward, I had enough fighting spirit to push back.  Not too hard.  I couldn't afford to lose my job.  At least, that's what I convinced myself to believe.  I never told my mother.  She would have made me quit.  Our family would have lost out on the couple extra hundred bucks a month I was bringing in - legitimately...a personally big deal given others chose less legal routes.  I didn't want that to happen.  So I dealt with it until I got tired of it and moved on.

I mention this today because my main character deals with something FAR more disturbing.  I'm a little nervous about it.  But as someone who experienced a fraction of this as a teen, I know it happens more often than our society wants to admit.

I meditated on this when I chose to publish the novel.  There will be reviews, some of them not-so-nice.  Some from people with no idea that I know what it feels like to be sexually harassed over a period of time.  I'm working now to separate my personal experience from what's mentioned in reviews.  To focus on my work and the next idea, not flounder about in a sack cloth and ash bemoaning a bad review.

I do wonder, for all you readers and writers, do you feel there is something to learn from a review that is considered a "bad review"?

52 comments:

  1. Glad you took the risk in your story. Sorry you have had harassment experiences to draw from. It's good for girls to have books that deal with these uncomfortable issues because sadly, as you know, these are issues girls have to face. I worry about them for my daughter and try to prepare her the best I can.

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    1. Life is a sequence of challenges. We all have different reactions to these and don't know how we'd deal with them until or unless we face them. But I agree, having books out that at least touch on the existence of the issue can be helpful.

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  2. Here's the thing about reviews. If the same issue comes up often, chances are the author didn't express himself well enough to be understood. Reviewers know this on a base level even if they can't articulate what bothered them.

    I had a CP who insisted she used the same battle tactics from a historical battle, only as written it didn't make any sense. I then read the actual account and realized she just didn't do a good job explaining the sequence of events.

    On the other end of the spectrum, there will be people who no matter how well the author writes a scene, will not understand it. It is beyond their range of comprehension.

    You face an additional challenge because taboo subjects carry their own monkey. But if the writing rises above the stigma it becomes literary gold and wins Pulitzers. :)

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    1. You make an excellent point regarding the repeat mention of an issue. That can definitely be something to work on. I know I try to pay attention to this when I share my work with CP/beta readers. When you heat the same problem from different people, it's a good idea to consider how to improve in that area.

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  3. Maria does have a good point. When something continues to come up in reviews, take note and just use it to improve on the next book.
    You were brave to write that story and it will be tough to separate personal from what you wrote and others' reaction to it. But you did it. Be proud of that!

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    1. It's a continuous process. I've seen where writers have tried to explain themselves for bad reviews and that just seemed to make things worse. I'm working now to think before reacting and, preferably, taking a "no response" tactic to bad reviews. But I'll try to be aware of them so I can learn something if I can.

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  4. I applaud you for writing about a difficult topic, and especially one you have some unfortunate experience with to draw from. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. And I can relate to using real-life experiences to inform your writing, and worrying how others will respond. A lot of what happens in my first novel that I've been gathering feedback for (and querying) is based loosely on some of my own experiences, and when people suggest I'm exaggerating, all I can think is, "This *isn't* impossible. Something similar happened to me!" but I'm not writing a memoir so I take their advice on board and tone it down when I need to. If it makes the story make more sense (even if it's not what I intended), then I'm learning to accept that.

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    1. That's something I was considering, the fact that people will question the character's handling of the issue, but then I remeber people handling different things different ways and share through the filter of what they experienced.

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  5. The one thing I do know, is never, never respond to bad reviews. You don't owe anyone an explanation. As others have pointed out, if more than one or two reviewers points out the same problem, then you might consider fixing that in a revision. But you don't say anything about it to the people who left the reviews. Unless you want to thank them (w/o naming them) in your acknowledgements.

    I really understand about using your past experiences in your stories. It's scary to do it, because you're putting a fragile part of yourself out for the world to see. It can make the bad reviews so much worse, especially if reviewers criticize the actions of your character. And I agree with Natalie, that when our stories address difficult topics, they can be helpful to people facing similar situations. I've always been a voracious reader, and I've learned a lot about how to lead my own life, from reading fiction.

    I've written several novels, although only one is published so far. But in every novel, I end up including something about the dark side of religions, which is a direct result of my own experience in a cult. I've had some criticism of this for my first book, but I don't let it bother me. I know what I experienced and no amount of reader protests will change that. I don't want to offend people, of course, but I do want to make them think.

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    1. I think, in some ways, our experiences seep into things we write.

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  6. I agree with Cheyenne - I applaud you for writing about a difficult topic too. I think that bad reviews can sometimes be "cranks", sometimes be helpful, and if they are about a topic that is too tough for someone . . .well, that's their problem. I once wrote a short story with a sexual assault in it, and had it rejected based on that . . . because it wasn't considered believable. Now, I admit my writing was rougher then, and writing about it was stressful (it was based on a bad experience of mine and was probably too close), so there may have just been bad writing around that part . . .but some of the comments and feedback were from people who just have never been there and don't get the fact that 1 out of 3 women (statistically) are assaulted, harassed or raped. We need authors who can relate those experiences and teach us how to rise above them . . which I'm sure that your book will do.

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    1. Thank you, Tyrean. It is a touch issue to address. I think the novel Speak had to deal with the contraverys surrounding it as well.

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  7. I've had jobs like like that. It's wearing, especially when you need the $. Plus, when we're young, it's much harder to stand up for ourselves. And I agree with Tyrean that we need authors who will talk about those experiences.

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    1. I had a great CP give me the heads up about the topic so I could prepare for the possible contraversy if I chose to keep the "occurence" in the story. I'm glad about that so it won't be a surprise for me.

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  8. You're a brave lady to write about such a difficult topic! As far as the bad reviews go, if there is something constructive offered in it, then use it as a learning tool. If it's just somebody bashing your topic, or being mean, just try to let it roll off your shoulders. (Even books with bad reviews can be best sellers!)

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    1. It's one of those things were people have the right to their opinion so I have to make a choice of dealing with it appropriately or not. I think I'd rather do as you mention, "let it roll off" when it applies.

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  9. I applaud you for being brave enough to follow your story to dark places and for using your own bad experience as a touchstone for it. I'm sorry you had to experience that.

    As for the bad reviews, I agree with your tactic - you have to try to separate your personal feelings from it. Good reviews are the ones that address the text and what they take from it; they aren't meant to be personal to the author. And I do think negative reviews can be constructive. If the same issues pop up over and over again in reviews, then it might mean that's an area I need to work on or there was something I didn't express clearly. As with critique advice, you take what you find helpful and leave the rest. There will always be people who don't see eye to eye with your story or who completely miss the point.

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    1. Thank you, Krispy. And you're right. As a reader, I hadn't really considered the impact of reviews so much as I do now from the writer's perspective. But there is something that can be learned when constructive criticisms are made.

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  10. First, the cover is beautiful! I just saw it on another blog and again on yours. I do think a writer can learn from reviews (good and bad), but it's equally important to remember that not everyone will like every book they read. Some bad review may stem from the story not being right for the reader. As Krispy mentioned, if the same issues keep popping up a writer may stop the think how he or she can do it better next time.

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    1. I'll have to bear in mind the old adage of "can't please all the people all of the time" :-)

      And thank you for the compliment on the cover. I love what Heather did.

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  11. Sorry to say, but that bad review is out there waiting to pounce. You are writing on a very relevant subject. I was harassed on the job and during a master's class was telling the story; one young girl spoke up with derision, shutting me up on the spot. It hurt, but she had no experience to voice her opinion from, but she didn't want to hear mine either. I was astounded. There will always be folks who don't get it, don't want to get it, but love the sound of their own voice, while jealous that they didn’t think of it and couldn’t do it if they tried. Just remember you have something to say, do it proudly, and ignore them, they'll slink back to that dark corner, and you can deal with them in the next novel. Choosing your villains from folks you know or who have written a bad review -- it's where the fun in fiction is. Good luck!

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    1. That is sad that the young woman was so without the ability to be open minded when you were sharing from your experiences. But you're right. Someone is just waiting in the wings to say something negative no matter what.

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  12. You are brave to write about what's happened to you, and I am sorry it did happen. It must be all the more hard when it is personal like that to separate oneself form the bad reviews. I agree, you have to separate your personal feelings. Take any constructive crit (like repeat mentions of the same thing as others said) and try and move forward. It is hard though - putting yourself out there always is. But well done you for tackling such an important topic I say!

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    1. Thanks Viklit. I see the important part will be to capture the learning experience through the items that are repeated.

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  13. Angela, I have two points ...

    One: If the review is negative because you dared to broach a sensitive or difficult topic, then ignore it. If that person doesn't want to read a book that contains (fill in the blank here), then that's their preference and not really a review of the book.

    Two: A successful book will have good and bad reviews. Better to have 100 reviews on Amazon and a quarter of them bad ones than to have only 5 reviews and all of them 5 stars. You want your book to be widely read. And if it is, you will collect both types of reviews.

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    1. Very true. Most successful books have negative and good reviews. I'll take the multiple reviews - preferably with more good than bad :-) - over just a couple of reviews.

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  14. Angela,

    Long ago I was told that reviews are for readers rather than writers, and I try hard not to read them for my own stories. I don't go hunting them down because sometimes they do suck. Instead spend the time with friends and work on your next book. That keeps the doubt demons at bay!

    I'm so sorry you had to go through crap like that.

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    1. You make a very good point, Shelley. I do have a sequel I have to work on along with MINGLED, another project and so much more.

      And although I'm not happy that situation happened, I can say I learned a few things about humanity...and some folks lack of it.

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  15. all i learn from a hurtful bad review is that some people are mean. but a constructive bad review i let lie as everyone has an opinion and can be different and voice it

    no review is the worst review

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    1. Ref: no review is the worst review

      So scarily true -_-

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  16. Ah, Angela. ((hugs))

    I totally know where you're coming from. And yes there'll be some negative reviews, possibly. But I think more than that, you'll hear from fans who read the truth in your words. Who saw themselves, and found a friend in you.

    Don't worry about those negative reviews. You didn't write the book for them. You wrote it for those people who will read your heart--worry about them. Write for them.

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    1. Thanks, Ali. Hugs back atcha :-)

      There are so many wonderful perspectives, all encouraging. You guys are so great!

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  17. Let's face it, sexual harassment has always been with us and unfortunately will be. No amount of legislation seems to be helping. I understand the desire not to lose your job and this is exactly what the harasser plays on. If a person doesn't like the nitty gritty in a book, it's a shame to post a bad review. Topics are so subjective. I only write positive reviews. If I am turned off by a book I don't review it.

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    1. That's a pretty good stance to take from a reviewer's perspective. Thank you for sharing, Denise.

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  18. A negative review is still a review. It means you have SOMETHING for someone TO review. It's a helluva lot more than I have, sister. There is a lesson to learn from them. And, it is that everyone has an opinion, some outspoken to the point of rudeness, but they do it anyways. We can't control what others say or feel or believe. We can only control our own reactions and feelings to them.

    From your story, you are a fighter. There is no doubt in my mind. You will get past any negative review (if there are any bad ones at all). Be your strong, independent self. If you need someone one to pick you up from the floor because someone was mean, you just let me know! I recall you offering to punch out someone last year for being ugly to me, and I'll do the same for you.

    ~from the cheering squad :)

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    1. Awwww...yeah, that person just shouldn't have been mean though. We can join up and do a tag-team lol!!!

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  19. Many thoughts, memories flitted through my mind as I read the post. It is difficult to express something taboo in your writing. Reviews are written for readers who are choosing from many books. Me, I read them with a grain of salt. If the books blurb is great, I don't bother with them. If I'm indecisive, I'll read them. When I consider a book good, I'll pass it on, regardless of reviews.

    This is one time that I'm not depending on the reviews as your cover and blurb are what caught my attention. I'll be standing in line {after Gwen's, of course.}

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  20. This post's discussions have been so enlightening. Readers, writers...the different viewpoints are very educational. And thank you so much for your support :-)

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  21. What a coincidence that we both chose reviews as our IWSG posts. I wouldn't worry about negative reviews because of your subject matter. It isn't swept under the rug as much as it used to be. Having had the privilege of beta reading for you, I know about the very powerful message you put out in Neverlove. That you can choose to come back stronger and become empowered. I don't think many people can complain about that. I think teen empowerment can be a post on our blog tour:)

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    1. That would make a great blog tour post. I'll make a note of that :-)

      I'm guessing we're both feeling the same nervous jitters lol!!

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  22. As you know, bad reviews are inevitable. The thing is to move on from them, even if you do get stuck on them for a while. It does help to know that ALL popular books, including the classics have 1 and 2 star reviews. Also, it helps to remember that reading is subjective, so not everybody will apppreciate or understand your book. Keep on keeping on.

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    1. Thanks, Joy. Keeping on will be a major factor in dealing with things since that can maintain my focus on writing and building up my stories for publication instead of being weighed down by the inevitable.

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  23. Depends on the bad review. For myself, I've learned that a few of my books don't appeal to certain readers. Although that hurt for a while, it helped in the long run. I don't write for those people. I put my work out there in the world for people who will love it. :)

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    1. That is a fabulous and positive-forward attitude to have.

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  24. As writers we have to learn to take the good with the bad. And some reviewers are down-right mean - that said...i do think there are bad reviews we can learn something positive from and use them in our futures. You're very brave for writing about something you've experienced.

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    1. Thank you, Ainsley. I take heart in knowing there are people out there that endured things I can't even begin to imagine and rose above it.

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  25. Well first of all I'm deeply sorry you had to suffer through sexual abuse. If anything, though, it's this kind of trauma that gives writers the depth of feeling they need to write well and true. As for negative reviews, just shrug them off. It's all you can do. I have worked for a newspaper all my adult life and I've learned the hard way that you absolutely can NOT please most people most of the time. Worse, for some reason readers only voice their opinions (usually through letters to the editor) when they don't like what you've written. They almost never write in to say "good job." It used to get me down then I realized opinions are like assholes and everyone has one.

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  26. You can please some people all of the time, and all people some of the time...but never all people all the time. It's the way of it.
    The reviews I've gleaned the most helpful critique from are those which highlight what the reader loved - and what didn't work as well for them. These type of reviews suggest a thoughtful consideration of the book up for review, and I appreciate that. Of course...it's fabulous to read glowing reviews. These encourage so much.

    I have read a number of books with taboo topics over this year - and readers definitely react in widely varying ways. Sometimes, I think, a theme hits too close to home for them, and they lash out. The most important thing (which Kate Copeseeley once told me, and I've never forgotten) is to let it roll off your back like water off a duck. You'll be praised and you'll be panned. It's the life of an author. Ha! Write what you love and keep growing in the craft.

    I so look forward to reading NEVERLOVE, Angela!

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  27. Wow. Sorry to hear you had such an experience, but I bet it's made you write Neverlove even better. As for reviews, sometimes thoughtful, articulate ones can actually teach you something, but in general, it's best to remember that you can't please everyone. There will always be someone (even if you wrote Harry Potter) who doesn't like your book and will say unkind things. And they hurt! But you have to remember that you wrote the best story you could, and keep in mind the people who DO like it - because there will always be at least some of those too :) What I do when a review depresses me is go look for books I've loved on Amazon or Goodreads and read the 1 star reviews garnered by books I thought were awesome - takes the sting away a little :)

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  28. You are very brave to talk about the painful experiences out in the open, and I admire you for that. I can't wait to read Neverlove. It sounds like a book I will enjoy - with a lot of depth in both, the plot and characterization.

    As for the bad reviews - all books, even the brilliant ones get those. It is a part of who we are as authors: we put ourselves and our creations out there for others to love or hate.

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