Oct 20 2009

How to Deal With Conflicting Advice About Your Story

Published by at 11:29 pm under Writing Articles

1. Only three sets of people have opinions that matter—publishers, large groups of readers and you. If a reviewer brings up issues that matter only to him rather than large groups of readers, feel free to disregard those issues.

2. In particular, I’d recommend discounting any review based on scientific accuracy or a highly specialized knowledge-set. If you need a college degree in the field to see the mistake, it probably doesn’t matter to most readers.

For example, a reviewer once complained about a mutant alligator sticking out his tongue in my webcomic because real-life alligators can’t move their tongues. If you are one of the ~1% of my readers that knew that much about alligators, I congratulate you on your knowledge of Crocodilia.  The other 99% of my readers don’t know anything about alligator tongues and don’t care.  However, when your readers DO know the facts, altering them without a good reason may make you look amateurish.  For example, some sci-fi writers mistakenly use a light-year as a unit of time (it’s distance).  Don’t make that mistake!  It’s obvious to many sci-fi readers and especially to sci-fi editors.

3. Don’t stress out too much about receiving totally conflicting advice. It happens. Two intelligent readers can review a work and come to totally different conclusions. As long as you’re confident that you can get a publisher somewhere to go for it, don’t worry too much about trying to please everybody.   Bending yourself into a pretzel is probably unhelpful.

4. In general, I would say that the hierarchy of reviewers goes something like this: editors, publisher’s assistants and assistant editors, published authors in your field, other kinds of authors, friends and family. In particular, friends and family are notoriously poor judges of a manuscript’s quality. On the other side of the spectrum, editors and PAs are clearly the most useful. But even their opinions should be taken with a grain of salt because they might not apply to the industry as a whole. (On the other hand, they might–an unsolicited manuscript with a bad first page will get rejected everywhere).

5.  Be skeptical of advice that doesn’t fit the tone/mood or genre of your work. For example, “this zombie book is too violent” or “you should get rid of the superpowers in this superhero story.”  This sort of advice is more about what you’re trying to write than how you try to write it. Ahem—if you’re writing a zombie book, it’s hard to avoid preposterous amounts of violence. As long as you can find a publisher and audience that appreciate your style, it doesn’t matter whether a reviewer dislikes what you’re trying to write.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “How to Deal With Conflicting Advice About Your Story”

  1. Marissaon 20 Oct 2009 at 11:32 pm

    This brings to mind how Lash was both too black and not black enough. 😉

  2. B. Macon 28 Oct 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Also, as a rule, I’d recommend trying to thrill a smaller group of people rather than try to merely satisfy everybody. Merely satisfied customers will probably not buy the book. Excite them. So, if I were doing it all over and had to use Lash as the lead, I’d try to make him either super “black enough” or hardly black at all. Trying something in the middle is more likely to make everybody say “eh.”

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