Reacting to Feedback
As you dive into the world of self-publishing, one of the biggest fears that you must overcome is the reaction that you will get from those that read your work. For me, I had written a short story and kept it to myself for months before I finally shared it with my wife. I knew I could count on her for honest feedback. I knew she was aware of my writing ability from many of the business and personal documents I had either written or helped her with at home. Also, when I was an independent consultant, she often proofed the documents I produced.
This was different, however. I had invented my own story with characters, settings, and emotions. If she hated it, I would have probably quit going down this path. Luckily, she liked it and I continued on and gradually expanded the circle of people that I let read and comment on my work.
I became very lucky with this path. I have a dear friend who is an avid reader and is very detail-oriented. She agreed to become my editor. In this capacity, she not only caught all of my careless punctuation and grammatical mistakes, she also looked at my story objectively and told me what parts worked and didn’t work. My first two short stories were published by an online literary magazine. My first book, Frankly Speaking, went the independent publishing route through Amazon.
Once the book was published, the iterative process of receiving feedback began. It started with family members that bought the book and posted five star reviews on Amazon. After a couple of those, the initial excitement wore off because they were, after all, family members. The excitement really began when I started to receive reviews from people I didn’t know. Those five star reviews really validated what I had done.
One day, after the first book was out a couple of months, I received a two star review, the first that was less than five stars after about 12 reviews. I quickly looked to see what valuable feedback I had received from this reviewer and there was only a single word in the review, “Boring”. I felt a few different emotions, one of which was anger. I looked to see what other brilliant reviews this person had posted and only found two other book reviews that were just stellar for gardening books. My initial reaction to this review was to reply to the reviewer on Amazon. I wanted to ask why they found the book boring and what I could have done to make it better. I also wanted to chastise the person. I had written 70,000 or so words and this only merited a one-word review. I actually went as far as writing a response and then I came to my senses and deleted it. I had seen other independent authors respond to negative reviews and I promised myself I wasn’t going to be “that guy”. After this one word review, several additional four and five star reviews came in and this one bad review became an anomaly.
I also publish a newsletter and I correspond with readers via email. I highly recommend this as well as building a mailing list to increase your exposure. One of my readers, a former English teacher, wrote me to let me know that she thoroughly enjoyed my book but she had found some additional typos, grammatical issues, etc. in the book and would I be insulted if she sent them to me.
Part of the flexibility in independent publishing is being able to go back and improve upon your product once it’s published. I could have left it alone, but I felt that future readers deserved the best product possible. I corrected the book and I then proceeded to enlist this person as a beta reader on my future books. This is definitely a suggestion that I would make to my fellow authors. Find those detail-oriented, voracious readers out there and let them preview your books. They will find things that you and your editors missed and it will make your book a better product.
The beta reader process has helped me improve my books prior to publishing. It also gave me the courage to issue advance reader copies. At first, the idea of giving my book away for free prior to it being published seemed counter-intuitive. I then realized the value of doing this. I could release a book and have reviews appear on day one giving the book credibility and garnering some valuable attention.
So, what is the bottom line of reacting to feedback? Take it all in. Qualify it. Use what is useful and discard what is not. In the end, you will have a better product and if you publish a better product, that improves the playing field for all independently-published authors. There is a stigma in some circles regarding independent publishing. The quality of the product is viewed as less than that of traditionally published works. In some cases, this is true. There are independently-published authors that self-edit or don’t bother to edit at all and their product is lacking. Don’t be one of those. Treat your independently-published work as something you wish to be proud of. Don’t be afraid of feedback. Qualify both the positive and the negative feedback so that you can find the useful stuff and discard what is not going to help you.