5 Lessons I’ve Learned From Reviews

After a few days of being out, The Clique has received around thirteen full-length reviews; some positive, some negative, a decent amount in between. Hey, I’m just happy I haven’t gotten a one-star yet. But anyway, the point of this post is my attempt to learn from the negative reviews and become a better writer by distilling the aspects of The Clique that weren’t loved into a set of new rules to follow when I’m writing. Feel free to take a look and let me know what you think.

  1. Three equal perspectives are too much for a 200 page novel. Reviews that seem to indicate this talk about too many characters, too many different viewpoints, or difficulty in following the story. As I think back on examples, I have to admit that it’s hard to think of many novels (especially shorter ones, outside the speculative genres) that have multiple pov’s.
  2. Don’t start chapters off with action or dialogue. This is a terrible habit that I slipped into with The Clique. It’s so much easier to start the scene immediately and describe as you go, but it confuses a lot of readers (and, again, I can’t really point to a successful novel that doesn’t consistently start chapters with at least some narration). So add a little scene-setting before jumping into the action.
  3. Clear descriptions, right when the character is introduced, are a must. I tend to be lax in my descriptions (as an author, I’m all about getting straight to the story), but the problem with waiting—even a few paragraphs—to describe a character is that the reader starts to picture someone as soon as that person is introduced. If they don’t have any guidelines, the result will be a hazy picture of what the character might look like, and frustration that there isn’t more to go on.
  4. Readers like someone they can get behind. Oh boy, I thought I’d learned this lesson already, but perhaps not. With this novel, I didn’t make the mistake of unlikeable main characters… More like unlikeable love interests. I’ve heard it claimed that all YA fiction is romantic by necessity, and while that might not be entirely true, I think it makes sense to have some amount of love—and someone lovable—in the story.
  5. An underlying message can be incredibly valuable. I believe the main theme of The Clique is what has saved it from one-star reviews thus far. Even negative reviews seem to mention something along the lines of ‘The story has a great message, if you can look past its faults.’ It’s the same reason I can’t bring myself to criticize, say, Fahrenheit 451 or Lord of the Flies. Even though there are points in both novels where I didn’t like the story, the message behind them was more than enough to make up for it.

To end this post, I suppose I would say thank you to all of my reviewers. The ones who liked The Clique, and the ones who didn’t. I think all points on the spectrum are necessary to learn and to maintain a willingness to keep writing. And I’m always surprised that people make it all the way through my work—trust me, there was a time when that wasn’t possible.

Any thoughts on this list? On reviewers in general? If you’d like to view the reviews that inspired this post, there’s a link at the top right. Otherwise, feel free to like, comment, or share this post. If you want, of course. It’s not like I’m going to force you or wave a giveaway in your face (perhaps with an Amazon gift card as the prize).

One thought on “5 Lessons I’ve Learned From Reviews

  1. The problem with these “lessons” however is that you’re basing them off the reviews you’ve gotten, i.e. off of people’s likes and dislikes, when you should be going off what is objectively good and not good. Your fourth point, for example, can have exceptions, meaning a novel doesn’t have to be about a likeable character as long as he’s interesting (the perfect example of this is “A Clockwork Orange.”)

    I’m sorry but I also disagree with the fifth observation. When people say that “well at least it has a good message” it means they’re scrambling for something positive to say–basically, it’s not a legit criticism or point. A story could be terrible regardless of its “message,” when judging a book or any work of art you’re looking at HOW the message is transmitted, not the message itself. A lot of bad books and poems are justified by the messages they contain even as the messages themselves can be banal: “war is bad,” “racism is not good,” etc.

    I know the point of these lessons is to write by what people seem to like, rather than what is good, but at the same time shouldn’t writers be educating readers as to what is good (to paraphrase Whitman) instead of giving them the same crap over and over? I just watched the movie Interiors and while I can’t say I was a “fan” of the movie I was still thankful I watched it instead of some horror/action schlock that I normally like because it actually engaged my mind instead of dulled it.

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