I can’t count the times I’ve been asked by a writer to provide “an honest” critique or review of his work. Invariably, I think to myself, “What? I’m going to give you a dishonest review? I’m going to lie to you?” I think what they mean is they don’t want me to spare their feelings. I never ask for an honest critique. Last month, I asked my beta readers to provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of my novel, A Wished-For Love. In a few cases, I asked them for feedback in specific areas. All I asked of Michelle W. was her opinion. Wowsie! 🙂 She’s the second beta reviewer to respond, although she hasn’t officially sent me her notes; we spoke in my driveway Sunday while I took a breather from trimming the forest that is my front yard. She’s working up a formal review to send to me soon.
Michelle is my next door neighbor, a voracious reader, and a brilliant reviewer. Why do I call her brilliant? Because she’s hiding her light under a bushel! She has a skill for reviewing that I did not know she possessed. As she spoke, I had the feeling she must have worked at one time as a book reviewer for the New York Times. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see her byline on a review for the 2017 bestseller of the year. She spoke openly and bluntly about what she thought my book lacked and what she thought deserved praise. I have to gloat: she told me A Wished-For Love has the best ending of any book she’s read (Did you hear that Ernest?). That comment was the shot in the arm I needed. I’ve spent the month since sending my baby out to Beta readers wondering why I thought I could write a novel; that writing cheap pulp poetry and love essays doesn’t mean I belong on any tier of competent writers; what presumption; what arrogance; what a gullerbull.
Michelle hesitated to speak to me at first. No one wants to hurt a friend’s feelings, or risk harming a friendship. As writers, we’ve faced that dilemma: “Do I tell Joe Shmuckatelli what I really think of his book, or do I spare his feelings?” I suspect more often than not we spare Joe’s feelings knowing that he’ll eventually pay an editor to tell him the truth. Michelle and her family have been our neighbors for fourteen years, speaking across the yard, sharing parts of our lives, being neighborly. We’ve watched her kids grow from toddlers to young adults. I understand her initial hesitation. But I’m glad her husband prodded her.
So, Michelle gave me the feedback I desired, wanted, yearned for, lusted after, needed, feared, dreaded, cringed at (I’m plumb out of synonyms). She listed the novel’s strengths and weaknesses. She told me the MC was likeable and redeemed himself by novel’s end. She said Frank was too perfect and needed a flaw (hmmm – I can work with that). My MC’s girlfriend was a bit blasé at first but grew on Michelle as the book progressed. She loved the plot twists and the parts that made her teary-eyed (if you don’t cry, your readers won’t cry).
She also noted a difference between the first and final drafts, a difference I never noted: my use of adjectives had changed – I used fewer. I may have been too careful about over-describing. Michelle liked that part of the first draft better, so that’s something I will rectify. Finally, she said the two timelines were not confusing and she followed the story easily – whew! My biggest worry was whether readers would have a hard time following two timelines. She gave me more feedback but that’s for another post. (She also said A Wished-For Love cries out for a sequel 🙂 ❤
During my time as a member of the Facebook writers’ group, Writers World, I grew heavy, thick lizard skin. I learned that a harsh critique was the norm and I’d better get used to it. Randall Andrews and Colleen Aune Moore didn’t spare my feelings when I posted in Writers World and that made a world of difference in my writing and in how I view my writing: I’m no Hemingway. Nobody is, in the first draft….
If Michelle reads this post, I want to assure her I loved her critique. I didn’t have to don my lizard skin because she gave me exactly what a good beta reviewer gives: an honest critique. Did I just say that!?