Monday, November 25, 2013

Keeping a Professional Distance From our Book

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about gaining distance from our books.  I really feel that’s vital to both editing them effectively, gaining a critical perspective of them, and learning from negative feedback.
One way to gain distance from our books is to write another book.  The authors I know who wrote one book (and were traditionally published), fell into this “only child syndrome” with their book…they helicopter-parented it and were genuinely hurt over poor reviews.  Hurt to the point where they were immobilized and couldn’t move forward with writing again.
Another way to cultivate this distance is to adopt the most businesslike attitude we can about our books. Because, if we’re sticking with publishing as a career…it is a business.  I think that’s where writers got off-track so many times in the past.  We didn’t understand our contracts, we didn’t understand the nature of the industry, we didn’t understand our responsibility to our book…which is to promote ourselves as a brand and work on the next story.

As a business, there’s a research and development angle.  Knowing what resonates with our readers and what they dislike about our books helps us to improve the stories and secure our readers’ loyalty to a series.  I’ve gotten positive and negative feedback on all my books and keep track of it on very basic spreadsheets.  I think studying the reviews/feedback this way helps us maintain distance from the work…otherwise, reading our reviews can be extraordinarily painful.  But getting something positive out of a negative review can help make my next book better.
I get emails and Facebook messages from readers.  I read each book’s highlights on the book’s product page (the text that readers highlight or comment on with their Kindle device).  I sometimes venture onto Goodreads—although you really do have to be strong there because reviews can be particularly vicious on that site. 
What readers like helps me, too.  They frequently have suggestions about plot developments they’d like to see happen in future books.  I’d be crazy not to listen to these, but it does reach a point where I realize only I know what’s best for my stories.  I’m not writing my own fan fiction, here.  But I can see trends, if many readers are interested in certain plot points.  Relationship arcs, story arcs…whatever piques reader interest the most.  And it frequently does influence my writing.  There definitely seems a shift to me in publishing toward a sort of crowdsourcing of ideas in writing.  Sites like Wattpad, where authors release stories chapter by chapter and readers give feedback are influencing this trend, too.
If you go this route, I’d collect this information over a period of time and probably not on days where we’ve just had a rotten writing day or are feeling insecure about our ability.  One thing does help—keeping a Word doc with copy/pasted positive feedback or reviews or emails.  This can really help, especially if you’re dealing with a crop of bad reviews (sometimes they go in cycles).
How do you keep a professional distance from your book?
And…Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends.  I’m going to take the remainder of the week off from blogging to celebrate the holiday—and be Doctor Mom to my teenager who is getting his wisdom teeth out. :)  I’ll be back again on Sunday with Twitterific.