Feedback: the priceless gift

Had an experience that made me take notice – so I stopped to figure out what happened.

I had gone to a new website – looked mildly interesting – for a writer. This writer put up the cover of his first book as kind of a teaser for his second – so far so good – and it sounded interesting enough that I clicked through to Amazon – considering buying.

So: he’s got me as a live one.

I read the description of the second book, and my brain goes, ‘Wait a minute – something not quite right here.’

The description for the second book was for a science fiction book. Conspiracies and space warfare and etc.

It was supposed to be a sequel – to his first book, written a while back.

But here’s the problem: the cover for the FIRST book hadn’t said a word about SF, just a one-word title and a name (of new writer – not one who is known to write SF).

The ARTICLE he wrote was about the importance of COVERS. So I was primed to actually consider HIS in more detail than I normally would have done.

And it didn’t say, to me, what it was supposed to say. To me, the image and the title did NOT convey ‘SF inside.’ My opinion, of course.

So, being the nice helpful person I am, I bothered to go back, think it through, and tell this writer my impression of his cover strategy. As mildly and inoffensively as I could. I don’t do this often, and only when I think I have something to add to a thread. It takes a bit of time,

And he ARGUED with me! When I happened to go back to see if there was further discussion (being interested in covers, as a writer who will be self-publishing one of these days, because that’s what drew me to his website/blog in the first place), I read that he thought I was wrong, that there WERE SF elements on the cover, and I had somehow missed the signals.

Which miffed me, again mildly. [By way of credentials, I have been reading SF since the 1960s, and even had a membership in the SF Book Club which kept good SF coming regularly.]

I stopped to think why, and realized that there is a lesson there for ME: If someone does you the favor of giving you unbiased feedback about any aspect of your writing from THEIR point of view, your only acceptable response is “Thank you – I will think about what you said.”

Not to argue that your visitor and commenter is WRONG.

I have done this before, left careful feedback, and clearly labeled it ‘my opinion.’ Heck – I did it at Hugh Howey’s website (before his current fame – not that long ago), and his response was exactly right: Thanks for the suggestion, and I will consider it carefully. As a commenter (and now a fan – having gone to Amazon after his response and bought the whole WOOL omnibus), I felt listened to and appreciated. As if, in a small way, I had been able to contribute something.

So I got a valuable lesson from the experience: the one thing you cannot buy is the unvarnished opinion of a new true commenter. It is a gift when someone offers a considered opinion of your writing. It is feedback from a new READER. And it means you have made a connection. The last thing you want to do is discourage or discount the flash of inspiration you get. The aphorism is “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It is TRUE.

Thoughts?

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2 thoughts on “Feedback: the priceless gift

  1. Kimberley Grabas

    I agree, Alicia. As writers, we sometimes have our heads in something so long we lose perspective. We make assumptions based on only OUR experiences or OUR viewpoint. Fresh eyeballs can catch mistakes; fresh perspectives can catch an incorrect premise. It doesn’t mean you must accept every outside opinion or argument as valid–just important.

    Thanks again for your fresh eyeballs on my work 🙂

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    1. ABE Post author

      Unfortunately, it uses up – at least for that blog post/fiction chunk – one whole ‘first-timer.’ 😦

      Some of our more recent problems – including some categories of typos (‘baited breath’ anyone?) – as writers actually come from technology intended to help. But I shudder at ‘autocorrect’ and spellchecker having any control over my words. They are allowed to flag potential problems – but it’s up to me to decide what to do to correct them. Or not. I sometimes design words or use them ‘wrong’ deliberately. I had a beta reader point out recently that the phrase ‘she slept the iMac’ as a description of shutting the computer down temporarily had made her have to go back and read it several times before she got my meaning. Sadly, clever as I thought I was, I think she’s right – and it will be replaced with ‘put the iMac to sleep.’ Her fresh eyes – and feedback – helped me see it stopped the flow not because it was wrong (I think it would have worked, possibly), but because it took her out of the story, which is a far worse sin.

      I’ve seen many a typo that could only have come from a machine (maybe some of them have a sense of humor?)

      Someone, I think it may have been Lawrence Block, told a story on himself about a proofreader who caught him talking about “shooting peasants” when he intended to write about “shooting pheasants.” I’ve never forgotten those poor peasants.

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