Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dear Author: Here's a Little Piece of My Mind

Question of the day: Do you think about your readers as you write? Does that work for/against you? How do you NOT think about all this stuff?

Like it or not (and the jury is still out on this one), I do think about my readers as I write. Especially as I wrote book #3 (which I previous referred to as The Happiest Days of My Life, but it is getting a title change, so now I'm just referring to it as book #3). It was really difficult not to because Time of My Life was such a break-out book that I got A LOT of feedback - a lot good, some not so good - and I found it impossible to void out the feedback as I wrote.

Now listen. Here's the thing. I write for readers. Without them, I wouldn't have a career. So while it wasn't always a wonderful thing - me mulling over some of the harsher reviews and whatnot - I did find it important to consider what struck a chord and what didn't. For some reason, TOML was read by a lot of Christian readers, some of whom wrote me, my agent or just posted on their blogs, that they enjoyed the book but took issue with my liberal use of the F-bomb. I'll be honest in saying that, as a non-Christian NYC-er who is exposed to some pretty foul language, this criticism never even occurred to me. Never once. But, as I was writing book #3, did I at least give a second thought to every F-word I used this time? Sure. It was an easy enough fix that didn't compromise my writing or my characters. When I felt like the swear word was absolutely necessary, you bet your ass (ha!) I put it in. But when maybe I could find a better way to phrase it, I found a way to do that too.

I also learned a lesson in my first book and that was that readers really want to LIKE your protagonist. Not everyone liked Natalie from The Department, which is just fine, and I wouldn't change a word, but it is and was something that I'm now conscious of. Why would readers agree to give you their time for 300 pages when they don't even care if your character wins or loses? Ditto some of the reviews that said I was a good writer but didn't develop my characters deeply enough. Those really stuck with me, and I agonized with my characters in book #3, making sure (I hope) that they were three-dimensional, real, fleshed-out people, like friends you might know in real life.

So that was the good. The bad is also all of the above. :) And that while I have all of these different reviews and voices and criticism clanging in my head, it's easy to feel paralyzed. I know, because I was. Even though you KNOW that you can't please everyone and that certainly books are SUBJECTIVE, if you ruminate too much on these things, you simply can't write or you can't write well. For a while, I was so, so, so terrified of writing crappy character development, that I didn't write anything. I mean, God forbid someone put up another Amazon review stating my characters were flimsy! (That's sarcasm if you can't tell.) But yeah, for a while there, it DID feel like one of those Amazon reviews would be the end-all.

So...I guess what I'm trying to say here is that it's a mixed bag. But in the end, I'm glad that I'm weighing my reader feedback. They're the ones who buy books, and they're the ones, ultimately, whom I have to please. I pleased the majority of readers with Time of My Life, so with book #3, I aimed to do something similar...I hope I have. And even if I have, I'm sure they'll be dissenters. Oh well. They'll post their Amazon reviews, and hopefully, I'll make them happy with book #4. :)

What about you guys? Do you listen to what your readers have to say?


Trish Ryan said...

I'm amazed by how polarizing four letter words can be. I had to take the f-word out of my memoir, which was a total bummer. But if I left it in, certain bookstores wouldn't even carry the title. Frustrating, but I try to remember that if I'm a writer, than I should be able to find another way to convey that emotion.

I'm having the same issue with Book #2, and a chapter title that contains the word A$$. Somehow the point is lost when I change it to "bottom"!

Maya / מיה said...

I just wanted to say that I am really glad you're reworking the title for book #3-- I was never crazy about "The Happiest Days of My Life" because it seemed kind of awkward and bulky. You've talked about how the title of THE DEPARTMENT OF LOST AND FOUND came long after the book, so I feel certain that you will come up with something awesome this time! I didn't want to say anything because I felt confident the book was in the good hands of you and the agent, and that if it needed a title change, you'd figure it out. Then again, since you actually listen, maybe I should have said something!

Oh, and I can't really call myself a reader yet, because I live in Israel and I haven't been able to get a copy of your books yet. But I just ordered hard-back TOML from Amazon as one of the only things my mother-in-law will bring with her when she comes to visit us here in June, so I am very excited to start reading soon!! I guess that's at least one book sale you can credit entirely to this blog. :) Maybe I'll get your first or third book on my next trip to the US!

The Word Verification word is "gatters," which sounds like a profession you'd read about in a Charles Dickens novel. :) said...

I'm also happy to hear that you're changing the title. 'Happiest Days of My Life' sounds too close to 'Time of My Life' and readers might think they are the same book or related.

....great post, having written you about TOML, (and received your gracious answer!) I can only imagine how those voices must play in the back of your mind...yet at the same time, it's YOUR book, and you have to remain true to your voice, while keeping your readers in mind. (Whew, that is a double edged sword!)

Kristan said...

I agree with Suzanne on the title (and can't help wondering if that's the reason for the change).

But, unrelated, I have a question: as a pantser, and one with a bad memory, I'm curious how you keep track of everything you're writing and make sure you don't contradict yourself? Especially since I have a tendency to jump around scenes, or even projects, sometimes I find that I've written something and later write something that doesn't mesh. Or worse: I think I've written something but haven't, which means something I wrote later doesn't make sense! (Does THAT even make sense? :P)

Anyway, just curious what your take is on being consistent when you're a pantser.