Author Voice: No, your way is not the only way…

I am primarily an author, but I do review. I’ve recently written about how I do my reviews. As I have a new book coming out, we’re putting the ARCs out there for reviewers to get as many early reviews as possible. Hopefully favorable ones. You know what it’s like. Who wants bad early reviews?

Spanish-Bay-HMH_3dbook

Please let me tell my story my way. After all, it IS my story, not yours. In return, I promise you the same courtesy.

Who wants bad reviews, period?

The other day I received an e-mail that made my neck hair stand out straight:

“…but I’m an author too so I will definitely let you know if that is the case. If I see anything that really stands out as weirdly worded or a noticeable break in flow, would you like a quick note? I have a very good eye for these things and pick up things others can miss.”

No, I don’t care about your punctuation being off in the first sentence, but when I read this, I wonder: do you not think we have editors who’ve already done this? What makes you qualified (or entitled) to do this?

It got even better in a subsequent e-mail:

“I’m at about 25 percent and there have been some odd paragraphs so I will just ignore them.”

Odd paragraphs? Okay… So you think you’re better than my editor… I feel much relieved and I can’t wait to read that review (not! I’ll admit, these kinds of e-mail make me nervous) Are you upset because I told you to relax and enjoy the read, because my editor and publisher had things well in hand? Or is your self-esteem so low that you feel the need to pluck everyone else’s just to feel better?Because, quite honestly, comments like the ones above, as helpful as they might be, if you’re self-publishing and have no editor (!), they do come across as bullying, because there’s always the threat of a negative review looming on the horizon. Granted, no one has to like a book they read, but that doesn’t mean we have to impose our personal likes on others.

Here’s the thing. I’m not a native English speaker. In fact, English is my seventh language, and my editor and I have an agreement to keep that “nerve” in my books, on purpose. So yes, the grammar will be correct, but it may not be 100% of what a native English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, American, Kiwi, South African, Australian, Hong Kong, Indian or Singaporean speaker would use. I use these examples to highlight that there are many different ways of speaking proper, grammatically correct, yet strongly flavored, English.

Besides, while we always strive toward making the ARCs as perfect as we can, they are not the final product, which is why we tell you to bear in mind, that there is proofing going on. That’s why it’s an advance copy, not a final one. And with deadlines looming and with printers & the Amazons and Smashwords of this world requiring things at certain times, you sometimes need to do things in parallel in order to get them done in time.

It scares the hell out of me to think that an author or any reviewer for that matter, takes the liberty of thinking they know better than I or my editors, what is correct and what isn’t. This goes beyond commas and punctuations, and for someone who doesn’t even master a comma before a “too”, sorry, but I don’t have much faith in your grammatical abilities. Just saying.

People get hung up on all kinds of things, and they read things into the book that isn't there. I guess I'm as big a failure as the bible then...

People get hung up on all kinds of things, and they read things into the book that isn’t there. I guess I’m as big a failure as the bible then…

I was recently at an author convention where we spoke a lot about author voice, and I’ll be honest with you that I don’t really know what my author voice is. All my editors keep telling me is that I have one, that it is distinct and that it is what makes me such a unique writer. Now this isn’t the first time I’ve had authors offer me their advice on how to write properly. I even had one author send me a ten (!) page document with all the things he felt were out of place in my book, from point of view to all kinds of other issues:

The prologue feels unnecessary.

The brief look into the POV of the council members seems like a tangent. I may revisit this opinion later, but so far the “inside Tafel” section seems small enough to make the inner workings of the council irrelevant to the story.

“continued” is also not a dialogue tag. Nor is “responded.”

Well thank you, but if you want to write a story, write your own, the way you like it. I use varying points of view, and different ways to tackle a subject because that is how I like to tell my stories. And I think the prologue is critical. Too bad you don’t get it.

And if I sometimes use an omniscient voice, that is my prerogative. I wonder what Christopher Isherwood’s A single man would’ve been without that omniscient voice? But alas, pearls before swine…

The big challenge for us as authors is this: NEVER EVER respond to a review. It’s what we’re all taught with our mother’s milk. Goodreads, e.g. states this on their advice page for authors:

Don’t engage with people who give you negative reviews. We cannot stress this enough. The number one mistake new authors make is to respond to negative reviews. Engaging with people who don’t like your book is not likely to win you any new readers and could lead to members deciding not to read your book. Remember Goodreads is not private; other readers will see a reaction from the author and interpret it as hostile regardless of how carefully the response was crafted. A single negative interaction is often enough to turn a reader off an author permanently.

If you feel a review is in violation of our review guidelines, please flag it and bring it to our team’s attention rather than responding. (To find the flag button, hold your mouse over the bottom right hand corner of the review when on the book page or look for the flag button at the bottom right hand corner when on the review page.)

And please remember: not every reader will love your book. It is unrealistic to expect that your book will only get five star reviews, or even only four and five star reviews. Bestselling authors get one star reviews too. The key to their success is that they handle it with grace by not responding and moving on.

I’m inclined to agree, wholeheartedly. And I never do, never would.

Spanish_Bay_Praise

No, not everyone reading Spanish Bay will agree with this reviewer. Of course not. Some will dislike the fact that the hero is in a wheelchair, others will dislike the setting or even the fact that it is about gay love.

My question is more to the point of:

  • why do some authors assume that books need to be edited beyond what the editor did, to fit their personal writing style, match their own author voice? (I always assume it IS edited, unless stated otherwise, with e.g. no editors mentioned)
  • What makes people think that there is a better way of writing things, their way? And why do they believe ‘their’ way, their author voice, is da way? Looking at Shakespeare, I have to say that I’m pretty darn thankful he broke a few rules to get us to where we are today…

Caddy_Rowland_AuthorI’d like to end with the words of a fellow author and friend, Caddy Rowland, who had this to say in this week’s interview about other authors and their criticism of her work:

“…the jibes I get about writing style are usually from authors. I guess they’re irritated I sometimes break rules. Or from younger book bloggers who don’t understand omniscient POV because it’s seldom used anymore. Today people want everything fast. Omniscient isn’t fast. Settle down a little. I have a story to tell, and I know how to tell it because it’s my story. So please, allow me to do so.”

I think that’s as good a final word on this as any I’ve ever written. However, I would like to hear from you, authors and reviewers alike? What is your take on this? And, last not least, I’d love to hear from editors who find their work constantly critiqued by “besserwissers” out there…

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers. You’re more than welcome to interact with me on TwitterFacebookPinterestYouTubeGoogle+, and/or Instagram.

Have a good weekend.

Hans

PS: Don’t forget that you can pre-order my new novel Spanish Bay with a nice 50¢ discount, from my website only. Release date: 10/10. The story is told in the third person and with varying points of view, even though Neil’s and Chris’s are the prevalent ones. And we’re putting the final touches on the manuscript as I type this. Just saying…

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