A few months ago I entered my manuscript in two literary contests I didn’t win either, but I was a semi-finalist in one of them (yay). I also received two critiques for each contest. Three were generally positive, although they were critical about how one of the characters is written.
The fourth critique, however, oh my. So negative – so much so that I got the impression the reviewer just plain didn’t like my book and was unable to see past the dislike to assess its literary merits. But, in addition the grumpy comments, there was criticism of how that same character was developed. A friend who critiqued it a few months ago said something similar as did an agent.
Then, more recently I hired an editor who did a developmental assessment, and, guess what – same problems with the same character – this despite heavy revisions between the contest and when I sent it off to the editor.
As a writer you have to be picky about which feedback you’ll listen to. If you try to respond to everything you end up with a book written by committee – a book that tries to be all things to everyone and instead becomes not enough of anything to anybody.
But, I have seen the unfortunate results of writers who won’t listen to anyone. Amazon is littered with unreadable self-published novels, written and published by writers who wouldn’t or couldn’t take feedback.
No one likes hearing that their precious work needs improvement. I think we writers all fantasize about creating the heartbreaking work of staggering genius (or staggering work of heartbreaking genius) that will receive accolades from all corners.
There’s something about the ego that wants to go it alone – produce that brilliant work with no help from anyone else. So, I get why people are reluctant to act on feedback, but at the same time I believe that if I am going to ask people to give me money for my work I owe it to them to provide the best product I possibly can.
This is a long way of saying, despite my many, many rounds of revisions, there are more to come – I’m not going to be happy until I have rooted out the problems with my problem character.
It’s frustrating, but then again, I recently attended a talk by a well-known Seattle novelist, who told us that he just that day realized his entire manuscript needs to be rewritten in the first person. Maybe my workload isn’t so bad.