Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Case Study on Earned Critique: How to Take Negative Reviews (2 of 3)

Some of y'all might remember my post on why I pulled my self-published short "Butterfly Boots". The long answer went into my exposure to fan fiction vignettes and international literature making me produce something that didn't fit my audience.

The short answer? I screwed up.

Now, I realize most of you haven't read "Butterfly Boots", but that shouldn't be necessary. My 2 critical reviewers kindly gave me permission to reproduce their reviews here.

This is a Real Story? July 13, 2011

[by Michael P. Gallagher]

I'm not really sure what this was, although I do know I was struggling to figure out what was going on while reading it - and when the ending came I mentally said, "huh?" This something really had no plot, no beginning, and no end. It's almost as if someone just cut and paste a section from something and slapped it into an eBook.

I found it ironic, and chuckled a little, at the end of the story: there is a brief snippet on the author and it says the author is described as a person that "...took her a while to figure out that `finish a story' thing." No kidding. Can I have my five minutes back?

As I type this review, this book is free in the Amazon Kindle store but that shouldn't make you want to try it - there are several hundred short stories for free right now (just type in "short story" as your search term in the Kindle store section of the Amazon website, and sort from lowest to highest price); most of them are pretty good. This one deserves a wide berth, free or not.

Well... the cover is pretty... July 15, 2011

[by Betty Dravis]

I like the cover and the title of this "little offering," so thought it would be a fun read, one that I could pass on to my granddaughter Melissa's mother to read to her. She loves butterflies and has some cute boots of her own.

I've been warned that some E-books are not up to industry standards and can slip between the cracks easily, but this is the first time I've encountered one. Well, I have seldom been so disappointed in a book. It actually doesn't make much sense, which is too bad because the germ of an interesting idea is here... It is just not developed; the dialogue is jerky, it has no structure, and the punctuation is definitely not up to par. :-(

I hate to look a gift horse in the face (since "Butterfly Boots" - a short story (Aleyi) (Tales from Aleyi) was one of the FREE Kindle offerings), but I simply can't give this a good rating. I'm sorry to be so critical, but I will be happy to read something else by Ms. Wolanski after she takes a few more writing courses. She does, indeed, have a good imagination. :-)

Reviewed by Betty Dravis, July 15, 2011
Author of E-book "1106 Grand Boulevard" and other books

Now, before anyone jumps in and calls these two "mean," remember what I said in my last post, about bluntness not necessarily being mean.

Looking into these reviewers, I find it interesting to note that they're both significantly older than I am. I doubt they read fan fiction, where vignettes are popular. In fact, just the complaints on the lack of structure told me that these two weren't familiar with the vignette form of writing. My first impulse was therefore to dismiss their critique, because "Butterfly Boots" was a vignette.

But, after letting the sting subside, I gave "Butterfly Boots" another hard look. Yes, it was exactly what I'd meant it to be. Yes, it was a vignette. Yes, vignettes aren't a standard literature form (in English, anyway).

And I had set "Butterfly Boots" up everywhere as a short story. Not vignette. Short story.

That's like calling first person POV "stream of consciousness". Yes, there are come similarities, and yes, they're related, sort of—but they aren't the same thing. Not at all.

I had screwed up.

I faced a choice. I could repair all the blurbs and descriptions everywhere for "Butterfly Boots" and still frustrate those readers who don't know what a "vignette" is supposed to be. Or I could pull "Butterfly Boots" until I had something more significant to pair it with. As a vignette, it didn't make much sense if you weren't already familiar with the world of Aleyi.

So why on earth had I released it as a stand-alone, a free introduction to my world? I have no clue. I've done stupider things, but I like to think that most of them haven't been as public.

At any rate, I therefore decided to pull "Butterfly Boots" until I could stick it as a bonus with something more substantial. Some folks have expressed disappointment that it's no longer available.

Now, one line in Betty Dravis's review still does bother me: "The punctuation [in "Butterfly Boots"] is definitely not up to par." I follow the Chicago Manual of Style with one British modification that didn't show up in "Butterfly Boots"—but "Butterfly Boots" did use dialect. Professional opinions differ on how to punctuate dialect and how to use it properly.

It was tempting to privately grumble (after checking "Butterfly Boots" again) that someone obviously didn't understand proper apostrophe use with dialect. And while that might be the case, something else occurred to me: I like em dashes and ellipses.

It used to be that those symbols (and accented letters) only showed up properly online if you happened to use the HTML code that matched that special character. OtherwiseÀyour symbols got all messed up.

But web applications have improved in the past 5 years. I'd gotten lazy. I'd left the special characters in "Butterfly Boots", so it's possible that they'd messed up and caused Miss Betty's comment. Possible. That's something I can try to fix with some basic use of TextWrangler and the Find… Replace function.

So I earned those critical comments. I also suspect that some folks will consider me "unprofessional" for sharing this story.

I say "Tough." Negative reviews don't have to crush your soul. Take a deep breath and see if you can learn something from it. It may not be what the reviewer intended, but there's a lesson in that review if you care to learn it.

The line between "professional" and "unprofessional" behavior has always confused me, anyway… probably because opinions differ on where that line is…

Post 3 to come: Why you want harsh reviews.

Have you earned a critical review? How did you handle it?


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