Tuesday, June 25, 2013

RD Meyer - Book Critic

As most of you have deduced, I love books(as I would suspect most of the readers of this blog do).  That means that I can't focus exclusively on writing new novels - I have to read as well.  Okay, I say "have to," but truth is that I love reading.  In addition to an escape from the realities of life, reading other authors gives us an understanding of aspects of the craft and see what might mesh with our style.

This can, however, lead to a busy schedule.  There are a few books I've been reading that I've been dying to get through, and pushing them off just creates a larger workload on the back end.  In addition, I've been asked by a few friends to read their work and provide some feedback.  This is an incredible honor, and one I take to heart.

The problem, of course, is time.  One of my friends sent me a mystery novel with several paranormal elements, but it's very long, so I've had to digest it in pieces.  Another friend and reader of this blog sent me his new novel, and I still need to begin.  I feel terrible that I haven't done more, but I promise to get into it as soon as I can.  I take promises to help very seriously, even if the time to get engaged is drawn out.

What qualifies me to critique someone else's work?  Two things, in my opinion - first, and not modestly, I think I'm a pretty good judge of a smooth read.  I realize the hubris it takes to claim to have the chops that can help someone's work get better, but if I don't believe in my ability to help someone, why even put myself out there?  Second, I just like books.  I've been reading them since before I can remember.  I'm excited to get hold of something no one else has seen so that I can peruse the raw form.

Of course, the biggest qualification is that someone asked me.  It takes courage to put yourself out there, and these friends have done just that by asking me to look at their work.  They're not the only ones who've done so, and it's humbling every time.  The tough part of the balance is to critique and give both positive and negative feedback.  Constructive criticism helps writers mold our work by giving us the opportunity to incorporate(or not) what the target audience may think.  However, we also need to know what works, as well as reassurance that we're not complete shit, so positive feedback, focused on specific areas, is also useful.  This isn't ego stroking - it's giving an idea of where they're on track so they can use other feedback in a way that makes the overall story better.

So, what does all of this add up to?  Not much beyond whatever credence the authors give my feedback.  I've said before many times that criticism is up to the reader, but whether to use that feedback to shape the story is the sole purview of the writer.  So it really comes down to how much the writer values my opinion, and my level of credibility is affected by how I give that criticism.  I could say, "You suck," or "That was the best thing I've ever read," and it'd be about as useful as a bike with no wheels.  Real help comes from specific feedback, and I owe it to those who've entrusted me with their work.

If only I could be faster about giving it...

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