Feedback is weird

I feel for writers, I do.   You work hard, you put all of yourself into your work, and do your very best.  Your work gets published, and then the messages you get back from readers is weird beyond measure.  Yesterday I read a review of an anthology I edited.  In it the reviewer, who I respect, called one of the stories in the book ‘terrible’.  I don’t think it is, and was a little non-plussed. Then this morning I received an email from someone else who I respect a great deal, and by purest chance they mentioned the same story and called it close to perfect. I find that fascinating.  And no, I won’t name the story because the author doesn’t need thje grief. But, very interesting.

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4 Comments

  1. I’m not entirely surprised by this. The voting patterns in the short fiction categories of the Hugos suggest that people’s ideas of what makes a good piece of short fiction vary wildly. And one of the reasons I never liked reviewing short fiction is that there’s so much less to get a handle on to explain why a given story didn’t work for you. That plus the fact that you are generally covering a collection, magazine or anthology full of stories often leads to lazy short cuts such as simply describing a story as “terrible” or “perfect”.

    Of course if you are daft enough to read reviews on Amazon you’ll find just as much divergence of views about novels there. And yeah, it must be frustrating.

  2. It happens. It’s happened with several stories we published (at Interzone), and I’ve had to tell a few authors — who were a bit dismayed by the negative reviews — not to worry, as the good ones would come, too (and they did). It continues to happen.

    I’ve experienced it myself as a writer: one reviewer thought that my story “…left me with the irritating feeling of having totally wasted my time”, while another thought that “…this is how experimental writing should be, but rarely is.” Or a more recent one, where opinions varied from “I’m uncertain if one would properly write a review of “Xxxx” or a doctoral dissertation on it” to “at the sentence level whole stretches of the story could just as easily have been written in a foreign language, but regardless of that the overarching structure of the story made perfect sense” and to “For SF that stretched my brain, I was blown away by “Xxxx”.

    Once a story is published, it’s game. Writers (and publishers) need to cope with that, and take it in stride. It’s only when a reviewer makes a factual error that one should react.

    Like Cheryl and Glenda, I think there is no such thing as a story that *everybody* likes. I’ll go a step further: I think that a story that provokes both very strong positive and negative feelings, is doing something right (my own shit excepted, of course).

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