Author asks for, and receives, feedback

Thursday, 1 October 2015

A month ago, I launched an experiment. Having sent my manuscript to Unbound, and received encouraging comments from two esteemed editors, I decided to ask for input from subscribers - before the book is published.

I wanted to know what people liked, and what they might like even more - a careful formula for feedback that I learned a few years ago, when training as a coach and a performer. By telling me a) what they already liked, reviewers would give me encouragement, and by b) suggesting improvements they might help me to make the book better. 

(As a formula, this is very different from the ad hoc approach I took as a young newspaper reviewer. Then, I was more interested in making myself look clever than in helping the author or would-be readers. But I changed my ways after receiving a review of my own first book, written in that unkind spirit. Immediately, I understood why many authors and artists don't read reviews.)

On this blog, and elsewhere, I offered to send proof copies of the book to the first seven subscribers to get in touch. I doubted that I would get so many, but in the event I was overwhelmed, and only stopped accepting requests when I had printed off and posted 25 glue-bound proofs, and mailed them all over the world. 

Now, after a month, I have received back most of the reviews.

And I'm grateful to everybody for their time and thoughtful consideration. It has been variously moving, encouraging, funny, ego-boosting, disappointing and painful. I have come to see (yet again, but it's such a hard thing to remember) that everybody is entitled to their opinion, and that I don't have to agree with it. (Several reviewers considerately reminded me of that in the email containing their review.)

As I told each of the reviewers, I have no idea yet what I will do with their work. I may post it online, or print it in the book, entirely, or in edited highlights, or not at all. I may take up their suggestions, or seem to disregard them. (I can't satisfy everyone, because some people strongly liked what others didn't.) 

In publishing and other sectors, producers like to take the "best" (most complimentary) parts of reviews and use them to sell the product. I will almost certainly do that! I hope I will also have the courage to publish insights that I found less appealing - but I'll need to check this with Unbound, who have a stake in this book's success too.

Reviewers: thank you!

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Comments

Annabel Gaskell
Annabel Gaskell says:

It was a real pleasure to be able to take part in your project. Looking forward to seeing the finished product.

October 02, 2015

Mark Vent
Mark Vent says:

I concur - I loved being an even bigger part of it. It constantly amazes me that for every something X people think is great Y people dislike it and Z people are indifferent to it - that we can all be so VERY individual in our likes and dislikes.
Remember John-Paul they told Einstein he was no good at maths and Edison he would get nowhere in life ... "they" know nothing can't wait to hold the finished article in my hot little hands! :)

October 02, 2015

Una Lynch
Una Lynch says:

Hi JP
Again thank you for allowing me to be part of the experimental process .......I really enjoyed it and it was very interesting on a personal basis to actual formulate a response to a book which does question conventional ideas and forces you to examine your true reaction ...

October 03, 2015

Kylie Rixon
Kylie Rixon says:

It was a privilege being allowed to give my opinion. A novel is a creative whole, and even seemingly small alterations can change the character of the piece substantially. So, suggesting changes to that was challenging. It also meant stepping outside the imaginary world that was created, and acknowledging that it's not real. That wasn't always a comfortable thing to do, but it was a worthwhile thing to do.

It is a great book. I will have the image of Defoe hiding in a closest with a skeleton and a jar of wee stuck in my head for the rest of my life. There are passages of description that set the scene of Stuart England perfectly - I swear there were times I could almost smell the manure. One of the greatest achievements of any writer is to take a deeply flawed character, and make you love them; and John-Paul did this beautifully with both Defoe and Anne.
I can't wait to read it again in its final form.

October 04, 2015

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