Reader Experience: The Double-edged Sword

This morning I was reading a review aloud to my husband before I clicked the “send,” button and he asked me if I wasn’t being too harsh. “It’s subjective, isn’t it? Are you sure you want to send that?” I’m so glad he said that, because after a few minutes of abusing the delete key and writing a totally different review, I realized I was using my experience to discount the other author’s book. Not cool, Kristin. Fast forward to later in the day when I happen upon a discussion of one of my books online.

Reader Experience: The Double-edged Sword

Imagine that you have just spent six months of your life carefully crafting a story. You wrote the first drafted, edited, and sent it out into the world on it’s own. If you write contemporary fiction, you understand that when readers bring their own experiences to your story, it can be a double-edged sword. Contemporary fiction is it’s own beast when it comes to reader experience because you can’t really apply your own experiences so well to other genres. For example, you are less likely to complain about a character who is in space doing something you wouldn’t do. Why? You aren’t in space.

Ouch!

My first novel, Newfangled, was an experiment based on my own experiences. I was raised in a really sheltered way, and then when I went into public school, my parents were going through a lot. I faced numerous firsts on my own. It was like I was totally apart from the world, and then suddenly thrust into it without a sufficient support system. So I wrote Newfangled as a way of dealing with that. It’s fiction, so I gave Olive, my protagonist, a supportive family as she faced some of the similar challenges that I experienced. I based her family on real people I know. These people are the ones I want to emulate as they emulate Christ. But they are real people. Clip to me reading that the whole family in my book is too idealized. Le sigh.

Who’s to Blame?

One of the things we talk about in my writing group is reader experience. People will read your book and judge your characters based on how they would respond. If they relate to your character, that’s a good thing. If they think your character is unrealistic because they wouldn’t behave that way, it usually means you’re going to get a bad review. But who is to blame? You certainly can’t blame the reader (say it with me, “Never blame the reader”). But can you blame the author?

How to Approach Reader Experience

We have a way of battling this double-edge sword in the writing world. We go with the majority. If 8 out of 10 people say our characters are acting realistically, we accept the criticism of the 2 that disagree and leave the story the way it is. If a majority of the people testing your book notice a problem during your advanced reading group, you work like crazy to fix it before your launch date.

Reader experience is a real issue, and it needs to be addressed. But somedays the bad reviews hurt more than other days (for example when not one person in your advanced reading group has written you back about the manuscript you sent them a while ago), and you want to quit.

I’m so glad I didn’t send that critical review this morning!

If you’re still reading this, you deserve a cookie. And also, hug an author today. I guarantee you they need it.

-Kristin

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