Thursday, November 9, 2017

Reviewers are Your Best Resource

If I've said this before, I think it bears repeating. Book reviewers are an amazing resource for writers. Why? Because they read, a lot. Possibly as much or more than the editors and agents we're pitching. They've seen it all. They know what's been done a thousand times. They know what's unique. They know what's missing from the market, and ultimately, they are your readers. They are who you really need to sell this book to, and they are letting you know exactly what they want and don't want, right there on Goodreads.

I say this because I read and I review and I write, and the book I'm pitching now is a product of many, many hours of work and plotting inspired by reviewers.

It started out as a revenge book, because who doesn't love a plucky teen girl seeking revenge for her murdered family? Lots of people, which is why lots of authors have used that as a basis for their plot. I was already at work on it, making plans, adding characters when I read a review for another book that said...

Oh boy, another revenge plot.

It was a blow to my plans, yes, but a necessary one. Trying to break into an already saturated market as a new voice with no publishing cred...well, I have to be different. That one line pushed me back into my plotting and forced me to think about what I really wanted to accomplish. Where did I want my character to go? What was she seeking? Where did I see her ending up? Ultimately, there was another way to get her there without sending her in as a vengeful assassin.

So how do you start?

Read the reviews for books you love, your mentor texts. Read the reviews from reviewers who feel like you do, who gave it five stars and put it at the top of their reading shelf. What did they like about the book? Were they the same things you liked about it?

Then read the one star reviews. What did they hate about it? Do you agree or disagree? Is it just a matter of taste?

On the flip side, read the reviews for the books you didn't love. Why did the five-star reviewers give it five stars? Do you agree or disagree?

Keep in mind that books, like art, are VERY subjective. Someone's Van Gogh can be another person's Monet and neither one is right or wrong. (Except if you don't love Monet, you're wrong.)

Once you have your notes, you can start weaving new ideas into your own novel.

  • You loved the way Author A wrote her dialogue, but didn't like the controlling male love interest. 
  • A reviewer said that although the revenge plot was tired out, Author B added a new twist by making the MC a girl with autism. 
  • Another reviewer loved the world-building by Author C, but thought the character was a Mary Sue.

Now back to your novel. What did Author A do to make her dialogue so inviting? Are there ways you can infuse those things into your work? Is there something unique about your main character that you can showcase? What about Author C's MC made her a Mary Sue? Was it an inability to act? Was she another plain girl everyone loved? What can you change about your MC to avoid falling into the same trap?

It's something I like to call Frankensteining. Take a piece from this, a part from that, meld it with your own ideas and start piecing together a novel. None of this is different from simply reading and making notes. But you have a whole team of readers making notes alongside you, who have read things that are still on your TBR pile, or ARC's of books that aren't on shelves. So utilize it. Don't be another revenge plot!

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