(Please forgive the small formatting errors — spacing, to be precise — toward the end of this post. WordPress isn’t cooperating… wish they’d give me back the previous version, in which any errors were mine.)
Book reviews are tricky from the author’s point of view. You want ‘em, but you want ‘em a certain way. And we have absolutely no control over what reviewers write about our work.
With novels, we’re stuck with what they write. Even if they didn’t get it. And certainly if they didn’t like it.
But with non-fiction, reviewers are suddenly as much at risk as the author being reviewed. Because often a review will mention a specific issue or stance, and while we (as authors) shouldn’t comment on their opinions, we are perfectly licensed, even obligated, to pipe up when they represent what we’ve written in an inaccurate way, factually-speaking.
I can’t complain about the reviews of my new book, “Story Engineering: Mastering The Six Core Competencies of Sucessful Writing.” There are 33 reviews posted on Amazon as I type this, and a bunch of others on websites here and there. For the most part they’re great, the book is hitting the mark., and it’s been the #1 bestselling Kindle fiction writing craft book for weeks now. Of course nothing works for everybody, especially when you happen to be as passionate and, sometimes, assertive as I am.
Some writers absolutely hate it when another writer makes an assertation about writing, which I do, and frequently. Especially when it doesn’t represent their point of view. Which, with writing, can be all over the map.
But they aren’t all 5-star reviews. The good news is that 23 of the 33 are 5-star reviews, leaving eight with 4-stars, and one each that offer 3-stars and 2-stars, respectively.
Won’t comment on those.
But a couple of the 4-star reviewers, who liked the book enough to give it that grade, tell readers that I make certain statements and assertions in the book that are, to put it bluntly, misrepresented. A 180 from the truth. When we’re dealing with something as complex and artful as writing a story, any mistake in understanding the basics can be harmful. Not so much to me as the author, but to someone reading the review.
So I need to respond. Which I’ve done in the comment section of those reviews. Which I offer up here, just to be clear.
The lastest 4-star reviewer said this, and inaccurately so:
I am a bit dismayed by his intimation that fluid elegant writing is unimportant, but in the context of the commercial fiction market that may well be true.
Yes it may. Here is my response:
I never assert that elegant prose isn’t important, at least to the extent implied here. I assert that such prose WITHOUT the other five core competencies is indeed unimportant, and unpublished. I also posit that “elegant” prose isn’t a criteria at all, simply that clean, professional and compelling prose is. The bookshelves are full of successful and wonderful books that are anything but elegant. This should be great news to writers everywhere, you don’t have to write like Jonathan Franzen to have a successful book, or certainly, to tell a compelling story.
Just try writing an elegantly written story… that sucks. Then again, don’t, you’d be wasting your time.
Another review, on another issue, said this:
I felt that his extensive use of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” was unfortunate. I agree that Brown follows the recommended structure, but without the enticing clues and mysterious background, I don’t think the book works well. Perhaps this is because I hate chase scenes with no character development. So while I enjoyed “Story Engineering,” I have some reservations about how useful structure is if you don’t have excellent content and characterization.
Wow. Maybe she had taken her Ambien while reading. Did she miss the part about there being five other core competencies?
Here is my response to this one:
This review is fair, but slightly misleading on one count, and I’d like to correct it. While I do cite The Davinci Code as a structural model, I do make it VERY clear that even with this in play, it takes more than structure to make a story work. In fact, I pound home the point, and in multiple places, that one can indeed have all six core competencies in place (only one of which is structure), and the story still won’t find a publisher and/or a readership (criteria that are no longer joined at the hip). I also make it clear that ALL six are required, not just structure. In the case of Davinci, I explain that it was Brown’s huge concept and thematic power (two of the core competencies) that put this book on the map, not the structure, and certainly not his character development (which was fine, but in my opinion, something short of stellar) nor his writing voice. It’s interesting that when something comes along that challenges the world view of some writers, which my book certainly does, they suddenly have blind spots and amnesia about the full -icture scope of what they’re reading. Rest assured, this reviewer is correct, it takes more than structure to write a great story and/or find a publisher and an audience. And rest assured, my book makes this crystal clear.
I would never comment on a review of one of my novels, but I need to defend the truth in this book.
One more assertation. Several readers were — predictably — not happy with the assertion that successful stories do indeed have structure, and go so far as to state that to write a story in context to structural principles (which is what the book offers, rather than a forumla or absolutes) is or them at least 9though a few imply it as a universal truth) that writing with structure somehow hinders creativity.
Wow again. Pass the Ambien.
Don’t confuse process with outcome.
Process is always personal and negotiable. While my initial Storyfix posts may not have reflected that strongly enough, believe me, I get it, and these days I represent it that way in everything I do. But don’t be confused or misled — no matter how you write, if you end up with a successful story it WILL have structure to it, and it WILL look a lot like the fundamental structure that, well, almost every other successful book has.
Just like an airplane’s gotta have wings. Don’t get on one that doesn’t.
Here are a few of the headers on some Amazon reviews, for your consideration:
Should be #1 on ALL writers’ bookshelves.
Saved My Novel.
Learn how to write a great story!
You Write? Remove All Doubt and Buy This Book!
The best ever How-To book.
It made my life better!
The most useful book about novel writing ever written.
The Book Every Beginning Writer Needs to Read.
Thanks for reading Storyfix today.