Day 35

Yesterday I got my first bad review.

First impressions: it hurt.  Not so much because it was bad (although a little bit because of that) but mostly because I agreed.  Ms Reviewer (a complete stranger) somehow spotted all the issues I struggled with over the 9 long months it took to bring the novel to life, all the flaws that appeared so glaringly to me, like clogged pores in a makeup mirror, and which I had almost managed to forget when my friends gave such a resounding cheer.

Ms Reviewer's main complaints: my pacing is off, the action rushes and slows with no apparent rhyme or reason.  And I use too much passive voice (despite my constant battle against it).  The one complaint I wasn't completely sure I agreed with was my apparent capital crime of "head-hopping".


Head-hopping, as I've just learned, is editor-speak for switching points of view.  And a huge no-no if you want to get published.  It doesn't even have to be extreme switching either.  If I may quote from Ms Reviewer:
I once had someone (a bestselling author no less) tell me I'd been "head hopping" because I wrote that the "throat constricted" on one of my characters, and he thought that my POV character would not have been able to observe this. For good or ill, people have become downright paranoid about head hopping.
Well.  I don't know what to say about that really, except I guess it means my publishing future is doomed.  At least now I know why.

After 24 hours the initial shock has died down, to leave room for something more positive.  Who hasn't had a bad review?  People whose books have never been read, that's who.

So my book is out there, for better or worse.  Maybe it wasn't ready.  Maybe there wasn't enough editing.  Maybe no amount of editing would have made it publishable anyway.  But at least it's being read.  Some people will like it.  Some won't.

And that's okay.


  1. I reckon a book doesn't need to be perfect to be thoroughly enjoyed! And if Ms Reviewer spends so much effort dissecting everything she reads she must not spontaneously appreciate very many things....
    bises, Pat

  2. Ever since I read this post, it has been nagging at me. I'm the person who wrote that email, and I'm afraid that I might have made a misstep. I wanted to explain exactly how important it is to stick to your POV character, that it's one of the most fundamental requirements for authors doing anything but extremely, extremely experimental fiction. Even people like Faulkner and Proust stuck to their POV character, in fact, ESPECIALLY people like Faulkner and Proust stuck to their POV character - I'm reading INFINITE JEST right now and it's close third person, too, this is one of those basic rules that everyone from Joe Blow mystery writer to Booker Prize winners needs to know.

    I *do* think people can be paranoid about it, but that wasn't the take-home point. The important thing to know is that you shouldn't, within a single scene, hop between - say - Alina's thoughts and Margot's, or Alina's thoughts and Will's. When you include these stray thoughts from other characters, you break POV. Of course you can have multiple POV characters in a single book, but you need to signal the transition between POVs (there are lots of techniques to do this), and you need to keep the POVs separate, not mixed.

    There are lots of great discussions about why it's so important to stick to your POV character, it's not an arbitrary requirement at all.

    It's been really bothering me that you used something I said to make a point that's exactly the opposite of what I meant. Yes, anything can be taken to extremes - but a lawyer should be the last person to use a straw man argument to dismiss something this important.

    So, I've said my piece now.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Ms Reviewer. I didn't mean to dismiss your point, and your constructive criticism is much appreciated, trust me. Your comment as well, which makes much more sense to me than your original email.

    Starting my second book now, and I will definitely be taking your points into account.

    That being said, I've never been terribly good at following rules! (I know, ironic for a lawyer)