How to Review

By Juno Magic

4. The Author's Job

4.1 The Author

Now that the critiquer has done her job, let's have a look at what the author should do with the critique.

The author's job in the critiquing process is difficult, too.

We want to improve our writing. For that we need feedback. And sadly, what we need most of all is feedback with a negative critical content. Before we can improve, all the flaws in our writing have to be exposed.

First of all, we need to remember that critiquing is about our writing. It is not about us as a person. It is always and only about our writing. As soon as a comment is no longer a comment about the story, but a comment about us, it ceases to be a critique and becomes a "flame". But of course even a friendly, polite, thorough, detailed and tough critique may hurt and sting, and our first impulse may be to react defensively. This feeling is natural: it's our "baby", that gets "attacked" here after all!

If we feel threatened and hurt by a thorough review at the first reading, it is a good a idea to let it "sit" for a day or two. When we read the review again, we already know what to expect, that it is not all praise for our story and our talent. Then we can read it again with an open mind.

Even if a critique seems very negative, that's no reason to give up writing. It may be impossible to "learn" the genius of a Pulitzer Prize or Nobel Prize winner, but there are a lot of things that anyone can learn about writing. And a detailed, negative critique is the best help for learning things about good writing we can possibly get. However, we also don't have to assume that the critiquer is automatically right with everything she says.

Just as we are not perfect as authors, our critiquers are not perfect critiquers.

I said at the beginning that critiquing should be regarded as a game that we play in a team against the story. If that is true, and we "get passed the ball" with the critique, then after reading the review and thinking about it, it's our turn to throw the ball back.

We should reply to our reviewers and critiquers if that is at all possible.

However, just like in a critique, we should do this politely and we should always give reasons for our opinion. We need to remember that even though this is our story and we think that of course we know best what is good for it, there are only very few (if any) ultimate truths about writing.

We also have to remember that no one is forcing us to take up every little bit of criticism. Just because certain aspects of our story were criticized does not necessarily mean that they are wrong, or that they should be changed. It only means that it is possible that the story would improve if we revise those aspects. We need to remember that no matter of how closely we work with our beta-reader and how much getting detailed, critical feedback from our reviewers means to us, it still remains our story.

In the end we should only make those changes that feel right to us.

4.2 Communication!

At the end of this essay I would like to draw your attention on a facet of the process of critiquing and reviewing that is overlooked a lot of the time.

Critiquing is about communication.


We should always remember that critiquing is about communicating.

Successful communication needs both partners to be willing to communicate. Successful communication requires effort, openness and understanding – for both partners!

Effort. If we want a critiquing process to be successful for both partners, we need to be willing to spend time on it. We need time to read a story carefully. We need time for writing a thoughtful review. We need time to reply to revise our story. We need time to reply to the critiquer. We need time to reply to the author. If we are not willing to invest that time, it might be better not to review.

Openness. A critique will be more helpful if the author knows who we are and if she has a way to get back to us if she did not understand an aspect of our critique. After writing a careful, thorough critique we tend to think that everything we said is crystal clear – but experience and Murphy's Law tell us that most of the time this is not the case.

A successful critique requires openness by the author and the critiquer.

Respect. We have to respect the author of the story we are reading, in real life and in the realm of fan fiction.

If the author of a fan fiction story does not care to write what we happen to consider a "good" story, we have to respect that choice. If an author wants to write and post her stories just for fun with no consideration for the rules of spelling or grammar or for what Tolkien wrote originally, if an author does not want to improve her writing, we have to respect that choice.

We want to write the best stories we possibly can, and we want critical, constructive feedback that helps us to improve our stories. If we want respect for our choices about the way we write and publish our stories, we have to respect the choices of other authors about writing and publishing their stories as well.

Often it is a simple matter of using "common sense" to decide if an author really wants "concrit", constructive critical feedback or not. For example "Plz review!" usually only means, "Leave a comment if you liked the story." If you are not sure if the author wants a real critique and you really want to give some good, tough feedback, leave a comment or mail the author and ask!

If we critique a story because we have to decide if it is to be included in an archive or if it is good enough for an award, it is still communication that should be conducted in a polite, friendly and thoughtful manner. If our critique is sent to the author directly, it is meant for the author. We should be aware that we are, in fact, addressing the author in our critique even if she has no means to reply to us. Therefore we should be just as careful about how we phrase and structure our critique as in those cases where we want or expect the author to reply to our reviews.

Even if we write our critique for an audience beyond the author, we should make an effort to write a thoughtful, polite and well-balanced review. A review that is not balanced is simply bad. A review that is not polite is not witty, but only shows that the critiquer has no manners.

Again: critiquing is about communication.

A successful critique is a friendly dialogue between author and critiquer. That way it can turn into a positive learning experience for both the author and the reviewer.

About the Author

JunoMagic - who is JunoMagic? And why JunoMagic?

Juno - that penname was graciously granted by one of the author's cats. Magic - although the author does believe in magic, especially in the magic woven with words and songs and stories, the magical part of the penname derives simply from her e-mail address.

Speaking of that e-mail address: the author can be contacted at "Juno_Magic at magic dot ms".

If there are any comments or questions, please drop a line! In a letter to the editor of the 'Observer' Tolkien wrote "I am as susceptible as a dragon to flattery". The same can probably be said for most writers! JunoMagic at least thoroughly enjoys answering questions about her writing and constructive criticism aka "concrit" are vital for any author wishing to improve, so that is always welcome, too!

"The Lord of the Rings" has been in Juno 's life since she was five years old and her mother grew bored with what was regarded as "appropriate bed time tales". Twenty-four years later Juno discovered "online fan fiction" and was immediately fascinated.

More information about Juno's stories and the author herself may be found at her website: "Juno's Magic" and at her LiveJournal: "Juno's Magic: To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." (quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson).

When she is not JunoMagic, the author is at home in a small Franconian village with her husband and two cats. She has a professional qualification in law, a bachelor degree in political sciences and history and is currently working as a freelance writer.

"How to Review"
© Juno Magic