This is a little bit of a rant, so be prepared…
I mentioned sometime ago that I’ve finished by ‘polished’ draft of my young adult novel. I use the ‘quotes’ because I know that if there is some interest, they’ll want to change and re-polish parts. That’s fine. But I’ve been having trouble working up the nerve to send it out there.
While researched an author I like, I came across a website meant for posting and reviewing the work of fellow writers. It breaks it down by genre, and reading through it, it promises collaboration. I didn’t want to just blindly post something, so I first reviewed a few stories, giving a good deal of detail about my thoughts. I gave specific examples, followed the needs outlined by the writer, and was honest while being supportive. After a few stories, I posted the first chapter of my book.
I wasn’t expecting an onslaught of instant love or anything, but what I got was… disappointing. The person who reviewed, only one so far (which is pretty standard on this site for the time period), failed to give me anything I could use to further polish the chapter. I asked in my introduction for grammar issues or just structure upgrades. I also asked if the characters were introduced properly. I really just wanted feedback on what worked and what didn’t so I could improve it.
Here’s what I got. ‘Grammar sometimes lacks acceptability.’
What does that mean? It sounds like I’ve made some major grammatical errors. I’ve re-read the chapter twenty times. I’ve had several beta readers look it over. I’m happy to re-write a paragraph or two that are unacceptable, but how is this one sentence helpful? Where is the grammar unacceptable? Did you spot a passage that just doesn’t make sense? Where? I mean, it’s almost so vague it makes me want to re-write the entire chapter!
‘You often use too many commas and should just end a sentence’ would be helpful. ‘You always use the wrong to or too’. Every single sentence has ‘and’ in it. Something. I’m re-reading my entire chapter, looking for anything grammar that ‘lacks acceptability’. I’ve even had a friend re-read it with this thought in mind. She edits business reports for a living, which is not fiction, but she knows where to put a semicolon. She looked all furrowed trying to find what was ‘unacceptable.’
Now I don’t want to come across like ‘it’s perfect and you just don’t recognize it’, because I’m not. I was excited about getting feedback from people I don’t know who could help me make my writing better. A comment like that is so vague I don’t even know what to do with it. I’ve spent hours already trying to suss out where my grammar is so wrong. It’s not like this blog where I tend to type the pace I think, and post it quickly, sometimes leaving in a huge spelling mistake 🙂 I’ve had people read and re-read my book, knowing that it has to be perfect if I want to send it in. I’ve given it to people I know are good with spelling and grammar just to make sure I don’t leave in something completely idiotic.
Now here’s what also bothers me. I reviewed two other first chapters of stories from other writers on this site. One was really interesting, but was obviously a first draft. The second jumped around like mad and had some glaring contradictions, and honestly I would not have posted anything so rough. But I spent a good solid amount of time and reviewed them both. I pointed out exactly where the contradictions were, so the author would know where to look. I highlighted any grammar mistakes I saw. One author jumped between present tense and past tense so much I got confused, so I outlined that. I gave a long list of the things in the stories I liked, because I wanted to make sure that they kept writing. Nothing is worse than a ‘flame’ review, which, for those who don’t know, is a totally destruction of your ideas from people who are just out to say mean things. Each review I gave was a full typed page, and I re-read it to make sure that everything made sense and could help the author make their story great. If I was confused, I asked questions, and pointed out that if your reader is asking those questions, they’ll be as confused as me. It’s meant to be helpful. The entire site is meant to be helpful.
My reviewer used almost five sentences. One of which was to say ‘good work’ after the vague review. Five sentences. It shouldn’t even be counted as a review.
And here’s the other thing. The review was full of grammatical errors!!
I’m angry. I’m angry because it was the first time I put myself out there, and this person barely took it seriously. I would have preferred someone give me a list of things I did wrong. At least then I could seriously look at each one and make it better. I mean it would suck, but still, helpful.
Here’s the thing about this site. You have to earn points in order to post your own work. You earn points by reviewing other peoples work. It makes sense. You have to participate to be able to participate. This reviewer obviously wanted to get her own work up without doing the grunt work. I felt like it was ‘here’s some junk, now where’s my point!’.
I’m just going to keep reviewing, and keep posting. There are other people like me on this site who want to help their fellow writers. I’m going to find and connect with those people, and I’m going to hope that there are not many people out there who only do the bare minimum to get their own work reviewed. If this reviewer posts their own work, I’m going to give them a full and complete review, to show them what it should be like. I won’t be biased because of this, but I will say at the end ‘if you’d like to review my stories again, please take this as an example as a helpful review’. Maybe that’s super passive aggressive or condesending. We’ll see.