Yesterday, I tried to convince fellow authors that feedback, in the form of reviews, is a gift and offered tips on how to accept that gift. Today, I’m going to try to convince readers (which we all should be) that gift-giving is an art. Yes, you can learn to be a good gift giver.
Good gift giver? Aren’t all gift givers good? They’re giving you something for free, right? Free’s good.
Free’s good. Most of the time. But, let’s be honest, there are gifts and then there’s, “Seriously, Marge, what were you thinking?” We’ve all given gifts that didn’t get an enthusiastic reception. (I admit, the case of printer paper was too practical. And the t-shirt? Well, I hadn’t planned to get you anything, so…) We want our gifts to be well-received but sometimes they fall flat. The well-mannered recipient flashes a weak smile and mumbles, “Thank you,” the way Momma taught ‘em as they silently debate re-gifting vs donating to charity.
Feedback is a tricky kind of gift because, if it’s honest, it’s not always positive. You can’t always give the recipient the gift they want. (I want an all-expenses paid, round-the-world cruise in a first-class cabin on the Cunard line but no one ever selects that option from my birthday or Christmas lists.) All authors want readers to leave us reviews as enthusiastic as the one Kristopher Zgorski gave to Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay. (Hey, reviewers, rave about my books that way and I, too, will Tweet, “Holy wow.”) But, we’re not all Steph Cha. Readers might not find our books as powerful or as moving or as inspiring as Steph’s. They might not even—gulp—like our books. Their opinion of our work may be unflattering. But their opinions are theirs and they have the right to give them to us, the right to gift us with their feedback. But…
Reviewers should gift appropriately. A good gift giver hands you their gift (or leaves it under a tree, hangs it from a mantle, sets it on a table near the door, puts it next to the cake) and walks away. That’s right. A good gift giver leaves the gift with you. Period. The end. The good gift giver doesn’t hang around staring at you, either with expectant puppy dog eyes or with malicious, Addison DeWitt-style*, glee, to see how you’ll react. They don’t make you yank the gift from their grasping hand, they don’t demand you open it right now (or ask, faux-sheepishly, “Aren’t you going to open it?”) and tell them, this instant, what you think. Maybe you won’t be ready to open the gift until next week. And maybe you suspect it’s a prize-winningly ugly sweater or horrideous slacks that are two sizes too large (‘cuz Aunt Marge is always jabbing you about your weight) or a shirt in a corpse-like color you loathe (Aunt Marge has issues) or your fourth InstantPot because they were on sale and none of your guests read past the third item on your registry. Maybe you need time to get over being mad or disappointed or sad or hurt, so you don’t want to tell the gift-giver what you think right then. Maybe you don’t ever want to tell them that you hate it and it’s exactly what you never wanted and it’s going into the first trash bin you see. Or, maybe you can’t tell the giver what you think right-now-this-instant because you don’t know. You need time to sort out your feelings and organize your thoughts. You need to spend time with the gift. It’s not what you asked for—you really wanted that fountain pen—but it might be useful—pencils have their place—someday. You really wanted that five-star, glowing review but this 3-star review includes some remarks that may inform your future writing and help improve it. You don’t know yet. You need to consider it.
The good gift-giver understands this. The good reviewer understands that the phrase, “leave a review,” uses the word “leave” for a reason. (Leave**, verb, to let remain after going.) To be a good gift-giver, you must give—leave—the gift. Once you give the gift to the recipient, it’s theirs, to do with (or not do with) as they please. Walk away. Maybe the recipient will call out a polite, “Thank you,” as you walk down the drive, maybe they won’t. Maybe you’ll get a lovely—Handwritten!—thank you card in the mail or an effusive thank you text. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have your taste and judgement questioned. Maybe you’ll get a delayed response, long after you’d forgotten you’d ever given the gift. But, gift-giver, none of that is your call. It’s recipient’s choice. You left your gift (your review), it’s not yours anymore, let it go. The recipient is accepting the risk of not getting the gift they hoped for. Accept the risk of not getting the reaction you hoped for. You have the right to give but not the right to demand a response at a certain time or of a certain quality. When you try to mandate the way an autonomous individual responds, it’s more about you than it is about them. And that’s not much of a gift, is it Aunt Marge?
*Random All About Eve reference
**Definition from dictionary.com
Are you a good gift-giver? Comment here or join the conversation on Facebook.
I’m moderating a panel in a few weeks at Magna Cum Murder about criticism… and this is right on point! We want/need criticism but then we don’t want it. (We still need it…..) But the fine line between criticism and hateful commentary can sometimes be too thin.
Constructive criticism (intended to help, not harm) is necessary, even if painful.