When I asked Alan McDermott, author of Gray Justice, a great thriller as I already told you some posts ago, if he wanted to write a post for my blog, he agreed and I felt very happy. He is a very good writer and it is always interesting to read about what he thinks as regards the writing process. Sometimes dealing with the reviews you get from people who read your books are not the expected reaction you had in mind, but we can always learn from them. In this fantastic guest post, Alan McDermott talks about his experience with the reviews he got for his debut novel, Gray Justice. Thanks, Alan, for sharing your thoughts with us.

-------o-------Seven months into my writing career and so far I've learned...

...that my writing style appeals to readers a lot more than it does to writers.

Of the 20-something reviews I have had, it has been non-writers who have loved Gray Justice simply for the story I told, while the most criticism has come from fellow writers.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind constructive criticism.  It’s just someone’s way of telling me what they would like to see in my writing.  A prime example would be the review by Rachel Abbott:

“...this was a pretty significant undertaking, and I didn't get much of a feel for Tom Gray `the man' and how this mission was affecting him.”

To be fair to Rachel, she did show me the review before hand and said I could clarify any points she had raised, but I wanted her review to reflect what she got from the story, not what I wanted her to get from the story.

Rachel said she doesn't get a feel for Tom Gray, the protagonist.  While she is correct in pointing out that I could have added a paragraph here and there telling the reader how Tom felt about the death of his family, I felt it would have slowed the story down.  From my perspective, the man just lost his wife and son to a career criminal who shows no signs of remorse:  how do you expect him to feel?  Ecstatic?  Do you need to be told a dozen times that he misses them?  When I go on a rollercoaster, I don't want it to stop every hundred yards to show me a video of how the engineers designed it with a triple corkscrew.  I know it has a triple corkscrew!  I gathered that when I was upside down three times in quick succession!
Another reader said that I went into too much technical detail:

“I don't need to know how the system was hacked, just that it was.”

Well, I'm sorry, but if I read a book and it says '...he needed to find his daughter quickly, so he inserted a special device into his computer and a few moments later he was inside the NSA mainframe...'  Hang on!  What special device?  A USB ice-cream maker?  A power cable?  If you want me to believe this device is so special, then please spend at least a paragraph explaining its origins and how it works.  The current crop of children were born, for the most part, with a mouse in one hand and a Windows user guide in the other.  You try telling a fifteen-year-old kid that you have a device which gives you access to every database in the world, the response will either be:

a) How does it work? (and you'd better have an answer); or

b) stop talking nonsense (or other polite words to that effect).

If I am to get people to believe my story, they must be able to relate to what I'm telling them, not see me as someone who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.

The final comment I want to address was this one:

“A point here about the political dimension of the book. The main character proposes changes to the UK's criminal justice system with much stricter sentences and prisons and even the reinstatement of corporal punishment. I could point out the practical futility of many of the proposals. Personally, I think that the reasons for crime are deeper than the punishments for them.”

I'd like to point out that Gray Justice is a work of fiction, and as such Tom Gray could have chosen one of a million paths.  He chose this one because I thought it would make a much better story than Tom Gray: social campaigner!  If I'd had him lobbying parliament for a change in the justice system it would have made for a pretty boring book.  I could have even let him accept the court's decision, but that would have cut the word count down by about 90%.  I’m also rather thrilled that someone got so engrossed in the story that they started comparing the protagonist’s views with their own!

I wanted it to be a thriller that people couldn’t put down, with an unforeseeable twist at the end, and the general opinion seems to suggest that I got that bit right.

I read a wonderful post recently by Scott Morgan on and point one was along the lines of “write the way you want to, not the way others think you should write. “  That’s what I started out doing, and that’s the way I plan to go on.  I recently got an email from a reader who said the only problem with the book was that they read it too quickly.  I asked if it was because they thought the book was too short and the response was:

“Ha ha, well it wasn't particularly long but some books are just longer because they're padded with unnecessary stuff like descriptions of things that go on for pages and don't add anything to the story or the atmosphere etc. No, I just couldn't put it down.

It's a bit sad that "page-turners" are over so quickly but reading them is also like being on a roller coaster in your head (without the nausea) so exhilarating at the same time.
Thanks for a great story.”

When I first joined Twitter in July 2011 I had the pleasure of exchanging a few emails with bestselling author Mike Wells, and his advice was “Don’t worry about what writers think of your book: it’s the readers views that count!”

To all those whose reviews I have mentioned, please don’t see this as criticism.  We all have our target audience, and what works for you might also work for me sometimes, but while I continue to get the kind of reaction above, from people I have never met, I will ride the critical wave and hopefully deliver what my readers want.



Leave a Reply