The Line Between Fair and Foolish by Vicki Hinze© 2012, Vicki Hinze
Sometimes in writing books for others to read, it’s hard to find the line between fair and foolish. Actually, sometimes the line is as clear as a sunny day but most often, it’s just as murky as the muddy Mississippi after a hurricane.
We think, as writers, that we’re being too obvious, too fair, and yet when others read, their feedback is as diverse as we were mixed minded in the writing. Some felt we were too fair, some just fair enough and some foolishly fair and our handling diminished the suspense or message in the book.
I went to an online retailer and read all the reviews on five current bestsellers. Then I went to a second retailer and read all the reviews on the same five books there. Afterward, I went to a third retailer and read the reviews available on those same books posted there.
The results were that some liked one thing, some another, and still others liked nothing. The mix was evident. And it proved what writers have always known:
Readers are diverse, and writers are and should be grateful for it. Otherwise, we’d need one writer and one book and that’d be the end of it. Because readers are diverse, some will love what we write, some will hate it, and unfortunately some will also be indifferent. Loving or hating is great. Indifference stings.
The results also prove that the line between fair and foolish is fine. It has earned its place. Readers of one work will not be touched, but will be deeply touched by another work. And those readers will hate, love and be indifferent to a third, fourth and fifth work.
This convinces me that writers should never hope for all five-star reviews. They should aspire to a mixed bag of reviews and reader feedback. Love, hate, and indifference is evidence that the writer is walking that fine line—and doing it well.
As I write this, I’m thinking of books that touched me deeply—both positively and negatively—and I’m having to search my memory hard for those books that left me feeling indifferent. I’m not sure if that means I’m too opinionated or normal. Maybe it means it’s normal to be opinionated.
Or maybe it means that we write books and trust that the right people will find them at the right time when the message in the book resonates for them—when this specific book is what the reader needs to read at that moment, in his/her current circumstance.
I’ve written a lot of books and I’ve always written each book for a purpose. Sometimes it takes a while, but always someone will write me a note or an email and say that the book was just what they needed—and then go on to disclose why it was perfect for them at that time. That perfect reason relates to the purpose for which I wrote the book. It’s humbling to receive notes like those. But it’s reassuring, too. Because the indifferent rarely write. They might post a review, but they rarely message the reader that the book did nothing for them. Those who love or hate the book are far more apt to write the author. They’re more invested.
In reviewing books I didn’t care for, I discovered that they hit hot buttons inside me. And while that wasn’t fun, it was often helpful. It gave me the opportunity to revisit that hot button and to make choices again on it being a hot button. To explore why it was a hot button and reevaluate. Even though I didn’t care for the experience, it was a beneficial experience, and now I wonder if that initial negative reaction wasn’t surface clutter, because beneath it there lay a great opportunity for me. One tied to spiritual and/or emotional growth.
Now that potential fascinated me. So on went the reviewing books that left me indifferent. What I discovered was that they just didn’t speak to me at the place I was standing at the time I read them. Later, when I reread them, some of those books actually spoke to me—and my second reaction was far different from the first!
And that’s my point. The fine line isn’t just fine, it’s also tied to time. Sometimes the timing is right, sometimes it’s not.
Have you looked at the books that you’ve loved and hated and been indifferent to? Why did you love or hate them? Did you later find an indifferent work, well different? Relevant to you in a way it hadn’t been during the first read?
After all this, I’ll tell you. My attitude has changed. Some books I love and feel I’ll always love. Some I hate for now and may or may not hate later. Some are just plain not for me but more of them are snagged in shades of gray. And of the ones I reacted to with indifference, I’ll say, “indifferent for today” and I’ll set them aside to read again later.
Because the line between fair and foolish is thin and tied to time.
And it seems we really only know if we’ve walked the line or crossed it in hindsight.