Susan Slaughter

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Reviewer Is Always Right

In Everything, Little SAS Book Series, Publishing, SAS on June 1, 2011 at 1:13 pm

…about something

…and it’s up to you to figure out what.

At SGF I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion titled “So You Want to Be a SAS Press Author!”  The panel was organized by Nancy Brucken, moderated by Michael Raithel and included authors Art Carpenter, Cynthia Zender, and Mike Molter.

During the discussion, the topic of reviewer comments came up.  I mentioned that when Lora Delwiche and I first sent our proposal for The Little SAS Book to SAS Institute, one of the reviewers said, “It’s not possible to write a book like this, and if you do, then you will be doing a disservice to readers!”  That was a pretty strong statement, and it stung—a lot.  I mentioned this to make the point that you can’t let negative comments derail you from following your dreams.  However, I now realize that I may have left people with the impression that they can safely ignore any comments they don’t like.  On the contrary, I have learned the hard way that

There is something to be learned from every reviewer’s comment.

Those comments you don’t like…they’re the ones you should pay the most attention to.  Maybe, just maybe, that reviewer knows something that you don’t.  And maybe, just maybe, that reviewer is even right.  If that is the case, wouldn’t you rather find out before your book goes to press?  Yessiree, that reviewer might be doing you a favor.  Maybe you should (politely!) ask that reviewer for more information.  At times like this, it is important to set aside all defensiveness and listen because there is something to be learned from every reviewer’s comment—although it is not always what the reviewer intended.

For example, you will likely get some comments that are just factually incorrect.  When you do, it’s tempting to think, This reviewer doesn’t understand!, and then ignore the comment.  However, when you get such comments, you should ask yourself, Why doesn’t this reviewer understand?  If the reviewer didn’t understand, then perhaps readers won’t understand.  Can you make your writing more clear?  Did you fail to explain something?  What does this reviewer need to know in order to understand?

So what was the lesson to be learned from the reviewer who said that it was impossible to write The Little SAS Book, and that if we did, we would be doing a disservice to readers?  The lesson I learned is that some people will react very negatively to a book that is small and friendly.  Of course, Lora Delwiche and I never imagined that we were writing a book that would appeal to everyone and that would meet every SAS programmer’s needs.  But we also never imagined that some people would react so violently.  Honestly, I do think that some people need to get a life.  It’s just a book, for goodness sake.  But even so, this reviewer did us a favor by warning us.