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  • Gary Toyn

Volunteering for Criticism

One of the hardest things about writing a novel is enduring the review process. It starts six months prior to the release day when the publisher sends the book out for critical review. The hope is we can gather enough positive comments that we can convince others to read the book. Even though this isn't my first book, it's still a roller coaster of emotions leading up to, and beyond the book’s release.

It’s akin to having a child, raising it for a few years, then sending the kid in front of a panel of tired and cantankerous experts who aren't afraid to hurt your feelings. Their job is to tell you whether or not you’ve done a good job of parenting. It has the potential of being a gut wrenching experience. On the other hand, it can be quite exciting too.

Fortunately, I’ve been blessed to have many glowing reviews from major publications like Kirkus, Midwest Book Review, etc. But what makes this whole crazy process worth it, is hearing great reviews from random people from around the country. These are everyday folks who have no connection to me, to my state or hometown, and could say absolutely anything they want because they don't know or care about me. These are readers who have found my book on Netgalley or some other pre-publication book review service, and after reading my book, have somehow gained a powerful and emotional connection to it. Here are a few of their comments:

"I’ve read numerous books about WWII, both fiction and non-fiction, and this author touched me to my core like no other. Dona Burke – Houston, TX
"When I started it, I remember thinking 'this better be good for me to stick with it through 584 pages.' As I moved along through the story and got to know the characters, I didn't even notice where I was in the book until I hit 50%. Then I thought "well the first half was really good and I have to see what happens to all these people I now know and care about". And when I finished it last night, I said "No, it can't be over yet! I have to find out what happens in the rest of their lives!" This book is that good. Linda Beilstein - Edgewater, Maryland
"What a captivating read this was! It does not get much better than this - a WWII Historical Fiction book based on real events. I thoroughly enjoyed this book even though I was a little intimidated by the length of it, but it flowed along so quickly. The stories of these individuals are so intertwined with each other which makes this such an addictive read." Lee Husemann - Wickenburg, AZ

I’m not sharing these reviews to seek praise or to get a pat on the back. I’m sharing it with hopes that it will help my friends and colleagues who are also writers, authors, musicians, artists and creators. If I can get good reviews like this, you can too. Don't think for a minute that your creative efforts can't garner good feedback. Your creations can realistically touch others in ways you'll never know.

At the risk of being accused of false modesty or sounding disingenuous, I can honestly say that I’m nothing special when it comes to writing. In fact, when I read books from so many other amazing and talented authors, I’m completely comfortable admitting that I’m quite average. But as these reviews can attest, even a so-so talent like me can have an impact on others.

I know... I know. There’s a scary amount of vulnerability that comes with allowing others to critique your creation. Harsh criticism is hard to hear, and I’ve had my share of two and three star reviews. Fear of criticism can mess with your mind. Fear can mess with you in so many ways that it can keep you from creating. Fear can keep you from investing the time and effort necessary to hone your craft.

So I'm begging you, don’t give in to your fears, or you’ll talk yourself out of a potentially life-changing creative endeavor. You’ll miss out on witnessing the amazing responses from people who may be emotionally moved by your work. You’ll miss out on seeing how your creation can bless the lives of others. I have come to believe that when you seek to create something good, you are teaming up with divinity, and that means your creation can tap the powers of heaven, making it far better than what you can do by yourself. So go create something good.

Because when our creativity is appreciated by others, we are adding value in ways that we truly can't fully comprehend. Adding value, or giving and serving others, is a big reason why we’re on this earth. At least that's what I believe.

So I hope you decide to keep writing, learning, singing, sewing, scrapbooking, journaling, photographing, sculpting, painting etc. etc. It’s up to you if you want to give in to your fears. But I’m here to tell you, you’ll never know whose life you can improve unless you overcome your fears and ignore that gnawing voice in your head that says you’re not good enough.

Believe me, you are good enough to add value to someone else. No matter how much talent you THINK you don't have.

When you create something good, you become a partner with heaven, and the end result will make it all worth the struggle.

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