As a cellist-teacher-publisher who has published over 200 books and one recording, I've definitely put myself "out there". This in turn means that I've opened myself up to any and all criticism (plus accolades of course).
But today, I want to focus on the criticism. Quite simply, some people give more helpful feedback than others. Helpful feedback can cause actual change. Give more of it!
Here are some things you can do to give better negative feedback:
This would seem to be a given. But no matter how upset you are, step back and ask yourself why exactly you are upset. It's possible that the situation can be remedied through communication. Getting upset is normal but it doesn't have to be the end of it; it's much better if it can be a starting place for change.
I am a real person and I am on the receiving end of all the comments. I do listen, I do read, and I do care. I want the books to help. At the same time, I know that there are tons of different styles of teaching and learning and there is no way my books will be helpful to everyone!
Oh, and if your order hasn't arrived, please let me know in a calm way. Dealing with irate customers takes a lot out of me!
Tell who you are, why you are upset, which product you are writing about. I can't guess why you are upset. You actually have to tell me. Using words. It doesn't freak me out to get criticism. It does upset me when people are angry and won't tell me why. That's because I care. See below.
Call for actual change
Yeah, that's a thing. Don't just complain unless you have a suggestion or a solution. This morning, I got an email that told me to "please stop writing such useless books." Lots of things in life might stop me from writing, but a comment from that gentleman (Mr. C) won't do it. Run through the scenario for a minute: I shut down the website business, take all the books off of Amazon and out of sheet music stores, buy back inventory from stores all over the world, and make them instantly unavailable. Stop writing The Two Octaves Book for Viola, Three-Octave Scales for the Violin, and more. All because Mr. C wrote and told me to stop.
But if you leave feedback with a suggestion for change, I love it! One of my favorites was a very kind teacher at an ASTA convention who used my Fourth Position for the Cello book. She asked in the sweetest way possible why my bowings didn't "work out". In the stress of getting the book to press, I honestly hadn't thought of it! I was so grateful to have the suggestion. Please send me suggestions like that!
Be flexible in your own mind
No matter how much you think you are 100% absolutely right and the other party is wrong, very few issues in music support such absolutes. Be open to other truths. For instance, I get some angry emails, reviews, and even postcards, giving negative feedback on the paperback binding of my books. I don't love the paperback binding but getting spiral bindings would force me to double (at least) all the prices and for most international orders, I would not be able to offer free shipping through Amazon. If enough people were willing to pay $20-40 for each book, I could do spiral binding. We would all have less more money and the printing companies would have more, but it is an option. And shipping to the U.K. would start at $22 per order (for one book). So instead of a $15 book, you would pay between $30 and $60. That's just one of the reasons for the binding.
Still, I'm open to new suggestions and ideas. I get quotes from new printing companies quite often. I want the books to be available to the most people for the lowest price possible. Sending me new ideas for how to do that would be welcome!
What I Will and Won't Do in Response to Comments
Write more explanation pages in the books.
Give a better idea of which books to play when.
At least come close to putting them in order of difficulty (I've been trying for 10 years!).
Put the title of the book at the top of each page (this was in response to actual helpful feedback!).
Keep looking for better binding options that still keep prices low and the books available.
Sell clips that help keep the pages open.
Stop hearing exercises in my head and writing them down at odd times, even though my family has politely asked for less of a glazed-eye look from me at times.
Stop writing (I've been asked to stop a number of times).
Stop publishing (I've been asked to stop a number of times).
Stop caring. I was born caring and I just can't stop. I really really want to make learning a string instrument a better process for you!
Change the binding. It would cost over $1.1 million dollars to have the books printed in spiral binding and I would have to rent a separate warehouse space.
Please write! I love to hear from you, whether positive or negative. Suggestions for future books are especially helpful. Other helpful emails include letting me know ideas for better ways of organizing the books or describing them, pointing out misprints, and suggestions for supplementary material.
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Cassia Harvey is a cellist, a cello teacher, and writes technique for strings.