Why You Should Embrace Writer Critiques
Ouch! So you got a bad review? Before reaching for the sweets to drown your sorrows, take a moment to breathe deeply. Whether the critique came from a friend, advanced reader, or even a reader once the book is published (gulp!), I can promise you the world is not ending.
It can be hard to get past the initial depression and even horror that someone didn't like this thing that you created. The thing you worked so hard for months to create. Even hearing that the reader's experience was subpar in some way can be disheartening.
But, you should always remember that the review is not a personal attack on you (even if a troll decided to make it personal). The review is simply a reflection of the reader's state of mind towards the book. You may have "birthed" the book, but it's not you.
You did your best. You created a wonderful thing. The painful truth that you'll have to bear is that your book, as amazing and groundbreaking as it may be, won't be for everyone.
But that's kind of the beauty of writing, right? That we can make strong connections across space and time with people who 'get' our work, who appreciate it. The flipside of this particular coin is that some people won't connect with it.
Another thing to remember, is that we don't always know what's in the minds of the reader who gives us a bad review. They may be having a bad day. It's possible that they come across harsher than they mean to be.
That being said, I want to discuss how critiques can actually help you.
(I really hope you look at this with an open mind and try to consider this post from different angles.)
Writer's literally put themselves out there, sometimes with our hearts on our sleeves. We present the world with the inner workings of our thoughts and feelings, and that can be terrifying. We will get pushback. It's inevitable. As writers, we must learn to accept that we will be criticized for the work we put into the world.
Some critiques are mean. Some can have insights into what we may be missing.
It can be hard to sift through the useful and the not-so-useful, but a good rule of thumb is asking the question, "If I had incorporated this advice, would it have helped my book?"
Neil Gaiman said, "When people tell you there's something wrong with a story, they're almost always right. When they tell you how to fix it, they're almost always wrong."
You know your book better than anyone. You know why it works or doesn't. Whether you use structured outlines like Story Grid or just 'feel' the book out, you know deep down what the story needs.
Let me share an experience I had with a review. The reader gave the book 4 stars on Amazon and said they wouldn't normally have kept reading a book so riddled with typos, but the plot was good enough to make them finish it. I think they said something like, "apparent total lack of proofreading."
Whew! Not terrible, but still a little gut wrenching for me because I realized I'd been putting out a less than perfect product, and it was putting readers off. It's worth noting at this point that I had done my editing myself, and while I had spent over a month editing the novel myself, and combing through every sentence, it wasn't good enough.
From this, I learned a very important lesson about getting a professional to edit for me. Spellcheck, Grammerly, and my own editing skills weren't good enough.
Another experience I've had with feedback comes from Scribophile, a website where writers can share snippets of their work to get critiques. I had added some work and got less than helpful feedback. I understood what the other writer was getting at in terms of feedback, but it didn't work with my story. Still, I thanked them and moved on.
You too will receive critiques that are less than helpful. It's always a good practice to return their critiques by being gracious and thanking them for their advice.
Why? Because getting upset will only hurt your credibility with that reader and may cost you readers or feedback in the future. They didn't have to read your work. They didn't have to critique or review it. But they did. They invested time (and maybe money) into reading your book. And that's what we want.
As hard as it is, swallowing our egos is the right thing to do.
And as an added bonus, we now get to add a different perspective to our work. Helpful or not, we now have insights into how our book is being perceived and received. That's valuable because it shows us where we could improve the next book.
When you get a bad review, pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. And get to work because you want to. Because it's what you want to do. Because you love writing enough to continue through the fear of criticism.
It's alright to be afraid of bad reviews. It's not OK to let that fear hold you back. Pick up a pen, pop open the laptop, open a new notes document on your phone, whatever your process, get writing, and don't fear criticism.
Criticism is a good thing! It means people are paying attention. It means people have noticed and engaged with your work. And people picking apart your work gives you the best pieces to work with.