Tuesday, April 19, 2016

How Do Writers Deal With Criticism?

Dealing with criticism is one of the most difficult things about being a writer, especially since there are a zillion ways people can zing you these days. Reviews can range from honest attempts to evaluate your work with insightful, albeit negative, feedback, while others just plain attack you. So how do authors muster the strength to keep writing? Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind so you don't lose sight of the big picture:

1) Seek Out Reviews: No writer is 100% perfect. Every writer - no matter how long they've been writing or how famous they are - is always improving. Good or bad, reviews are a free way to gain valuable feedback so you can improve your writing. If the same issues are repeatedly brought to your attention (e.g., structure, pacing, etc.), you might need to change some things in your next book, which could result in an even better book. Is that so terrible? The important thing to remember is to let as many diverse people as possible read your book because everyone’s opinion differs. Here’s what the lovely Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, says about criticism: 
“No one should be so precious as to refuse criticism of their work. But to respect an opinion, we have to know that it was given honestly and with proper thought. Reviewers who haven't read the book (one of my novels was once described in a national newspaper as "another of Harris's sweeping historical romances" – it was actually a crime novel set in the 20th century) run the risk, first, of making themselves look ridiculous, and, second, of alienating still further the very readers who keep them – and all writers – in business. Similarly, those who deliberately give away key moments in books or films (as just happened to me), thereby spoiling the experience for anyone who reads the piece, are guilty of the worst kind of arrogance, abusing their position to score one over a colleague at the expense of the general public.” (from Criticism is Fine, But Do You Have To Spoil The Plot?, via Independent)
2) As Much As It Sucks, You Can't Take It Personally: It’s hard not to take negative feedback personally because your work is, well, personal. It can totally shatter your confidence. Ice cream and bonbons anyone? The truth is that the more you get used to hearing feedback, including negative feedback, the easier it gets. It’s important to mention that not everyone is going to like your work. For example, if a critic loves cozy mysteries and gave your epic alien sci-fi novel a thumbs down, it’s probably because your book never had a shot to begin with. Personally, I dislike a lot of mainstream authors, not necessarily because I think they suck, but because I just don’t like the genre or their writing style in general. It’s nothing against them personally, and it’s nothing against you.

3) Ask Away: If you just can’t fathom why you received a negative review, don't be afraid to ask questions. Not only will asking questions help you fully understand why the critic said what they said, it will also make the critic feel validated. If you feel that the critic’s suggestions are valid, incorporate them accordingly and possibly resubmit later. They might actually love the next thing you write. If they don't respond at all, then oh well. Maybe steer clear of them in the future.

4) Don’t Accept Every Criticism: Sometimes critics are just plain wrong. It’s up to you to assess whether or not the criticism you receive is founded. This brilliant quote from Neil Gaiman puts it perfectly: 
When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

5) Focus on the Positive: Did your family and friends love you book? Why? What did they specifically say? Do you have a five-star review on Amazon or Goodreads? What did the reader(s) say? Even if it's just one person, you touched their life in a meaningful way because they cared enough about your work to say something awesome about it.

6) Bad Reviews Increase Sales: Say what? It’s true! Studies by Stanford and Wharton Business Schools show that books written by relatively unknown authors saw a 45% increase in book sales after their books were hit hard by critics. Why? Harsh criticism makes readers aware of a book, so haters are actually doing you a favor.

7) Re-Evaluate Why You Became a Writer: Did you start writing to become world-famous, make a million dollars, and have everyone adore you, or did you become a writer because you had a story you wanted to share with the world, and if the other stuff happened, all the better? If you're in this for the latter, then don't lose sight of why you became a writer in the first place.

8) Look to Your Heroes: How do your favorite authors deal with criticism? A simple Google search, or visit to an author's website can change your whole perspective. And, because it's coming from someone you adore, you're probably more likely to listen. 

9) Build A Community: A supportive community helps you build resilience. Don't do it alone! Join people who are going through the same thing. You might be surprised how incredibly supportive other writers are. When I was first starting out writing, I was still trying to find my voice and genre, and for a brief period was a member of Sisters in Crime. Each year, they hold a "Queen of Rejection" contest for members to submit how many times they've been rejected by agents for a single title. Yours truly won! It was a fun, interesting way to embrace rejection. Didn't hurt that I won an Amazon gift card either. :P

10) Ignore It: Still feeling down in the dumps? Ignore it. As an author, it is impossible to control the opinions of readers. It’s just one of those things you have to learn to live with. If you spend all day poring over what other people said about your work, you're simply wasting time. Get back to what's important - writing!

Agree? Disagree? How do you handle critic smack-downs? Share below.