Criticism and How to Respond to a Negative Review

This week, I wanted to talk a little about criticism. Let’s face it, criticism is unavoidable in almost any field of work, especially in the creative disciplines, and in the current age of the internet, it’s positively rampant thanks to the safety of anonymity. The reason creative disciplines are such common targets is because they are so thoroughly subjective. When a piece of literature is hauled onto the pillory, it becomes less a matter of whether something serves its function and more about whether or not it caters to an individual’s personal taste. Granted, not all criticism is something to shy away from. Oftentimes, criticism is constructive, and helps you grow and improve your craft. It can show you your blind spots and point out errors in thinking. It is generally in your best interest to be open to this brand of feedback. However, there are other times when criticism can degenerate to toxic mud-slinging, and budding artists learn quickly to keep their heads down or else don military-grade armor.

As some of you know, my debut novel Chasing Fireflies is set for publication on October 25th (less than two weeks away!) and to prepare for it’s launch, I’ve been requesting and receiving reviews from ARC readers. It’s the first time I’ve had my work under public scrutiny, and let me tell you, it hasn’t been easy. In fact, it has been very stressful! If you think for a moment that authors and artists are all aloof creatures with inflated egos who can’t be harmed by a bad review, let me be the first to correct you. We are fragile, delicate creatures, crippled by self-doubt. Luckily, for the most part, my book has been well received (you can check out the reviews on Goodreads). But (inevitably) there are some people who haven’t liked it, or found fault with it. I’m not going to lie: it doesn’t feel great getting a two or three star review. However, I like to keep in mind a few things when I see these reviews:

  1. You can’t please everyone.

There are people who found the ending a surprise. There are people who hated cliches and thanked me for not being derivative. Others have said the ending was predictable. Others thought it was miserable and downright horrible. Who’s right? Everyone? Maybe. Who knows? I just know that it’s the ending that best fit the story I wanted to tell.

2. Reading is a partnership and readers bring different views to the table

Readers come from all walks of life, and bring with them a multitude of different experiences, knowledge and insights. Someone who grew up in rural Saskatchewan will have had a completely different upbringing than someone who grew up in Manhattan. Consequently, they might not be able to relate to the same characters, or the same settings. They might think your characters behave unrealistically or they might disagree with the culture or morality of the story, but really, it’s all about perspective.

3. Reading is a one-way street, and that’s okay

For each criticism I’ve received, I’ve had a retort locked and loaded, because – and this should be obvious – I didn’t write mindlessly. Every character flaw, every action, every trait, was a decision made after excruciatingly careful thought. But I can’t tell the reader why I made those decisions. There is no conversation taking place between author and reader while you read their book – it’s a one-sided exchange, and even if I could, I would run myself ragged if I had to explain all the choices I made to each reader. So you have to take a breath, let it go, and accept that not everyone is going to appreciate the decisions you made, even if they made sense to you.

4. When it boils down to it, sometimes it’s best just to ignore.

For the sake of your sanity, sometimes it’s best just to ignore the reviews entirely. Read the good ones, certainly, but if someone is intent on tearing you down, or is looking to gain attention by being ‘clever’ and unkind, all you have to do is scroll past it. That is the one magical thing about the internet! And when all else fails, there’s always cake…

Keep writing, everyone!

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