Making Criticism Work For You

The first draft is never the final draft. No writer has ever sat down and simply unloaded a masterpiece onto the page. It doesn’t happen. Even if you have the most amazing band of editors, readers, and designers, there is no perfect book. It’s just a fact of life.

If You Write It, They Will Criticize It

Period. No discussion here. There is literally no single piece of content (book, magazine, poster, movie, podcast, whatever) that is universally accepted and adored. It just doesn’t happen. Whatever you create, there will be criticism of it. It’s important to accept that now before you start promoting and selling your work.

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We all have to learn to distance ourselves from our work. In particular, once you’ve published and completed your work, it’s time to step back. If there are critics, let them criticize. It’s impossible and unhealthy to attempt to contest or even fathom the reasons for some critical reviews.

Critics are Here to stay

Literary criticism isn’t new. Nor is it likely to go away. Ever. So rather than fighting the wave, you need to learn to ride it out.

To better highlight how pervasive criticism is in literature, take this list of the ‘best’ books ever written. It highlights books that are widely regarded as important, brilliant, and otherwise just great reads.

Now let’s focus on just one. I’ll use To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A classic. Commonly appearing in high school reading lists around the US, if not the world. It’s hard to argue with the success and appeal of this book.

But if I head over to Goodreads to look at the listing, I see it’s only received 4.27 out of 5 stars. With over 4.2 million reviews, that breaks down to quite a few negative reviews. Here’s the chart from Goodreads:

Even one of the (arguably) best books ever written has 75,000+ 1 star reviews. Ouch.

Critics Matter. Sort of.

As you implement your marketing plan, you’ll eventually encounter some criticism of your book. It’s just how the world works. Luckily, most sites are reputable enough to verify that the reviewer has purchased your book and will mark their comment appropriately. So, even if that reader has some harsh comments, at least they bought your book!

But let’s be honest here. You’re not writing just to get the revenue from sales. You want people to enjoy what you’ve written. Whether it’s a sprawling novel or a tightly organized guide; you want readers to take something positive away from your work.

Back to my example using To Kill A Mockingbird. I sorted the reviews by 1 Star and the first one on the list is a perfect example of criticism that can be helpful. Here’s a link to the review—be warned it contains a multitude of spoilers for the book and is pretty long. To put it briefly, the reviewer is upset by the handling of race relations in the book.

If I was Harper Lee, and I had just published this book intending to continue publishing more books, this comment would hit me hard. Here I have a book about race in America, and a reviewer sees bias within the text I may not have intended. I may not even have seen it myself as the author. But thanks to this review, I know how my work is impacting the audience I’m hoping will enjoy my book.

Are 1 Star reviews a good thing? Noof course not. But once you sort through the trolls and the nonsense, what’s left may provide valuable lessons for your next book.

Growing Your Creative Process

That’s what taking criticism is all about. You don’t want to end up on Goodreads or Amazon going down a rabbit hole of bad reviews. It’s discouraging and does nothing to help improve your work.

But criticism can and should prompt you to consider your creative process. If a complaint was about character voice, how can you make your characters more authentic in your next book? There are many ways to take criticism and make it work for you.

Just remember to ignore the trolls and look for those critics who can offer honest, helpful commentary. Not everyone will like your work, but there is a lot you can learn from your critics.

3 thoughts on “Making Criticism Work For You”

  1. Robert Morrison

    I have had 40 or more books published with lulu and I’ve been patting them on the back for a long time. Let’s see if YOU can take some criticism!
    The last four books I published were a mess! Almost every paragraph was overprinted (That is: printing over printing.) That’s the first trouble I’ve had, but it goes to quality, don’t you think?

  2. I couldn’t agree more. the person you illustrate here is me. I love writing, editing, and designing my own book – AND have been very open to the critisism…it’s been fun!

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