Answering Critics

Everyone’s a critic. Everyone has an opinion. And of course, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

But what happens when a critic or a reviewer or a book club member reads your book and doesn’t like it? What do you do when you read a cutting review of the book you toiled over for months (or years)?

Novelist Alice Hoffman had a book release in 2009 called The Story Sisters. She received a less-than-glowing review by The Boston Globe’s Roberta Silman. Unfortunately Hoffman wasn’t able to dismiss the review as one person’s opinion and move on. Gawker, an Internet gossip site captured all the dirty details. Lashing out on Twitter, Hoffman posted 27 Tweets in response to that review, including posting the contact information for Silman in hopes that Hoffman’s fans would call the reviewer out on the carpet.

I wonder if Ms. Hoffman is wishing she could take back her words. Well, actually — if she could take back her Tweets. I think that the answer to that is a resounding yes because her Twitter page is no longer online.

Very few writers please all the critics all the time, and most likely there is no writer who’s ever accomplished that feat. But the issue lies in how you deal with the criticism. It’s tough to receive negative feedback whether you’re a yet-to-be published author or one who’s had several books printed.

Some strategies to deal with the disappointment?

Call your agent/editor/mother/spouse/best friend/significant other and vent your frustration. Go for a walk. Write something. Take a nap. Write a private email to your critic if you must. Still, if the last option is your choice, first give it a day or two, and consider praying about the words you’ll deliver.

But don’t go and lose it online.

Perhaps the best course of action for Ms. Hoffman would have been to say nothing. What’s accomplished in slamming the reviewer for her words? It just doesn’t look professional, even if you think the other party acted poorly.

Author Angela Hunt cautions writers to never answer a critic publicly. That sounds like good advice. Too bad Ms. Hoffman didn’t receive such counsel.

Want a laugh? Here’s one author’s humorous response to criticism.

What’s your advice to someone suffering the sting of criticism or rejection?

25 Replies to “Answering Critics”

  1. Great post, Megan! I loved the video clip. What a great way to deal with criticism. :)Thanks!

  2. Hah! Love the video…very creative way to deal with criticism.

    I have a natural tendency to respond to criticism with explanation…and more explanation. Somewhere, deep in my psyche, I’m convinced that if I can just do a good enough job of explaining my viewpoint, then everyone will agree with me.

    Of course, that’s not realistic. On occassion, it proves beneficial, but not usually. I’m getting better as just letting it go, and realizing that everyone sees things differently.

      1. I think that’s the most important point. I sometimes have to remind myself that it’s ridiculous to expect everyone to like what I’ve written — and that writing with one audience in mind probably means that I’m writing something that a different audience will likely find unappealing.

  3. Great post… The Brad Meltzer video reminded me that Depeche Mode included the most scathing of their reviews as liner notes to one of their “Best Of” albums. When I got a bad review for my first novel, I found the one sentence that was remotely positive and whittled it down to the most positive word in the sentence. I then summarized the original review on my blog, including key negative quotations, followed immediately by a second post consisting only of my one-word “edited” version.

  4. Megan, thanks for this very wise advice. My rule of thumb is: If I can’t say it TO the person, don’t say it ABOUT the person. And even then, our hurts are properly vented to God as He’s the only one who can replace it with peace and love. Venting only erects fences, creates camps, and causes heartache. It’s so much better to not say anything – no matter how tempting – unless the response is garnished with love and respect.

  5. I think it’s good to have some bad and even scathing reviews of one’s work. It adds to the discussion and if one has loyal fans they’ll usually step up to the defense of a work so the author need not. As seen in the video, negativity is more conducive to humor and humor is more entertaining that pundits dryly clacking on about how wonderful something is. We all have faults in the eyes of others and so should an author’s work. If a book has gotten some good and some very bad reviews it makes me want to know more about it.


  6. I’m still debating if I’ll be reading my reviews when my novel debuts in 2012. I may just skip ’em all together. I guess that is one way to deal with reviews, both positive and negative.

    1. That’s true, Beth. But then you’d miss out on the fabulous and kind reviews your books will garner. I guess you’ve got to take both the good and the bad. Anticipate the good, strategize for the bad.

  7. Criticism stings — and when it is shared publicly the sting is amplified, plus embarrassment accompanies it.

    Although it is hard to remain philosophical at such a time, is is good to remember that the only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity!

  8. We’d all love to have 5 star reviews, but that’s just not going to happen. Reading is subjective. As you said–everyone is entitled to their opinions. Doesn’t mean it won’t hurt when someone doesn’t like what we’ve written. Great advice, Megan.

  9. It’s highly unusual for an author to respond to a professional review, such as one in a newspaper or a journal. It is more common for authors to be tempted to respond to negative lay reviews posted on the internet.

    This kind of reviewing (lay reviews publicly posted from normal readers) is NEW. In the past, before the rise of social media, authors only had to deal with the pro reviews, which had to at least pretend to objectivity. Lay reviewing has no guidelines and no standards. There are some excellent lay reviewers out there who write very much like pros, and then there are bad ones. I still wonder if many writers will be turned off writing because of some of the static and hazing they now have to take from a certain percentage of the general public. I don’t mind a professional objective review at all–much can be learned from a good critical review. I do mind hack and slash jobs with questionable motives. You can usually tell the difference. I have heard (though there’s no way to prove it) that there are writers trying to sabotage other writers whom they consider to be competition by writing pseudonymous negative reviews, deserved or not. Ugh! I hope it’s not true.

    None of that changes the fact that one should not respond to negative reviews, period. Thanks for the helpful reminder, Megan!

    1. You’ve given us a lot to think about, Rosslyn.

      It’s so easy for someone to give their opinion in our technological world. You can hop on any social networking site and blast away. Sometimes I think people can be nasty, tossing out hurtful words while hiding behind their keyboard. Thanks for joining the discussion!

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