I used to pride myself for having a tough-as-nails journalist's approach to criticism. After all, in the newsroom, strangers would call me on practically a daily basis to berate me on something one of my reporters or I wrote. Lawsuits were sometimes threatened, and one time I believe I was visited by an honest-to-God yakuza member who was angered by a story that was published.

But that was more than 10 years ago, and I'm discovering that I'm going soft. Now with the Internet, readers can find us easily. While 99% of the communication is positive, it's that other one percent that always seems to resonate and hurt. One e-mail last week accused me of awful things--beyond writerly matters--and I knew that the reader was bringing personal political agendas to the table, but it still affected me. I wrote the reader back and actually our dialogue led to deep and powerful revelations. And while on one level that's meaningful, it's still valuable time that I can't get back.

I've long come to the conclusion that reading amazon reviews or googling myself is counterproductive, not productive, so I've stopped doing that a couple years ago. So how about you? Are you able to be very analytical about reader criticisms? Do they actually help rather than hinder you? And how can I get back my tough exterior?

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I've been in a writer's group for about five years now (I'm forming a new one, but that's a whole different can of beans). One of the first things that grew out of this was an enforced tolerance for criticism. At first I hated the idea of changing anything in my prosebecause of what a critic said. I'm an artist after all, right? LOL The upshot of this was that I found the perfect bull$#!& detector. This is a person with whom I bristle at being in the same room during social situations, but when it comes to boiling down my stuff she is a genius.

As far as blind reviews go, I don't have much experience with that, though I did get a structured critique from Hallie Ephron last week (It went better than I expected). It's easy to take an opinion from a reviewer of that prestige and use it constructively. Joe Shmoe off the street is another matter, though probably as important if you want to sell more books. I'm anxious to see more informed responses.

Belated congrats on the Edgar. I look forward to reading it.
ROFL Ray. A true hardboiled response :)
Thanks, Ray! That helps a lot. :)
I guess I'll be somewhere in between the enlightened "if you dont read it, does it really exist" and the rubbing my hands together cackling over the reviewer's headless, rotting body reaction. I haven't had to deal with this yet (as a newcomer) but I know it's coming. I'm hoping I'll have the same attitude I had with agent's rejections - "OK, we're not a good fit. See ya." The other thing I hope I remember if someone trashes my minor masterpiece is that, similar to writing villains versus good guys, it's probably more fun to write a scathing review than a complimentary one.
It really doesn't bother me at all. Obviously, it would be LOVELY if everyone liked my book, but, as a reader, I know there are books that I really don't like that loads of people do. And books I love that people whose reading DNA I usually share loathe and detest. I like to know WHY people don't like books that I adore, and I'm sorry that they don't, but it's just a matter of personal taste, and that goes equally for things I write too. I know of one negative review of my book (there are, no doubt, more, but I am of the 'tend not to google myself' camp) and I actually really enjoyed what the reviewer had to say. Had it been personal, I would no doubt have been upset, but it was about the book. I wanted to write and thank him for the review but I worried he might think I was being sarcastic.

So no, negative reviews don't bother me. I've not yet had someone send me an e-mail saying "Your book was pure shite" so I'm not sure how I would react to that. On the other hand, I REALLY love it when someone out of the blue sends me an e-mail and says something nice about something I've written that they have enjoyed. A nice comment can leave me with a glow and make me happy for ages. The bad stuff I tend to get over very quickly.

My mum doesn't like my book. She thinks I'm warped and I swear too much (her actual comments were "My daughter is weird. Weird, weird, weird." And "Can you write something NICE next time dear?") I still love her :o)
Donna, my parents don't like my writing either! Too dark for them. They told me I should write more like Leonie Swann (THREE BAGS FULL).

If my book ever gets published I hope I can keep your words in mind, because "a matter of taste" should really be the cornerstone to every writer's attitude about reader comments, agent rejections, editor suggestions....
My parents don't read my work, at least they don't admit to me that they do!

Negative comments about the work are one thing, but negative comments about me--a stranger--is quite another. But then I'm writing about some risky topics (a-bombing, etc.), so it should be expected. It's just that I was able to handle these things much better in my incarnation as a newspaper editor. I just have to remember Ray's technique--off with their heads!
Very badly, I hate to admit
Reader criticism -- well, at least they bought the damn book. I read the criticisms of my work on Amazon.com and sometimes it upsets me, and it is always the same criticism: I devote a significant amount of my true crime books to the courtroom, defense, and legal battles. Often, what happens in the courtroom mirrors what happened in the crime. No better example exists than the legal insanity found in my book HEAD SHOT. The real story is what happened AFTER the murders -- the trials, the perversions of justice, the prosecutorial misconduct, the manipulation of psychological evaluations, and much more. So, of course I get criticised for "dumping a bunch of trial transcripts" into the book. In truth, there were three trials, mistrials, and appeals to the State Supreme Court. The most work in the entire project was condensing all that into a readable narrative...and then readers bitch that it was too legal. Is all they care about blood and guts and perversion?
Another one that irks me is when I reveal in detail the background and upbringing of the killer and then someone says that there is no information about the killers background and upbringing. The ultimate criticism, however, was when a reader complained that there was too much about ballistics in the book, MURDER IN THE FAMILY, when there was NOTHING about ballistics in the book -- the crime was done with a knife. So, I learn that despite the importance of legal issues, many true crime readers don't care about justice, law, ore anything such as that. Too bad.
Oh, I almost forgot this criticism...:"Dont buy this book. It was such an upsetting story that i had nightmares for weeks." Of course it was upsetting -- a 7 year old girl raped and murdered is not a happy story. What was the reader expecting?
I do enjoy praise, and I'm happy to say that I get plenty of that as well. However, the negative stuff does have an impact.

The only way I know to get around incredibly hurtful or nonsensical reviews or criticism is to remember there are a lot of loons out there, and some of 'em will be reading your words.

Also: Picture a person of "average" intelligence -- and then realize that 50% of people are dumber than that. It's sobering.

I've got a pretty thick skin, and it's gotten thicker with age. I don't take good reviews much more seriously than I do the bad ones (though they're nice!)...and the bad ones are easy to dismiss as outliers if the person seems to have an agenda, or lack of experience. But if I had a few bad reviews that brought up the same points, you bet I'd listen. An aggregate point of view like that is valuable feedback.

As a critic, I know I've written things that writers haven't liked. While I think I can justify my reviews (positive and negative, as well as the vast squishy middle), I hope the writer isn't crushed even when they're not good. And in my experience, it's the weaker writers who are the quickest to write off any critic as just an a**hole with a keyboard.
You know, as a reader something I've noticed about other readers is that they tend to only comment when they either a) really like something or b) really hate something. Unfortunately it's usually the second one. I don't know why they feel it necessary to vent their spleens at all of you. Personally, when I've read books I've disliked, I tend to keep it to myself-I just don't recommend the book to others. In my opinion, the need to write someone and flay them because you didn't like a book says more about the person writing the letter than anything-it's their malfunction.

Of course, that doesn't make it any easier to hear. I'm going through something right now that can make it easy for me to sympathize. Take the awful ones with a grain of salt and keep faith in yourself-just think how shallow their ego must be if they have to write such things in order to feel better!
To be honest, I can feel quite indifferent to criticism, dependent on my frame of mind at the time of receipt! I've had two of my unpublished novel/manuscripts read by agents (or so they tell me!), by publishers, both mainstream and vanity, and although they've said they liked them, I simply got the run-of-the-mill 'rejection letter'. However, I have allowed some of my friends and colleague the chance to read my work, and on the whole, they've told me they enjoyed them; they would mention a couple of things they either didn't like or understand, but in all, they liked the stories. My best mate's wife, read 'Medusa's Curse', my horror story, even though she doesn't 'do' horror, and yet she told me in no uncertain terms, that she absolutely loved it!
I said: "aahh, but you're just saying that because we're friends!" She replied quite simply, "No Roger, hun, if I thought it was CR*P I'd tell you so, I really loved it!" I believe her!

When I was the lighting technician at my local community theatre, when we put on a comedy play, I could see the utter difference in how the audiences reacted on a nightly basis; also from an 'actor's' perspective as well. One night the majority of the audience would laugh consistently; and yet another night, another audience wouldn't even raise a 'titter'! From this experience, I try to write my Sherlock Holmes plays, so that whatever the characters say, and how their actions/reactions are, every one of the audiences might end up 'wetting' themselves! Oh deary me!
I think that you don't necessarily need to have a thick skin to take criticism, but you need to be able to evaluate what the reader is trying to tell you, about how they veiwed your work. Unfortunately some people can be unkind in their remarks, and not be able to get the criticism across in a far more productive fashion, which would be beneficial, rather than have a counterproductive affect.
May I close my comment, with my best wishes to everyone who are writers here, and that you all have success with your endeavours, no matter what the critics say!


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