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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The thing to remmeber about all criticism - from readers, reviewers, or members of a critique group - is "Does he get it?" If the totality of the remarks shows the writer isn't thinking on the same frequency as you are, then the remarks may probably be safely disregarded.

Two personal examples: In a critique group I belong to, there's a gentleman who doesn't get much of my humor, but he's very good at finding confusing dialog attributions (or the lack thereof) and weak character motivations. I take careful notes when he speaks of either of those last two points, and pretend to take careful notes when he tells me he didn;t get a joke, especially if no one else says anything about it.

I'm also a reviewer for a web site. I freely admit I'm a hard-boiled and procedural devotee. Cozies and convoluted espionage shoot-em-ups are not my taste. Since I occasionally have to review a cozy or espionage SEU, I try to work some comment into the review so readers (and, hopefully, the author) can know I'm stepping a little outside myself, and digest my comments accordingly.

reader comments can be helpful. They can also be frustrating, confusing, and counterproductive. It's your vision you must remain true to.
I think one of the differences between journalism and fiction is that with journalism, you're expressing an opinion or relating facts. Any criticism you get is going to have that as its basis. It's easier to separate oneself from the writing at that point. You didn't make it up. You just relayed it.

And in some cases it can create discussion on real world events. It can be a debate topic.

Fiction, though, is very different. Egos are involved. Self worth might be more heavily invested in the work. Everything written has to come straight from you. Sure, it might have some basis in fact, or be inspired by real people or events, but ultimately it's all you.

Criticism at that point can hit a lot harder.

At that point I remember a saying my dad used to tell me. Opinions are like assholes. Everybody's got one.

There's always going to be somebody out there who not only doesn't like your writing, but will go to great lengths to tell you that in the most hurtful manner possible.

I run into that and my first thought is, "Wow, dude. Your life must suck. To have put this much effort into something you hate, and to go on and on about how much you hate it? You're a lot more screwed up than I am."
"Wow, dude. Your life must suck." I like it, Stephen. That will be my mantra for this week.
I sort of perversely enjoy it when someone doesn't like something I've written. Especially if they get hot and bothered by it. I don't ever want to write something that everyone likes. If I do, I'll start worrying that it was wishy washy, that it lacked any sort of emotional or intellectual impact or resonance. Of course I love it when someone loves something I write. Who wouldn't? Mostly though, I like to think that my writing has an affect on readers, so when it obviously does, for better or worse, I'm pleased.

On top of that, on several occasions, readers or reviewers intelligent criticism has been very helpful. Dana (who responded earlier to this thread) wrote a review of The Living Room of the Dead in which he pointed out a flaw - a seemingly too big coincidence in the plot. I was able to fix it for the paperback.
"Perversely"--why am I not surprised, Eric?

Interested to see the fix in the paperback.
I've always felt that the point of art, and let's be honest, no matter how much hack work we might feel we're doing this is an artistic endeavor, is provocation. To cause some kind of reaction. Whether it's the one the artist is going for or not doesn't really matter.

Personally, I think the best reactions are the ones wherein the readers think. Sadly, that doesn't happen nearly as much as any of us would like. I don't mind if someone doesn't like what I've written, or disagrees with a point I've made or downright hates me for something I've said, as long as they're conscious of their point of view.

Bring me a thought out criticism and I'll happily respond and open a dialog. Even if it's rude. Be an asshat going on about how I pissed you off because I shot a dog in a scene or mixed up my weaponry and I'll just ignore you.
On the one hand, I want to be open to constructive criticism. I think 'constructive' is the key word there. Sometimes reading a review/opinion can give you valuable insight, and help you see something you do that you're blind to. I have learned from reviews. (I've also been criticized for admitting I've learned from reviews because 'that's not what reviews are for' but that's a criticism I completely blow off. So what if it isn't what they're for? If you keep an open mind and are willing for any experience to be a learning experience, you might gain valuable insights much earlier in your career. As far as I'm concerned, the worst thing to be is so conceited you think you're God's gift to the printed word and have nothing to learn. We're all learning in everything in life, so why should writing be any different?)

But where it gets tricky is where people get personal. That's really what it is that hurts. If someone says, "Not for me" that's fair enough. I've said that about books myself. It's when you read reviews/opinions where they drag the author into it, start inferring things about your IQ that it gets tough. And as much as you know that the opinion isn't valid because there's some prejudice at work it still stings.

Personally, I think that's part of being human, and comes with the territory with every job, to greater and lesser degrees. But for some reason, "customers" feel more freedom to have a go at writers than other "staff" they encounter in a day. Do we see customers regularly following the staff at Wal-Mart or Zellers or The Bay and criticizing how they mop a floor? Or why they chose to put one item on an end display and not another item? Or tell them pink's a horrid color on them and they're an idiot for wearing it? No.

But you're an author and suddenly everything is fair game. I have never read (or abandoned) a book I didn't like and felt a sudden urge to email the author and call them a hack or tell them everything that was wrong with their book. It's something about the present culture I really don't understand. I don't even like admitting the names of books I've abandoned (on one or two occasions I've admitted a few titles, but it's hard, because it isn't personal between myself and the other author. The book just didn't work for me, for whatever reason, and there have been times I've revisited books later and wondered what was wrong with me first time around.

No matter how rational and logical you are about it, I find that getting an ignorant email (which have fortunately been exceptionally rare for me, at least where the book's concerned) or seeing a rude remark on a blog or forum, or a personal attack in a review (again, rare for me so far) has the ability to eat up hours of my work time because I can't dismiss it casually. Even if logically, I know I should be able to brush it off, that the person has made it personal, doesn't like me so they'll attack my book, it still hurts. It's actually understanding how all of that feels that feeds my frustration with Spinetingler stuff. I hurt every time I send out a rejection letter, because I imagine how the person will feel receiving it. I used to try to give constructive feedback, relay what the reading time had said (both positive and negative) but then people started arguing and attacking over it. It isn't even a discussion. When a number of readers come back with the same conclusion you have to trust them. What I ultimately learned was that it was better to give no explanation at all, because a lot of people don't even take constructive criticism well.

Almost makes me wonder if some of the critics that do go forum to forum with their bashing are really just looking to start a fight. Hmmm.
Sorry, this cut off part of my summary, but what I was going to say was this is part of the reason I don't believe in manipulating sales. If someone tells me they want a cozy with a huge romantic subplot, a happy ending, no swear words... well, even SC isn't for them. Two out of four doesn't make a solid recommendation. And I would be the first to tell someone if I didn't think my book would be interesting to them. I'm more interested in reaching people that would be interested in the work.

In reality though, I've had little from readers that's been hurtful. Most of that stuff has come from people inside the industry.
I should probably stay away from googling everybody's opinion. But just today (not being able to write) I googled the last book and found some comments from readers I had seen before. And for the second time this one comment ruined my day. This has also happened once or twice with amazon reader comments. I generally do not keep up with those any longer, but when something happens to the 4 or 5 stars, you tend to be curious just what the gripe is. The point about reader comments is that these are personal reactions from someone who has preconceptions and is angry that the book somehow didn't meet their expectations. This is bound to happen quite often, though fortunately not every reaction gets into a post someplace.
In other words, it's best to ignore if possible. Strangely, one or two negatives can outweigh the many positives for an author.

Say this three times--

Thou shall not Google thyself.

For a more Zen-like alternative,

If you don't read that item on the Internet, does it really exist for you?
Agree. Don't google. The internet/amazon reviews/forums etc make it so easy for ill-thought out opinions to go from the mind to the written, publicly accessible page.
Okay, you're right. And of course, if I don't google it, it doesn't exist. Unfortunately it exists for others.

No, the real problem is that I google myself in search of praise. And that is somewhat pitiful, I admit, and I reproach myself often for getting upset with a negative. But then there are all those lovely days when I find a great review. Nothing is better than that! Don't tell me you can resist, Naomi.


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