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 just had another thought... my 1st 'Crime' novel is called 'Inside Justice' and although it doesn't get as legally 'technical' as Burl's work, HEAD SHOT etc, it does have a fairly controversial subject... paedophiles and vigilanties. I was infused into writing this story due to much publicity in the newspapers, and on TV about a high number of paedophiles and their crimes which had hit the headlines.
I decided therefore, to write something that was decidedly controversial, particularly with respect to the manner in which the vigilante groups dispatched the paedophiles; as yet it is true to say that although I have peddled this novel to agents and publishers in the past, I had no success with it. I am planning to re-work it, and include a sub-plot/storyline, although I do have a similar idea for another novel underway.
If this was ever to be published, I would relish the chance to be interviewed by someone who found it distasteful, and who was greatly critical of the subject matter; but then you'd need to ask, "why do they feel so uneasy?" that would be one question I'd fire back.
One novel I have read and which I really liked was 'ACID ROW' by Minette Walters, if you can get it, give it a try.
For me the thing is to be open to criticism (after all, you can't legislate for who's going to read your book) but be able to 'weight' it accordingly. Writing in this crime genre, I give much more weight to those readers to whom I show drafts who actively read in the genre. Comments from others who happen to see the book but aren't devotees of crime may be useful, but I always take their comments with a pinch of salt. If, for example, I were asked to comment on a Romance novel I'm likely to say on page 2, "Oh come on! That hero is so not believable ... !" - for which comment I'm likely to get a punch in the face. The perfection of the hero is one of the genre elements that readers in the genre take for granted and expect. Likewise in crime, there are elements that excite those of us who work in it, while confusing or irritating those who don't. You need to respect comments from readers who know the genre while filtering comments from those who don't.


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