Critics making suggestions in what changes are needed in your book

Got one of my books on Authonomy. com being looked at. It's a historical detective novel about an art thief. It's a detective with lots of action and a fair amount of World War One histroy thrown in. Here's the problem; it's the three thousand or so readers in the site who have the potential of reading the book and voting for it up or down. And many make suggestions on how to improve it. But for every ten people who say they love this or that inclusion of fact . . . or writing style . . . or description . . . there are five who say they absolutely hate the very same thing.

And I've come to the conclusion there are lots of readers in there who love to read. But there are quite a few in there who prefer to . . . what I call . . . nitpick. "This comma shouldn't be there," or "Change 'that' to 'which'. "

So who do you believe?

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I didn't get that impression at all from reading the comments to your books. Every comment was mostly positive, even the ones that had some criticism. I wouldn't call it nitpicking, I would just say these are real readers giving you very specific feedback on what they didn't like about the story. And most of it is the same basic criticism, that it needs some more editing, fixing small grammatical errors or repetitious words. That may seem like a little thing, but a lot of people said the same things, so it might be something to look at. Small errors are perhaps the worst kind to have because they are the ones most easily fixed. If I read a story with a lot of little errors, it makes me think the author was careless or sloppy, and it just keeps me from getting into the story. Honestly though, the criticism you received was pretty soft. If that's the worst you ever get, you'll be in good shape.
Ohj, I agree John, most of the critcism was small potatoes. But what struck me as interesting was the comments and juxtapositioning concerning the Prologue. Most liked it, some didn't. Can't please them all, I guess.
You certainly can't please them all. They're too different. You don't want to be that inoffensive and middle of the road. You want some of them to hate it. And some of them to love it.

It's death when everyone says, "Yeah, it's okay."
Pretty typical reactions. And as with writers groups, you only take what you think will help and ignore the rest.
I believe my wife, my agent and my editor, who all get what I'm doing, understand my weaknesses and strengths, and have a good sense of how my work should look/sound when it's at its best. Random strangers on the internet? Not so much.
This is why I'm loath to post anything unpublished on a public forum. I would guess that few of the people reading in Authonomy are qualified to comment (in a useful way) on what you've written, and, for me at least, it's difficult to filter out the crap. If I get crap, I want to know it's coming from someone qualified to give it.

One of my most favorite writer websites, Timothy Hallinan's writer's resources ( advises never to show your work to someone until it's damned good and ready, in the same way you wouldn't send your child out into the world until it was damned good and ready. I like this advice and I follow it; not necessarily because I think it's right for everyone, but because I know how sensitive I am to non-constructive criticism of my children.

Qualified to comment? If you can read, then you're qualified to comment on a story. Strangers critiquing each others' work are most likely going to sugar coat their responses to be polite, and if it's a workshop environment, they don't want to hear negative stuff about their own work either.

So what happens is everyone picks out one thing they like, even though half the time they can't quite say why they like it, and they'll throw some small quibbles in their to feel like they're providing feedback, yet still they can't quite say why it's so bad, or you can fix it or not it's up to you.

What they really want to say is your story didn't create much of an emotional response at all with them; it was boring as shit, or it just didn't feel professional, didn't sound like the books they've bought at bookstores. It's like what John McF said above, "yeah it's okay". I agree that's the worst. If you can't even be bothered to form an opinion about the work, then something is wrong with it for sure.

"Critics" won't say that stuff, though, because they want to be polite. But that's what it boils down to. To combat that, writers go into denial and anyone who liked their work really cares about literature, these are good readers, and everyone who finds something wrong with the work is unqualified to give criticism or is just nitpicking or whatever.

I believe that improving as a writer means, in part, that you have the ability to admit to yourself that maybe, just maybe, what you wrote isn't very good and you need a lot more work.
Actually, I never submit anything unless I have polished the hell out of it. What Minerva and B.R. perhaps fear is that some of the critics have an agenda. There are writers who feel their own work will do much better if they tear the competition to pieces, or they have been burned and like to pass on the pain, or they simply feel superior. For whatever reason, the critiques handed out by such people are unfair and inaccurate.
Otherwise, you're right of course. Any feedback from a reader is valuable, even if it shows that the person didn't "get" it. Sometimes, something can be clarified for the obtuse.
See, I'm not sure any feedback from a reader is valuable. Maybe I'm being snooty, but not everybody who can read is going to be an audience for what I write, and if I take advice from somebody who likes formulaic bodice-rippers, it's not going to do me any good. To my mind, it's important to know whence the criticism comes.

If said bodice-ripper fan tells me 'you should really have a good graphic sex scene here,' taking that advice might well make the book more appealing to bodice-ripper fans, but could utterly sink the story for a mystery reader. That's what I mean by 'qualified.' Qualified in the sense that the person 1) is part of my legitimate audience and 2) (as you say, I.J.) has no agenda, be it to rip the thing to shreds to 'kill the competition' or to be overly nice in exchange for some overly nice commentary on his/her work.

Yes, criticism is valuable, and it can make us better writers, but it doesn't necessarily follow that ALL criticism is valuable.

I do believe all criticism is valuable, but I wasn't trying to say that you should heed all criticism. Certainly not. It's up to the author to decide what feedback you should follow through on and what feedback you shouldn't, but I think it's still nice to know what everyone is saying.
What's wrong with graphic sex in a mystery? :)
Hey, nothing! Personally, as a reader, I like a good sex scene or two. But if it derails the story (a la' some bestsellers I could name, but won't), then I'm likely to leave it out.


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