When you write for yourself and only share things with friends and family, you will notice that they don’t offer many good critiques. This is understandable… they know you and don’t want to crush your dream or say things that might hurt your feelings. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the general public.
Thankfully, at places like Literary Social and Liliom Press, we have the chance to grow and be helped with feedback from our fellow peers. It has made a world of difference in my own writing, and in my confidence level. Seeing my work through another writer’s eyes has helped me to polish and complete things I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. There are still those that are too scared to throw caution to the wind, and I think the crux of the matter is that these works are a part of us. When someone says something that could be taken negatively, we react as if someone told us our child is ugly. It shouldn’t be that way, but many of us haven’t had a chance to ever get honest feedback before.
Here are some things we’ve found helpful to remember.
1- These are writing websites and companies. People are here to get help with their work. That means, when you post something asking for feedback or buy a package at Liliom that includes critiques, that is what you will get. None of us have a perfect manuscript. Not even the most amazing authors on the best sellers lists. They have teams of editors to polish their rough drafts, and there are still mistakes caught after they go to sale. If they have to take criticism, then it behooves us to learn how to handle it as well.
2- Be objective. Stop looking at it as if someone has torn down something you love so dearly. The mere fact that you are getting feedback is a GOOD thing. It means someone took the time to read your work, and feels it has potential. That is a starting point, and many writers don’t get that far. When someone dedicates time and energy into reading something you’ve written and offering feedback, that is a compliment, take it as one.
3- Clean the dirty dishwater. Some people can be cruel just for the sake of being cruel. Others, can be too nice because they won’t want to hurt your feelings. When reading reviews, feedback, and critique, you must remember this. With each point raised, look back at the work. Is the point valid? Even if it is posted as a cruel remark, is there some truth in it? If there isn’t, then feel free to toss it out like dirty dishwater. But if there is, then use that to grow and learn, whether it was initially a rude statement or not.
4- Be gracious. Whether or not you agree with the comments, always remember that someone took time out of their day to not only read what you had written, but to leave a comment about it. Remember that if your goal is to make this a career or even a side hobby, your public persona will always be watched. You do not want to ever post a rant in response to any criticism or bad review. It will make you look worse. There are tons of authors that have lost all credibility and readers when they attacked people for giving them a not-so-stellar review. Worse is when other reviewers pop up agreeing with the review that the author took offense to. Never ever let the public see you upset. Cry in private or rant in messages with your best friends, do what you need to do, but never ever make it public.
5- Above all, remember that you are unique and your work is a representation of you… but it isn’t YOU. People are amazing in their differences, and not everyone will like the same things. The world would be so boring if we all did. While one person may not like your writing, others may think it’s the best thing they’ve ever read. Try to find a happy medium with yourself, knowing that some criticism is warranted. After all, if every comment was “Good story”… well, what does that tell you? What parts were good? What did they enjoy the most? How can you write another if you have no idea what anyone liked or disliked? Compare that to “I enjoyed it, however I thought the descriptions were a bit too flowery, and the dialogue seemed a little choppy”. Now, now you have something to go on, something to check over and work on for next time.
As authors, we are always looking towards the horizon for that next chapter, the next work in progress. Feedback and criticism are simply tools we need in order to scale that next hurdle. We must remember that every job has tools that are necessary for finishing the work and aiming higher. Critiques and recommendations are simply one of those tools to be utilized, so use them well.