Hello everyone! This is my first article as an official WG2E contributor (rather than just a guest of the fabulous Talli Roland.) Thank you to DD for inviting me to join the team!
So today what’s on my mind is part of the journey every author has to contend with: criticism.
Author Matt Haig wrote a wonderful article on the Book Trust website last week in which he talked about being a thin-skinned writer. He said: “The paradox is that while having a thin skin might make for better writing, it is not good for the process of being published. I have a new book out next week. There will be reviews. The bad ones will trouble me more than they should. Just as that one tiny hair you find in your peanut butter makes you want to throw away the whole jar.”
We’ve all seen so many instances in which authors make a huge scene over criticism. Recently Anne Rice made a bit *cough* of a fuss when she sent her legion of Facebook Fans to a tiny blog where a virtually unknown (100 fans) blogger wrote a negative review. Predictable chaos ensued.
Last week, a new author was delighted when The Passive Voice blog picked up an article in which she gave advice. She was less pleased when the veteran indie authors who frequent The Passive Voice asked if since her first book hadn’t come out yet, was she really in any position to give advice on how to be a success? The trouble didn’t really start until she took to Twitter to rant to her followers about her treatment, saying she’d been “ripped apart”. (I’m not linking to the article or naming her simply because she’s new to publishing, and I don’t want to pile on since her feelings are clearly hurt.)
I’m not picking on this new author or even Anne Rice for their overreactions. I’m mentioning it because these are just two examples of thin-skinned writers I’ve seen making a public fuss over criticism in the past week.
Even the best writers (and that’s clearly a subjective list) get bad reviews, and we all make social boo-boos from time to time. Anyone who speaks in public risks offending folks. Anne R. Allen wrote a fantastic article this week on the mob mentality that can happen on social media. She talked about not only being the victim of “Twitchforks” (I love that phrase!), but also how to be socially responsible as public figures and not send our fans / tribe / street team out on a crusade on our behalf. In her article, Anne reminded us of Joe Konrath’s advice: “The Internet is forever. Things you say will always be there to come back and bite you.” And then she added: “And they WILL bite you. Especially if you—
- Participate in snark attacks or throw “Twitchforks”
- Denigrate the review process with fake 1&2 star “reviews”
- Spread unsubstantiated, harmful rumors
- Sabotage a fellow author’s livelihood
- Threaten a person’s life and/or family
- Make personal attacks on reviewers
That initial rush of smug rage will subside. You’ll be left with nothing but a damaged reputation and digital egg on your face.”
And here’s what I understand after doing this a little while:
Thick Skin is a Myth
So here’s the advice I’d like to add to the conversation: Don’t be alarmed or disappointed if you have thin skin when someone says something negative about your work, your advice, or worse still, if they take a more personal road and say negative things about you.
I say don’t be alarmed because on top of the shock of negativity coming our way, we authors are so often told we should be thick skinned! If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone tell an author or artist ignore the haters, well, I’d have a whole pocket full of nickels. And I think it’s nearly impossible advice to take, no matter the good intentions of the person saying it.
How do I deal with it? (I read reviews. I know some people don’t, but I do, even in the face of advice to ignore them.)
If someone doesn’t like my books, here are some things I try to keep in mind:
- I don’t like every book I read, even some extremely popular or so-called important books. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone will like mine.
- I shouldn’t give MORE weight to a 1 star review than to a 5 star review. In other words, I keep it in perspective. If ten people give my book 5 stars, but on person gives it 1 star, is it really reasonable to obsess over the one and ignore the ten?
- If the person is criticising things I can change (like typos) or learn from (pacing or characterisation), I listen. If they focus on things I can’t change (like a character’s choices) or don’t agree with (like my books being too short at 75-85K words), I let it go.
- I have a couple of best writer-friends and confidantes that I go to when I need to whinge. I say: “Tell me not to post about this on Facebook.” They dutifully reply, “Are you out of your mind? Do NOT post that on Facebook.” And then we have a laugh and exchange stories of how the world is so cruel. Then we get back to work and write more books.
If none of that works for you, maybe this will. When a friend of Wil Wheaton was publicly criticised, a Twitter friend (Joel Watson) said this:
You make things. That’s a big deal. Where there once was nothing, you invented people and maybe places. You told a story no one had ever heard before. You are an artist, and you make things.
If someone doesn’t like my advice or an article I write:
- If I’ve done something wrong, I will apologise. I will own my mistakes and say I’m sorry.
- If I’ve been unclear, I will make it right. It happens. Yeah, we’re writers and we should know how to make use of language, but sometimes things come out wrong.
- If I’ve done nothing wrong, I will take the example of Kayleigh Herbertson, the blogger stormed upon by Anne Rice’s fans, and simply say “thanks for the comment.” (That woman has class.)
Question for you: How do you deal with negative comments and reviews?
India Drummond writes fantasy novels. She knew from age nine that writing would be her passion. Since then she’s discovered many more, but none quite so fulfilling as creating a world, a character, or a moment and watching them evolve into something complex and compelling. She has lived in three countries and four American states, is a dual British and American citizen, and currently lives at the base of the Scottish Highlands in a village so small its main attraction is a red phone box. In other words: paradise. Find out more about her and her books at her website.