Becoming an Author – Part 2: Criticism: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Worthless

One of the not so happy aspects of being a writer is that everyone who has ever read a book has advice for you. Here are some of my thoughts on the types of advice I’ve received.

The Good

UpwardGood criticism comes from someone who is knowledgeable about writing and editing. It can be about one line, one chapter or an entire book. It consists of specific suggestions that improve my writing. That means a suggestion that mentions a specific problem and a solution that would correct that problem. I’ve written what I think are some excellent chapters for my books but when someone else reads them, they realize that they don’t help move my story along. When you’re busy in your role as a wordsmith, sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. Good criticism can also come from someone who enjoys your genre, and is a potential reader of your efforts. This usually isn’t as specific but may help guide your story to your intended audience.

The Bad

TheBad_BrokenDownCarHow many times have we been told that someone has an idea for the world’s greatest piece of literature but just hasn’t gotten around to writing it?  Why do these people then give us their idea of sage advice on how to improve and what we should be writing? At least half of these people have trouble speaking in complete sentences let alone communicate a coherent thought. I smile and listen patiently to these well intentioned mental litterbugs. When I was in my career as a mathematician, I didn’t run into these types of people but now that I’m writing they seem to be coming out of the woodwork.

The Ugly

Mud Dancer Wearing a MaskAs soon as criticism becomes personal attacks, it’s time to excuse yourself and walk away. I sent a manuscript to an editor who must have been awfully angry with the world because he attacked everything short of my manhood in describing the problems with my manuscript. And I paid big money for his insults. I don’t mind negative critiques that I can learn from; but angry rants have no value.

The Worthless

When someone says my novel was cute, sweet, or nice, I find they didn’t like it but don’t want to tell me why.


TheGood_ThumbsUpThe best critique I have received from my readers:

“You write female characters better than most of the authors I have ever read.”

“It brought tears to my eyes when she lost her parents.”

“This is one book I will keep.”

Each of these indicates my success with my most important critics; my readers.

What do you find helpful in critiques? What has been your best and worst advice from readers?

Happy Writing!


6 thoughts on “Becoming an Author – Part 2: Criticism: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Worthless

  1. karlamt says:

    This translates well to photography. Making your work public opens you up to a lot of criticism. It is difficult for sensitive people to take and we wouldn’t be writers/ photographers/ artists if we weren’t sensitive, right? Critique is vital. I trust it more coming from other working artists and when it comes from a perspective that is grounded in experience, knowledge of the medium (hopefully surpassing mine) and is supportive. I found your post when I was trying to salve my first public humiliation. It was very minor. I let it be a positive milestone. It means my work is reaching people!

  2. Kevin M. says:

    Thanks for this piece. It is very timely because I was just given a review on my blog that seemed more of a personal attack than constructive criticism. It is reassuring to know experienced writers deal with good v bad criticism as well. I will keep on writing and hope for the best…

  3. The best critters flag something and tell me *why* it bothered them.

    I’m not published yet, so I can only comment on book reviews from a reader’s perspective. (Not sure I should say, but…) I’m a tough customer who rarely gives a 5. *ducks*

    • I would prefer an honest less than 5 *ducks*, than a review I can’t learn from. I struggle with the rating system. When I wrote reviews prior to becoming an author, I seldom gave a 5. I thought of it as something to give a book that is so marvelous it will withstand the test of time, i.e. “To Kill a Mockingbird”. So I generally gave 4s to those books I really enjoyed. I now believe that rating books on Amazon, etc. is only pertinent in terms of today. I will now give a 5 to a book if I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt it met all quality standards (meaning there is no advice I could think of to help the author make it better.) Time will tell which ones will become classics.

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