How to Process Criticism as an Author

Criticism can be toxic. Take in the good. Filter out the bad.

Criticism can be toxic. Take in the good. Filter out the bad.

Shortly after one of my clients self-published her book, she received the following e-mail from a past acquaintance containing the following unsolicited critique and advice (justifying it with her extensive and credible experience in the writing field):

I found the book to be full of errors, not just grammatically, but it is also riddled with many elementary clichés along with irrelevant details that should not be in the book as they distract from the story. You jump around from thought to thought, event to event, without any transition, which leaves the reader confused. I only tell you this because if you are going to re-publish, you should hire a professional editor (not family or friends) or start over with a ghostwriter. There is no shame in not being a writer, but a non-writer should not attempt to self-publish a book without professional help.

She then said not to take her critique personally and that she was trying to be helpful. She finished by saying that she loved the title because “it starts out right away with intrigue and a hook.”

This woman’s comments hit my client pretty hard so she wrote asking my professional opinion. The following was my response back to this author (I was not happy with this “friend”):

I completely disagree with her assessment (that your book is full of errors) and her point of view. Her opinion is not helpful nor is it encouraging in any way, even if her credentials are valid. The only good she has to say about your book is that she likes the title? I believe that a person’s voice is more important than having every technical device in place, which can often make the manuscript feel stiff and lifeless. Your goal was to get your story out as quickly and as best as possible, which you were able to do, and not try to have it be picked up by a national publisher.

While there are ways you could improve your book, as every other book on the planet could be improved, in no way do you need to start over with a ghostwriter. I’m not sure why she says you are not a writer, and I’m not sure what qualifies a person to be one in her opinion. You have told your story…in writing…which to me makes you a writer. Do you write full-time for a living? No, but you have successfully written your story.

Please know that I believe in you and what you have written. This person is looking at every technical aspect with no sense for the story itself. I’m shocked at how un-life-giving her comments were.

You have told your story in your voice, and anyone looking for hope will find it in your book. This woman was not looking for hope, so she didn’t find it and only got tripped up in her rules of writing. And that’s my professional opinion. :-)

Needless to say, she was encouraged by my point of view and thanked me for my support. So the moral of the story is…

  1. Don’t let anything stop you from sharing your story or your message. It’s powerful. It should be heard.
  2. Get input and help from trusted friends and honest professionals so that you can present your message in the best possible way with the means you have.
  3. Prepare for unsolicited comments that may not be all that helpful. Assume the person has good intentions and listen, but filter wisely. Usually if someone’s giving you feedback, they’re trying to help you toward your goal and you can learn something to make your book better. If you have a Simon Cowell in your life saying you should quit, don’t listen.
  4. One benefit of self-publishing is the ability to make changes because you don’t have 10,000+ copies printed and distributed. Make the changes for the next version, but don’t let all your improvements get in the way of point number one.
  5. Celebrate because what you have written gives others access to the same hope, power, knowledge, wisdom, etc., you have experienced.

If you have something to say, say it…as best you can…but make sure to say it and share it with others.

Question: Have you  received criticism that was hard to hear? How did you handle it? Leave your comment below.

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