Criticisms and Commentary, or Being Suplexed by Readers

Maark Abbott

Journeyed there and back again
#1
So as I mentioned in another thread, I've had the first generally negative feedback on my book lately.

I'm fine with this, but I'm interested to know how the other writers and authors here generally deal with criticism, especially when it's very harsh criticism?
 

Tanniel

Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune
#2
The first thing to do is always judge whether the critique is relevant. Critique might come from a subjective standpoint, i.e. it doesn't mean the book is bad, just that the reader's idiosyncrasies meant they didn't enjoy it. If I feel the critique isn't about my book, but about the reader, I ignore it.

If it is valid, however, it can feel like a bit of a slap. Taking a little time to feel balanced again can be good; give yourself time for the emotional reaction to subside.

That leaves two choices again. Sometimes, it's critique that you can't fix. It's a flaw in the book that you can't change, and there is nothing to do but accept it. The other possibility is that it can be addressed, and then you got to steel yourself for long edits.

No matter what, taking some time away before dealing with the critique is always good. It's inevitable to have an emotional reaction, and you want to give yourself time for your rational self to take over.
 

jo zebedee

Journeyed there and back again
#3
It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m lucky enough to have a good rating level so the odd bad one is largely able to be overlooked and moved on from.

If I think I did the idea justice and am proud of it, my work is done.
 

Alice Sabo

Knows how to pronounce Kvothe
#4
Is it already published? If it is, let it go and move on. If not, look at what is being said. Are several people complaining about the same thing? Can you clean up that problem easily? Or are they a bunch of small beans that no one agrees on?

Bad reviews are painful, but they aren't always right. I had one from someone who said they didn't read in that genre and proceeded to trash it. Hmm. How many people are going to rely on that review to make a decision about buying?

I've also have people complain about things that aren't in the book. They skimmed or gestalted or something. Because the part that bothered them isn't what I wrote. There's nothing you can do about people's misconceptions.
 

ABatch

Journeyed there and back again
#5
So as I mentioned in another thread, I've had the first generally negative feedback on my book lately.

I'm fine with this, but I'm interested to know how the other writers and authors here generally deal with criticism, especially when it's very harsh criticism?
I can tell you from thirty+ years of acting, 9 years of stand up comedy, five years of self-publishing and 27 years of teaching that you cannot please everyone, no matter how you try. Go look up Hamlet's rating on Goodreads. There will always be a small percentage of folks who think they're too smart for your writing, and another percentage who miss half of what you've put into it. Fuck them. Write for the glorious few -- or many -- who love what you do.

That said, in my various careers, I've had to take and evaluate my fair share of criticism, and I use whatever will help me grow.
 

Maark Abbott

Journeyed there and back again
#6
In this instance the primary issue is one of taste, so it's not really knocked me back. There's some technical pointers to take away from it so it's not as though it's not been valuable.

Jo's response is probably the best summation of how I'm looking to approach this sort of thing. Always curious as to how others handle it though!
 

Bierschneeman

Journeyed there and back again
#7
I will back up what @ABatch said, and state that the modern way of things is that everyone fancies themselves a world class critic with a minimum of prerequisites. "I read a book ten years ago on that, so I'm an expert" I would point you to the southpark episode 'your not yelping' which parodies the smug self importance of giving people the ability to review anything they want, whether they are incompetent or not. ( I met a friend of a coworker who claims they started getting paid by yelp to review, so he switched his reviews to strictly reviewing his experiences of pooping in the bathrooms in restaurants. they did stop paying him.)

most of these self appointed gift to reviews end up with more 5 star, and 1 star reviews than average, and will spend their time making sure that their one star reviews are as scathing as possible as they think this means they are more valid and relevant as reviewers. The reality is that good professionals hold back one star reviews more than they do 5, and give out all others more than 5 stars. an example would be the leading critic on beer, Michael Jackson (no not the pedophile, the older Englishman) he is quoted in stating that he never once gave a negative comment on a single beer, and the worst thing he ever said in a review was "it had a nice color"

most public review sites have a bell curve, the more reviews the more likely the score will drop into an average score.

Now if you will indulge me to play Devil's advocate. (in spoiler so if you don't want me to rattle on, you don't need to open it) I will attempt to defend the Goodreads score for Hamlet.
There is a very large conspiracy revolving around Shakespeare. Where a large number of English lit students and professors act as bible thumpers spreading the Gospel of mister Shakespeare as the odds on greatest writer of all time. NO EXCEPTIONS. a fact.

This is on its base wrong, as any art form is subjective. if it were not, we would all be listening to 'Saturday Night Fever' as the greatest album of all time. with holding the highest sales still to this day (as oppose to reality where for the last 40 years having some of the lowest annual sales for any album with a Gold Record.) Once it became irrelevant as music evolved passed disco, opinions changed. However, we are not allowed to say anything but greatness for Shakespeare to the point of perfection. This is counter to what literature stands for. This is not a new way of thinking as there are hundreds of well known authors who turn away from Shakespeare (some calling it drivel, others merely overrated) It is natural in the face of irrational dogmatic worship to overstate its unimportance (all the one star reviews) (just recently as example I read four short writings by another of the greatest writers of all time, Jorge Luis Borges, where he calls out this worship of Shakespeare as extremely English). (I also just reread the Play "the complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) where they spend the intro Thumping the volume of 'the complete works' like a bible suggesting it should be in the nightstand of every hotel in the world. Parodying themselves as Shakespeare thumpers to triumphant "Halleluiahs" to the crowd.

Further I would say that this "Shakespeare is the greatest English writer of all time" is written of as fact in many places, just look at the opening paragraph of Wikipedia. I would say I could get behind it if it were changed to:
WS is the greatest English playwright of all time
WS is the greatest English writer of HIS time
WS is the greatest PLAGIARIST of all time.

WOAH WOAH WOAH. plagiarist? yeah
All of my English Lit professors responded to my dismay at not reading more Shakespeare because I had read almost all the tragedies and NONE of the comedies stated "don't bother, just read your Ovid, and maybe one of the 16 comedies, it doesn't matter which they are all exactly the same. all Plagiarized Ovid" ( I regret to say I followed their advice instead of forming my own opinions but the advice stands) This isn't to say its his only plagiarism crime. He was called out for plagiarizing a contemporary, and again after his death when the First and Second Folios were published several pieces were claimed as belonging to other people, and not WS.

A tangent, I know most students of history more than Literature, tend to think lowly of Shakespeare, as the precursor to sooo many incorrect ideas on historical figures featured in WS' plays, particularly the wrongly labeled 'Histories'.

I will point out that Hamlet has the highest score for any of Shakespeares individual works on Goodreads. This I will also contend (though half heartedly as I at least think its really good) Hamlet receives the brunt of the Bible Thumping as oft cited as HIS greatest. out of 39 plays I would say there are a few BAD plays , and Hamlet is definitely in the top ten. I would say Titus, and Macbeth to be better both as tragedies and Revenge stories, Othello and King Lear to be better all around stories.

To be the greatest author of all time, I would say you would need to be perfect. prolific and without bad or plagiarized works, Shakespeare doesn't have that, and so he is merely really good. the more we try to prop him up as a god the more people will reject him altogether and give him one star reviews.

As a final note I will say I find the one star reviews to be more honest (in this case) than the five star reviews, as they aren't regurgitating dogma and with their inclusion the score brings them to the respectable 'very good, not perfect' of a 4 average.
I do enjoy the majority of Shakespeare, Hamlet included,(I am rereading the bulk presently) but I feel that there is undue injustice whenever someone speaks of these.
 
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ABatch

Journeyed there and back again
#8
I've gotta say, though, that simply GETTING reviews is the bane of my existence. By my count, several thousand people have purchased Steel, Blood & Fire, and I've only got 67 reviews on Amazon. How long does it take to type "This book sucks," or "This book is fantastic!"?
 

Ryan W. Mueller

Journeyed there and back again
#9
I've gotta say, though, that simply GETTING reviews is the bane of my existence. By my count, several thousand people have purchased Steel, Blood & Fire, and I've only got 67 reviews on Amazon. How long does it take to type "This book sucks," or "This book is fantastic!"?
I know the feeling. My sales aren't quite at that level, but between my sales and my KU page reads (which are proof that people are reading the books), I know most of the people who read them aren't reviewing it.


As for criticism, I think it's best to look at the 2-star, 3-star, and 4-star reviews. 5-star reviews are great for the ego, but they're not going to help you improve as an author. 1-star reviews are mostly people that were completely the wrong reader for your book. You'd have to change everything about your writing to satisfy them, and that probably isn't possible. The reviews in between, however, can tell you a lot more about specific areas where you can improve.
 

Jakyro

Journeyed there and back again
#10
As for criticism, I think it's best to look at the 2-star, 3-star, and 4-star reviews. 5-star reviews are great for the ego, but they're not going to help you improve as an author. 1-star reviews are mostly people that were completely the wrong reader for your book. You'd have to change everything about your writing to satisfy them, and that probably isn't possible. The reviews in between, however, can tell you a lot more about specific areas where you can improve.
I'm replying here as a reader (and reviewer) with regards to 1-star reviews. Since I use Goodreads (2013) I haven't given a single 1-star review. They are solely kept for books that are extremely bad (in story, writing, ...) and I probably wouldn't finish. Or like you say yourself, where I just wasn't the right reader for the book. Books like Twilight would most likely receive a 1 star rating from me. I hope I never have to give a one star review in my life :p.

Besides this I've only given a couple of 2 star reviews for books I thought had some clear issues or I really didn't like. But most of my reviews have 3 and 4 stars. I also have a decent amount of 5 star reviews.
 

ABatch

Journeyed there and back again
#11
I've only gotten the one one-star on Amazon, and you can see the poor guy can barely read. I've gotten more on Goodreads. To me, one-star reviews should be reserved for those books that are so poorly written, disjointed, cliché, etc. that they are truly unreadable. You may not like my books, but they are none of those things. I asked a reader once why he'd given my one star and he said it was to change Goodreads' algorhythm, so it wouldn't continue to recommend books like mine. After chatting with me, he KINDLY raised it to a two. :(
 

jo zebedee

Journeyed there and back again
#12
Ah, I got my only one star for Inish Carraig because it was such a poor analogy to the Northern Irish Troubles.

They were right. It's a terrible analogy.

Good thing that wasn't what I was writing then.... :D
 

Peat

Journeyed there and back again
#13
Personally, one star reviews should be reserved for heavily implying that the author should be shunned from polite and impolite society. Hell, I rarely finish books I'd give a 2 to.

But I do know a few authors who've been a bit excited by getting their first bad review - its proof that people who don't know them are reading it!
 

Alice Sabo

Knows how to pronounce Kvothe
#14
I always check the 1-2 star reviews when I'm looking at a book. The ones that start "I don't usually read this genre" are easy to discount. But The ones that are actual reviews sometimes work for me - not enough battles, too slow, too much explanation might be right up my alley.
 

Maark Abbott

Journeyed there and back again
#15
Personally, one star reviews should be reserved for heavily implying that the author should be shunned from polite and impolite society. Hell, I rarely finish books I'd give a 2 to.

But I do know a few authors who've been a bit excited by getting their first bad review - its proof that people who don't know them are reading it!
My first really negative commentary was that there's a meanness to my characters, that they generally have no redeeming features. Which actually was a good thing to see as that's what I was going for!
 

Darth Tater

Journeyed there and back again
#16
My first really negative commentary was that there's a meanness to my characters, that they generally have no redeeming features. Which actually was a good thing to see as that's what I was going for!
That’s the thing with many reviewers. No matter how well you do something, if the thing is something they dislike no matter what, they will criticize it. Admittedly, I have to be careful not to fall into that trap myself when reviewing something. .

I’m not sure it balances out the other way. Because if people do like something wouldn’t they judge it against other things they liked in that area? So the unfortunate authors get screwed in the long run. Maybe my reasoning is off.
 

Peat

Journeyed there and back again
#17
That’s the thing with many reviewers. No matter how well you do something, if the thing is something they dislike no matter what, they will criticize it. Admittedly, I have to be careful not to fall into that trap myself when reviewing something. .

I’m not sure it balances out the other way. Because if people do like something wouldn’t they judge it against other things they liked in that area? So the unfortunate authors get screwed in the long run. Maybe my reasoning is off.
I'm not sure I'm entirely following it myself.

Ultimately, I don't see what a reviewer is meant to do other than criticise if they don't enjoy the product. All you can do is give your opinion, give your reasons, and let people use it as they will. The only thing I question is how many people get far enough into somethign they dislike no matter what to give it a fair review.

And getting judged against other things only goes badly for the author if they failed to execute what they did to an acceptable standard.
 

Darth Tater

Journeyed there and back again
#18
I'm not sure I'm entirely following it myself.

Ultimately, I don't see what a reviewer is meant to do other than criticise if they don't enjoy the product. All you can do is give your opinion, give your reasons, and let people use it as they will. The only thing I question is how many people get far enough into somethign they dislike no matter what to give it a fair review.

And getting judged against other things only goes badly for the author if they failed to execute what they did to an acceptable standard.
I’m Sorry. I wasn’t clear at all. I totally agree with you.

I was trying to say if a person buys a fantasy book and it turns out it’s filled with graphic sado/ masochistic sex (Carey), graphic violence (Abercrombie). a social agenda (Jemison), a religious format (Lewis), or books questioning or satirizing religion, politics wuthin or between kingdoms, etc. A lot of readers are going to tear into those books no matter how brilliant the writing or presentation (I’m not saying the brilliance applies to all of the examles). They will do so because they disagree, find it offensive, just don’t find those kinds of topics interesting,etc. So even though the writer presented it extremely well they cannot win.

Then I was just saying they also get knocked legitimately as well. I won’t try to bullshit my around it to save face. I can’t remember what fhe fuck I was thinking. :hilarious:
 

Peat

Journeyed there and back again
#19
Think we're on the same page here :)

Only corollary I'd add is that books without something to say, or something that makes them stand out, often get knocked too - where the author wins is a controversial issue makes them stand out above the herd of "alright romps". Would we all know about Carey if she didn't have the BSDM angle raising awareness? We should, she's very good at what she does, but I wouldn't be surprised if the answer was that she wouldn't be nearly as well known.
 

Darth Tater

Journeyed there and back again
#20
Think we're on the same page here :)

Only corollary I'd add is that books without something to say, or something that makes them stand out, often get knocked too - where the author wins is a controversial issue makes them stand out above the herd of "alright romps". Would we all know about Carey if she didn't have the BSDM angle raising awareness? We should, she's very good at what she does, but I wouldn't be surprised if the answer was that she wouldn't be nearly as well known.
Yeah. That’s her shtick and quite possibly the only reason we’ve even heard of her despite her writing talent. That stuff does not offend me in the least but it is nothing I would be interested in reading. Not having read her stuff, I’m really in no position to say, but sight unseen, I could see myself unfairly slamming her. I’m trying to change that.