Writing: Dealing With Criticism

I read a piece by Emily F. Russell on Writing: Dealing with Criticism, describing the experience of obtaining negative feedback (which she hasn’t yet, but anticipates someone somewhere will eventually give that to her).

I considered my position on feedback and how it influences my buying decisions. It’s difficult to leave proper feedback for some books. You might be thinking, “I don’t want to chainsaw this guy’s baby, but he stole a part of my life and I can’t get it back.” Retaliation! So you get out the trusty Stihl and fire that sucker up.  [Reminds me of that joke where an old Swede finally decides to get a chainsaw. He makes terrible progress with it, and returns it to the store, where the store worker says “Let’s fire it up and see what the problem is,” and upon starting the chainsaw, the old Swede says “What’s that noise?!”]

But good reviewers, some of ’em are honest and may speak wisdom about the book and maybe it gets a 2 star. OTOH, I tend to look at the one and two stars to see what crits they have; and if they seem reasonable, I may give it a pass. I also look at the body of the high reviews. Did they just drive by and give it 5, or do they explain why they think it’s the best thing evar? I recall one book where the reviewers were all people with the same last name as the author.  “It’s the best book I’ve ever read,” said one lady, truthfully, about this war book.

In that way, I’m kind of like an American jury. Is the witness lying? What’s his character? Does he just travel around with a large chainsaw and hate on everything? Are there a lot of bad reviews?

I remember one book I looked at was a sci-fi deal that had some ex-military guy discover a starship hidden in the earth. It was one of those deals where the starship has god-powers, if you’re in control. The critics tore it apart- the writer didn’t know about military ranks, or the military in general (it was presented as present day U.S. sci fi), and then there was the issue of the godship and this caused the wondering reviewers to say, “we didn’t see any conflict there. The ship was all powerful. What was the point of this book?”

Because Self-published. And I’m willing to bet every last shekel I own that there was no developmental or other editor on the work.  Not that I’m ever going to read it. The savage pack of reviewers caused me to steer clear.

The fewer the number of reviews, the more apt I am to pay attention to them. A book with 2000 reviews, okay, that’s a big wide audience and maybe some of them like what I like. A book with 6 reviews, I tread cautiously.

I ask: 1) Why so few reviews?
2) Is it undiscovered?
3) When was it published?
4) What did the people reading it have to say about it?
5) Are the reviews complete or are they two lines? (May be a shill.)
6) Does the book blurb appeal to me?

I’ve managed to get a lot of decent books that way. Only one or two were terrible. If I liked the book, I’ll try to give it a fair review, saying what I liked, what I didn’t like, and so on. It’s the trail of breadcrumbs I’d want from other people.

Piss, Coffee, and Vinegar


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One thought on “Writing: Dealing With Criticism

  1. Hah, yes. You read ’em like I read ’em. I’ll admit it freely, I too tend to look at the negative reviews first (mostly to see what criticism is offered there, and whether or not it’s valid. I think I mentioned this to Dave Koster, but there’ve been times a one or two star review has sold a book to me–the problems one person had with a book have been, on occasion, exactly the things I was looking for).

    The thing about chainsawing somebody’s baby is: it ain’t no baby. You aren’t hurting anybody, and, like I said, this person put their work out there with the express point of having someone, probably a stranger, read it. When you do that, you’re booting your baby out of the nest and making it fly on its own (this mixed metaphor sucks. I know). So the criticism you get is just the criticism you get. The better you take care of your baby, the more likely it is not to crap all over everyone else’s reading time and dreams. That’s the most control a writer has over it.

    I’m not gonna lie and say I prefer honesty: hell, I’m a writer, I want four and five stars and sweet perfumed lies all the way. But I do respect it, especially when it comes with time and effort.


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