Handling Criticism from Author-Friends

Chances are your closest family members will love whatever it is you have written — even if it’s just a shopping list. They love you and, in turn, will love it.

But what about your author-friends? Those people who, like you, pen books? Many of my friends, who are authors themselves, have taken the time to read Baby Grand — out of the legions of books out there — and I am truly grateful for their time and their support. Many times, these author-friends will have positive comments (yay!) or have questions about plot and character and back story (that I love to answer!). But, other times, author-friends have had criticisms. And because they are authors themselves, we tend to take these critical comments — which can be very specific and very insightful — seriously. One author-friend went as far as sending me an email itemizing all the “errors” he said he found in Baby Grand. Now, THAT was a fun day. :)

Okay, so what do you do when faced with such criticism. What did I do on that fateful day I received an innocuous-looking email with the subject line: BABY GRAND? Did I open up a can of whoop-ass on him? Tell him he was ugly and his mother dressed him funny? No. Actually, I did nothing. There’s nothing TO do. Damn, I may have even thanked him for his time.

But, why?

Well, first of all, I do believe — with all my heart — that, despite the laundry list of “errors” he was kind enough to send me, this person had my best interests at heart. After all, he is my friend.

Second of all, after reading his comments closely after the sting had worn off, I learned a little something, if not about my book (if I didn’t agree with what he wrote), but about readership in general.

And, lastly, I know that everyone — even novelists — are entitled to their opinion.

I remember in my graduate school creative writing workshops, it was policy that the author whose work was being torn apart…I mean, read…was unable to respond or defend herself until everyone was done. So if a fellow writing student said, “I didn’t find this interesting at all” or “This wouldn’t happen,” you couldn’t yell, “But…But…You don’t understand, I was trying to…” None of that nonsense. You had to sit there and take it. And sometimes that was tough. But usually by the time everyone had their say, and I, as the author, got my turn for a rebuttal, I had cooled down, or I had heard so may varying comments that all of them, on their own, seemed so much smaller — and thereby less hurtful or personal — than they had when I had first heard them.

And that’s the point. Even though we respect our author-friends — and we should, since they are right there in the trenches with us and KNOW what it’s like to receive criticism and KNOW how hard it is to write — their opinions are just that: opinions. Just like with beta readers: Listen and learn, but trust your voice and vision.

So the next time an author-friend graciously reads your novel and offers to give you some pointers, via email or otherwise, let him. Or her. Or whomever is kind enough to take the time to do so. The comments are coming from a good place and, when the dust settles, you may learn something. And if the comments aren’t coming from a good place, then you may have bigger problems on your hands than a few two-dimensional characters. You may have discovered a two-dimensional friendship.







6 thoughts on “Handling Criticism from Author-Friends

  1. The trick is separating insightful critique from personal taste in one’s critics. I’ve stopped reading acclaimed best sellers after 30 pages because I couldn’t stand anything about them. I’ve loved books that other people hated. Such is life. The kinds of critique I find useful:

    “I had a hard time understanding exactly what was happening on page 44.”
    “I didn’t really get a sense of why he was attracted to her”
    “This scene seems tonally off from the surrounding scenes.”
    “The payoff at the end of act1 is a bit unsatisfying”

    The kinds of critique I don’t find useful:

    “That wouldn’t happen”
    “That coincidence is too hard to believe”
    “This isn’t the type of story I like.”

    I’m ambiguous about people who miss the point. Either you, as the writer, buried the themes too deeply, or that particular reader lacks the ability to identify such things. Because, honestly, some people are better thinkers than others. You could just as easily annoy some readers by dumbing it down.

    I agree that you never argue with beta readers, because they’re doing you a favor. If they seem like they have an ax to grind or have hostility for you, then I guess those are the people you don’t ask again. Really the only type of criticism that bothers me is when beta readers hold a writer to different standards, particularly in the “unrealistic” area. I could write a story about a guy who works in an office building for 8 hours a day then watches TV and goes to bed, but that’s not exactly compelling anyone to keep reading.

  2. Hello again, Dani.

    I am in the enviable position of having to take your word for the corrosive trauma of having fellow authors (knights, damsels, eunuchs, hermaphrodite–well, you get the idea) read my work since I myself have no body of work–well, in truth, my body of work that is as thin as the flaky crust on a mille-feuille. And this suits me since I like to keep my stress level to a slow simmer. You, one the other hand, must deal with the headache and heartache of pier scrutiny, and i am so envious (truly so)!

    And so, being unable to relate directly to the matter in hand, I have a more general question for you. If one were to submit a short story to an online magazine, and be lucky enough to get published, could one re-write the story (a story that was once dross but now bears the hallmark of genius) and submit it elsewhere?

    • Hi! That would depend on the stipulations set forth by whatever online magazine has published your short story. You have to check to see what “rights” the publication has “bought.” All rights? Electronic rights? Exclusive rights? That will let you know if you are able to submit elsewhere. Good luck!! :)

      • Thank you Dina. Judging by the speed of your responses (just shy of light’s whirling speed), you must be the hardest working blogger in this galaxy.

        I guess I’ll have to follow Shakespeare’s lead (yet again) and learn to love non-corrupted lawyers and their contracts.

        Thank you sincerely for the advice.

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