Authors Answer 151 – Tough Criticism

Authors will never please everyone. They have their fans, but also their critics. Check out some of the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, and you’ll see some pretty negative reviews, including for books that are widely loved. Authors need to develop a thick skin when dealing with criticism, whether it’s from readers or publishers.

Question 151 – What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

C E Aylett

Do you know what? I can’t think of anything I’d consider really tough. I mean, sure, I receive ‘harsh’ critiques on workshop pieces but in a constructively harsh way, so i don’t really see that as tough. More like helpful. When I was a Noob I got a bitchy critique from someone but I soon found out that they had some rather ugly and deep psychological issues. It was such a long time ago I don’t even remember what was said now.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

To be honest, I don’t take too many criticisms to heart. I learned a long time ago that most criticisms are based on personal tastes (which I can’t control, so why worry about it?) or peoples’ desire to be jerks for no particular reason (which I also can’t control, and those people aren’t worth my time anyway).

That said, there was one criticism that really bothered me, mainly because it was very public. I’d sent out a few free books to a service that passes those books on to reviewers with the stipulation that they rate and review the book on the platform of the author’s choice (in my case, Amazon), and I received entirely positive reviews except for one. That last reviewer completely demolished me, on Amazon, for the world to see, with a 2-star review and a major bashing of my writing style, wording choices, and claims of grammatical/formatting errors that not one other reader has brought up yet, so I’m not even sure what she was talking about. All in all, I felt it was an unnecessarily cruel slamming, and because of the wording of the review I felt like she was purposely being harsh simply because it’s a zombie story and she felt that zombies are “over”. I would have just brushed it off as someone who doesn’t like zombies and probably shouldn’t have even been reading the book in the first place, but it bothered me for a while because it kept showing up on the book’s Amazon page as the top review, and it frustrated me that that would be the first thing people saw if they scrolled down to see what people were saying about my book.

Jean Davis

To date, I would say the hardest thing to hear was confirmation on issues I suspected with one of my published books. You know, those nagging issues that you ponder in the night, but your publisher and critique partners assure you it’s all good. Then you begin reading reviews and realize you should have trusted your gut. Trust the gut, it’s there for a reason.

H. Anthe Davis

In the past, I’ve been told that I’ve tortured the English language. That’s part of the reason I’ve been going back over my early books to see where I can un-torture certain phrases and paragraphs — because honestly I can’t deny that sometimes my sentence structure and concepts get a bit over-complicated and knotty. I’ve had a lot of success recently in fixing those problems, and thus the flow of the stories.

D. T. Nova

Even the most negative criticism I’ve received has been given respectfully and constructively, at least.

The toughest was probably the (largely correct) observation that characters were spending too much time discussing important issues unrelated (or seemingly unrelated) to the plot.

Paul B. Spence

Hmm. Criticism vs vitriol… I suppose the toughest legitimate criticism is that I am a little sparse and dry in my writing style. Vitriol is another matter. I’ve been told that my characters are unbelievable because life is fair and someone can’t be tall, good-looking, and competent.

Gregory S. Close

The toughest criticism I’ve received as an author was probably the review of In Siege of Daylight on Creativity Hacker.

The reviewer didn’t find it engaging, was totally confused about what was happening (based on his description of what he’d gleaned of the plot) and he objected to the “proper noun salad” of people, places and things and thought the prologue was pointless .

It was tough to read, particularly because I made an effort not to fall into the bad prologue trap or the info-dump trap. Disappointing. But I actually like critical reviews. You can learn a lot from them.

Jay Dee Archer

For my serious writing, I haven’t received anything particularly tough, but the one that popped up often was my tendency to use infodumps. I told too much, and didn’t show enough. That’s fair criticism, because I completely agreed. But as for some less serious writing, I once published a parody online when I was in university that made fun of the writing style of younger people who don’t seem to know grammar or spelling very well. It was well-received by a lot of readers, but it was completely bashed by one who thought I actually wrote that way. He didn’t realise it was a parody until after I told him.

How about you?

If you’re an author, what was the toughest criticism you’ve ever received? Let us know in the comments section below.

4 thoughts on “Authors Answer 151 – Tough Criticism”

  1. I don’t usually remember specifics of legitimate criticism, once it’s been dealt with and applied to my writing; it just gets absorbed into my collection of Things I Know About Writing Fiction. One thing I do recall (because it has come up more than once) is my tendency to assume the reader is reasonably well educated and doesn’t need terms such as “terraform” or “geosynchronous” explained to them.

    On the other hand, I do remember a lot of the not-legitimate criticism: ‘This book sux cos its a scifi and ALL scifi sux!!!!!’ and that sort of thing.

    I’ve been told I’m “doing it wrong” because Aiden Teige (a character in “that novel”) doesn’t behave just like James T. Kirk. I’ve been told I’m “doing it wrong” because the private investigator MC in a short story doesn’t act “girly” and flirt and obsess about attractive men and use her feminine wiles to… solve a missing-person case. I’ve been told I’m “doing it wrong” when I refer to people from this planet as Terrans instead of Earthlings. I’ve been told I’m “doing it wrong” and that I know nothing about how psionic abilities would actually work if there were such a thing.

    Someone once told my twin that he was “doing it wrong” because the sizes for various classes of military starships in his novels don’t match the sizes of roughly equivalent navy vessels in the real world back during World War Two.

  2. Unfortunately fir me I’ve never been able to “grow a thicker skin.” I’m hypersensitive AND anxious, so it’s just not a possibility, and I envy those who can. I have developed tactics to mitigate the damage, but my brain’s inability to not consider EVERYTHING even vitriol does hamper things.

    I’m better with critique if yes constructive. Don’t tell me a character is boring; tell my *why* they’re boring. Don’t tell me something doesn’t work. Tell me why. I can work with that. I can change that. I also tend to write reviews in the way I’d want to be reviewed, remembering authors are people with emotions and just slamming a novel helps no one save perhaps your own ego.

    I have been waylaid for days over a harsh critique that makes me question my own abilities because it’s incongruent with what I believe to be true, but it generally fades with time and then I can consider my next move.

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