Nobody’s perfect. As writers, all of us are on journeys to improve our writing. The best way to do so is to have our current writing criticized. Knowing what works and what doesn’t is best achieved through the lens of other people—your readers. While we can’t please everyone with our writing, we can at least try to take relevant and constructive criticism to make more readers happy. Ultimately, there are two stages of criticism: before you release a book and after you publish this book. Knowing how to handle both is key to improving your writing.

Use beta reading criticism to make changes.

I’ve written about the four things I like my beta readers to provide for my drafts, but I’ll admit that it stings a little when a trusted source comes back and gives some harsh criticism of my story. Your first reaction might be to get mad. “These beta readers don’t understand what I’m trying to do!” you may tell yourself. Receiving criticism can be an emotional moment, so it’s important to take a step back and assess the feedback. Don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that the beta reader didn’t provide a good critique because they didn’t love everything about your draft. The point of a beta reader is to open your eyes to the blind spots in your manuscript that need improvement. If you’re feeling attacked by a beta reader critique, you must give yourself time to calm down before reviewing their notes and diving into edits. In fact, their notes might indicate what kind of editor you’ll need for the next polishing step (i.e., structural vs. line edits).

Many writing circles use the phrase “kill your darlings” to point out areas of a manuscript that don’t work for readers. As writers, there are scenes we absolutely love but distract from the story. If these scenes aren’t working for other readers, then you may have to face the fact that it’s a “darling” you’ll have to kill in revision. For example, there were portions of my memoir, Fourteener Father, that I felt were an important part of my life story, but my beta readers revealed were probably better for a session with a therapist. Similarly, I delayed publishing Buried Colony because of feedback I received on some Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs). I gave myself the extra time to kill these darlings, which made both books better. However, you should know that ARCs are a last chance to catch these things before letting the world have your story.


The 5 elements of a Review.

As someone who reviews books, movies, and video games, I don’t like everything I review. Sure, there are some rare stories I deem to be the cream of the crop, but there are also stories that don’t work for me. And that’s fine. People can like what they like and not like what they don’t like. The saying, “You can’t please everyone” is never more prevalent than in the reviews section. While we always hope readers will give our work four or five stars, there inevitably comes the handful of one or two-star reviews. This criticism can be harder to deal with because the book is already out in the world in its final form—there’s no time to change it.

Fortunately, there are a handful of low-star reviews you can outright ignore. The internet is a nasty place, and if you’ve attracted a troll who derives pleasure in knocking your review score down a few points for no other reason than to watch you suffer, then there’s not much you can do about it than to let the work stand for itself. The same thing goes for people who give low marks because they couldn’t finish reading it or it’s not a genre they normally read. Again, you can’t please everyone. And while it’s hard to just completely ignore all reviews (good or bad), some negative reviews might be done with a modicum of constructive criticism you can use to improve your writing.

Don’t respond to negative reviews.

One of the cringiest series of e-mails I have ever received was in response to a critical review I wrote of a book someone had written. It just didn’t work for me, but they felt obligated to send me several e-mails about how many other people liked it. They even came out of nowhere years later to gloat that the book I didn’t like was being adapted for film or television. Like, so? The fact I lived rent-free in this writer’s head for so long, maybe pushed him to make it into a better screenplay—which means my criticism worked even if they didn’t handle it that well. Ultimately, you are the writer, and you can ignore whatever feedback you receive. Even with beta reader feedback, you can give a “noted, ignored” as your response. Just know that if you are interacting with negative reviews in a space where other readers can see them, they often see your responses in poor taste.

Ironically enough, I don’t even consider reviews when I pick up a new book to read or a movie to watch. If the concept intrigues me, I’ll go through with it. Many readers will buy your book by the title and cover alone (or if it’s on sale), so don’t get hung up on 1-star reviews that most people won’t read, anyway. Heck, if you’re selling directly to people at a convention, there are no online reviews there either. I figure, once I’ve sold a copy of a book, the opinion of the reader is out of my hands.


How did you handle the first critical feedback of your work?
Are you finding beta readers you trust for their opinion, or do you need new critique partners?
Do you use reviews to determine if you’ll try a new book?

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