An Author on Growing Through Criticism

 Three Uncomfortable Lessons about Criticism I Learned from Publishing my Book

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I have a new baby.
It’s about two months old, has a compelling name and is loved by me, my family, and close friends. Of course I’m talking about the new sci-fi novel, Fear The Liberator: A Space Opera Novel, I self-published on Amazon. I worked sweats and fears on that darling, had a professional editor and published it with the best intentions.

And for a while, it was good. Sales trickled in, up to 16 per day, as well as many burrows.

Self-Published Author Mars Dorian

I was high-fiving the universe after having launched a book that finally didn’t tank like my two previous books. And then, the first one-star review crept in and vaporized my book like an orbital beam cannon. The critic wrote a 700 word long review that lynched every part of my story, from the characters, to the story and writing style.

I’m not gonna lie, I was floored.

I knew not everyone was going to like my story, but I didn’t expect a hardcore takedown like that. Still, the only way forward is to become better tomorrow than today, so after moping for a day, I collected my courage and soaked up the positive lessons from the review.
Here my top lessons for dealing with this crushing review.

1) Separate style from substance

This is a little tip I’ve learned from a fellow indie writer who got bashed on a crime thriller for getting the detective work wrong.
Criticism of substance means a reviewer points out errors and inaccuracies in your content. For example, a reader told me that my science was askew — there’s a line in the book where the protagonist, a spaceship pilot, watches supernovas explode from his home planet’s sky. The reviewer said it was scientifically impossible — so I changed that line. The book is better and more believable by changing that little aspect.
That’s also legit criticism, because as a sci-fi writer, I have to get at least the basics right. But then there’s criticism of style, and that’s when opinions will always differ.
Another critic poked at my writing style. He said it was too simplistic and complained about the “disgusting phrasing.” Now that’s a style issue which I dare not rectify, because it’s part of my personality. When I change my Mars Dorianism, I’m selling out the folks who love my style. In that case, the reader was just a bad fit for my book.
So, ask yourself next time: is the reader criticizing the substance of your work, or your style? If you can differentiate between the two, your writing will improve but you can also stay true to yourself. That’s a win-win in my book.

2) Don’t argue with (harsh) critics

I once read that serial entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, author of the bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek, once commented on every negative review he received for his first book. He soon found himself entangled in heated online debates, with critics getting furious about his replies and slamming him on other online outlets. After the first book launch, he vowed to never argue with these people again.

When my first negative reviews battered my profile, I was itching to jump in and justify my position, ready to argue with reviewers who bashed my style.
But thanks to Tim’s wisdom, I didn’t. I don’t know why, but in the online world, people are addicts to their opinions (and that sometimes is true for me). They have pride posting their reviews and if you argue with them, they take it as a personal insult and will feverishly defend their positions, much to the content creator’s dismay. Your work should speak for itself. It doesn’t need a creator defending it.
As Michelangelo famously said, “criticize by creating.” That’s my motto from now on.

3) Ignore the personal attacks. Use them to fuel your writing

There’s a lot fire going on personal attacks on the content creator nowadays. Best-selling writer Anne Rice, famous for the Interview with the Vampire series, even launched a website and a Twitter/Facebook movement to combat vicious one star reviews that assaulted the author rather than the actual content.
Unfortunately, we’re going to see more of that.
In the Western World, our skins are nano-layer thin. And with online lynch mobs being all the rage nowadays, everyone who shares different, dare I say — unpopular — content, will be a possible target for self-righteous hate groups that doxx, harass and try to censor/ban you from social media networks.

When I get personally attacked I know the flak has nothing to do with me as a person and everything with the critic’s personal problems. Thus, I will not feel miserable or let the person stop me from creating content that I want to share with the world. Constructive criticism is the only kind I will ever listen to.
Always separate content criticism from creator criticism.
Content creators want to produce their best works and enrich people’s lives with their ideas. Finding the balance between justified criticism and slander is one of the hardest skills to learn.
What’s your number one tip with dealing online criticism? Share your voice with the world.

mars dorian

Mars Dorian draws funky illustrations and pens sci-fi thrillers for the Internet Generation. His latest novel Fear the Liberator is available on Amazon for just $2.99! Consider his artwork for your next project:

16 thoughts on “An Author on Growing Through Criticism

  1. Great tips and constructive way of looking at it. Personally, when it comes to any kind of criticism for my writing I try to take it with both a grain of salt and humility. If it’s constructive criticism, I thank the person and consider their advice/criticisms. Other people are such sticklers for detail that what they point out seems minor but I acknowledge it all and fact-check anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for sharing this… as a fellow author whose only publishings are cushioned within an Anthology of which their will be another soon. I am currently working on my very first solo novel which is scary at my age … I’m not telling you… I thank you as I will at least be prepared for the onslaught….. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Let me just say, you’re brave to share this and your thoughts on the reviews. It helps just knowing others are in the same boat, so to speak. One little tip to make you smile – after reading a 1 star review, go and read a 5 star review and repeat it several times out loud.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I think the best thing any writer can read that will help him/her deal with criticism is H. L. Mencken’s “Prejudices”. Mencken (died 1956) remains to this day the greatest literary and social critic America has produced. From him readers learn how a great critic thinks about literature and authors and publishing and how that great critic expresses him/her self.

    Anything goes in criticism insofar as the critic should not be a bookseller. If (s)he never writes hostile reviews, (s)he cannot claim to be a critic. If (s)he never writes laudatory reviews, again, his/her perception is probably disfunctional. The critics who write for the popular press — newspapers and magazines — have an important job to do. The job as I see it is to help readers spend their book money wisely. Bad books are a waste of readers’ time and money. Good books give readers maximum bang for their book bucks.

    Critics of the popular press thus have a service to sell. But in order to sell their service, they must also entertain readers. Therefore, woe betide the writer whose latest book is so bad that it exposes him/her to satire, because he/she is surely gonna get hit with it. Some critics (good and gracious) can create satire without murdering the author. Too bad: good satirists are scarce and so are good writers. I’m no Jonathan Swift myself.

    But the key, I think, is for all of us (writers and critics) to see the worth in what we do. If we see worth in our work, then we’ll take care to do our work as well as we possibly can. Writing well entails the study of language. We are good or bad just to the degree that we do so because in studying the language, we learn to love it. Loving it, we’ll use it creatively no matter what we write. Nobody loved the language more than H. L. Mencken loved it. I don’t believe Mencken ever wrote a clunky sentence, and those who study his criticism will profit accordingly. His wit, his ironies, his perceptions were terrifying and terrifyingly funny.

    John Lennon sang: “You know that what you eat you are.” The same thing can be said of writers, who are pretty much what they read. Wanna be a great author? Read great books. Wanna write kiddie lit? Read Dick and Jane and Dr. Suess. Wanna avoid harsh criticism? Learn to be your own harshest critic. I’m trying.

    Solomon sed.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Excellent blog. I’ve known writers with excellent potential who get one bad review and/or hostile comment and are so devastated that they give up their dream.
    Be true to yourself and your style, and find beta readers who are excellent at science 😉

    BTW, I’ve seen scathing reviews which make me suspect the reviewer’s dream was to write, but for some reason s/he had not gotten to the point of publication – they seemed to be hostile toward others who were achieving what they wanted and IMHO, that was more about the reviewer’s issues than the story being reviewed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You have a great attitude towards this. As an editor (whose job it is to try to put as much teaching as possible in my criticism), this is a positive view! If only everybody had such a good reaction!

    Liked by 1 person

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