The older I get and the more books I publish, the more I’ve learned that it’s okay if everyone doesn’t love my work. This wasn’t an easy conclusion to come to. Believe me, I have my share of critics, and I had to trudge through some difficult times as I struggled to keep quiet when people were letting me know how much my books suck. I even almost quit writing several times because I got to the point where I believed I was a terrible writer. So I get it. I know how hard it is to brush off negative comments and reviews when it comes to your work. It is a lot easier to be objective when you see another author’s work being criticized, but when it’s your book that takes the beating, objectivity tends to fly right out the window.
So today for those of you who are struggling with this issue, I thought I’d share things that helped me over the years as I’ve had people tell me why my work belongs in the city dump.
The first step is to be objective about criticism.
1. Understand that taste is subjective.
Honestly, you can’t make someone like your book. Trying to explain why you handled a conflict in your story a certain way or why your character did something someone doesn’t like is a fruitless endeavor.
Why? Because people will think whatever they want. Everyone who reads your book will be doing so with their personal bias already in the back of their minds. Think of a book you hate that was massively popular. This is the book that makes you ask yourself, “Why do so many people love this horrible story?”
I’ve certainly had this question pop up in my mind. There is a traditionally published book (which I will not name) that I hate. My hatred of this book was so strong that I actually felt like I was going to vomit while I was reading it. It got so bad that I had to stop halfway into it and throw it out. For the life of me, I can’t understand why this is a bestselling book. When I talk to others about this book, an overwhelming majority praise it. They encourage me to finish it. “It is so worth it when you get to the end,” they say. Personally, I don’t care how much they loved it. They aren’t changing my mind. I don’t care what motives the main characters had. To me, one character was stupid and the other character was undeserving of a happy ending. Nothing could redeem them to my satisfaction.
Does this mean the story truly sucks? No. Of course not. All it means is that I think the book sucked. It’s just one person’s opinion. That’s all. The same is true for people who don’t like your books.
2. The reason someone hates your book says a lot more about that person than it does about your book.
The book I mentioned above, the one that I hate more than anything else I’ve ever read, reveals my own likes and dislikes. It reveals an aspect of my personality. The hero and heroine have personality traits I absolutely despise. They did things I would never do in a million years. Those characters represent the antithesis to the kind of person I want to be and the kind of people I want to hang around. So all that book really did was reveal the kind of people I admire and respect.
The very qualities a reader likes or doesn’t like about a book are a window into the reader’s soul. You can gain insight into a person by their praise or criticism of the work. So take that into consideration when you come across the comments people make about your books.
Now, that we took an objective look at criticism, what should we do about it?
1. Ignore it.
The longer I’m in this business, the more convinced I am that ignoring criticism is the best way to handle it. Trying to defend your book is pointless. Instead of answering your critics, the best thing you can do is cater to your fans. They’re the ones you’re writing for anyway. They understand your vision for what you do, and better yet, they are already supporting and encouraging you. They enjoy your work for a reason. Why change what you’re doing to please the critics when the fans already love what you’re doing?
2. Choose to think on good things.
Recently, I’ve learned that the more attention I give something, the bigger of an issue it becomes. If I dwell on negativity, after a while, I start getting depressed or angry. I stop being as productive as I want to be. Negativity drains you of your energy. On the other hand, if I focus on positive things, I feel happier and freer. I find it easier to focus on my work. I’m more relaxed. I smile a lot more. I’m pleasant to be around, and believe me, my family is a lot happier when I’m pleasant. So by focusing on positive things, you’ll probably attract a lot more pleasant people into your world.
To be honest, I used to think there wasn’t a correlation between what I was thinking and how I felt, but the more I’ve experimented with focusing on the positive, the more convinced I am that what we think about definitely impacts how we feel. It’s not easy at first. Breaking the old habit of dwelling on the negative takes time to do. But the more I do it, the easier it gets. Life is short. You have to decide whether you’re going to spend it in misery or whether you’re going to spend it in joy. The choice is yours.
3. Be thankful for what you have.
A spirit of gratitude has a tremendous impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing. When something bad happens, I take a step back and start to list out things that are good in my life. If nothing else, the fact that I have food on the table, a roof over my head, and clothes on my back are huge. The fact that I can walk to the car or type on the computer or that I even know how to read are huge. Sure, I have problems. We all do. But no matter how grim a situation is, there is always something you can be thankful for. Or, to put it another way, there is always someone out there who has it worse than you do. So taking into consideration your blessings when problems start to pop up can help buffer you from the negativity when it rears its ugly head.
If you reach a wide enough readership, you will have your share of critics. When this happens, do not engage with them. I know it’s hard, but it’s necessary. There’s no need to try to defend your book to someone who hates it. Your time and energy will be better spent focusing on your fans.