I recently had breakfast with a writer friend, and she told me that she was in a dilemma—she’d read a book by another mutual friend, and had been asked what she thought of it. She didn’t like it, but wasn’t sure how to tell the writer this without hurting her feelings.
She was going to take the honest approach, but soften the blow as much as possible. I agreed, but also added that the writer should be prepared to hear from readers who may not like the book. I know that this book has been a highly personal project for this writer, and she’d been working hard to promote and sell it. Because of this, I think that any negative feedback would be devastating.
But this got me thinking—how should writers (or any other creative individual) handle criticism? And not necessarily “creative feedback” either…the brutally honest “Wow, I thought this was awful” kind of criticism. Obviously, creatives are hard-wired to be a little more sensitive to the opinions of others, mostly because so much of their professional success relies on what their audiences think. As far as writers go, I think fiction writers have to put themselves out there a little bit more, as their work is usually something out of their own imagination. Nonfiction writing is a little “safer”, with the security of facts, figures, and quotes from others to help soften some of the blow.
As writers, we need to develop a thick skin if we plan to put our work in front of the masses. Once it gets past our immediate family and friends (the folks who will love it no matter how good or bad it is, simply because it’s your work and they love you), we have to understand that some folks in the wider reading world might think it’s the worst thing they’ve ever read. Unfortunately, there will be readers who come to an event or book signing and say such things point blank (although if they hated it so much, why take the time to come to a book signing?) It’s up to the writer to be the bigger person and tell the reader that they appreciate their comments and they’re sorry they were unhappy with the book. Luckily, there are a lot of reading choices out there, and if they didn’t like your work, there are thousands of other authors to pick from!
What about you? Have you ever dealt with nasty criticism? How did you handle it?