Monday, March 7, 2011

You Can't Please Everyone



If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that you can’t please everyone. No matter how hard you try, someone is always going to dislike your book. It’s all a part of the vicious cycle of writing. What matters is how you respond to such negativity. You can respond in any number of ways, but we’re going to highlight two that I’ve seen a lot of, and happen to be polar opposites:
1) People who are majorly offended and retaliate/lash out
2) People who accept it and move on
Let’s pretend you wrote a book. Your friends have been nagging you to let them read it for ages, so after you’ve edited the crap out of it, you finally agree to send it to them. You anxiously await their feedback, but what they tell you isn’t what you’d hoped to hear. Two of your friends hated the book. One didn’t like your main character, and the other thought the plot was stupid. If you tend toward option #1, you pointedly tell your friends they know nothing about literature and maybe don’t speak to them for a while. They aren’t writers, you tell yourself. What do they know?
A few days go by, and your anger’s starting to fade. Replacing it is a nagging feeling that maybe your friends were right.What if your main character isn’t likable? What if the plot really is trite? You dive back into your manuscript, dissecting it for the things your friend clearly disliked. You’re filled with doubt, and it starts to eat away at you. Maybe your writing isn’t as good as you thought. Maybe you’re a total hack. I think we’ve all wondered that, no matter what stage of our career we’re in.
If your friends are writers, things might pan out  a bit differently. You may be more inclined to believe them when they say your main characters have no chemistry, but only a little bit. And you won’t change anything based on their suggestions. When they send you their manuscript to look over, you’ll look for every little detail you hate, just to get back at them for not loving yours.
Or you could just totally go ape shit and tell them they’re idiots with unfounded opinions and that you have no idea why you ever respected them as a person. (Trust me, it’s happened. You’ll see it all over the internet if you look hard enough.)
These are all really self-destructive ways to respond to criticism. In each instance, you’re the one holding the short end of the stick. You’re left with unending self-doubt, an anger management problem, and quite possibly a few less friends.
So how do we take criticism and respond in a more positive way? Ho do we grow as writers when people are telling you something’s majorly wrong with your book?
The first thing to do is consider the fact that they may actually be right. Even people who flame your story on, or trash your story on goodreads may have a point, just said in a not-so-very-nice way. So look for the truth in their words. If it’s there (and it may not be), take note. Maybe you had too many descriptive passages, and it slowed the book down. In book two, you’ll know what you need to work on. Sometimes people who criticize your book will mention that it can’t compare to X book that Y wrote. Take a look at Y’s book and see what’s so great about it. Maybe you’ll learn something, maybe you won’t. Either way, it can’t hurt to check it out.
Say you don’t learn anything, though. Maybe the hater was just spewing negativity and had nothing substantial to say other than, “THIS BOOK ROYALLY SUCKS!” In those cases, it’s best to just leave things well enough alone. So someone didn’t like your book. That sucks, but there’s not much you can do to change their mind. If you think about it, I’m sure there’s a book you’ve read that you strongly disliked, regardless of the fact that everyone else raved about it. You may not have left a scathing review in a public forum, but you wanted to. Sometimes there are just books we don’t like. It’s a fact of life. The best way to handle it is to just move on. Be the bigger person. Accusations may be unfounded, and you have every right to stand up for your work. Just be gracious about it!
Have you guys ever run into this problem? How did you respond?


  1. I must have really nice friends...they never tell me I royally suck. They do offer advice though...and they're so smart I can't help but listen and heed!

    Of course, if someone was toxic enough to be a jerk about me baring my literary soul to them...I think they're not someone I want around. Constructive criticism, yes...negativity spewing, no. I *hope* I'm old and wise (hahhahaha) enough to tell the difference!

  2. My best friend is currently reading the work I'm in the process of editing and wading through and re-writing and posting on webook. I love her dearly, she's the other half of my soul, my twin, the yin to my yang and all that happy crap. She, I think, is trying to be really constructive, but she never gives me any positives to go by. It's really depressing and currently I'm suffering because of it. I know that it isn't personal, but since she's the only one commenting, I'm having a hard time caring about posting new chapters up or even revising the old ones.

    It's hard because she's a fantastic writer, and frequently my favorite co-writer for projects, so I know she knows what she's talking about. But when she questions what the heck entire chapters have to do with the plot, I kind of want to slap the back of her head and be like "trust me, just a little bit." even though it's making me question myself. heh.