Criticism is part and parcel of releasing any work out into the public. First there comes criticism from an editor, from beta readers, and others, but always in service of making the writing better. Once the story is released into the public however, criticism often becomes less about truly offering advice that will help to improve the story, and more about how a reader interacts with the story on a personal level.
There are many things that influence how a reader will perceive your story; their own experiences, the environment and mental state in which they read your work, other writing they’ve read, their educational experiences, etc… Often when a reader doesn’t like your writing, it is due to one of these factors. You can’t please everyone, but sometimes it can be disheartening to see a negative review for your work.
However, I’m finding more and more that the reviews people leave for novels, particularly for ebooks, are becoming more and more thoughtful. These reviews often delve deeply into what the reader liked and disliked about the book, often including the reader’s explanation of why they prefer certain kinds of writing, demonstrating a level of self-awareness that is admirable in anyone.
These negative reviews, in which a reader expressly states why they did not enjoy the novel, can become the reason someone else chooses to read that work. If a reader didn’t like your writing because it contained too much romance, for example, that may be the reason another reader selects your novel. As a reader, I am increasingly finding these reviews helpful in my decision about whether or not to buy a novel. Because the reviews are detailed, and often explain the reasoning behind poor ratings, I can use both positive and negative reviews to determine whether I will also like a book.
Reviews are, in effect, social proof. With the glut of content now available online, we seek clarity, and quality above all else. Well articulated reviews allow us to find good writing, and meaningful stories in the chaos of the internet. They allow us to be discerning in our selection, and even the negative reviews can help us to discover something new and wonderful.
From the character of Anton Ego, in Pixar’s lovely film Ratatoille, comes one of the best summations of the true function of a critic:
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.”
What are your thoughts on constructive criticism in writing? Do you write reviews for stories you love/hate?
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