One of the most common things I’ve noticed people talk about is how you should be reading reviews, taking criticism from your readers and well, just being cognizant of what they want.
However, I’ve publicly stated before that I don’t think the vast majority of opinions of the general public on craft are useful. The reason for that comes down to a few things:
- Opinion not facts
Some things, are just purely opinion based. ‘I love harems’, ‘I hate harems’, ‘I want an OP MC’. Nothing to be said there, nothing worth discussion for obvious reasons.
You can’t change opinions, nor should a reader’s opinions change your own likes or what you write. Especially when they are not relevant (why are you reading my romcom book if you hate romances???)
2. Story related criticism
Here, the criticism is based off story points that didn’t go the way the reader would like. Since I write for myself (publish to eat… 🙂 ), I don’t really care about story level criticism. I don’t write stories for others, I do it to finish the story in my head and find out what happened.
For that matter, even if I did – there’s only two things that can be done with story related criticism for an already published work:
– do the comic thing and retcon a problem (I do that occasionally when I make a mistake and need to fix it, but really, I try REALLY hard not to do that. An example of this is when I changed the number of tiers of power in System Apocalypse)
– keep it in mind for future books.
Except unless you are writing very similar work, that’s going to be difficult. And since I’m a discovery writer, this is even harder for me, which makes story related criticism irrelevant on a craft basis.
3. Factual problems
I’m going to stick plot related points where I made a mistake in this section.
Those I am more than happy to call an ‘oops’ and where I can fix (i.e. I forgot X characters name, I forgot to mention a certain power, etc.). The vast, vast majority are typos. Thankfully, my Patreons often catch the vast majority of plot issues or plot holes.
Let me clarify though, this only covers things like the use of periods or malapropisms or typos or the like. Those are, generally (not always – commas are a bitch and sentence fragments can be on purpose) unarguable and I’m happy to have such errors called out so that we can fix them. These kinds of minor errors are so tiny in terms of changes that most people don’t even notice when we fix them.
4. Craft related problems
Oooh, these are tricky. I’ve stated publicly before that the vast majority of opinions (from the general public) when it comes to craft aren’t worth what you paid for them. There’s a few reasons for that, so I’ll list them as I go along:
a) No longer relevant
As an example, someone has mentioned I ‘tell more than show’. That’s not an incorrect review of my earlier work. Some of it is author voice, some of it is bad craft. But most of that is what? 20+ books back if you are reading Life in the North or A Healer’s Gift?
I know I’ve worked on that issue since then, so… criticism like that is probably not relevant to the current state of craft.
b) Insufficiently precise / too precise in the wrong way
Criticism that says ‘I didn’t like this’ or ‘I hated x’ aren’t useful. Heck, criticism that goes into specifics at certain times might actually be missing the reasons why certain passages, certain sections were written in a specific way.
Sometimes, it’s because those plot points haven’t been revealed yet, so you just have to wait.
Other times, it can be too specific and they are ripping apart specific sentence structures, etc. Sometimes, this is right – but it’s just as potentially wrong since most readers and critiques are looking at it in a very small region.
c) Might be a reader experience issue
I’ll take a recent review of Leveled Up Love as an example. In the review, there was criticism about character likeability. While it was couched in terms of opinion (might not be for me, might be for those who enjoy romcoms, etc.); it’s a characterization issue. So, craft.
However, the issue is that the criticism might just be the readers own experience with the work, sometimes because they are coming to the work with different (or just wrong) expectations. Leveled Up Love as an example is a romantic comedy. It leans heavily on certain tropes, which are common and accepted in the genre. And while it pokes fun at some of those tropes, it still is very much a romantic comedy.
If you don’t like romcoms… it might not work for you.
As for the unlikability of the main character? It seems a small percentage of readers seem to lean that way. However, the vast majority do find him likeable – and considering the entire work is focused on making an unlikeable character likeable – it’s a difficult criticism to take on.
Separating an individual’s personal taste and overall taste is hard.
Often, criticism like that comes from an individuals POV. And while it’s entirely relevant and correct; it isn’t actionable. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like what you did – to some extent or another. Trying to course correct to satisfy everyone might actually cause more problems.
There’s a delicate balance you try to hit between characterization, tension, pacing and story when you write. Sometimes, there are minor things you can do to affect things, other times… it’s not minor fixes.
d) Just wrong / is an opinion
Sometimes what is suggested is just wrong. Either factually, or it’s an opinion on how things should work that just doesn’t work that way in real life.
As an example – I’ve had people suggest that I wrote John’s interaction with Roxley wrong (too smutty). Which comes to ‘reader experience’ since there literally are other people complaining that they missed the entire ‘John is bi after 5 preceding books!’. Both are diametrically opposite opinions. How do you fix that?
Well, dig a little deeper and you realise that they’re all the same criticism (MC is gay, I don’t want that in my books). Which, as a criticism, is non-relevant to me.
Then, we have others commenting on other things like ‘this is not how people manage anger’, ‘this is now how people process grief’, ‘this is now how people are attracted’. Except… yes. It is.
Not how you deal with it. Not how the majority might deal with things (maybe); but it is certainly relevant.
On a more factual basis – the common refrain when you learn knife fighting is that if you have someone attack you with a knife, you will bleed. You WILL get cut.
I know someone who has been attacked twice in real life with a knife. And didn’t get cut.
Now, he’ll admit it was pure luck, pure fluke and he has NO idea how to teach people to do that. But… it happened.
Multiple people have fallen from airplanes over 18000 feet And lived. Is it common? Hell no! But it’s real.
e) Impact’s author voice
These are more grammatical issues, or complaints that certain things aren’t ‘how it’s done’. The Oxford comma is a common one. The use of adverbs. Sentence fragments. Length of chapters.
And on, and on.
These opinions often don’t come from ‘normal’ readers but from other authors or writers and can be very dangerous as it can impact author voice. Which, if you are doing relatively well already, is NOT something you want to change without deep consideration.
In some cases, it might make sense (for very new writers) to follow specific recommendations, but it can also seriously mess with their writing. It’s a very tricky area that even some paid editors do not have proper training on. Guiding writers to improve without making their work lose what it is that makes their writing interesting is both fascinating and difficult.
Now, if paid editors (big 5 or not) can’t do it, why do you think the average person on the Internet can?
f) Not yet relevant
Lastly, the criticism just might not be relevant at this time. Not because it’s not valid or correct, but because it’s not an area that the writer can see and/or fix.
Writing craft in some areas is like building a house. Telling me my house has the wrong shade of pink isn’t particularly useful if I’m trying not to make the new extension collapse the foundation walls.
If someone is busy fixing ‘simple’ copy related issues (overuse of a word, repetition within the same sentence, misuse of punctuation); they might not be ready to fix pacing problems or characterisation issues or depth.
Then What Criticism Should I Take On?
In my view, whatever works for you and is relevant at that time. For myself, it’s a little different since I’ve been writing now for 3 years. Early on, I was fixing simple stuff (copy related problems). These days, my copy edits are a lot cleaner.
Now, I’m focusing on ‘deeper’ craft like depth, setting, characterisation, pacing, etc.
That seems to be the easiest way to do it, in my view. Make sure you write cleanly first, then work on the deeper areas. If you aren’t writing sentences and paragraphs that work, then no matter how brilliant your story is, no one is going to read it.
From there, I’d recommend watching sales. Not just total sales, but readthrough rates can tell you as much about your plot and general writing as initial sales (which are influenced by cover and blurbs). Sales and fans who keep coming back to read your work is a better indicator of if you are doing well than anything I can think of.
Also, for developmental edits (as an indie author), I’d recommend getting it every few books. Possibly with the same dev editor, possibly with new ones. I get mine edited that way AFTER I’ve published, so I focus on craft things I can do in the future, rather than what is wrong with that relevant work.
But that’s my method. I’m sure others have other opinions. Feel free to let me know below.
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