Thanks, It’s Just What I Wanted. Not.

Criticism, noun. 1) The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything. 2) the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit…

Criticism. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? “The act of passing judgement.” No one likes to be judged, do they? “Don’t be so judgy,” we say. No wonder the word, criticism, rubs us wrong. We hear “criticism” and we get defensive. Critics, those who “judge, evaluate, or criticize,” seem like the enemy.

Review, noun. 1) a critical article or report, as in a periodical, on a book, play, recital, or the like; critique; evaluation.

Review sounds better. “A critical article or report, a critique.” Kind of a neutral word. None of the negative connotations of criticism. We authors want readers to leave reviews on book-themed digital platforms. Reviews trigger algorithms and algorithms push books to the top of search engine lists. Reviews translate to publicity. But what are reviews, exactly? The word’s kind of vague. A “report” or a “critical article.”

Feedback, noun. 1) A reaction or response to a particular process or activity. 2) evaluative information derived from such a reaction or response.

A review is a form of feedback. A reaction or response or evaluative information derived from that reaction or response. Feedback is information that provides us with insight into how our book affected our readers. That’s what we want to do through our work, make an impact, hopefully, a positive one. But what if our work had the opposite effect? What if the reader’s reaction was negative? What do we do with that kind of feedback? Get angry or despondent about a reader sharing their unflattering response—their opinion (“a personal view, attitude, or appraisal”)—with the public? We could get upset and vent our hurt on social media. That’s a typical, if unproductive, response these days. But we’d do better to take advice from the business world, a world where feedback is a regular occurrence, and treat that feedback as a gift. Yes, even the negative kind.

I hear you rolling your eyes. “A gift? This reader savaged my work and I’m supposed to treat their judgement as a gift?” Yes. Think about it. When someone gives you a gift, what do you do? You say, “Thank you for your gift,” whether you wanted it or not because you’re well-mannered. (At this point, a good gift-giver walks away. But more on that in a later post.) Then you a) unwrap the gift, see that it really is just what you wanted, feel warm and fuzzy, and display the gift proudly. Or, b) open the gift, discover it’s not at all what you wanted. In fact, you hate it. It such an awful gift, it makes slipper socks seem like a hot item in comparison. So, you toss it. You reject the gift. You’re under no obligation to keep a gift you hate. Then, there’s option c). Maybe you don’t hate the gift. You’re not sure you like it but it’s not the worst thing you’ve ever gotten. Maybe you’ll find a use for it later. Maybe you’re just not ready to deal with it yet. So, you set it aside and consider it. A day, a week, a month, who knows? Someday, when you’re feeling up to it, you’ll take it down from the shelf where you stashed it and open it again. You’ll re-evaluate it and decide if it really was what you wanted or if it was fit only for the trash bin.

Treat feedback—reviews, criticisms, opinions—like a gift. Keep it, consider it, or reject it. It was given to you and it’s yours. The decision on how to handle it is up to you. Do with it as you choose. But always say thank you. That’s just manners.

(Definitions are from Dictionary.com)

How do you handle the gift of feedback? Comment on the blog or join the discussion on Facebook.

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