Fan or writer, everyone’s a critic.

In a few weeks I’m moderating a panel on criticism in writing at Magna cum Murder in Indianapolis. 

The conference steering committee has a sense of humor, mixed with a dash of clear-sighted honesty. The actual title of the panel is Hurts so Good: Handling Criticism from editors, publishers, and fans. (Let’s hope they play John Mellencamp in the background.)

I’ve heard reactions to criticism from all sides and all points in a career. Novices who feel there is too much criticism, and seasoned NYT Bestselling authors who wish their editors would offer a tad bit more (after all, even the best know there is room for improvement, that’s why they are the best). 

Every author has a story about a critical review left on Goodreads or Amazon where the one-star critique is a complaint about the wrong book being delivered (sigh, there should be a way to evaluate things beyond the author’s control). There are horror stories about editor’s wanting to change a few things about the manuscript (location; main character’s sex, ethnicity, physical description, etc.) leaving the author wondering if any of the book’s intention will remain. 

While the horror stories make the rounds of bars at book conferences, the vast majority of authors can also recount stories of criticism in the best sense of the word. Improving notes. Editors and publishers who ask the right questions and help shape a story into the best version of itself. You only have to read the acknowledgements of a book to know this.

On the panel we are sure to discuss criticism from the writer’s point of view: when it’s constructive and when it’s a hit job / how reader’s opinions inform us. Hopefully we’ll dive into criticism from a reader’s point of view: what are readers trying to communicate / why do they attack author’s personally rather than comment on story impressions. And, of course, we will examine how to weigh criticism based on intent and origin. 

While I count the days to the panel convening, I’m interested in hearing your criticism stories: the good, the bad, and the humorous. Have you ever reached out to an author with criticism, and why? Writers, what’s your reaction? 

One comment

  1. One reviewer on Goodreads gave away the identity of my killer in her first sentence! I asked my publisher to intervene, and Goodreads put the comments behind a click with a *spoiler alert* warning. Another reader gave me three stars but didn’t like my protagonist, my plot, the setting, or the ending.

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