Making Lemonade   6 comments

Nov 14, 2022 How do you deal with negative feedback? Do you have tips for critiquing other writers’ work?

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Junkyard Dog Editor

Back when I first presented my work on the now-defunct site Authonomy, I received a review by one of the best writers on the site. That should have been good news, but this guy was meaner than a junkyard dog. I say “guy” uncertainly because he had at least two sock accounts, one in which he played a young British woman. Both of them were mean-spirited beyond measure and most people with any sense avoided them like the plague. Unfortunately, I don’t believe in lying about who you are, so I somehow made an enemy of this jerk.

Go Hiking

Anyway, his review of my book would have made a lesser person cry and probably take their work down and never publish it. But I was a reporter and journalists are used to taking critique of their work. What’s more, it was summer in Alaska. I logged out and went hiking.

I came back in a week all refreshed by sunlight and clean air to see a few people had tried to repair what they perceived might be damage, and I said thank you and moved on. I left that flawed copy of The Willow Branch up on the site and gave serious consideration to Michael’s review. A lot of it was just mean-spirited screed meant to illicit a response he never got from me. I’d seen him do it to others, so I put it in the dust bucket where it belonged.

But behind the nastiness, some of his critiques were legitimate. He was a good writer and he honed on my weaknesses with a laser sight. I wasn’t writing an exciting story. There was no definable bad guy My characters were perhaps too “nice.” I wrote the story for myself, not the readers. I needed to consider what they wanted.

Off-site, I re-edited the book. It caused me to create the Kindred sections. I was honest about what happens in Tallidd’s compound (which alienated a few Christian readers but got more compliments on how I handled it with deftness). I decided to insert Gil (Ryanna’s abusive ex-mate) into the story instead of just having him as a background motivation for what she did. I ended up creating a great character in Prince Maryn and then killing him at the end of the first chapter.

Since I couldn’t get my present-day characters to engage in violence right away (they would later in the book), I drew from history and created the whole historical line that has now become an important feature in the series. Since they were at the beginning of a civil war, those characters were far more willing to draw blood early in the book. This left my primary characters free to rebuild society.

The extra story led to me split an already overly long book into three books, which will eventually be five or six published books. Those original three are here in part because Michael’s critique made me determined to publish the book instead of just noodling with it.

In other words, Michael handed me lemons and I made lemonade. Negative criticism didn’t need to break me. It helped me go in a better direction. When I put the rewritten first three chapters up on the site before its demise, I got a lot of compliments with “wow, this is a big improvement, when does the first book come out.”

A Better Way

I don’t recommend Michael’s method of critique. It’s brutal and unnecessary. I’m sure there were many Authonomy writers who gave up on great projects because of his critique. But sometimes, you do need to give negative criticism of someone else’s work. It should always be done in the spirit of trying to help the writer produce a better product, not destroy their enthusiasm for the project. Always mix what you think is good about the project with helpful suggestions to improve it.

Remember, there’s a human being on the other side of your critique. Treat him or her like you’d want to be treated.

Posted November 14, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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6 responses to “Making Lemonade

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  1. It’s funny how the perception of a negative can change with time. Well done in using it to your advantage.

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    • It was a mean-spirited critique, no doubt, but it also brutally highlighted what some of my nicer critics had been alluding to. I was writing a nice story that cried out for some bloodshed. Once I wrote it, it wasn’t hard to write it again.

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  2. That’s one of the problems with the anonymity of the internet – some people use it as an excuse to be cruel. But I’m glad this instance helped you with your stories.

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  3. But see, and this is what I try to explain to “Indies” and all their angst – you wrote or did something creative for $. And that gives you several things. Insight, how to find a gem amidst the bullshit in criticism, and the knowledge that what might be “right” as we see it might not be so right. Some things are universal – one good sentence following another. Clarity. Logic. Getting out the weedeater. Learning to spot our own bullshit, bad habits… bad writing habits, loop de loops. Nobody can tell you the story you need to tell, but there are many who can help you tell it better. I sent my first long work to a proven NY editor, She had a deal. Send me the first chapter or twenty pages, and page 220. She’d look at it for free. I just sent her the whole doc file because she didn’t specify single spaced, double spaced. Six weeks go by, I send her a note. Oh yeah, I read the whole thing. Good story. Rough, but good. I was stoked. She sent the sample edit and I was enraged. How dare she fuck with my story! But… After a good vent, I knew she was correct. I took everything she red inked to heart. Because it wasn’t opinion, or a grammar Nazi, or an idiot with a claim to fame. So we need to hear it, or continue on in the blind numbness of a “Paperback Writer.”

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  4. Good attitude to take, I think: not letting a bad experience discourage you, but still remaining open to learn and improve. @samanthabwriter from
    Balancing Act

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  5. Well said, Lela. I remember a troll called ‘Lobstergirl’ some years back on Goodreads – she visited as many sites as she could and gave one star reviews whether she had read the book or not. It’s terrible for an author to get caught by one of these trolls when they’ve just published their first book. I think a lot of people left Goodreads because of Lobstergirl and her cronies.

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