Why You Should Care What Others Think

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So, you’ve completed your manuscript. Everything is clean. Pacing is solid. Tension is present. The plot is bulletproof. And, unlike my opening, you’re writing is mostly active. You’re ready for the big time. Ready to submit your work to agents or publishers, or both. Let’s do this!

Hold up, young grasshopper. Rein in your enthusiasm and place it on this bed of nails called criticism. It’s time to get feedback from people whose writing style/genre preference doesn’t match your own, from peers who are far behind you in terms of publishing, from people who are not interested in creating a masterpiece of the same magnitude as your own.

Come, bring your sacrificial lamb to the altar. Let the masses enjoy the bloodletting.

It’ll hurt, I know. It’ll hurt more because it’s your first, your best, your most beloved that you’ve nurtured from a tiny idea to a great many-paged beast. Why should anyone have a say on the final outcome of your labors?

There is a saying that goes something like “in the eyes of a mother a donkey is a gazelle.” Your book is your child. You’re biased. No matter much you deny it, your book is flawed, stubborn, and ugly.

When writing a story, and submitting it to many revisions, we tend to blur the lines between the narration in our head and what’s on paper. Our mind fills every gap, polishes every rough spot, explains every point of unwritten background information to make your work of art, well, a work of art. Unfortunately, the wider audience doesn’t have your imagination downloaded to their e-reader. They need to understand your story from the words themselves.

A minor annoyance, I know.

The Benefits of Criticism

Let’s talk benefits. Everyone likes benefits, right?

If you’re part of a fantastic writing community such as our very own Mythic Scribes, you’ll notice everyone sharing their own fresh-off-the-press lesson of the day. Such lessons, philosophies, concepts, practices are submitted to the wider audience and pulverized to their basic, fundamental truths. Some accept these ideas, some don’t. Regardless, ideas shift between peers. Should you also happen to pick up a few acquaintances from such awesome sites and create a writing group, those ideas will find their way to your story by way of criticism.

Peer review’s entire purpose is to expose every weakness in your story. Fresh sets of eyes will interpret your story from new angles. Your peers will reveal to you where the words fell off and your imagination picked up. If you have multiple partners and the same concern is highlighted, you can be more confident in the need to address the problem.

Don’t fret! You don’t need to do anything to your darling because of peer pressure. The number one rule of criticism club is that all criticism is trash unless it’s treasure. You are the only one who can determine whether another’s treasure is your trash, or if someone’s trash is your treasure. That can only be determined if you’re exposed to the ideas and you apply your critical mind to them.

Other benefits include grammar corrections, interest generated, dynamism of character(s), and pacing feedback. All this for the exorbitant rate of doing for others what they’re doing for you, aka free. All of these benefits will help your story, especially if you’re of the mind to climb Mount Trad Pub.

Your Best Foot Forward

If you’re treading the path of traditional publishing, you’ll want to put your best foot forward. Publishers are inundated with submissions. Screeners will often make a judgment on the viability of a manuscript from the first few pages. The story has to hook them in, the grammar has to be below notice, and the writing has to be solid. And that’s only to get past a screener.

Despite what may be said about publishers, not all evil corporations are bent on beating authors into submission. They have a finite resource, money, and can only endure so many failures before all that green dries up and they are left a barren wasteland. They have to make smart, commercially successful decisions. They have to be shrewd.

In a recent Reddit AMA Mike Braff, an editor for Del Rey, had this to say about works submitted to his company:

“Generally, when we acquire a new title, it’s already been workshopped by the author, their beta readers, and the agent. Most of them are in pretty good shape! That’s not to say that the author and I won’t work on it to make it even better, but if we’re buying something, it’s because we really dig it as it is.”

You have to help your cause by eliminating all the errors from your manuscript. Peer review is one step to doing so.

The only time a story should never generate opinion, other than your own, is when it is only read by you. In such a case, it’s not so much a story as it is a complex thought applied to a private medium. It’s like a diary of your imagination.

Let’s expose some wounds!

Further Discussion

  • What was the harshest, but beneficial, feedback you’ve received?
  • Do you like brutal, cold honesty or the compliment sandwich?
  • What is your technique in giving criticism?

Kassan Warrad

I'm a contributing author to the Iron Pen Anthology. Other projects include stories in the Call of Heroes universe and a yet-to-be-named super hero series. My dream is to have the Call of Heroes universe expand into an RPG, both pen-and-paper and video games.
Kassan Warrad

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Mary Gorden
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Mary Gorden

The first time I took some of my writing to my new writing group I thought it was in pretty good shape. They tore it to pieces. Fortunately by then I had enough experience to know trash from treasure. So I got useful feedback from the process. Earlier in my writing career it would have devestated me

Stephanie Vega
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Stephanie Vega

Constructive criticism is really the best way to fix issues with your writing. I have several people I let read my work just so they can point out plot holes. Like you mentioned – what’s in your head doesn’t always translate to paper.

A. Howitt
Member
A. Howitt

YES! Criticism is hard, to get and to give, sometimes. But for me, nothing else has helped me move forward as a writer. Those honest friends who will give you the straight truth are so valuable.

Ed Pierce
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Ed Pierce

As a writer, this is my biggest fear. Not that my feelings will get hurt by criticism, but the fact that I don’t handle criticism well and become rather sarcastic and verbally hurtful in return. Does anyone have any ideas on how to curb that and accept the criticism as constructive?

Ann
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Ann

As a self-publisher, I don’t have the same worries as those going the traditional route…..but I do make sure I get it out and get the opinion of others so I can tweak it or make whatever revisions I need to. And criticisms are just one persons’ opinion…..take it with a grain of salt. But don’t take it personally. As long as you’re doing what you love, no matter the vocation, there will always be those Negative Nancys……

Aderyn Wood
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Aderyn Wood

So true! Criticism, whether harsh or soft will help an author’s manuscript to become clearer, tighter, better. I’d also encourage writers to ensure they participate in critiquing. There’s lots of lessons to be learned about ones own writing when critiquing the writing of others.

Russ
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Russ

Excellent article. The advise is good even for people who are planning to self publish seriously. I was speaking to a very successful self published author recently and she hires a copy, line and developmental editor to get her work ready to publish. She also uses paid beta readers in the hope of getting better feedback and to keep the relationship professional. It is very difficult to be entirely objective in editing your own work and one can always use a little help in that regard.

The most successful writers I know “embrace criticism”, it makes them stronger.

Personally I am happy to take my criticism straight.

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