Everyone can benefit from a critique, but not everyone should get one

I find myself shaking my head sometimes at the way people act when their work is critiqued or reviewed.

Recently I was in attendance at an event where an author spoke. She started by laughing about receiving a harsh review that day. Then she asked the audience if anyone read her book.  When one girl raised her hand, the author said (I’m making this up) “Do you think there was too much tomato soup in that pot?” The girl in the audience said: “Well, I do see how someone could think there was too much tomato soup in the pot”.

What went immediately through my mind was that maybe there WAS too much soup in the pot, and the author didn’t realize it.

The funny thing was, the author then started to argue why she didn’t think there was too much soup in the pot.

Think GirlIt made me think:

If two people thought the same thing, the issue is probably there.

As an author, we need to understand that what we type onto the page may not be perceived as we expect from  a reader’s point of view. We need to accept this, and move on.

Thankfully, the speaker caught that she was defending herself, laughed, and continued her talk.

This brings me to critiques.

If you cannot handle a critique, what are you going to do when you get out into the “real world” and people slam you on the internet because your main character’s name is Fred and they hate the name Fred? Think about that.

Some people react oddly when they get a critique.  For me, personally, If I get a crit that says “Wow, this was wonderful. I really enjoyed it in every way shape and form. You are brilliant!” I’m not really all that happy – Now, if you want to say that in a review, I’d love you for it 🙂

But in a critique?



This is a person who will never crit my stuff again.

Because I am smart enough to know I’m not perfect. Nope. Far from it.

But some people out there want to be coddled. They want their egos stroked. People like this SHOULD NOT be asking for critiques. A critique is not a forum for your self-esteem, although it can be a place where you can BUILD your esteem.

If you are not ready for feedback that you may not like, then you need to find a way to GET READY.

PKO_0013466 sadBecause learning that the pivotal scene you wrote— the one that makes you cry and changes your life every time you read it… (yeah, you know that scene. Everyone has one)

Anyway… learning that your scene DIDN’T provoke the emotional response you wanted is going to hurt. But what you need to train yourself to do is let that pain sink in for all of five seconds, get over it, and then re-read the comments and look for useful information to better your writing.

PKO_0004816Believe me, guys – for those of you who are not published yet – it is FAR BETTER for a critique partner to tell you that something does not work, and give you ideas on how to make it work, then to get slammed in an amazon review later.

So where are you on this? If you have not been critiqued or reviewed, are you preparing yourself, or are you looking for a testimony to your brilliance?

If you’ve been receiving critiques for some time, how do you react when one, two, or three people say something you disagree with?


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33 responses to “Everyone can benefit from a critique, but not everyone should get one

  1. I dunno, I seem to remember some critiques that made me tear up entire chapters and rewrite them from scratch. Even my ending. Glad to see you’re doing so well =D

  2. You are spot on. Listen first. Decide later. Get the ego out of the way and make things better. Defending and whitewashing are detrimental to the process.

  3. I think all feedback should be taken seriously. That said it is your name on the work, so it should reflect what you want it to. Take it seriously, consider it and then decide if you want/need to make a change.

    That’s all. 🙂

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

  4. You make a really good point here. I published my debut novel last year. It’s had some good reviews and some not so good reviews. But like you say, as authors we have to learn to take it on the chin and move on. I actually like reading reviews and opinions of my work – even if it’s not positive, and sometimes it hurts, I want to know what people think and how I can improve my writing style.

  5. Gwen Stephens

    I think the longer a person writes, the easier it is to swallow criticism and see one’s work objectively. I always read critiques immediately, but I don’t act on them until I’ve had time to digest the comments. I need space and distance to get a more objective look at the work and what’s wrong with it. I agree with you though — “nice” critiques, while lovely to hear, are not helpful.

  6. Not only do I like brutal honesty from my critique partners, I specifically ask for it. I don’t do subtlety. If something doesn’t work, I need to know before it gets to the editors/readers. The harsher the criticisms, good or bad, the better my work is going to be in the end. If an author is unable to take criticism without going off the rails emotionally, the world of writing isn’t going to treat them kindly. Very good advice in this post.

  7. I took critiques too personally when writing my first book. With my second novel, I was like you. If a readers said, “I love it. I can’t think of anything I’d change”, I found that less helpful than one who gave me lots of comments and suggestions. Yes, the former is more pleasant to hear, but if we want to get the manuscript ready, the latter is what we need.

  8. Great advice! In fact, you were the one who gave me that advice when I got my first critique. It stings, but as I got more critiques, I learned how much better it made my writing. Honestly, they’re the best thing for my writing.

  9. I think I handle critiques pretty good. I’m all too aware of my newness to writing and the more feedback I get, even if it hurts, the better I’ll get.
    What does rattle my chain, however, is when people critique and start making personal attacks and even getting angry. Had this happen last week in writers group when a guy got all fired up and said he wished I wouldn’t even bring my stuff in because my characters weren’t interesting. He even sounded angry, which left me baffled. Why would you get angry at reading my stuff? It’s hardly the worst stuff that gets passed around.
    Another type of crit that irritates me is the pompus guy who starts making suggestions that are totally out of line with the reality of the characters.
    Like saying group A of characters should be afraid of character B who’s “godzilla.” But group A doesn’t know that, so they’d have no reason to be afraid. Or making suggestions about what could happen, that I actually just showed happening, and they’d have heard if they weren’t so busy drawing doodles on my manuscript 😦

  10. With you all the way Jennifer. I’m on youwriteon, and when one person tells me that doesn’t read right, I might not agree. But when three people say the same thing, then I know it must be jarring for the reader. I also belong to a fab group. http://www.writecritical.weebly.com they don’t mince their words, and I’m glad about that. Only by having honest feedback, can we become better writers. Great post.

  11. A great (and honest) critique group is worth their weight in gold. I’m with you. I can go to my family to get those sweet perky critiques. i go to my peeps to see what I need to improve.

  12. I get quite twitchy when I only receive good comments from critiques. And, considering at any one time, when I read at my critique group, there’s a good 11 or so people there giving me comments, there’s a lot of ‘positives’ on those occasions. One side of me wants to glow and preen, the other side of me panics that maybe it’s rubbish.
    HOWEVER… I know my group. I’ve been with them for three years now. They aren’t going to lie to me. Despite my twitchiness, if all of them tell me a scene is ‘a go-er’ (one of our favourite phrases) then I believe them. Similarly, if one, two or all tell me that something doesn’t work (which happens far more often) then I take that on the nose and deal with it.

    My group is rammed with talented authors.I trust them. And we support each other so I know they have the story in mind when they tell me character A sounds just like character B, or would character C really stuff this carrot up their nose to spite character D, despite their allergy (yes, that one’s made up).

    I sent a novella the other day and one of them told me that the piece would work far better told in the present tense. That terrifies me, because I’ve already written the damn thing and she, as a beta reader at that stage, was supposed to be doing the ‘I’m a reader, what do I think’ check. She’s the only person to give me that particular piece of feedback, but I trust her. So I’m going to try it. I’m going to write the first chapter in first person and see how it feels. After that I can decide if that’s a suggestion I can leave on the shelf, or if it’s one I’m going to play with.

    Hmm… giant comment. I’m gonna go now. *skulks away*

    • Ha! But a good comment. I know someone who is also changing their novel to first person. I am interested to know what YOU think when you finish that first chapter. Interesting stuff.

      • Well… having gone back to the chapter and done it over, I can see what she means. The immediacy of present tense is really quite gripping to read, but none of the other books of my target publisher are written that way. It seems a bit risky. 😦

        So I’m keeping the tale as it is for now and, after their response, I’ll see what comes next.

  13. I like receiving the bad with the good. Show me where I did well so I can see where I fell short in the stuff that’s not all that great. I’ve had horrible beta reads that were so nasty and hurtful and I learned nothing except how to toughen my skin (which is a good thing in itself). Then I’ve had others on the opposite extreme which did great for my ego, but lousy for bettering my writing. I try to balance the good with the bad when I beta read/critique, except with certain people because I know they want me to bash the heck out of their stuff. I also want bashing from certain beta readers I respect because I know where they’re coming from. Good beta readers/critiquers are priceless. I cherish and guard the few trusted ones I have with my life.

  14. A lot depends upon the reason for the critique, and the way in which it’s given. One can absolutely learn and grow from a constructive, well-delivered critique, but I always wonder about people who just bash away, without saying anything constructive or meaningful. How is a writer, or a potential reader, supposed to get anything out of a 1-star review given because someone hates that genre or isn’t the target audience? It seems such critiquers would do better to spend their time reviewing things they actually understand or want to read, or at least give more articulate reasons for their dislike. For example, as a historical writer, I’d benefit more from critiques by other historical readers and writers than one from someone who reads or writes mostly fantasy and isn’t very familiar with my genre or its conventions.

    • Yes, a critique absolutely needs to be constructive. Just saying it stinks does not help an author. But sometimes saying a passage does not work, but they don’t know why is helpful as well to point out a potential problem. I like to mix up my betas. I have one who only reads contemporary and she does not “get” my genre – so some things she says I consider but sometimes I gloss over. However, she is great at pointing out where emotion is lacking. I love her for that. Even people outside your genre can be incredibly helpful.

  15. Dani-Lyn Alexander

    Great post, Jennifer! And very true. I have one beta reader who always says my story was great. I love hearing that, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not helpful. It’s much more helpful to hear a, b, and c is not really working, maybe you can do this to fix it.

  16. You are so right, Jennifer. I welcome any suggestions that will help me tell a better story, and it’s important to know what readers are seeing, which might be different from what I want them to see.