Responding to Criticism

When someone tells me she’s not sure she wants me to read her manuscript, I know she’s not ready for publication. Such sentiment shows a lack of confidence and a fear of both rejection and criticism. Even though readers usually treat writers with respect, a critical word can puncture the heart.

Imagine the wounds delivered on Internet sites such as Amazon from readers who lack that respect. A major complaint I hear from distraught authors is that people download free Christian novels and then post hostile reviews. A cursory bit of research reveals some say they felt duped because they didn’t realize they were downloading a Christian novel. It is likely they just grabbed it because it was free and did not look at other reviews or the book’s description. These readers aren’t victims of duplicity, they were, at the very least, lazy and then blamed others when the book wasn’t to their taste. Unfortunately the temptation is for the author to strike back with a serrated reply.

My advice it so take a deep breath and think about how to respond to ridicule.  A recent article,  “The E-book that Launched a Thousand Flame Wars by Drew Grant, tells the story of an author who self-published her book without the benefit of an editor, resulting in many errors. (This is another reason to seek traditional publishers, as our own Steve Laube has eloquently expressed on this blog.)

The primary point of Grant’s article is that if the author had not responded with such vitriol to a tame, if unflattering, review, she wouldn’t have attracted more bile. Instead, her petulance caused her ratings to descend faster than a barrel over Niagara Falls.

In his letter to the Galatians (5:22-23), St. Paul writes:  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Summoning the discipline not to defend yourself against criticism may mean praying for an extra helping of several fruits.

When faced with disapproval, consider what is being said. Are the reviewers speaking about you personally? Are they critiquing an idea or philosophy in the story? Are they commenting on the craft? Are they making a religious or political statement in contrast to your own? Or can something be learned from the criticism?

Examine your heart as you ponder what has been said. And be sure to read the many compliments your work is certain to receive as well. An open mind and a gentle spirit will only increase your knowledge and worth.







16 Responses to Responding to Criticism

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    Pegg Thomas August 11, 2011 at 5:16 am #

    Good thoughts on a touchy topic. 🙂

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    Susie Finkbeiner August 11, 2011 at 5:40 am #

    Great post!

    One thing that helps me deal with criticism is my writing group. I know that they are giving me their thoughts in order to make me better. That won’t always be the case, unfortunately. But, if I know the difference between loving criticism and hateful, I’ll know which I need to focus on.

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    Gwyn K. Weyant August 11, 2011 at 5:48 am #

    Thank you for a wonderful insightful article. You are so right I am a new novelist. I appreciate anytime that someone will take the time and read my work. I usually get rejected with very little or no crtique as to why. So good bad or indifferent I find the response beneficial. I may not agree but I realize the person who sends the response usually knows a lot more than I do.

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    V.V. Denman August 11, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    “When faced with disapproval, consider what is being said.”

    I never thought about it that way. The critiques that hurt the most are not those that judge my writing craft. It’s the ones that go deeper, judging my ideas, my religious beliefs, even me.

    But unless I drastically change my writing style, I’ll always evoke that reaction in a few readers. Should I take it as a compliment that I’ve stirred them enough to care? Or is that a bit sadistic?

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    Peter DeHaan August 11, 2011 at 7:14 am #

    I read many more movie reviews than book reviews. And I see the same thing there, where people sharply malign a movie, because they 1) weren’t aware what is was about, 2) disagreed with the writer’s perspective, 3) disliked the genre, 4) were offended, 5) didn’t like the subject, and so forth. Some even trash a movie they admitted to not watching or only watched for a few minutes.

    Although words can and do hurt, we need to consider the source, discounting mean spirited criticism.

    When I write a review, I endeavor to be positive whenever possible and gentle when speaking uncomfortable truth.

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      Tamela Hancock Murray August 11, 2011 at 7:25 am #

      V.V., I don’t think it’s sadistic to be glad someone cares enough to criticize your work. That means you touched the person on an emotional level. Of course, we all wish for praise, but constructive criticism does give us a chance to hear opposing viewpoints that we otherwise might not learn.

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    Diana Lesire Brandmeyer August 11, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    That was the hardest part of learning to write for me. The judgement from non-Christians or Christians who don’t have the same desire to write for the Christian market. Comments like: This is a great book if you’d make your characters *drink, *smoke or *crawl under the covers you’d make so much more money. I don’t want that, but it still stings to hear that those things would add more value to my work.

    A review I received last week has me confused. It was 3 star on Amazon. The book was great (according to poster) but the formatting was not–so they gave it a 3. As a writer I have no control of that.

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      Tamela Hancock Murray August 11, 2011 at 7:29 am #

      Peter, I like your spirit of gentleness. I hope we can all follow your example. I have also found the sandwich method to be effective. That is, praise, then the criticism, then more praise.

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    Melissa K. Norris August 11, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    This is how we should live in every aspect of our life, Tamela. A good reminder to always show the true spirit of Jesus, especially when we don’t feel that way.

    Long time lurker, firs time commenting. Thanks for this mini-faith lesson.

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    Rebecca Barlow Jordan August 11, 2011 at 8:19 am #


    This subject reminds me of a familiar saying that a wise counselor once told me: “If someone tells you, you have a tail, think about it. If two people tell you, you have a tail, think about it a little more. But if three people tell you, you have a tail, go in the closet and take a look! While I’ve been a non-fiction writer for over three decades and not a novelist (yet), I agree with the gentle approach to responding to personal criticism, particularly. There are a few comments and criticisms that don’t deserve a response (even Jesus didn’t always respond–and I don’t think He ever defended Himself. He didn’t have to. He knew who He was and what His mission was). However, in our humanness, we don’t always respond the right way–and we are not perfect! I always thank the person who offers the criticism and usually add that it’s definitely something to think about. And when I’ve gone in the closet to discover they are right, I thank them generously for being willing to give me their honest critique! :-)Thick but gentle skin is a prerequisite for writers!

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    Marji Laine August 11, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    “Amazon reviews” has become a mantra among my critique buds. We would much rather have a roomful of friends tear our stories apart because they care about us putting out the best we can, than have cruel rips out there for the public to view. Harsh reviews will likely still be there, unfortunately. Thanks for the suggestions on climbing past them with grace.

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    Candy Arrington August 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    Good advice. James 1:19 came to mind. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

    Slow to speak is the hardest for me.

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    Kariss Lynch August 11, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    Wow, I needed to hear this today. Thank you! I just completed my first novel and am seeking representation. In working to build a larger social networking presence, I have already faced criticism for the Christian content in my writing and for my stance in general. Responding in a gracious manner is a test in trusting the Lord. Biting our tongues is difficult for those of us who are communicators. I am excited to look at criticism/rejection as a chance to trust the Lord in a greater fashion.

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    Lenore Buth August 11, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    Thanks for the way you focused this post. You’re actually talking about a way to live. Here’s another great verse that spoke to me years ago–and still does. From the New International Version, Psalm 141:3:

    “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

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    Patti Jo Moore August 16, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Excellent article, Tamela. Thank you! 🙂

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    TC Avey September 1, 2011 at 6:12 am #

    Good advice, especially since I am new to the writing/publishing arena. So far I have had little feedback (outside of family/friends) on my writing. I look forward to all critiques as I know I can learn something from each.

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