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 like 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 is to take a deep breath and think about how to respond to ridicule. A few years ago, an author self-published a book without the benefit of an editor, resulting in many errors. When someone criticized the book, the author reacted defensively; and the ensuing “flame war” escalated quickly.
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 wrote: “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 you learn something 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.
[An earlier version of this post ran in August 2011.]