Critiques Can Be Your Friends

If you want your work published, you must learn to ask for and accept critiques. Granted, it’s not always easy. Like anxious parents, most writers feel a need to protect their “baby” when they send it out into the world. But critiques are a necessary part of the publishing process, and responding appropriately to readers’ comments helps strengthen your work. The trick is keeping those critiques constructive.

It’s thrilling to hear someone say, “I liked your story,” “This was really interesting” or “You’re a wonderful writer.” But such critiques aren’t constructive; they’re worthless, other than giving your ego a boost. You need more specific feedback to help you improve your work. Comments like, “I loved the surprise ending,” “The main character reminds me of my Aunt Betty” or “I felt like I was in the room” are somewhat better. But nothing helps as much as a specific “negative” critique.

Say what! A negative critique about your work! Yes.

When you receive negative critiques, ask the readers to be as specific as possible. Find out what they didn’t like or didn’t understand — without getting defensive or trying to explain it away. Set your emotions aside, and just listen and make notes. Again, not easy, but well worth learning how to do. If one reader didn’t like or didn’t understand something in your story, chances are that reader’s not alone. Aim to write in a way that none of your readers can misread your meaning. If it helps ease the pain, set your work aside for a while and let your subconscious mull over the comments.

I’m not saying you should make every change your readers suggest. Sometimes those changes will conflict. Everyone has different views. Weigh all comments as mere suggestions. If they ring true, you’ll feel it in your gut (once you no longer feel like you’ve been punched there). If they don’t ring true, just ignore them. Some comments will have more to do with the reader than with your work. Always consider the source.

Don’t rely on friends and family for critiques. Share your work with other writers, especially published ones. Join a writers group either online or off, or work with a writing partner. Stress that you’re asking for specific critiques, whether positive or negative. Then bring ‘em on!

Lana Castle

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One thought on “Critiques Can Be Your Friends

  1. 'Cilla

    I attended a book signing once with a very well known author. Someone asked “I’ve written and self published several books. All of my family, friends and church members LOVE them. What can I do to get published by a well known publishing house”.

    The author took a deep breath and replied “Just because all of your family, friends and church members love your books, it doesn’t mean its a great book. You have to have other people that have written or are published read your material and give you honest feed back because your family and friends love you and they will love anything you write”. She continued and said “As an author, you have to know when to accept a critique that is helpful and one that can be harmful not just to your book but to your reputation”.

    Needless to say the woman was offended and left. I understood exactly what she was saying and the conversation has remained with me.

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