Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How not to respond to criticism

Let’s say you’ve written a novella and are offering it as a free read on your website, along with a comment form. Someone – not me, by the way – comments that the novella reads like an unedited first draft, and points out an especially egregious typo. What is a professional and gracious response to this?

___ Thank you. I’ll be sure to correct the typo.

___ Well, you can’t please everyone.

___ That’s funny. Another person who commented on that typo offered a different way to spell that word.

___ My story has received five-star ratings twelve times. Still, negative comments are always hurtful when they come from other authors.

___ This is a comment I recently received : “i cant waitu ntil i read the next one!!” So you see, criticism from competing authors doesn’t mean as much as praise from avid readers.

___ I’m not trying to sell these stories unless a publisher asks me for them. They are a pleasure to write. And they’re free!

The writer showed me the original feedback, which was critical but polite and honest, since the novella really does need work. Her response included the last five points in my checklist – the praise from the avid reader is a direct quote.

I don’t know if the critiquer will ever read this writer’s work again, but I’m certain I won’t. The passive-aggressive reaction may be less dramatic than the Hoffman/Rice-type meltdown, but they're both unacceptable.


A. Shelton said...

I'd rather have the criticism, especially if my avid readers can't type a sentence properly. I mean, what kind of gratification can I get from the comment by someone who writes like a wanker? As I see it, if someone's too lazy to type correctly, they're also not as discerning a reader as I hope to have.

Because of my own pickiness, I prefer to share my writing with other writers. I can trust them.

And, really, if you're (not you, Marian) not mature enough to respond with a simple thank you and leave it at that, what are you doing posting your work online anyway? At the very least, you should be polite enough to post your desire for only favorable responses at the beginning of the story, so we writers who are doing you a favor by taking time away from our day and our writing will know better than to critique your work.

Oh, and for what it's worth, to this unknown author who didn't like the critique, since you've published your work online, you shouldn't expect any pay-publishers to come after it. You've already given away the rights they'd want to buy.


Sorry, Marian, but this is a subject that really gets under my skin.

Maria Zannini said...

I'm always leery of freebie stories unless they're impeccably written. Posting freebie short stories and novellas make for good promo material for oft-published authors, but not for new or unpublished authors. Name recognition is critical for gaining new readers, something new authors don’t have.

Posting well written, error-free copy, whether it’s a blog post or a free story, is a reflection of the writer and his respect for his readers. Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy when it comes to editing. That’s why we have crit partners and the passage of time to reread and reassess what we’ve written.

If the author is posting just to get feedback on his skill, (which I trust is not the case in this instance) it demonstrates a lack of confidence in his work, making him look even less accomplished to his peers and potential fans.

As to your question, if comments were fed through a form, I’m not sure that a response is necessary, unless it was a blanket ‘thank you for taking the time’ message.

Kami said...

I would be so embarrassed if I posted something that was supposed to serve as an example of my writing, and there was a typo. I have done that, in fact. The proper response is to be gracious, and possibly apologetic, and then to immediately fix the typo!

I'd also be worried that any writing I posted might not be my best if it hadn't gone through a critique or editorial process, which I'm kind of assuming here.

I think it might be a wise idea to post free material sometimes. As you mentioned, established authors may want to do that on occasion, for fun and an offering of goodwill with their faithful readers. But as a newly-published-just-once-writer, I can't see a case for it. Either I might be able to sell that writing somewhere, or it's not good enough to sell, in which case why am I posting it in the first place?

Marian said...

Hi A. Shelton,

Feel free to rant away. :) I agree with everything you said, plus you brought up a point that I'd overlooked - that this writer's used up the rights of first publication by putting the work up on the web.

I'd let her know that if I was still in touch with her, but after I said that I was grateful to anyone who took the time to critique my work, she didn't email me back.

Marian said...

Hi Maria,

The writer in question had two or three books put out by a vanity press and was trying to boost sales by offering the novella as a free read. I don't think it worked, though.

I commented through the form on the page, which was how we got into a bit of a dialogue.

Marian said...

Hey Kami,

I don't even like it when I make typos on message board posts, let alone in manuscripts. :)

And I just can't imagine getting upset over a typo. It's a mistake. We all make mistakes. Just correct it and move on. I would much rather do that than lose a potential reader (and potential buyer of my book).