Throughout my life, I’ve worked primarily within industries in which my work is put on public display. As a columnist, a painter, a designer, a web develop, a blogger, and an author, everything I’ve done is out in the world with my name on it. Like a street-level billboard with a face on it attracts Sharpie-drawn Hitler mustaches, my work, by its nature, has always attracted critique.
This is both boon and bane. It’s a good thing, sometimes, because the right critique at the right time can lead to improvement. Something I wasn’t seeing because I was too close to the work being done, or something I never would have thought of because it derived from a perspective different from my own.
On the other hand, day-ruining feedback is common, and you either have to develop thick skin to deal with it, embrace the hurt and try to channel it into something useful, or avoid all feedback, hoping there isn’t any glimmer of helpfulness in your book reviews or online commentary that will go unnoticed, lost in a sea of mean-spiritedness and disdain.
I’ve opted for the thick-skin route. That doesn’t mean the angry, upset, sometimes troll-ish comments don’t hurt, but it does mean they’re less likely to ruin my day.
The best advice I can offer in dealing with negative critique, other than acknowledging that such is the nature of some businesses, is to stop and ask yourself a simple question any time you’re given a negative review:
Who is this for?
In some cases, the person criticizing is doing so for themselves. They want to appear superior or smart, or to elevate themselves by putting you down. They want to be a person capable of dishing out criticism. If this is the case, recognize that it’s human nature to want to do so, and that it’s how some people (perhaps many people) cope with difficulties in their own lives. It may be the only time they get to feel big and strong. Let them have that. The critique isn’t for you.
Some criticisms, though, are very clearly meant to help in some way. Perhaps by pointing out something that could use improvement, or telling potential readers of your book what was done well and what was done not-so-well. They may say it nicely, they may be terse or cold about it, but if the critique contains useful information rather than just contemptuous opinion, it’s probably meant for you and worth your time to acknowledge and consider. A negative review of this flavor is only negative if you take nothing away from it; the right course of action is to filter the useful stuff and silently thank the kind soul who both read your work and took the time to provide useful feedback. It’s a gift, even if it may not seem like one instinctually.
This is one of the better ways I’ve come up with to stave off the downer-feeling some critiques inspire, without filtering out the potential useful bits that are included in otherwise ‘bad’ reviews of my work.
Consider how the same might apply to your own work, and analyze feedback critically, not emotionally.
I wanted to write this piece at a time when I was getting a lot of excellent reviews, so that it wouldn’t seem like it was in response to anything in particular. I wanted it to serve as a reminder (to myself, as much as anyone) that even when you’re getting a lot of love (on Amazon, in the newspaper, online, or wherever else your work might be judged) that the next negative review is just around the corner, and it’s best to be ready to take what you can from it, if there is indeed anything to take.
If you’re looking to join in on the fun (I’m releasing a new book in the series each week until I leave Iceland on March 18), Trialogue is the first book in the series, and is where you’ll want to start (and all the books in the series are the price of a cup of coffee).