As a self-published author, I routinely join groups where other self-published authors help each other by reviewing one another’s work. In the past two weeks, I’ve have been in the unenviable position of being on both sides of criticism. It is not the first time.
The world is chock-full of books right now. The ease and affordability to self-publish has created a fertile environment where talented writers unable to market themselves to the big publishing houses can still get their work out to the world.
Self-publishing, however, has also unleashed a surging stream of inferior material on the world.
There are no rules to what can and cannot be self-published so people are producing substandard garbage to make a quick buck. It is this inferior material that gives self-publishing a bad name.
Now, I’m not tooting my own horn or saying my work is perfect or anything like it. I am saying, I invest a lot of time and study into writing my books. It takes me months, sometimes more than a year to produce a new book. I take it very serious.
When I purchase another persons book, I go in expecting that the author did the same thing. When I start reading it and it looks like a first draft or worse, it pisses me off. When I see glaring errors and things that anyone taking their time should have noticed, I owe it to the other authors who take the time and effort to do things right, to criticize the writing. Far too many of these self-published authors nowadays are just pumping out first drafts, and flooding the market. They get cool graphics and produce enticing book covers on Photoshop. And they post it for sale. Many of these works clogging up the stream are very simple and very short, almost articles. I’ve read books that people are selling that a high school English teacher would condemn, mark up and send back for revisions.
No one likes criticism. I don’t like it. But you have to have thick skin and a willingness to put in the time. When you put something out there for others to read, especially if you are selling it, some people aren’t going to like it, and some people are going to find problems with it. And that’s okay.
The real wisdom is learning how to weigh the criticism you receive.
Some people are just mean. They are out here condemning everything. They have no real points to make and probably didn’t even read the work.
What is authentic criticism that will educate you and make you a better writer?
What is petty and uninformed criticism?
If you buy one of my books, my novels, you are going to get what people call Epic Fantasy, or High Fantasy. It is dark. It is violent. It is sexual. It is filled with characters that are human and flawed and they are going to sometimes do things shocking and horrible. They are also going to do things wonderful and noble. The language is florid and baroque. It is historical and contains elements of history. When I describe armor, I’m not going to just say he is wearing armor. If I’m describing a blacksmith, than I researched blacksmithing and there will be elements of blacksmithing in the text. You will come across names, places and items with strange monikers. This is all part of the challenge of reading Epic Fantasy. It is a complex story with many characters and many points of view. It’s not short or simple.
When I receive feedback and reviews, I have to bear in mind what it is I am trying to accomplish first and foremost with my writing.
If someone says it is too long, too complex, and too ornate, I know it is a preference of the reader. Their criticism is telling me to change the very nature of what it is I was trying to accomplish. I’m not going to do that.
If, however, a critic comes back to me saying they had trouble understanding some of the changes in points of view, in some of the flashbacks; if they point out traits of certain characters that seem to change too variably, now I can take that criticism and do something with it.
I recently had a reader email me that they knew what they were getting into with one of my books but hard trouble with how dark it got at one point. I wasn’t offended by that at all. I know some readers are going to have trouble with the darker parts of the tale. I, however, still have to write that.
I had another author I read that had a wonderful story, dark and twisted at times, but it didn’t feel finished to me. It felt like it was still a work in progress. There were abrupt point of view changes. The reader in two or three pages was carried here and there without really being led there effectively.
Instead of reviewing it online, I emailed the author to point out exactly what it was I saw. I praised the story itself, how it was a complex and interesting story. I also said it needed more work, more research and editing.
We owe it to ourselves and the writing community to learn from our mistakes and put the best product we can out there.
Not everyone will enjoy our genre but there are certain rules we can follow to make those who enjoy our genres enjoy our work.
We have to run right over the doubts and naysayers. We have to sprint towards our goals and accept constructive criticism as we go. There is always something new we can learn, ways to improve.
We may always be self-published authors but we can choose to do it for something more than a quick, cheap sale.
“THE TRUE WORK OF ART IS BUT A SHADOW OF THE DIVINE PERFECTION.”