Dealing With Criticism & Negative Reviews
Sure, criticism and negative reviews aren't fun to get. But negativity isn't necessarily bad. Negative reviews and comments, even though they might bruise our egos in the short-term, can actually help us become much better creators in the long run. Plus, there are a few things to keep in mind that can help you shake off the bad feelings that come with negative reviews a lot more easily. So let's go!
Table of Contents
- First, cultivate a healthy creator mindset.
- Know how to get the most out of your criticism & negative reviews (and those who leave them).
- Beware of ego-strokers!
- In summary!
First, cultivate a healthy creator mindset.
Dealing with negative reviews and criticism is a lot easier if you've already put yourself into a healthy mindset beforehand. In order to do that, you should remember the following:
It's okay to make mistakes or create something that isn't all that great. Nobody is perfect, and anyone who says otherwise is delusional or lying. Everyone, even world-famous creators, makes mistakes or creates a mediocre product now and then. You will, too - and that's okay. It's just part of the game. What's important is that you keep on trying, and try to do better where you failed before.
You are not your creation. It can be easy to take negative reviews of what we create personally, particularly if we've poured a lot of effort into them. However, those who leave negative reviews of your work typically don't care that much one way or the other about you as a person - it's just the story they're displeased with. You are largely a non-issue in their minds. Consider that when people start talking about the worst fanfictions they can think of, what they usually talk about is how bad the plots and characters are. Rarely do they actually mention the authors - unless the authors have been spectacularly ornery, inappropriate, or haughty.
Negative reviews can be learning opportunities. Some reviews are just mindless vitriol, but some of them contain things that you should really pay attention to because they bring light to problems you really should be trying to fix.
Know how to get the most out of your criticism & negative reviews (and those who leave them).
Criticism and negative reviews come in varying degrees of usefulness. Some people will spell out exactly what they found displeasing about your work and why they found it thus. Some people leave uselessly vague responses like "that was really bad" or "your character is a Mary Sue." And then there are reviews that are downright mean.
When it comes to dealing with vague or mean feedback, it's important to keep things in perspective. First, most people are very bad at critically analyzing their thoughts and feelings to figure out why they didn't like something, and so end up leaving the aforementioned uselessly vague comments. Readers are also imperfect human beings, and as such, they often let their emotions get the better of them when they feel particularly disappointed in a story - thus the mean reviews. While you might be tempted to respond in kind or to go on the defensive (EG, "My character is not a Mary Sue because (reasons)!" or "Ugh, go take your negativity somewhere else!"), this won't do you any good. It's not going to convince the reviewer of anything, nor will it help you improve your skills.
If any readers are truly nasty (EG, leave personal insults and/or threaten you), feel free to ignore them and/or report them to the site administration as appropriate. Otherwise, try to engage your readers: ask them to try to explain what happened (or didn't happen) that made something feel off, and why. (You might give your reader a link to Basic Advice For Giving Useful Feedback To Creators, which has some tips to help people sort out and express why they feel salty over a story in a comprehensive and useful manner.)
If they elaborate and tell you what they didn't like, you can ask yourself whether what they pointed out are actually problems for the type of story you're trying to write. If someone says your character seems like a Mary Sue for ending up in a relationship with a canon character, and the very point of your story was to write a romance between them, then the criticism doesn't apply and you don't need to change anything. However, if the reader says that your character seems like a Mary Sue because the relationship feels too contrived for one reason or another, you may want to make some changes.
Likewise, if you're trying to write a lighthearted comedy about vampires and werewolves, tag it as "comedy" rather than "horror," and someone comes along and complains that they're not ripping everyone limb from limb like "real" vampires and werewolves would do, you can ignore it. But if a reviewer complains that the humor feels too contrived or that the protagonists seem too mean-spirited for the jokes to really be funny, you might want to change something.
Mainly, it all boils down to two factors:
- Is the review left by the kind of person you're trying to appeal to? If you're writing lighthearted comedy, you shouldn't be looking to appease the hardcore horror fans. If you're trying to write a story that focuses on solving mysteries, then you shouldn't worry too much about appeasing people who want something focused on romance. And so on and so forth. You can't please everyone, and if you try, you'll end up pleasing no one.
- Is your story doing what you want it to do? Is it making most of your readers (at least, the ones in your target audience) feel what you wanted them to feel? Is it making them want to find out more about what's going on? Do they care about what happens to the characters? Or are the people you're trying to reach with your story left mostly bored and/or annoyed?
- Remember that everyone makes mistakes, even the best and brightest. It's okay to make mistakes. And you are not your work, so criticism against your work is not criticism against you as a person.
- If people leave you vague and unhelpful feedback, try to engage them and see if you can get them to be more specific on why they didn't like something. Send them Basic Advice For Giving Useful Feedback To Creators and Tips To Help People Improve Their Creative Work
for guidelines if they have trouble.
- Whether or not they get back to you, you can also do some troubleshooting yourself. "Is This A Good Idea For My Story/Setting/Character?" - How To Answer This For Yourself! can help you find story problems, and the Mary Sue test can help you find character problems.
- Although it might be tempting to filter out people who leave you negative feedback and surround yourself with people who say only nice things, this will ultimately make you a worse creator because you won't know where you're going wrong.
If the reader can't or won't elaborate, let it drop. This person is of no further use to you, and your time will be better spent on more constructive activities such as continuing your story or seeking advice from more helpful sources.
Whether or not the reader is of any help, there are also a few quick self-checks you can make. "Is This A Good Idea For My Story/Setting/Character?" - How To Answer This For Yourself! can help you troubleshoot your story and fix it. If one of your characters is a source of contention, you can try the Mary Sue test to see if there might be something you overlooked that might have put the reader off. From this point, ask yourself if there might be anything that your character checked on the test that isn't strictly necessary, or might be a little over-the-top. If you feel that what you have for your character is necessary, check out So You Want To Have A Powerful Or Talented Character Who Probably Won't Be Perceived As A Mary Sue? for some tips to make your character come off as less Sue-ish.
Beware of ego-strokers!
If you become particularly popular, you'll likely end up with a certain group of fans who are so enamored of you that it won't matter what you write or do; they'll always tell you that your work is perfect and wonderful and that you're the absolute best - and they believe it wholeheartedly, too.
While the praise might feel good and boost your confidence, these people will become your undoing if you listen to them too much. You'll end up becoming overconfident in your abilities, and so you won't be as critical of your work or as willing to consider the possibility that you made a mistake. As a result, problems that you would have caught and fixed back when you were open to the possibility that you may have erred will go unchecked, and the quality of your work will suffer for it. What can end up happening from here is you'll end up surrounded by a relatively small amount of toadies and sycophants who will just keep on stroking your ego while everyone else gets fed up with you and leaves.
Basically, if it reaches the point where you believe that the people who leave you nice feedback and write only glowing reviews of your work are the ones who really know what's what and that those who say otherwise are just ignorant or mean-spirited, you're heading for this kind of disaster. Check it early and nip it in the bud if you don't want to end up with a reputation as a first-class brat of a creator.
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