You’ve finished your novel. Maybe it’s taken months of work, possibly years. You’ve gotten up early, gone to bed late, hidden in the coffee shop on Saturdays, and now you’ve finally written those two coveted words – the end.
If this was a cathartic personal journey for you, and you’re going to tuck the manuscript into a drawer never to be seen again, that’s a perfectly legitimate thing to do. But, if you’ve written something you want to share with readers, prepare yourself. You will receive criticism. Some of it will be constructive. Some of it you’ll need. And some of it will be downright nasty. What’s a writer to do?
Understand where you are in the process.
If you’ve just finished a first draft, you’ll need constructive criticism. This can come from trusted beta readers, the collective feedback of an innovative platform like Inkitt, a critique partner, or a professional developmental editor. Here are a couple of links to articles on successfully working with beta readers and making it through the editorial process: Get the Most from Beta Readers and Critique Partners, Tackling Developmental Edits – A Five Part Strategy. No one gets away without editing. Your book will be better because of it.
Prepare for more criticism.
Once you’ve done all you can to get your manuscript polished and you’ve sent it out into the world, remember not everyone will like it. That’s okay. We don’t like every book we read, and it isn’t because they’re bad books. Everyone has preferences. Hopefully, once your manuscript is a book, and people are reading it, you’ll receive more positive feedback than negative. But, bottom line, you will still get negative feedback and reviews. How do you process the information?
Pay attention to common critiques.
If you hear a similar thread in the comments or reviews, pay attention for your next book. With my first novel, enough readers complained that everything worked out too easily for the characters for me to take notice. I recognized the truth in this. I’m uncomfortable making my characters too uncomfortable. In my next novel, I focused on creating more tension for them, and I backed them into some really difficult corners. That book had more emotional depth, a more interesting plot, and got better reviews overall. At the end of the day, I hope every subsequent book I write is better than the last.
Ignore the nasty.
Or better yet, find a way to laugh about it. One reader said that my first book was as boring as a bowl of tepid oatmeal. My story may be a lot of things, but it’s a multiple award-winning space opera with battles, spaceships, and evil villains. It’s not boring. I know this. Still, I fixated on that comment for a while, alternating between anger and self-doubt. Now, I joke that I’m going to have t-shirts printed with my worst reviews. Have some perspective. A couple of nasty comments aren’t going to make or break your writing career.
We’re writers. Likely, we have more than one story in our heads. Don’t be deterred by criticism. Learn from the worthy, ignore the irrelevant, and keep going.
Our book is precious to us. We’ve labored over it, fallen in love with our characters, struggled through crippling self-doubt, pushed through writer’s block, spent countless hours trying to find the perfect way to describe a sunset. We want people to love this book, and many will. Enjoy the knowledge that you’ve touched others with your story. Somebody out there can’t wait for your next book! Those who don’t like it aren’t your audience, and that’s okay.
As writers, we must learn to take constructive criticism, ignore the nasty, work hard to improve our craft, and continue to do this thing we love.