This blog post is going to be about constructive criticism, as a person who is bafflingly anonymous has accused me of not being receptive to it. I think that this person doesn’t actually understand what it is, so, the blog post. Hope you find this helpful, anonymous person!
Constructive criticism is when you offer advice to somebody to improve their work. You point out what is done well, identify areas of weakness and suggest ways to improve them. Often such criticism is written in a positive-negative-positive structure, so that the recipient doesn’t feel that they’re being bombarded by negative messages.
An example of this would be something like “I really liked the way that Ms Taylor showed us insights into both of the characters’ minds in Having Faith. That helped me understand why the duke was behaving as he was. I think that the author made a mistake in not having so much of her trademark humour in this book. It made it much darker than her previous Ruttingdon books, and I found it jarring. It wasn’t in keeping with her other books. The focus on the BDSM elements was too harsh. However, towards the end of the book there were hints of that humour. If Ms Taylor was to write so large a book again and split it, I would suggest trying to even out the tone of the book so that her readers aren’t so surprised.”
Positive, negative, positive. That’s how you do it. That’s not just me saying that; as an educator, this is how you give feedback to pupils to encourage them to redraft and improve. Google “constructive criticism” and the first definition is from Wikipedia. I know, I know, not the most reliable source in the world, but their definition is the same as mine, and the same as the definitions underneath it.
Writers need to accept constructive criticism of their work. How on earth will you ever improve if you don’t? Trusted beta readers, often other writers, know how to deliver constructive criticism. Reviewers often don’t, and that’s the problem that I’ve had this week.
The release of a new book is always stressful. This is something you’ve worked on and redrafted and edited and then redrafted and re-edited again for months. It’s gone through several versions, you’ve handed it over to your editor for their pass at it, you’ve gone back and changed it again. Every word has been agonised over. Every comma has been contentious. Then it gets a pretty cover, it’s released to the general public, and somebody gives it a one star review.
It’s disappointing, to say the least, but you’re a big girl. You know that not everybody is going to like your work. Hell, you don’t like everything that you read, either. But one star? How did you mess up so badly? What can you do to improve?
And here’s the thing, anonymous one star reviewer: the original review you left was not constructive. You didn’t like the book because the BDSM was too harsh. It wasn’t what you wanted or expected. That’s completely fair as a personal opinion. You’re entitled to it. You’re entitled to say it in an Amazon review, if you like. Not a problem. But “I didn’t like it” isn’t constructive criticism. Don’t get your knickers in a twist when I groan to other writers about the bad reviews I got! Just as you have a right to your opinion of my writing, I have a right to an opinion about yours.
Now, the original review (which has been deleted, folks, because when you’re an anonymous Amazon reviewer that’s an option for you, while we authors stand by the words with our names on) annoyed me for two reasons. The first reason was that the person too shy to even give herself a nom de plume claimed that in Having Faith the duke chokes Faith nearly to unconsciousness. That is blatantly untrue. The duke does squeeze Faith around the neck. He does it as a form of breath-play, which when done properly, can be highly erotic to some. For others, it’s about as sexy as Donald Trump oiled up like that Tongan Olympic athlete dressed in nothing but a g-string. The thing is though, at no point does he squeeze until she almost passes out. Several times I stress that he removes his hand the second she registers distress.
To claim that I wrote something that I didn’t means one of two things: you’re either lying, or you didn’t read the book properly. If you’re lying, or exaggerating to make a point, shame on you. If you didn’t read the book properly, why on earth are you reviewing it?
The second point that prompted me to make the public Facebook post where I despaired of your review was that you stressed that your review was done out of friendship. To say that I disagree is an understatement! Friends don’t leave friends one star reviews. If you hated it (which of course, is completely your right to do!) then a friend would have messaged me privately and said I’m sorry, this book isn’t my cup of tea and I can’t leave a review. Not a problem. Someone did that and we’re still friends. Or, you could have just not reviewed it. Simple. A variant on the adage “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”.
I think the confusion set in when you assumed I knew who you were. I don’t. Sorry! That’s the thing when you write anonymously and won’t communicate in private. I don’t know who you are. My psychic skills are limited to being able to predict when the cat is about to throw up. You objected to our friendship being joked about. I think you and I have a different understanding of the word. Shall we blame Mark Zuckerberg? Although I very much enjoy interacting with people on Facebook, I don’t consider them friends unless I’ve known them a long time and built a relationship with them. It’s the same way I deal with people in real life.
So, you deleted your review. Then you replaced it with another one star review which simply says “Horrific.” Again, your right. Not complaining! But when another reviewer points out that you’re not reviewing constructively you throw your toys out of the pram and accuse me of being a prima donna! To quote the ever-quotable The Princess Bride, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.
I honestly don’t mind that you hated the book. I honestly don’t mind people giving me constructive criticism. Did you see the three star review? It stings to read, but the writer has a point. Every criticism is valid. That I consider constructive criticism, even if it doesn’t follow the positive-negative-positive model that’s recommended. If I had a chance to go back and correct the issues they pointed out I would in a heartbeat. But deleting your original review, re-issuing it with one word and then getting into an argument with another reviewer?
Sounds a bit prima donna-ish to me.