How an Author Should Respond to Criticism

Most writers will slowly gain a following over time. As your sphere of influence grows, so grows your exposure to people who are not familiar with you or in agreement with your message. Every writer wants to be heard, but with a larger audience comes negative feedback via comments on social media posts, articles, e-mails, and book reviews.

Your initial response may be to block people who leave negative comments from your discussions. If you’re overly sensitive and prone to being discouraged or distracted by negative feedback, this may be a good option—at least initially.

But the goal of most writers is to reach a larger audience. And as your audience grows, it becomes more difficult to filter out negative feedback. At some point, you’re going to have to allow the negative comments into your life and deal with them. It helps to understand that there are different types of negative feedback, each of which should be handled differently.

One type of critic is the stranger who doesn’t understand you and your message and has no desire to. When one of these comments comes your way, realize that this person simply got off at the wrong bus stop and hasn’t found their way home yet. They’re lost, and they’ve wandered onto your social media page, website, or Amazon page and claim you’re the worst writer they’ve ever read.

Do yourself a favor and don’t engage them. Discourage your friends from engaging them. Leave them alone, and they’ll eventually find the bus back home, and you’ll never hear from them again. Around five percent of your book reviews will be from such people. They can drive you crazy if you let them, but the wisest thing to do is ignore them and keep writing.

The second type of negative comment comes from someone who gets your message, but takes issue with your delivery. Let me give an example:

I sometimes receive reviews from readers who complain that I don’t have enough Bible teaching in my books. (Some have accused me of not having any.) How do I deal with this criticism?

First, I need to ask myself honestly if the criticism is true. In my teaching books, I typically include around 100 verses of scripture per book. To some, that seems like a lot. To others, it’s not enough.

When I look objectively at the complaint, I can see that it’s not true that there is “no Bible teaching” in my books, so I can ignore these complaints altogether. And by ignore, I mean I don’t engage these folks in any way. I don’t ask people to “vote down” their reviews on Amazon, and I don’t confront or argue with them either in private or publicly. Some people will never be happy with your efforts, and you need to learn to be okay with that.

Some people have commented that I could use more scripture, more testimonies, or something else in my book that might actually make it better. For those who acknowledge your efforts, but think you can do better, you need to recognize the fact that there is always room for improvement. These comments are intended to help you. Rather than being offended or ignoring these comments, they ought to drive you to excel at what you do.

Then there are friendly negative comments. These come from people who know and like you. These individuals want you to succeed, and their comments have your best interest at heart. You should always take these comments seriously. Investigate them and ask yourself honestly if the comment is valid before dismissing it.

Negative comments cannot all be handled the same way. Some are bogus and don’t require your time. Others are valid, and they hold the key to the changes you must make to become a better writer.

Here are a few rules I’ve adopted for use when responding to criticism:

  • Never respond to a negative comment until several hours have passed after reading it (preferably 24 hours) so that you’ve had time to remove any emotions from the situation.
  • Don’t respond to the occasional 1-star review on Amazon, and don’t encourage friends to either. Many people who leave a 1-star review do not understand how Amazon’s rating system works, or they don’t have the technical ability to leave an accurate review. (I’ve read reviews where the person admitted they could not figure out how to change the number of stars to what they wanted.) Others who leave 1-star reviews are internet trolls. As a general policy, it’s best to ignore 1-star reviews unless you receive a lot of them. If that happens, you need to find out why.
  • When responding to a negative e-mail, be polite and say as little as possible. Say what is required to answer the complaint and leave it at that.
  • If a complaint seems terribly “off the mark,” consider clarifying the issue before responding. It may be that the person responded to the wrong book/article/message by mistake.
  • Always keep in mind the fact that the person you’re communicating with could become a future friend, supporter, or customer. Be respectful.
  • Never say anything that would embarrass or bring shame to someone who has a complaint.
  • If you complain on social media about your critics, few people are going to see it as a sign of maturity. Most will see it as exactly the opposite. Wear your battle wounds on the inside, and if you need to vent, do it privately with someone you trust.
  • Most negative comments on websites and social media do not require a response. If you choose to respond, it’s always better to leave a positive response than a negative one.
  • When you respond to criticism, bear in mind this proven fact:
    People buy your books not because of the content itself but because they like you, personally. As Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy the “what,” they buy the “why.” They could get a similar book from someone else. But if they hand over their money to you, it’s because you’ve done something to earn their trust. They like you. Do you want to risk alienating your customers over something as trivial as a negative review or comment that almost no one is going to read?

1 Comment

  1. Kate

    Wow! This is great advice for me to hear right now. Beautifully expressed with how react to the different responses and criticisms. Much gratitude.

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