Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: critique

O.K., If You *Really* Have to, Go Ahead; Write a Book and Publish It . . .

Six years ago, when I’d finished my novel and went through what I’d resolved as the best way to publish (for me…), I was pretty freely telling everyone to write and publish—immediately, if not sooner…

Those six years have seen me do a massive amount of research into the reading, writing, and publishing Scenes—all so I could write this blog…

Before I share four articles that should make most writers think in some new ways, I’ll share just a bit of what I said back in May of 2013 from what I consider the Most Important Post on This Blog:

“An extremely small percentage of writers sell more than 500 copies of a book…”

“Yet, writers can find tons of posts and articles and web sites that are based on the mistaken conception that Any book can sell like hotcakes if the author will do X, Y, Z, and, if possible, D, U, and P…”

And, a quote from someone I quoted in that post, bearing on why I call it the most important post here:

“…in business school there’s this point made that if you interview rich people who have won the lottery, you might come to believe that playing the lottery is the only way to become rich. I thought that was interesting. One of the things I’m constantly trying to point out is that we’re not doing nearly enough to highlight both median and failure modes, because that’s where the real lessons lie. As for myself, I find message boards where new writers struggle to sell more than a few copies interesting, and where I harvest data about the low end.”

There’s much more of critical interest to all writers in that post; but, while I hope you’ll go there now and read it and take notes, I’ll finishing writing this post so you have more to consider when you return :-)

So, from the running-around-shouting attitude I had about the book world six years ago , I’m a bit more mature; mostly from having so many assumptions shattered on the rocks of the Truth about writing and publishing and promoting books…

I suppose I could say these next four articles are what I wish I’d read six years and one month ago :-)

First, I’ll share an article called, The Art of Receiving Criticism.

After relating her Before and After experiences of criticism (and, how she now Carefully selects who should give their opinions on her work), the author says:

“Oscar Wilde once commented that to critique a work of art means creating a new work of one’s own. Critique, in itself, is a form of artwork. We wouldn’t demean another person’s writing like we do their critique of our own work. Why should we receive it with any less openness than we would a Van Gogh painting?”

The next article I’ll share is called, Warning: Discoverability Dependency is Hazardous to Your Fiction Marketing.

Discoverability is the buzz-word for doing things to help folks find your book; and, some “experts” will hit you over the head with the idea—I can only suppose they want to scare you so you’ll believe it’s the Only thing you need to do…

A core idea from the article:

“…don’t use discoverability as an excuse to avoid human interaction or to be passive in your marketing. Seek out the right people, don’t just wait.”

The next article could cause quite a bit of resistance from some writers…

It’s called, The Myth Of Reviews, and details some compelling ideas about reviews Not being a magic pill for sales.

Here are two excerpts:

Here’s the thing: If you want more reviews, sell more books. Only people who read the book will review it. If you’re seeing more reviews, it means more people are buying your book.”

“My opinion is that reviews only matter in the edge cases – those situations where the potential reader is either on the fence or is looking for confirmation for the decision they’ve already made. If you haven’t hooked them with both the cover and blurb, the reviews aren’t likely to convince somebody to overlook that pair of sins and take a sample.”

The next recommended article is from a site called, Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity.

No excerpts for, Mega-List of Free Promotional Sites for Self-Published Books, since that title says it all…

And, if you want to give yourself some Bonus Credit, check out this post about what Jane Friedman has to say about Publishing (plus a few other important things…)…
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An Online Writing Group that Looks Like It Could Work . . .

I’m not the kind of writer who works well with groups, though there’s no way I’d ever discourage others to take part in good Writing Groups.

Writing Group

Image courtesy of carl dwyer ~

My Best Friend, a writer in Australia, has been in a small and dedicated writing group for many years.

Others I’ve known have treasured the time they spend receiving critiques and sharing literary opinions.

So, I want to introduce you to what seems a very promising endeavor—Scribophile.

Here’s some info from their site:


“First, earn karma points by critiquing the work of others. Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to critique—we’ll show you how, and it’s easy, fun, and improves your own writing too!


“Next, spend your karma points to post your own work for review. Each work you post is guaranteed to get at least 3 long critiques, and you usually get a lot more!


“Improve your writing in our workshop with insightful critiques from other writers, with our professional writing blog, and by talking shop in our writing forums.

Make Friends

“Writing can be lonely. Lucky for you there are thousands of writers on Scribophile every day, and we’re a pretty friendly bunch. You’ve never seen a writing group like this one!

A little more about how it works…

“We’re a writing group that works on a karma point system. Members spend karma points to post their writing for feedback from the community. To earn karma points, members submit thoughtful critiques for the work of others. Everyone has to earn karma points before they can post!

“This system ensures that every work you post gets awesome critiques from other talented writers. Forget about sites that are popularity contests, get spammed with work that sits unviewed, and “reviews” that say nothing but “good job.” At our writing group every piece gets the full critiquing attention it deserves.

“Don’t feel like critiquing? That’s OK! Hang out in our busy writing forums to chat with other passionate writers, read our writing blog for tips and tricks, and meet and connect with writers from all over the world.

And there’s even more for writers…

“Keep your rights protected. You have full control over your writing. Only other members can read it.

“Get quality feedback, guaranteed. Every work posted is guaranteed at least 3 insightful critiques.

“Win cash in free writing contests. We give out hundreds in cash and prizes each month!

“Be part of a busy, vibrant community. We’re one of the largest and most active writing groups online.

“Everyone welcomed, from beginner to pro. Everyone’s here to learn, and we want to help!”

So, that’s what Scribophile is all about.

If you’re already a member or if you decide to join, do, please, leave a Comment, ok?

Naturally, any comments about writing groups, in general, are also very welcome :-)
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How Writers Handle Criticism

The roots of “criticism” are “able to make judgments” and “to separate, decide”. 

Authors Response to Criticism

Image courtesy of Trish Parisy ~

Many folks feel it means something more like “to lash severely with a whip”

Of course, there are critics who carry whips in their judging minds and love to use them.

So, should “good” criticism be easy to take?

Naturally, it all depends on the writer’s attitude

Two past posts on this blog covered various aspects of criticism:

How A Story’s Integrity Can Save It From Certain Criticisms

Facing Negative Criticism ~ Is Thinking Like An Artist The Same As Thinking Like A Normal Human?

A couple months ago, FlavorWire had an article most any writer could find valuable—11 Writers on How They Deal With Criticism—from which I’ll share a few excerpts [one from each of the eleven] (though, if you have problems with criticism, do go read the whole thing):

“I try really hard to consider the source before I let myself feel insulted or get defensive, but if it seems like a legitimate critique, I try to take it in and be informed by it. That’s often easier said than done, of course.”

– Sari Botton

“I’m the obsessive type. I’ll read every single review, every single email, every single rejection, every single damn Goodreads/Amazon review. I’ll read between the lines, looking for something that’s probably not there. I’ll take it personal.”

– Michael Seidlinger

“I remember being desperate for tough criticism of my work.  I felt like if no one had any real criticism, that meant it was such a mess that they weren’t engaged enough to say anything.”

– Jacinda Townsend

“I don’t know that I do bounce back from negative criticism. I absorb it and move on.”

– Cari Luna

“In large part, I deal with negative criticism (and positive criticism, which isn’t all that helpful either) by ignoring it.”

– Matthew Specktor

“For me it’s important to acknowledge the inevitability of negative criticism. If I continue to write and to publish, it is going to happen.”

– Laura van den Berg

“First of all, you have no choice but to bounce back. What else can you do? You are in an audience-based industry. To think everyone will love you or your work or try to go for that is a really delusional empty enterprise.”

– Porochista Khakpour

“…often times a critic’s gripes are actually the things you like about your writing.”

– Kevin Sampsell

“Tell myself that it’s just one opinion and might be right but also might be wrong or somewhere in between.”

– Caryn Rose

“If you don’t have something new to work on, criticism of older things just spirals blackly.”

– Gideon Lewis Kraus

“Remembering that I exist in a big world in which the majority of people do not read negative criticisms of me, and might not even know what I do for a living, is freeing.”

– Jen Doll

So, one criticism of those excerpts that I can give myself is that they are epigrammatic and don’t necessarily convey the full attitude of each writer

You might want to read the whole thing and come back here and leave your own criticisms in the comments :-)

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Critique Is Not A Bad Word

kate messner Many people see the word “critique” and seem to secretly replace it in their mind with “criticism”.

When I look in my dictionary, I find this for “criticism”: “Disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings”.

And, I find this for “critique”: “A serious examination and judgment of something”.

When I look in my Etymology Dictionary (showing the root meanings of words), I find both words coming from the word “crisis” which also gets a bad rap in common usage. Crisis actually means “to separate, decide, judge”.

Oh, yeah, our attitudes regularly warp words’ meanings. Criticism and critique are both instances of dealing with a crisis. Kinda hard to shake the bad vibes off that word “crisis”, eh?

Authors regularly deal with crises, regularly face criticism, regularly seek critique

I found a post on The Stenhouse Blog featuring Kate Messner, a teacher and author who said, “…I find myself on all sides of the critique fence—giving critiques myself, teaching kids how to critique one another’s work, and receiving constructive critiques from my writing group members and my editors.”

She goes on to reveal a letter from her editor with annotations explaining how the act of separating, deciding, and judging helped her in writing The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.

Whether your a teacher, writer, manager, parent, or social media participant, I feel you’ll get some wonderful perspectives on the critique process by reading the full post: How to critique writing.

Kate closes the delightfully warm analysis of her editor’s critique with this: “Remember, real revision takes time, and it can be messy, but the results are well worth the long trail of marked-up manuscripts and sticky notes they leave behind!”
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What Kind of Feedback Do Writers Need? What Helps Them Most?

Our last post had me offering to put your name and Bio and web link in a Special Listing in my forthcoming book.

All it takes is getting the free copy of Notes from An Alien and giving some feedback.

I need to quote part of C. M. Marcum’s comment on that post:

“But we’re such good friends now. Why spoil it?

“No, seriously, I have run the gauntlet of writing sites and I have found the relationships to be dreadfully one-sided.”

I think part of that one-sidedness is folks not knowing what writers really need when it comes to feedback. Though, I think C. M. knows exactly what kind of feedback to give, even if it’s not appreciated :-)

People who give feedback on a WIP [work-in-progress] are sometimes called “beta readers”.

I’ve even known writers who only let beta readers have their WIP if they follow a prepared outline of what questions to answer about the piece.

Personally, the very worst form of feedback is, “Great job!”, and its many variants.

If they meant those words, fine, but what was “great” about it? And, if they didn’t mean it and were thinking they “protected” my feelings, the faux-comment is actually an attack against honesty and fairness. “This sucks!”, is much more welcome…

There’s an interesting discussion about what writers want and need in feedback at the Absolute Write Water Cooler.

One of the most interesting comments was: “Beta readers should be used to critique story effectiveness.”

Exactly! What effect does the writing have on you? What did it make you think? What did it make you feel? What was your response to various characters? Was the storyline understandable? Where did the piece disappoint you? Why did it disappoint you?

Another person in that forum thread said: “…’train’ your beta readers to read with a pencil in hand. Have them mark any section, phrase or word that pops them out of the story, even if they have no idea why it did. Sometimes that’s all you need to see a problem.”

Now that is some excellent advice :-)

I’ll end this post with some quotes about feedback and critiquing:

“A guest sees more in an hour than the host in a year.”
~ Polish proverb

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.”
~ Christopher Hampton

“Constant, indiscriminate approval devalues because it is so predictable.”
~ Kit Reed

“Don’t judge any man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.”
~ American Indian saying

“It is easy – terribly easy – to shake a man’s faith in himself. To take advantage of that, to break a man’s spirit is devil’s work.”
~ George Bernard Shaw

“He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”
~ Abraham Lincoln

“When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.”
~ Oscar Wilde

“Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee; rebuke a wise man and he will love thee.”
~ The Bible

“To escape criticism – do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”
~ Elbert Hubbard

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