Dealing With Criticism

5 May

By Sarah J. Maas


You finish your novel after months—if not years—of writing. Then you revise, revise, revise until your manuscript is so polished that it gleams. Then—querying. The ups and downs, the moments of hope and despair—and you start thinking: if I can get an agent, I won’t ever have to worry again! Of course, you eventually land an agent, and you start worrying: if I can get a book deal—no matter how much or little I get paid for it—I won’t ever need to worry again! All the dark days will be behind me! I’ll be set for life just as long as I can see my book on a shelf!

Well, let me tell you something: it’s not over. Getting a book deal doesn’t mean Happily Ever After. Within a few hours of getting The Call, I was already fretting about a dozen different things. Perhaps the most pressing of them is the question of: Will people like my book?

Seriously, that’s the question that haunts my every step—the question I ask myself every time I read my novel or edit a sentence or have someone tell me that they’re excited to read QUEEN OF GLASS. Will people like my book?

The answer is maybe. Maybe some people will love it. Maybe some people will hate it. I can’t control that. But I can control how I choose to react to it.

Learning to gracefully deal with criticism is one of the most important skills a writer can attain. That’s why having a critique partner is great, and why querying and submissions are wonderful learning experiences.

There will ALWAYS be people who don’t like your book. And there will always be people who go on Goodreads to give your book 1 star without having read it. I’ll never forget how furious I was a few years ago (when QOG was still on FP): one of my fans created a series of Wikipedia pages about QUEEN OF GLASS, its characters, and me (as an author)—and one day, it was all gone.

I looked it up, and in the deletion records, it showed that someone had anonymously sent a message to Wikipedia, demanding that they take down the pages because I wasn’t a REAL (i.e. published) author. I thought that was pretty hurtful—but it was made worse when I spoke to a friend about it, and she confessed that a mutual acquaintance had been the one who wrote to Wikipedia.

I wanted to throw my computer through a window. No—scratch that. I wanted to throw my computer at his HEAD. I seriously started and deleted about ten different emails that all began with a series of profanities and insults. Ultimately, I never called him out on it. Why? Because I realized that he was just a miserable, jealous person who couldn’t stand to see other people getting ahead.

That is NOT to say that every person who gives you a bad review is a miserable loser looking for attention. Far from it. But I am saying that I am SO glad I never confronted him—because it would have made ME look bad.

With reviews, I’ve come to realize that sometimes people’s personal tastes just don’t jive with mine. I mean, I can’t count the number of times I’ve HATED a book, only to have a friend love it—or vice versa. That’s what’s so great about this industry, and about books in general: people will react differently to everything. And when that happens, awesome debate begins.

It’s really hard not to take things personally when someone slams your book: your book is your baby, after all. But it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone will love it. Not every agent or editor will go gaga over your book and beg to represent/publish you. If you’re the kind of person who is devastated by bad reviews, then don’t look at your Goodreads ratings, or your reviews on Amazon and other sites. I’ll admit: I’m nervous about those bad reviews—I’m nervous about how deeply they’ll cut, or if they’ll make me never want to write again.

But I know that even when I get my first bad review, I can’t lash out. Because that’s unprofessional—because readers are entitled to their opinions, and because without debate, this industry wouldn’t thrive.

So, will people like my book?


Will I react to every review—no matter how good or bad—with graciousness and professionalism?

You betcha.


Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2011. Sarah resides with her fiancé in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

40 Responses to “Dealing With Criticism”

  1. Biljana May 5, 2010 at 12:10 AM #

    Very elegant of you! And what a FREAKIN JERK!! I can’t believe it! That’s just spiteful.

    This is a great article. There’s nothing more embarrassing than making and ass out of yourself because of somebody’s criticisms. It just makes the criticism /that/ much stronger and /that/ much more “deserved”, so to speak. Well said.

    • Sarah J. Maas May 5, 2010 at 2:45 AM #

      Yeah–I’ve seen so many authors destroy their public image because they lashed out at a negative review. While we might have the urge to explain why the reviewer is wrong, I think it’s better just not to say anything at all.

  2. Victoria Dixon May 5, 2010 at 12:47 AM #

    Okay, maybe you weren’t published at the time, Sarah, but you are, without doubt, a professional.

  3. jannatwrites May 5, 2010 at 12:49 AM #

    It’s sad that people have to tear others down to build themselves up. Writing is personal, but you were so right to be the bigger person and act professionally. Controlling your reactions will reward you in the end. Wouldn’t the world be so much nicer if we could all be more positive? Good luck to you!

    • Sarah J. Maas May 5, 2010 at 2:49 AM #

      Yeah–I’ve always been a believer that we should always try to be builders, not breakers. I don’t know how the people who have to tear others down sleep at night–or how they can justify their actions.

      There’s this quote from I AM LEGEND that totally explains how I feel (context: the hero is talking about Bob Marley in this quote):

      “He had this idea. It was kind of a virologist idea. He believed that you could cure racism and hate, literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people’s lives. When he was scheduled to perform at a peace rally, a gunman came to his house and shot him down. Two days later he walked out on that stage and sang. When they asked him why, he said: ‘The people, who were trying to make this world worse are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness.'”

      So, yeah–I really try to embrace that message every day.

      (sorry I got so corny!!)

  4. Samantha W May 5, 2010 at 1:15 AM #

    Well then, now you are a ‘real’ author, with a book deal. I think wiki needs to bring those pages back…

    • Sarah J. Maas May 5, 2010 at 2:51 AM #

      Haha, I’m actually kind of glad they don’t exist anymore. They had a lot of series spoilers, and even though this new draft is pretty different from the FP one (meaning that some of the spoilers no longer exist/have been changed), I would have had to take them down eventually.

  5. Kat Zhang May 5, 2010 at 7:50 AM #

    What that guy did about the wiki articles was spiteful. (even if you would’ve taken them down at some point) I know I would’ve had a tough time restraining myself from confronting him if it had been my work.

    …or, you know, sending him an email now saying, “Well, what were you saying about QoG not being a REAL book…hm?”

    ;P Just kidding. Point of article: be professional. Got it 😀

    I can’t wait to buy QoG!

    • Sarah J. Maas May 5, 2010 at 12:43 PM #

      Haha, omg, I actually wanted to send him an email SO badly right after I got my book deal, being like: “Despite your actions, you petty little pathetic jerk, I have a book deal.” But…I honestly think he’s just not worth a minute of my time, and that it’s better to ignore him. But it’s soooo tempting! 😉

      • kate May 5, 2010 at 10:21 PM #

        you’re a class act, sarah. but…it is always tempting to call someone out for disgusting behavior, especially when there is the added temptation of being able to type, “you petty little pathetic jerk.” 😉

  6. becca May 5, 2010 at 8:09 AM #

    Sarah, this was actually a reminder for me not only on how to handle criticism, but how to give it. I have been so guilty of giving criticism not out of genuine want to help the author, but partly out of jealousy.

    And looking back, it’s really embarrassing, especially because my own writing was feeble. At least now if I receive criticism, I can filter it throught the lens of knowing if it’s given out of honest, genuine motivation or spitefulness.

    BTW, You had your own wikipedia page? I am so jealous ;)!

    • svonnah May 5, 2010 at 8:28 AM #

      Wow, great confession! Thanks for sharing it with us. That must be hard to admit to, but it shows that you’re growing 🙂

      (I used to hang out on the yahoo chat boards and diss people who posted bad poetry)

      • Becca May 5, 2010 at 2:05 PM #

        Thanks, that is so something I will say to my patients someday! 😀

    • Sarah J. Maas May 5, 2010 at 12:46 PM #

      Like Savannah said: thank you so much for sharing that with us! I’m really impressed! 🙂

      Haha, when I realized that someone had created a series of Wikipedia pages for me/QOG, I was SO amazed. I felt like I had made it, lol!

  7. svonnah May 5, 2010 at 8:29 AM #

    Great article about professionalism. I love how you always include anecdotes to drive your story home.

  8. Rowenna May 5, 2010 at 8:43 AM #

    So true that it’s all subjective…I once said that I want to write someone’s favorite book, and when I get overwhelmed by the query process and the dread of no one, ever, liking what I write, I remind myself that if I keep going, someone is bound to like it. And lots of others won’t 😛

    I’m stuck on that Wikipedia thing…how do they define what’s “real” and not? With e-publishing growing more popular, and self-published e-publishing within that, it seems like kind of a slippery definition. Regardless, so hurtful of someone to make that decision for you–that your work wasn’t real. Hope that original poster kept her drafts, because pretty soon there will be no argument that your book is “real” and you can pop the parts that aren’t spoilers back on there!

    And this is another reason to have a support system, too–you can’t go ranting off at webworld when someone gives you a hurtful criticism (for published or unpublished work) without losing your professional image. But you sometimes have to get things off your chest, so having people you can trust is pretty important.

    • Sarah J. Maas May 5, 2010 at 12:41 PM #

      I have no idea. Plenty of internet celebrities and stuff are on there, and it didn’t make any sense why they would agree to remove it. I guess he made such a fuss that they agreed.

      And YES! Having a critique partner or group of writers that you can privately rant to about these things is SO important. It definitely keeps you from publicly exploding.

  9. Vanessa May 5, 2010 at 8:59 AM #

    Wow, I can’t believe he did that! How spiteful!

    This was a great article, Sarah! I think people tend to take criticsm and bad reviews personally… when really, they shouldn’t. People will always have different opinions; that’s just the way it is! And I absolutely LOVE debates about different opinions on certain books.

    I totally remember the Wiki page. In fact, I tried looking for it not too long ago, and was surprisd that it wasn’t there! And then I started wondering if I was imagining things! Good to know that I’m not crazy :p

    • Sarah J. Maas May 5, 2010 at 12:39 PM #

      Haha, thank you!

      Part of the reason why I’m still an advocate for FictionPress and taking creative writing courses is because they both require you to learn to endure criticism. It’s an uber-important skill to develop.

  10. Dani May 5, 2010 at 12:31 PM #

    I’m so sorry you’ve had such awful experiences.

    But you have at least one fan here! =)

    • Sarah J. Maas May 5, 2010 at 12:35 PM #

      Haha, well, I feel a bit better about the whole wikipedia thing when I remember that he’s STILL a miserable person who hasn’t done much with his life. 😛 I guess karma really does exist!

      ❤ ❤

  11. tymcon May 5, 2010 at 5:37 PM #

    Ugh that reminds me of one time when my freind was reading one of my stories during class. It would’ve been okay if he just read it and offered critism. But he read random lines out in that very…snide, i guess…voice. REALLY LOUDLY. And did’nt read out any of the good reviews but read out all the bad ones. Grrrrrrrrrr. Lol i was tempted to fling the bottle i was holding at him.
    Btw really good advice. If you defend yure own work it makes you look a bit arragont. Well if you defend when someones offering a point of view. It’s better to write a book which makes other people defend it 😀

    • svonnah May 5, 2010 at 8:45 PM #

      Yikes, doesn’t sound like much of a ‘friend’.

      • Sarah J. Maas May 6, 2010 at 2:30 AM #

        I second Savannah–definitely doesn’t sound like a friend to me, either! Some people are just jealous, and decide that rather than face their own insecurities, it’s easier to tear other people down.

        • TymCon May 8, 2010 at 12:58 PM #

          Nah he’s a freind. He just did’nt really get how much effort writers put in. He’s the majority who think you can just sit down and write brilliantlyXD

  12. (Li) Antiquity Dolls | antiqueangels May 5, 2010 at 5:58 PM #

    Wow, you’ve just said everything I’ve been wanting to say to people who put up huge author notes in their stories slamming a flamer – which I, out of simple curiosity one time – looked at the review and saw it was simple constructive criticism. I too have been flamed massively for giving constructive criticism by the author and her faithful readers. And I sugar coated mine so much too….was as gentle as possible….>.>;;

    But that was all constructive.

    As for flames…again, you said exactly what I’ve been wanting to say, or advise people to do. It just makes one look immature and yeah, none professional. Readers are free to have their own opinion about a book just as we are. ^_^! I always reply to my reviewers kindly no matter if it’s bad or good. If I feel badly about a bad review I wait to reply until I’ve calmed down.

    Pfff, you ARE a real author. You put your heart and soul into your writing and show a real passion for it. That’s what makes you a true writer/author in my book. X3 And when your book gets published not even people like him will be able to say otherwise. ;3


    • Sarah J. Maas May 6, 2010 at 2:31 AM #

      Yep! I remember that on FP–I was always appalled at the authors who put up those notes defending themselves. More often than not, those “flamers” were just giving awesome, constructive criticism. FP definitely shows you what NOT to do when dealing with negative reviews.

  13. Landon May 5, 2010 at 7:53 PM #

    I think the fact that someone gets published is enough to show them they’re great in some way.

    • Sarah J. Maas May 6, 2010 at 2:32 AM #

      Haha, maybe. But there are plenty of other ways to show that someone is great–many more ways, actually. 🙂

  14. Chantal May 6, 2010 at 1:25 AM #

    Sarah! Always the epitome of class and professionalism. Good on you! Also, good advice 😀

    Wikipedia will have a page about you and the published version of QoG soon enough 😉

    • Sarah J. Maas May 6, 2010 at 2:33 AM #

      Haha, awww! Thank you!

      And yeah–I’m looking forward to the day when I can get a new Wikipedia page. 🙂

  15. Renee May 6, 2010 at 7:22 PM #

    SO needed to hear this! I have a very hard time with criticism in my writing, and it’s so good to hear advice for how to deal with it in a healthy way–and not to be beat down, but also not to blow it off. Thanks, Sarah! You ROCK!

    • Sarah J. Maas May 6, 2010 at 7:31 PM #

      🙂 I’m so glad you found this useful! Usually, if I get some harsh criticism about my stuff, I’ll read through it, then go do something else for a few hours (or days), THEN, when I’m calm and have thought it out, I’ll come back to it. Usually, my knee-jerk reactions have vanished–or I’ll have realized that maybe the person is right. 😛

  16. Kate May 8, 2010 at 8:13 PM #

    Well Sarah, one of the reasons why us QoG fans are so fabulous is because we’ve totally got your back. If someone is talking smack, we’ll stand up for you! Never let a bad review bring you down. T

  17. Eileen May 14, 2010 at 2:01 AM #

    you were a real author, before you even found a publisher, some people are so narrow midned and jealous, well guess what. your book is getting published ~!!!! by blooombury


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