You Can’t Please Everyone

3 Mar

By Sammy Bina


If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that you can’t please everyone. No matter how hard you try, someone is always going to dislike your book. It’s all a part of the vicious cycle of writing. What matters is how you respond to such negativity. You can respond in any number of ways, but we’re going to highlight two that I’ve seen a lot of, and happen to be polar opposites:

1) People who are majorly offended and retaliate/lash out
2) People who accept it and move on

Let’s pretend you wrote a book. Your friends have been nagging you to let them read it for ages, so after you’ve edited the crap out of it, you finally agree to send it to them. You anxiously await their feedback, but what they tell you isn’t what you’d hoped to hear. Two of your friends hated the book. One didn’t like your main character, and the other thought the plot was stupid. If you tend toward option #1, you pointedly tell your friends they know nothing about literature and maybe don’t speak to them for a while. They aren’t writers, you tell yourself. What do they know?

A few days go by, and your anger’s starting to fade. Replacing it is a nagging feeling that maybe your friends were right.What if your main character isn’t likable? What if the plot really is trite? You dive back into your manuscript, dissecting it for the things your friend clearly disliked. You’re filled with doubt, and it starts to eat away at you. Maybe your writing isn’t as good as you thought. Maybe you’re a total hack. I think we’ve all wondered that, no matter what stage of our career we’re in.

If your friends are writers, things might pan out  a bit differently. You may be more inclined to believe them when they say your main characters have no chemistry, but only a little bit. And you won’t change anything based on their suggestions. When they send you their manuscript to look over, you’ll look for every little detail you hate, just to get back at them for not loving yours.

Or you could just totally go ape shit and tell them they’re idiots with unfounded opinions and that you have no idea why you ever respected them as a person. (Trust me, it’s happened. You’ll see it all over the internet if you look hard enough.)

These are all really self-destructive ways to respond to criticism. In each instance, you’re the one holding the short end of the stick. You’re left with unending self-doubt, an anger management problem, and quite possibly a few less friends.

So how do we take criticism and respond in a more positive way? Ho do we grow as writers when people are telling you something’s majorly wrong with your book?

The first thing to do is consider the fact that they may actually be right. Even people who flame your story on, or trash your story on goodreads may have a point, just said in a not-so-very-nice way. So look for the truth in their words. If it’s there (and it may not be), take note. Maybe you had too many descriptive passages, and it slowed the book down. In book two, you’ll know what you need to work on. Sometimes people who criticize your book will mention that it can’t compare to X book that Y wrote. Take a look at Y’s book and see what’s so great about it. Maybe you’ll learn something, maybe you won’t. Either way, it can’t hurt to check it out.

Say you don’t learn anything, though. Maybe the hater was just spewing negativity and had nothing substantial to say other than, “THIS BOOK ROYALLY SUCKS!” In those cases, it’s best to just leave things well enough alone. So someone didn’t like your book. That sucks, but there’s not much you can do to change their mind. If you think about it, I’m sure there’s a book you’ve read that you strongly disliked, regardless of the fact that everyone else raved about it. You may not have left a scathing review in a public forum, but you wanted to. Sometimes there are just books we don’t like. It’s a fact of life. The best way to handle it is to just move on. Be the bigger person. Accusations may be unfounded, and you have every right to stand up for your work. Just be gracious about it!

Have you guys ever run into this problem? How did you respond?


Sammy Bina is finishing up her last semester of college as a creative writing major. She’s currently revising her YA dystopian, SILENCE, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English Literary Agency. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.

20 Responses to “You Can’t Please Everyone”

  1. Isabella Louise Anderson March 3, 2011 at 2:07 AM #

    Thank you for posting this blog! It was dead on with what I’m going through right now! Thanks again, and good luck with your work! 🙂

    • Sammy Bina March 3, 2011 at 4:00 AM #

      Good luck, Isabella! I know it can be rough to get through sometimes, and I wish you all the best!

  2. NeverLanding March 3, 2011 at 3:49 AM #

    I’ve always been really defensive about criticism, but when people are just telling me that I need to improve in certain areas I tend to understand their point of view and accept what’s being said. Its the people who say things that seem like their just trying to be rude that get under my skin.

    I honestly don’t know how to resist not replying to someone who doesn’t give you any credible feedback and just take time and effort to write out a personal insult to someone they’ve never met. It drives me mad. And I have, not in a ‘you’re stupid, no one likes you’ kind of way, but in a ‘if you’re not actually going to supply anything helpful, don’t waste my time’ kind of way.

    It’s taken me a while to realize that life (or stories, manuscripts, and so on) cannot revolve around a couple comments or reviews, and that its really not as bad as it originally seems. Always wait a couple days to calm down before overreacting.

    • Sammy Bina March 3, 2011 at 4:03 AM #

      That’s a great point — waiting a few days. We tend to do lots of things on impulse, and giving yourself some time to think through the situation is always helpful. And it doesn’t just apply to this situation! When agents request material, it’s ALWAYS a good idea to wait until the next morning to send the material. I (and many other friends) have made plenty of mistakes by sending things without thought, and those extra hours always helps in terms of gathering your thoughts together so you’re actually coherent. Thanks so much for bringing this up!

  3. Laura Diamond March 3, 2011 at 8:18 AM #

    I agree with what you said. If the feedback fits, incorporate it. If not, move on. 😉

    • Sammy Bina March 3, 2011 at 2:02 PM #

      Exactly. It’s kind of like that old saying, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Maybe the person who made the comments didn’t abide by that rule, but there’s no reason you can’t be the bigger person. You’ll always come out looking better.

  4. Jen March 3, 2011 at 12:01 PM #

    Or you could write a cathartic song about them:
    (Warning, strong language!)

    • Sammy Bina March 3, 2011 at 2:06 PM #

      Bahahahahaha. That was bloody fantastic!

  5. Brenda Agaro March 3, 2011 at 12:47 PM #

    So true. 😦

    I once wrote a short story for a contest, and although a lot of people (including my friends) liked it, there were a couple who gave honest feedback. At first I didn’t want to believe it. I wrote and revised my butt off, and sent it to beta readers – how could I not spot the inconsistencies? Then I realized, after really reading my piece over, that they’re right.

    Of course, I received an unnecessary comment on another work, which had to do with the subject, and how it’s “wrong.” It wasn’t a critique at all, and it offended me. But I responded politely in the end and moved on.

    Criticism can help, as long as it’s constructive. I agree with a commenter above about waiting before responding (lack of oxygen in brain when angry/shocked = incoherent thinking, at least from what I’ve learned.) Not everyone is going to like one book. What’s important is that you tried your best.

    • Sammy Bina March 3, 2011 at 2:10 PM #

      There’s definitely a difference between honest criticism and just flaming someone’s work, but I think the rules of responding cover both. I tend to find not responding at all works the best, but polite responses can also do the trick. I got plenty of flames of FP, and I just deleted them when they showed up in my inbox. No one needs that kind of negativity in their lives, and the people who are out there flaming clearly have something to learn in terms of manners. As you said, as long as you tried your best, and you know that, that’s all that matters.

  6. Zali Jun March 3, 2011 at 2:44 PM #

    Ah, and the flame wars. Sigh.

    Anyways, I’m a quarter through my first story and this is definitely something I’ve been fretting about. I know I’m going to have to go through a lot of revisions before I think it’s presentable. But my biggest fear is that even after I do everything I can to make my story the best it can be, people will still think it’s a dumb idea or not like it. I think as a writer you have to learn how to have thick skin and be open to others opinions like you mentioned.

    • Sammy Bina March 3, 2011 at 5:08 PM #

      Zali, don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Sometimes I feel like a total hack and worry that I won’t land an agent with this new project I’m editing. Then Sarah has to talk me off a ledge. And then the next day I’ll reread something I wrote a while ago and go, “Hey. This isn’t bad.” You just have to stay strong. Having a thick skin is a necessity in this business, definitely. But as long as you have faith in your writing, someone else will, too.

  7. Martha Ramirez March 3, 2011 at 3:28 PM #

    Great post, Sammy! It’s so true and it’s too bad it has to be that way.

    • Sammy Bina March 3, 2011 at 5:09 PM #

      Thanks, Martha!

  8. Ashley March 3, 2011 at 5:17 PM #

    You honestly can’t please everyone, and I feel it’s a waste of time to try. Great post, Sammy! 🙂

    • Sammy Bina March 4, 2011 at 4:15 AM #

      It really is. People can be stubborn in their opinions, and there’s really no point in trying to convince them otherwise, sometimes. I don’t think it’s a big deal — you just have to accept it!

  9. Ellen March 3, 2011 at 9:03 PM #

    This is so true. I had a story workshopped for a class today, and though most of the advice was solid, I got a critique letter from someone that was downright bitchy. It pissed me off at first–we’ve already workshopped her piece and I was nothing but polite to her–but I’ve decided to be the bigger person.

    Even though it’s difficult, it seems to pay off more in the long run.

    • Sammy Bina March 4, 2011 at 4:17 AM #

      Workshops can be the worst! There was a kid in one of my workshops whose critiques were always really nasty. Not just of my work, but the entire class. He even tried to blackmail me into writing his critiques for him one week. Needless to say our class wasn’t very fond of him, but we all learned to ignore him. Sometimes it’s all you can do. You definitely look like the more mature person! (Especially when said critiquer gets called out by the professor on the last day ;-))

  10. Emma Paul March 4, 2011 at 7:57 AM #

    Unfortunately there will always be someone who is going to hate what we write…personally I write because I love it, if some people find enjoyment in what I create on the page, then that’ wonderful, if they don’t well I have to agree, it’s perfectly okay for you not to please everyone, you are one hundred percent right, just move on and keep “the words flowing” great post. : )

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