Imagine the following scenario. At long last your best novel manuscript to date has overcome all the hurdles: the writing, the revising, query letters, proposals, more polishing, acquisition committees, contract negotiations, and finally reaches the Big Day—your novel’s release! With boundless joy you announce the wonderful news to friends, family, neighbors, even the guy at the 7-Eleven on the corner.
And then, like multiple bullets to your heart, unknown strangers begin taking online (or in print) potshots at your book. “The characters aren’t fully developed.” “Some of the scenes fall flat.” “Insufficient tension.” “Too religious.” “More Christian propaganda disguised as a suspense novel.”
You might think, “Well, sure, those things happen to other people’s books. But I’m carefully writing and polishing mine.” Guess again. In fact, let’s pause and count all the books in the history of the world that pleased and excited absolutely every reader. Are you ready for this? The answer is—zero. From God’s inspired Word and trickling down to every other book in the history of the planet, virtually every published book has faced critics who found fault.
Admittedly, when you’ve poured months or years into a writing project, when you imbued it with your own emotions, when you sparked fictional characters to life and lived with them in your imagination, it can hurt to have someone type a review that basically says, “What a worthless effort. Better luck next time. And leave out the religious stuff.” Such reactions are like waiting nine months for your child to be born and then having total strangers walk up and say, “Your kid has big ears and a stupid-looking grin.”
Literary criticism is inevitable. It is going to happen. It’s simply impossible to please every reader. Here is a real-life example. My friend Jim Rubart’s best-seller Rooms has reaped many glowing reviews on Amazon. “Fantastic novel,” says one reader. “More than a 5,” shouts another. And then comes, “Ultimately, though, it was disappointing. The writing itself is not very strong: too many short, choppy sentences (if they can be called such), too many fragments, awkward phrasing in droves, etc.” Here’s another example: In his novel Defiance, Don Brown (another friend, by the way) continues his Navy Justice series about JAG officer Zack Brewer. One reviewer exclaims, “Brown is defiant to write a book I don't like yet!” and awards it five stars. Another labeled the same novel “Evangelical subterfuge” and pegged it with one meager star.
So what can a writer do to avoid getting negative criticism? Nothing. Except stop writing. In fact, regardless of how well a story by a Christian writer is crafted, it will garner criticism simply due to its Christian worldview, even if it’s not “preachy.” This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Jesus Christ was criticized and crucified by those who didn’t like His message. If He were to come today instead of 2,000 years ago, I suspect elements in our “tolerant” society would treat Him and His sermons in about the same way.
So, dear writer, don’t be shocked or offended when antagonists jab literary spears into your book. Simply do your best for God and follow the inspirations that He gives you!
Closing thought: Do you have a personal strategy for coping with criticism? Or perhaps you find encouragement in a Bible character who did right—and still felt the sting of critics?