Thursday, February 3, 2011

Are You Ready for Criticism?

              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 rightand still felt the sting of critics?
Rick Barry


  1. Actually, realizing that nothing I write will ever be perfect and that some of the criticism will be deserved, I find encouragement in those Biblical characters who messed up a lot and still had a strong relationship with the only "reader" who matters. Peter is my favorite, with David as a strong second.

  2. Great post, as always, Rick. To be honest, I was beginning to wonder why we didn't have more posts this week, so I'm thankful to see yours! Maybe everyone's digging out from the snow or buried knee-deep in writing projects... In any case, criticism is inevitable, but it still stings when it happens, of course. But I'm trying to look at it more objectively. You're right - we need to keep writing those stories the Lord has laid on our heart. Let the arrows fly! We need to strive to make it the best we can, but no one's perfect and there will always be critics, as you've said. I'm aware enough to understand that stating I'm a Christian romance writer alone engenders some eye-rolling. A lot of people look at it as lightweight, but love stories convey great truths about the human spirit and touch hearts as much as suspense or more "serious" fiction. When my publisher put the tag "A Christian Romance Novel" after the title of my book, I was surprised at first. Now I'm grateful. It at least prevents some of the critics who might "review" it based on the fact they didn't know it was a "religious" book instead of reviewing it based on the actual content or its merits. And I'm with Kathryn. I love Peter and David both as flawed Biblical characters who should inspire us how to live. And, of course, our precious Savior, who endured the worst kind of persecution. Blessings to you.

  3. Michelle WeidenbennerFebruary 3, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    Thanks for reminding us of this, Rick. I needed to hear it. Although I haven't published a novel yet, I've made copies of my recent book and distributed them to teen readers. (My market.) My purpose was to listen and learn from their comments. Which I have, but, in the end, there's no way to please everyone. Thankfully not everyone appreciates art in the same way. Tastes will always be different. Thank you, God!

  4. I suppose it could be said you could revise forever. It's hard to know when the story "is finished."
    Being a writer is much like being the moving target of a never ending Turkey Shoot.

  5. Advice from my agent. Remember, they aren't personal comments, they're meant to help you write better.

  6. Linda, that's true if it comes from an agent or sometimes a crit partner. From some readers, and even other writers, that's not always the case. I still say go with your gut. If it's the best you know it can be and you feel it is pleasing to the Lord, then I say go with it.

  7. It's just another opportunity to learn and grow. What a wonderful problem. You're a published writer! A lot of people never get that far.