Your book sucks.
How did you feel when you read that?
Angry, maybe? Defensive? Like you wanted to tell me all the reasons your book is, in fact, the best thing ever?
Those are all normal reactions, especially because “your book sucks” is useless and unhelpful criticism.
Get used to hearing it anyway.
No matter how brilliant your book is, someone out there will hate it. No book will appeal to all audiences. If you achieve bestsellerdom and sell a bazillion copies and go on Oprah and receive rave reviews from all critics, you will still get some one-star reviews on Amazon.
So how do you deal with criticism, constructive and otherwise?
When you hear something you don’t like about your book, listen to the whole thing.
A piece of criticism may start out with grand claims that seem unfair (“The characters are idiots!”) and then segue into supporting evidence that actually turns out to be helpful (“Groug the Warrior King shouldn’t go into battle alone when he has an entire country’s army at his command.”). Listen to the whole thing to see if any useful nuggets show up.
2. Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions
Stop yourself if you default to any of the 10 Signs You’re Ignoring Constructive Criticism of Your Writing. All of these are excuses, and all of them will hamper your ability to improve as a writer. If you catch yourself using any of these reasons to ignore a piece of criticism, go back and review the criticism again with a more open mind.
3. Know Your Audience
A younger reader might say your literary novel uses stuffy language. A fantasy fan might find your modern-day political drama boring. An English teacher might disapprove of your use of slang. Take these pieces of criticism lightly. These readers aren’t wrong; they actually didn’t enjoy your book, and they have a right to let you and the rest of the world know about it. But you don’t need to rewrite your entire novel to please readers who aren’t in your target audience.
4. Look for Something Useful
Try to find one thing you could change in your book based on each piece of criticism. You don’t have to actually make all of those changes. In fact, you shouldn’t. But doing this stretches your criticism-taking muscles and gets you in the habit of looking for usefulness in every critique.
5. Listen to Groups
If three out of five critiques all contain the same advice, listen to it. It’s probably correct.
6. Listen to Groups Part 2
If one critic says to change something and the others all say to leave it alone, listen to the group. They’re probably correct. Unless you’re related to all of the positive reviewers, and the one critic is an industry professional. Then the professional might be right.
7. Never, Ever Argue
Do not argue with a negative review.
No, seriously. DO NOT ARGUE WITH A NEGATIVE REVIEW.
In addition to looking extremely unprofessional, this will never help. The reader has a right to their opinion, even if they’re way outside the target audience for the book. Even if their review is poorly spelled. Even if their review makes no sense. Even if they completely missed the point of the book. They didn’t like it, and they have a right to say so.
If you truly suspect that a review is fraudulent or malicious, you can use official channels to have it taken down. Never argue with a reviewer directly. It causes problems, and it offers no benefits whatsoever.
8. Recognize Your Potential
No writer is perfect. Criticism pushes you to improve. Ignore it, and you’ll stagnate. Listen to it, and you’ll get better and better.
9. Change in the Future
If you receive criticism on a piece of unpublished writing, edit it before sending it out to the world. If you receive criticism on a published piece, apply it to your future writing. Don’t spend eternity editing your first self-published book over and over. Keep moving forward.
10. Recognize when a Piece is Unsalvageable
I wrote a story as a young teenager that I thought was brilliant at the time.
It was not.
As I grew older, I tried to adapt the piece into something more readable, but the characters were just too flat, the story too obvious, and the writing style too pretentious. It has since been scrapped.
Not everything you write should be published. It’s okay to admit when something isn’t good enough. You can take the good pieces from it and recycle them into a new project that works better, and let the unsalvageable pieces rest. This process of recognizing your own best work will help you create more of it in the future.