When Critiques Go Wrong: Are We Talking About The Same Book?

So last year I was critiquing for someone and I gave her my usual disclaimer which goes a little something like this:

Please keep in mind that my suggestions are just that, suggestions.  I am only one reader and also, you are the writer and ultimately you have to make choices that YOU are comfortable with.  Nothing I say is gospel, it is just one reader's opinion designed to get your creative juices flowing. 

She said you know you should take all the stuff you've told me and do a blog post about it.  Well I won't go into all the things I told her but I am going to address the subjectivity topic.  The main thing I want to talk about is when someone is critiquing your work and you get their critique back and the critique itself seems like one or all of the following:

1.  Mean
2.  Condescending
3.  Off-the-wall
4.  Not easily understood
5.  Not even close to your authorial vision for your work
6.  As if the person didn't actually read your book
7.  As if the person is not even from this planet

In a word, discouraging.

So there you are, scratching your head and seriously considering pulling your hair out because you're wondering if this person is really that much of a jerk/idiot or if you're the idiot for writing such a shitty book. 

Here's what I say to that:  If you've gotten multiple critiques and all of them are like this, then it's you.  But if you've gotten 4 or more critiques and this is the only one that is like that then you probably have nothing to worry about.  Here's why.

Not everyone gets it.

It's like peoples' sense of humor.  People have different senses of humor.  Like those shows where they show people riding bikes and skateboards and getting into horrible mishaps (usually involving their crotches).  Some people find those rip-roaringly funny.  Me?  I can't even watch.  It starts to make me physically ill after awhile.  I do not find those funny nor will I ever find them funny.

People are different.  They have different tastes and different ideas about the world.  Not everyone is going to get your book.

It's like Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects.  I loved it so much I couldn't stop gushing over it and then I saw crappy reviews on Amazon and gave it to my mom and she hated it. 

Take movies for example:  years ago there was this movie out called Dazed and Confused.  Everyone I knew loved that movie passionately.  Passionately, I say.  I did not get it at all.  What a snoozefest.  I said to one friend, maybe you have to have done drugs to get it and he said, "No, not at all!  It's a hilarious movie!"  Well I never got it.  I never will.

Then there is the movie Signs.  I freaking love that movie.  It's one of my all-time favorite movies.  Ever.  I'm not even the biggest Mel Gibson fan but I love that movie.  I know plenty of people who hate this movie, think it's completely stupid and makes no sense.  One friend told me it was one of the dumbest alien invasion movies she had ever seen.  These people don't get it.  See, for me the point of that movie is that in life, everything means something and nothing is wasted.  All the good, all the bad and all the in-between.  It all means something.  Every little thing.  That's what I get from that movie.  It's not about aliens at all but if I have to explain that to someone then it's just pointless.  They didn't get the movie and they're not going to.  I actually know very few people who love this movie as much as I do.  When I met my husband, I found out this is one of his favorite movies.  Because he "gets" it.  Just like me. 

What does this have to do with critique partners?  Well sometimes you come across a person who just doesn't get it.  Plain and simple.  They don't get your book and no amount of revisions is going to make them get it or make them happy. 

Those are the critiques you simply must disregard.  Because let's face it:  when you're book is published and available to readers there are going to be readers who love it and readers who just don't get it.  That's just the way it is.  Not everything is for everyone.  I can never say that enough.  And you know what?  That's OKAY!  It's perfectly fine.  You just want to find enough people who do get your book to make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

And that is why I advocate getting more than one critique.  I'm not sure what the magic number is--I think somewhere between 5 and 10 is probably a pretty good gauge of whether your book is working or not.

So tell me, have you had any experience with this phenomenon?  Ever critted a book that you didn't get?  What is your magic number in terms of CPs?


  1. I've never really had anyone give me a discouraging critique. I've had people give me feedback that showed they didn't read it closely or didn't really get into the story, but they've mostly tried to be encouraging. Maybe I've been lucky in critique partners so far.

    It really is easy to let discouragement like that derail us, but like you said it's so important to accept that not everyone will love our stories. It's a diverse world out there full of people with all kinds of tastes. And good thing too, or else we'd all be forced to write the same thing. Blah to that!

    And you are so awesome, catching up on all my old posts. Thanks. :)

  2. Excellent post. And, as always, the key with any critique, good or bad, is to look for something useful in it.

  3. I've had great great experiences with most all of my CPs, especially you and Jeff. But not all. Of course, there was that first guy who was just plain mean, but he was also right. Then I had this college gal who thought it was her mission in life to teach me everything she was currently learning in her sophomore creative writing class. What a joke! She said I used purple prose. ME! My writing is the farthest thing from purple.

    But I do understand that opinions vary. Just look at you and me. We write and read a lot of the same stuff, but I don't like a lot of the same stuff you do. I did like Dazed and Confused, even though it was silly. (Ah, the memories it brought back...ahem...) And Signs was oaky. typical M. Night Shayamalan stuff. A bit too quiet for me. But I did like it. And I was huge Mel fan back in the day. Not so much anymore.

    So yeah, it is all terribly subjective. I imagine it will be hard to read some of those reviews when they come in.. I likely think, they just didn't get it. And that's okay. Not everyone will.

    I think the trick to CPs is finding the right ones. The ones who look at the writing, the plot, the style, and all that and can separate their opinion on content. I guess I've been pretty lucky. I've had some truly great CPs and I value them. They have made me the writer I am today which is a whole helluva lot better than I was 2 years ago when I started!

  4. My sister-in-law read In Blog We Trust and she couldn't get through the first two chapters. It was just too much for her intensity wise. She described it as "not her cup of tea" lol

  5. Critiques can be tricky for me when they vary from person to person. It's sometimes hard for me to weed out what rings true and what doesn't. Great post.

  6. Critiques are so tricky sometimes! I wrote a romantic comedy once and once critter just didn't *get* my humor! Which was totally fine (I am a total dork sometimes), but she kept writing question marks and making obvious comments about the jokes I made (that other readers found funny). Anyway, what you say is so true! :D

  7. Agreed. Sometimes you just get that one reader that is going to poop all over your work intentionally or not. It sucks but that's how it goes. And I love your disclaimer, I have the same one.

  8. Also, thank you so much for going back and reading all my A-Z posts. That was incredibly sweet of you!

  9. I had seven CPs and three betas for Strength. That was just enough for me. As for a condescending and/or skimmed critique, oh yes. I've had a couple of those, too. *Grins* Great post!

  10. I've critted one MS I had to back away from bc the premise just wasn't my thing. So I returned the MS uncritted and explained to the author that I wasn't the right person to beta objectively. Bc you're exactly right - not everything is for everybody. And each writer deserves a fair, honest critique.

    As for my own betas, each project is different. Right now I'm getting 4-5 for my newest MS.

  11. I don't really have CPs in the sense you guys have. I have a few people I send stuff with the questions, "Hey, any huge gaping plot holes that I never filled? Does it make sense?"
    I doubt I could ever go the traditional route of publishing, being I'm definitely in the story-writes-itself camp. I don't know how I could change some plot point if an editor demanded it. That's not the way the story wanted to be written! lol


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