It’s always a good idea to get more eyes on your book. When you’re publishing your own material, the only way you can get it to compete with bigger publishing houses is by putting it through a comparable process, which includes editing.
In many cases, constructive criticism is good. You’ll learn your flaws, improve at your craft, and walk away with a strong and vibrant book your readers won’t be able to put down. Whether this comes from a professional editor or a team of enthusiastic beta readers, letting other people read your drafts is a good thing.
There is such a thing as too much criticism. There’s also such a thing as bad criticism, and criticism you need to make your own judgment about before accepting. Taking criticism too seriously leads to a world of issues: slower progress in getting your books out, editing your book to a sterile point where it no longer resembles the messy story you love, and all-around stress.
The good news is that there are no laws about constructive edits. You are, as author, free to accept or change any parts you like. Here are five cases where listening to editorial criticism is not necessarily a good idea.
If you have a problem putting too much stock into the criticism you receive, here are a few cases where you might be better off ignoring it:
1. Negative Reviews.
If you’ve ever received a one or two-star review on a book you worked hard on, you know how devastating that kind of feedback can be. It’s tempting to try to fight back, justify the complaints, or sigh and try to fix any mentioned problems in your future draft.
But before you change a word, here’s something to keep in mind: negative reviewers are not your friends.
They don’t like your writing, and they don’t like your books, and if you pander to them instead of pushing forward, they probably still won’t enjoy it. This doesn’t mean that they’re bad reviewers. They simply weren’t the right audience for your books.
People who like, or who at least want to like, your book will likely rate it no lower than three stars. While it’s always a risky idea to make editorial feedback based on what your readers have posted in the review section, some of it is more reliable than others.
2. Friends and family members.
I’m especially talking about the ones who have no writing experience and no credentials beyond knowing you.
It’s great to have cheerleaders in your personal circles. Many writers only succeed because of the spouse, sibling, or friends who encouraged them to press through the tough spots. But your friends and family might not be the best place to turn for editorial feedback.
There are several risks in this scenario. First, there’s a good chance these people don’t read books like yours already and don’t binge the genre you’re reading. That makes them a poor fit, and they won’t know what feel you’re aiming for or what tropes to avoid or pursue.
Second, while these people might be able to point out when a scene doesn’t work or if the pacing drops, the solutions they offer will almost always be wrong. (You can test me on this, seriously). People who don’t know story structure, elements, and editorial nuances can only make rough guesses about what the problem actually is and what should be done to fix it.
Can you still let friends and family read your book? Of course. Fresh eyes are still helpful. But be careful what support you’re actually looking for and what you trust them with.
3. Advice that feels wrong.
Sometimes you can feel it in your gut. A certain critique might make you cringe, or it might make you feel like something in you died a little.
This is not the same as defensiveness. Killing your darling is a regular and accepted part of writing, and just because you really like a character or a scene doesn’t mean it belongs.
I’m talking about the core of your story, the soul, the underlying basis on which everything else is built. It’s hard to define what the soul of a book is, but as the author you can feel if it’s being attacked.
This is especially a problem with rougher drafts. Your image of the book is there, partially, but not clearly enough for others to see it. A well-meaning critique partner or editor could suggest a fix that would, on a dry and technical level, help your storytelling. But it changes the story from the one you wanted to tell to the one they were trying to read.
If possible, have a list of negotiables and non-negotiables before you submit your book for critiques. Know from the onset what you absolutely need to keep and what you would be okay sacrificing to help the story. This can help smooth over developmental edits and bring out the story you were excited about to begin with.
4. Conflicting editorial advice.
AI editors like ProWritingAid are increasingly common, and for the most part they’ll give the same advice for any given sample of text. Human editors are different, and two editors can give you completely different ideas about how to fix your text.
Some authors prefer to stick with the same editor, even for multiple editorial rounds. Others, especially early in their careers, will work with a selection of different editors for different drafts.
If two editors give you two very different sets of advice, choose the one that works better for your book. Don’t feel bad about rejecting feedback simply because it came from a professional. Editors are human, too.
5. Advice that asks too much.
When you’re editing your book, you should be wary of any major changes. Early on, and especially if this is one of your first books, you’ll likely have substantial changes or re-writes to bring your book up to par, but eventually you’ll need to decide when to switch to minor edits.
A first book can easily take years to write. It’s normal to start a draft, realize you don’t like it, and then go back and fix it. But once you have traction, and once you feel that your book will win over the readers you want to enjoy it, you can focus on polishing.
Keep in mind this book won’t be perfect. If you want to write books for a living, it’s a good idea to start humble and learn on the job as you would with any other profession. But if you’re far enough along the track, and if your book checks off the technical grammar-and-structure list, you’re only going to hold yourself back by waiting more.
What criticism do you ignore? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Alternatively, you can click on the button below to join my group for self-publishing fiction writers on Facebook.