In my last post I mentioned that there were times to take criticism seriously and when to laugh at it. A reader asked me via private e-mail how I personally choose between what I take seriously and what I don’t.
There are some people whose criticism I’ll immediately disregard and others’ whose criticism is gold.
First, let’s talk about whose criticism I take to heart because I know it will make my work better.
1. My first readers and crit group. My first readers are a hand-selected group of folks who I trust to give me fair and balanced criticism. My crit group is composed of other writers at the same level I’m at (all professional and published). They point out specifics regarding what’s wrong with the story and they offer suggestions for improvement. I don’t always agree with them, nor do I always make the change. But many times I’ll at least consider what they’re saying. Sometimes it results in a change, sometimes not.
2. My editor. We don’t always agree either and again – I don’t always make the change, but more often than not we can discuss the change and come to an agreement we both can live with. Or one of us has a good argument for or against the change and it either stays or goes based on that. This includes the editors I hire for my Indie stuff!
3. My readers (i.e. people I don’t know who have actually paid for my work and read it) when they have valid points backed up by solid evidence.
Next, let’s talk about what I immediately disregard:
1. Criticism that attacks me personally. Example: “I don’t think the writer knows what she’s talking about and probably wouldn’t know a lion if it attacked her ass.”
2. Criticism that makes broad, sweeping statements with no specifics to back it up. For example, “Your main character is too naive.”
3. Criticisms that are obviously based on the personal ethics, politics, beliefs, or opinion of the reader. You can’t please everyone so don’t bother trying. Example: “This story is too dark!”
4. Criticisms by ex-friends, ex-boyfriends, or people who I know don’t care for my ideas, views or who don’t like me as a person. Usually these criticisms are based in anger and jealousy and sour grapes.
5. Criticisms by people who think I should listen to them just because they’re also published writers, but when you look up their work you find one or two 40-100 page booklets published on Lulu or a solitary self published novel that probably hasn’t sold more than 10 copies to people who aren’t friends or family. This is often the case when it comes to “fellow occult authors”. Sorry – if a person wants to use their status as a “fellow author” as a reason for why I should take their writing advice or criticism seriously they have to meet several criteria. First and foremost, they should at least be a person I respect and trust they actually have some experience to draw on.
Now when it comes to writing advice and not necessarily criticism on your work – that’s a different animal. I often get aspiring occult authors coming to me not only to get advice, but also to give it. Usually the advice they give merely shows how little they understand about the publishing business (Indie or other) or what they have to say is absolute nonsense. The general rule of thumb there is don’t take writing career advice from anyone who is less experienced than you. That’s generally how I work it. As I’ve said, not only have I been a writer forever, I went to school for writing and I’ve spent years and years developing my own voice and honing my creative writing skills. This does not mean I write perfect prose, nor does it mean I spell everything correctly the first time, nor does it mean I know everything, but it does mean I have paid my dues and I’ve been around the block a few times. I’ve been at the writing game long enough to know which end is up and find it laughable when the “fellow occult author” who wrote a 110 page chapbook on Lulu, thinks he’s going to give me helpful advice about my writing career.
I generally won’t take writing career advice from anyone who:
A. Hasn’t written more than one or two books over 200 pages. I also don’t take advice from people who’ve only written a few 40-100 page chapbooks. Seems every occultist these days has written a 40-100 page chapbook that they publish on Lulu (myself included). That doesn’t necessarily make these people writers or authors anymore than it makes them experts in the occult. The reason my books stand out above the onslaught of occult authors is because I’ve been writing books about Demonolatry since the late 90’s and I’ve earned a solid readership over the years through word-of-mouth endorsement. Readers are earned. They don’t just flock to a person just because they have a book published.
B. Hasn’t had their work contracted by a traditional publisher. And by traditional publisher I don’t mean a publishing company they created themselves to publish their own work (only some of my stuff is Indie, folks!). Part of the reason I went Indie is because I HAVE dealt with traditional publishers. Not because the traditional publishers won’t publish me. I still get offers from traditional publishers on my occult writing and I continually turn them down. There’s a reason for this. So as you can imagine I find it laughable when “fellow occult authors” tell me they’re doing things “the proper way” by starting a traditional publishing house to publish their own books (as they chastise me for using Lulu for the Demonolatry books not realizing Lulu is only one outlet I utilize to distribute my books) as if it makes them more legitimate than me (yes, you know who you are). What’s funny about that is I will bet these people that I still sell just as many, if not more, books every month.
C. Hasn’t sold at least 1000 copies of a single title. It’s great that they have a novel or two published, or a couple of non-fiction books, or their occult chapbooks are on Lulu. But have they sold any? Most small press and indie titles rarely sell over 200 copies. I’d be lying if I told you all my books have sold over 200 copies – some haven’t, but a good number of them have. Not just non-fiction either. Some of my fiction is really popular, too. As a matter of fact it used to be the bulk of my writing income came from non-fiction, but that’s changed in the past year.
D. Doesn’t make a living as a writer. In this last quarter I’ve made around $20K in writing income. Most of the people trying to give me advice don’t even pull down $200 a month from their writing, as a matter of fact, I’d be willing to bet most of them don’t even clear $100 a month. I am in the small percentage of indie and small press authors who actually make a livable, taxable income from writing (and most of it from fiction, no less).
As someone who has a B.A. in English, who has been writing since she was a child, and who has over 16 published books to her credit (at least six of them well over 200 pages) both Indie and Small Press, and whose books have sold thousands of copies, and as someone who actually makes an annual salary from her writing — I consider myself a professional author. I can reasonably only take career advice from other professional writers. It would be crazy to do otherwise.
So that’s my advice to you – don’t take writing career advice from anyone who hasn’t reached the stage you’re at.