I’ve seen some authors liken their work to raising a baby. You work on it for so long, help make it the best it can be, then send it off into the world to sink or swim. Sure, you can do what you can to help it once it’s out there, but for the most part, that new work is now on its own. That’s one lesson I learned after writing and publishing The City of Smoke & Mirrors. It’s all well and good to write a book, have it published, feel accomplished, and realize a dream. But then I realized, “Oh crap, other people are going to read this!” Then the mind races. What if they don’t like it? What if they hate it? What if they spread word that they hate it? What if people who read that hate decide to not read or buy it? Do they not realize I’m watching reactions like a hawk, hoping and praying people will like it? How do I react to negative criticism?
Largely, it’s that last question that inspired this latest The Joys of Writing. Let me explain.
One of my favourite internet personalities in recent years is Jim Sterling. His weekly video series, The Jimquisition, tends to be pro-consumer and criticizes publishers or developer’s decisions. Sometimes, he’ll defend a decision or criticize unnecessary fan backlash, but for the most part, he is very pro-consumer in his diatribes. One platform he’s commonly stood on was criticism against Early Access games.
Early Access is a program through digital game distributor, Steam. It allows games to be released in an unpolished, unfinished state. The upside to this is that it allows developers to get feedback from a paying audience and be able to make on-the-spot changes through said feedback. Results for this have been more miss than hit, but there have been some good examples of the program, such as Prison Architect, Kerbal Space Program, Darkest Dungeons, and Divinity: Original Sin. Many others, however, have seemingly taken advantage of the Early Access program. These more shoddy developers will not only hide behind the safety of the Early Access banner in order to shield themselves from criticism, but will actively delete any criticism on their forums and ban users.
The best example of this is the infamous meltdown by developer Digital Homicide, which Jim Sterling called a saga:
And now recently, Digital Homicide has released a new game: Deadly Profits. Jim Sterling already did an initial reactions video to the game (spoiler: the game is terrible) and the Deadly Profits Steam forum rule actually states that any links of any sort (not just Jim’s) are a bannable offense. Additionally, they’re deleting any criticism or honest questions like if they’re the same developers as The Slaughtering Grounds and banning users, including myself. Because I can’t stand this kind of reprehensible action, I’ve spent some time taking screen shots of any threads that get deleted and put them all into an imgur folder here.
This isn’t the first time someone hasn’t taken kindly to criticism. I recently found this article, where a writer was rejected for their work and responded very unkindly.
Let me say this, as a published author and someone who has received criticism: it’s criticism that makes you a better creative artist. People who have critiqued my work have raised some very good points. I listened to those criticisms and I honestly feel that I’ve grown as a writer and a person. I feel that the soon-to-be-released sequel, The Dame was a Tad Polish, is a vast improvement on my first book because I listened to those criticisms.
Are all criticisms valid or agreeable? No, of course not. In one of my attempts to promote my work, I made a post in /r/books on Reddit. One commenter said, “Fedora and trench coat mentioned in first paragraph. Had a laugh and stopped reading, partly because of that and partly because it wasn’t engaging.”
As a reader, they are absolutely welcome to this opinion. In fact, they might even be right. They later expanded on their point, saying, “I don’t mean to tear into the author, but to defend my criticism, it’s way more important to reveal character and/or plot in the second sentence. Don’t put on a fashion show because a fedora and trench coat don’t reveal character. It’s just silly. It’s not funny. When I said laugh before it wasn’t because I thought it was humorous in the genuine sense.”
And I gave that criticism some strong thought. They had a point. While what Dill wears is important, it might not be the most important thing to mention right out of the gate. This affected how I started Dame, and now, I think it has a very strong opening sentence.
But did I lash out at that criticism? No. Why should I? Not everyone is going to like my book. I fully admit that it’s a very niche product. It’s superhero detective fiction starring a mutant armadillo. That’s not going to be everyone’s bag. They even said that superhero or detective fiction are not their genres. My response to them was, “If it’s not your thing, then I understand. A little hurt that you gave up on it so quick, but certainly not going to force it down your throat or get angry about it.” I responded a few more times, each time very polite. They raised some good points and it was hardly a matter that needed me raising a fuss over.
I look at it like this: another Early Access game that Jim Sterling did a video for was Atajrubah. In some ways, he blasted it more harshly than The Slaughtering Grounds. Rather than lash out or have a meltdown, the developer Alan Robinson thanked Jim for the feedback, promised to work on fixing the issues, and even admitted that maybe people shouldn’t buy the game right now. Many people – myself included – responded positively to this, praising the classy way the developer stood up and took the shots. The game might be crap even now and may never improve, but many people said they would keep an eye on the game because of Robinson’s classy response.
Really, any kind of negative reaction or meltdown to criticism can only create more problems. You won’t win new fans by harshly lashing out against your critics. Remember that you’re not just trying to sell your own creative work. You yourself are a brand. You’re trying to sell yourself as a writer. If people see how you react to criticism now, it can and will affect their decision to support your future work, as well. Right now, I’m still a tiny drop in a humongous ocean of creative people out there trying to get noticed. I hope that I can remain tactful in my responses.
For the record, critical responses to The City of Smoke & Mirrors have been largely positive. It’s been criticized for typos and syntax errors, which I fully admit is an issue. Hopefully, those same critics won’t find at least as many said errors in the upcoming The Dame was a Tad Polish.