Monday, 26 December 2016

The 80% rule – putting criticism in perspective

In August I wrote a piece for this blog entitled ‘Growing a Second Skin– dealing with book reviews’. Back then, I was wondering how, as a relatively newly published author, I was going to cope with the inevitable negative reviews that would come my way. I sought advice from other authors and was disheartened to hear that many of them – even bestselling ones – actually don’t cope. It still hurts them and they simply don’t read them anymore.

That is their coping mechanism. But I don’t know if it would be right for me. I still hope to be able to engage with critical reviews without it ruining my day. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I have taken my own words, which I wrote at the end of the previous blog, to heart. For those of you who are too full of mince pies to muster up the energy to click through, I will reprint it here (you’re welcome, don’t mention it):

“Bad reviews are good for the soul. They expose your fears, insecurities and pride. So I suppose we should be grateful for them. They help put you and writing in perspective. Don’t they …?”

So, my first coping mechanism is to consider my reaction to reviews a spiritual discipline. Now, whenever I feel really shoddy about a negative comment or less than glowing review, I try to take it to God sooner rather than later. I ask myself, and Him, what is it that makes me react this way? Is there something that God can help me change? Is there a broken part of my heart that this touches which needs to be offered to the Lord?

This is an ongoing process. With me, at the moment, it’s reviews. But at different times in my writing life it has been feedback from tutors, rejections from publishers and agents or simply the lack of progress towards my publishing dream – which was often interpreted as rejection by God. And of course, there are areas of my personal life that could do with this kind of treatment too…

Now, before I go any further, I must confess what I’m thinking: “Better not write that Fiona, you know in the comments you’ll get some people lecturing you on how well they deal with criticism / reviews etc and that if you want to be in the business you have to learn to deal with it and grow up.”

And I’m already formulating my response: “I know that! [temptation to add superfluous exclamation marks here]. But I thought by being so open about my own struggles it might help other writers realise they’re not the only ones …” Deep breaths. Now, there again, something has come up that I should take to God. Excuse me while I do it … (……………..Amen!)

Right, where was I? Oh yes, my coping mechanisms. Well recently, I’ve come up with a new one. I don’t suppose it’s anything new, and in other areas of life would simply be called ‘looking on the bright side’, but I shall offer it to you anyway. I have decided that whenever I have a negative review I remind myself that 80% of people (or at least 80% of those who bother to leave a review) don’t feel the same. In an election that would be considered a landslide victory. It’s a silly thing, but I tried it recently, and you know what? It worked! I felt far less disappointed by the criticism than I had previously, and more open to considering whether or not there was anything constructive I could take on board. I’m calling it my 80% Rule. You might want to try it yourself. But please, finish your mince pies first.
Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for children and adults. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction) was nominated for a CWA Historical Dagger in 2016. The second book, The Kill Fee is out now, and the third is due out next year. Her children’s books The Young David Series and the Young Joseph Series  are published by SPCK. Her novel ‘Pilate’s Daughter’  a historical love story set in Roman Palestine, will be published by Endeavour Press in March.


  1. Very well said Fiona. Sage advice. However, critical reviews still sting

  2. Aye, that's the rub... Happy to say my duck got a good review from all who ate it yesterday :)

  3. What gets me cringing - and almost stopped me writing altogether - is going to an event where I am selling/signing my books and not selling many/any. People picking up a book, flicking through it, then putting it back and walking away. I feel as if I've been slapped in the face! After two such horrors, 5 years ago, I still haven't plucked up courage to do another one. I so admire the bold writers who can push their wares successfully.

  4. Christmas brain prevents me from thinking of more to say than this is really good advice!

  5. On my blog, I review books as I read them. Although I may make a few constructive critical comments, I aim never to give overall bad reviews. I am not a professional book reviewer, just a minor blogger. If I cannot give a good review, I don't review at all (unless the author is very very famous or long deceased). My silence has to speak for itself. Fiona, expect a review of 'The Jazz Files' any day soon.