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What is Criticism and How to Deal with it as an Author

Updated: Jan 9, 2022

A Useful Set of Tips and Tricks!

By Asmita De

David Mitchell, in Black Swan Green, said, “If you show someone something you've written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready.’”

It is quite normal for your work and quite inevitable if I dare say, to go through a phase where despite pouring your heart and soul into a piece of writing, you receive negativity and criticism. It is okay to feel depressed and sad when faced with a slew of such comments or responses, but that shouldn't break your spirit and stop you from moving forward. Not all comments are supposed to be snide remarks though, some can be helpful. Nonetheless, it can dampen your spirits.

However, before knowing how to deal with criticism, let us get an insight as to what criticism is.

Criticism can be defined as ‘The act of expressing disapproval and of noting the problems or faults of a person or thing: the act of criticizing someone or something’ or ‘a remark or comment that expresses disapproval of someone or something’. However, we will delve into literary criticism in this article.

  • What is Literary Criticism?

Literary criticism is the comparison, analysis, interpretation, and/or evaluation of works of literature. It is essentially an opinion, supported by evidence, relating to the theme, style, setting or historical or political context. It usually includes a discussion of the work’s content and integrates your ideas with other insights gained from research. Literary criticism may have a positive or a negative bias and maybe a study of an individual piece of literature or an author’s body of work.

Masterclass gives near detailed categorization of different types of Literary theory. These have given a reader ample choice to use the correct vocabulary and terms while dissecting a literary text.

  1. Practical criticism: This study of literature encourages readers to examine the text without regard to any outside context—like the author, the date and place of writing, or any other contextual information that may concern the reader


  1. Cultural studies: In direct opposition to practical criticism, cultural theory delves into a text within the context of its socio-cultural environment. Cultural critics believe a text should be read entirely through the lens of the text's cultural context.

  1. Formalism: In this case, readers assess the artistic merit of literature by examining its formal elements, like language and technical skill. Formalism favours a literary canon of works that depict the highest standards of literature, as determined by formalist critics.

  1. Reader-response: Reader-response criticism is embedded in the belief that a reader's reaction to or interpretation of a text is as valuable a source of critical study as the text itself.

  1. The new criticism: New critics focused on examining the formal and structural elements of literature, as opposed to the emotional or moral elements. Poet T.S. Eliot and critics Cleanth Brooks and John Crowe Ransom pioneered the school of the new criticism.

  1. Psychoanalytic criticism: Using Sigmund Freud’s principles of psychoanalysis—like dream interpretation—psychoanalytic criticism delves into the neuroses and psychological states of characters in literature to interpret a text's meaning. Other notable psychoanalytic critics include Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva.

  1. Marxist theory: Socialist thinker Karl Marx established this branch of literary theory alongside Marxism, his political and sociological ideology. Marxist theory examines literature along the lines of class relations and socialist ideals.

  1. Postmodernism: Postmodernist literary criticism emerged in the middle of the twentieth century to reflect the fractured and dissonant experience of twentieth-century life. While there are many competing definitions of postmodernism, it is most commonly understood as rejecting modernist ideas of a unified narrative.

  1. Post-structuralism: Post-structuralist literary theory abandoned ideas of formal and structural cohesion, questioning any assumed “universal truths” as reliant on the social structure that influenced them. One of the writers who shaped post-structuralist theory is Roland Barthes—the father of semiotics, or the study of signs and symbols in art.

  1. Deconstruction: Proposed by Jacques Derrida, deconstructionists pick apart a text’s ideas or arguments, looking for contradictions that render any singular reading of a text impossible.

  1. Postcolonial theory: Postcolonial theory challenges the dominance of Western thought in literature, examining the impacts of colonialism in critical theory. Edward Said's book Orientalism is a foundational text of postcolonial theory.

  1. Feminist criticism: As the feminist movement gained steam in the mid-twentieth century, literary critics began looking to gender studies for new modes of literary criticism. One of the earliest proponents of feminist criticism was Virginia Woolf in her seminal essay “A Room of One's Own.” Other notable feminist critics include Elaine Showalter and Hélène Cixous.

  2. Queer theory: Queer theory followed feminist theory by further interrogating gender roles in literary studies, particularly through the lens of sexual orientation and gender identity.

  1. Critical race theory: Critical race theory emerged during the civil rights movement in the United States. It is primarily concerned with examining the law, criminal justice, and cultural texts through the lens of race. Some leading critics of CRT include Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell.

  1. Critical disability theory: Critical disability theory is one of a growing number of intersectional fields of critical study. Critical disability theorists believe racist and ableist views go hand-in-hand and seek to examine ableist societal structures.

While these are the categories, let us look into the various groups that you might receive criticism from:

  • Family and Close Friends

While some may be very encouraging and supportive, many are not and it might make you feel pulled down and feel the fear of rejection tenfold because you might wonder what would others or the readers say if your family and friends disapprove of your work. However, that is only the first obstacle and if you want your work to be out there then you cannot become daunted by their opinion.

  • Beta readers, Proofreaders, Agents and Editors

The next hurdle comes in the form of these people who really won’t mince words when reviewing your work. They will point out your flaws before it reaches the public. But instead of feeling bitter, you have to take in what they say because they are straightening out your flaws. Editors most often give constructive criticism which is advantageous for your book.

  • Reviewers, Bloggers and Readers in General

Finally, when your book is published, you get reviews from professional reviewers and/or bloggers as well as readers in general. You need to accept these reviews with dignity and pride. But it’s not always easy, is it?

Therefore, here are some helpful tips for you to surf through the sea of criticism:

  • Segregate Yourself from Your Work

The most important thing is to detach yourself from your work. Remember when someone is criticizing your work they are not criticizing you. You might take it as personal and you might feel depressed but suppose they comment, ‘This book couldn’t live up to the standards of the prior one.’ Or ‘this book has a weak plot’ then take it as a writer and not as a person.

  • Reader’s Choice

So you might feel bad if someone criticises your book as ‘lame’ or something along that line, but remember that it might be because the book wasn’t the reader’s choice. It’s possible that someone tried a new genre and your book was the one he/she picked up but did not end up liking the plot or the narrative. You can’t control what someone wants to read and maybe they didn’t like the genre but ended up giving a bad review to your book.

  • Suck it Up

You have written something and you want people to read it, and not only that, you want their reviews and you want their feedback. You might not be satisfied if you only get reviews or feedback like, ‘Wonderful story!’ or ‘Well-written book. I loved it.’ Well they are major ego boosters and feel good comments, but you also want someone to truly point out the flaws of the story or want someone to say what could be improved.

However, it so happens that many authors frown when they read honest feedback. That approach or that reaction is not advisable. Suck it up, swallow the bitter pill and write them down so that you can keep them in mind or glance at these things and work on them later.

  • Learn to Skim and Pick

While listening and agreeing to constructive criticism is good, you should also be aware of which one to pick and keep in mind and which to brush off. You should learn to differentiate between constructive criticism and destructive ones.

  • Try to Look at the Positive Side

It’s hard to remain optimistic when one receives brutal criticism for their work, but try to see the good side or the positive side of this. The ones who have left feedback have taken the time to read your work. They have consumed their time and energy in your work after which they have written this feedback.

  • Don’t React

Constructive criticism is good, but sometimes people can be straight-up mean and rude, their sole purpose is to make the writer feel miserable and most of them might not even have read your book. These people are usually labelled as haters or trolls. Therefore, it is advisable to not react and exhaust your energy on them. Instead, try to stay neutral and invest that time and energy into something that’ll be worthwhile for you.

  • Win your Readers with Grace

If you do need to say something and want to correct a certain reader for what he/she said, then gracefully or tactfully make that comment. Remember if you start fighting or being rude to the person then it will definitely backfire.

  • Remember Your Purpose

Above all this, remember why you began writing. Try to remind yourself why you sat for hours and typed away or poured out words on a blank page. When you feel down try to remember the reason why you began writing. Maybe you felt inspired by someone or wanted to deal with something and words became your friend or you simply love writing.

Like every big event that happened in your life which might have changed your life, publishing a book will do the same. Sometimes you may feel blessed while at other times you might think why you had this grand idea of even letting others read your work. But at the end of the day, you took this leap and you have to face what comes along with it.

  • No One Criticises something that’s not Valuable

Keep another thing in mind, if your writing had no value then no one would have put their time and effort to type out a review, and yes it includes the trolls and haters as well. So be happy that your work is being recognised and viewed.

  • Stop Obsessing

Yes, looking up what others have said about your book or how many reviews you get each day and among which how many are bad and how many are good, is obsessive behaviour. Stop doing that and instead go to a cafe or maybe spend time with your loved ones. Obsessing over reviews and criticism will not only take a toll on your mental health but your physical health as well.

Lastly, keep Seth Godin’s words in mind, “If you are remarkable, some people won't like you. Criticism comes to those who stand out.”

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