Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Gift of Criticism: Why Writers Should Read Reviews

The other day I was trolling Amazon, looking for an excuse to quit writing and become a janitor. In other words, I was reading my reviews. Yes, it’s a terrible habit. But bear with me for a moment, because I discovered something surprising.

read review

First of all, anytime you start reading reviews of any product on Amazon, you inevitably will find the typical trolls, critics, and people who are mad at you because the USPS never delivered their book to the remote island on which they live — and somehow that’s your fault.

But buried in those pieces of feedback are occasionally some gems worth digesting.

Like I said, I wasn’t looking to be encouraged. I was hoping for an excuse to beat myself up, because I’m a writer and that’s what we do. We’re a pretty masochistic bunch. Of course, I don’t read the positive reviews. I blaze right through the 4- and 5-stars and go straight for the jugular: the much-dreaded one-star review. Which was actually, to my surprise, a place of great inspiration.

Leaning into critique

If you click “critical reviews” on Amazon, they will take you to a series of reviews that range from 1- to 3- stars, and on that page I found something I didn’t expect to see — encouragement. Here’s what one reader, Erin, had to say about my latest book, The Art of Work:

There’s a lot to grab hold of in Goins’ book about discovering “the reason you were born.” (No pressure.) Seven themes anchor his ideas — Awareness, Apprenticeship, Practice, Discovery, Profession, Mastery, and Legacy — and each theme is illustrated with anecdotes from the lives of ordinary people, including Goins himself.

In the chapter on Awareness, a story illustrates how noticing what makes us different from other people can be a source of both pain and purpose. In the chapter on Practice, we see an example of how our love for something, like painting, might be honed into a skill set, like web design, without making us feel like a sell-out. “Your vocation can evolve,” Goins writes in the chapter on Profession, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Much of Goins’ writing seems best suited to our independent selves, the selves that get to manifest their own destiny with the support but not permission of loved ones. His advice to “do what’s required of us,” “push ourselves to the point of exhaustion,” and “keep moving,” does not resonate in my own life where I work part-time in order to pursue the delight of being human with my husband, my friends, my church, and a whole ecosystem of people on whom my choices bear. A book on how two, independent adults discern vocational rhythm together? Now that I’d be clawing to read.

Well, that’s not what I was expecting to read in a three-star reviuew. And then I came across another review that was both encouraging and, well, challenging:

I was dubious about this book. A work about writing by a writer who seems to only write about writing. I didn’t think his angle was legitimate. True, Goins found a niche, and it worked for him, but what about his own writing? I mean, it’s easy to write about writing in the way we can talk about writing: but what have you really produced? Aside from the writing about writing schtick, in other words, where was HIS great novel, masterpiece, his magnum opus?

Other dubious points: like others, I started to listen to his podcasts, follow his blog, receive his emails, etc. I found his relentless marketing tactics to be irksome at times.

But in the end, I’d have to say that Goins deserves a lot of credit. A lot. His book is, in fact, well-written and surprisingly more thoughtful and far-reaching than I thought. He’d quote and cite a number of my favorite and trusted writers (you tend to trust a person who trusts and cites people you trust). And under each of his illustrations and stories, there was an acknowledgement, a practicality, and honesty of suffering and the at times harshness of reality that I felt didn’t whitewash or cover over the sometimes painful process.

One last point: I really underestimated Goins. There are a lot of accompanying videos and resources associated with the book and you’ll probably see his video guides. His boyish voice cracks sometimes; he has a dippity-do haircut and looks like he’s still in high school.

But underneath that is a supremely confident and genuinely likable author who just happens to have found his calling: giving advice, helping others find out what to do. I realized that this was his kind of magnum opus, his Great American Novel, every bit as legitimate as Mark Twain or James Joyce. And he’s quite gifted at it.

Much deeper, more profound than I gave him credit for and I’m glad to say that this is a very, very nice book. And he always gives you the option to opt out of his emails! After reading this book, I decided to stick with his emails!

And lastly, there was this two-star review:

The Art of Work is heavily skewed towards creative fields, extremely self-focused, and lacks coverage of important life and career skills. Though Goins would say that any dream is worth pursuing, and while his examples are somewhat varied, the process outlined in the book would work best for someone like himself: a writer, or an artist, or some other creative. There’s less here about years of education and preparation, and more about forsaking preparation to jump off into the blue and pursue a dream.

A nation of wimps?

Hara Marano, an editor-at-large for Psychology Today and author of the book A Nation of Wimps, points out that we as a culture have taught ourselves to avoid uncomfortable situations, especially ones where our core beliefs may be test.

Core beliefs like, “I’m a good writer”? You bet.

These days, it’s easy to cast aside anyone who critiques your work as a “hater.” But is this always true? I don’t know about you, but I’m interested in mastery, and you don’t master a craft by avoiding criticism. You don’t get good without asking the question, “Is this any good?” And occasionally, as hard as it is, we need to listen to the voices that say “no.”

This isn’t license to turn yourself into a doormat. The more I do this kind of work, the kind in which you bear your soul to the world and wait for people to reject you, the thicker skin I get. And the more I realize that if I’m going to do important work, it can’t be for everyone. Nothing great is ever for everyone.

Lessons learned from thoughtful criticism

So let’s return to those reviews. Here are a few lessons worth noting:

  1. The readers gave honest reviews. None of the above were five stars. The lesson? You don’t have to always tell people what they want to hear. This is the essence of an honest review, in my opinion, which is the whole point of the review system in the first place: not to tickle the author’s ears but to help other customers make an informed buying decision.
  2. The feedback is valuable. You don’t have to be mean to say someone could have done better or that it just wasn’t for you. I really appreciate this, both as an author and reader. This is the kind of review I would want to read if I were trying to decide if the book was for me. It also helps me do better with the next book.
  3. I almost missed these, because I was afraid. Of what? Well, being criticized, I guess. But these have to be some of the best reviews I’ve ever received. Why? Because they affirmed the areas in which I want to grow. Each reader shared what didn’t resonate and how I could improve on the next book.

Here’s the takeaway: We need to not insulate ourselves from criticism. If you’re a writer like me, you need to appreciate the fact that you can’t write a book for everyone and that hopefully with each book, you can get a little better.

I’ve been reading my reviews from The Art of Work to see how I can improve on the next book before I start writing it. I’m also learning how to write for a specific audience, so as not to confuse people when I try to do too many things, and that it’s okay to have a “dippity-doo” haircut. 😉

Your turn

So if you’re still on the fence about whether The Art of Work is for you or not, I encourage you to check out some of these reviews. I hope they help you decide if the book is or is not worth your time.

And if you are the kind of person who buys things but doesn’t tend to leave reviews (as I am), I hope you’ll consider doing so next time. It really does help others make better, more informed choices regarding where they spend their money.

Do you think criticism helps or hinders the creative process? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Lauren Meeks

    This is an excellent article. I struggle with criticism, not just of my writing, but of me as a human being. The points you made here have value not just towards our profession, but towards the very essence of our humanity. This article reminded me that, however much criticism of my personal flaws my sting at the time, if I’m willing to listen to it and adapt from it it can make me a much better person in the long run.

    • Me, too, Lauren. I’m trying to get over that, though. Love your attitude.

      • Paul Couture

        Criticism can be healthy and constructive but it needs to be evaluated for it’s truthfulness. Can one really be considered a positive creative if they don’t practice some humility and accept other perspectives to help make them a better person and contributor to life?

        • Charles

          Great article. Great comments.

        • Amen. Well said.

  • I separate criticism of my work into two camps.

    The first is if the person is not likely to ever buy or support what I do. I toss that type of criticism aside like a piece of trash.

    The second is if the person does support and/or buy the things I make. Then I take that into consideration.

    I may not change things based on a single critique. But if I start to notice a trend in topics or reasons for the critique, then I’m definitely going to try and fix/change/update/review what’s not working for folks.

    • Interesting. I wonder if there are three camps:

      1. People who will never buy or support your work.

      2. People who will follow you and morally support you but probably never buy.

      3. People who will follow, support, and buy from you.

      Seems to make sense to ignore #1, listen to #2, and really try to serve #3.

  • Petra

    Let me begin by saying that I am NOT an author who has published anything other than blogs. I have begun writing a book and I have asked for comments. As far as non-positive comments….no, I honestly don’t think they help with my creativity. It will help me in my editing process, however. I tend to want to first get the “creative stuff” on paper FIRST BEFORE I do any editing. Once I get negative feedback, I must then decide if it is actually constructive or if the person just doesn’t care for my writing style or genre. But I will say that in order to get better at ANY craft, one has to find someone who actually cares about what you are doing and wants to see you succeed before you change to suit what THEY believe to work.

    • I get that, Petra. And I think you’re right. Criticism can be a distraction. I just don’t think it’s always what we think it is. Sometimes, it can really help us grow. These comments here are helping me grow.

      • Petra

        Yes, I agree. There are some very helpful comments at times. But MANY times as I read reviews on books, in order to decide if I want to purchase the book, the comments made are just plain mean and I wonder why these people even read the books. Ya know?

  • Shriram Sivaramakrishnan

    I’m sorry, but I find this article – and the reviews you have quoted in it – are one-sided, done, I assume, with the intention of making the reader check out ‘The Art of Work’. Isn’t this your ‘call to action’ in terms of writing this article. For, not one of the reviews quoted by you, is critical, not evenly remotely. For someone who’s been, and still continue to be, on your email list, this article has put me down. My apologies, if my statement sounds harsh.

    • I think the point Jeff is trying to make is that even critical reviews can be motivating. No, he didn’t post a scathing 1-star review, but as an author, reading the types of reviews he did share here can be really encouraging.

      So often, as authors, we’re told to stay far away from reviews. It’s considered bad form by many to read (and heaven forbid, react to) our reviews. Jeff is trying to help authors not be afraid of reviews. Criticism is good. It helps us to grow.

      • Shriram Sivaramakrishnan

        I would like to believe so, Stacy. But don’t you think, in that case, the article should have talked about how, rather what, Jeff has learned from a critical, even scathing, review of his book? For, not including a scathing review in an article that talks about the importance of considering critical reviews, is, in my humble opinion, not a cardinal sin, don’t you think so, Stacy?

        All said and done, I’m a great admirer of Jeff, but my main concern with this article is that, in providing such a ‘call to action’ the intention of writing the article in the first place is defeated.

        • Hey Shiriram. Fair point. Let me respond with a few things:

          1. The first review was a 3-star review, which basically means it’s at best a D or 60% out of 100. Not very good. Yes, she said nice things. But she didn’t give me 5 stars, which is what my ego would have wanted. Which means I could’ve done better, much better.

          2. The reason I pointed this out is that the takeaway was don’t miss the lessons we can learn from the situations we tend to avoid (3 star reviews on Amazon are in the “critical reviews” section which I typically avoid, because I’m afraid.)

          3. Yes. I’d love for you to check out The Art of Work. Certainly, that was one of the intended consequences of this article. I wasn’t trying to be coy about that. I think if you’re insulting yourself from criticism, the first takeaway is to not do that. The second takeaway is to either check out the book or if you’re one of the many people who has purchased it, I’d love a review. Sorry if that caught you off guard. I was trying to be upfront about that.

          Lastly, I think you make a valid point. I should have included a more scathing review. So I just added a two-star review above and edited some of my comments to fit the three reviews (which are 3-star, 4-star, and 2-star). I would have chosen a 1-star review, but honestly I struggled to find ones that were critical. Most were short and would probably fall in the bucket of “hater.” Maybe if I looked a little harder, I could find one. But this two-star one seemed very a propos.

          Thank you again for your feedback. I take issue with your critique that what I shared wasn’t even remotely critical, but I agree with the spirit of your comment. If I had more time, I would included more reviews. That was my hurrying to get this out there today. I apologize for that. I hope this rounds out the article more, as my intent was not to make myself look artificially better than I am. I know I have a lot of work to do as a writer and author, and I read every single review of The Art of Work and am applying all those critiques I can to the writing of my next book.

          I hope this helps! And I hope you stick around. I need more thoughtful feedback like this. All the best…

          • Shriram Sivaramakrishnan

            Thank you, Jeff for taking time to reply. I do agree the article looks more balanced now. As a matter of fact, being a writer myself, I have been a big admirer of your articles, and have learnt as much from them as I have from the articles of James Clear. The Art of Work is in my to-read list for the next quarter.

            And so, there is no question of unsubscribing!

        • Janice Roberson

          That is good negative criticism.
          Might be a great part 2 to this article. Things you can learn from criticism.

    • Janice Roberson

      Well this discussion is about criticism. I am glad Jeff is trying to hear and listen to both good and bad criticism. Negative, constructive criticism is helpful. Even if you don’t repeat it to your other readers.

  • Jeff- First of all, I think you have a spiffy haircut. As for criticism, the key for me is whether or not it’s constructive. There will always be those snarky voices out there. But I lean toward reading all the reviews, and then drawing the kernels of truth to refine my work.

  • Heidi Angell-Author

    I am with John, looking for the kernal of truth. I have also found that “expert criticism” should also be weighed. For example, with my psychic detective series, I had a couple of publisher offers, but all wanted me to change the name of the main character. There was meaning in the name, and my beta readers all loved it. I ended up choosing to self-publish and although I have gotten a few comments in reviews about the name being confusing, I have also gotten a lot of feedback from fans that they absolutely love the name and the deeper meaning. Sometimes criticism is just based on opinion and at the end of the day, you need to decide what applies and what doesn’t. Don’t let criticism trap you!

    • Agreed on that. Everybody would like to be an expert these days, but the truth is true experts are few and far between.

  • I love this Jeff. I say the path to growth and mastery requires valuing lessons more than successes. As great as it feels to be praised for your work, at some point never-ending praise doesn’t give you feedback on how to do even better.

    This means understanding the balance between praise and challenge.

    Too much praise, either praising our own work or getting praise from others, leads to pride and complacency. “I’m good enough… no need to do anything different and improve.”

    Too much criticism (or lack of praise) leads to doubts about one’s value and can be overwhelmingly challenging. “It’s not good enough, so why even bother?”

    We need to learn to manage both our critics and our cheerleaders, whether they’re inside us or outside us, in order to reach mastery.

    • Good call, Derek. We can’t let too much negativity OR positivity go to our heads if we want to keep getting better.

  • Teresa Marie

    I think criticism is valuable! We have to humble ourselves enough to hear what they say, definitely!

  • Nicole M

    Criticism is necessary to growth, but I admit I find it hard to take when someone starts ripping apart my babies! I take a breath and listen to what they have to say, applying some changes and ignoring others. Sometimes, its just their opinion and not a fault in my work. Sometimes they are right and I find the piece is improved by their suggestions. Its all about being willing to learn and not taking it personally.

  • Sarah Simmons

    I so respect this perspective (and how you engage readers and reviewers, Jeff). Criticism can sting, for sure! However, being honestly told how I can get better really is a gift. If I want to communicate clearly – or if I write for ANYONE other than myself – I need feedback to grow. It’s not all helpful, and it feels a lot better when the area of opportunity is sandwiched between a few strengths. Overall, though, I find it SO valuable.

  • Connie Abbott

    When I want to evaluate a book on Amazon (and I admit this is far different practice than reading such about one’s own book), I don’t go quickly to the 5-star reviews; I go to the critical 1-stars, because if the criticisms are well-stated and well-considered, they might have some validity, and they go against the current, which sometimes is the harder thing. There is more to be learned in opposition than affirmation, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; deceitful are the kisses of the enemy.” Prov 27:6. If the 1-stars are just trolling, I know to take more stock in the praises. So should the author be all the more bolstered by the praises if the only criticisms are groundless badgering.

  • Constructive criticism, particularly from those who’ve been there, has been crucial to anything worthwhile I’ve ever done. That, and the time to put it into practice have been the key for me.

    • I’m learning from you, Jeff. You’ve truly mastered your craft in a way I aspire to someday do the same.

      • Very kind of you to say Jeff. We should start a club. Let’s call it the Jeff’s Mutually Admiring Jeff’s club. 🙂

  • Andria Gaskins

    The best thing that ever happened to my novel was a nasty critique of the manuscript. After the third draft of my book I was ready let other people besides my husband read it. I had a couple of good friends read it first, and they liked my story. That felt great and I knew I was on the right track because these are friends that tell me what I want to hear as well as what I need to hear (ever since high school.) The next person I let read my manuscript was not too kind. I’d just met her so I thought it’d be a good idea to let someone read it who didn’t have a vested interest in me personally. She hated my story, and I talked about her like a beast with my sisters and friends. After I put my ego and hurt feelings aside, I went back and read her notes again. Although I knew I had a good story, she made some points that I hadn’t considered. I made some changes and adjusted the scenes she took issue with, and my story got better. I also found an editor in town after goggling “How do you stop crying when someone says your manuscript sucks.” Working with my editor, Barbara, brought the words to life. I love my book, and if it weren’t for the harsh words of a “hater” I wouldn’t have the story I have today. However … I still want to send her a “How you like me now, Sucka?!” email, but my husband said that’s tacky and immature.

    Jeff, thanks for the post. And I think you bring sexy back to the “dippity-doo” haircut!

    • Janice Roberson

      Jeff’s hair is in style these days. I am old and out of style.

    • Hah! Yes. 🙂

  • Rosanne

    Anytime you are creating or crafting, constructive criticism is important. Is it fun? No, not really, but it’s very necessary. I think because writing is such a personal thing, criticism can feel like the person is criticizing YOU rather than your writing. This isn’t really true, though (at least usually – there ARE mean people out there, of course). I have been on both sides of the desk – the person doing the writing/being criticized, and the person editing or grading the writing. The latter has influenced my reactions as the former. It’s really hard to work with a writer if they dissolve into a puddle every time you point out areas that could be improved upon. I have learned – not just with writing – to evaluate every criticism (even if it is harshly delivered or the deliverer is less than likable) because you truly can find gold among the dross. If you want to get better, you have to hear the hard stuff. Thanks for this post! 🙂

  • sandi

    A critique means the item was read. Good or bad. Helpful or not. If anything shared has no relevance at all to the written piece, I say can the critique. If the words shared, even though they seem harsh at first, improve your work, shake that person’s hand. Continue to be true to your work. Do not allow that to be swayed. Keep writing.

  • Caroline Starr Rose

    This one’s tricky for me. I feel reviews are written for readers, not authors. By the time something is published, a manuscript ideally has been through many hands (critique partners, agent, editor, copyeditor) whose insights help shape the work. But once the book is in the world (and no longer belongs to the author but the reader), the work is complete. It cannot be changed.

    The creation process is a fragile one, at least for me. Reading reviews of my old work can shake my confidence in my new work, which is gangly and awkward and finding its way. Even stellar reviews can be stressful. Those few weeks before a release, when my editor sends the professional reviews, it’s an emotional rollercoaster.

    While I’m not always disciplined in this regard, I make the effort to stay off Amazon and Goodreads. I need to protect my creative process, and this is one way I do it.

    I’m impressed with the way you’re able to creatively reflect on your reviews. More power to you!

    • That’s true. They’re for readers, not authors. But I want to reach more readers, so I want to hear what readers say to each other.

    • Christine

      If I might drop in a comment: any author who wants to can download a book to CreateSpace & Kindle. Edited or not. Sorry, but I’ve bought & read some real messes.

      • Caroline Starr Rose

        That’s why input is crucial beforehand. I can’t imagine not wanting my very best out there.

  • Christine

    Well, I’ll give you a five-star for this article, Jeff, but I’m biased because I completely agree with what you’re saying. Pardon my long comment. 🙂

    A writer friend once told me he never leaves a review if he didn’t like the book. “What’s the point?” His comment surprised me. As you’ve said, the point is to help another writer, not?

    “Guilty as charged”; I do leave reviews. In the past year I’ve read some great books and some just-plain-dumb ones. I’ve seen obnoxious main characters and poor editing. But unless I feel the book is a total wipe-out, I try to leave a review with a few encouraging thoughts and pointers. If the plot works, I say it — even if the MC seems unbelievable. If there are typos/grammar issues every few pages I’ll say, “This book needs an editor.”

    I may add personal views. I tend to view serious disrespect to police/authority as a flaw. I’ve read a number of cozy mysteries where the sleuth-with-an-attitude does all the work and the cops do nothing — or bungle everything. I see this as promotion of a negative stereotype; police aren’t that inefficient and it does our society no good to portray them as such.

    If I feel to, I may even send a comment to the writer personally — and quite possibly they haven’t always appreciated it. For some books with major editing issues, it seems the best thing the writers could do — for themselves and their careers — would be to pull the book and rework it before putting it up for sale again. Because a reader who buys that first book (in the series, say) won’t touch the rest. Been there; done that.

    It’s easier to not bother doing one but I do hope a writer can glean something from the review I leave. Otherwise I wouldn’t waste my time. We as writers only cut our own throats if we ignore critical reviews or comments from readers. As you said, Jeff, it’s all about honing our craft.

    I leave reviews for other readers, too. Before I buy a book I check the reviews — all of them. There are times I’ve read library books — and found them pretty sad attempts — then checked the reviews and was amazed to see how wonderful these books were. Was I out to lunch! Well, at least the first five people or so gushed on about what a great read it was. Then you get down to reviews not written by best friends or cousins and you start to see a truer picture.

    The only time I don’t leave a review is when 50 other people have said what a wonderful— or awful — book this is and I can’t add anything new to the discussion. Then I just hit the star to rate it and go on.

    As to that great novel you have yet to write — your magnum opus… We’re waiting… 😉

    • Thanks, Christine. Have you read The Art of Work? I probably won’t be writing novels any time soon, but I try to write the best nonfiction I can. And it’s not about writing. It’s about life. Check it out: artofworkbook.com

  • Jodi H

    I am new at writing so I find constructive criticism essential. It’s helping me to improve my craft. I don’t always like it, but it’s necessary if I want to be great.

  • D’Anne Hotchkiss

    Jeff, knowing you as relatively well as I do from attending your Intensive, reading your books, your blog, doing your online courses, I admit that the fact you write about writing, sans novels etc of your own, concerned me at first, in a those-who-can-do….kind of way. And then I realized that as long as your writing about writing was well-written and useful, that’s all that mattered to consider you a valuable source. But you do look disgustingly youthful (and probably will for the next 20 years). Funny how people find the most useless things to criticize — physical appearance tends to rank right near the top most of the time. Ask any woman who is trying to compete in a male-dominated field. Thanks for sharing your experience. When you share what hurts and show us how to survive it, it makes it easier for your tribe to take chances. We don’t succeed if we don’t stretch enough to risk failing.

    • Janice Roberson

      Jeff does look young, but I try not to look at him, just listen to what he is saying. I don’t know why people older than me listen to anything I have to say, but they do.

      • “I try not to look at him.” Hah!

        • Janice Roberson

          I just finished intentional blogging. They have been very helpful in writing for my new blog.
          I am here for your wisdom not your hair.

          • Gosh. But I put so much work into the hair!

            • Janice Roberson

              Some guy named Jeff says you can’t please everyone.
              LOL, LOL

  • Debbie Drissell

    I am a songwriter and a life coach. Without a song critique, or evaluation, if you prefer, the song stands little chance of getting better. There is also wisdom in knowing your audience as you write. “Nothing great is ever for everyone.” That includes great songs. As a life coach, fine-tuning my niche is key in truly helping my client. Allowing the client then the opportunity to review our work together assists me in becoming a better coach. I would add, however, to bear in mind that your work is separate from your person. If the opinion of others about our work is associated with our worth as a person, we are giving the control of our lives totally over to others and we will allow it to destroy our work, not make it better.

  • Janice Roberson

    Constructive criticism is great. If someone says that the title is boring, but doesn’t give any examples of what they like, it is a case of can’t please everyone. Especially if 3 others have said the title is intriguing and made them want to read more.

    I have had some great criticism that has made my writing much better. I listen to all criticism and then think about the source and attitude of the critic. I have found help from even the hater.

    Keep writing fellow Tribe Writer.

  • Laura Bennet

    I’ve learned the most from genuine criticism. It also helps when someone points out the good points too which cheer us on. So we grow from criticism and keep going because of encouragement.

  • Great article. Criticism is a difficult thing for most creatives, I’d say. If you’re going to read these lesser reviews, do you think it would be OK to pretend the critic has your best interest at heart and really isn’t trying to be mean? 🙂 Some of Brene Brown’s books have helped me in this area, but it’s still tough. It’s much easier to receive criticism from people that you know love you. Thanks for baring your soul. It inspires courage.

  • This might not be a popular thought, but it seems to me that if you’re to the point of publishing and you’re still afraid of honest critique then perhaps you shouldn’t be publishing yet.

    People don’t just decide one day to review a book. They have usually spent a lot of time looking at the book, considering whether they are going to spend their hard-earned money on it, and then take time reading it. Then they have to go back to the website and post the review. People who do that, no matter what they think about the book, no matter how awful the review (I’ve had several that got the main character’s name, the story, even the GENRE wrong!) are to be cherished. It means that your story got to them in some way. You connected with them. And that to me is very precious.

    I want to know what my readers think. What disturbs me more are the people who one- or five-star and it’s still on their ‘to be read list’ (you can do that on Goodreads, it turns out). I can’t for the life of me figure out why someone would do that. LOL

    • Fair point. But I honestly don’t know a professional writer who isn’t at least a little afraid of criticism. Maybe you know braver writers than I do. In fact, the more I publish, the more I fear. The more I succeed, the more it feels like I have to lose. And that’s a scary feeling.

      • I feel that the ‘scary’ part (at least for me) is the fear that a review or critique will be an ad hominem rather than an actual review.

        (well, besides an attack of the imposter syndrome, which I guess is the other side of the same thing)

        But the more crits I get the more I see that the majority of people are just trying to communicate rather than attacking me as a person.

        Have you ever read James Altucher? I follow him on Facebook and he writes a lot about success and failure and working through those feelings. He’s a good one to read in any case, but especially if that topic is difficult for you.

    • Christine

      With regard to your last thought: it’s best to buy the book, but I review some books that I’ve borrowed from the Library, too. So I won’t be listed as a purchaser or reader on any Amazon, etc, list. Maybe others do this, too, or borrow from friends?

  • Christopher C. Hill

    Great read, @JeffGoins – what I extracted from this, which you don’t directly address, though is helpful for me, is that criticism by definition represents how we as contributors of various kinds fell short or could have offered greater value to someone, but like you said and it’s the same thing that Seth Godin hammers home over and over, it’s ‘not for everyone’, which for me says it’s more about ‘them’ and less about ‘us’. I’ve always taken criticism very personally, which when you boil it doesn’t make much sense – no one buys a book or invests a ton of energy into something hoping to be ‘let down’…..no one buys a meal hoping to write a scathing review on Yelp…. if we make it less about us personally and more about how we can (or can’t) serve people in different ways, it might be a way to let things go a little easier, and be open to change, if we want. Thanks Jeff ….. with a growing audience and considering myself a true master of responding to Yelp reviews, this shall be quite helpful and might lower my blood pressure just a bit. Thanks buddy.

  • Criticism helps immensely when it comes from those who “get” my vision. I have a small band of writer friends who offer priceless & painful feedback. Criticism from trolls get “deleted” and “blocked.” : )

  • zack hayhurst

    Great post Jeff. Reassuring to all of us still at the beginning of this crazy process called a writing career.

  • a diamond

    I think, since you are asking and that is the key to be asked that I receive so many emails from you that i feel we are closer than my friends. It feels needy. I feel like i receive a lot from you trying to get my attention. I only have so much attention to give and then I want to just get away. I have also received a lot from you and would like to keep you around. With that said I feel great that I could express my feelings. If you are true to yourself and your work then you have nothing to fear. If you are a fraud then yes the nay sayers will hurt.

  • Erin

    This was a very thought-provoking post! I, too, struggle with criticism at times, but I’ve discovered that being vulnerable and accepting and acknowledging constructive criticism can really help a person grow. What do you think is the most constructive criticism you’ve received that has helped you grow the most as a writer?

  • I read the post and it gave me some thoughts to consider. I think that criticism definitely provides some much needed help for the creative process because it would allow you to find ways at being better. It will give you a good opportunity to learn what things you are already doing right.

  • Fanny Crispin

    Agreed! One of my friends recently read my book and was preparing to leave a review on Amazon. First she asked if I wanted her to leave an honest review, or a “fluffy” review. I have never asked for fluffy reviews or critiques. If something is wrong or doesn’t quite make sense, I want to hear about it, because I understand that we writers sometimes miss stuff.

    I find it ironic that I read this blog post the day after this discussion with my friend. 😉 Keep writing, Jeff.

  • Great read, Jeff. I think criticism is essential to growth in any aspect of our lives. It used to paralyze me in the past (pre-writing) and for reasons not yet known, I’m actually looking forward to my first critical comment. I feel like a writer will only get better when they have the guts to listen to their audience and aspire to be better. Much respect.

  • Honestly, I would welcome constructive criticism. I’m starving for someone to actually look at my work and tell me what’s wrong with it, rather than just saying it ‘doesn’t meet their needs’.
    I totally agree that criticism is necessary, and I’m actually going out searching for it, next month when I go in front of a panel of judges to see if I’m any good at my dream of singing.
    My family says they’re worried about what the criticism would make me feel. I say elated! For 4 years I’ve been floating, never knowing if I’m any good at anything, because no one will tell me! At least now I can get one answer, for my singing, if not my writing.
    Thank you for this article, and thank you for being honest.
    And for the record, Jeff, you’re haircut’s okay 🙂

  • Mono Wind

    You’re very clever, Jeff, and you know it. 😉

  • Caroline DePalatis

    Excellent, inspiring, and just plain honest. If we tend to be people pleasers or conflict avoiders, we can shiver when we hear or read something even mildly critical about us. Our minds can get really caught up on that stuff. But, we can choose to learn and grow from the constructive criticism, as you express so well here. This happened to me in a difficult relationship years ago, and God turned it around to become something very positive in my life (and that of the other person’s, too). But I had to be willing to listen and really hear. I’m grateful that I did. It was yet another real turning point for me.

  • Paulina

    Thanks Jeff for these useful advices.
    You can always be better and better by knowing in what you are failing. Now I know that I don’t need to be afraid of what people think of my work, even if it’s a review that didn’t like what I did.
    You made me realize that when it comes to writing, I can improve by reading the point of view of some people that might see something I don’t 🙂

  • Chat Ebooks

    Great post, as usual. Thanks for sharing. I believe book reviews are a great encouragement for authors, especially positive ones. Book reviews provide authors insight into the perspective of readers. As such, whether it’s positive or negative, reading book reviews will most definitely be a learning experience for authors. ChatEbooks recently posted: https://www.chatebooks.com/blog-Book-Reviews-Should-Authors-Read-Them-or-Put-Their-Blinders-On