Many years ago, when I was writing content for my website, astrologyTOMORROWtoday.com, I wrote and published over a thousand articles spanning an eight-year period and didn’t receive a single critique regarding my usage of the English language. I had more than a million unique visitors over that span of time and everyone was focusing on the content, not the standard of English. Since I started publishing books, suddenly, it’s all about the grammar, punctuation, syntax, and format. Nobody is talking about the content and the ideas. In reflecting why this is so, I had to conclude that it’s the publishing industry that has set these standards. The content on my website was offered to the public for free before self-publishing became a case of too much supply and not enough demand. Books are for sale and not for free so they are held up for scrutiny. Then again, even books that are offered for free get scrutinized and critiqued. Yet, I see errors of punctuation in the newspapers (online and in print) on a regular if not daily basis and no one critiques the newspapers. Why do you think that is?
As writers go, I don’t know which is worse -- for our books to be ignored and to remain in obscurity, or for our books to be critiqued mercilessly. People get hurt when told they are not good enough. It hurts only because we aren’t able to see ourselves in the light. Three years ago, when I started writing books for publication, I went to my defunct astrologyTOMORROWtoday website to tap some old articles for blog write-ups. There were over a thousand articles on that archive on the Lycos free server but I was appalled at the standard of my writing. Over the eight years, this website had about a million unique visitors. No one complained about the grammar or syntax, etc. and yet, I was able to judge that my writing then was not good enough. I wanted to maintain the archives with a view to editing some material for blogs or books but when I realized the search engines were bringing up those archived pages, I had to delete the whole archives. I chose not to let present readers access the old archives as I was not proud of my level of writing then. Nowadays, I set higher standards for myself and I don’t expect a lot of negative critiques. Even so, I’m not going to be knocked off balance by critiques. I know my English is not perfect but I’m good enough for the purpose of sharing my messages. We only feel hurt when we are not ready to see ourselves in the light. If you Google ‘astrology tomorrow today’, you will still see links to my old website(s). I wrote under the name mEinah aka Mei Nah Khoo.
I noticed an odd thing in recent times. When I quoted content from traditionally published books in my manuscript, one of my editors found errors in those quoted passages. He kept correcting the errors of these published books and I had to tell him not to. I used “[sic]” to keep the quoted passages as they appear in the original works but my first editor suggested they were not necessary. I also used “[sic]” to show that the spelling, word, or phrase that I used was my choice, not bad English or a typo and again, my editor said it was not necessary. Should I listen to the editors or not? For example, the well-known “good, better, best.” I want to make a point with “good, gooder, goodest.” Why can’t I use the latter?
I agree writers have to set aside a time to take on critiques. Not any and all time is a good time. During the alpha reading phase, we look forward to the critiques as we build our manuscripts and during the beta reading phase, we look forward to the comments to finesse our manuscripts. Then we have the manuscripts pro edited (more critiques) and pro formatted and once published, we look forward to fewer critiques as by then, there is nothing we can do to improve on the manuscripts unless we want to pull the book and re-write, which is a lot of hassle. The time writers don’t enjoy critiques is when the books have already gone to print and it would cost a lot to make the changes.
All artists, whether in paint, prose or song, are in the business of communicating with their public. We feed, gain, and grow off the interactions. Let it not be said that I can’t take criticism of my work. If I’m putting myself out there getting my ass kicked, whoever wants to critique should earn the right to critique by a) buying my book(s) and by b) critiquing on my social media page(s). If I am afraid of critiques, I would be preferring to take them in private rather than have to apologize now for not being able to handle critiques via personal email. I choose to handle critiques in public so that we all enjoy more mileage from our investment of time.
Talking about critiques, the experts say we shouldn’t ask our friends for critiques as they tend to be too kind. In my experience, strangers have been kinder. Most strangers stick to the old maxim, “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” The people who leave snarky reviews or comments appear to have an agenda, don’t they? The people who know me like family, friends, and acquaintances pull no punches or they simply ignore my books. The writers on the forums have shared that their families and friends are not happy for them when they have published a book. In my opinion, the people who have known us for some time think that by becoming authors, we will consider ourselves superior to them in some way. They do not want to feel inferior to us so they need to minimize our accomplishments in order to not feel bad about their own sense of a lack of accomplishments. They probably had talents and dreams at one time too. Whereas we were able to discipline ourselves to work our talents to a point of fruition, and they have not, bother them no end. Friendships and relationships have ended as a result of this.
Sadly, it’s the people in our lives and those we know who don’t want us to pull ahead. They do not want to be left behind. If they don’t like us, they don’t want us to succeed because that means we’ve done something right for our progress and they were wrong to have looked down on us. It’s about them, not about us. So we have to be careful who we allow into our minds and lives. We have to have enough self-confidence in ourselves to know we are capable of good, steady work. Experts say there is no such thing as overconfidence. One just cannot have too much of confidence.
Many writers get depressed when they discover that their books don’t sell as they hoped or wished they would. Many bubbles get burst and then it’s back to our personal reasons for writing and publishing.