Is joining a critique group really a smart step?
Many writers of fiction, if they are honest with themselves, are pathologically insecure. They are doubters, second-guessers, Monday-morning quarterbacks, and pessimists. It doesn’t matter if they are successful or not. Their literary glass is always half empty.
To survive, novelists must develop a thick skin. They take criticism badly, mostly because they’re already their own worst critics. They often secretly believe some of the other critics are right.
I am not a big fan of writers’ groups. You know, where writers, usually in a similar genre — mystery, thriller, romance, erotica, etc. — get together and critique each other’s work, offering suggestions and, presumably, support. Perhaps that is because I had a particularly bad experience once. Invited to help form such a group, I found myself at the first meeting being lavishly praised by one participant and unmercifully shredded by another.
I might have weathered that, but both had read the same book at issue! One thought I had real talent. The other thought I had real nerve publishing such drivel. Neither offered suggestions, just gushes or scorn. I left, never to return.
On reflection, I believe that neither critique had merit, since neither person who read my book had written one of their own. They wanted to be novelists. I suspect that a writers’ group of published authors might be more valuable. At the very least, every member knows how other writers feel. So, they are likely to be a tad more circumspect in their comments, good or bad.
I also have a jaundiced view of scathing reviews on Amazon. My good reviews far outnumber the poor ones, so I take some comfort in that. But I used to agonize over the bad reviews. The only ones I take seriously now are those that deal with typos and grammar, which I try to fix in later editions when appropriate.
I say “when appropriate” because some of the grammatical phrases that are criticized are intended to be ungrammatical. A character who is an illiterate thug would not speak the King’s English, after all. Even some of my smarter protagonists often use contractions or slang. I ignore suggestions that I clean up such language.
Some Amazon reviewers complain about there being too much violence or sex in my books, despite covers and blurbs that foretell just those fun things. They also apparently don’t watch any television or go to the movies. There are other reviewers who think my plots are too fantastical and the events described couldn’t possibly happen in real life.
Again, they apparently don’t watch TV or read the paper.
So, I have developed a thick skin. But I still am wracked by insecurity. For example, in my soon-to-be-released mystery, my characters are involved in the world of cryptocurrencies. Prior to two recent research trips to San Francisco, a crypto hub, I knew virtually nothing about bitcoins (a common terminology for any cryptocurrency, although Bitcoin is the name of the original, and most expensive, of the bunch).
I took many notes and have done more research since, but I’m certainly no expert. Since I explain cryptos in the book, I’ve had to turn some arcane terminology into words that humans like me can understand. I think I did a credible job, but I have doubts.
Which will never go away.