How to Handle Negative Criticism (Or Not)
I now have the rare distinction of having been featured in the MenWritingWomen subreddit for a scene from my novella, Woom, because some people aren't aware that drug overdoses and/or death can cause miscarriages*, and that context in reading might be a little bit important.
*See: coffin birth, also known as postmortem fetal extrusion. Just don't look up any pictures.
If the entire premise behind the jokes wasn't wrong, I might find this very funny.
There are some real good zingers in the the sub, to be fair. My favorite is, "Usually, I feel horrible for people who suffer strokes, but if this author experienced one, I'm not sure anyone would be able to tell the difference." And "Johnny Fetusgrabber" is a very funny nickname. I think I may call myself that when I want to check into motels anonymously. Also, kudos to the people catching the grammatical error. I am an indie author who pays for editing out of pocket, and may have missed a few issues here and there. All it really takes is a few more overly critical eyes to catch these things. *wink* Anyway, plenty of spoilers abound if you want to take a deep dive into the comments.
Now, my first instinct was to log in, guns blazing, and assure them I did extensive research for this book (far more than any mortal should - there are some things that cannot be unseen). I wanted to remind them that it is fiction, and taking a few perceived artistic liberties for the sake of story isn't the worst thing out there. If just about any big-budget action movie with a dozen writers can get away with it, why can't authors?
Instead, I shared it with a some people who helped me see the bright side of it, and decided to take the high road. The high road being, writing this blog post.
They say "all press is good press," and for the most part that's true. A great deal of Woom's recent success has been due to reviews either eviscerating it or sharing their absolute disgust with other readers. But when people start making insinuations or outright accusations about your character, it gets a little harder to deal with. I've seen people say I must hate women, especially my mother, whom I love dearly (and, I should note, reads all of my work, even when I ask her not to). I've had people call me racist in public forums for things a handful of characters in books have said or done. I've even had people accuse me of paying for my reviews. (I did once, at the beginning of my career, purchase a Readers' Favorite review because I thought that was standard - see: Kirkus - but it was one of the crappiest good reviews I've ever received, and I've since had them removed. Save your money and your dignity.)
The above examples are not good press, nor are they helpful bad press. In cases like this, damage control may be necessary. No artist wants to be labeled a racist, misogynist or any other kind of -ist/-phobe. Especially not for something their characters may have said or done. It's fiction, folks. I'm not espousing these ideas myself. In fact, much of my work contradicts these accusations.
Why this latest jab at my admittedly (somewhat) fragile ego stings is because I do my utmost to create realistic characters, whether it's by writing from my own experience or others', researching, asking questions, reading a lot, what have you. Many of my readers, who are themselves predominantly women, have said I write them pretty well - and not just for a dude. I may get some things "wrong" or inauthentic here and there, but who doesn't? And seeing my writing show up on that ̶t̶o̶x̶i̶c̶ ̶s̶e̶w̶e̶r̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶a̶ subreddit with no context provided was naturally a bit of a blow, especially viewing it at 6AM on a Saturday.
So how do you handle this kind of damning critique? Respond? Stalk and attack them like this maniac? Stay off the internet, like George Lucas reportedly has since the release of The Phantom Menace? Learn to take the good with the bad? Write a caustic blog post about it?
Of these options, the latter two are probably best, though "learn to take the good with the bad" is admittedly the most difficult to achieve. No matter how well you do, there will always be comments - and sometimes entire threads like the above - that cut you down a little. But despite a very vocal minority, the good often outweighs the bad. And the more readers you attract, the more likely these people are to find your work and attempt to eviscerate it and/or assassinate your character. While it's good to have your ego checked now and again, there are much healthier ways to go about it.
As Denzel Washington allegedly said to Will Smith right before the Infamous Slap: "At your highest moment, be careful: that's when the devil comes for you." I'm inferring here, but I'm pretty sure he didn't literally meant Satan. What he meant was other people.
And anyway, I like to think the Devil and I are old friends by now.