Friday, April 20, 2012

Critiques on Published Works

Interesting little discussion started over at AW over whether there was a point to leaving a critique of an already published story. Because you know how most online zines have a comments box for readers to reply to a story.

Now some folks say there isn't a point to critiquing a published story because, well, it's published. It seems pointless to critique something that has already made the rounds, and it's not like you can really do anything once the story is out there.

True, you may not be able to change the story once it's been published, but I do believe it's good to critique a story, rather than putting it up on the mantle and never touching it. In some ways, a critique helps keep a story alive, instead of it stagnating: stories that generate discussion are the ones most remembered, right?

Critiques are also reviews. Saying you loved a story is just as much of a review as someone who pointed out the typos or inconsistencies; it's all how we perceive the story. We could say that that individual who left the critique/negative review should have just kept quiet and moved on to another story, but then we'd be stifling freedom of speech. That person who leaves a negative review is as much justified as the one who left a positive review, and it's not fair to ask someone to keep it to themselves just because it's not positive. Imagine going up to the film critic Rodger Ebert and telling him he shouldn't give negative reviews, because the film is already made and there's nothing his comments can do to change that.

And this leads us to another point: critiques help us gauge the quality of a piece.

Could you imagine if all the reviews up on Amazon were nothing but 4 or 5 stars. How would you know what's a decent product and what isn't? I mean they're all rated/praised the same, would that imply that they're all the same?

No, of course not. And the same goes for stories: not all stories are of the same caliber. Even when published, some stories are simply not as good as they could've been, and readers have a right to say so. If multiple readers comment that a particular story isn't up to snuff, naturally, the consequence is that not as many people will check it out. But by the same token, it may generate curiosity as to why the story doesn't work for so-and-so.

Think of Twilight. There are people who both hate and love Twilight and you can't deny it, it has been the topic of many discussions. So even though people have said negative things (many, many negative things), it didn't exactly kill the book's popularity.

Now comes the hard part: Authors accepting these critiques on their published works. That doesn't mean you have to agree, but it's a fact of writing that not everyone is going to like what you do, so you have to accept that it'll happen. And when it does, be the bigger person (i.e. don't argue with the reader--that only makes you look bad). You can ignore it, chalk it up that it must be a difference in personal taste, or perhaps try to see it from the reader's perspective. Personally, I'd strive to understand, because it opens you up to perceptions outside the scope of your own mind, and as a writer, it's important to be open-minded.

So yeah, I think I've gone on long enough. But basic message: critiques aren't the end of the world, and may actually be beneficial. Don't fear the critique!


  1. In the case of my story "Stone in the Sky and Bread Below" @ EDF early this year, folks REALLY hated the absence of contractions. So when the rights reverted to me and I released it along with 11 other tales for Kindle readers, guess what I did? That's right. I added contractions. =]

    Every story can be improved; I don't care if it's already been published. Critiques make us better writers.

    1. Ahh yeah, I remember that one. It's good to hear you didn't take offense to the critiques. :)

      Part of my reasoning that drove me to post this was because someone jumped down my throat for posting a critique as response on a story. There seems to be this real stigma against critting a story once it's out there--but yet, we crit novels and movies all the time.

  2. You can learn a lot from good critiques of published works as they can help make your next book much better.