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Indie Publishing: Handling Criticism

Being an indie author is a bit like being a parent, nurturing your literary offspring, and sending them out into the world. Yet, when the world doesn't respond with open arms, it can feel like a personal attack on something you've poured your heart and soul into. Here are some tips that help me.

Self-Publishing: Handling Criticism

The journey of a self-published author can be a solitary one. Unlike traditional authors with the backing of agents and publishers, we navigate the treacherous seas of the literary world on our own. The absence of a partner to share the load can make the weight of negative criticism feel doubly heavy. But, don’t worry. There are ways to navigate these stormy waters and emerge stronger on the other side.


In the vast expanse of the internet, communities of like-minded authors abound. They’re ready to offer a virtual shoulder to lean on. Platforms like Threads, Twitter, and Facebook harbor pockets of positivity. Surround yourself with fellow authors who uplift rather than tear down. If you haven’t found your peeps yet, seek me out, and I’ll be part of your pack. I love seeing the successes and helping with the hardships of fellow authors.

Always beware. Trolls who lurk in the shadows. Block them all. Never engage. Walking into a debate with an online bully is like seeing a pile of dog poop and intentionally stepping in it. You know what will happen. It’ll follow you wherever you go. Curate your online circle to shield yourself from the toxicity.


In-person writing communities can be invaluable resources. There is nothing like being in the same place to connect with people. Zoom just isn’t the same. Whether it’s a writing circle, a critical thinking book club, or a broader collection of authors that meets once a month in your area, seek them out. Share your triumphs and challenges with those who understand the writer's journey.

Please note that I have little to no experience with meeting other authors in real life. Chronic illness keeps me homebound most of the time, and I can barely handle the essentials of helping around the house.


Remember, reading is subjective. Just like tastes in music or food, literary preferences vary. What one person labels as a masterpiece, another might dismiss as mediocre. Embrace the diversity of opinions and recognize that your work will not resonate with everyone. You’ll hear from friends and family who may not read the genre you write. A rando might see your cover and say, this looks cool even though they don’t like books like yours. Yes, people judge books by their covers, and I’m sure yours is amazing.


I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. Trolls are an unfortunate reality of the digital age. Here’s what I keep telling myself.

  • Their anger is their issue, not yours.

  • Every troll encountered means you've reached about ten kind and generous souls.

  • Most trolls haven't bothered to read your work before unleashing criticism.

  • Your first one-star review is a milestone we all cross.

  • One-star ratings encourage readers to buy. Having only 5-star ratings means you stacked the deck with friends. Plus, readers often buy because they like the things others dislike.


Sticking to a unique voice can make your work less accessible to the average reader. This means you and your work rock. One of the benefits of being self-published is that you have stylistic control of your art. This doesn't mean your book is subpar; it just requires a more niche audience. Don't compromise your voice. Instead, actively seek out your niche readers who will appreciate your distinct style. If there are people who love feghoot, then there are people who will love your work. You just have to put yourself out there.


Embrace criticism as a tool for growth. For better or worse, I was exposed to negative criticism early on. With a parent who was a columnist in the house, I grew up with red marks all over book reports and writing projects. As a dyslexic, there were plenty. The thing I learned early on was that the feedback, whether harsh or kind improved my writing.

Later, writing scientific publications added to the onslaught of negative criticism. Academia can be quite harsh. Again, every critique became an opportunity to refine and enhance my writing.

Now, as a burgeoning novelist, I continue learning and adapting with each project. Every novel is a stepping stone toward improving my craft and my ability to absorb criticism.


One of the benefits of self-publishing is that we can correct mistakes and update our works even after they’ve been published. If readers find mistakes (which happens in traditional publications too), you can fix them and upload a new copy. If readers don’t connect with a major beat or explanation, you can go back and massage it so future readers can reap the benefits. Traditionally published authors rarely have this ability.


Craft your stories as a creative outlet for yourself. Your works are expressions of your inner world, your voice, and your creativity. The rough draft is a spectacular display of your creativity and resilience. In the initial revisions, refine the narrative to align with your vision. In later rounds, focus on editing to help others see the value of your story. Traditionally publishers usually do this last bit for their authors. As indie authors, it’s important to rely on the helpful words of your critique circle and beta readers. It’s like applying an Instagram filter to your photo before sharing it. This shift in thinking distances your story-baby from the finished product. mitigates criticism aimed at the editing process rather than the essence of your artistic expression.


Let’s recognize your bravery in venturing into the world of authorship. Of the vast number of people who dream of writing, only a few ever try to follow through. The effort you've invested and the stories you birthed will place you in a tribe of accomplished word warriors. This means you rock! Don’t listen to anyone who hasn’t brought about an expression of their inner creativity. They have no idea what it’s like.


Did I mention that you rock? Well, if you didn’t internalize it the first time, take a moment to close your eyes and say the following five times.

“I’m amazing.”

“I’m amazing.”

“I’m amazing.”

“I’m amazing.”

“I’m amazing.”


Commercial windfalls aren’t the sole metric of achievement. Writing a bestseller requires more than literary prowess. It takes salesmanship, marketing prowess, luck, timing, free time, and connections. The joy of creation is a win all of its own. Finishing a first draft is a major accomplishment. Internalizing feedback as helpful suggestions, not personal attacks, is your gold medal on the champion’s podium. You cannot succeed if you do not try. You can’t get criticism, positive or negative if you don’t pass the finish line. Figure out what success means to you, and celebrate each small win along the way.


If money and fame are your goals, I wish you just as much luck as someone who wants a single reader. Making yourself a popular success rarely happens right out of the gate. Rick Riordan, the author of Percey Jackson, wrote a nearly unread mystery series called Tres Navarres. Your breakthrough might come on your eighth book like Michael Crichton. Keep honing your craft. Keep marketing. Keep tailoring your work to appeal to the masses. Use every resource available to you. I’m confident that you'll find your place on the literary map.


Research shows that the more ratings and reviews a book has, the more likely another person is to purchase it. The quantity of ratings often holds more weight than the number of stars. Count every time that you moved someone enough for them to take the time to rate your work. Whether the feedback is glowing or glowering, you impacted someone’s world.

Many authors view their first one-star review/ratings as a badge of honor, signifying that their work has enough character to aggravate a reader who doesn’t like that style. It may hurt for a moment, but it’s a win in the grand scheme of things. Interestingly, some book browsers look at negative reviews for honest feedback on what the book is, and buy it because they like what the reviewer hated.


Remember, every acclaimed traditionally published author faces daily criticism. People hate on Harry Potter series (a series I love). Even those who love the first ones, sometimes pan the later ones. Stephen King suffers the fools who think all of his books will be the same. James Patterson takes continual abuse for pumping out books faster than the Fruit Loops factory.

So, my dear self-published authors, stand tall, take a deep breath, and forge ahead. You've got this, and the literary world is richer for your contributions.


As always, I appreciate your support of indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.

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