Fuzzy Robot Love or Evaluate and Improve, Don’t Engage
Today, we’re going to talk about handling criticism professionally.
For the average gamer, when you spend some time putting something together for your friends you may have a great game, an average game, or you may be ill-prepared, your session may be imbalanced, and the evening may have been better spent for all involved watching Showgirls or something with more creative value. Usually, you’re gaming with your buddies and they may be forgiving or razz you, but it doesn’t impact you in the long term, unless you dwell on it, and then it may rise to legend.
For writers who don the crazy hat of game design, it’s a whole different ballgame. You have to make sure all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. You have to make sure the scenario is balanced (if it should be) or builds up to a mountain of impossible doom (if you’re working on darker works), but you should always make certain it’s entertaining. I won’t follow that particular tangent (tempting though it may be), but suffice it to say you’re putting yourself out there and on the line. Many folks are so invested in their works they cannot separate the product from the person, so a slight on one is a slight on the other. Let’s face it, any sort of writing is ego-driven on some level. We’re in the entertainment industry. We are only as good as our next big thing, and once we sweat and toil on something and it gets out there, people always, invariably ask, what you’re working on next. It’s so different from, let’s say, a chef who serves you a meal. You don’t eat it and say, “what’s next on the menu?” You allow it time to digest. Just as sharks must swim, writers must write. And, like with all entertainment, when you offer up a dish of words, you’re going to get evaluated. If you don’t, that’s another whole problem in and of itself.
Reviewers come in all shapes and sizes. With the internet, anyone can slap together a review of your product, be it Aunt Sally or Gloria Steinbeck. And it can go all sorts of places.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have positive reviews of my personal work and the work done by my studio. We try hard, and strive to make good stuff. However, you have to realize you can’t please everyone. Let’s take Iron Dynasty, for example. I’ve had people overwhelmingly say great things about it (and I thank you all who did), but we had a few folks who were, let us say, underwhelmed. I don’t take it personally. Some folks like escargot, but I’ve never tried them. The thought of putting snails in my mouth, gourmet though they may be, never has entered my mind, unless I was stuck on a deserted island and I had a choice between snails and rocks, and even then, I might break a tooth before I gave the snails a try. On the other hand, I love oysters. I can eat ’em raw, steamed, boiled, or fried. I’ve never met an oyster I didn’t like. Other folks gag at the sight of them. The point is, you eat what you like, and I’ll eat what I like. You may make the best escargot in the world, but I hope you don’t take it personally if I decline your offer–it’s not a judgment call on you as the Snail King, I assure you.
So, back to our reviewers. When you (as a writer) get a review, you should have a grain of salt near by. You may need it. You can first look over how many reviews the person has done to see if they pride themselves on being impossibly hard across the board or lavish false praise upon anything with more than three words. Some reviewers are in love with particular writers and are hesitant to say bad things, others are contrary, and others look for nits to pick. In a word, reviewers are, dare I say, human. They may have had a horrible day, rising out of bed stubbing their toe in the process. They may have gotten laid off and come home early to find the wife has left a Dear John letter and divorce papers next to a cold TV dinner and a bottle of Scotch. You are not going to be heaped with praise. The cat’s gotta vent, and you may be the unwitting victim of pent up hostilities. You get where I’m going here. I know you do.
Evaluate: Once you’ve determined said reviewer has something worth saying and has a decent rep, you can look a bit deeper to see if any of his words are objective rather than subjective. Sloppy, poorly edited writing or poor organization is a lot different than a guy saying he doesn’t like fuzzy robots. Fuzzy robot love is a matter of personal preference, and if that’s your thing, you get down with your bad self.
Improve: A good reviewer wants to not only offer his audience his opinion, he also wants the writer to get better. Most reviewers are doing it for the love of the game. Some may get some free swag, but by and large, they are offering up some free advertising for you, plus they are critiquing your work. Believe me. Reviewers suffer a world of pain–for every good product they review, they may read through a dozen things you or I wouldn’t bother to buy or even read if someone gave them to us. They want to help, and point out places you can do better. And, no matter how good you are, you can always do better.
Don’t Engage: Again, with the Internet, there is no cooling off period as in past days when people wrote letters. You may say, well the phone doesn’t give us a cooling off period, and you’re right, but it’s unlikely you’re gonna have the number of the reviewer, so it’ll take some time for even the most angry and dedicated slighted artiste to track down a person and give them a ring. I used to do skiptracing and if really wanted to find someone I could. My time is better spent playing Pokemon. Most folks don’t want to confront directly, in person, they want a chance to shout down their naysayers. They want the same one-sided stage the other side got when their piece was said. The thing is, no good can come from making direct contact with a detractor–certainly, you can shut them down with your fancy words, but you’re not going to convince the world your badly written baby is better than it was before they laid their godless eyes on it. Rather than focus on the bad egg, even if they are entirely right, and utter only golden truths from their lips, you need to take care of your fan base, and you better get better or your fan base won’t hang around for long.
No one wants to see what goes on behind the curtain. It’s an ugly, messy place, and people may say they want to see what goes on back here, but I promise you, you don’t. When it’s done, we’ll ship the fun right out to you.
I want to leave you with the example of “What Not to Do” in case you’re thinking there is a justification for wailing on your fans.
The Set Up: Big Al is an indie e-book reviewer whom I’ve never heard of until a writer I know posted it on Facebook, so I have no dog in this fight, so I came to the party a bright-eyed innocent, and left slack-jawed with a bit of tarnish on my halo. Don’t believe me? Read for yourself.
Oh, Jacqueline Howett, I don’t know ya, but I hope you learned something from this experience. All the time you spent playing snakes could’ve been better spent working on polishing up your next work.
Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!
P.S. I tweeted this yesterday, and someone asked who I sided with, and I gave him an answer in less than 140 characters, but I thought it deserved a bit of amplification, and I’ll leave it to you to decipher with whom I side in this instance.