Handling Professional Critics

Man painting large wall sign keep calm and carry on

Don't ever become fazed by critics and reviewers — they'll get you eventually for something anyway, no matter how good you may think you are. Understand, that the business of the professional critic is often not personal.

Critics can be paid by other parties to find dirt, sensation, to drag a publication down. Moreover, sometimes, there can be even more nefarious tactics involved and you're just a statistic in the way.

Even other authors may "write in" us a false profile to run down another, "competing" author. Who would have thought? Yet, we can always remind ourselves that human nature is indeed ... variable, pleasantly surprising, uplifting, encouraging, or shocking, debilitating, steeped in a deep sadness, depending on the drama.

Though I suggest today, the general public is not so gullible. Yes, people read reviews, but readers can also think. Readers, viewers, listeners know what they like, and what they would rather leave alone.

Rather, the job of the worst critics is a dirty one that for the reasons suggested below tends to bring better returns for newspapers, magazines, television, and now the Internet. 

As they say, "If it bleeds, it leads". So applying some negativity may help sell more copies of a publication.

A curious quirk of human nature is that what good or uplifting or inspirational is often considered boring, so may not sell sufficiently well or capture our attention as much as what is considered fear-based, involves loss, uncertainty, and doubt. 

Newspapers, advertisers, millions of websites — all understand the basic rule above. Many people pay more attention to the bad stuff, and attention sells more widgets.

For some folks, "anything but boring", dominates their days — until they're in over their head, drowning in misery.

If we don't want to be exploited, we don't have to play the fear victim game. At any moment, we can change our outlook, even if outward circumstances are the polar opposite of what's good and fine and beautiful. How: when we close our eyes, or cover our ears, our thoughts are our own.

Whereas with lots of fear, uncertainty, doubt (FUD), to work with, newspapers can sell more copies, and news websites gain more visitors. For many, the fear of something is far more compelling than the benefits of something else. 

In a similar manner, we wonder, are professional critics brought into existence to create storms — especially where there are none?

Furthermore, critics don't often enjoy any prizes for saying something is great. In the wave of negativity that seems to be strong among many across the world, right now, tension and controversy are almost guaranteed to sell dominate our limited attention space.

Traditionally, and perhaps not surprisingly, authors especially, often have much to say about critics. For example, Brendan Behan (1923-64) cites:

  • "Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves."


Author John Osborne (1929-94) suggested:

  • "Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs."

What Drives a Professional Critic?

Remember, at least for now, what ultimately powers most media outlets is the considerable sales value that lies in advertising slots.

From a business perspective, often advertising revenue is "What it's really all about": TV programming, quality, drama, and so on, are often all secondary issues. To the viewing and reading public, of course, the reverse is true. Yet here, we're exploring what could be described as the real drivers in business.

Consider how many times well known critics have slated and ravaged a new literary creation, yet later, sometimes years later, the public have flocked to buy the same book or enjoy the film!

How Public Criticism Can Actually Help Boost Sales of Your Book, e-Book or Website

Such "Reverse-nosis" suggests several additional benefits:

  • If a critic slams your book, production or website, understand that's not necessarily a bad thing. Why: keep reading for an explanation. Proof if ever needed that at times, the world is indeed topsy-turvy?
  • Often, even so called "bad publicity" actually helps create more sales for a "targeted" author. Yes, really! Given the choice of trying to appear wonderful to everyone and getting a 20% bigger royalty check / cheque, remember, pleasing everyone doesn't necessarily pay your bills.
  • To demonstrate the imperfection of being human. Fault and redemption are related. According to Chinese philosophy, we all have some Yin and Yang. Yin is our passive, negative force, and yang our active, positive force. Yin and yang can also be compared to good and bad.

    Most reasonable, sane people probably like to imagine that their "bad" traits are overshadowed by their "good deeds or characteristics. Some so-called "bad publicity" can also give your book, e-book or website greater credibility.

    Why? If you have nothing but glowing feedback, some folks may simply refuse to believe anyone could be "that good", and therefore, may start to disbelieve almost everything they read or hear about you. That's why a little bad publicity can make you seem more human — and therefore, believable.

The Seemingly Growing Problem Of Fake Reviews

Criticism can come in different forms: some from a genuine opinion, which is fine. However, our world seems to be awash in fake reviews.

How can any review be good or bad when the review is fake, paid to order or through flawed choice, produced by a competing company, publisher, author?

Would some of the worst competing companies pay tens, maybe hundreds of people to write bad reviews on review websites?

I know the answer, though I'll let you give that some thought.

Key point: by all means, feel free to read reviews. We're all more gullible than we like to think we are. We're influenced by what others may say. However, there's no real true way to validate any review. So why not simply make your own mind up?

Sometimes, competitors can organize the manufacture of bulk false bad reviews on websites like,, and so on, to help discredit an author or publisher, in favor of another.

Yet often, unexpected outcomes can frustrate such individuals. While host websites do what they can to stamp out such bad practices, fraudsters keep trying new ways to create fake reviews.

The good news: the best review websites are starting to address the problems created through fake and false reviews. Facebook and Amazon especially seem to be earnestly striving to stamp out "fakedom" done in their names.

Nevertheless, how can so-called "bad advertising" boost sales of your book, production or website?

Bizarrely, as the saying goes "All publicity is good publicity". Attention is the most expensive currency today. Since both good and bad publicity gives you as the author or creator something valuable for zero marketing cost: you gain more public attention.

When you capture attention, that in itself becomes free advertising ... up to a point. If you go beyond the attention limit, if the public mood turns, any such further focus can then work against you. Strive to know where you are in that cycle, phase, curve, so that you can best determine what steps to take — if any.

How Genuine Intelligent Criticism Can Help Authors 

There's also another key message here: in your writing or website promotion career, those people who are most important to you are your readers, buyers, customers and clients, first and foremost — absolutely do listen to them.

Amid the perhaps millions of fake reviews, there are genuine nuggets of thoughtful, helpful feedback from critics who provide valuable added insights. 

Furthermore, I recommend that you cultivate the development of an open mind to what professional critics have to say. Why? Two reasons especially:

  • Be gracious: allowing for the fact that true professional critics do have their own agendas, as discussed above, sometimes, a critic really can identify a shortfall in what we're offering. This provides us with valuable feedback for no cost.
  • Not all bad reviews are bad, fake, false. Sometimes — a critic may identify an important trait or weakness of which we're genuinely unaware. How: often, we may be too close to our creative project to see the full picture. In these circumstances, an independent eye can help identify areas to improve and help us get better at what we do. However, mostly you'll just want to learn how to filter out the nonsense. You decide.

Most important, why let the fear of criticsm stifle your project? Better: go boldy forward, one step at a time. Grow your own imaginary thick skin, turn that into a cape, strategically place around your shoulders, and become your own superhero. 

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