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My Only Response To Criticism Of My Book

Hey everyone, I fly out to Seattle in the morning for two events, and then I’ll be in San Francisco next Tuesday for a few things. Hope to see you on the road! Also, the link to the NPR interview on RadioWest is up if you’re interested. Doug Fabrizio made it really easy and we had a great time.

Last night at my Salt Lake Library event, someone asked me how I respond to criticism? If you’ve been following the last few weeks, you know that I don’t read reviews of my book. So I haven’t seen a lot of criticism, or praise for that matter, although I know the reaction has been largely positive. Hooray!

But other people do read the reviews and some have sent me snippets that, while largely positive, also mention aspects of the book that didn’t quite work for them. These helpful emailers are often wondering how I react to any type of criticism. (I’m not saying don’t send me these, but I am going to tell you what my reaction is going to be just about every time)

The best answer I can give is that, as a librarian who just wants everyone to read, it’s not my place to tell anyone how they should react to my book (or any other).

What if someone says, “This part of your book was preachy for me?”

Should I argue? Should I  say, “No it wasn’t, I’m never preachy, go read it again!” If that reader thought something was preachy, I say that reader is right. If another reader says it’s not preachy, that reader’s correct as well.

If someone says a section “dragged,” compared to the rest of the book, I’m not going to say “Oh no it didn’t!” If it dragged for that reader, then it dragged for that reader. Should I say, “You know, if you really think about it, that was actually the most exciting section for you. Try to remember.”

And if someone says, “It’s kind of all over, not super cohesive,” I’m not going to protest that it is, in fact, the very definition of cohesion. What would be the point?

I wrote the book, it’s out there, and I don’t get to insist on how people react to it. Nor am I interested in everyone having the same reaction, the differences are what keep things lively and lead to such great conversations about books.

The only response that makes sense to me as a writer is:

It’s a privilege to have readers, and not everyone has readers. Thank you for reading!



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ryan Carty May 17, 2013, 10:43 am

    This is not only wisdom, but one of the few ways any writer, artist, can stay sane. You can never please everyone and if you please some, that is a very good thing.

    Art is subjective, and while this book is not fictional, it is still art. When you share art, whatever intention you may have had for it goes out the window. It exists only in how it is perceived by others.

    Gosh, you’re such a smarty.

  • Amy May 17, 2013, 11:02 am

    Such great perspective. I’d like to be more that way about life in general. You’re a wise dude.

  • Michael LaRocca May 17, 2013, 11:58 am

    Excellent advice, and you figured it out about 30 years earlier in your writing career than I did. You rock.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 17, 2013, 12:27 pm

      We’ll see if I can continue to take my own sage counsel!

  • Melody Tolson May 17, 2013, 12:30 pm

    You are very wise. This reader found it a great read, like sitting down with an interesting friend and having him tell me some great stories. In the words of Quentin Crips:
    “To me everyone is interesting who will talk about himself but, when I said this in Toronto, I was laughed to scorn by one of the city’s drama critics. I have therefore since then revised this statement. I now claim that everyone is interesting who will tell the truth about himself.”

  • Melody Tolson May 17, 2013, 12:31 pm

    Oops! Quentin Crisp, not Crips.

  • Jennifer May 17, 2013, 12:50 pm

    You have such a great attitude Josh. Good for you!

  • mike May 17, 2013, 3:44 pm

    The real question is how do you react to a comment about a comment in the comments section of the article you wrote about people commenting on your work? When I peel back all the layers, that is the inner-Josh I want to know.

    Come to Dallas already. I want my book signed.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 17, 2013, 4:22 pm

      Mike, Mike, Mike, I’ve already hashed this out with you. Go howl at your bookstore and library. chant my name in the street. Or Erik will have to put you back in the body cast!

      • mike May 17, 2013, 5:04 pm

        Body cast? I remember something different…but I’ll howl at the library if it helps. I chanted your name in the streets already and it did absolutely nothing. You made me look like a fool.

  • Monika May 17, 2013, 5:15 pm

    Great points! Definitely a healthy, sanity-saving attitude for anyone who creates (whether writing, or art, or music, or whatever).

  • Shane VanOosterhout May 18, 2013, 8:15 am

    Many actors will say they never read the reviews of their performances for the same reasons. I love it when artists of any medium are honest this way, willing to admit to their own fragility. Of course we all want praise for our work. However both praise and negative criticism can be infectious, resulting in fever and delusion.

  • Laura E-Biggs May 18, 2013, 1:13 pm

    (if you can use this one with fewer typo’s, that would be great, LOL)

    Freakin’ brilliant, and I’m not being sarcastic or sardonic. I just had a bit of a come-uppance over lunch with a friend who had the guts to call me out on something I did at work. It took her about a week to screw her courage to the sticking point, and I reacted with a “yeah,but” at first. Then I realized that not only was her perception of my attitude not going to change, it was probably pretty accurate. I was a little short with her, or I can at least see how she would think that. And it held a mirror up to remind me how I want to be treated.

    Thank goodness there are people who are brave enough to tell us their truth, even when it’s not what we want to hear.

  • Dulcie Blackburn May 24, 2013, 11:14 pm

    What a great perspective! You are so right. I just finished your book tonight and absolutely loved it. You had me laughing out loud, and I appreciate your honesty about everything. Reading it felt like chatting with a friend. I loved the conversation between you and your mom about religion, it helped me to better understand my son and to know how to better respond to him. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 25, 2013, 8:47 am

      Dulcie, thank you. I’m so glad you wrote. Good luck with everything.