META/POLL: The Purpose of Criticism

tem2 gfishbone at
Wed Feb 20 09:31:49 PST 2008

On Feb 17, 1:23 pm, Tom Russell <milos_par... at> wrote:
> In your opinion:
> 1. Is this basically how feedback can and should work?

It seems a problem when you see nothing lacking from a story but you
also don't find anything that specifically interests you, so that all
you have to say is, "I read this story and it was funny."  Sure, it's
good to know that a story is being read and appreciated, but an empty
review isn't particularly helpful to the author or to readers.

> 2. If not, how should one provide feedback?

If the review really is meant to provide feedback, it should always
include something specific that you liked or disliked--a line of
dialogue, a punchline, a character description--or some question or
speculation raised by anticipating future plot twists.  It doesn't
have to be more than a single sentence as long as there's at least one
real observation in it.

> 3. Is offering suggestions and alternatives, and pointing out flaws,
> tantamount to attacking a work or author?

This is where it gets tricky, because some people are so invested in
their work that they don't see the difference between constructive
criticism and a personal attack.  And what one reader sees as a design
flaw, others might see as a feature.  Personally, I love getting
feedback, but I've developed a thick skin and can disregard the
suggestions I don't like without losing respect for the person
suggesting them.  You may want to limit this kind of criticism to
those authors who specifically request it.

> And:
> 1. Authors whose work has been under review, do you find "Russell's
> Reviews" to be mostly helpful or unhelpful?

It's good to know that at least one person out there is reading
Sporkman and finding it consistently funny, so thank you for that.  I
recently published a book that received "professional" reviews, and as
a result I've become very critical about the whole reviewing process
where reviewers aren't always assigned to their most preferred type of
reading material, some tend to state opinions as facts, or to state
opinions without backing them up with proper examples, or to provide
gratuitous spoilers without proper warning, and most are under such
tight deadlines that they don't always have time to read the way
readers do--for enjoyment and with understanding.  Because you are a
writer and reader of superhero fiction, I think you can do better than
most of the "professional" reviewers would.

> 2. Readers whose work is not under review, do you find it to be mostly
> helpful or unhelpful?

Well thought out critical feedback is helpful to any author, even if
the feedback is on somebody else's stories.  There is a lot to learn
from somebody who is well-enough read in a given genre that they can
develop informed opinions that can be backed up by specific examples.
You do that well.


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