1) What is and is not "constructive" criticism
2) What do we do with both constructive and destructive criticism when it comes
WHAT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM IS:
Constructive criticism is criticism that not only points out something found lacking in a work, but also provides detailed information on what exactly the problem is so the author is equipped going forward to fix the situation should he/she see the validity of the criticism.
For example, a trusted friend recently read the first paragraphs of my two novels already on the market. His response was "you need a new editor". That statement alone was NOT constructive criticism, because it did not provide me with the information to identify the problem in order to address it in future works.
However, being that this person is a trusted friend, when asked what he saw, he provided detailed information on where I had used superfluous words in communicating my message. That what I had said could have been said clearer and more succinctly. NOW I had true and valuable constructive criticism.
As soon as he said it, I knew he was right. It is a problem I struggle with in my writing. It also happened to be a problem I caught myself doing during my self-edits of my third book, Paryn’s Gold, which thankfully has yet to be released, thus providing time to go over it again with an eye for this particular penchant in mind.
WHAT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM IS NOT:
Am I engaging in hyperbole here? No, I am not. These are actual statements I have seen posted on Amazon book reviews. Some Otherworld Windows readers, who are also authors, if they have more than one or two books out there, might even have gotten one or two of these wild-hair, one-star reviews amidst the plethora of four and five star accolades.
So what do we do with this kind of feedback? Not much. Even if we think the person may have had a legitimate beef with something we wrote, their method of expressing their displeasure fails to contain the information needed to address the issue. Do we completely ignore it? My inclination is, not entirely. It is at least good to know that our work does not appeal to some people.
Don't take that too hard though. Think of your favorite, best-selling, best-written book of classic literature. I mean the one that curled your toes the first time you read it, and has remained lodged in your heart and mind ever since. Now go to the Amazon page and look at the reviews. Invariably there will be a handful of one-stars. Read some of them? Sound familiar? Seriously, everyone gets bad reviews eventually. If they haven't, it means not enough people are reading their books. Hmm, that should probably bother me since my books have all 4 and 5 star reviews thus far. I guess the dozen or so people who have actually read them must all be in my target demographic...
WHAT DO WE DO WITH CRITICISM?
If it is constructive, well-thought-out and kindly presented, my advice is that there is probably a grain of truth there worth noting. Some folks I know (you know who you are), when they receive criticism, will go out of their way to post why the criticism is completely invalid and that the reader just didn't "get" what they were doing when they wrote it that way.
Let me be blunt here. That's pretty classless. You don't have to agree with every criticism, but disagree using your inside-the-head voice. If you have to explain to readers what you were doing, you do have a problem. It means that you have ineffectively communicated your "genius" to your target audience. There might be something to take a look at there.
On the other hand, if an author is so insecure in their writing that they feel the need to take and make major changes every time they get someone who gives them a reason they didn't like something, they wind up with a voiceless, hodge-podge mess of a manuscript. Not every reader is the same, so everyone is going to either like or dislike how you wrote this or that.
For authors, the key is FIND YOUR VOICE. Now constructive criticism can greatly help in that. And if, like my friend, someone points out to you a valid problem that isn't part of the deliberate voice you intended, then be gracious and appreciative that someone cared enough to tell you the truth. If you did intend it that way, and what they don't like is really integral to your deliberate, intentional voice, then feel free to politely, but quietly, ignore the mad ravings of a lunatic and keep right on going.
One thing is for certain, though. As an author, you WILL receive criticism. It is part of the DNA and the purpose of Amazon reviews, Goodreads reviews, online reader blogs, etc. If you don't like that, stop writing and find a job that is less likely to open you to criticism. Hermit comes to mind as one of the few career choices likely to insulate you completely from criticism by others.
One final note: Pulling punches, not responding, or worse yet pouring undeserved praise upon someone does not help anyone. It might make them feel better, but it won't help them become a better writer. If someone thinks their mud cookie is a Black Forest cake, then it is unlikely they are going to turn the critical eye needed to their work to actually begin to transform it into something edible, or eventually something actually tasty. Let's all help each other by being honest, providing constructive criticism in a loving way, and being open to hear that criticism and look critically at where our own work might really benefit from taking some of the feedback and advice we receive.