First, please watch this TED Talk, “How everyday interactions shape your future” by Mesmin Destin, a social psychologist who was almost talked out of the rest of his life by one key person…

Having heard that, I had to wonder, how many potentially great authors had some negative feedback early on, before they really even started, well before any of us got to read anything they’ve written, and that was it? They never started. They were talked out of it, scared away from it…

And, honestly, why wouldn’t they be?

Spending only a few minutes on the internet will expose anyone to massive, endemic negativity. Everyone is a critic, no one is an expert, and it seems, at least, that for every positive message about books, authors, the publishing business… there’s at least a dozen negatives. Books and authors and other readers are dragged around GoodReads, Amazon, YouTube, Discord… everywhere.

What if that one “takedown” review you posted somewhere is read by a would-be author the same age Mr. Destin was when that school guidance counsellor almost blew up his life—but your review blows up that kid’s life?

There’s no way to know if that’s already happened, or ever will happen, but if there’s a greater than zero chance it might, that’s all the reason any decent person needs to just keep it positive.

I’ve read books I did not like. Probably more than most people, but the job that I do requires me to be a positive influence on authors—and that’s one of the things I love most about being an editor. I’m not providing criticism, I’m providing advice, and there is a crucial difference, mostly having to do with specificity and timing. I get to that author and that book before it’s too late. Before it’s already out there in the shark tank, maybe being ripped to shreds for sport.

And let’s face it, ya’ll, ripping an author and a book to shreds is sport. It serves no one. Please just don’t. If for no one else’s the sake but that one unknown author still to come, who may just end up being the greatest of all time.

—Philip Athans

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About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Sherri says:

    And Phil is true to his word. He is encouraging but insightful and honest with his supportive advice. He is not a critic. He is a partner.

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