Offensive Bread Rolls: What I Learned About Audience Opinion

It was my first big writing assignment.

I had volunteered as a food critic for the local newspaper.  I was to go to local restaurants, eat the food, write up a review, and submit to my editor.  It was a dream come true after publication rejections and setbacks.  Grant it, I was working for free, but the perks of actual publication were too good to give up.  My name was going to be in the paper!  My writing was going to be read by people other than my mom!

Not to mention I’d have an excuse to try that new pizza place on the other side of town…

My first restaurant was a popular steak house in the city.  This place is famous for its great deals and endless bread rolls.  You have to arrive at an off time just to get a seat at dinner.  Otherwise, you’ll be waiting an hour to get in.

I ate the food.  I wrote the article.  I submitted it for publication.  About a week later I saw my article appear not only in the newspaper but on the paper’s internet site as well.

Success!  I thought.  Until the comment came.

Most were pleased with the article.  I got complimented for my writing.  But then one comment came , and it was (shall we say) less than polite.  I remember sitting at the computer of my aunt’s house, shaking my head.  “How can talking about how good the bread rolls were be so offensive?”  I remember saying.  It was the first time I had ever experienced an audience member rejecting my writing, and though I played it off as a joke (Bread rolls?  Offensive?  Ha!), I was bothered by it.

Being rejected by publishers is almost expected.  Competition to get your work in print is high, and unless you’re writing the next big seller and have Super Agent to get you in the game, you know it’s tough to be accepted.  Rejection hurts, but it’s something most writers hear about, so we almost expect it.  But to hear from the audience, the very people you are writing for, that something about your story isn’t good enough, is heartbreaking.  As writers, our stories are meant for the audience.  What they say about our work means a lot because we are writing for them, right?

And so I took the comments to heart.  No matter how silly or trivial the insult was, I took it seriously.  I worked harder to make my writing perfect so that everyone would love it.  I was determined to win over every audience member.  But as more articles were published, I came to realize something.  No matter how good the story was, now matter how many readers I gained, there was always some out there who just didn’t like my writing.  They weren’t interested in the story.  They thought other writers were better.

In the end, I learned that with publication, there are always going to be those audience members who don’t like my work.  They don’t like my stories.  They don’t like my writing style.  They don’t like anything.  And that’s o.k.  People are entitled to their opinions just like I am entitled to mine.  The important lesson from this for me, however, was to filter what my readers said.  If it was pointless criticism (i.e., This is stupid.  Everyone knows that restaurant stinks), I learned to ignore it.  If it didn’t help me become a better writer, there was no point in dwelling on it.  If the criticism was constructive (i.e., I liked how you wrote the article, but I’d like to see you visit more diverse restaurant types and know your opinion on those), then I listened to it.  Constructive criticism helped me become a better writer and connected me more with the audience I was writing for because they knew their voices were being heard.

No matter what stories we write, there are bound to be a variety of opinions.  (Just reading television or film forums will give you an idea of just how wide the spectrum of audience opinion is!)  But as writers, it’s up to us to take audience opinion and learn from it but not be discouraged by it.  Because no matter what, there’s always someone out there who is going to be offended by bread rolls at a steak house.

But there’s always someone out there who is going to think your writing is brilliant, too.