Very often hate reads are undertaken by people who fall outside of the text’s original demographic. I must stress that this doesn’t invalidate the criticisms (especially if we are talking about marginalised people deconstructing mainstream work written about them but not for them), but when it comes, say, to an unqueer white nerd who fundamentally believes all vampires should scary monsters and not romantic heroes, his point of view on Twilight may be useful but ultimately, I shouldn’t consume so much of his work that I internalise his voice. It would not be constructive. Because I am not trying to write for him.
I should not cultivate in my head a Critical Voice that is antagonistic to the premises of the genre I want to write in. That way lies compromising my ideas to appeal to hypothetical readers who would never actually want to engage with my work, all the while alienating people who are actually invested in the premise itself.
Jeannette Ng on not.
Ng’s point here is that brutal, nitpicky critiques, sporkings, and hate reads can be fun… but they’re fundamentally poisonous to your own ability to write, because they stifle creativity. Part of learning is fucking up, and unfortunately when you’re a paid creative oftentimes the only way to fuck up is to fuck up publicly. But if the threat of the critical voice means you don’t have the courage to try and fail in the first place, you’ll never get anywhere at all.
And as Ng points out, this critical voice seems to hit marginalized creators the hardest. “Submit like a white man” might be a jokey thing authors say to each other when they’re angsting over whether to send this novel to that agent, but there’s a painful core of truth there. Because who is it in society who gets permission to fuck up royally, in public, and recover from it? Who gets lauded for “doing better” and who gets eviscerated for not being perfect in the first place?
These things matter.
As a personal confession, I do occasionally indulge in bouts of hate reading although, honestly, not that much given the state of Mt. TBR. But even when I do hateread I try and approach it constructively; obviously someone liked a work well enough to publish it, or make it popular, so… why? Dan Brown makes mediocre men feel smart. Twilight makes awkward teenage girls (and women who were once awkward teenage girls) feel loved. And, yes, usually there’s more to the story than just that (cough E.L. James cough), but…
People like things for a reason, even if you don’t. It’s often useful to understand why.