Writers, what is the ultimate compliment?

Say you published a book that was disseminated widely enough that strangers have read it. Then imagine one of those strangers gives you a compliment? What would you want to hear?

The top two compliments I can think of for a writer (of a novel or non-fiction book) are:

1. I couldn’t put it down

2. I couldn’t stop thinking about it later.

Of course, those are not mutually exclusive. But with the conceit being that I can only hear one, I believe that “I couldn’t stop thinking about it later” is the best possible compliment. The first option is plenty special and is what I aspire to achieve one day. However, the latter means the story will have transcended the page on which it was printed. It will be a construct that continues to exist in readers’ minds, with characters who live on beyond the events the writer has chosen to describe. Only the books that touch people’s hearts and souls do that (yes, for some people that includes Twilight, Stephenie Meyer haters).

What are your thoughts, writers (and anyone else who wishes to opine)? What’s your best compliment as an artist?


Voice-over artist Kris Keppeler did a another podcast of a Clawing at the Keys post, this time the “My Man Crush on Sean Bean” bit I wrote not too long ago. As usual, she manages to make me sound far cleverer than really I am. It’s less than four minutes long:


37 responses to “Writers, what is the ultimate compliment?

  • LindaGHill

    “I couldn’t stop thinking about it so much that I wrote a fanfic which sold more copies than your measly Twilightdid signed EL James,” would do it for me.

  • diannegray

    My best compliment was ‘your main character stayed with me for about three weeks and I couldn’t stop thinking about him like he was a real person I’d met.’ lol – I kinda liked that 😀

  • nrhatch

    I’ve read some “bad” page turners. So “I couldn’t put it down” is not always a compliment. It might just mean that I didn’t want to leave characters dangling from a perpetual precipice.

    Sometimes “bad books” linger like a bad taste in my mouth ~ with revolting images that make me want to wash out my brain. So having someone say “I couldn’t stop thinking about it” is also not always a compliment.

    When I think of the books that I have loved the most ~ like Dickens, A Christmas Carol ~ the highest compliments I could pay to an author would be:

    “I didn’t want it to end.”
    “I look forward to reading it again.”
    “Your characters make me want to be a better person.”

  • jdhoward

    Couldn’t stop thinking about it definitely one of the best compliments; One YA male reading and enjoying it would be major as well (I think they’re a hard audience to reach). I’m trying. Being given the title “literature” and being chosen by English teachers and librarians and used in a classroom for book reports, with a Cliff Notes version (test questions and stuff) — major major compliment.

  • Kevin Brennan

    “Not only did you write a hell of a book, but you’re dang good-looking too!”

  • skywalkerstoryteller

    Well, the second one of course. For the books that one remembers are the ones that really lived, and they are rare. By, the way, thanks for the music. His smile was just too sweet.

  • Eric Tonningsen

    As a speaker, compliment #2 is certainly significant and appreciated, as is “You’ve changed my view(s)” often accompanied by a sincere expression of gratitude.

    • ericjbaker

      “You changed my views” is a good one, from my perspective probably more prevalent in non-fiction or in your line of work. I’m not sure my fiction has enough of a message to elicit that kind of response. Though if it did, I’d be curious to know how.

  • Jill Weatherholt

    Probably the best compliment I’ve received is, “You obviously write from the heart.”
    Love the Nate video!
    Go Eagles! 🙂

  • livelytwist

    Number 2, and you’ve covered the reasons why. When I write, I’m taking a poke at society and the human condition. I’m telling two, three, four, stories at once. It doesn’t matter that someone takes a dissenting view, what matters is that they ‘see’ it.

  • Hollis Hildebrand-Mills

    Eric, I would like to hear “It changed my life!” One time, a painting of mine was being scrutinized by an art critic. He stood there and gazed for a while. Then he said, “Paintings don’t make you cry anymore!” For me, that was the best thing anyone has ever said.

  • Janna G. Noelle

    A friend whose read a portion of my WIP said of my main character, “I can’t you made up this person – she seems so real!”, which I found incredibly flattering. But yes, i agree with you that “I could stop thinking about it” is a top-shelf compliment.

    • ericjbaker

      If she feels real to you, she probably feels real to your readers (especially with all the prep you do). Some of the “please advise” blog posts I see from intermediate writers that focus on struggles to make characters believable and dimensional. I think back on the writing I did in my teens and know that was a problem for me too. I’m not sure when the breakthrough happened. Have you witnessed your own progress in that regard?

      I might do a post on that one of these days.

      • Janna G. Noelle

        I’ve always spent a lot of time before starting a story working on my characters – profile sheets, pages of text about their backstories and goals, monologues, character avatars – so they’re always dimensional in the sense of there being more to them than will end up in the actual story.

        As for making them believable, my main struggle when I first starting writing was that I was young and lacked the life experience of how normal people react to given situations. Reading lots of fiction, psychology classes, and 15+ adult years spent observing people firsthand (and also observing myself) has helped remedy this.

  • katecrimmins

    Since I’m at the starting point of all this, I’d like to hear someone say, “I bought it and I didn’t waste my money!” (I’m so easily pleased…..)

  • jhmae

    Wow – I, too, would like it to be both, but I’m with you. I want to HAUNT people with my stories, not like a ghost or something morbid and creepy per say, but I want them to take root in the reader’s memory so they seem real. Anything less than that is just forgettable.

    • ericjbaker

      Though my exposure to your writing is limited, and you might not 100% welcome my Stephen King comparison, I feel that one of his greatest strengths is writing characters that stay with you. Placing your characters in a relatable, tangible setting as you did is a big part of that. I think you’d do well with a full-length novel.

  • Arkenaten

    The best compliment I got for my first book was from my mother who complained that taxi drivers , ”Do not use the ‘F’ word. Well none of the taxi drivers I have ever encountered.”
    As the scene and word in question were close to the end of the book I realised that she had actually read the whole damn thing!

    How cool is that, I ask you?

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