Criticism

I would like to tell you about a most enjoyable day. Our agency’s guidelines request that unsolicited manuscripts come via the post (I know it’s old-school but it works for us), but we still receive e-mail submissions. I spent an entire morning going through that particular in-box, having an assistant send standard e-mail rejection letters, since none were anything our agency could/would handle.

Very soon I received three separate responses:

1) Criticized me for sending an impersonal note, saying they spent considerable time with the proposal and the least I could do was give a corresponding critique. Never mind that the writer failed to follow the guidelines on the site he claimed to have read.

2) Wrote me to say “I consider it a disgrace that any American would ignore this story, particularly a man with access to our Christian media outlets who calls himself my ‘brother in the Lord.’ You must not be a prayer warrior, Mr. Laube, because if you were, He’d have guided you as He has me in this decision. Therefore, I wouldn’t want you handling this book.”

3) Wrote a one word, very personal, very vulgar, adjective in reply to our rejection letter.

All in one afternoon….So you see, even on the agent end of the business we also deal with criticism that is ill-founded, ignorant, and inappropriate.

Next time a critic gives you a negative book review or an editor sends you a sixteen page, single-spaced, scourging of your manuscript…remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Your response will determine much about your success as a writer. One of our clients claims that the one thing a writer needs to develop, in order to survive this profession, is a thick skin.

How do you respond to critics?

28 Responses to Criticism

  1. Anita Brooks March 1, 2011 at 6:20 am #

    All I can say is WOW and I’m sorry. In my day-job, I manage a large resort and deal with the public on a daily basis. It always saddens me when Christians behave no differently from their secular counterparts. (I include myself in that statement).

    Thank you for showing grace and integrity in the throes of personal attack. God bless you as you continue about His work.

  2. Bob Hostetler March 1, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    Isn’t it crazy that each response should actually prompt a response along the lines of, “Thank you, Lord, that I didn’t waste any more time on this than I did,” and yet still BURNS with hurt? Amazing.

  3. Susie Finkbeiner March 1, 2011 at 7:59 am #

    Well, I received a “no thank you” from you and was actually very encouraged by what you had to say! Thank you for that, by the way!

    Criticism hurts…it just does. I don’t have a formula for how to avoid that “burn” that Bob mentioned above. However, I’m trying to take all of it that I can, bundle it together, pick out the good from the bad and use it to make myself better.

    When giving criticism I try to do so in light of wanting to make their writing the best it can be.

  4. E. Stephen Burnett March 1, 2011 at 8:33 am #

    You must not be a prayer warrior, Mr. Laube, because if you were, He’d have guided you as He has me in this decision. Therefore, I wouldn’t want you handling this book

    Well Mr. Steve “Worldly Pagan Compromiser” Laube, that just shows where you rank in the Spiritual Caste System prescribed by the Bible, in which only the most spiritual believers are personally inspired by God to make decisions in a manner akin to the Old Testament prophets.

    Oh wait. Perhaps that’s not in the Bible! Perhaps instead we find evidence that God once spoke through prophets and in many ways, but has now spoken to us by His Son (Hebrews 1)!

  5. Hilarey March 1, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    Rejection seems to be the theme this morning. After the initial shock–I take a deep breath and try to decide what is valuable. If I can acknowledge some may not be true, I can handle that some is.

    Are you ever tempted to keep some letters/names posted on your wall like mom and pop stores would tape up bad checks?

  6. Kaye Dacus March 1, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    I’m a natural-born pessimist—I expect rejection and criticism, so it’s a surprise (a pleasant one) when I don’t receive it.

    As an unpublished writer, criticism (from critique partners and contest judges) made me into a Rules Warrior. If I was going to get wrist-slapped for not following the rules, I was going to do the same for everyone else, leading to my being a very exacting critiquer and contest judge.

    Now that I’m published, I’ve realized how damaging that mindset is to writers—especially those who are pursuing publication. It makes us so much more critical of others’ and our own writing, to the point where we’re damaging it and not improving it.

    I’m also embarrassed when I go back and read some comments I made on contest entries from back in my pre-published days. Which, I believe, is a good place to get to. Because now, when I read hard or negative (or downright mean) reviews of my books, it’s easier for me to take it with a grain of salt, try to find something useful from it that I can use in my writing going forward, and try to be understanding and compassionate toward the person who wrote it.

    Either that, or I send a ranting e-mail to a couple of close friends, get it all off my chest, and move on.

  7. Susie Finkbeiner March 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    Ah, yes, the ranting e-mail to close friends. I have been there!

  8. Sarah Joy March 1, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Lots and lots and lots of ice cream. :) Also, as a short story writer, rejections come more often because I am writing/submitting more often. So, thick skin is definitely needed! :)

  9. Sarah Forgrave March 1, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    Yikes! I think a standard rejection letter is much kinder than a single-word expletive reply. :)

    I handle criticism by stepping away from it for a short while, then bring in some other trusted opinions if needed.

  10. Timothy Fish March 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    Criticism takes me by surprise from time to time and I don’t react well, but most of the time I take it for what it is. So much of the time, people criticize as a way to strike back after feeling some form of injury. Authors criticize other authors because the other author seems to have acheived more success. I’ve been criticized by some people because of something I did to promote a book. In that case, I’m not even sure why the person felt he had reason to be hurt, but it was clear that he felt hurt all the same. There’s really little we can do about it when people have hurt feelings. Any attempt to speak rationally to these people just makes it worse. So, I just ignore it and move on.

  11. Sarah Thomas March 1, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    I ask my mom to remind me how much she loves my manuscript. Then I buy a pair of shoes.

  12. Peg Brantley March 1, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    Would that I could. I’ve had a full out to one agent and a partial to another for a while now. And, I already have plans in place for the Next Step depending on their responses.

    I need to add one thing though . . . shoe shopping. Thanks, Sarah. Non-violent and differently focused is always a good idea.

  13. Judith Robl March 1, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    Hand me the chocolate and no one gets hurt!

    My day job is dealing with confrontation all the time, so I have developed a rhinoceros hide. “It isn’t personal to me” is the mantra. And I simply dissociate myself from the criticism.

    Acquiring that mild schizophrenia has helped. After a short time, I can analyze where there might be a grain of truth and usefulness in the criticism. Then, pragmatically, I can turn it to my advantage.

  14. Jessie March 1, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    Wow. Those responses are just wild. You would think that people understand that when they respond like that they are probably destroying any potential relationship with you in the future. I mean a no for the moment might not mean a no in the future. But, after they ruin their chances…it’s probably a no for life! Silly.

  15. Bonnie Toews March 1, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    I have two reactions. If I’ve sent out a mss I’m working on to be critiqued and I get back suggestions that don’t sit well at first (because I’m still married to the idea or passage) I leave it and then think about it. Often I come to see the value in the suggestion and make the change or it inspires another even better approach.

    For a bad book review, I mean the kind that find nothing good in your novel, I shrug — can’t please all people any of the time — and let it go. Waste of energy to take it personally. Some criticisms in book reviews make good points. Those I save as a lesson well-learned.

  16. Andra M. March 1, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    Like several others before me, I hold my reaction until some time passes. Usually when I revisit the critique after a few hours (or days sometimes), most of it is spot-on.

    Writing is a craft and I’m still learning even after 10 years of pursuing it seriously. If I really want my writing to shine, I need to listen to other’s opinions of it. After all, a writer’s success depends on the opinions of others. We also can’t please everybody, so negative reviews/critiques are inevitable. If we can’t take it, then writing for publication may not be the right path.

    I never thought of shoe shopping as a balm before. I might have to give that a try.

  17. Christine Long March 2, 2011 at 5:35 am #

    I am so glad you wrote on this topic today. I wasn’t sure how to go about it, but I wanted to thank you with my whole heart for your wonderful rejection letter. I shared it with all my friends and family. I wrote about it on my blog. It is, by far, the best rejection letter I have ever received.

    Yes, it is still a rejection letter. But you gave me areas that need work. Your words of praise brought me to tears. Because of your letter, I am working harder than ever before to improve my writing and my book.

    Please allow this note to erase at least one of those you mentioned. Again, I say
    Thank you!

  18. Rick Barry March 2, 2011 at 6:36 am #

    Unless a person has a reason for a personal vendetta against me (and I wouldn’t give my m.s. to such a person in the first place), then the most reasonable response that I as an author can make to criticism is to learn from it. When one agent gave my proposal a C+ (and this came after 2 published books and hundreds of published short stories and articles), it made me sit back and wonder how I could ratchet up my writing to the next level. Always willing to learn and improve…

  19. Peter DeHaan March 2, 2011 at 7:38 am #

    Criticism – be it “constructive” or destructive – stings, especially when you’ve poured your heart into something and (hopefully) done your best.

    The way I attempt to deal with criticism is to set it aside for a day or two and then ask God his perspective on it. If a rebuke or correction is needed, God’s words are always gentler and kinder. But sometimes he dismisses the criticism and affirms my work — and his view is what matters most.

  20. Steve Laube March 3, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Fabulous comments from everyone! I see a difference between a critique and criticism (and just sour grapes).

    That critique is given, even if harsh, as a way to teach, to cajole, to challenge. I have been told I’m “mean.” In other words I need to be careful in how I express my critique.

    Criticism is more insidious, especially if the motivation is to crush or destroy.

    On American Idol, Simon was infamous for his harsh opinion. Sometimes he truly was giving a critique (i.e. “you need to go take some singing lessons.” or “you just don’t have what it takes.”) But other times he was too critical and it came off as mean-spirited. “Great” theater, which is why folks would tune in to see him skewer some poor singer.

    • Gayle Vanessa March 3, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

      A truthful, unvarnished, uncensored, critique hurts like a bad toothache. Yet, if it is truthful, it can be liberating and can motivate a person to strengthen their writing…that is after the dentist gives you a shot of novocaine, or you suck down a bottle of Anbesol.

  21. Heidi Willis March 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    I can see why you’d hold out on taking email submissions! It’s way too easy for a person to hit reply when they are still fuming.

    This kind of response by them, though, is just another sign they aren’t ready for publication. The process is a bear, but like pregnancy, along the way it prepares you for what’s to come. There is no book that everyone universally loves. There is always someone with whom your work won’t resonate. Life is like that.

    I’m thrilled when people love my work. but when they don’t, I keep in mind I don’t like every book I read either.

  22. Carrie Schmeck March 7, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    Sounds like American Idol of the publishing world. It’s amazing to me how non-talent acts have been so stroked by “loving” people that they are in complete delusion and will argue with experts. Not that experts are always right. But, I would submit it is fair to listen to and consider what they have to say before spouting and burning bridges.

  23. Debra Laughlin March 9, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    Criticism, mean spirited or not, usually makes me wonder why I missed them with what I thought I wrote. They always look with their eyes instead of mine. Imagine.

    While that is frustrating, it gives motivation to try it again another way. Now, if I could just stop reediting and submit something!

  24. M.E. Anders March 16, 2011 at 5:11 am #

    How do I respond to critics? I don’t. Why waste my energy defending myself to someone with preconceived ideas about my work?

    I must say that if the critic is a friend or mentor, I do address the criticism with a note of thanks.

  25. OnealJohanna20 March 16, 2011 at 7:14 am #

    According to my analysis, thousands of people in the world receive the mortgage loans at different creditors. Hence, there is a good chance to receive a commercial loan in all countries.

  26. Carolyn April 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    Listen, I had a Christian publisher request to look at my manuscript and will not, under any circumstances, acknowledge he received it. I thought he had died suddenly and inquired if he was still with the same company after a year. He is. So, the criticism at least lets the writer know you care.

  27. Iola January 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    I know I’m a little (a lot) late to this discussion, but there have been quite a few blog posts recently about authors responding rudely to negative or neutral reviews.

    Steve comments that ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’, but authors and potential authors can really harm their reputations and careers through behaviour like this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *