Came across an issue in online writing seminars I teach and thought I'd turn to my peers for advice.
Here's the problem: On more than one occasion, a student reveals that he or she sought out the class after having experienced a devastating rejection. Now, I'm not talking about a standard rejection. I'm talking about something much more personal -- the kind that rips apart your writing, attacks you without any helpful advice and leaves you miserably wondering if this whole writing thing was a bad idea in the first place.
My heart goes out to these writers, but I sometimes wonder if I'm 100% equipped to help them cope. I'm turning to all of you for some extra insight. I'm wondering: How do YOU bounce back from a rough rejection? What are your strategies for picking yourself up and moving on? I'm eager to see what you all think!
Yep, I had that. One reviewer on my first (and last) blog tour for my premiere book, ripped me personally to shreds. But she didn't stop there, she attacked my daughter, who request I write her a story. As if those weren't enough, she used her negative review of my book to advertise her manuscript editing site!!! I was livid in many ways, and demanded my publicist have her take down the review.
In the end, none of us can control how or what other people say. All we can control is how we respond. It is natural to feel hurt, offended, angry and all other negative emotions. Acknowledge those feelings, but our true mettle comes out when we continue to press forward and don't let those feelings rule us or stop us. This isn't easy, and there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. But personal attacks have no place in reviews, critiques or even rejection letters. That must be stressed and not tolerated by anyone.
Thanks for your insight and story, Shawn. Your experience had me floored! As an editor myself, I find it horrifying that some people can stoop to such an unprofessional level. Your advice, however, is very helpful. I'm curious to know -- how did the rest of the blog tour go?
It was difficult, as I had no idea at the time what a blog tour even was, but encouraged by my publisher to hire a publicist. This was early 2010. From what I have learned since, this wasn't a properly done blog tour. I visited 40 sites in 1 day, all doing reviews of my book. My publicist didn't screen the people, or even send my book to readers of YA fantasy - just the first 40 bloggers responding to her email.
The majority were favorable to very favorable, with a couple of negative reviews, but this one stunned me. It took days to calm down. I also had a very contentious exchange with my publicist about how the tour was conducted. I haven't done a tour since, though I have 5 more books out.
I've heard others' horror stories but I was stunned to read that someone had the audacity to come after your daughter. It's bad enough to critique anyone in as harsh a manner as you describe, but to get so personal! I wonder what people like that really think they are accomplishing, or is it as simple as them being so filled with anger they just pick an unlucky soul to take it out on? And I couldn't agree more that the only thing we control is how we respond. There are far too many who insert personal opinion/attacks into reviews and critiques--so I've heard and have experienced only once, fortunately. I brushed her off in the midst of several very good critiques that listed strengths and weakness with my novel. I think there are truly people who don't understand the real meaning behind constructive criticism and how to use it. -- Wow!
Thanks, Dana. I think she betrayed her reason by using it to promote her manuscript editing website. As for my daughter, all I can guess is because it was highlight in my press release how the book came about at my daughter's request, she thought that was fair-game.
Needless to say after that blog tour, I don't go around soliciting reviews. I know the mindset is authors need review, reviews, reviews - but I rather the review came naturally rather than pushed. Then again, with the majority of my books being YA fantasy, not many kids write reviews.
I think where reviews and critiques are concerned, we need to be careful what we ask for since we don't know what we'll get. I totally agree with Judith, time and money is better spent learning at a course then participating in a critique group.
I can't blame you at all for not soliciting reviews. I've heard some really bad things, and a few good. I agree too about learning through a course and that there are benefits to critique groups. However, I and a few other members found bad experiences from a critique group. One member said something about hearing how a critique person she spoke with at a conference, who was published (not indi), felt it her "duty" to rip apart everything she read from any author to toughen them up, and that meant attacking personally. I don't get that, and I sure hope it's the exception.
I'm not one to solicit reviews either, and believe in my editor and her record of achievement with others to help guide me. I've found critique groups helpful, at times. But there are just so many opinions to go around and levels of experience that for me and others I've heard from it is often frustrating and minimally helpful. Thanks for sharing your experience. I always like your posts! :)
I could not agree more, Shawn, re: the inappropriateness fo personal attacks in reviews. And you say it so well: "All we can control is how we respond." To which I would add, we get a little thick-skinned and, yes, we press forward.
Oh, golly. I got a judge's crushing comments early on in a contest and was DEVASTATED. I cried. I truly did. I emailed a friend and she mailed back, "Call me!" I did and she consoled me.
And here's what I learned: cry, rant, rave it all out; then, get to work. Don't let what anyone says get in the way of your dreams. We have every right to pursue our dreams.
BTW, two years later, the same contest entry took third. Squee!
How interesting -- your experience shows that rejection is more often than not just a bump on the road to success. Imagine if you had given up! Your cathartic method also seems to have opened up doors of creativity. May I ask what the piece was?
You know, Diane, we all have setbacks. We can choose to be whiners or proactive. I wasn't going to let someone else define me; so no, I didn't give up.
The piece was a book which I still wish I could find a home for. Maybe one day... :)
Vicki, you are so right about choosing to be whiners or proactive. I have a very dear friend who -- unfortunately for her -- allowed a vicious act by a competitor to define her livelihood. She actually said to me, "XX ruined my life." How sad! I say, why give anyone else such power over your life? Forgive them (for your own peace of mind) and move on. I truly believe we make our own success.
I've written for 30 years and the one requirement, after talent that continually evolves, is a suit of armor. Reject vicious reviews that have no merit or where there's no helpful advice. In fact, reject people who do the harm. Anyone serious about writing must accept criticism/rejection as 75% of the writing life. My advice for writers is to stay within a structured learning environment, such as pay for a course, and look to an instructor with strong writing credential on their resume. The only way to bounce back from rejection is to put the piece away for a while and return with a fresh eye. Don't stop writing. Instead, write an article about receiving a rough rejection and let the hurt spill out on the pages. The writing life doesn't always lead to publication. But it can fulfill in many ways -- one of which is learning resilience.