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[BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] How Do You Deal with Praise?
Contributor
Written by
Jill Jepson
September 2015
Contributor
Written by
Jill Jepson
September 2015

I often write about criticism. Whether to listen to it or ignore it. How to manage the emotions it brings up. How to get past it.

It never occurred to me that praise is also difficult to handle—not until recently, when I found myself caught up in a whirlwind of emotions brought on by some heady and gratifying remarks from an editor.

For the first time, I realized that praise, like criticism, is a complicated thing. It can stimulate your writing or dampen it. It can make you happy, sad, or frightened. Dealing with positive comments is just as important as handling negative ones.

This was “supposed” to be the year my young-adult fantasy novel, Severed, was published. The novel was the work of many years and scores of revisions. It was, I believed, the best work I could do. Everyone thought it was going to sell. Not just my friends, but professionals—writers, editors, my agent. Again and again, I was told, This will be snapped up!

It wasn’t. After months of work, my agent gave up. “Once in awhile I get a book I’m positive is going to sell, and then it just doesn’t,” she said. “This year, that book was yours.”

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I was surprised at the depth of my grief. Without a contract with a major publisher, my options seemed grim. A small publisher with a teensy budget. Self publication. Neither of those routes have gone well for my friends. Still, not publishing at all was worse. I was tormented by morbid thoughts: When I die, this book will be scrubbed off my hard drive, never to be read. By anyone. Ever. At one point, it struck me that I’d never felt sadder than I did over this book.

Mingled with my grief was confusion. Why did so many people love Severed? How could the novel garner so much praise from so many people, and then fail to get any interest on the marketplace? Did it have some fatal flaw? More than anything, I wanted the answer to that question.

At last, I decided to take one final stab at discovering what was and was not working in Severed. I located another editor—one who had a single quality my other readers didn’t: a specialization in YA fantasy. I knew that, with her years of experience in this specific genre, she might have insights that eluded others. It was too late to find a major publisher for the book, but at least I might reach some understanding, some closure. It would help me do things differently next time. I signed a contract, sent off my book, and waited eagerly for a response.

When it came, it bowled me over. “Oh my goodness, Jill!” the editor wrote. “Where did you come from? I can’t remember the last time I was this absorbed in a draft of a novel!” She praised my plot, my world-building, my characters, and my style. She said she’d never read anything like Severed. She wrote: “Wow.”

There was a lot more, almost all of it positive—including an answer to the question that was plaguing me. Why didn’t my novel get published? According to this editor, it was too new, too original, too unique, too strange. Publishing houses are risk-averse. My novel is fresh, but it’s also odd. That oddness is probably what pushed publishers away.

To hear my work described in this way—especially after so many disappointments—was overwhelming. I went through a series of feelings so powerful, I think of them as “emotion tsunamis.”

1. Euphoria. For 48 hours, I was elated. I sent quotes from the editor to my closest friends—the same friends who had patiently listened to months of mournful laments. I repeated the editor’s words in my head again and again. I thought to myself, I rock! I was floating.

2. Frustration. Next, I sank. Like the false “joy” of a drug high, my euphoria deflated. My sadness crept back. So I have a good novel, I thought. It’s still not published. What good is it to write something wonderful if no one is going to read it? I was on the edge of grief again, so soon.

3. Anxiety. You’d think such high praise would make me confident. Instead, I was frightened. What if Severed was the best novel I ever write? What if my creative mojo is tapped out?

4. Doubt. I soon began to wonder if this editor weren’t simply wrong. If my novel were really as good as she said, surely it would have gotten picked up. It’s too strange? Plenty of strange, work gets published! It was as if I simply couldn’t admit to myself that I’d actually written something good.

5. Renewal. Finally, I reached an equilibrium. My various emotions didn’t dissolve, but they quieted. I made a conscious choice to relax, to accept this editor’s praise and enjoy it. And I knew what I needed to do: move forward.

I am delighted to have my novel validated in some way. I’m still sad as hell that it didn’t get published by a major press. But the most important thing is that I know I can keep going. I can rise above this disappointment. I can keep writing. Praise or condemnation, success or disappointment, in the end all any writer can do is keep putting her pen to the page. 

Jill Jepson is the author of Writing as a Sacred Path. Get her free life strategies for writers here.

 

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Comments
  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks, Mardith! I'm glad you liked my post. The editor I reference in this post actually suggested exactly what you say. Hold onto it. Perhaps the world will be ready eventually. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Mardith Louisell

    Great post. Of course, you might publish other books and then, when the world is ready, publish this, perhaps even with a major publisher if the time is right.

  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks for the suggestion, Patricia--and for the offer of help! I actually haven't decided what I'm going to do with Severed at this point. I haven't ruled out indie. I think I need to give myself some space first before I decide.

  • Patricia Robertson

    Jill, I hope you will consider Indie publishing (self-publishing). Sounds to me that you have a book that deserves a chance to be read. Yes, it's hard to be noticed and you still may not make a lot of sales, but at least you will have the satisfaction of seeing your work in print and knowing that you gave it your best. I've been self-publishing through CreateSpace and Amazon kindle. It's work, but I enjoy the process and the ability to control the final product. Let me know if I can help in any way.

  • Jill Jepson

    PS Mary Ellen--I'm glad you enjoyed my ebooklet!

  • Jill Jepson

    I love that phrase, "cinnamon in your tea," Mary Ellen! Yes, a whole generation of us (and our mothers and grandmothers, and generations of women) were taught not to accept compliments or, heaven forbid, brag, boast, or take the lead on something! 

  • Jill Jepson

    Such a great insight, Liz Gelb-O'Connor! It's easy to think that publication is something that happens because you wrote a good book, when it's really something that happens because your wrote a marketable book (and some good old fashioned luck doesn't hurt, either). Thanks for sharing Barbara Freethy's important comments. 

  • Jill Jepson

    I'm really glad you enjoyed this, Lois! My ebooklet will be off to you soon!

  • Mary Ellen Latela

    Jill, p.s., I already have and enjoy your free booklet. Thanks again. Mary Ellen

  • Mary Ellen Latela

    Jill, I believe you are also one of the generation of girls who were told to deflect all compliments - oh, this dress .. it's actually getting drab-looking OR my hair - finally, a lucky break (after hours at the hairdresser and sleeping with your head off the edge of the bed. The simple response is, "Thank you."  Try it. (Ha!)

    This is like critical thinking - don't believe everything you read or see on the internet... think about it. For praise, be grateful, but be careful about gushers and manipulators - those who shower you with so many praisewords that you feel like a hymn book or those who see in your accomplishments something they can USE (free of course) for their own benefit). A grain of salt. But praise from your respected teacher or an honest friend is like cinnamon in your tea! Mary Ellen  

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Jill, I was recently at the national RWA conference, and a keynote was given by wildly successful, bestselling author, Barbara Freethy. She now works directly with Ingram Publishing Services as her own entity, like a Big 5 publisher would. I believe it was during her talk that she explained that the secret to a book being purchased by a Big 5 publisher is driven by the five major book buyers. Yes, the distributors. Not the publishers. If the buyers decide that is not what "sells" right now, then your book won't get acquired, plain and simple. I think too many authors wrongly base the worth of their novels on whether or not it gets offered a traditional publishing contract. It doesn't mean your book isn't good enough or worthy. Traditional publishing is not the only barometer of success, or the determining factor for the value of your writing. It's sad to think that many authors still believe that. Take heart. Your novel is good and deserves to be published :-)

  • Thank you for telling your journey! Just love what you wrote here. I look forward to  reading your ebooklet. Your story gives me some hope! Thanks! Lois