Many writers write because they have a deep-rooted desire to bring stories to life and create characters that populate worlds borne of their imagination. Maybe because of wanting everything to be perfect, it can be years before they share their creations; and therefore, years before they have to deal with hearing what anyone else thinks about their work.
I remember a feeling akin to sheer terror the first time I handed a story to someone to read.
I knew I liked it, but that didn’t matter because I was looking for approval—for somebody to say I could write. More importantly, that I had potential to become a published author.
Suddenly, that which I’d previously been proud to call my own was bought into question. What if they didn’t like it?
Since then, I’ve had rejections from agents, from publishers, and critiques from advance copy readers and members of my writers’ group. I’ve learned to roll with the punches. Okay, not entirely, but I’m a bit better than I used to be, especially on early drafts or short stories where I’ve tried to do something different. But when it comes to feedback on a draft of a novel and it’s not entirely favourable and means some re-drafting is needed, then it still sends me straight to the bottom of the well-polished pit where I keep my self-doubt and fear of failure. And I’ll hang around there for a little while, beating myself up for writing rubbish. Eventually though I have to bounce back and move on.
The following are tips gleaned from other authors’ advice that I have found to be useful. Maybe they can help you too?
And you don’t just have to be a writer to get the benefit. In today’s world with social media, it doesn’t hurt to have a few tricks up your sleeve to deal with any negativity that comes your way.
Top Tips for Dealing with Negative Feedback and Rejection
Keep it in perspective
It might feel like someone has reached in and wrenched out your soul when you get a negative review, but you will live to fight another day, and to write another story.
It’s human nature to focus on the negative. If you give a writer nine positive comments and one negative comment, don’t be surprised if they sit clutching their head and looking at you as though the world is about to come crashing down.
“All writers are the same – they forget a thousand good reviews and remember one bad one.”
Before you start to beat yourself up, take some time to properly consider what has been said about your work. Don’t just go on your initial gut instinct. You can’t hope to fix anything if you don’t really understand what the problem is, or in fact, whether there is even a problem…
Remember everyone is entitled to their opinion, and we are all different
Think back to best-selling books you haven’t enjoyed or to conversations with friends about books / films / music that they rave about but which leave you cold. Different people like and dislike different things. You need to manage your expectations to avoid reacting to every bit of negative feedback, well, negatively.
Just because someone doesn’t like something you’ve written doesn’t necessarily mean it needs changing. It’s just their point of view, but if you get the same comment from more than one person, perhaps it’s time to get out that editing pen.
Be careful who you ask and what you ask for
How many times have you said “Please give me feedback. I don’t mind if you don’t like it. Really. I’d just rather you were honest”
“From my close observation of writers… they fall into two groups:
those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review,
and those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.”
Now I’m sure we all like to hear which bits of your creation the reader loved, and it would be helpful to know which bits they think could be improved, and if there is something that turns your readers off, you need to know, but what if the person you are asking is not skilled in giving feedback. We know that some people will shy away from criticism, giving you a skewed impression; others are painfully frank but may not be able to articulate exactly why they dislike something. One way to get over this is to avoid the open question “Well, what do you think?” Instead, try asking for specifics: “Did you feel the characters were realistic”, “Is there too much description?” By asking for feedback on specific areas you will help the reviewer to better articulate their response, giving you useful feedback you can build upon.
Look on the lighter side and laugh about it
I recall reading about a review of a reasonably successful author who had shared a 1* review on Amazon for one of their books. The reviewer had not read the book, had no intention of reading the book, and yet still felt it appropriate to slate it on the basis that they didn’t think they’d like it. Rather than let that get to them, the author posted the review on their social media pages and made light of it.
“To hell with them, nothing hurts if you don’t let it”
Remember: feedback is your friend
Use it to improve. Don’t just read it and weep.
When I get negative feedback, my initial reaction is always of doom and gloom, but before long, my thoughts will move from what is wrong with everything I’ve written, to how I can use the feedback to turn it into something better. And grudgingly I start to climb out of the pit. Grudgingly, because I know it will mean more work on something I’d thought of as finished. But before I know it, I’m back at my desk, working on the umpteenth re-write, getting excited again, because this time it really will be the final edit (until next time!)
Feed your optimistic side
Look on the positive, every bad review is someone who has read your work. You might only see/hear the worst of what they have to say but they will remember the good as well as the bad.
Feedback on your feedback
If you do have advance copy readers or friends who are happy to wade through early drafts, be sure to tell them what you thought of their feedback so that they know how helpful it has been. It might even improve the quality of feedback they give you next time. And don’t forget to say a big Thank You to them for sparing their time to help make your work the best it can be.