Responding to Criticism

When someone tells me she’s not sure she wants me to read her manuscript, I know she’s not ready for publication. Such sentiment shows a lack of confidence and a fear of both rejection and criticism. Even though readers usually treat writers with respect, a critical word can puncture the heart.

Imagine the wounds delivered on Internet sites such as Amazon from readers who lack that respect. A major complaint I hear from distraught authors is that people download free Christian novels and then post hostile reviews. A cursory bit of research reveals some say they felt duped because they didn’t realize they were downloading a Christian novel. It is likely they just grabbed it because it was free and did not look at other reviews or the book’s description. These readers aren’t victims of duplicity, they were, at the very least, lazy and then blamed others when the book wasn’t to their taste. Unfortunately the temptation is for the author to strike back with a serrated reply.

My advice it so take a deep breath and think about how to respond to ridicule.  A recent article,  “The E-book that Launched a Thousand Flame Wars by Drew Grant, tells the story of an author who self-published her book without the benefit of an editor, resulting in many errors. (This is another reason to seek traditional publishers, as our own Steve Laube has eloquently expressed on this blog.)

The primary point of Grant’s article is that if the author had not responded with such vitriol to a tame, if unflattering, review, she wouldn’t have attracted more bile. Instead, her petulance caused her ratings to descend faster than a barrel over Niagara Falls.

In his letter to the Galatians (5:22-23), St. Paul writes:  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Summoning the discipline not to defend yourself against criticism may mean praying for an extra helping of several fruits.

When faced with disapproval, consider what is being said. Are the reviewers speaking about you personally? Are they critiquing an idea or philosophy in the story? Are they commenting on the craft? Are they making a religious or political statement in contrast to your own? Or can something be learned from the criticism?

Examine your heart as you ponder what has been said. And be sure to read the many compliments your work is certain to receive as well. An open mind and a gentle spirit will only increase your knowledge and worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Show or Tell: How Do You Know?

As we discussed last week, it’s okay to tell at times, but in fiction you want to show the important, emotion-laden scenes. That way the reader gets the vicarious experience along with the character. So how do you know when you’re telling rather than showing? Here are a few tips:

Beware the dreaded –ly adverbs.

“Get out of my novel, you –ly adverbs!” Alice said angrily.

Ah-ah-ah! Any time you use an –ly adverb (angrily, happily, stupidly, etc), you’re telling us what the emotion is rather than showing it. Instead, show the emotion, whatever it may be, through actions or punctuation. In the example above, the exclamation point tells us Alice is being vehement, but it’s not clear if she’s angry or frightened.

Alice stared at the page of her novel, her blood pressuring rising. Thirty-two! Thirty-two –ly adverbs on one page! What was wrong with her? “Auughh!” Her cry still echoing around her, she grabbed the page, crumpled it into a compact ball, and pitched it, as hard as she could, against the wall.

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News You Can Use

Pretend You Are on an Airplane – an excellent article on how to be more productive in your work day.

How to Handle Criticism – This is the bane of a writer’s existence. So how do you handle it when others criticize?

How Not to Write a Book Review – Three golden rules for those who review books.

Before You Send Another E-mail – Read this post by Seth Godin. For example: “If this e-mail were to cost me 42 cents, would I send it?”

Are You a Perfectionist Writer? – Jeff Goins has some quality advice about perfectionism.

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The Greatest Book (Ever) on Sales & Marketing

by Jim Rubart

Today’s guest post is from Jim Rubart. He and I first met at the Mt. Hermon writers conference where I infamously rejected him (see #10). A bit about Jim. Since 1994, Jim has worked with clients such as AT&T/Cingular, RE/MAX, ABC and Clear Channel radio though his company Barefoot Marketing, but his passion is writing fiction. His debut novel Rooms released in April 2010 and hit the bestseller list that September. His next novel, Book of Days released in January. He’s also a photographer, guitarist, professional speaker, golfer, and semi-pro magician. He lives in the Northwest with the world’s most perfect wife and his two almost-perfect sons. No, he doesn’t sleep much. Visit his website at www.jimrubart.com.

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What’s the best book you’ve read on sales and marketing? I’m guessing that if you were to list your top five favorites,Green Eggs and Ham probably wouldn’t be in the mix.

But it should be.

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Tag, You’re It!

One of the most common habits I see burdening stories is overemphasis on conversational tags, which goes hand in hand with not making good use of action tags. Here’s an example I just made up:

“No,” she exclaimed. She looked at the the pot of stew bubbling the stove and saw red juice splattering. She began to stir.

Unable to resist multitasking, I demonstrated several bad habits in the above sample of poor writing.

First, punctuation. When a character exclaims, use an exclamation point.

“No!”

“She exclaimed” adds no new information unless you need to designate a character from several so in almost every case, omit it. Same can be said for tags such as “said” and “asked.” In fact, “asked” accomplishes nothing because the question mark says it all.

Any tag should reflect what the character is saying. “He’s a slippery snake,” she hissed, trumps, “What a viper,” she hissed. If in doubt, entertain the office cat. Read sentences aloud to make sure the tag works.

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Show, Don’t Tell

I’m From Missouri—SHOW me!

Okay, truth be told, I’m from Oregon. But in the 30 years I’ve been editing fiction, I’ve discovered a number of issues almost all writers face, regardless of how much they’ve written or been published. If I had to pick the top issue I see over and over, it would be Show, Don’t Tell.

What, you may ask, does that mean? It’s actually pretty simple. It’s the difference between telling us what someone is feeling, and letting us see it for ourselves through dialogue, action, and body language. For example:

Jack was so angry he could kill.

That, my friends, is telling. But…

Heat filled Jack’s face, his chest, his blood. His fingers tightened on the gun. Nobody did this to him. Nobody. His finger caressed the trigger, and he smiled. The fools thought they’d taught him a lesson, but they’d see they were wrong. They’d see it all right…just before they died.

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News You Can Use

45 Ways to Blog as a Novelist – Do you have blogger’s block? Here are some great tips for finding stuff to blog about.

Why You Are Receiving Rejections – Nathan Bransford weighs in and is both simple and profound.

Read Your Old Tweets – If you are an aggressive tweeter you’re stymied if you want to review your archives. The linked tool is an amazing way to pull them all into one document for your review. If you use Twitter like a diary it creates a timeline of your life.

What Should You Podcast About? – If you are thinking about adding a podcast to your marketing efforts read this article.

Find the Right Writers Group for You – A short article and a video from Joanna Penn. If you want to find out the Christian Writer’s groups in your area contact Reg Forder at American Christian Writers or ACFW (www.acfw.com).

iPhone app for 1500 Classic Books – A cool free app from Penguin Classics. Annotated descriptions of all 1500 titles in their collection and 65 quizzes for specific titles in the series.

Get the ESV Bible for Free – The English Standard Version is available for free in nearly every digital platform possible…for free.

The Ultimate Guide to Emoticons – Found at ChurchMag.com which is a really interesting place to visit.

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Three Questions About Publicity

by Steve Laube

Publicity is the art of telling the world about you and your book. We recently received a few questions about publicity via the green button you see in the right hand column of our blog (yes, it really works).

1.) When should a writer hire a publicist?
I think an author should wait to see what their publisher will provide in this area. If you do hire a publicist make sure they coordinate with your publisher so as to not duplicate efforts. (Don’t aggravate your local TV station with multiple PR contacts.)

But the question was “when” not “should.” So let me re-answer.

If you are on your own with regard to your PR, you should hire that firm six to nine months prior to the release date of your book. The PR firm will be handicapped if you wait too long. They need lead time especially in the area of getting reviews for your book. Few review outlets are interested in a book after it has already been released.

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Book of the Month – August 2011

by Steve Laube

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs (published by Oxford in June 2011) is this month’s “Book of the Month.” I recommend you pick up a copy and enjoy the experience for yourself.

It seems a little odd to read a book about reading. But for those of us who are in the “business” of creating books it is always interesting to read a wise person’s take on the very lifeblood of our profession.

Many people say they no longer read and yet ironically they are always “reading” their texts, emails, blogs or favorite social network hub. They are not necessarily reading books which means they are truly missing out on the experiences of a lifetime. Alan Jacobs, a professor of English at Wheaton College offers some simple, powerful, and much needed advice:

read at whim,

read what gives you delight,

and do so without shame.

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