Last week I did a post on the necessity of getting feedback on your book from beta readers and/or professional editors in a developmental edit, but what if you get negative feedback or criticism? How to deal with criticism of your book? Feedback you take as criticism can make you very disappointed, depressed, even devastated.
I totally understand this because I’ve written a couple of books that I’ve archived, and probably will never finish, because the feedback from my beta readers indicated that the books had serious flaws, ones I couldn’t fix easily, ones that would take more time to fix than I was prepared to put in on the project.
Getting that kind of feedback is always disappointing, but we need to be prepared for it because the aim of having it read by a beta reader or developmental editor is that they point out the flaws in our book so we can improve it. Even if you don’t feel that your beta readers or developmental editor has criticised your work, as an author you can be sure you’ll get some criticism sometime because not everyone will like your book. Once your book is published, those readers who don’t like your book can leave negative reviews, and they’ll probably hurt.
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The usual emotional process of coming to terms with criticism
It’s easier to deal with criticism of your book if you understand the process you may go through in coming to terms with it. If you take negative feedback as personal criticism or a personal attack, defensiveness tends to kick in automatically, and this is the kind of process you might go through:
- Shock: You thought your book was pretty good. You’ve worked so hard on it. It can’t be true. They must be wrong.
- Defensiveness : You criticize and reject the reviewer/beta reader/editor and their evaluation. What credentials does the reviewer have anyway? What do they know? It’s only a personal opinion. It doesn’t mean anything. You tell yourself this to try to devalue the criticism. You want to be able to ignore it, so you try to prove that the person doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. At this stage you won’t see anything worthwhile about the reviewer regardless of their qualifications.
- Depression: You feel terrible, crushed, even devastated. If they are right (despite trying to dismiss the feedback, part of you says that at least some of it must be true), then you’re a terrible writer and you’ll never be any good. (They didn’t say that; it’s what you’re reading into it). You feel like giving up
- Letting go: You give up your defensiveness and seek a way out of your depression. You may give up completely for a time, or you forget the book and do something else. You may decide you’re never going to write again, or that there are more important things in life and you put your focus elsewhere. This isn’t a bad thing. You need to let go in order to clear your mind so you can start fresh with renewed energy, and giving up is a way to let go, so is putting your energy and focus elsewhere. I recommend giving up for at least one minute. Totally letting go, even for an instant, is a very refreshing thing to do and it realigns your priorities.
The bare minimum here is letting go of your defensiveness. You have to come to a point where you’re prepared to consider that perhaps the reviewer has a point and that rather than rejecting it, you could learn from it.
- Objective evaluation: After a break, you come back and look at the feedback in a more objective light. Okay, you think, what is this person actually saying here and does it apply? If you don’t let go, you can’t do this. You’ll be stuck in defensiveness or depression.
- Acceptance: You recognize the value of the feedback and see where it’s valid. A professional view has more value than one from someone without professional experience in the publishing industry.
- Moving on: You consider how to improve your work in light of the feedback. Then, if you just can’t face working on it again, you put the book aside and focus on improving your next book, or you do the work and improve the book.
- Satisfaction /gratitude: You recognise the improvement in the book, or at least in your knowledge and are glad you went through this process.
How to deal with criticism in a less painful way
You can lessen the pain of dealing with criticism by cultivating a positive way of thinking. Consider the following:
- You are not your book. Criticism of your book is not criticism of you as a person. Your book is not you, so don’t take the criticism personally;
- It’s feedback, not criticism;
- Your integrity as an author is not diminished by one less-than-perfect book;
- No book is perfect;
- Most books can be improved;
- Negative feedback will help you improve your work;
- Let go of defensiveness so you can go directly to the objective evaluation stage.
Do you have any other tips for dealing with criticism?
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