“He trashed my novel” is what a writer said to me about an editor he’d paid for a critique. He felt badly about it. Sure he did, considering how much work and heart goes into writing a novel. Then he paid a second editor to edit his book. She started but soon declared that she couldn’t continue with it. The writer was feeling defensive and picked on, so I volunteered to take a look at a sample.
Well, I did, and then I had to figure out how to deliver an honest critique in a way that wouldn’t make him feel “trashed” again—the narrative was a mess. I’m a novelist as well as an editor, and I felt strongly that I needed to help him understand the shortcomings in his narrative. But still, it’s a form of rejection, hard to do and hard to take.
I’m the first to admit that I have an instant defensive reaction to rejection, the “Yeah, but. . .” syndrome. I’ve been on the receiving end of bad reviews from agents and critique group members, and I’m sure of one thing: we writers need to do a good job of taking it.
Writers need to understand that rejection is not about THE PERSON. Nope. It’s about THE WORK. If you grow a pumpkin that turns out undersized and someone points out that fact, it’s not personal, it’s about the pumpkin.
It could be about the elephant, too
Now, you have had a hand in your pumpkin’s outcome. You might not have fertilized enough, or watered enough, or maybe tried to grow it in the shadow of an elephant.
Novel writing follows a long and steep learning curve. If you knew about fertilizer and water, but hadn’t yet learned that your narrative shouldn’t have an elephant blocking the sun, well, add that knowledge to your set of craft tools and rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.
But, still, it’s not about you, the person. It’s just about the work and your grasp of the tools you need to make it grow well. To take rejection personally is to miss an opportunity to be saved from a mistake. I was in the ad business for a ton of years and everything I did was critiqued with close, hard looks because money rode on every idea, every word–and the same is true in publishing. I learned a lesson that has served me well—if someone questions (i.e. rejects) my work, there’s a 50% chance I’m right…and a 50% chance I’m either partially or totally wrong. So my instant defensive reaction has, due to a modicum of learning over the years, come to eventually get out of the way of a more-or-less objective evaluation of the criticism.
Or it could be about the squash
On the other hand, in this tough market, rejection by an agent or an editor may have nothing to do with the size (quality) of your pumpkin—they may simply prefer a different gourd, a squash, for example. So you look for agents who want pumpkins.
I’m thinking about this because I’m doing my Crafting a Killer First Page workshop at two writers conferences this year—The Mendocino Coast Writers Conference (July 30-August 2) and the Write on the Sound Writer’s Conference (October 2-3)—and I’m always looking for a way to make sure that those who are critiqued are comfortable with hearing what they hear.
Good luck with your pumpkin!
Image by ~TheTruthSeeker.