Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"I Hated This"

As we pause to draw breath after another rip-roarin' Secret Agent round, I'd like to focus on the fine art of handling criticism. A refresher course on this sort of this is always helpful, yes?

Frankly, this month's Secret Agent used less sugar on her cookies than some of our others. And that's okay. Everyone has his own style, his own way of expressing opinions. Most of you are attuned to the reality that throwing your work out there is fraught with potential Fear of Criticism and Fear of Rejection.

You already know that you're not supposed to take it personally.

But when the opinion expressed is so blunt, so unabashedly raw, that it sets your teeth on their proverbial edge, it might make you stagger a bit. Reel. Fight back the urge to give up.

That's a normal response. But it's also a response you need to move through quickly and with aplomb. Feel the feeling, then put it in its place. Move past it as quickly as you can.

I'm not telling you to discount the opinion. It may, in fact, be dead on. If someone tells you that your prose is rife with cliche and overwriting, it may feel like a slap in the face. But if your opening sentence reads like this: "Samantha stood on the brink of sanity, teetering precariously between the urge to live and the urge to ruthlessly succumb to a self-induced death." -- well, I'd say the cliche and overwriting bit was something you needed to hear.

Of course, there are soft, medium, and hard ways to express this opinion. The soft ways don't always do the job, and the hard ways often offend the caught-off-guard writer. But you need to be ready to read and receive all three types of criticism on your writing. Not that everything will be exactly right (remember the utter subjectivity of it all). But when you're panning for gold, you can't dump the dust back into the water without sifting.

So let's say our Secret Agent has read your 250 words and it hasn't hooked her because your writing isn't tight enough (most likely because you entered the contest before doing enough editing on your work, but I digress). Let's look at three potential responses:

SOFT: "You have the seeds of a compelling idea here! Keep working on your craft and spend some more time editing to make this flow better. As it stands, I'm not hooked; sorry."

MEDIUM: "Sorry, not hooked. While your MC definitely has pluck, the writing needs too much work (a reduction in adverbs and an eye to avoid repeating descriptions is key) for me to want to invest more time in at this point."

HARD: "This isn't close to being ready. The writing is all over the place and I found myself feeling lost after the second sentence. This is a no."

(Disclaimer: I made these up. I promise.)

Now, if you read carefully, you'll notice that the soft, medium, and hard responses are all saying the same thing. The problem with the soft response is that it might be too easy for the writer to think, "Hmm, this agent just doesn't like my story," instead of really honing in on the "spend some more time editing" part, which is the crux of the critique. The medium response is balanced because it makes no bones about what's wrong with the writing, but still points out something positive (a plucky MC is a good thing). The hard response is the most "real" response, but its tone might be off-putting to the author who wasn't ready to hear it.

So this is what I'm telling you: BE READY TO HEAR THE HARD RESPONSES.

They might hurt you. They might make you angry. Heck, they might have been inappropriately stated in the first place (hey, we're all human). But you absolutely have to be ready for them.

Remember the HISTORY OF THIS BLOG'S TITLE. Behind the concept of this entire blog is a critique of my work that started out stinging like mad and ended up changing the course of my writing forever.

And it was a MEDIUM response. It felt hard at the time because I wasn't used to throwing my work out there. But read it yourself, and you'll see that it falls into the MEDIUM category.

So. Soft, medium, or hard--you're going to receive them all, and you're going to have to learn to use them all to your benefit.

Yes, "I hated this" is about as hard as they come. Even so, it's just one person's opinion--one person's first impression of your work-that-still-needs-work.

Press on, and keep growing. We've got a veritable garden of growing authors around here! Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and if I keep going with this sentence I'm going to drown in cliche.

But seriously. I want you to succeed almost as much as you want yourself to succeed. Stick around, keep working, keep growing your ultra-thick writer's skin. By now, you know how much you'll need it.

And finally, thank you. For being here, for sharing your work, for adding to the sense of community. And for allowing me to speak into your life, if only a little bit.

Now get to work.


  1. Well put, Authoress.

    Definitely something for all writers to keep in mind. You can't please everyone and agents can't sell everything. "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst."

  2. Give it to me hard, every time. I don't want the soft response that I can easily misinterpret. I want to know where I've gone wrong so I can fix it. Maybe I've developed a rhino hide from all those years of copywriting. But, seriously, if we can't stand to hear what's wrong with our work, how will we ever improve?

  3. Liz, AMEN! That's exactly how I feel...if I don't know something needs fixing, it's not gonna get fixed.

    I've taken practically all the comments about my entry (to both this first SA contest I've entered and the previous 1000 word entry) and seriously considered each and every one of them. Have I changed what all of them pointed out? No. After all, some of the comments have actually been 'opposites' (as in: 'I loved THIS' vs. 'I hated THIS' when 'THIS' was the same thing...it's all subjective). But I have thought, long and hard, about all of the comments and they have all helped me come to my own editorial conclusions.

    If I could, I would thank each and every person who has ever commented on my writing on this blog but I'm not really sure who everyone is :) But you ALL have my eternal thanks and when (not if) FROSTY sells you will all have to tell me your name if you wanna be thanked in the acknowledgements (it's only fair :D).

    That means you too Authoress (though you can stay anonymous if you'd like...).

    Thanks to all of you!

  4. I paid for a query package critique through the Brenda Novak auction. The person critiquing my work was a pretty successful author. She liked my work but had some serious structural reservations about it (some of which I've taken up). She also passed it on to an author she knew, who bluntly informed me that this was unpublishable.

    Unfortunately I can't yet use the punch line 'three book deal, six figure advance' but other critics (published authors) are giving me much more positive feedback. And I am pretty sure that someday I'll be able to send a pleasant e-mail thanking this person for their help. ;)

    WV: bards!!!

  5. Great entry! And one of these days I'm going to be on the ball when you do a contest my work fits - LOL.

    I would definitely prefer medium/hard over soft. The soft is too general to be of much help. The hard, while saying much the same thing as the medium is also a bit less helpful in that it doesn't give specifics to work on (and as such, the criticism could be overwhelming). But, I'd rather be overwhelmed with work to do than stuck not knowing what to fix at all.

  6. I am a newbie here. Stumbled right onto a Secret Agent in progress. I thank all of you for the invaluable experience.

    I noted right away that the agent wasn't as gentle in her criticisms as the rest of us, but even so, her comments reinforced what I've heard so many times. Its not always about the writing.

    One of the best written entries (based on the fact that every commenter liked it and had few things to crit, and that included Secret Agent), didn't even get picked as honorable mention because its not to Ms. Testerman's taste.

    Improve your work, yes; but don't take it personally. It is somewhat subjective. Find the right agent, for you.

  7. Very nicely put. :)

    Personally, I prefer the medium to hard because those ones usually come with more precise comments on what it is exactly I need to be working on. If I can't see the problem, I can't fix it.

    You're right. They do hurt more, but I also think they help one develop more as well--depending on what the writer does with it.

  8. For those who have problems with criticism (I did and I'm still not immune to the stinging part) here is one of my techniques to cope:
    Try to get the critique in writing and make a copy of it (or print it out). Then crumple it up and throw it at the walls, shred it, scream insults (whatever is necessary to relieve your inner child). Then, sit down with a clean copy and start thinking about the points that hurt and why they hurt. Truth very often does, you know. And finally, take the things that you reluctantly and unwillingly acknowledge and make your story better.

  9. Give me the hard anytime...as long as its honest. I don't want to be bashed around just because the person is having a bad day, but if my writing isn't up to snuff, I need to know. Being cozy'd up to isn't going to fix the issues in my writing, nor is it going to get my book or story to a publishable state. I'm a big boy, I can take it.

  10. Awesome blog post, Authoress! I read most of the SA's comments on the entries this time and was sincerely worried that some feelings would be terminally hurt. It's hard to hear harsh criticism even when there's a nugget of truth hidden within.

    My agent doles out the MEDIUM version of criticism. Just because I'm her client doesn't make my writing suddenly fabulous and error-free. I make plenty of mistakes, thank you very much, and she doesn't hesitate to point them out. We're working on our second project together and her keen observations and constructive criticisms improve my work immensely. I need the tough reality check or I might not see where I've gone wrong. However, the solution for fixing things that don't work is still up to me.

    So my point is prepare yourself now for the tough criticism ahead, because even after you get your agent, and your editor (a whole nuther kettle of fish), there won't be lots of sugar coating those literary cookies you've baked in your story-telling mind.

    Thank you, Authoress, for all you do for writers. You're fab! :)

  11. Very well stated Authoress. I really had a sense of guilt about being one of the ones the secret agent liked. I thought, man if I feel this good about her liking my writing, then how must some of the others feel when they get an "I hated it" from her?

    I guess you have to take both responses and compare them to reality. In my case, just because an agent liked it, certainly does not mean I'll be published tomorrow, or next year, or ever. And just because an agent tells someone she didn't like the work doesn't mean they won't be published either.

    And I totally agree that I would rather have the medium/hard responses as well. Tell me what you think. I don't want to blindly go through life thinking I'm something I'm not.

  12. I prefer the honest truth, and that would include an "I hated it." But I'd like to know why. In this case, I think it was a question of style, Ms. Testerman not liking the author addressing the reader directly. At least, I think that's why she hated it.

    I hope the author doesn't get disheartened by the critique. It is a style that has been used successfully by many MG authors - Roddy Doyle, Andy Stanton, Pseudonomous Bosch, Lemony Snicket. My boys love them.

  13. Great little pep talk. We writers need them often. I'm still new and terrified, but I want to know. I need to know if my work makes someone vomit. That could be useful (especially if they say why) for avoiding the same response with future readers.

  14. Great post...you are always so very encouraging. I think part of the sting is that we sometimes don't even know where to start with fixing all that we need to fix. It's overwhelming. *sigh*

  15. Nice post, Authoress.

    Personally I prefer hard as long as it's honest and has specifics I can work with. If you think it sucks, cool, but that's not so helpful unless you can tell me WHY it sucks. :P

    I guess I developed a thick skin early on. ;)


  16. Great post! I also noticed that this SA didn't hold back. Honesty can be very helpful though, and I know she gave me some excellent food for thought on a partial of mine she rejected not too long ago.

    Only other thing I'd mention is that old cliche about opinions. What Agent A hates, Agent B might love. In the same day, I've gotten Rs that said "I don't think this concept is strong enough to stand out" and requests that said "I love this idea". Subjectivity will drive a writer mad!

  17. Very good post. I prefer medium and hard criticism of my work. Soft tends to omit the details I'm looking for to improve my work in an attempt to spare my feelings. If my feelings were so fragile I wouldn't put my work out there in the first place. I need criticism. I need fresh eyes on what I'm doing. And ultimately, I am the final filter that decides how valid the criticism is.

    As bad as soft criticism, is hard criticism without detail. It does no good to simply say "I hate it, it doesn't work for me." If you can't say why, you might as well not say anything. With enough detail, an author can then determine whether there is truly a weakness to their writing they can work on, whether the reviewer was having a bad day, or were reading a genre they can't stand.

    When I provide a criticism, I provide details, because details are what I'm looking for when I put a piece out for critique. And I fully expect the author to evaluate whether my opinions might have merit, or whether I as a reviewer missed the point the author was going for (it happens).

    The point is, criticism is about helping the author. It shouldn't be about the reviwer. And without details, a critique is worthless.

  18. Some of the comments were just way harsh. It's one thing to hear a criticism like that in your own personal email, but to see it here on the green blog-- well that had to sting.

    I think something the agents that SA here may not realize though is that a lot of us are in critique groups, etc. together and see each other's work up here, so it isn't like it's actually anonymous.

    Then our peers and colleagues see our work get ripped to shreds in public like that and we lose credibility.

    I think it would just help if in the end you reminded them that these submissions aren't as anonymous as we'd like to think they are.

    That being said... your submissions closed up in like less than a minute, so maybe we just have to suck it up and hope for the best?

    Agents need to realize they are eventually being outed too... so now I might think twice before querying this one for fear of that kind of feedback. And, that's the agents loss, because without our fabulous writing--they don't have a job.

  19. Great post, and on target.

    I, too, prefer specific, honest critique, whether good or bad. Soft, and mostly even medium, critique doesn't really help if the critiquer is holding back.

    I appreciated all of the comments mine received, and from the negative ones, I am rethinking certain aspects of my manuscript. Will I automatically remove all the "f" words? No. But will I more carefully consider whether they serve a purpose? Yes. And that means I will make more informed decisions. Even the visceral negative reactions tell me something about the first 250 words.

    Sure, it's hard to get negative critique, especially if it isn't of the specific, fixable, constructive kind. Secret Agent didn't care for mine. Nothing I can do to make it appeal to her, so I move on because that means we are not a good fit. Some of the other comments, though, even though ultimately saying they disliked it, help me see the reaction. And that is helpful.

    As for credability or anonymity, etc. No one submitting should expect the secret agent to give soft critique. Period. And credability with your peers is irrelevant to whether you write well, or whether the piece is of publishable substance and quality, whether it hooks, etc. Credabiity should never come into play in critique.

    So, I think the lesson here might be if someone isn't ready to hear harsh critique, and if someone is worried about anonymity or being embarassed, or knows the piece still needs work, then that person is not ready to submit and should wait until he/she is ready.

    And I second the earlier comments that maybe prospective submitters should carefully consider whether their submission is really as good, as polished, as tweaked and ready to go as it can be before submitting. And if not, wait until it is, so someone else, whose work is ready and polished can get the most out of the opportunity.

  20. I think at the beginning, a writer's alterego can be a fragile thing. But one thing I've learned is to get better in my writing, I had to develop a thicker skin. It's not easy, and it's not quick -

    But bring on the harshness. I want the down and dirty - so I know where I need to fix, and that helps me grow as a writer.

    So, thanks authoress. You said it right on :)

  21. "So, I think the lesson here might be if someone isn't ready to hear harsh critique, and if someone is worried about anonymity or being embarassed, or knows the piece still needs work, then that person is not ready to submit and should wait until he/she is ready."

    Yes, exactly. If you are putting your work out there, in public, for review, be ready for whatever comes. Unpublished and published authors alike.

  22. Wonderful reminder.

    And I have to echo what others have said: I prefer the hard. Tell me you hate my writing (you have the right to your opinions, after all) but tell me WHY. Tell me what's wrong with my writing so I can fix it. I can't fix something when I don't know how it's broken.


  23. IMO, the most helpful example you've shown here is the medium one. It's balanced and offers something specific for the writer to work on. OTOH, I'd expect that type of comment from a workshop or crit, not necessarily from an agent. Agents are busy people and don't have time to crit every sub they recieve.

    While I do want agents and crit partners to be honest, I also want them to be professional. And IMO, being professional means avoiding excess emotion. It sounds more professional to me to say "I'm not interested" than to say "I hate this."

  24. Good points in this post and in the comments.

    Writing is putting your heart and soul on the page and sending it out for the world to read.

    This means opening yourself up to rejections from agents/editors/publishers, critiques from writing groups, and reviews from critics.

    Readers' opinions are part of the job, like writing the book and sending queries. All we can control is our reaction to those opinions.

  25. I think that because this business is so subjective, it is best for agents and critiquers alike to be professional and keep their feedback limited to helpful concrete comments rather than a blanket and nebulous "I hate this".

    You may hate it, but another may love it. Hate and love are emotions, not analysis of what works and what doesn't work, which is what writers want to learn. So, mentioning that you hate a work is just not all that helpful.

    I don't expect agents to provide detailed feedback when they read their slush -- they have far too much of it. Most of it is not saleable given the market. But if they (and the rest of us) are going to provide feedback, there is no call to be rude.

    Yes, you may hate a submission. Instead of writing that, put down *why* you hated it -- wrong genre, unsympathetic protag, writing style, dialogue, story idea -- and leave the "I hate it" part out.

    Win-win. Even though you pass or weren't hooked, you look helpful and professional and the writer gets something positive out of it.

  26. NonyMouse just hit the nail on the head - and this goes for all of us as we critique each other, especially in a public venue: be polite and professional. Give constructive criticism that will help the writer improve their craft. That, I believe, is the whole point of this exercise.

  27. to me - you get more out of the hard ones - the fluffy ones dont help you target any issues your book/writing may have.

  28. Over at Nathan Bransford's blog, during his "Agent for a Day" contest, when critters were getting too rude or nasty in their crits, he posted to remind them to be professional. I don't think we have to just shrug and accept rudeness.

    Yes, there are rude people out there and you will run into them occasionally. That doesn't mean we can't all advocate for honesty with tact and professionalism.

  29. I don't think that tact translates to fluff. You can say something negative without being rude.

  30. I agree that there can be tactful ways to say tough things, but to be honest, sometimes it's the emotional, visceral response the writer really does need to hear.

    "This did not work for me" is not as informative, as powerful, as clear as "I hate this." Is it kinder? In one way, maybe, but in another, not really. Because it's the emotional response that informs.

    Would I say "I hate this?" Probably not. Because I do try to be constructive, from my crit group training. And my approach was as if these were submissions to me as a part of a crit group. But if I were anagent, whose skills have been honed to quick and visceral response, then maybe that is what I would say.

    Sometiems we get trained out of being as viscerally honest as we need to be. And I think I at least would prefer the visceral, emotional response, so that I can really confront the piece head on.

    Having said that, I do hear those saying they disagree, that for them, they would prefer tact. And that's the rub - personal preference and tolerances for visceral honesty.

    So, I guess I come back around to this has been a lesson on submitter beware. In the future, when making the decision of whether or not to submit, readers may have a more complete picture of the kinds of critique that are possible. So they are prepared.

  31. Lots of great points here (I think Emily hit most clearly). The three most valid to me are:
    1. If it's not polished, don't put it out there.
    2. If you're not prepared to be criticized (and possibly harshly), don't submit.
    3. Separate opinion from issues with the actual writing.

    Finally, I agree that the agents don't have time to be our teachers (paraphrasing). It's not their job - we should have learned before we submitted. I had an idea a couple of years ago and started writing. I wasn't a writer at the time. A friend liked it and asked if she could show it to a friend of hers, a former editor at a major publishing house. The poor woman was nice enough to read the entire, ridiculously long manuscript (it is now two books that together are shorter than the first), call me, and spend nearly an hour giving me feedback. I had made tons of mistakes, telling, overwriting, etc. She very clearly (and nicely)told me to spend a year or two improving my writing, then rewrite the whole thing (because she thought it was a good story).

    I hired a local faculty member who had published two novels. I wasn't too thrilled with the little "projects" she gave me, but after awhile I was able to recognize typical errors, improve my style, character development, etc. and I finally realized that I did in fact have to start from scratch (CLICHE!! GASP. Yup, I used to do a lot of that too. And all caps - no good either!).

    I'm hopeful that I'm ready now - I can't wait to hit the 1,000 word contest (or SA if that happens first). If I've still got problems I'd rather know, no matter how harshly. But what I do see in the submissions is a lot of unpolished, unprofessional writing (just like mine was and hopefully no longer is). I'm sure it's easier to recognize the mistakes in someone else's work than one's own, so to me this site is an incredible resource because I'm sure you'll all let me know where I still have problems! Thanks to all of you and Authoress.

  32. In response to Susanne:

    1. Not every writer knows when their work is polished enough. That's why it's great to have a place like this and other agent blogs that provide constructive feedback.

    2. It's true that you must expect to receive crits when you submit your work. That's the purpose of submitting work for crit after all. However, it is up to the blog owner to set the tone by posting rules and ensuring that people know and follow the rules.

    One of the problems with the internet is that it creates an immediate forum for people to receive feedback and also creates this distance which allows some people to act in ways they wouldn't in real life, face to face.

    From my understanding, agents are not likely to provide detailed feedback, even negative and rude comemnts, in response to slush. They just don't have time. Form rejections are to be expected. In some cases, writers can expect to receive nothing at all.

    Agents may think rude comments to themselves or their co-workers when they read slush but it probably takes too much time to actually write them in individual feedback to unsolicited submissions that the agents actually do not like.

    As queryfail showed us, some agents do think such things and voice such views, to each other and on the net. I think that exercise as well as agentfail shows us that there are real people behind those pixels on the screen.

    How you comport yourself online is a display of your character and your professionalism. Being rude is easy. Being honest but tactful actually takes a bit of effort.

  33. It's not just agents/editors, either. Friends can hit you hard, too.

    Friends have a rep for being too soft, 'cause they like you and/or don't really know how to critique effectively. But I gave a draft of a novel to a friend I thought could give me some helpful technical input, and got "I hated it" back.

    He didn't like a device I used in the prologue (which carried over, slightly and lightly, to following chapters). He ranted about it for several highly incensed lines in an e-mail, ending by saying he felt it insulted his intelligence as a reader.

    Thing is, I can understand his not appreciating the device (esp. because he was reading the ms. slowly, little bits at a time, and didn't at first see how the prologue connected to the rest of the story). Not all devices jazz all readers equally. What I couldn't understand was why he was taking it personally.

    I thought about responding to his e-mail with a promise that I really didn't wake up that morning wondering what/how I could write that would really infuriate him. But I ended up saying, "Thanks; that's something to think about." And no matter how harsh a criticism is, it is always something to think about. (Another friend has recently read it and loves the use of the device; I've yet to hear what she thinks about the story as a whole, though.)


  34. Authoress, thank you. This was well put and much needed for many of us, I think. Thank you!

  35. I admit that I went back and reviewed my comments.

    As a new poster, I hope I didn't offend anyone or that I discouraged anyone. If so, I sincerely apologize! That would devastate me, but I do tend to be hard skinned.

    My worst enemy is time. So hard is best for me, with clear suggestions for improvement. Then I don't need to search through the soft for the suggestion that is crucial to improve my writing.

    As to the agent, after reading some of her comments I knew that she and I were not going to be a mesh. That happens in all professions. That's why we chose agents that have worked with manuscripts similar to ours, right?

    In this case neither the writer, nor the agent have a history to gage compatibility. Still, I wouldn't have skipped the experience in a 100 years!

  36. A link to a great article on famous authors who were rejected, often rudely, which makes great reading for us aspiring writers.

    It shows that what are considered some of the best novels and writers were turned down, sometimes with derision, by big name publishers. I suppose one of the reasons I believe that tact is called for is that who, really, do we think we are to be rude to a writer about their work?

    If publishers with oodles of experience and credentials can be so wrong about a novel and a novelist like le Carre, (he has no future) than it seems to me that all of us should be a bit more humble when it comes to offering our opinions on a work of fiction we're critiquing.

  37. "I suppose one of the reasons I believe that tact is called for is that who, really, do we think we are to be rude to a writer about their work? "

    I agree with you, but I think the point is that it doesn't matter if you like your critiques soft, medium, hard, or with a cherry on top and a side of fries--you need to be ready for them all.

    Just look at the reviews on Amazon. Even the current Pulitzer prize winner for fiction has some that say "this was a waste of time" and "I hated it."

  38. Hi Anonymous,
    My list was just what struck me as being key to me, although I created the list from the earlier comments. And I think I wasn't clear on my first item - I was only referring to the SA contests or an actual submission to an agent when I suggest one's work should be polished. However, I see your point and I'm rethinking that. But still, submitting to the SA contest before a piece is ready can cause the writer real hurt when s/he simply hasn't polished it - the good aspects might not show in 250 words and the criticism might cause someone to give up.

    And I do agree that being tactful is better, but I'm just trying to be realistic. I think the other writers on this blog are generally kind, but if an agent is donating time, I'll take comments however they come. I'll bet if I went back and read some of my critiques (for what they're worth), I could have been more helpful and tactful (I'm afraid to go back and read them now). Like Meg, I also hope I didn't offend anyone.

    And just from reading the other crits, I'm still making changes to my manuscript. That's what's so great on this blog - different people pick up on different things. The author can chose what s/he feels makes sense. That's so clear when the critters give a split opinion. Anyway, I'm going to try extra hard to be tactful and helpful with whatever the next batch is!

  39. I honestly believe that the people who make it in this industry are the ones who can hear "I hate it" and keep writing.

    I've had some pretty harsh and embarrassing things said about my writing, in particular at the beginning. Boy oh boy... I know that there are people from my critique groups and certain relatives who are surprised I'm still writing. I've had my work called cliched more than once (ouch) and one gentleman (an english teacher) was kind enough to tell me the worst thing he had read in his thirty years of teaching! (I find that hard to believe, by the way.)

    It stings, sure... When I had my first exposure to my work being called "cliched" I removed the dreaded offenders. I now have a list of cliches, whether I personally agree with them or not, and I avoid their usage.

    I agree with ANON above, if you choose to put your work online or have it published, you have to be ready for "I hate it". It's part of the creative process. It makes you part of the "in" crowd of creative people.

    In three years I've gone from having my work called cliched and the worst thing ever to getting lots of requests from agents. No agent yet, but I'm keeping taking notes on what works and what doesn't and trying to improve. It's hard. Writing a compelling opening is hard. Hearing I hate it is really hard.

    You can't control the critique but you can control your reaction to it. Take what you can from the feedback and keep writing. Good luck.

  40. Nice post, Authoress!

    I, too, got a "medium" response from the Great Miss Snark and it stung like crazy! But she was right. And I worked hard, and she helped make my writing so much better.

    It's a hard thing to do, though, read the harsh stuff. Hard, but so important.

  41. I've mentioned this before,but the critiques that were least harsh were the ones on the polished, edited submissions. Even if something was not to my taste, or wasn't perfect, it was obvious which entries had been workshopped or critiqued or beta-read or rewritten to death. And it was obvious which ones had not. You don't write a manuscript, give it a once-over and ship it to an agent.

    The difficulty processing some of these harsh critiques was that it wasn't private, it was public. But that's what these writers signed up for, it was just more (or less) than they expected because Ms. Testerman and some others were blunt.

    In private you can tell me my writing sucks. In public? I'd probably prefer "it needs more work."

    But, I suggest that the SA entrants don't start defending themselves against the criticism, because I think that is very, very unprofessional and just like anywhere else on the internet, you don't know who is reading what you write!

  42. It's true that you can't control people's response to your writing -- you can only control your own response to their response. I agree that it is best for SA entrants not to defend themselves against criticism. It never looks professional. But then, neither does a rude crit. Both should be discouraged.

  43. In AZ workshop, I heard a story of a first time poetry submission in which the editer returned it torn up in little tiny pieces. ouch! Definitely a bad day on the editor's desk.

    Same person also told of an editor who had a standard form for his returns, "I wouldn't recognize a great poem if it leaped up and bit me on the ass...so I'm returning yours." Love that one!

  44. I tend to be one of those people who fall into the "Hard" category when I give feedback. (Sorry to my fellow Critters)
    However, my critique partners know I'm brutal (well okay, maybe not brutal, just painfully honest) and they deal with it accordingly.
    I warn newcomers that I tend to be blunt and I'm afraid I probably scare them.
    But... I don't just say "I hated it" and nothing more. I will explain why I don't think something works, why I would choose a different way of phrasing something -- and why I like something.
    Okay, maybe I'm "Medium" because of this, but I don't believe in giving brutal critiques without justifying what I am suggesting.

    You make a very good point about learning to take the harsh with the not so harsh. If you can't take it, then I suggest never visit the Amazon reviews if you have a book out, because some reader will invariably declare it tripe. :)
    So in a way, a hard rejection is good practice for any bad review you may get later in life. :)

  45. I used to be squarely in the "give it to me hard I can take it" camp until I realized that these really hard crits, in which terms like "I hate this" or "This is a mess" or other kinds of statements were really not meaningful to the writer in the long run. What has meaning to the writer is whether the story idea or the writing or the pace or the characterization or the setting or the voice are a problem, not whether an individual reader loves or hates a work. You will usually always find people who love and hate your work, even with its flaws. Just check out any work of fiction on the shelves. There are so many with examples of what we aspiring writers are told are "writerisms" or mistakes we must eradicate from our writing and yet many have large followings -- why? Because they tell a good story that readers are willing to buy.

    What matters to an aspiring writer, or at least to this one, is whether the work resonates with agents and editors and what they think will sell. They are the gatekeepers and you have to please them if you want to make it through the gate. As we can all see from reading over the SA submissions and responses, the SA liked things that many did not like, and disliked things that we liked. What critters should be doing is trying to help the writer improve. Telling them you hate their first 250 words is not going to do that.

    Yes, as a reader, you may hate a work. I hate many works I find on the shelves. I don't buy them if I hate them after reading the back blurb, looking at the cover and reading the first few pages. On the rare occasion, I've bought a novel only to find after a chapter or so that I do hate it. I have every right to complain if so. Yet, why is it that the author sells so well?

    Might it be that my taste is not the same as other readers? So even if I shelled out ten bucks to read it, what am I gaining by posting nasty reviews on Amazon.com? Nothing but venting. Maybe I'm just getting old, but that kind of venting smacks to me of immaturity and self-absorbedness.

    If I follow the logic of those who advocate that writers keep quiet after receiving a rude crit, then we should all tolerate bad behavior because, hey, sh*t happens. It's out there. Toughen up. Worse still is the idea that since it's out there, why not use it against others, toughen them up and if they complain, why, they're weak or wrong.

    Being brutal is not a badge of honor nor is being able to "take it and keep writing" a sign of superiority. Instead, it speaks to me of our sadistic culture in which perfect strangers feel free to abuse each other with impunity, writing it off as "brutal honesty", celebrating their ability to take a blow and keep their chin up, and dismissing people who object as being unable to take it or a sign they won't succeed in the world.

    Being a recipient of rude comments may be reality all writers face, but do you really want to define yourself as someone who is rude to writers, or mean? DO you really want to think of yourself as someone who crushed some aspiring writer's spirit? I've heard people boast that if the writer is so easily disuaded from writing, they can't be a real writer but that's silly. Can't we demand more of ourselves and those parts of our lives in which we have control? I can't control other people, but I can control my own behavior and ultimately, I am responsible for it. It's a choice.


  46. Okay, I believe HARD to include reasons--otherwise it's just an extremely rude, hurtful, terrible mind game. Hard might pile on reasons they didn't like it, but ultimately it isn't a critique if you haven't pointed out what doesn't work for the reader. Maybe I'm medium now when I re-read Miss Snark's example.

  47. "Please: No snarkies. When you leave comments -- especially comments about other people's writing -- be nice. A little tact goes a long way."

    Posted by Authoress, found under the label "Rules."

    Just sayin.