Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Fricassee

There's nothing quite like the energy poured forth during a Secret Agent contest. The blog froths and bubbles on its own while I watch.


I've got to say a few things about How To Receive Feedback, though. Because, yeah, I saw some stuff out there I didn't like. (Not here. Elsewhere.)

Throwing our stuff out there for critique can make us feel naked. In a cold room. With people staring. And it helps to be able to vent that angst so we can walk through it and keep going, hopefully to receive the feedback in a constructive manner. So vent away.

But if you're going to boo-hoo to your friends about the "snark" in your comment box, I'm not impressed. For two reasons:

1. If it's really snark, YOU NEED TO TELL ME ABOUT IT. I don't have time to read each of the hundreds of comments that pour into my inbox. And if something truly snarky comes through, I WILL delete it. Boo-hooing about it somewhere else doesn't help me police the blog.

2. Often, a comment labeled "snark" by a sensitive author isn't snark at all. It's bluntness. And yes, there's a difference. If you can't tell the difference yet, you aren't ready for the harsh environment that is the publishing industry. GROW YOUR THICK SKIN NOW.

I've blogged about this before, sharing the actual email I sent to a distraught writer who was struggling with negative feedback. No, he didn't label the feedback "snark." He took it much more personally. But he prevailed. And made bigger strides in his journey as a writer than he probably realizes.

Honestly? I expect you to be ready (emotionally, mentally) to receive the feedback you'll get if you enter a Secret Agent contest. If you're not there yet, do your fellow authors the service of NOT TAKING A PLACE in the contest. There are others who are ready, who are willing to take the negative with the positive and make good things happen with their manuscripts.

And actually? That's the vast majority of you.

This blog is NOT a snark-o-rama. The regulars know this. The seasoned writers know this. And the folks offering critique? They are sacrificing a lot of time. A LOT. I watch some of them go through a dozen or more at a pop. Some read and comment on EVERY ENTRY. If you're going to then complain about their comments, you are doing them a disservice. All of them. Because you have no idea how much personal time each of them has sacrificed in an effort to give something back to the writing community of which they are part.

Also? If the result of your boo-hooing is a gaggle of well-meaning friends popping onto your entry and singing the praises of your excerpt as though you are the next King or Rowling, then your friends are doing YOU a disservice as well. If all you want is a pat on the back and undying admiration, share your book with your mom, your fourth grade reading teacher, and your dog. None of them will have anything bad to say about it. They will also have absolutely nothing constructive to offer, but at least you'll have warm fuzzies.

And hey. YOU KNOW HOW PASSIONATELY I CARE ABOUT THIS COMMUNITY. If I didn't care, I wouldn't do this. And if you're seriously hurt or confused by a comment on your excerpt, I'm the one who needs to know about it. TELL ME.

But here's the caveat: If I don't think it's snark, I'll tell you. And I won't delete it.

As in, this is snark:

I fell asleep after the second sentence. This has got to be the most boring, poorly written opening I've ever read in my life. Someone needs to hide all the computers and typewriters at your house.

And this is not:

I lost interest after the second sentence. While the setting is intriguing, there wasn't anything here to make me care about the main character. There was a lot of telling, too much backstory. This might not be the best place to start your story.

If you think the second example is "snark" then you're not ready for an honest assessment of your work. Sure, a critique like that is going to sting. No one has promised us a pain-free ride, yes? But we've got to buck up. Comments pointing out potentially serious flaws in our work are meant to SAVE US.

Okay, that sounded more dramatic than I meant it to. But I think you understand me.

This blog is one of the "safer" places to throw your work. I'll do my best to keep it that way for you. But you're going to have to direct your "boo-hoos" to me, or I can't do my job.

REAL boo-hoos. Snark. Personal attacks. That sort of thing. I'll get rid of it in a heartbeat.

I promise.

So. Onward. With big hugs, as always.


  1. It's hard to hear the critiques, but SO worth it. I can't even say how much I've learned from hard-to-hear comments. If it hurts, let it sit a week and come back. I usually see with clearer eyes then.

    Good luck everyone!

  2. Well said. This is something I feel very strongly about.

    When you put your writing out into the world, whether it's posting here on this blog, or on a writer's forum, or in a critique group, you are not going to be met with universal praise. As much as it can sting to receive criticism, the people who do the critiquing generally aren't there to make you feel bad, they're there to help.

    I've done my share of critiquing. I enjoy it, most of the time. However, what I do not like is when a writer can't see past the fact that there might be something wrong with their work. Part of being a writer is learning to take critiques with grace and to remember that the person doing the critique is giving their time to help you make your writing better.

    It really doesn't reflect well on a writer if they choose to flail about in public agony because their writing isn't received with cries of delight and adoration. It would be wise to remember that it's not just your fellow writers who hang around on the internet, just sayin'.

    Every step of the process is going to be paved with criticism, from your Beta readers, to your agent, to your editor, to book reviewers. My advice, as someone who's been bruised by critiques in the past - grow a pair and accept critiques for what they are - a learning experience.

    Peace out.

  3. I agree with Sue. You have set up a wonderful forum here. It's appreciated by many. I've visited often, made comments, and submitted twice. First time my ratings were much better than I'd expected. Second time, not so much. But I took away from both experiences lessons learned.

    Thank you.

  4. Well said!

    After receiving so many rejections, my skin is thicker than steel, lol. It is hard to take criticism, but it's part of the business, right? Even best sellers get bad reviews sometimes.

    Here's hoping that sensitive writers take this opportunity to grow. :)

    And thank you, Authoress, for always taking care of us when we need it.

  5. One thing I've appreciated about this contest is the diversity of critiques. In some contests, the commenters all echo the brave soul who went first.

    The SA has mentioned posting his/her comment before reading the others so as not to be influenced. I do appreciate that, especially since this is such a subjective exercise. And, as you said Authoress, some people may have had their personal fan club post comments.

  6. This is so true - I think balance IS very important, so if a writer puts up their work for a critique, they should at the same time give it to their mom or supportive friend, because too much praise distorts our egos and too much criticism makes us dispair. And the internet really is hard, because sometimes you type a critique TRYING to be nice and honest but it comes off as... mean.
    Anyway, thick skin is something I have to work on as well. I've always been thin skinned, but I try to accept criticism. I know how hard it can be though!

  7. EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT!! and yeah, I'm yelling.

    You cover one of my pet peeves, the crit w/o a solution. Thank you, Authoress.

    I see another problem sometimes, when the crit goes:
    "Ditto what the other people are saying"
    Which people? Which critique? Did you actually read the submission or not?

    The help this venue provides to Twinkies like me is proving invaluable.

    Thanks again to the marvelous Miss Authoress and everyone who takes the time to crit.

  8. I know I'm one of the blunt ones. But the critiques I love most on my own work are the ones which tell it like it is. I've learned so much that way!

  9. Nice one, Authoress!

    The other thing... it kinda makes a critting community uncomfortable if too many people are too quick to strike out defensively. As Authoress said, it does take a long time to comment on everyone, and comment fairly.

    Definitely do judge whether something is too nuts or if you are just being sensitive. And report the nuts ones to Authoress. It will make for a more agreeable group for everyone... :)

  10. I think my favorite moment so far has been catching someone commenting on their own work as if they were someone Oh, the joys.

  11. Here's my two cents:

    Writers: (1) Authoress will promptly remove snark reported to her, whether it's on your own entry or someone else's (2) Realize that someone's opinion is just their opinion - and they can be wrong (3) If most critiquers say essentially the same thing, you probably should listen.

    Critiquers: Please remember that the person who wrote that entry may have poured their heart into it. You have to be honest, but you don't have to be harsh or unkind. (I will admit I avoid commenting on the ones that seem hopeless, which is rather cowardly of me.) I'm blunt, but I hope never cruel.

  12. I'm one of those people that gets real (almost creepily)quiet after I've been 'critiqued'. It's not that I'm upset I just really need to take time to digest and lick my wounds before I'm ready to face the ugly truth and move on. Even with my critiques group- I'll leave them hanging for at least a week or two before I'm ready to sit down and discuss what they've pointed out. And by that time, I've come to terms with it and figured out what I agree with and what I don't. They're all used to it by now. I found this contest extreeeemely helpful and got some great tips on the beginning of my manucript. What more could I hope for? thanks so much for doing this!

  13. I agree that the best thing to do is digest a crit and mull it over before reacting, if possible.

    But I also can't help but wonder if we're talking semantics here. I'm thinking calling something "snark" was that writer's way of venting, which is something I imagine we all do. And just like the commenters have an opinion on the snips in question, the writers have an opinion on the validity of the crits. We're not going to agree with everything every person says (and we really shouldn't, bc, OMG, that could make for a really crazy book :)

    Honestly, I think the main point to take from this is to be careful venting on public forums. Which is kind of a catch-22, bc on the surface, it seems like a writing forum would be the perfect place to vent about, well...writing.

    (Btw, no, I'm not entered in this contest, but yes, I do believe I know the entered writers in question, and I'm very certain they meant no ill-will toward the contest or commenters in general.)


  14. First, let me say that I have no stakes in this conest, I wasn't a contestant, etc. Next, um, no offense, but I'm not really sure the point of this post. You say, "I've got to say a few things about How To Receive Feedback, though. Because, yeah, I saw some stuff out there I didn't like. (Not here. Elsewhere.", if it happened elsewhere, why is it any of your concern how an author reacted to criticism given? Aren't people allowed to voice their disappointment without fearing it's going to break down into a passive aggressive twitter blitz and blog post? I find it quite ironic that the entire post was about what is snark and not snark when in fact the entire meaning behind this post was to be passive agressively snarky!

    In my opinion, this line was particulary snarky, "But if you're going to boo-hoo to your friends about the "snark" in your comment box, I'm not impressed." Last time I checked, writing forums like Verla Kay and Absolutewrite were places where fellow authors could come together and talk about the ups and downs of the writing game. Now has it come down to a place where you can't say anything withouts someone using it this way? Eesh

    And perhaps the snark to end all snarks and dig at writing forums like VK and AW, "If the result of your boo-hooing is a gaggle of well-meaning friends popping onto your entry and singing the praises of your excerpt as though you are the next King or Rowling, then your friends are doing YOU a disservice as well. If all you want is a pat on the back and undying admiration, share your book with your mom, your fourth grade reading teacher, and your dog. None of them will have anything bad to say about it. They will also have absolutely nothing constructive to offer, but at least you'll have warm fuzzies."

    So, you might say this blog isn't a "snarkorama", and maybe you're right. The last quote from above really isn't snark; it's just down right bitchy. And srsly, someone of your age and maturity should really not resort to this.

    Nor is the entire mob mentality of supporters rallying to your defense very admirable. We've seen this happen before in the writing community, and it certainly doesn't make what is going on right.

  15. Basically it all boils down to mindset - the mindset of the writer receiving the critique.

    a.) How do you handle critique? What does your mind actually think after reading a critique? How do you react...mentally?

    b.) I just blogged about this very thing yesterday.

  16. I admit that I have to rein my self in sometimes. I don't think I'm snarky, but I will tell it like it is and expect the same in return. Some of the best crits I've gotten have been straight forward with a bit of snark. I've learned not to take the criticism personal because it's not. Yes some critters can be cruel especially in an open setting, but then so can reviewers.
    As for "ranting" on other message boards like AbsoluteWrite just remember this (I've heard it a million times from agents), your conduct on those boards isn't going unnoticed.
    I suggest ranting in private to your CPs that you work with closely. They will be more likely to comiserate with you. And then no one will miscontrue your intentions. Just my thoughts.
    Wow, maybe this sounded snarky?

  17. I used to think most people posting critiques were doing it to be helpful. But I've noticed that there is a category of person who just likes to tear down other people for the sake of their own ego. They are easy to spot and ignore, just look at anon above.

  18. This, my first time entry in SA, was liberally criticized. But you know what? I'm glad. Better getting critiqued in an anonymous forum by fellow writers than rejected by publishers and agents.
    I learnt a lot from the comments and have already re-written that opening! Thanks for running such a valuable contest.

  19. This is my first entry in SA, too, and I got some feedback that used the dreaded O word: over-written. That phrase hits too close to home for me to ignore. Other folks disagreed and said it wasn't over-written at all. But you know what? If several people thought it was, then it probably is. I can easily pull back a bit on my writing without losing the flavor of my work--so that's what I'm going to do.
    Thanks so much for this opportunity to hear objective feedback. It helps more than it stings.

  20. If I've learned anything from blogging and participating in forums in the last six years, it's to stand behind my words. If I'm uncomfortable saying something critical with my name and face attached to it, it's very likely I should keep my opinion to myself. It's difficult to respect a coward.

  21. I totally agree. One of the main points of this contest is to learn and gain valuable feedback from people who aren't going to be "warm and fuzzy." Thanks everyone for your feedback, and thank you, Authoress for your committment to all writers!

  22. You know I love this place and the community and the critiquing that goes on here. This community here is golden, and definitely helped me to get my wonderful agent :D

    However, while I agree with your general comment about taking critique, I believe that I know the writer/s in question and I'm with Debra -- this is an issue of semantics.

    Furthermore, I believe that directly responding to critters with venom? Totally not cool. But venting somewhere like AW or Verlakay? I don't know...I know I've done that in the past, like "bummer, just got a partial rejection". We're a community of friends and we support each other through the ups and downs of writing. We also critique for each other, so getting friends from over there to look things over is not necessarily going to lead to candy-coated crit, as people in these communities give each other super-harsh crits all the time. I know I won't candy-coat anything just because I happen to like the person in question.

    To conclude, my two cents are that this comes down to semantics and I think it's sad that comments were taken as offensive either way. I'm sure no ill-will was meant towards the contest from any of the participants (it's a pretty awesome contest and community here). Hopefully the rest of the contest proceeds smoothly, now :D

  23. Thanks for this post. At we have had the opportunity to provide people with a lot of feedback on their submissions. We put a lot of effort into making the feedback constructive and most of our authors have loved the comments.

    Constructive feedback is honest and respectful comments focused on building the author's skills. Snarks are mean and focused on either making the author feel bad, or making the commenter look superior.

    We all improve with feedback, we don't with snarks.

  24. I spent six years in a newsroom at a daily newspaper. Talk about no holds barred critiques! From the editors to the public, it often was brutal. I even had someone threaten to break my neck once when I reported on a $2.6 million verdict in a civil case involving an amputated penis. The brother of the amputee--a New Jersey construction worker, no doubt—was so enraged that he thought I should be paralyzed.

    There is some critique, personal attack for example, that is often unnecessary. But you take the critiques and try to learn something from them. Often the hardest ones have the hardest grain of truth.

    The critiques on this Web site were very welcome for me. I was trying something new. In several comments I received a similar thread of repeat themes. I feel the changes I make now will ultimately make my story stronger and improve things.

    Quite a gift really, and it was free.

  25. Critiquing takes valuable time away from a serious writer. But if one participates in a community such as this, then it is fair to devote some time in lieu of your privileges of such an activity one really does owe it.
    I can't think why anyone would want to deliberately be mean. The most important element to being a confident writer is if you think you are right and have a reason to write a particular sentence in the way you have done it then HAVE A GOOD REASON.
    Your agent and editor will respect this if they are given a reason and if they don't agree with you then what you should do is take note of their reason why you shouldnt. Getting published is not a hobby. It's a business and as a business if your book isn't going to sell, then they don't want it. It sits in your regret file forever and you remain anonymous.
    There cannot be anything such as personal attacks because there isn't the motivation for such an activity. Take the crits in the manner in which they are given. Of course Snarkism exists but only in the phrasing. There are always two ways to say things. Polite and impolite. But with a proper explanation of why something puts you to sleep and a because... ie., constructive ways to fix things up then your gain is a contract with what you want more than anything, recognition, publication, admiration and people who are not your mother loving your work.

  26. Right on. I think something like this piece needs to be sent to every person who joins a critique group.

    So well said. Thank you!