On Dealing With Critiques and Reviews – The Road to Self-Publishing

This article is part of my ongoing Wannabe Pride Self-Publishing blog series in preparation for publishing my novel, QUEEN HENRY, in July of 2014. Proceeds from this novel will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation.

49 Weeks Until Publication

It’s never easy dealing with critiques and reviews, but I’ve developed a system for both. And yes, there is a distinction between a critique and a review. A critique is when you actively seek out criticism, either via paid editors or unpaid volunteer beta readers. A critique is supposed to tell you what you need to fix before you publish or submit anywhere. A review is when readers provide a critique of what’s already completed and published.  Both critiques and reviews can be difficult to deal with and each require different coping mechanisms. At least for me they do.

When getting a critique, it’s important to remember that you are the only one who is going to see this review of your work. Unless you blog about it like I am wont to do from time to time…. With a critique, no matter how bad it is, there’s still time to fix what’s wrong with your work. That’s the whole point. Isn’t it better to be told that your slip is showing or you have toilet paper stuck to your shoe BEFORE you make your grand entrance to the party?

Anyway, critiques and reviews can suck. Sure, they can also be good, but do you really need my advice on how to deal with a good review? Didn’t think so.  Okay. I have a simple three-step  process for dealing with critiques. A critique is something that you actually asked for, so you’re at least somewhat prepared because you know its coming. The first step is to read the review as quickly as possible. The first time I read it is always the scariest. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. For me, it’s an awful moment when I see that the critique has popped up in my inbox. It’s that heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping moment of pure liquid fear. It’s the “Hi, this is your doctor calling and I have your test results back” moment. Even if it’s good news, it’s gonna take a while for that initial terror to dissipate. I skim the critique as fast as humanly possible. This is the “Okay, how bad is it?” read.

My initial response is usually defensiveness. No way! That’s not right! That’s not what I was saying! She doesn’t get me at all!

Guess what? If your editor or beta guru doesn’t get it, your readers probably won’t either. This is what you paid an editor and/or harassed your writer friend to do. You wanted them to tell the truth.

After my breathing calms down a bit, then I read the review again. This second step is known as the “Okay, what is this review really saying?” step. The critique is usually not as bad as I feared it would be. On the second read, I can start to get the gist of what the reviewer is really saying about what’s right and wrong with the work. What are the major flaws and how bad are they really?

The three read is actually kind of fun. By the third time, I’ve chilled out considerably. By that read, my mind is already spinning with ideas on how to fix what’s wrong with the manuscript. For me, writing is hard work but it’s also fun. Once I start putting a plan into action on how to incorporate these changes, I feel better. I’m back in my comfort zone. I’m a writer. I got this.

I usually do the three reads all at once. I mean, like immediately. BAM-BAM-BAM. It always reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons where Homer believes he’s dying and goes through the stages of coping in rapid succession, from anger to fear to bargaining to acceptance. He starts by yelling at the doctor and ends up reasoning that we all have to go sometimes. It takes about fifteen seconds.

This whole coping-with-critique deal probably takes about 10-15 minutes, but it’s an awfully stressful quarter of an hour. As I write this, I’m still waiting on the critique for my manuscript. It stresses me out just thinking about it, but I have to remind myself that, unlike a Few Good Men, I CAN handle the truth. I WANT the truth. I NEED the truth. This is not a game to me. I’m really going to publish this book and I need it to be the best it can possibly be. This is my favorite story that I’ve ever written. First as a screenplay and then as a novel that I tried to get traditionally published, the rejections for QUEEN HENRY always hurt more than for anything else I’ve ever written.  I waited a week to send QUEEN HENRY to the editors after my last edit because I knew I was way too close to the story to handle a critique right away. I had just read through the whole book making minor edits myself. I’m so close to these characters that I swear I feel like I’ve experienced everything they went through. Right after reading it, I am at my most vulnerable and least objective. I told myself not to listen to any of the usual songs I listen to while working on this novel while I waited for the critique. I needed to give myself some emotional space, some distance from it, before it gets torn apart by the critique.

But I didn’t follow my own advice and I’ve still been listening to my own personal QUEEN HENRY soundtrack as usual when I’m out for my daily walk. There’s really no protecting my heart when it comes to this story. My heart’s been broken by critiques of it before and I suppose it might be again.

But I know that it’s worth it. When you love something so much, it’s called passion. Great passion brings both incredible joy and intense sorrow. That whole better-than-not-having-loved-at-all kind of deal. I know the risks and I know they’re worth taking.

So that’s my philosophy on dealing with critiques.

Reviews can hurt just as much but the process for dealing with them is less complicated. Reviews come after the project is a done deal. The book is already published or the movie has already been released. It’s too late for changes and hindsight is always crystal clear. My plan for dealing with reviews after publication is as follows: for the good ones, I will print them out and save them in a binder. I’ll probably read them so often that I’ll be able to quote them verbatim. As for the bad ones, I’ll read them once for the “how bad is it?” read and then I’ll read it a second time to see what they’re really saying. I don’t want to totally ignore them altogether because there could be something I could learn for future use. For bad reviews, two times is enough. If it’s especially nasty, one time is enough. The truth is, some people are just jerks. It’s never worth dwelling on the negative, even if you can learn something. Learn, then move on as much as you can.

I guess passion in writing is kind of like passion in marriage. You really do have to take it for better or for worse.

It really is better than no passion at all.

Wish me luck. The critique is coming any day.

– Linda Fausnet

Jessica Simpson Annoyed Me Today

Just a quick rant. The Morning Mashup crew on XM radio interviewed Jessica Simpson today and asked her about the Grammy award nominees and what she thought. She made some vague comments about Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, then proclaimed that she really didn’t know what other musicians were out there right now.

Okay, I know she is not exactly the most respected recording artist in the world, but she has certainly made a great deal of money from her singing career. Couldn’t she at least to pretend to care – at all – about her craft?

I confess that I sometimes get frustrated with people who seem to rocket to success quickly, while people like me to have to climb and struggle for years. But NOTHING irritates me more than people who just don’t seem to CARE. They take their success for granted and don’t put much effort into it. If you don’t really listen to music, you’re not exactly passionate about your music career, now are you?

End of rant. For now.