When you’re new at this author game, you are sure you can “take it.” You will tell yourself that you can take the criticism, and say, “how bad can it be?” You believe that you are mature enough, have had enough life experience, that this should roll off your shoulders like water off a duck’s back. It won’t hurt you, much less make you bleed.
But I’m here to tell you, you are never really ready for the criticism.
It starts with your beta readers, who come back with blunt comments about what needs to be fixed. Then you sell your manuscript but wait, there’s an editor, and she will be ruthless. Absolutely ruthless. The beta readers were like walking on stinging nettles, compared to the daggers the editor will throw at you. Much bleeding will occur, mostly in the form of red ink (or in this case, “track changes”) on your manuscript.
Then there are the reviews. Some less than stellar. Ouch.
As a debut author, with my first novel now out there for the world to see, I now have a much better understanding of the process it takes to get to a published book. There is a process I went through in each of these three stages.
The comments came back, and I anxiously read them all. Prick prick prick went the needles in my ego. Prick prick prick…tiny drops of
blood ink. One reader picked out all my weird…grammar. She caught all the sentence splices, the incomplete sentences, the improper use of contractions. Another picked out a glaring plot hole in the first third of the book. Another took me to task for the first sex scene of the book. And my writing companion found a weird plot thing, not a hole exactly, but something strange, towards the end. Tiny drops of red ink.
When the first round of edits came in, I was so excited that I immediately dived in to take a look. Boy, was that a mistake. Every mark was like being stabbed in the heart. I only got about half-way through reading them before I had to stop, completely demoralized. She was asking me to chop off the toes and fingers, and dig out the spleen. I had to put it away for a few days, when I could look at it with a much clearer head. It was painful. But I made the changes, seeing where she was going with things, and felt happy with that version that I turned in the second time.
Well, we weren’t done. The second round of edits came in. This time, we were chopping off legs and arms, and doing a brain transplant. Copious amounts of
blood ink. The opening chapter needed to be removed completely and re-written. The agony! I agonized for days before editing anything, arguing in my head with my editor about the changes. I tried to come up with a good way of arguing my point with my editor. Surely, we didn’t need to be so drastic. Surely, not the whole beginning! Agony. Pure agony. I finally gave myself a stern talking to, packed up my laptop, notes, and printout of that first chapter, and took a short retreat to the mountains. I sat in a coffee shop by a little river, watching it snow, while I scribbled and scratched and came up with a new beginning. It was the best thing I could have done. I was able to focus completely, hand-writing a rough draft, then typing up the final draft. It took four hours. I’m surprised the other people in the coffee shop couldn’t see the blood ink dripping onto the floor. I had never worked so hard on a story.
I sent it back to my editor, holding my breath. The third round of edits came back, and they were so minor that I nearly cried for joy. I had made it! I had survived the
blood ink-letting, and my story was the better for it. I wondered momentarily why the editor hadn’t given me those big edits on the first round. But I know now that she was being very smart. If I’d gotten back he big edits the first time, I’d probably have dissolved into defeat, and never touched the story again. She started with the easy stuff. In my case, weird phrasing and filtering words, which I’m particularly bad at. Once she saw that I could handle those relatively minor edits, she knew I could take the bigger ones. And she was absolutely right.
Critics and Reviewers
There are always going to be people that don’t like my book. I did actually have a reviewer make a comment about my cover. I didn’t design the cover, that was handled by the publisher, so it didn’t hurt too badly to hear that. But there were others who thought my heroine was too naive, that the bad boy wasn’t bad enough, that the story was too “soft.” I got good reviews too, so I can’t complain. But those little pokes of criticism still hurt, still set me back a bit. As they should.
You see, it really does take all that criticism to make me a better writer. If I can’t take those criticisms, I will never be able to improve my writing, and sell a second book, a third book, a fourth book…
I’m a big girl. I can take it. And if I say it often enough, it will be true. Or, as I like to say, BRING IT.
How do you take your criticism, and how did you survive your editing process? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!