Consider the Source

Critique and rejection are two entirely different things, though one can sometimes accompany the other. If you’re broadcasting your work in any sort of way, you’ll inevitably encounter both. As you do, it’s important to consider both the message (the reason behind the critique or rejection) and the messenger (the person providing the feedback).

Not all critiques are created equal. Sometimes you will find yourself in a group with writers of varying skill levels, and there may be times when you are encouraged to swap pages with people whom you know you can flat out write circles around. That’s not arrogance. That’s honesty.

As I mentioned in a previous post, if you’re the one providing feedback, you should take into account the abilities of the author of the work you’re critiquing. Not everyone is ready for the same level of discourse.

The same goes when you’re the one receiving the critique. Sometimes an author who is early in his or her writing journey will not be very good at assessing another person’s work. Inevitably there are long discussions about word choice or the comma police have made your manuscript look like a crime scene. Sometimes the inexperienced author “just didn’t get” what you were trying to do or say and they will be inadvertently harsh in their criticisms, without any specific reasons for why they didn’t like it.

When it comes to all of these, and I’ve been on the receiving end of every one of these types of criticisms, I encourage you to not take it personally. If you encounter a critique that you feel is way off base, move on as quickly as possible. Dwelling on the encounter doesn’t do anyone any favors.

My personal approach is to nod, say something innocuous like “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” and thank them for the feedback.

Now before we get any further, please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not encouraging you to disregard every critique you disagree with. Often there will be things you hadn’t considered or glaring holes in your plot that you somehow missed. Heed those warnings, especially if you hear the same concerns raised by more than one beta reader.

All I’m saying is that not every piece of feedback you receive will be valid. Be aware of the skill of the writers in your group, and weigh their comments accordingly.

When it comes to facing rejection, in addition to considering the messenger, you must also ask yourself what part you played in the negative response. (In this instance, I’m equating negative to a “we’re not going to publish this” response.)

Sometimes you’ll get rejected because you didn’t target the right kind of publication for your story. If a magazine is looking for cozy mysteries, don’t send them thrillers. If there is a strict 1,000 word limit, don’t send them your 3,000 word fantasy tale. Those type of rejections are on you, and you’re probably looking at a form letter, or in some cases, no response at all.

In other instances, your story might fit the particular focus of a magazine but for whatever reason it didn’t resonate with every decision maker on the editorial board. That’s the objective nature of readers biting you in the ass there, and there’s nothing you can do about it except try again. If you’re lucky and you’ve put together a well-written and engaging story, someone at that publication will drop you a personal note.

If you must get rejected, this is the way to go. Not only is it encouraging to receive positive comments on a story that didn’t quite make the cut, but it’s also validation that you’re at least meeting the standards of what they’re looking for.

I recently submitted to a magazine that I fully expected to reject me. I was right. They did. But I got a little bonus for my efforts. The managing editor wrote me a note, the gist of which was: You’re funny. Send more, please. (The last three words are taken verbatim.)

That note made my day, and I’m working on something new for them now. It gave me a reason to keep going, even though the initial purpose of the letter was to reject the pieced I’d submitted.

Just like critiques, not every rejection is created equal. Some will lift you up, some will give you nothing, and some will let you know that you’re not quite ready for prime time. Whatever the message, remember to consider the source and don’t take anything personal.

Larry Jenkins is an aspiring Word Pimp. Has laptop, will travel. Let's make this happen, people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.