Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Keeping Your Writing Career on Track

If you follow writing blogs, Twitter feeds, or chat sites, you no doubt read about a writer named Jacqueline who, earlier this week, essentially torpedoed her career.

I'm not going to link; the entire thing was - to coin a phrase - a complete train wreck.  But the story goes like this:

Jacqueline is a self-published author whose book was reviewed by a man named 'Al.'  Al gave Jacqueline's book a number of compliments, noting the plot and characterizations as two positive elements of the book.  However, he also pointed out that there were a number of glaring errors which, in his opinion, made the book difficult to read.

He gave it two stars.

Jacqueline was unhappy with this review, something most of us understand.  It's difficult to receive negative feedback on something you've worked hard to produce.

Unfortunately, rather than vent to her friends or eat a gallon of ice cream - or better yet, revisit her work and ask herself if any of what Al the Reviewer had to say had merit - Jacqueline went onto the site as a commenter and had such a tantrum the comment stream went viral. 

It was such a disaster. 

Now, I don't know what will happen with Jacqueline.  Charlie Sheen has demonstrated that even the most outrageous of public meltdowns may not necessarily mean a career is over.  And while at first I was disgusted by Jacqueline's behavior, by the time I read to the end of the blog's comments I was genuinely concerned about her mental stability.  I hope she gets whatever help she needs, personally and professionally.

I have a few reasons for bringing up poor Jacqueline's derailment.  These are lessons that I thought I knew already, but which were brought home by this event:
  1. Writing is really hard.  Even when you're good at it, it's something that almost always requires help.  I've talked here about the value of a good proofreader.
  2. Good editors are worth their weight in gold, and they come into the picture with the same goal as the writer:  Bring out the writer's very best work.  Don't be afraid of editing!
  3. In this 'virtual' world, it's easy for the critics to become vicious.  Hiding behind anonymous comments and shredding the work of another has become "entertainment" for some.  The solution is NOT for those capable of being hurt to get out of the game.  It's for those who egg on the wolf pack to reconnect with their humanity.
  4. Having said that, however, it's important to understand the difference between critique and criticism.  The first is intended to lead to positive changes; the second is more likely to discourage change.
  5. If you put your work out there for critique - and that's what you get - you must accept it professionally.  There were a hundred ways in which Jacqueline could have expressed her frustration with the reviewer without making her feelings public.
  6. For that matter, your response to someone who is, in fact, criticizing your work should still be professional and courteous.  There were a number of people on the comment thread who said, "I was actually going to buy her book to see if I agreed with the review.  But after reading the author's response, I think I'll pass."  So sad.
I like to think that in the end, the Three Ps of Receiving Feedback - Pleasant, Positive, Professional - will yield great dividends.

Never forget that everyone on the other side of that computer screen, e-reader, or paperback is a real person. 

Are they on board with you?  Or are they hoping you'll jump the track?

Hey!  Don't forget to post links to your stories from this week's Write Words prompts in the comments section over here! 

Image courtesy Simon Howden


  1. I know that critique can be very hard. I love to write and love to do Photography. I blog about both and most of the time people are very supportive and positive. Every once in awhile someone will get very critical. This used to be very hard for me, until I started looking at it as a way to improve. Now, it can still hurt my feelings, but I can work through that if it makes me better at the things I love. So, for me, it comes down to: are they just criticizing, or are they giving me suggestions of things to try? Are they trying to provide their own form of tough love, or are they just having a bad day? I figure that no matter what the reasons, I am not perfect and I can still learn.

  2. Patty Ann, with that oulook, the sky's the limit!

  3. Critical critiques are hard to receive but they are even harder to give. A good reviewer has to take a lot of care to ensure his valid points come across in a way that has a chance of being well received and learned from.
    However, even if the reviewer takes great care in his review, some people like the woman in your post only react to the negative and totally miss using it as a growing tool.

  4. I remember a similar situation involving a traditionally published author and a New York Times reviewer and Twitter.

    I can't imagine EVER berating anyone for giving me a bad review, no matter how much I might disagree with it.