Getting Feedback That Makes You Want to Cry

Tear!Last week I got rewrites back from my publisher for my third book (releasing in 2012). I thought getting the substantive edits (aka macro edits) would get easier with each book, that I’d develop a thick skin, that I’d be able to handle the feedback without breaking down.

Well, I was wrong.

I opened the document from my editor a couple of hours before our scheduled phone call wanting to prepare myself for our conversation. And as I read through the overview notes (two pages single spaced), my heart plummeted lower and lower with each new problem she pointed out.

Shock, despair, and denial overwhelmed me.

I laid my head in my hands and wanted to weep with the discouragement of seeing all of the many, many issues that I would need to address. Here are just a few of my editor’s comments:

• Readers had a hard time sympathizing with your heroine. Her character arc needs reworking to make her more likeable.

• Your hero comes off a bit weak at times. We’d like to see him more confident, determined, and forceful in character.

• Your romance shows some emotional and character attraction and that is good, but it pushes the limits on sensuality.

Of course, I had to pull myself together for the phone call. I had to gain perspective and a modicum of acceptance before the call. I couldn’t answer the phone and burst into tears.

Fortunately, I have the kind of relationship with my agent where I can easily shoot her an email, voice my truest, deepest feelings, and I know that she’ll listen but then also advise me on the wisest course of action. She was able to calm me down. And I was able to handle the call with my editor gracefully.

What am I learning from this experience? Here are just a few things:

1. It’s perfectly normal for us to get discouraged when we get feedback.

My agent told me this in her email: “It's normal to feel like crying! If that's the way you feel, just allow it for a day or two.” She went on to share about other authors who have gone through the exact same experience with their rewrites on the 10th or even 20th book in order to show that it’s not just me.

2. We might fall in love with our books. But that doesn’t mean everyone else will.

I admit, I absolutely fall in love with my first drafts. Every single one. I think the passion is what drives my story and love of writing. But, I’m learning that my editors won’t squeal with delight and rush to congratulate me on my masterpiece. They’re trained to look for problems. In fact, their radars are tuned to find as many issues as possible.

3. Sometimes we need to lower our expectations or develop more realistic ones.

My agent suggested that perhaps I need to re-evaluate my expectations. She said: "Maybe you were thinking that after the first book or two, you'd deliver books and they'd go, 'Fabulous! Perfect!' and hardly have any editing for you.” And for some publishing houses, maybe that’s true. But my publisher wants to keep pushing me to be better, to keep growing, and to make every book better for my readership.

4. Cultivate humility and a teachable attitude.

Once again, my wise agent told me this: Stop thinking, "When will I ever please them?" Instead think, "I've written the best book I can, and now I look forward to some feedback that will help me make it even better." Easier said than done. But ultimately don’t we all want to put THE best book possible out there? That means we have to take ourselves off the pedestal and admit we have room to grow.

5. In the end, trust your editor/publisher more than you trust yourself.

As I’ve spent the past week reading through my manuscript and evaluating their feedback, I’ve realized they’re spot on with almost every issue. My heroine was coming across abrasive in spots. I could do more to make my hero stronger, especially earlier in the book. And yes, I really did need to tone down some of my sensual elements so that the majority of Bethany House readers will enjoy and appreciate the book.

My Summary: Whether it’s hard feedback from a critique partner, an agent, contest judge, or in-house editor, we usually can’t make decisions about our feedback during the initial sting. We need to give it some time, perhaps talk with friends who understand, and then come back to the suggestions with objective and humble eyes.

What about you? Have you ever gotten feedback that’s made you want to cry? How do you handle difficult feedback?

Mid-week blog tour stops! Visit each one for a chance to WIN my new book!

Wednesday 9/21: On Laura Davis's blog I'm sharing how I stumbled upon the idea for the true life-story of Narcissa Whitman.

Wednesday 9/21: I'm visiting with Erika Robuk on her blog and sharing more about the writing of The Doctor's Lady!

Thursday 9/22:  I'm guest posting on Jami Gold's blog and talking about whether religion in books is taboo or terrific.

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  1. That feedback does sound like a lot to take on board. Good on you for taking a deep breath and seeing it for what it truly is though - an opportunity to make your book even better.

    I've been following your blog for a little while now and every post I read, I get more impatient to read one of your books. Can't wait until I do!

  2. Thanks, Cally. I'm working my way through the edits and am about half way done with them. I can see the story getting better with each change I make! :-)

  3. One thing that I hate to do is go back and do something all over again once I've finished it. I know that I need to get over that right now because I'm about to send my manuscript to a professional editor. I need the feedback from an objective, professional person - I'm just not sure I'm ready for it! In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm NOT! :) Thank you for sharing something so personal. It's encouraging for us to see that, even if we know how discouraging it is for you.

    Have you ever thought of posting an excerpt of a draft with the editor's notes and then and excerpt from the finished story? Not everything, just a little example.

    Now that's almost like asking you to walk down Main Street naked, isn't it? :)

    Don't be too discouraged, you have lots of fans waiting for that new book!

  4. LOL, Sherri! That would very much like walking down Main Street naked! But still, I like it! Maybe I can find a couple of sections from The Doctor's Lady and put the original and then the edited next to each other! Thanks for the idea AND the encouragement! :-)

  5. I so appreciate you sharing this, especially the advice on lowered expectations. I can't quite kill the hope that the first time through, they'll be completely amazed. Then again, if I knew it had problems, I would've fixed them. I'm glad for the experienced help.

    See you soon!

  6. I take a day off to read and watch movies and let it sink in and usually realize the feedback will make my work stronger.

  7. Sorry that you had such a heartbreaking time, but thanks for sharing it to help everyone else. I really appreciate the tips for dealing with edits and comments.

  8. This is an inspiring post, Jody. I'm not at the point of receiving edits, but it's a great reminder that, when I'm published, they will come. :-)

    I've thought about this often. Other than feeling disappointment, do you worry that your rewrites will not be pleasing? I think that would be my biggest concern. Can I successfully rewrite to their suggestions?

  9. So it never gets easier, ay?

    I've been buried - absolutely buried - in line edits this week. Scrambling to get done before the conference. Hoping we are either DONE or ridiculously close.

  10. I thought my manuscript was complete and ready before last conference (including a prof. edit). But on a whim, I had another critique partner read it. When I got it back, I looked through the 3000 or so comments and suggestions, and decided, I was done. There was no way i was going to work through all those edits. The manuscript was already clean. So, I put it aside and worked on another story. But that manuscript kept calling to me. So, over the summer, I revisited it, and decided I loved it too much to ignore the attention this CP gave it. Now that I've been through the suggestions and comments, my manuscript is shining more than ever. Though difficult to take at times, good, constructive criticism is invaluable and a must. I love that CP for her time, love and attention she gave my story.

  11. Here's the other thing, Jody. You're getting better with each book, you know more, and your standards are higher. You set the bar up a bit more and know you want to get over it. Welcome to the world of being a true professional.

    After almost 30 books, I have to say it's nice to know you can do certain things, that you know you can fix stuff...but you also (if one cares about writing) are also seeing that bar wobbling up there higher than it's been before. And you wonder sometimes if you can make it.

    Dean Koontz has a big library in his home containing all the editions, foreign and domestic, of his books. He says sometimes in the middle of a project he's having trouble with he walks in, looks around, and says to himself, "See? You did it before. You can do it again."

    One thing I admire about Koontz is that he's never rested on his laurels, he's always strived to get better.

    BTW, I used to get long letters from a well known editor in the biz. I'd circle it for days before opening it.

  12. Can't wait to see you and your wise agent (who has recently become my wise agent) tomorrow!

    We can be wise together. :D

    I love the advice to allow yourself to feel it, but limit the time so you don't begin to wallow in it.

    ~ Wendy

  13. Great reminders. Good luck with your edits! :)

  14. Oh, I am so sorry! Ouch! I've found, too, that painful criticisms are often right on target. Once I embrace it, the whole thing is easier to rewrite. Even gets exciting. But that doesn't negate the initial sting!

  15. I'm working on my content edit for book three, and this one has been painful. Thanks for the honest post. There are a lot of us who can relate.

  16. I often feel like I've been punched in the chest when I get feedback like that. I make a point of sleeping on it before responding, to give myself distance from the comments. Well done on managing to hold it together just two hours later for a phone call!

    What I find myself feeling when I get negative feedback is that I've failed somehow. I can't blame my editor or a beta reader if their comments bother me; I wrote what they're commenting on, after all. The thing I'm trying to learn at the moment is that different people will have different reactions to my work, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just means people won't always view my hero's choices the same way I do.

  17. Yup.
    I just had to delete a scene that I LOVE. I tried to keep it through macro edits and rework it to please the editors, but in line edits they still preferred it to go. They didn't tell me it HAD to, just that they wanted it to. The sad thing is, I delete it and nothing changed in the story. So I know it was unnecessary and just making a ripple where I didn't need one. Still...I was bummed.
    I'm sorry about your edits, but I really think you'll be able to change those things easily! Simply by changing some word choices, etc. I feel your pain and worry about subbing my next book because I've had issues with characterization (always end up making one unlikeable for some reason) blech.

  18. Hey everyone, I appreciate all of the commiserating! That's one of the things I absolutely love about hanging out with other writers here in the blogging world! I know you'll all be able to understand how hard the feedback is, but also how necessary!

  19. Jody, sending you a hug. When I clicked on the manuscript of my second novel after reading my editor's comments, it was like a horror movie as my eyes were opened to its faults! (I had finished that novel three years ago, and wow, did it need work.)

    I am very curious to see what will happen with my third, but first I have to actually finish it. :-)

  20. "pushes the limits on sensuality"? Now I'm intrigued to read that version! ;)

    I usually find that it helps, after getting editorial critiques, to put the manuscript away for a day or two and then look at it with the comments in mind. The initial sting of the comments has faded then, and it's easier to look at the manuscript with a more critical eye.

  21. What a blessing you are to us, Jody. We love you for sharing your hurts with us so we can all feel better.

    I'm working through my edits on book 3 also, and one thing I've noticed is that now that we've been in the business for a while, there's not as much stroking as there used to be.

    My first edit letter had nearly as many compliments as it did recommendations for change. Not so anymore. There are still a few "well done"s here and there, but I can tell we've moved out of the "easing her into the profession" phase to the "she's a professional, just get to the point" phase.

    So even though I don't get as many strokes to my pride, I try to buoy my spirits after that letter comes by reminding myself that my editors see me as a capable professional who can handle their critiques like a pro and produce a book they will be glad to put their name on.

    Maybe that trick will help you, too. Here's to both of us wowing them with our book 4s!

  22. I agree with Karen. Sharing your hurt is a huge encouragement to other writers like me. The first major blow to my writing came from my agent, who often likes her writers to do a content edit with her before they turn in their manuscripts. Even though her comments helped, they still stung, and I had to gear myself up to dive back into those edits. The good side? I did so much work for my agent, that my editor has been really impressed with my ms.

    Again, thanks for sharing. I understand how painful this can be. Seems to me Julie Lessman just did a post on Seekerville about this a couple weeks back.

  23. Historical romance isn't really my thing, but, to be fair, you're an excellent writer.

    For me, I'm usually numb to criticism on a first read. It's only later that I start feeling awful about it, as I stew over it. I'm not %100 an emotionless robot, just %98.

  24. *BIG HUG*

    I enjoy difficult feedback (after a moment to let it sink in) because I always end up pushing myself harder, beyond what I had expected. I tell myself, with every edit, change, tweak, etc., the story will only get better, closer to its "perfection."

    Hang in there! Your first two books have been AMAZING and I KNOW the next one will be too!! :D

  25. So sorry, Jody! Just got back some tough critiques from a couple betas myself and it is hard. It's some of the best feedback I've gotten though and I'm excited to make the book better. When they raised questions I made myself not fire off answers or explanations but let their feedback sink in.

    I think part of the hardness of critiques isn't that there's work to be done, but that I'd worked so hard on it and to me an almost embarrassment that I let someone else see my work still so flawed like that. But I'd much rather have some betas see it and tell me like it is than query before it's ready or publish prematurely and readers see it like that.

    Hang in there, Jody! I seem to recall The Doctor's Lady was hard for you in this stage, too, but you made it through that. :-)

  26. Aw, thanks for weighing in today everyone and for the encouraging words! You're all making me feel so much better! Thank you!!! :-)

  27. Sandra Ardoin asked: Other than feeling disappointment, do you worry that your rewrites will not be pleasing? I think that would be my biggest concern. Can I successfully rewrite to their suggestions?

    My thoughts: Sandra, very good question! I think I worried more about that in the past. Now I've realized that if I don't get it quite right, they'll just give me more rewrites! Yay! ;-) But actually, the comforting part about the process is that with their help I'll keep on honing and shaping the book until it's ready for publication.

  28. I'll be honest in saying that whenever I get really negative feedback, I handle it really well . . .I almost welcome it. Like you, I know that negative feedback makes the story better and pushes me to be a better writer while it challenges me to learn how to execute better technique and craft.

    I think it's so easy for me to receive negative feedback from others because I am my harshest and hardest critic. I have yet to encounter anyone who can do a better job of tearing down my story than I can.

  29. Honestly, it's a suggestion containing "character arc" that makes me not want to submit. Ever. I'd be afraid of turning in this thing I've labored over, only to hear something like that. Good luck to you.

  30. Thank you for your honesty in sharing your story with us. Criticism (even constructive criticism) is hard to take. When we write, we put our creative soul out there and it's always hard to have someone tell us it could be better (even if they sometimes have a point!). Good for you for leaning on Rachelle and letting her help you manage the load until you got settled in with it a bit.

    I'm definitely a firm believer in reading revision notes and walking away from them for hours or even over night. Then I can come back and look at it with a much less emotional eye, and I usually find that the comments have real merit.

  31. What wonderful advice, Jody! Thank you for posting this. I have a ms on submission now and seeing the feedback from editors who've passed on it was hard until I read this. Now I understand it's part of the business.

  32. I've come to conclusion that you learn more from screwing up than from not screwing up, so if your goal is to improve, screwing up from time to time isn't a bad thing. This was a painful lesson to learn...ugh.

    And not everything said in a critique may be fully accurate. People may be having a bad day, they may have had personal issues with the specific topics that you're writing about, etc.

    So what makes me cry? The scope of the revision I'm doing right now. It's massive...

  33. Wow! Thanks for the insightful post. As an editor for a (VERY TEENEY EEENSY) online magazine (many many moons ago), it's easy to be abrasive and even harsh with a piece you love. Just like your passion for writing fuels and completes you, the vicious hunt for errors and 'should-be's' fill an editors mind around the clock and it's what they live for, as you noted! They are very cynical people by nature, but the more important thing to note is they'll ONLY VOICE their cynical-ness to very few people, eg. the ones with the most promising work. Just like you wouldn't go shouting at some random kids at the park to 'go put their shoes back on, just what do you think you're doing going up the slide barefoot?; But you'd feel perfectly fine shouting at the top of your lungs to your own child something along the lines of "HERALD ALBERSON ROBIN GET YOUR SHOES ON THIS MINUTE YOUNG MAN OR YOUR STRUDEL IS TOASTED! WHAT ARE YOU EXACTLY DOING; TRYING TO CONTRACT TETANUS OR SOMETHING???" (hoping nobody has the misfortune disadvantage of having a name like herald alberson robin). When you love and care about something, you are more likely to harshly correct it so that it can shine when it hits the real world (ahem- bookshelves). If your editor tells you like it is, take it as a good sign. There are 6 million other authors (approx) out there who wish they had someone with the same expertise and passion for THEIR work doing the same for them. ;) Best wishes! I love this article!

  34. Jody, Thank you so much for your honesty with this post! *hugs* All writers need to hear this and know they're not alone. :)

  35. I love your honesty. It really is eye opening to read about all the changes that need to be done at times to get a book ready. It will all be worth it in the end!

    p.s. I just got The Doctor's Lady in the mail! I'm excited to dig in!

  36. I'm a beginner (working mostly on short stories for now) so negative critique often times discourages me and makes me want to give up. At times like that, I need to remind myself that critique is what will help me get better, and at the end of the day I'm thankful for even receiving any kind of feedback from various editors because they are helping me address the issues in my writing. Thank you for sharing this Jody, I believe in you. Hugs!

  37. I can understand that being your first reaction. After all, you just finished writing it and now you're facing a lot of editing! But I think your agent gave good advice when she said to let yourself feel upset for a couple of days. After that you can look at it more objectively, as you did, and take of the issues. This was a great post for you to write, because you explain so well what you felt and how you handled it. That's something all authors need to keep in mind. It's exciting, as one of your readers, to know you're polishing it up so it will shine for all of us! That will make even more special to us all.

  38. I'm sorry that the feedback was difficult, but you give some really good tips for handling it. Thank you!

  39. As an editor, I want all my writers to be the best they can be. They're all talented, and they all need a little help. The payoff is when readers are happy.

  40. Hi Jody,

    You have already proved you are a gifted and talented writer having two books published. No mean achievement given the number of unpublished writers in existence.

    If your editor has done her homework on your manuscript - and you can talk to her as you would to another writer with great gentility - then it is wonderful to have "peers" willing to help you improve your stories.

    Kindly take on board any suggestions your editor believes will make your work better (and of greater quality) with the caveat that your story is not compromised, in any shape or form, in terms of truth and vision.

    I'm presently working through edits suggested by my wife on my blogs!

    With every best wish,

  41. Thank you for these tips on how to cope with feedback. I went through this when I submitted one of my first drafts to a publishing house a couple of years ago. They sent back a page-long critique, stating that my heroine came off as smug and too hardened by life. I was disappointed in their opinion, but I did take their advice in crafting a heroine whose conscience spoke from the page. Thanks to this critique, I created a better manuscript and it eventually got accepted by a publisher. Even though I didn't want to humble myself in the beginning, I learned that it was indeed the right thing to do.

  42. "Your romance shows some emotional and character attraction and that is good, but it pushes the limits on sensuality."

    This is why I said your books compare to Julie Lessman's. They are very sensual but in a controlled, respectful manner that I can appreciate as I read.

    Don't tone it down too much, not because I want to be titillated but because it's part of your writer's voice. Just my humble opinion... :)

  43. Thanks so much for the post, Jody. What a blessing to know that we aren't alone in what we experience with feedback!

    Praise God for the wise counsel of your agent. What a blessing.

  44. Dear Jody,
    Being open to feedback is such an important and sensitive topic.I appreciate your honesty in sharing your experience so openly.If an accomplished author such as yourself is struggling,then a new writer such as myself doesn't feel quite as alone.I was so touched by your post that I took the liberty of linking it in my blog post for next week. Thank you so much for all you do to help other writers. I'm a fan of both your blog and your novels :-)

  45. Humility is one of the most important virtues to have! I'm still struggling with that lol. I haven't been published so I can only comment on the way I've felt when beta-readers have given me bad news...

    I usually grow angry and turn on the denial button. For the life of me, I can't shake denial off... in everything I do. When it gets tough, I deny it. Blah.

    But then I sit back, relax, think about it rationally, talk to someone, vent if I have to, and I really listen to what they've said. In the end, I always agree... after all we can't see what's wrong with our own books sometimes, so we need those people to tell us. It works out well. :)

  46. Most helpful writing post I've EVER read. Just got some of the 'first impressions' from my editor on my first book. It wasn't too bad, but there is a lot she wants me to rework. I do want the work to be stronger, more relatable, the very best it can be. So...

    It helps to hear published authors go through the same thing. Are we allso thin skinned>

  47. Hi everyone! Just popping a in to say I'm appreciating these later comments! I'm glad that my experience can encourage you all!

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