Monday, July 26, 2010

Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea

Lizzy Ansingh--Tea Party--1952

People sometimes think of writers as being sensitive types.

I have to snort when I hear that. Writers can’t be sensitive types. Oh, I think that we’re naturally pretty emotional people.

But to make it in the publishing world and not completely have a breakdown, we have to develop a really, really tough skin. And lose a lot of the sensitivity.

Criticism starts early in the process: from us. We’re sometimes our own worst enemies—comparing our writing negatively to others or telling ourselves that we don’t know what we’re doing.

Then comes our first readers or critique groups. This is where we first hear that the manuscript we’ve slaved over has some problems.

Then come agents or editors or both—either we’re getting rejections from them or we’re getting editorial change requests (something wasn’t right.)

Then comes reviewers—both print and online. And readers.

All the criticism or rejection can feel pretty overwhelming, if we let it.

What I try to tell myself is that everyone is entitled to their opinion. There are plenty of great books out there that I’ve heard friends rave about that I actually didn’t enjoy—and it wasn’t the book, it was me. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood to read something serious/silly/thoughtful. Or maybe the narrative voice just didn’t resonate with me.

This past week, an article from The Morning News got a lot of buzz. The article listed some of Time Magazine’s picks for the 100 best novels from 1923 to the present day—and gave their 1-star Amazon reviews.

Here are a couple of excerpts to show that if you’re getting reader criticism (from crit groups, agents, editors, or readers), you’re not alone:

The Grapes of Wrath (1939) Author: John Steinbeck “While the story did have a great moral to go along with it, it was about dirt! Dirt and migrating. Dirt and migrating and more dirt.”

The Lord of the Rings (1954) Author: J.R.R. Tolkien “The book is not readable because of the overuse of adverbs.”

Mrs. Dalloway (1925) Author: Virginia Woolf “The only good thing to say about this “literary” drivel is that the person responsible, Virginia Woolf, has been dead for quite some time now. Let us pray to God she stays that way.”

The Sun Also Rises (1926) Author: Ernest Hemingway “Here’s the first half of the book: ‘We had dinner and a few drinks. We went to a cafe and talked and had some drinks. We ate dinner and had a few drinks. Dinner. Drinks. More dinner. More drinks. We took a cab here (or there) in Paris and had some drinks, and maybe we danced and flirted and talked s*** about somebody. More dinner. More drinks. I love you, I hate you, maybe you should come up to my room, no you can’t’… I flipped through the second half of the book a day or two later and saw the words ‘dinner’ and ‘drinks’ on nearly every page and figured it wasn’t worth the risk.”

How do you handle criticism? Any tips to share?

Hope you'll join me later today/tomorrow when I guest post on Margot Kinberg's great blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.