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13.9.16

How to handle criticism of your book

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When novelist Richard Ford read Alice Hoffman’s reaction to his book, The Sportswriter, in The New York Times, he reacted to the insult by shooting one of Hoffman’s books full of bullets. Among Hoffman’s offending comment about Ford’s book was this one “… it suffers from a lack of compelling action and an emphasis on Bascombe’s dry meditations that obscures and minimises the complex domestic structure the author initially presents.”

Writing is a fantasy that we have the power to take our readers where we want them to go. But the truth is we cannot control what readers think of our words. This lack of control is enough to stop many people from daring to write – or paint, or make a movie. Our inner critic – that horrid harping negative voice in our heads – is an attempt for us to resume control. No-one can be a worse critic than we are of ourselves, we think. Our fear of being derided may be surpassed only by our fear of being ignored.

Publishing makes us vulnerable – naked in front of our readership. A book, no matter how businesslike, is an intimate insight into the mind of its author. And authors know it. Many hang on to their manuscripts, hiding them from the world, for fear of what others will think, and clinging to an illusion of controlling their reactions with one more rewrite.

And so, publishing is the act of letting go. We cannot escape the vulnerable feelings that such an act inspires. So how can we manage it?

Be curious

If your writing is a window into your soul, so is their criticism. Whether it is gossip, or an official written critique, look deep into the words of your critics and ask yourself what they are telling you about themselves. Then ask what gifts they are giving you. Is there some value you can take from their perspective on your offering?

Start writing your next book

Nothing cures heartbreak like a new relationship. Same goes for a book. Start writing your next book as soon as the first one is published. Just this act alone puts a distance between you and your published works. You will see any criticisms with a more objective mind.

Balance

Make sure you look for, receive, and celebrate positive comments on your book. These will no doubt out-weight any criticisms.

Dress up

Creative people often wear ‘protective’ clothing, such as a turban, a cape, purple hair, bright red lipstick or ripped jeans. I find this fascinating. This garb has many benefits. It’s a distraction. Critics can mock their hair and be kind to their creative work. It is a uniform, announcing their membership of the creative sect. And I’m struck by how often artists’ clothing does seem to protect them. They can wrap their cape or scarf around them, or hide behind a hank of hair, or they look scary enough to keep most scoffers silent.

Set your own criteria

I’ve never believed in visualisation – until I noticed that almost every time an important event happened in my life, I had visualised it before it happened. Visualise what you want your book to be. Set your goals. To get my first book written and published. To write 25,000 words. To write a book in 90 days. To receive a testimonial from Seth Godin. Be the arbiter of your own success.

By the way, few people agreed with Hoffman’s views. Ford’s book, The Sportswriter, went on to become a best-seller and its sequel, Independence Day, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996. Time magazine later ranked it as one of the 100 all-time best novels ever written.

PS: Want more? You might like: How personal can your business book be?

 

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