How to Cope with Being Perceived: Tips from a Professional Writer on Getting Feedback

Most writers in the slushpile dream of seeing our names printed on the cover of a book... But will it be all that it's cracked up to be? Kelly shares her experience as a journalist.

Like many aspiring authors living life among the dark depths of the querying slushpile, I dream of one day seeing my name on the cover of a novel. But I’ve actually already had the privilege of seeing my name in print hundreds of times, from when I was a news and feature journalist publishing several articles in newspapers and magazines every week.

For years, I couldn’t go anywhere in my community without seeing my name somewhere. It was there at the checkout counter at the grocery store, black ink stark on newsprint as copies waited to be purchased. Often, it would stare back at me from the front page of the newspaper being read by the stranger sitting across from me on the bus. And, worst of all, it peeked out at me from the litter of papers scattered across the coffee tables of almost everyone I knew.

I love being a journalist, and the excitement of publishing an article I’ve worked hard on never dulls. But I’ve also never quite gotten over the squirmy discomfort that comes alongside the knowledge that someone is reading something I’ve written. Needless to say, I’ve had a lot of practice developing ways to get better at – if not entirely comfortable with – being perceived.

And being perceived is an important part of being an author. Heck, it’s literally what we’re all striving for: the chance for readers to find (and hopefully love) our books. And along the way, we need to get comfortable with giving our writing to betas, CPs, agents and editors. We’ve all gotta do it, so here are some tips that have helped me cringe slightly less when I send my writing to someone.

1. Do your best to remember that you did your best.

When our book babies are in a stranger’s hands, it can be easy to imagine them ripping it to shreds, laughing at how you could have possibly thought you were a good writer. But we’re always our own worst critics, and no one worth talking to would do that to you anyway. Because we’re all just out here trying our best, and we all know that there’s no preset formula for success.

For me, it’s always been the most helpful handing my work to someone when I truly believe I’ve done my best. Sure, they may not like it, but I do, and that counts for a lot.

2. Always believe you can do better.

How do you go from believing you did your best to believing you can do better? Simple: continuous improvement. As writers, we should always be striving for the next article, book, paragraph and sentence to be better than the last. By believing you can do better, it’s easier to take feedback for what it is: advice on how to improve.

Agents, editors and successful authors tout the importance of working with beta readers and CPs to get feedback on your work as a means to improve each draft. Lean in and learn to view feedback as a gold mine for self improvement that will eventually land you a book deal.

3. Learn to discern relevant criticism from needless negativity.

While we’re on the subject of feedback though, know this: not all of it is created equal.

Unfortunately, when you share your work, you will inevitably come across some bad apples who don’t know how to give constructive criticisms. This can either be from ignorance (ie: they have no idea what they’re doing) or plain old nastiness (ie: they’re insecure and need someone to pick on).

When this happens, it can be hard to remember points 1 and 2 from this list, and so it’s important to develop a finely tuned instinct to discern between helpful criticism and needless negativity. Remember: you’re the author of your own story, as corny as that may sound, and you get to decide what feedback resonates and what doesn’t.

I had an editor once tell me not to accept criticism from someone I wouldn’t seek advice from. It’s helped me navigate through plenty of hurtful comments over the course of my career.

4. Find your cheerleaders.

That brings us to the next piece of advice: finding your cheerleaders. A good beta reader or CP will be someone who makes you feel good about your writing, and it’s fulfilling to find a circle of support to brave the publishing world with.

But be careful: finding cheerleaders doesn’t mean finding yes-men. Remember point 2. Writers need constructive criticism to get better. Good betas and CPs will find a balance between frenzied squeals of excitement and thoughtful feedback on areas to improve.

5. Keep writing.

Sometimes, in the throes of self-doubt that follow a particularly hard review, it can be impossible to be objective about our worth as writers. And that can be difficult to overcome. I know I’ve had my fair share of times where I felt like throwing in the towel altogether.

But we can’t do that. Not if we want to be published. So persist. Persevere. Perceive and be perceived. Internalize the good feedback and forget about the rest. And believe that, someday, it will all pay off.

Trapped in the slush pile? Don't suffer alone! Meet Steven, the big blue monster that lurks in this hopeless black pit. When he's not munching on the souls of hapless writers, he hosts an online writing community dedicated to making friends, having fun, and improving our literary skills.

Don’t forget to join our mailing list so you never miss any of the games or competitions for bookworms! We also share resources for writers. It's much more reliable than getting updated on Twitter, and we also have special mailing list-only content!

Kelly Kennedy (@KAKennedyBooks) lives and breathes words. She spends most of her time, at her day job and beyond, reading and writing. The rest of the time, she's seeking out dogs to pet, snacks to eat or new places to explore. 10/10 would be friends if you can offer any one of those things.

Kelly is also the host of the Story Sleuths Book Club. Check it out!

33 views0 comments