Friday, March 15, 2013

Dealing with Critiques and Rejection

Now some people are probably doing a double-take when they read this opening statement, as it goes against many natural inclinations we as writers and human beings have.

Bear with me:

Critique and rejection are two of the greatest things that can happen to a writer, but they are only good for a writer if the writer themselves can see critiques and rejections for what they are: the chance to learn.

Nobody in the publishing business does it on their own, and nobody becomes a great writer by themselves. Writing fiction, in its most pure essence, is creating something new and beautiful from one's experiences, hopes, dreams, nightmares, as well as our lowest and highest natures. The type of writing a person does on a creative level defines them in all ways--therefore it makes total sense that having a your work critiqued as anything less than *perfect* or having that work rejected by a publisher hurts. To those with the wrong mindset, such a judgment or rejection isn't just about your characters or your story--it's about you as a person.

But, my friends, it is good to be rejected as a writer.

Rejection, especially from a good editor, is more affirming of where you need to go with your writing than it is about how developed you are or aren't as a writer.

Case in point: I am currently working on a story that was entitled Shallow Bay, which has now been reworked into the The Beast of Shallow Bay. This fantasy epic tells the tale of an old pirate named Ngala who sets sail upon The Mirror Sea on the quest for riches and rapine. On the way back from a successful raid, his ship The Lion is mysteriously trapped in the middle of Shallow Bay, with its deserted coast and the brooding jungles beyond the white sand shore. Trapped without fresh food, water, and harangued by the monsters of the deep, Ngala and crew must solve the mystery of their entrapment before it is too late.

This story was rejected five times, each by a SFWA pro-market. And yes, it hurt. I won't lie and say that I am not immune to being told that I was lacking, but when I finally got through that one-hour "moody"-period I always go through, I sat back down and really looked at the comments given to me. Out of all the people who rejected it, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by the talented Scott H. Andrews, gave me the reasons why it was rejected.

First, the fact that I got a personalized rejection that was not a form letter was a big deal to me, because BCS could have just sent me a form letter and that would have been it. Instead, they told me what the problems were with the story.

And they were right on about everything they said.

I went back and found the section where there were pronoun errors, which my critiquers had missed, my first reader had missed, and more importantly, I had missed. In the end, the fault lay squarely upon me. So I sat on it a couple of months, and now I am editing to send back out. I can't send it to Beneath Ceaseless Skies again, but that publication will be one of the big reasons for why it gets picked up when it gets picked up for publication.

What those who are not as savvy to publishing have to understand--a lot of these publishers and magazines don't have a lot of money, so the spots that they can give out in their publications are limited, and believe it or not they do receive a lot of good stories. This forces them to have to look at every single detail and mistake and weigh it against other submissions, a process that is completely out of the hands of those submitting to them. It is part of the learning process of trying to get into this business and produce great fiction.

It is understandable to be angry when your work is rejected, but a real writer can't let that anger stop them from moving on and trying again. It may be an old axiom, but the ones who make it in publishing are the ones who try, try, try, and try again. Rowling was rejected hundreds of times before Harry Potter was published. George R.R. Martin was rejected 45 times before he even sold his first short story.

Don't give up. Toughen that "author's skin", remove yourself from the emotional side of it, and learn how to sit down and pick your work apart so it can become better.

This somewhat segue-ways into the area of critiques. Critiques aren't rejections, but in some cases they can feel as damaging to a writer as if they were actual rejections. This fact is compounded by the reality that quality critiques are hard to receive because depending on who you are working with the people around you may not have a good grasp of your genre or they may be starting out on their journey as a writer and really don't know a lot about writing fiction.

Sometimes it is hard to know which critiques are good for your work and which ones are might not apply. However, we can pay some attention to what makes a good critiquer over a good critique. Here are the seven aspects I look for in a good critiquer.

What Makes A Good Critiquer

1. A good critiquer is reader who reads your work critically and makes constructive suggestions to make the piece better while at the same time respecting the fact that it is your work.

2. A good critiquer does not try to rewrite or redefine your work to suit their tastes, as it is your work and not theirs.

3. A good critiquer comes prepared to critique.

4. A good critiquer remains professional and treats what they are doing as a job. Remember, the goal is to get your work ready to be published, and publishing is a business.

5. A critiquer never talks poorly of other writers or refuses to critique based on their opinion of other's skills. A critiquer is there to learn and to help others learn the Craft of Writing, and should come into a critique session with a positive and helpful attitude.

6. A good critiquer is constantly trying to improve their own skills as a writer, editor, and reader.

It goes without saying that not all critiques are equal in value, so therefore it is the job of the person being critiqued to unpack all of the opinions they are given and decide which ones provide the most value for getting their work toward publication. This takes a lot of time working in dedicated critique groups, building an honest rapport with its members, which sometimes means swallowing your ego and taking the time to listen to what your peers are saying.

In closing I would like to add one final reminder: sometimes hearing a "no" in publishing is the first step to hearing a "yes" that lets you into the industry. Try, try, and try again, my friends, and one day that "yes" will come.

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1 comment:

  1. Great article, Jay, and good advice. Stay Stone Green