Turning The Other Cheek: Handling Rejection

I am so happy to welcome today’s guest, Nicki Salcedo. I met Nicki years ago when I was a newcomer at an RWA chapter; Nicki sat by me, chatted me up, showed me the ropes, and was in general an all around great gal and class act.  I came to learn over the years that she’s also an incredible writer; her first novel, ALL BEAUTIFUL THINGS was just released, and it’s wonderful (you can read the first chapter below)! You definitely want to get your copy today! In the post below, Nicki explains the dynamics of rejection/critiques and gives great advice on how to cope with it and use it to your benefit.  Make sure to tell us your worst rejection story [no names, please] and/or the most encouraging thing that’s happened to you in your writing career because Nicki is giving away a 10 page critique to one random commenter! Comments can be left through Tuesday so make sure to check back on Wednesday to see if you’re the winner!

[Don't forget that my popular online class, No Matter How Busy You Are, You Can Find Time to Write! starts Monday, January 27. Class fee includes a free critique or phone coaching session with me: click here for more info.]

And now, welcome Nicki!

Turning the Other Cheek: Handling Rejection

by Nicki Salcedo

Have you ever been slapped across the face? Has someone ever told you that your shoes are ugly? Wanted to go to the dance with the cutest boy in school? What about your job and your writing? We face negativity all the time. What do you do when people discourage you and reject you?

Most people don’t have experience receiving criticism, but it is important to know how to handle harsh feedback.

You need to know where critiques come from, how to interpret and respond, and most importantly strategies to go on writing after meanest rejection. Most importantly you need to say, “I will never let rejection stop me from writing again.”

Who gives the critique and why it matters? “Whoever slaps you on the right cheek…”

At each stage of your writing career you are going to have to put your writing in front of people. Some will dislike your writing. You need to practice receiving feedback from the earliest stages of your writing career.

  1. Critique groups/Beta Readers. Network of peer writers or avid readers who help you in the initial stages of your writing.  They can see the really rough drafts.
  2. Contests/Author critiques. Published professionals who analyze your work on a larger scale and know about the industry.
  3. Editor/Agent. Industry experts who buy and sell your novel.
  4. The public. Book reviewers, blogs can impact current/future sales.

The great thing about the first three stages critique groups, contests, even with editors and agents: You can fix things. The first three are getting your ready for the public. Learn how to respond to criticism early in your writing career.

How to take criticism? “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

  1. Check your emotions at the door. I cannot stress this one enough. Writing is business, not personal.
  2. Be prepared. Seek out criticism only when you are ready to hear it and plan use it to improve your writing.
  3. Value honesty. Hopefully you are soliciting feedback from a network of professionals who are trying to help you get published. With time you will be able to recognize good honest feedback. Even if it hurts.
  4. Don’t make excuses for your writing. What you write is what you write. Stand by it. Even if it needs revision. Everything we need to know about the story should be in the pages of your novel.  Your rebuttal is your revision.
  5. Take time to evaluate rejection. Some editors/agents provide very detailed comments in their rejections, but you may also get a rejection with no comments? Did you consider genre or stylistic preferences of editor or agent? What about her/his workload and ability to take on new projects?

What types of critiques? Feedback usually falls into these categories:

  • Grammar and technical.  Spelling, punctuation.
  • Plot.  Goal, motivation, conflict, action.
  • Stylistic.  Voice, genre, dialogue, pacing.
  • Marketing. How to make it more salable.

“I hated it,” isn’t feedback that can help you.  Or it helps you know not to ask that person for feedback again. You don’t have to change what someone doesn’t like, but you need to understand what they are saying they don’t like.

How to respond? “If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.”

  • Thank everyone. Your critique partners, authors, contest judges, editors, and agents.  Anyone who takes the time to read your manuscript deserves thanks. Write the same cheerful thank you to the contest judge who gave your manuscript the lowest score in the competition.

What next?

“If you fall down, get up sexy.” – Sally Kilpatrick

  • Read between the lines of the harshest critique and pretend you agree. A harsh critique may hurt at first, but it may also help you.
  • Be skeptical of very positive critiques that offer no suggestions for improvement.
  • Re-write. Words are meant to be re-written. You should expect suggestions for revision.
  • Get angry. Don’t confuse turning the other cheek with turning off your emotions. It is completely natural to get angry or sad or cry.
  • Ignore. This is very important for book reviews, but also for any rejection. Do not respond to negative reviews ever. (Ok, write a response, and then burn it!) If there has ever been a critique or review that has stopped you from writing, even for a day, put the critique in a box. Or forward it to your sister. Send it to me. Maybe come back to it later and consider the critique after you’ve gotten back to writing. Remember that very harsh/unhelpful reviews reveal more about reviewer than about weaknesses in your book.
  • Write new words. Don’t stop ever writing, editing, or creating because of another person’s opinion. All critiques are subjective. Don’t write because you are seeking approval. Write, because you love it writing.
  • Critique for other people. Learn to give constructive criticism to help you receive critiques.

Happy writing! Happy revising. “Never give up. Never surrender.” – Galaxy Quest

All Beautiful Things is my debut novel. A contest judge gave me a 28 out of 100 on this manuscript and said, “Your writing is terrible. It doesn’t make sense. The heroine is completely unlikeable and unrealistic. No one will buy this book ever.” Somebody wrote this on my manuscript! This same manuscript won the Maggie Award of Excellence and was a Golden Heart Finalist and is now published with Belle Bridge Books.

All Beautiful Things: Seven years ago, Ava Camden endured a vicious attack. She survived, but her face was brutally scarred. Now Graham Sapphire is determined to clear his brother’s name and win her trust in a desperate search for the truth.

CHAPTER 1

Ava crawled onto the child-sized bed and pulled the covers over her face, pretending the quilt was a river above her. The patchwork calmed her breathing. In, blue. Out, white. There were thirty-six squares of blue and thirty-six squares of white. Sometimes she was hidden long enough to count each one. In the distance, she heard loud whispers and stifled giggling as her nieces searched the house. She always hid in the same place, and they didn’t go to her usual spot until last. They looked everywhere except where she’d be found. They enjoyed the art of seeking. But for Ava Camden there was a joy in being hidden.

It felt silly being a grown woman in a child’s bed, but her nieces expected her to dress up on command and hide so they could seek. She couldn’t deny them anything, because they were like her own children. When she thought of the future, she didn’t see a family. She saw a void resembling a hollow space in a tree. The rest of the world grew around her absence.

The approaching laughter allowed her little time for remorse or cynicism.

The girls climbed on the bed. This was their favorite part. When they uncovered Ava she was hidden again in the mass of her dark hair. The long twisted strands protected her from unwanted eyes when she needed it.

“I’m sleeping,” she said. Her nieces went back to loud whispers. They put a tiara on her head and smoothed the hair away from her face. The good side was revealed. The side with the scars pressed against the pillow. She knew that when she turned to face them, these two girls would hug her and say she was beautiful…

BIO: Nicki Salcedo is a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in English and Creative Writing. She is a member of Romance Writers of America© and a Past President of Georgia Romance Writers. Nicki is a two-time recipient of the Maggie Award of Excellence and a Golden Heart Finalist. She has four children, a husband, and a cat. Nicki thinks everyone should write. She loves connecting with readers. For more go to www.nickisalcedo.com. All Beautiful Things is now available.

Nicki is giving away a 10 page critique for someone who comments. She’d love to hear your worst rejection story, but no identifying information on the other person please! She’d also love to hear about the most encouraging thing that has happened in your writing career.

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46 Responses to Turning The Other Cheek: Handling Rejection

  1. Nicki,

    This is a great post! Thanks so much for being here today.

    I’ve got too many horror rejection stories to mention LOL but one of the most encouraging things that ever happened to me in my writing career was an agent, who did not accept my manuscript, actually took the time to write me a 2 page letter explaining where my strengths as a writer were and what I needed to improve. I was very appreciative of the time she took to write that letter and incorporated a lot of her advice into my writing.

    Thanks again for being here and congratulations on the release of ALL BEAUTIFUL THINGS.

    Kelly

    • PS- after reading what the contest judge wrote on your manuscript, I will share that I did have a magazine editor hand write on a form rejection slip once to never query her or the magazine again.

      • That’s just mean. Some people are mean. That’s fine, but it is our job as writers to recognize the mean from the potentially helpfully. My motto: Stay away from mean people.

    • I am so thankful for every agent and editor who gave me a kind word. Writers should keep on writing and keep on improving. Always the student!

  2. Alaina says:

    Really interesting opening and congratulations on having your first novel published.

    I can’t speak of rejections for agents or publications but he most hurtful critique I ever had was: it reads like a dry, boring history text book and I hate history. This was said in a writing critique group and stuck with me.

    I’m a member of two critique groups and I think it’s important to learn how to both receive critique and give critique. The above comment would have been more helpful if the person had identified what made it dry to him, where it lost his interest, and so on. That being said, if you have thin skin I’d recommend writing groups for awhile, you get used to all sorts of comments on your work. It’s been great for me. I no longer feel the slap when my work isn’t found to be perfect!

    • Kelly says:

      I agree, Alaina! There’s a way to give feedback without being hurtful. Thanks for dropping in!

    • In a critique group setting, be specific. Tell them you need to know what they suggest to make it more interesting if it is “dry”. Dry to one person isn’t the same as “dry” for someone else. When you critique do the same. Say what you’ve seen work in other books. Writers are all readers. Another way to critique is to say “XYZ’s book did this (pacing, dialogue, humor) well. Have you read it?”

  3. Soniah Kamal says:

    Hi Nicki
    this is terrific advice. Critiques comes in so many disguises and I learned the hard way to see ‘who’ is giving it positive or negative feedback. Have you ever been in a situation where you know you have worn an unflattering outfit and yet that is the day many ‘friends’ choose to tell you how good you look? I found the same with writing– a piece I know has problems cannot be the best I’ve ever written and ready to submit to contests. That is being set up for failure and while some might do it unintentionally, others don’t. On the other hand I was once told by an older, male writer, after I sold a story, that I would ‘NEVER EVER make it’. I wish I’d asked him back then what exactly ‘making it’ meant, but I was still a beginning writer and so struck down by his mean comment and the contemptuous tone in which it was said. It took me years to realize that his comment was unnecessary (and certainly not critique of any but rather an unkind opinion) and therefore stemming from his own issues and had nothing to do with me. I suppose I’m saying getting feedback from a stranger (editor, agent etc…) is one thing and the objectivity more valuable, but getting feedback from writers you sort of know is another. I learned by and by to stop showing my work to just anyone!! As you say IGNORE. Ignore not only harsh and mean spirited reviews but also fellow writers who’ve decided to rain on your parade!

    • Soniah, there goes another mean person. Ignore is key, but also know who you are giving your manuscript to and why. Critiques serve one purpose. Contests another. In my critique group, one person is the plotting ninja. She can brainstorm ideas when you are stuck. Another person is better with language. Don’t give up on everyone because of that one guy. But be careful. We don’t write or publish in a bubble. Bad reviews from readers are bound to happen. We have to be ready for those too!

  4. Soniah Kamal says:

    Kelly- thanks for hosting just awesome advice from so many different authors as well as Nicki– look forward to learning from all of them!

  5. Judith Laik says:

    The worst critiques I ever received were early in my career when I entered a contest and received 6 critiques of the work. This is a fact: for every positive comment someone made, someone else said the exact opposite. “loved your hero, can’t stand the heroine”; “hated your hero, loved the heroine” type comments. Talk about messing with my head! I was totally stifled for a long time afterward.

    • Kelly says:

      Judith, that kind of feedback can be confusing! I think it goes to show how subjective it all is. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Lesson to the critiques that say, “I hated the hero, because…” Hate him because he’s brooding, but he’s supposed to be brooding = ignore. Hate him because he’s brooding, but you meant for him to be mysterious = edit. Please don’t let anyone stifle you again, no matter how harsh the criticism. If you are a writer, keep writing. Another tip is to wait to revise until you hear the same comment three times. 1st time: Fluke. 2nd time: Coincidence. 3rd time: Edit.

      • Kelly says:

        Nicki, I use the 3 time rule as well- if 3 different readers mention the same thing I’ll definitely change it. If only 1 does, then it may just be a personal preference in reader style vs. a true problem with the mss.

  6. Congratulations, Nicki. A beautiful cover and I know it’s a wonderful book.

  7. Piper says:

    Hello!

    Thank you for hosting Nicki on your blog today, Kelly. I missed this talk at GRW last September, so I’m happy to see it here in written form. My most hurtful rejection, (although I think the agent didn’t see it as a rejection, but rather honesty), was being told that my works wouldn’t sell for 20 years. This agent is known for being brutally honest, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but still, it was stunning to try to figure out a graceful way to react to that in a face to face encounter at a hard-won pitch session. Oh well, moving on and getting up sexy! Thanks!

    Piper

    • Kelly says:

      Thanks for stopping by Piper! Here’s to getting up sexy! :)

    • Piper, I had a face to face with and editor who already had my full. She said, “Oh, that story. I hated it.” I paused and said, “I have another novel.” She asked for the other book, but I admit I didn’t send it. I also admit that I burst into tears after that meeting. Surely, there was a more graceful way to say she didn’t like or want the book. Ignore. Cry. Edit. You really have to do it all, but never let them see you sweat!

  8. Tory Bunce says:

    Hi Nicki! Hi Kelly! I really enjoyed this guest blog today! I look forward to reading Nicki’s book…I appreciate the breakdown of things to look for in a critique category – this should be made into a bookmark and then distributed to all interested critique partners…very insightful!

    I think Nicki’s advice is spot-I’d rather have constructive negative feedback than no or useless feedback. I can work with the sort of feedback that let’s me know how I could do something better – everyone approaches life differently and that’s how we grow as individuals and as writers. Sometimes, I find that what makes complete sense to me, makes no sense to the reader – so it is very helpful to get the constructive questions and comments about my work.

    My worst rejection came in the form a query letter edit session at a conference in which I had an individual appointment with a major publishing house editor who reviewed my query letter and made substantial suggestions and edits to it. I incorporated those edits – because hey, the editor is the expert – right? Not necessarily…The next day at the conference, I pitched to an agent using the updated query letter, and the agent was brutal and questioned how I could write – period – and said this query would be rejected by everyone who read it. I was like – huh? Really? I should have stuck to my original query letter, I guess…So, later that day, I had another pitch session with a different agent this time, and decided to use my original query letter, and received a request for a partial M.S. I learned from this experience, that feedback is very subjective – and what works for one reader/editor/agent does not necessarily work for another – what a harsh lesson! The hardest part of the whole experience was receiving that rejection face to face, however. It’s just plain hard to keep a ‘game face’ on under those circumstances…

    • Kelly says:

      Tory, thanks for stopping by and good for you that you keep on going. I think you write what you have to write and someone, somewhere, will buy it. It only takes one yes!

    • The face-to-face rejection is horrible. It really becomes “turning the other cheek” and keep smiling. That takes special skill, but you did it! No two people want the same thing in a book. I honestly think that rejection makes us stronger. Our job is to find the editor or agent who loves our writing.

  9. Thanks for the advice, Nicki (and Kelly). I’ve gotten a lot of discouraging feedback lately, and this did help to cheer me up a bit.

    Nicki- May your sales be many and your criticisms be few. :)

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Dianna, thanks so much for stopping by. Hang in there!

    • I don’t think the harsh criticism ever goes away. If you ever need a pep talk, find me. I actually had a “harsh” evaluation at work were I was told I was “too nice and too trusting.” They mean it as a criticism, but I took it as a compliment! It just meant I needed to find a place where nice and trusting was valued. Keep writing. You are awesome.

  10. M.V. Freeman says:

    Nicki and Kelly–
    You both are some of the most inspiring people I know. How you conduct yourselves and encourage–priceless. I learn a lot from you both.

    I do have a story of rejection. I was sending out query after query–and I’d get a request for a full; I was getting rejections telling me I had too much world building, then I’d get one saying I didn’t have enough all in the same week. I wanted someone who didn’t have an investment in me–who could tell me for sure. I won a 10 page critique from you Kelly-you read it–and told me truthfully, I had good world building–I don’t think you know how much that helped. I still remember it!

    Nicki–I agree with you–you have to learn to separate the chaff from the good. But it’s hard. I’ve had someone read my reviews and tell me what they said (Not the–this writer is abysmal, or personal things). This helps, makes me realize what I need to work on. And I want to add–I adore your writing! I know this is only the very beginning for you.

    Kelly–thank you for your classes and encouragement; I will always point people your way!

    • Kelly says:

      MV, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the kind words. I’m so glad my critique helped you. I have gotten critiques from other authors before and the positives they shared are always so encouraging. So glad you’re on this journey with me!

    • I suspect we focus on the harsh criticism and ignore the positive encouragement. We need the encouragement, but we do need the criticism. My guess is that most of the criticism or rejection we received is valued if we know how to interpret and use it. A small percent should be thrown out completely. But cling to the encouraging words to keep writing!

  11. Laura says:

    My first ever grad school critique was a five page harangue on how “petty” my work was. I almost left the program that week. My mom has a habit of spell checking every single line and giving me a line-edit when I just wanted to amuse her with a few chapters. She also likes to argue logic in the margins. I’ve always found that strange. People really have assorted impressions of what’s useful response.

    • Kelly says:

      Laura, that’s so true- sometimes people don’t realize that what they’re saying will be hurtful to the other person.

    • I’m so thankful for my creative writing background for helping me handle criticism today. It was a blood bath. Be specific in what kind of criticism you need when you ask people to read your work. I no longer want line edits until the end. You can spend months perfecting little things, when the heart of the story is most important. And I read to defy logic! I’m only a Vulcan part-time. :)

  12. Jean Willett says:

    Great and timely post, Nicki! Congratulations on your release. I’m halfway and loving it! :)
    As for rejections/bad critiques…early in my writing career I had the opposite..glowing letters about loving my voice, but this doesn’t work for us,what else do you have? Time after time. The closest I’ve come to a mean response is a “No Response”. Well, there was one that said to never submit again, but I chalked it up to that editor having a very bad, horrible, terrible day. :)
    I guess it’s in the attitude. I’ve grown dispirited and discouraged at times. I regain my center, remember why I’m writing and why it’s important to me. Have I quit writing? Yes. Does it niggle and poke and haunt me to keep going. Oh yes. So, I’m writing, studying submitting and starting again.
    Years ago, the saying was, “When you have enough rejections to paper your bathroom, you’ve arrived.” Where, I don’t know, but with technology, you have to print them out now, so that’s no fun. I’ll keep pushing and one day…it’ll happen. Perseverance. Prove them wrong and celebrate!

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Jean!

      Thanks for stopping by.

      You know, I always tell people NOT to keep their rejection letters- the reason is because if that’s what they constantly see, that’s what is getting programmed into the subconscious mind- rejection! Instead, write your own acceptance letters and hang those, and soon the real thing will start arriving. I’ve never kept my rejection letters/emails and in fact rejoice in deleting them. As Nicki says, ignore, cry, edit, move on.

      • I keep the rejections. I have a electronic file for them and I tried to pick out the similar comments. Lots loved my voice, but found the story ______ [fill in the blank] complex, unbelievable, boring, un-sellable. I spend more time on the story now since that isn’t my strong suit. Characters I can do no problem. Action, plot are hard. I never give up. You never surrender. Definitely get up sexy!

        • Kelly says:

          If they are helpful then yes, definitely, I will pull out what’s positive and keep those. Sometimes people keep the form rejections, which have no specific comments, and those are the ones I recommend people not keep.

      • Jean Willett says:

        Kelly, For all the years I’ve been writing, I have a rejection file for the letters, or they’re filed by year. Why? Because it’s proof to the IRS that I’m not just playing around with a hobby. :)
        Once in awhile I’ll thumb through and it’s amazing to read something you missed in the moment of defeat. I’m like Nicki in that I look for commonalities. This might enable me to fix something I can’t see.
        For me plot is easy. Secondary characters are fun. Primary characters are sometimes a struggle. I keep studying to find that one point that helps me remember to build an engaging character for the reader. I have to get out of my own way, first. :)

  13. I got two really harsh reviews of my debut novel The Mountain’s Shadow the first week, one from someone who didn’t finish it, and one from someone who obviously had an agenda and found my novel the perfect opportunity to promote it. I went to bed and hid, but my husband wouldn’t let me stay alone for long. Having family and friends outside of writing as well as inside that world is so helpful. It also helped that a couple of my writing friends agreed those people were “obviously not very smart.” :)

    C.D.

    • Kelly says:

      Thanks for stopping in Cecilia! A writing community is definitely helpful.

    • Do not read the harsh reviews. Do not. You can’t do anything about those. Some one is going to hate what we write. If it’s published don’t look at the negativity. If you are submitting it, consider the feedback because it might help. It’s okay to hide. I wish I could say I heard “No one will ever buy your work ever” and then kept writing. I didn’t. I hid. I was stunned. Then I realized writing makes me happy. I write for me. Every word is for me. No one else. When someone hates this book, I won’t hide. It wasn’t for them anyway!

  14. Hi Kelly, the winner of the 10 page critique is Tory Bunce. I used random-name-picker on miniwebtool.com. Tory, for more details send me your email address via the “contact” page on my website nickisalcedo.com. Thanks for joining the conversation! I hope everyone has a wonderful writing year.