17.9.11

Eating Constructive Criticism


About eight months ago, I found a website online called Agent Query Connect. It's a magical place where writers come together and offer critiques on posted query letters (query letters are what authors send out to agents, similar to what you'd find on the flap of a book). There are members who've been around for years and really know what makes a solid query. Then, there are the newbies who post their draft without taking the time to peruse the site and learn. The majority of members seem to have been around for a couple of years and frankly, my query letter got one million percent stronger after being ripped apart a few times by some of the big-wig members. Now I go back and pay it forward. 

For the most part, I the feedback on ACQ is incredibly helpful. When things don't make sense to me, or I disagree, I simply don't make the change. I don't think I've ever gotten upset, even when my query letter is left tattered on the floor. I know that, in the end, it just makes my work stronger. I have a pretty thick skin, from years of university professors ripping my research papers to shreds, and sometimes I forget that being able to take constructive criticism is a learned behaviour.


Case in point, a recent thread on ACQ which the moderators SHUT DOWN!


In the (almost) year that I've been a member, I've never seen a thread with the red 'closed' icon. Naturally, when I saw it, I clicked and...


Well...


To say that this new member needed to work on thickening their skin would be an understatement.


Statement.
Under.
(get it? Haha. I'm hilarious)


I'm not going to copy and paste this member's response because (a) I'm not sure if I'm allowed to do that and (b) If I were that person, the last thing I'd want is for my freak-out to be advertised. 


Let me sum it up for you. The author, let's call them Freak-Out, wrote a novel that involves a character who can raise others from the dead. A Big-Wig critiquer offered suggestions for tightening up Freak-Out's letter but mentioned that they didn't know much about character's who can raise others from the dead. Then, a Newbie started accusing Freak-Out of writing about things they haven't researched. 


Now, the Big-Wig wrote back to the Newbie, explaining that it was them who'd said they didn't know much about raising the dead, not Freak-Out. Newbie didn't seem to get it though, and kept posting things about authors needing to do research before writing about something.


If it were me, I would've just laughed the Newbie's comments off and focused on what others were saying.


But that's not what Freak-Out did.


Instead, they EXPLODED!


In a very long post, Freak-Out attacked the Newbie. It was intense, hit below the belt and COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY. Then, Freak-Out went back into the thread and deleted a whole bunch of their posts (a serious no-no as it doesn't let others see the progress of the query - the whole reason the site exists in the first place). I think the combo of the freak-out and the deletions got the thread suspended.


So look, I get that having someone accuse you of something doesn't feel great, but there's absolutely NO reason to throw a tantrum.


Yes, the Newbie got slightly confused, but I don't understand why Freak-Out...well...freaked out! If they can't take a random person's non-useful criticism then what the hell are they going to do when a reviewer compares their book to a piece of poop? Or when an editor sends them twenty pages of notes? It's going to happen. It's a fact.


Then I remembered that it took me a long time to be able to swallow my pride and accept a view that differs from my own. The first few years of my undergrad were intense, but the two years in grad school upped the ante, considerably. I literally had to defend my thesis in front of five professors for almost two hours, where they questioned just about every major point I made. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life but it left me with the ability to argue my stance without becoming defensive (or at least showing that I'm defensive...ha). 


I also remember a time when my high school English teacher thought it'd be fun to combine assignment names with what he thought of mine. For instance, when we were told to write a ballade, he wrote - in red ink at the top of my paper - the word: Ballthetic. Yes, he combined the word ballade with pathetic. Did I mention that I was only seventeen? He also read a poem of mine aloud, for the whole class, and then said that "whoever wrote this should consider seeking psychological help"...and then walked over to my desk and handed it back to me.


True story.



Being an author means that a lot of different people will comb over your manuscript before it's fit to be published. There will be pages and pages and pages of revisions that need to be made and if you're going to sit on your high horse and refuse to acknowledge other points of view, then I'm pretty sure your book's going to suck.


Big time.


That isn't exactly the case here, but the general concept of eating constructive criticism is still strong. Chew on what makes sense and throw away the rest. Don't let the haters bring you down!


Because, in the end, who the heck would want to work with someone who freaks out over nothing?


My guess is nobody.







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