Posts tagged with: handling criticism

Guest Erin Knightley: Facing Feedback (and other fears)

Hi, Ruby sis Anne here, and I’m so pleased to welcome Erin Knightley back to the blog! We met at RWA Nationals last year, and since then I’ve watched her gracefully navigate the path to published authordom. Welcome, Erin!

A year ago this month, I was a guest with the Rubies in celebration of being a Golden Heart Finalist. And can you believe it—I’m here now to celebrate the impending release of my debut novel! If that’s not a whirlwind, I don’t know what is. 🙂

In less than a week, I will literally be able to walk into Barnes & Noble, pick up my book from the shelf, and try—unsuccessfully, I’m sure—not to run screaming through the store yelling, “IT’S MY FIRST BOOK!! LOOK, I WROTE THIS!!”


Is it exciting? Heck yeah—it’s one of the most exciting rides of my life.  To know that your work will soon be in front of hundreds . . . thousands . . . millions?? . . . yeah, thousands of eyes is beyond thrilling. But as time marches toward June 5th, when my book will at last be available to all and sundry, a funny thing seems to be happening. I went from ecstatic, to thrilled, to excited, to nervous, to scared out of my ever-loving mind.

That’s right, I said it. I’m *terrified.*

All these months that I’ve been telling every person on the planet that my book was forthcoming? Yeah, now that it has gone from months away, to weeks away, and now days away, I find that I desperately want to call them all and say, “Oops! My bad—I don’t have a book coming out. Juuuust forget I ever said anything.” [Insert innocent whistle here]

I’m not kidding.  In the aforementioned scenario, when I run through Barnes & Noble screaming like fool, what I didn’t say is that I also hope to round up every copy, buy them myself, then take off for the hills before anyone has the chance to judge me.  Because let’s face it: They will judge me.

Fact: Not everybody is going to like the book

Greater Fact: The ones that don’t will feel diabolically compelled to plaster their opinion all over Amazon and Goodreads

Fact: I will try not to read these reviews

Greater Fact: At some point my willpower will crumble like a day-old cookie, and I’ll read them all in one tear-filled, chocolate-binging evening, culminating in me in the fetal position on the couch while my three dogs exchange worried glances

Fact: I can’t do anything about what people will think of the book

Greater Fact: You know what? That’s okay.

As all the scary scenarios played out in my head (“If they had negative stars to give, I totally would have!”), I finally asked myself why it is that I write.  What compelled me to put pen to paper—make that fingers to keyboard—and begin spinning a tale. Why did I spend years working on my craft, pursuing agents, swallowing rejection [read: getting teeth kicked in by the Big R], submitting to contests, networking like a fiend, and dealing with the realities of deadlines, edits, and reviews?

Because I had to.

Because there are stories in me that I have to write. There are characters who I must give voice to, and plots I must develop. If I’m away from my computer, my fingers positively itch to type. It’s in my blood the way music is in a musician’s soul, or art is an artist’s passion.  I don’t just write—I’m a writer. It’s who I am, no matter what a disgruntled reviewer says, or how few stars are clicked.

I may be a big ole ball of insecurities right now, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter if there are those who don’t like me. I love what I do—tears, sweat, and all—and I will always be proud of reaching for my dreams, regardless of success.

And you know what else? Some people are going to like my books. In fact, I must remind myself that many already do. If I’m lucky, some are even going to love them. And while I will try for all I’m worth to avoid the mean-spirited reviews that are sure to come, I’ll also be living for the day when a fan looks me in the eye and tells me they read my book and loved it.

And that, my friends, will make everything worth it.

You know what else makes it worth it? Having made friends with so many of the incredible women and men of the romance writing community. I’m so grateful to have such a supportive group of people around me. You’ll let me be as neurotic as I need to be, give me a hug, then promptly give me a good kick in the rear. 😉

So tell me—what’s your advice for handling bad feedback? Be it reviews, rejections, or contest losses, what are your strategies for getting through the bad stuff on the way to the good?

Leave a comment for one of TWO chances to win! Here’s how it works: 

  1. Everyone who comments will be entered in my Sealed with a Kiss blog tour giveaway! Prizes include signed books, lots of fun swag, stationery, a custom iPhone case, and gift cards from Starbucks and Amazon! For details, click HERE. Drawings will be made June 15th!
  2. You’re already a winner! If you’d like a signed bookmark (or more – just let me know how many!), simply say so in the comments section, and I’ll send post haste! Offer good for the first 40 requests per blog.

*Be sure to leave your e-mail address so I can contact winners, or email me at after commenting if you don’t wish to list publicly* I’ll ship anywhere in US, Canada, or Mexico

Bio: Despite being an avid reader and closet writer her whole life, Erin Knightley decided to pursue a sensible career in science.  It was only after earning her B.S. and working in the field for years that she realized doing the sensible thing wasn’t any fun at all.  Following her dreams, Erin left her practical side behind and now spends her days writing. Together with her tall, dark, and handsome husband and their three spoiled mutts, she is living her own Happily Ever After in North Carolina. Find her at, on Twitter, or on Facebook.



When his family abandoned him at Eton, Benedict Hastings found an unexpected ally in his best friend’s sister. Her letters kept him going—until the day he had to leave everything behind.  Years later, Benedict has seen his share of betrayal, but when treachery hits close to home, he turns to his old friend for safe haven….


After five torturous years on the marriage circuit, Lady Evelyn Moore is finally free to live her life as she wishes. So when her brother shows up with a dashing stranger, she finds herself torn between her dreams…and newfound desires.


Despite his determination to keep Evie at a distance, Benedict cannot deny the attraction that began with a secret correspondence. Yet as they begin to discover one another, the dangers of Benedict’s world find them, threatening their lives, their love, and everything they thought they could never have…

It Ain’t What You Say, It’s the Way That You Say It: A Discussion on Critiquing & Judging

I’m a stickler for semantics.  To be perfectly honest, it baffles me how we writers can be careless with our words – especially when communicating with other writers who are going to pick apart every last syllable for clues and nuances.  Yes, the feedback you give is important, but in my opinion the way you choose to phrase your feedback is equally vital (so perhaps the title of this blog should be It Ain’t Just What You Say, It’s Also the Way That You Say It).

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Jennifer McQuiston

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Jennifer McQuiston, a finalist in the Historical category for THE WIDOW ANABILLA. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

The Power of Peer Review

I am so excited to be here, you can’t even imagine! It is so generous of the Rubies to offer this opportunity to the class of 2011 (cue matriculation music here), and I am looking forward to meeting many of you at RWA in New York!

So, who am I? I am an infectious disease researcher, and like many of you, I have a day job I love. I work at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and my special area of expertise is tracking and preventing diseases that are transmitted between animals and humans. But days spent writing scientific journal articles can make even the most dedicated scientist long for a HEA, and I found that merely reading about it wasn’t satisfying enough – I wanted to create a world on paper.

I approached writing my first book in much the same way I have always approached a scientific question: research.  Armed with a litany of facts about a Victorian dress and diet, but having absolutely no concept about things like character arcs, I set off. I sat. I wrote. I spit out a 90,000 word novel that revolved around a cholera outbreak in 1854 London. Mere days after writing “The End”, I sent it off to a chapter contest to see if it was any good. My first contest in 2009 saw my manuscript returned with the following scratched across the top: “Is this even supposed to be a romance?” What the heck? Of course it was a romance. It wasn’t my fault the contest limited me to 30 pages, when the real relationship and the oh-so-romantic cholera epidemic didn’t heat up until page 294!

I sat. I fumed. I took a step back and reconsidered things.  I began to see that the contest judge wasn’t being mean – she was giving me something akin to a part of science I understood very, very well. Peer Review. The scientific laugh test. The thing you have to get past to publish your work.  Once, on a scientific paper I had spent weeks writing, I received a comment back from an anonymous peer reviewer. “The author purports to be an epidemiologist, but appears to have trouble with simple mathematics.” The reviewer was peeved because he or she couldn’t make the numbers in my table add up to 100%. It might have been harsh, but it was an accurate review – I hadn’t double-checked my numbers. I can promise you, I never made that mistake again. I similarly discovered, in the moment of getting back those comments from my first-ever writing contest, the power of an honest critique. Even better, thanks to my experience with the scientific peer review process, I was prepared to handle it.

What had I been thinking? No one besides this poor, hapless judge had ever seen my first manuscript – not my mother, not my husband, and not even my best friend. That judge probably deserved a medal for slogging through it, but, like scientific peer review, the process was cloaked in anonymity and I had no way to inform her that I could do better.  I set out to correct my rookie mistake (a.k.a. Book #1). I read every excellent novel I could get my hands on. I joined my local RWA chapter, Georgia Romance Writers. I began to seek out readers and people who would provide me with similarly harsh feedback to that contest judge. The best thing I ever did was match up with an extraordinary critique partner (you know who you are RB!) who wasn’t afraid to tell it to me straight. Most importantly, I sat my butt back down in front of my laptop and wrote Book #2. And you know what? With my next attempt at writing, I not only finalled in that same chapter contest, I won my category. Take that mysterious contest judge!

It has been an incredible, educational journey. Along the way, I have regularly seen colleagues around me turn inward, seen them reject the process of receiving and processing criticism. I get it – no one likes to be criticized. But in my personal experience, it has been as vital to the process of improving as a writer as getting the words on paper. We are so lucky to have writing help in the Romance community, with contests and conferences and workshops.  But even more important than learning how to write, I think, is learning how not to write, and that is where critiques come in. Not only do you have a chance to test the strength of your work in the minds of people who are smarter than you, this step is vital to make sure that your work is of high enough merit to be ready for agents and editors.

I would love to hear from you about your experiences with peer review and critiques, either good or bad. Does it motivate you to work harder, or does it make you want to curl into a ball and reach for an entire pitcher of Sangria? Either reaction is fine, as long as you don’t stop writing. I believe I would have never been lucky enough to final in the 2011 Golden Heart without that first soul-numbing critique. Oh, and if you are out there, mysterious contest judge #4, I have only one more thing to say: THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Julie Brannagh

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Julie Brannagh, a finalist in the Contemporary Single Title category for LOVE AND FOOTBALL. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

Between a rock and a hard place: Rejection and persistence

You’ve finished your masterpiece. You’ve checked it over for typos and grammatical errors; you’ve formatted it to the best of your ability. You either slid pages into a big, sturdy envelope, or you pasted them into an e-mail and hit “send”, with your heart in your throat.

Twenty-four hours to multiple months later, you open your mailbox or fire up your e-mail program to find a hissing cobra in the midst of an innocent-looking letter. You’ve been rejected. Whether it’s the first time or the 150th time, it hurts, even if the editor, agent, or contest judge in question made constructive comments, such as “loved your writing” or “I’m looking forward to reading your next project”.

I’ll never forget my first rejection. I pitched at RWA’s Chicago-North’s conference a few months after finishing my first book. I was terrified. Rose Hilliard was gracious, thoughtful, and asked me for a partial. I felt like I won the lottery. Of course, the day that self-addressed, stamped envelope showed up in the mail, it lay in the middle of our kitchen table like it would bite.

My husband asked, “Do you want me to open it?”

“No, no,” I said. “I can do this.”

Rose wrote me a letter I still treasure. She told me what I did right, and what I needed to work on. She saw something in my writing, even if she didn’t buy the book. I resolved to keep working.

I’ll also never forget my worst rejection. LOVE AND FOOTBALL, named a 2011 Golden Heart finalist, was deemed “stupid” and a “waste of my time” by a contest judge. I’d like to thank her. After all, she lit a fire under me. She was wrong, and I would prove it.

We’re heading into rejection season. Those who are attending National will be meeting with editors or agents face-to-face that have the power to accept or reject the manuscript we poured ourselves into. Contest deadlines loom as well, complete with judging comments that can be helpful, or incredibly destructive. The 2011 Golden Heart finalists e-mail loop jokes about the “East German” judge.

One of the things that set those who eventually publish apart from those who continue to write and edit the same three chapters is handling rejection. Let’s face it, everything any of us has ever written is the most brilliant thing known to mankind until someone else reads it. Do we take the constructive suggestions from our critique partner/group and others who know what they’re talking about? Do we persist in the face of numerous rejections, or do we decide that maybe, this just isn’t going to happen after all?

There’s a lot to be said for persistence. After all, people who give up don’t ever get what they want. Writing is no different. Those who don’t write, don’t edit, don’t polish and don’t submit get no rejections, but they also don’t get published. I try to remember the following. I hope you will, too.

  1. Make an agreement with yourself: You have 24 hours to mope. During those 24 hours, you are allowed to shed a few tears, rage with your loved ones or your critique partner/ group about the injustice of it all, eat chocolate till you can’t stand it anymore, or take to your bed with a comfort read. Twenty-four hours. That’s it. Get your butt back in the chair, and write.
  2. If you can stand it, read any comments a day later, and let them sit for awhile more. If someone told you your writing was “stupid”, I give you my permission to substitute, “even better with a few edits”. If there were other comments, think about whether or not they may apply. If they do, and you’ve heard it from more than one person, you may want to make a change. If there is nothing positive about the rejection, shred it, or print it off and burn it in the fireplace. Don’t let someone cruel have free rent in your head.
  3. Give yourself a reward. The lovely and brilliant Mary Buckham says that she went out to dinner every time she got a rejection. She was home with little kids at that time, so it was an undertaking, but she did it. Mine’s a cupcake. If you don’t want to reward yourself with food, try something new for your office, flowers, a glass of wine. Whatever works for you.
  4. Do not give up. Do not let someone else steal your dream. Do not believe that just because one person didn’t like your work, someone else won’t love it. Keep writing. Keep showing up at that empty page every day.

When I’m really down in the dumps, I remember the following. I hope this helps you as much as it has me over the years.

Jane Porter wrote for fifteen years before getting published in 2000. There are four million copies of her books in print.

Susan Mallery amassed fifty rejections in an eighteen-month period at the beginning of her career. She is a multiple New York Times bestseller.

Susan Wiggs says she wallpapered a bathroom in her house with rejection notices. She has been published since 1987.

Anna Campbell wrote for twenty-seven years before selling. She set the romance industry on its ear with the publication of CLAIMING THE COURTESAN in 2007, despite the fact that some clueless contest judge once wrote in huge capital letters across the first chapter of her book, “HARLOT! HARLOT! I WILL NOT READ ABOUT A HARLOT!”

Cherry Adair had seventeen unpublished manuscripts when she published her first book. She is also a New York Times bestselling author.

Laurie London published her first book, BONDED BY BLOOD, earlier this year. A contest judge didn’t like Laurie’s vivid descriptions of setting. Interestingly enough, the setting in Laurie’s books are as vivid and well-written as her characters, and was one of the elements that helped her sell so quickly. Laurie’s second book, EMBRACED BY BLOOD, is out this July.

Vicky Dreiling says, “All rejections sting, but some are tougher to take. The rejection I got from an editor for the first book I ever wrote crushed me. I had done massive revisions without promise of contract. As I read the editor’s four-page letter, I knew she was right. Though that rejection hurt, I learned a great deal from the experience. I like to think that every rejection is one step closer to the right agent and the right publisher.” Vicky’s historical romance, HOW TO MARRY A DUKE, debuted January 2011. Her next historical, HOW TO SEDUCE A SCOUNDREL, will be out in July 2011. Visit her website at:

You may be shaking your head and asking yourself, “What does this have to do with me?”

Among the 2011 Golden Heart finalists, Robin Perini just announced she sold her finalist book, after seven Golden Hearts. There are 12 repeat finalists from 2009, and at least one that is a five-time repeat finalist. Bria Quinlan got 150 rejections on her first book. Another finalist amassed sixty rejections with three different manuscripts, but found her agent. The majority of 2011 finalists have been working for 5+ years towards publication.

Rejections suck. Nobody likes them. Fortunately, they teach all of us persistence. If we let others, no matter how well-meaning, dissuade us, we’ll never make it in an industry that requires those involved to keep trying, working, and creating.

“Never, never, never, never give up.”

-Winston Churchill

Julie Brannagh dreamed of writing a book her entire life, and finally did it in 2005. She is currently writing her sixth single title contemporary. Her third manuscript, LOVE AND FOOTBALL, is a 2011 Golden Heart finalist. Feel free to share your worst rejection in the comments, or she can be reached at authorjuliebrannagh at gmail dot com.

Welcome Bestselling Fantasy/Paranormal Author Skyler White!

In Dreams Begin by Skyler White

At RWA 2010 in Orlando, I was headed for the powder room when I almost bumped into a woman with red dreadlocks. Tired from the trip, and from staying up too late with my critique partner the night before, it took a moment for my brain to kick into gear. When it did, I realized I knew this person

Life after the Call, Part II: The Sequel

Uh-oh, the sequel has arrived.  Ya’ll might think I decided to write this sequel to my July 1, 2010 Blog, entitled “Life after the Call,”  because I was completely out of ideas for blog topics.  But . . . ah . . . um . . . well . . . er . . .

Okay, I admit it, you would be right.

But luckily on Friday the forces of the Universe collided, and I came up with something before my deadline arrived.  I’d like to thank Tina, a commenter on last Friday’s Free-for-All, who said she wanted “to learn more about how debut authors schedule their days …”  You, Tina, started the ball rolling.

See, I don’t actually schedule my days.  They have a way of getting scheduled for me, mostly by deadlines and random email messages.  Friday was no exception. . .

Dealing with Disappointment: A Day Dedicated to Those Who Didn’t Get the Call

So, March 25, 2010, has come and gone, and your phone was silent all day long. Or perhaps your phone rang, but only when a writer friend called to share her good news of a Golden Heart or RITA final. And you tried to be happy for the finalists – because you are. But deep down, even though you know contests are a crap shoot and you know the results of one contest don’t reflect on you as a person, you can’t help feeling that ache of disappointment.

Knocked Down? Get Up Again! (tips on bouncing back)

Ever feel like you’re a target on a bop bag?

I’m not a betting person, but one bet I’d win:  If you write targeting publication long enough, you’re gonna get knocked down.  And if you want to survive and thrive in this business, you gotta learn to not stay flat on your rear, but bounce back.  (I contend there’s a reason our posterior end is shaped the way it is—helps with that bouncing thing.)

A Heaping Helping of Inspirational Sap– or, Why I Almost Didn’t Enter the Golden Heart

When they called my name and I walked up on stage to get that Golden Heart, I didn’t have anything witty or inspirational or particularly memorable prepared to say.  Almost as a joke, I’d scribbled a few words on my palm to remind myself who to thank, but I didn’t have a speech.  To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance of winning.  So instead of being that clever, brilliant girl who gave the most moving acceptance speech in Golden Heart history, I was the one people were watching to see if I would smear my speech all over my face.  (One of my friends reported that my speech can be recalled by anyone who was at the conference simply by saying, “You remember.  The hand.”)

The Latest Comments

  • Darynda Jones: I love this! I learned this fairly early as well. I also learned that sometimes I just have too many...
  • Heather McCollum: Thanks, Jenn! I forgot that you are also a free lance editor! Do you do both developmental and line...
  • Jennifer Bray-Weber: Very sound advice, Heather. I have done the same technique and often recommended it to some of...
  • Darynda Jones: Bwahahaha! I was so wondering where that was going! Did NOT see that coming. Great job, Evelyn!
  • April Mitchell: Congratulations Bonnie!