Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The One that Hurts

As many of you know, I have wonderful beta readers. Fabulous beta readers. I love them all to death. And when I gave them Searcher, they offered amazing, insightful advice, as well as MUCH appreciated praise. Seriously, their enthusiasm has been the one thing that kept me going in my darkest moments, as lame as that might sound.

Today, however, I'm thinking of the one beta reader that didn't offer encouragement. We crossed paths on Absolute Write, because she said she was looking for a non sugar coated review. Sounded good to me, so we agreed to swap manuscripts. And let me tell you, her review of mine was FAR from sugar coated.

I remember reading her email and getting a knot in my stomach. Let's just say she didn't mince words. I feel like I went through the five stages of grief in dealing with her evaluation of my work. First Denial: This is bull, she didn't even read it. (She had gotten back to me in only one day.) Then Anger: Who does she think she is? (After all, I'd read her book, and it was far from perfect.) Barganing and then Depression. In fact, I think my depression over her bad review was one of the big factors in my dilemma of a few weeks ago, where I was ready to shelve Searcher forever.

Now, I think I've finally reached Acceptance. Truth is, in many ways, she was right. Some of the points that hurt the most, probably did because I knew deep down that it was true. It's funny because as irritated as I was (still am?) with this girl for being harsh, I find myself very grateful to her.

Don't get me wrong, there are many things about her review that I've ignored. Could she have said things in a more constructive, kind way? Definitely. Could she have integrated things she liked in with her numerous criticisms? Uh, hello, yes. However, I can't deny how helpful she has been to me. Some of the things she said acted as the catalyst in my mind, which lead to changes in my story that I am so excited about now. I know my story will be better because of her.

So Harsh Girl, wherever you are, I just wanted to say thanks.


Natalie said...

I don't know, I still don't like her. I am very glad that you've pulled through that rough spot, but I HATED seeing what she did to your self-esteem.

So, yes, I still want to beat her up. But I am so proud of you for picking yourself up after all that.

I had a similar experience earlier this year, and it kind of crippled my writing ability in a BIG way. I did take some things away from the experience, but I can't say it was totally worth it. I lost months of progress.

That's why crit partners you click with are so important. Because they can push you without crushing your soul.

MeganRebekah said...

I have mixed experiences with Absolute Write. On the one hand, I found one of my writing group members there (and she just signed with an agent!). On the other hand, I've seen people be ridiculous and rude in critiques.

I feel so lucky that my writing group members are both honest and helpful. They can tear apart a scene or chapter but in a way that doesn't feel mean or hurtful. Instead it makes the lightbulbs go off, like DUH!

I'm glad to hear you're pulling through, and that you were able to find something positive in the experience!

Patti said...

It's good to see that you've learned from the experience and are able to separate the good advice from the bad.

Great lesson for me.

Anonymous said...

I've had some rough critiques from my writer's group. I noticed that a couple of times some of the members were saying the same thing, but because of personality one said it much harsher than another. It was harder for me to internalize the one that almost seemed mean spirited. I think honest critique is not the same as harsh. Good for you for being able to get past the way something was said and still find the useful information.

Renee Collins said...

Natalie-Well, true. She did bring me down for a while, so that was counter productive. And don;t get me wrong, I'll never ask her to beta for me again. But when all is said and done, I'm glad I had the experience.

Megan-Yeah, AW is a real mixed bag. I didn't know this girl at all when I agreed to beta swap, and now I'm seeing that was a mistake. Next time, if I feel the need to have a non friend crit for me, I'll at least investigate a little and see what they're like.

Patti-Definitely. It's important to be able to take every crit with the proverbial grain of salt. Good and bad comments.

Renee Collins said...

Candice-So true. In fact, with this very story, Natalie told me that the ending wasn't right. She, of course, was very fair and encouraging about it, but a different person could have just said, "The ending sucks." (Because it did.)

Renee Collins said...

Candice-So true. In fact, with this very story, Natalie told me that the ending wasn't right. She, of course, was very fair and encouraging about it, but a different person could have just said, "The ending sucks." (Because it did.)

Jessie Oliveros said...

You know, I had a rough critique at an SCBWI writer's group. We were just a bunch of strangers thrown together, so there weren't any pre-existing relationships. Which is good and bad. Two things-I, like you, lost my spirit for my book for awhile afterwards. And I learned that one thing can be said two different ways, and it is more effective saying it the NICE WAY! I'd like to know how you critiqued her ms after reading her critique.

Renee Collins said...

Jessie-We had agreed to swap before I was done with my novel. So I read her's first, and then sent my novel to her months later.

I footnoted comments throughout her manuscript, and even wrote up a summary of thoughts with some solid advice. I was very nice, verging on overly generous. I even helped her rewrite her dismal query letter.

So yeah, it was kind of a slap in the face to get a one page email saying, "This is wrong, And this is bad. And this was poorly done, etc, etc."

Becca said...


As your defensive older sister, I would like to know who this "b-rated", "tiny-tard", "jackson" is who would dare to be so RUDE????!!! :)

Now, that I've said that, I'm glad you were able to take something from it....but be wary Ren....people who cannot constructively critisize, may not the be most credible of humans...they tend to be the sort that see the bad and evil in everything. The kind of people that go to Disneyland and are determined to see the storage rooms behind the little curtained windows on Pirate of the Caribbean! Or you know those people who try to get the character to talk instead of just bobbing their heads....jerks!! (Haha...mems of Disney World...) The point is Ren, some people will never see the magic in anything. I'm serious! So those kind of critiques may not always be valid...ya know?

Anyhoo...I know you discredit me too because I am your sister...but now I've said my piece :) Cheers!

sraasch said...

Honesty is (usually) better than sugar-coating, but the old mantra "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," rings true especially in critiquing. If you can't find a nice way to spin it, hold off on saying it until you can.

Jessie Oliveros said...

You mean the pirates don't talk back at disneyland?

Tara said...

I think this depends on where you are at with your script. When you're just starting out, you need encouragement more than brutality. As you near the point where you want to submit, then it's time to look for those who don't sugar coat things. (Of course, I'm a fan of encouragment mixed in with the brutual truth.) I'm glad this beta reader didn't cause you to shelf your idea.

storyqueen said...

I've been trying to figure out how to say this, but I'll probably make a jumble of it. Bear with me.

The hard thing about online critiquing is that if you don't really know the person offering the critique, you don't have any context within which really understand it. I mean, sure, everyone who eventually reads your book (when it's published) will have an opinion....but by then you'll have the belief of your agent, editor and publisher to bolster you up if you need it.

You might get a harsh critique from someone who hates everything....

(Whenever I read a particularly rough review of something on Amazon, I read more that that person's review, and sure enough, they hate everything.)

It's important to find credible critiquers.

Nobody deserves to have their dreams crushed by a random person.

Take care. Never give up.


Lady Glamis said...

Renee, I had a very similar experience with Monarch. The harsh review was 16 pages. SIXTEEN PAGES. And not much of it was very nice. At all. But that review has been one of the most helpful things I've ever read. Now that I'm almost done with my rewrite of Monarch, I am very glad it happened, although she could have said things nicer.

Sometimes, though, I just need somebody to slap me upside the head. Really. It can help a lot more than a nice pat and a smile and "you can do better."