When listening to other opinions is bad for your health


I recently submitted my re-written manuscript to two brand new and one return beta readers to get  a fresh perspective on my novel and to find out if I’d fixed the issues a publisher pointed out to me in their amazing, red-lined critique.  One beta came back with overwhelming praise and a few minor niggles to correct.  The return beta came back with a somewhat harsher review but overall, I understood his points and I am considering them before I send the novel out to my last 2 betas.  The reviews from the third beta, however, broke my heart and reduced me to tears.  I didn’t eat well for two days, I snapped at my kids and my hubby, and quite frankly, felt horrible – like sick-to-my-stomach horrible. Not good.

What ground me to a halt and put me in such a state?  The following are just a few of the comments I received.

“I have never read such driveling nonsense.”  “The only fantastical thing I found in this book was that I actually finished it.  There were too many times I almost didn’t.”  “I felt cheated.  Why haven’t you thrown David and Charlotte together?  Are teens these days really so goody-goody? I think not.  You are obviously detached from today’s conundrums.  Get with the teen scene.  Charlotte’s comment to David to not look at  her boobs is ridiculous. Girls these days are all about showing off their boobs and getting as many guys to look at them as possible.  I felt like I was reading a D-rated fantasy novel from the 1950s.”   “I would not submit this to my English Lit teacher.  No offense but I think you should try your talents at something else because Tolstoy you are not.”

And the negativity kept coming.

I knew when I first read the comments (that also offered no hints as to how to make the  novel better), I should put it down and let it go.  It wasn’t beneficial.  It offered no constructive criticism.  Yet it was this review that stuck with me the most.

Why?  Why as artists, as human beings, do we allow the bad to outweigh the good, at least at first?  What is it about our psyche that makes us almost want to believe the bad?  Do we truly believe deep down we are terrible writers (insert hobby/job) and this stranger sees through the facade?  Why do we focus on those things that hurt us instead of those things that lift our spirits?

I wish I knew the answer.  All I know is I spent a lot of time over the past few days trying to figure out what was so horrible about my novel instead of what was so great about it.  After hours of shedding tears, and barking at my husband and my kids, I realized I was letting a stranger dictate my emotions.  A stranger.    Someone I will probably never meet.  Someone who hasn’t been with me on my journey.  Someone who may have had a bad day when he wrote his comments.  Heck, maybe he is just a negative person all the time.  How dare I let this stranger guide my emotions?  He’s not my husband, my children, my closest friends.  Why should I care what he thinks?

It’s ingrained, I guess.  I do care what others think, which is my problem.  I want to please everyone all the time and I forget to please me first.  I supposed that’s what comes with being a wife and mother for 27 years.  But it’s time for all that to change.  It’s time for me to be proud of me, of all I’ve accomplished, and to believe in myself and my writing.  My novel is not a D-rated novel from the ’50s.  It’s here, it’s now and I know there are good kids out there who are not focused on sex and drugs that will love my novel.

I therefore make a vow that from this point on, to take all comments with a grain of salt.  I will listen to all opinions, consider all critiques, however, I will first and foremost listen to my heart and the wonderful Spirit that gave me my voice and ability to write.  I have to please me and my family first.  And in the end, that’s all that matters.

What about you? Do you let critiques of your writing (or hobby/work) affect your moods and your health?

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43 thoughts on “When listening to other opinions is bad for your health

  1. Wow, I would have reacted the same and been depressed. But you’re right, a writer will never ever please everyone…but they must please themselves. When it comes down to the nitty gritty, that’s all that really counts.

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  2. What a horrible reviewer! Sounds like one of those folks who enjoys having power over others. And likely a frustrated creative himself. The cruelest critics always seem to be.

    We do have to develop a thicker skin in the writing biz because eventually our stuff will be out there for everybody to read. Some of those folks will be like this guy and be just plain mean. But…that’s still no excuse for anybody entrusted with a beta read to be a jerk.

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  3. Take that review, crumble it up, and use it to practice some shots at the dustbin, or recycle it by printing your revisions on the backside.

    This person did not review your work. What she did however, was allow her own bitterness (Maybe someone gave her a scathing review as well) cloud her objectivity. Although, from the excerpt you published, it would seem that she meant to offend rather than to educate. Thus, her insults were intentional.

    It is sad when people think that giving a review means its open season on the author, and there seems to be a tendency these days to attack the author personally, make stupid assumptions about the writer’s personality, and then craft various insults based on those assumptions. All of this, instead of explaining why the story is not working. I actually get so angry when I come across a review where the personality/character/life choices/very existence of the author is attacked. This style of “reviewing” is completely absurd, and yet it is allowed and even defended as an entrenched right. Why do we like belittling other people so much? Are we that insecure? (Okay, mini-rant finished)

    In your case, this person revealed more about her own twisted personality than she did about the actual story she had to review. So throw it away, it is of no use to you. Don’t give this person the upper hand by allowing the review to tamper with your emotional well being. It didn’t say anything about your writing, but spoke volumes about the reviewer, and that doesn’t help your writing at all.

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  4. Keep that review on a dusty shelf somewhere, so you can write about it in your memoir after your book hits a million sales. 😉

    A manuscript review should be clear and honest if it’s going to be useful. However, it should be respectful, constructive and never insulting. What you received was personal attack. Perhaps this beta reader was simply inexperienced.

    By the way, I know a number of modest teens. Feel free to be counter-cultural in your writing. It’s more interesting.

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  5. I think the secret is to be careful who you have as your beta reader. Just because a person can read doesn’t make them a good choice. They probably should know something about the market you’re aiming for before they’re allowed to give input.
    I have the feeling you weren’t trying to be Tolstoy. (Thank goodness.) It sounds as if that person might be a failed Tolstory-wannabe and is beating up anyone who falls short of her mark.
    So the question is . . . her mark or yours?
    Best of luck in YOUR career~
    Susan

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  6. It’s unfortunate that we put so much trust in the people we allow to read our work, even when they are strangers. Jenny, take a match and burn this beta-reader’s nasty comments because that’s all the consideration they deserve. May you never encounter this poison again!

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  7. hey jenny! this is my first time visiting your blog! i read a lot of YA and write kidlit, so the small blurb of comments you posted from this beta made me cringe. talk about someone who has no idea about teens these days! based on his own pervy observations about girls, we all need to change how we write about young adults…

    pretty much all writers have self doubt and are worried their work is total crap. published, successful authors especially! constructive criticism is so important in the revising stage – but no one needs a simon cowell beta reader.

    keep your chin up!

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  8. I only just found your post now and I have to say – I can hardly believe it. Anyone who reads your post knows you can write. It’s not drivel. So whoever your so called ‘beta’ reader was – he (?) was obviously too narrow minded to be a reader of YA novels. If he thinks ‘goody-goody’ teen characters are out of touch with reality, then he is out of touch with reality. Teens are individuals and so are readers. And what real teens are or aren’t doing these days is just as individual. Of course there are teens out there behaving like wanna-be thirty year olds – but – it’s certainly not all of them. There are just as many who are self concious. Some of them even have – believe it or not – morals. (And just to re-assure you, I can say that I’ve heard teen girls tell guys not to look at their boobs. It’s true – I frequently have teens invading my house).
    My children are avid readers and have on occasion put down books with characters that are too stereotypically ‘realistic’ according to some modern perceptions (i.e. loose, exhibitionists – sorry for the 1950s terms). My fifteen year old thinks the controversial aspect of these realistic characters is running out. She thinks they’re boring and unoriginal now. As she puts it, she doesn’t really want to read ‘that stuff.’ On the contrary, she’s never put down a book because the characters seemed too innocent or they weren’t *thrown together* at some point in the story.
    It all comes down to the reader’s preference.
    The ‘Beta’ reader who unfairly trashed your work should have clarified exactly what he was willing to review before accepting your novel. It sounds like he judged your work based on his personal preferences. So why did he even finish it if he thought it was so terrible? I think maybe it was just to be mean spirited, to lash out a someone. If he thought your work was out of touch with his version of reality – shouldn’t he have just returned it and said it wasn’t what he expected? Or what he wanted?
    I feel so bad that you had to go through such a personal attack – but – I’m glad you shared it. Some of us out here are just getting started and will likely face something similar to your experience at some point.
    I hope you never have to go through that again. But thank you for sharing it. Your post is valuable.

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    1. That’s the reason I posted what I did – to help others get through it when it happens to them (hopefully it never will). The point is, no matter who is mean, who is bullying, get up, brush off the hurt and keep going and know your own self value. I loved reading about your 15 year old. She sounds very special and beautiful.

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  9. The funny thing is, those comments your so-called beta reader gave made me WANT to read your book! Girls who aren’t all about showing their boobs off to anyone who wants to look interest me much more than shallow babes with perfect bodies.
    And even don’t get me started on Tolstoy…
    Critiques affect me physically too, though. I can’t figure out why, when although I may get five or six positive responses, the sole negative response gets me down and makes me lose my appetite, and even makes me want to stop writing.

    I think it might be a question of choosing the right readers. 🙂

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  10. Hi Jenny. Jennifer Eaton sent me over to give you a cyber hug. So here it is *hug*.

    There’s no excuse for the level of rudeness you received in that review. It makes me sad to read about someone treating someone else so poorly, although I know it happens all the time.

    On the one hand, I know that beta readers are not the same as critique partners: they are supposed to give you impressions and feedback on what didn’t work for them, but they aren’t normally expected to give you constructive feedback on how to fix things (e.g. craft advice). This person did neither.

    It’s a shame that trolls like your beta reader can have such a negative impact on our emotions and our lives. I know what it feels like to have someone’s hurtful comments cycle around in my head for hours or days, ruining my mood and making me angry with myself for dwelling on it.

    But that’s always a risk when you interact with other people, whether your creative output is in the cross hairs or not. I wish I could give you advice on how to resist such negativity. If you ever figure it out, please let me know!

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  11. “My novel is not a D-rated novel from the ’50s. It’s here, it’s now and I know there are good kids out there who are not focused on sex and drugs that will love my novel.” There certainly are!

    When you book debuts, I hope you will let me interview you for the author series on my blog. http://blog.thepriyas.com

    Obstacles are those things we see when we take our eye off the goal. He’s an obstacle, nothing more. Keep your eyes forward.

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    1. Thank you, Ashley! I most certainly will keep you posted. I’m writing your info down in my little ‘black book’ for future reference. I’m glad you stopped by and took the time to leave such kind words.

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  12. Iv’e been through the “Bad review syndrome.” Kept me upset for a while, almost stopped my writing altogether. But I love writing, and I knew the piece they reviewed needed work and I’m currently fixing it. But as to the very negative aspects, I take them with a grain of salt. I alwasy strive to be liked in everything I do, and every one I meet. But we can’t please everyone, we can just do our best. Hop back to your typewriter and continue to do what you like to do.

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  13. You’re right, that critique was not helpful in any way and I wish you would have noticed it immediately and thrown it in the trash. How the hell does he know what teen girls do these days? Is he dating one? Is he secretely hoping teenage girls are trying to get him to look at their breasts? I don’t know where this guy grew up but not all teenage girls are whores and if you want to show you teenage girl character as having some modesty then BRAVO! Give him my email address and I’ll have a little talk with him. You are a great writer and an amazing person.

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  14. That was NOT a beta reader. That person was downright rude and disrespectful, especially as you entrusted your work to him personally seeking feedback. Surely a good beta reader is honest and kind with it. What an awful experience. Sending you a virtual hug right now.

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  15. I wish there was an application for beta readers. 🙂 Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. Like I said before, I don’t mind brutal honesty, but you don’t have to be brutal. Thanks for stopping by and making me feel better.

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  16. Bravo to you for picking yourself up after that eviscerating cruelty. That was not a beta reader. That person did not give feedback or critique your work. They annihilated your self esteem. Not cool.

    With my betas, I have a strict policy where they must treat me with respect. They can dislike my character and tell me the pacing is off, but no cruel barbs allowed. Only productive comments. I also make them promise to tell me the good and the bad. And promise to listen and consider everything they say.

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  17. I think you are right about the beta reader being a negative person. There’s no other reason why he/she would give a critique that would be so mean and not offer constructive criticism. You shouldn’t even consider that a critique worth giving a second thought. And the person must be quite shallow to think that all teen-age girls these days just want to show off their boobs. Teen-agers have a lot more depth than what your beta reader wants to give them credit.

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    1. I agree. I know some super sweet teens of both sexes who love reading, working. They’re great with their parents and they aren’t thinking about sex 24/7. They keep themselves busy with other activities/clubs/sports. They are in inspiration to me. It saddens me that people have such a narrow view of teens. I think teens are awesome.

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  18. Ugh! It’s hard to decide how I would (or will one day) react when an overtly hostile critique comes my way. DO NOT LOOK AT IT AGAIN!

    I don’t need or want to be told my work is “brilliant” and “perfect,” but I expect that a reviewer will respect me as a human being. Yes, we artists are frail at times. It’s our hearts we pour into our characters and then onto the pages.

    That was not a beta read, Jenny. That was a brutal slam and SO not worthy of attention. Wonder who peed in his cheerios on the day he read your book. Chin up! Go for the critiques that meant something.

    I often see your comments on Jennifer’s site. You know your stuff.

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    1. *smile*. Gloria, I have looked at this thing enough. I just couldn’t believe what I read. Once I got over the shock, the tears set in. I just couldn’t believe someone could be so hurtful. I have since thrown it in my box of critiques because I keep all of them, but I have rubber-banded it with a big ‘do not read’ on it.

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  19. I’m so sorry you ran into your first encounter with an Emotional Vampire.
    These are the people who insult and drag you down for no other reason than it makes them feel good. Ignoring them and continue to create. I’m going to follow your work, thanks to Jennifer Eaton and her wonderful blogs.

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  20. Ugh. That review broke my heart. I am a big believer in “say something nice, then the bad, but end it on a good note. Being outright mean is something completely different, and that sounds like what happened. There is something nice you can say about anyone.

    Ummm… you spelled everything right, and that was great! Yay! Love your spelling!

    I have to admit, that I am brutally honest, but I do try to wrap it up with a kiss as much as possible, and I have NEVER told someone anything was Cr*p. I am a firm believer that everyone is in a different place in their journey, and you can learn and evolve every day of your life. Every story has potential… even if you don’t particularly like it. If you don’t like something, at least say why. Don’t just write it off as junk.

    The problem with the internet, and email, is that you can totally trash the person, and not see the look on their face. I am sure he would have been somewhat more tactful if he was looking right at you.

    In all honesty, a beta who trashes, and does not give any suggestions is not a beta at all. I would not even consider going back to them. Now, that is not because they were harsh. I have a few harsh critiquers that I always go back to… because they are honest, and they are helpful, and they point out things I need to work on. Without them, I would not be the writer I am today. It sounds like this critique gave no value other than to make you feel bad. That is not constructive at all.

    Dust off your heels. Think over what they said, and edit where you see fit… but don’t take this as a do-all “suddenly I stink and will for the rest of my life” review.

    Just think. In a few years when you hit Amazon’s top 100 list, you will just look back on this and giggle.

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    1. thanks, Jennifer. You made me smile. I don’t mind brutal honesty, but hurtful comments with no constructive criticism is pointless and does nothing but hurt the receiver. I’ve moved on, though. Up and onward. Someday I will look back on this and laugh.

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  21. I did not get any reviews yet but I have to admit, I´m a bit anxious to get started on the beta-reading process. Even though, I know my MS needs work, I cross my fingers that I will get constructive feedback…I probably would have been a wreck after such comments and I think you´re doing pretty well with your reaction and moving forward!

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  22. thanks, Claire. Your comments made me feel better. I will get tougher as I go. I thought I was already tough enough. I guess I thought wrong. 🙂 Ah, it’s all a learning process.

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  23. Oh Jenny, I’m sorry. I have one of those types of critiques in my trunk and believe it or not I pull it out every now and then to re-read. Glutton for punishment? Yeah, a little. Sadly, in my case, after I dried my tears, I couldn’t deny that what the beta had written was the unvarnished truth. My novel really was “a really bad Mills & Boon” only worthy of “being tossed into the fire” so she could chapters later “stomp upon the ashes” and “beg for it end”. Sigh…

    I re-read it to remind myself that my skin is tougher now than it was then and it will continue to get even tougher. When my book’s reviews start coming in, I know there will be some that will be tough to read. I can only hope that my callouses will be tougher.

    Oddly enough, my brutal beta emailed me months later wondering how my writing was going. When I told her I trunked the novel after her beta read, she said she felt really bad after consulting her critique points. She apologized for how tactlessly she’d critiqued my work. She told me my novel wasn’t a good vehicle for the talent she knew I had inside me. Honestly, that statement helped me. So…some people just aren’t very good at getting their criticisms across in a tactful manner. Never take it personally. Easier said than done, I know. Believe me. I know.

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  24. Ah, Jenny. I too ride that rollercoaster of “you’re awesome!”/”you suck!” I’m surprised your beta-reader would be so mean. Constructive criticism is one thing, being mean is another. I had a recent experience that produced the same feelings you have and it took me days to move past it. If you want an encouraging beta-reader, sign me up! I’d love to help you. And, I’m very diplomatic!!!!

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    1. Aww, Lori, thanks! I might just take you up on your offer. 🙂

      It was definitely the meanness that hurt. It’s one thing to not like something, but to be so heartless… He could have very easily said, ‘you know, this isn’t my cup of tea. I think it would be better to find another beta.’ I’ve done that before if I didn’t think I could do the piece justice.

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  25. I haven’t gotten my first negative review yet (my book has only been out for about a week), but I KNOW that I will get it. I KNOW that I will get more than one. And this is something I had to drive into my head long before I published because I knew I had to prepare myself in advance for the inevitable. The truth is, and this will sound cliche’, is that you cannot please everyone. There will always be someone who absolutely hates what you do and will definitely let you know it. Writing is no different. Look at the reviews on Amazon for ‘The Hunger Games’. Amazing book, huh? Most people think so, at least. But now look at how many 1-star reviews it has gotten. A book so widely popular and loved it’s hard to imagine that ANYONE hated it enough to give it 1-star. But there they are. All NINETY-FOUR of them. Just write what you love and do it for you and never let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough. Because the truth is that just like there are people out there destined to hate your book, there are people out there destined to love it.

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    1. You know, Jessica, I thought I was prepared for this sort of review. It’s not the first time I received one, but this one for some reason, really hit home. After a few days, though, I’ve realized it only thickened my skin a bit more so I’ll be ready for the next one. I figure if I can get through this, I can get through anything. Thanks for stopping by and posting. 🙂 Good luck with your novels!!

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