Bouncing back by Stuart White


We spoke about this last week, but disappointment is tough…

Receiving feedback can be even tougher, especially when it says things you didn’t want to hear…

Things that were ruminating in your own head – the same doubts that you’ve been pushing away for months. And there it is…in black and white, from an anonymous reader.

The first instinct is to get angry, to deny that it’s right:
– who are they anyway to say that about my story?
– they haven’t even read the whole thing, so how can they judge X, Y or Z.
– see, one reader thinks it’s amazing, so the other feedback is just rubbish.
– the readers are completely contradicting each other, therefore neither opinion is worth listening to. Or I’ll just listen to the one who is kinder.

I go through this exact same process every time I get feedback. I got my own feedback this week from the wonderful UV team. Benjamin Scott’s email was absolutely spot on when he spoke about receiving feedback, much in line with my post from last week. But there’s knowing how to respond and then there’s the complicity and random uncertainty of the human brain. It’s like knowing you shouldn’t eat that deep fried Mars Bar, it’s bad for you. In theory. But in reality, it tastes so damn good.

My feedback from top industry experts included:

  • Helen Boyle, Literary and Illustration Agent at Pickled Ink
  • Annalie Grainger, Senior Commissioning Editor at Walker Books
  • Stephanie King, Commissioning Fiction Editor at Usborne Publishing
  • Polly Nolan, Literary Agent at PaperCuts Literary Consultancy
  • Alice Sutherland-Hawes, Children’s Agent at Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency
  • Clare Wallace, Literary Agent at Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency

And when I read it, my first instinct was do much of what I said above. I narrowed in immediately on the more negative comments, the ones where they had concerns.

Like a bad Jedi, I let my emotions take over – I skipped anger and denial this time and went straight to despair. But I knew deep down that the comments weren’t just spot on. They were essential.

I needed to hear that my book is straddling two age categories and I have a problematic synopsis and the fantasy element throughs the reader out. I could have said, ‘what do they know’ etc etc, but I know the only way to improve is to take on board ALL feedback. Don’t act on it all, but do take it in, even the bad stuff.

I might not like it, I don’t WANT to take the fantasy element out of my novel, but I NEED to. In fact, I will act upon all the feedback I did receive because ultimately if I want to get this novel published, the very people who gave me this feedback have said what I need to do. I’d be a fool to ignore.

And then I did the unthinkable – I started to read and absorb the positive comments!!!

It’s counter-intuitive for us writers to do this, but I did it. I focussed on the positives and found myself uplifted, and feeling like I could do this – I could really do this.

And then re-reading the comments with suggestions felt lighter, less resistant and ultimately very do-able.

One caveat to insert here is the ‘thank but no thanks’ veto clause we also all need for implementing feedback. I know friends who are published, or about to be, who’ve had to really stand their ground on aspects of revisions and feedback on their work. It’s important to do this when you know someone MUST stay in the novel to keep it in line with the heart, the core, of your story.

Also SUBJECTIVITY. I’ll leave that here. I’ve discussed that in detail here.

Many of you received feedback this week from our talented and knowledgeable readers in the WMCNA. I know many of you felt buoyed and uplifted and determined to get working with those comments. I also know that many of you felt deflated – can I say here how impressed I am with the strength of character shown by you in receiving disappointing news, but having the good grace to still email me back and thank me for the disappointing news and feedback. That is something that will stand you in good stead throughout a bumpy career in writing where it’s never all up, and the disappointments and lows seem to be as common (more common?) than the good parts.

And if you are deflated, even now, I hope this post has given you some comfort. You are not alone. We all get disappointed. We all suffer rejection. And it’s okay to be upset, angry, in denial, and even, as I put it this week, to grieve.

We put so much of ourselves into our work that it’s natural. But we also have this incredible quality as humans to bounce back. To pick ourselves back up after we fall…

So let’s spend this week focussing on positives, picking ourselves up and bouncing back!

I’d love to read some #BOUNCEBACK tweets if anyone wants to publicly declare.

May the Force be with you.

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