20 January 2015

Praise & Rejection: The Two Imposters [GUEST POST by Steve Turnbull]

As writers, whether self or traditionally published, we deal with rejection all the time. It’s more in-your-face for writers trying to get traditionally published because they are forever knocking on people’s doors looking for the one that will open. And constantly dealing with “No”.

Self-publishers have a different problem; they can get their book distributed and out into the world, but then no one buys it. Or worse, someone does and doesn’t like it. Now I’m not talking about badly written books here, it’s a simple fact that someone somewhere will not like your book. Art appreciation is opinion, and everybody has one. But when someone says this, it feels personal. It feels like they’re saying “I don’t like you” and it hurts.

Bo's Cafe Life by Wayne E Pollard

Then, one day, someone (who isn’t your mother) comes along and says, “Hey, this is good.” “Wow, you know what, I really like this.” “This really moved me.” “I laughed so much, it was great!” “I went through three boxes of tissues.”

In case you haven’t heard anybody say this yet, let me explain: these are compliments. It’s praise. And you know what? It can be damned hard to deal with, especially at first. Because when a stranger comes along and says, “I like what you’ve written,” what it seems like they’re actually saying is “I like you”. You want to deny it. You want to run and hide. It’s the reverse of rejection but just as uncomfortable.

But here’s the thing: in neither case is it personal. Let me explain.

When someone says, “I hated your book,” what they’re saying is, “Your book made me feel bad.” Maybe it was the emotion, maybe it was the content, or (worse) they’re saying it did not make them feel anything. It made no emotional impact. Here’s the thing: they aren’t talking about you, they’re talking about themselves.

And if they say “I loved your book” they’re saying: “Your book made me feel.” It’s about them; it’s not about you at all. Let me emphasise here that I’m not talking about badly written or badly edited books. I’m assuming we’re past that hurdle.

Making people experience emotion is what it’s all about, so if your book succeeded then that’s great and you get bonus points (you get points even if it made them feel bad). If not, then it just didn’t. No foul. It’s not about you, it’s about them reacting (or not) to the content of your book.

So having got that out of the way, the question then is, what do you say when you get a compliment, or a complaint?

For a complaint, well, you ignore it (especially if it’s on the Internet) but if it’s in person you might say something like “Oh, I guess it wasn’t your sort of book.” Shrug, move on.

The best way to deal with a compliment is to say “thank you”. That’s it. Smile inwardly knowing it means you did your job and made them feel.

Practice both in front of a mirror.


Steve Turnbull was a magazine journalist and editor for 20 years. He has turned his hand to screenplays and prose fiction. Currently he’s writing several linked series of novels and novellas in the same alternate history (steampunk) setting. The main “Maliha Anderson” series, set in India, is action/adventure, romance and murder mystery, with adult content. The fourth Maliha Anderson book, a full novel, will be released in January 2015, with the fifth and sixth (and zeroeth) later in the year.


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