Saturday, December 15, 2007

Growing a Thick Skin

I hadn't really intended for this photo to be a self-portrait or anything (grin). I was just looking for a picture to use in this post about needing thick skin, and this guy (he's probably taking a nap, but I'm projecting that he's temporarily overwhelmed) works. I especially love the horn.

I try not to read the reviews posted on various sites, because I really do understand they're one person's opinion. And, as I've been told over and over, it is ridiculous for me to get my feelings hurt by reviews (but I still do). After all, this isn't PERSONAL. It's business. Yes. I know. I think my soft, gooey middle (not just talking about my spare tire, here) is why I'm a good counselor/psychotherapist. I don't think my sensitivity will ever go away. But I'm trying to practice some skillful denial.

I'm very curious about how others deal with the "growing a thicker skin" issue. Do you have any mental tricks you use to keep confidence high in the face of such wide-ranging opinions? What are your coping techniques? Please share!


Blogger Liz Wolfe said...

I think probably everyone has a different way of dealing with this issue. I'm fortunate that I worked for years (and years and years) as an advertising copywriter, where everyone in the company feels free to tell you how wrong/bad/useless your writing is. Of course, it's easier to dismiss that because it really isn't as personal as a book.
Mostly I just keep telling myself that it's one person's opinion, I can't expect everyone to like my writing, etc.
But I still have a problem with the reviews that are unreasonable. I also had a reviewer (on Amazon) complain that the cover was misleading. There were other things he didn't like as well, but they were mostly vague.
It's a difficult thing to handle and I'll be interested in how others deal with it.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Lacey Savage said...

Like Liz, I also write for a living. In my case, it's technical documentation and training manuals, but I'm used to everyone from the CEO to the receptionist gleefully pointing out when I got something wrong, missed a comma, or missed the point entirely.

That makes it a tad easier to take criticism from my editors and critique partners, but not from readers. Go figure. Maybe I need my business clients to hate my work a little more often. Then maybe--just maybe--I might not cry the next time a particularly nasty review lands in my in-box.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, Lynda

I'm still in the honeymoon phase, I guess, as I haven't yet received any professional reviews. I've only heard from readers, and of course they only write because they love my book. So your experience may be waiting around the corner for me.

A couple thoughts. One is that I often "fight" with a movie I've seen. Even if I've enjoyed watching it, I feel annoyed if as a screenwriter I would take a very different approach. And I think what's really happening is that the screenwriter inside me is wanting her say -- she wants to write a movie she would consider better than the one I saw. And that's a good thing in a way, that she's surfacing.

Similarly, a colleague of mine (and close friend!) told me several years ago that he wouldn't be reading my book when it was done because he knew he'd want to edit every word of it. As I told him, That tells me he's got an author inside who wants to write his own book, an author he hasn't let surface yet. He'd be using my book as a mirror to locate his own story. Hope this makes sense.

There are also readers out there who want to fight with the author even if they loved the book. If you're familiar with the Enneagram personality scale, any reader who's an Eight will want to fight with you, because an Eight grew up fighting and doesn't know how to relate to people except through conflict.

Finally, remember that many of the world's great works of literature were initially rejected. And a few months ago I read about someone who submitted to literary agents several works that had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the agents rejected them. Your work could even be ahead of its time.

I say, Thicken that skin, if you can, to protect the soft and vulnerable parts of yourself, so you can continue to use that vulnerability in your writing to connect with readers.

Alyce Barry
author of "Practically Shameless"

4:03 PM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Dear Liz: I'm glad you've gotten used to remaining strong in the midst of all those "constructive" criticisms at work. Yes, we know it's one person's opinion, but somehow that doesn't make it any easier! (At least for me.) Maybe we all just get used to it. Or maybe we all have portable rhino suits we wear occasionally. Hey, there's an idea . . . Thanks for writing!

4:26 PM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Lacey! I know what you mean about bursting into tears. Maybe that just goes with the territory? If we weren't emotional people, maybe we wouldn't be writing? Hugs! Thanks for your comment,

4:31 PM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Alyce: Maybe your experience will be different, since your book is nonfiction. And perhaps my book attracts intense reviews (from readers -- so far most of the review site feedback has been positive) because paranormal/vampire/urban fantasy books are so popular and there are so many opinions about which ones are best. Yes. Those "eights" can be difficult! (I'm a four in the enneagram -- sensitive/emotional -- so criticism is always going to cut a little deeper for me). This might sound unhealthy, but I went to the Amazon pages of a bunch of the authors I enjoy and saw that, among the good reviews, they also had "opposite" opinions. I guess I just needed to be reminded that it's part of the experience. Thanks for writing and much success with your book. (I love books about shadow.)

4:37 PM  
Blogger Kassie Burns said...

I have to say that I haven't had any real problems with reviews I've gotten writing as Kassie Burns (so far, knock on wood), but when writing under my other name ... well, let's just say I got one review by a rather famous reviewer and I'm almost certain she didn't bother to read the book first.

As others have said, when all is said and done, it's just one person's opinion. Like Sally Field, we all want everybody to love us.

I take comfort in the fact that I have written what I love. As anyone who has published a book knows, before it goes into print you have to read it ...and read it ... and read it, again and again as it goes through rewrites and edits and more rewrites and edits. You'd damned well better love that book, LOL.

Just as I don't love every book I read, I don't expect everyone to love my book. That doesn't change the fact that I love it. And others do, too. I focus on that and forget the rest.

Enjoy the burn!

5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Lynda. Interesting blog!

Maybe a thick skin is a factor of age. (Lordy, that's certainly true of my feet!) I've done a lot of bouncing around as a writer and, when I first started out (with literary fiction), endured countless rejections.

Reviews? Meh. Look at how many wildly popular authors are savaged. It's extremely important to keep people's opinions in perspective. Reviewers are not gods. They could be lackadaisical readers who don't pay close attention. They could bring ingrained biases to every book they pick up--which, needless to say, will color their reception from the first page on. They may not be terribly bright or discerning.

Then again, we're not gods, either. Most every work could stand some improvement. A truly good, perceptive reviewer who's an avid and somewhat educated reader can point out flaws authors aren't aware of...and should be. That's a good thing.

So consider the source of the review. It's fairly easy to sort the people who know whereof they speak from those who don't.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Coleman said...

Lynda, I haven't had this happen yet in the same way, but I've posted critical reviews in my time and I can base a response on that. I'm not thinking about the human who wrote the book; all I'm thinking about is my response to the book. You can't control other people's responses to ANYTHING you say or so. There have been many times in my life when (not in writing, just in life) I've had wholeheartedly good intentions, but someone else reacted to me in a completely unexpected way. That's painful, but generally speaking it has to do with them, not me. So maybe that will help take the edge off your feelings-- or maybe not. With my book I got one review I felt was off-base and I thought, obnoxious... they clearly didn't appreciate what I was trying to do with IN STEREO, which was write my story without resorting to the standard chick-lit formula. My product didn't meet with their expectations, which is unfortunate, but my product does meet with MY expectations, which I think are quite high enough. In terms of your Amazon status, at the moment, it's highly enviable. #33,000 with four stars after twelve reviews, almost all of which are highly positive. You're simply not going to please every last person-- no writer ever does-- so try to console yourself with your excellent reception in general. And hang in there, chica.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Kassie: Ain't that the truth! What a great attitude. Thanks for commenting!

K.Z.: LOL! You are so funny! You're right, of course. Gotta keep things in perspective. Thanks for your insights!

Becky: After I read your post, I had a thought about why negative reviews (anybody's) seem so unpleasant (so not-"nice") to me. I was trained to be very polite. The saying, "if you can't say anything good, don't say anything at all" was written in stone at my house. I might THINK bad things about something/someone, but I was never allowed to do anything about it. Wow. Let's hear it for psychological revelations. Thanks. You're right about my Amazon page. Pretty positive, overall. (But there's another site -- enough said.) It really helps me to read everyone's take on reviews and how each of us deals with "not nice" feedback. Geez. Who knew I was still trying to be such a good girl? grin. Thanks for writing!

6:24 PM  
Blogger Karen McCullough said...

HI Lynda --

I sympathize. Another published author and I have been commiserating lately about the twists and turns our careers have taken and continue to take. Our mantra has become "This is a tough business." It takes a tough person to survive in it. Only the very lucky are spared the slings and arrows of reviewers, be they mean-spirited or well-intentioned, and the vagaries of the publishing business itself.

We have to keep picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off, sometimes reinventing ourselves entirely. All for those few moments when the story comes together and we know we've done a great job on it, or the even rarer time when a reviewer or reader says something in public and we know they GOT it.

Karen McCullough

6:30 PM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Dear Karen: This does feel like a tough business. Different from anything else I've done (no matter how far out over the abyss I've dangled). You're right about the picking up, dusting off and reinventing. It does keep life interesting (remind me I said that). Thanks for the great post.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Maureen Fisher said...

I know what you mean. Receiving a bad review or a rejection is a body blow, akin to someone telling me my baby was ugly!

To make myself feel better, I remind myself that book preferences are very personal, and not everyone enjoys the same type of genre, sense of humor, author's voice, etc. My book may even have pressed a few buttons within the reviewer or the reviewer may have had a bad day. I also remind myself of the excellent reviews my book has received by flipping through my 'Review' file. I also re-read portions of my book and thoroughly enjoy them. I comfort myself with the thought that I gave the book my best shot.



6:33 AM  
Blogger Marcia Colette said...

I haven't had much experience with this yet, even when my ebook came out. Or perhaps I'm just too dense to notice it. ;-)

I'm sorry about those reviews, Lynda, but the blurb on the back of your book prompted me to put it on my TBR pile. Not some stranger's opinion.

Reviews are just that. One person's view point. Do they speak for the masses? No. If they did, then we'd all be driving the same car, wearing the same clothes, and have the same home with the white picket fence and 2.5 kids. Sorry, but that kind of Stepford existence is not for this chick. That's why I've stopped putting so much stock in reviews. My reading tastes are too different to be nailed down by a single person's opinion.

In the end, it's about you being happy with your accomplishment. You've done something about 5 million people can only dream about doing. Take pride in that. Don't let anyone sabotage your dream, including you. So my advice is to skip pass this "red tape" and move on to the next project with a purpose.

7:38 AM  
Blogger FantasyAuthor RobinDOwens said...

Ok, standard response: Outer validation is a drug that you need more often and stronger every day. If you have two emails that tell you your book is fabulous, the next day you need three and one saying that they sleep with it under their pillow, it's so good.

Only inner validation can keep you going, and for that I have a mantra:

I wrote the best book of my heart that I could with the tools and resources I had at the time.

As for the business, I think your guy is sleeping 'cause he gored and stomped all over me and needs a rest. A famous author once said that NO AUTHOR escapes getting stomped on in this business....


8:17 AM  
Blogger ClaireWalter said...

I have been freelancing since Franklin Pierce lived in the White House. I truly believe that if I couldn't take being ignored, rejected, edited and totally rewritten, I ought to find another line of work. For authors, like playwrights, actors, artists, chefs, restaurteurs and architectes of significant buildings, negative reviews are always possible.

1) Get out of what my son calls "the bubble." IMHO, Boulder is the sensitivity capital of the world where people are easily offended by the trivial and devastated by real criticism. For some people, shrugging off criticism comes naturally. For others, it is challenging to develop a thick skin when the skins of those around you are thin. [smiling] Live in New York for a while.

2) Keep in mind that you want people to BUY the book. New, not used, whether they ever open it or get anything out it it. Remember, you don't benefit unless they buy it.

3) Develop stock answers to the major critique so that during the Q&A after a talk or at a signing, you have an answer for the critique. If you can make it pithy or wittily self-deprecrating, so much the better.

4) Remember what kids say (or used to): "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never harm me."

5) I'd pay more attention to real reviews by real reviers than by any old Joe Blow with access to a computer on, etc., which are no big deal.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Everyone: Wow. What a marvelous treat all these great responses are! I just KNEW this would be a good discussion! I'm so lucky to have access to all your experience and wisdom.

Dear Maureen: You're sure right that it can feel like a body blow. I never think of my writing as my baby. I think of it as me (I'll have to think about that level of narcissism, grin). Maybe that's because my actual baby (my son, who's now grown) was a gorgeous baby, and I can't relate to having an ugly one (even metaphorically! grin). I like your idea of re-reading the other reviews to keep things in balance. Thanks for writing!

Dear Marcia: That excellent advice. You're right. Getting published is a wonderful accomplishment and we should all just revel in the moment. Thanks so much!

Robin! You're so right about outer validation being a drug. Maybe we need to go through the addiction cycle at least once before we realize how easy it is to get negatively hooked. I did notice my little rhino guy had dried blood and guts crusted on his horn. That must be yours. Geez. No wonder he's exhausted! Thanks for your wit and wisdom!

Clair: Well! I guess you HAVE been freelancing for a while! I had to chuckle at your Boulder reference. It's true. We're all such tender nuggets here. PC. I actually do wish I'd followed through on my high school dream to move to NY for a while. (I had dreams of being on Broadway, but wound up staying in Michigan for years, singing in rock and roll bands. Talk about rejection and criticism. But for some odd reason, having somebody boo my version of a song never upset me as much as the writing thing. How strange.) I'm sure NY would've broken through my family's "be very polite" brainwashing! Thanks so much for the exceptional post!

8:56 AM  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

This is such a tough thing for all writers. I think it comes down to realizing how absolutely subjective the reading experience is, and that what some are going to lap up and laud forever, others are going to despise.

I will add, too, that the impersonal nature of the Net has really enabled people to feel fine about being nastier and uglier and even downright personal in their reviews. BIG BIG hugs.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Dear Deidre: You're so right about the impersonal nature of the Net. Maybe that's the part that bothers me the most (back to the polite thing). And as much as I (like everyone else) crave praise and appoval (it's just human nature), in the bizarre, isolated atmosphere most writers exist in (or at least introverted writers like me), little pieces of validation can function as floation devices in the ocean of doubt. I understand I need a huge, inner chunk of validation to cling to! Thanks so much for writing!

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your pain. I am an academic scholar in the field of Native Studies (Native American Studies for those of you in the USA) that just had a paper reviewed which will ultimately be a chapter for a book. They trashed my paper thoroughly. Reviews have a tendency to make us all feel like we are two-inches tall and the all-time stupidest person in the world. I think it is their jobs descriptions to act like big old meanies sometimes.

So I don't loose my sanity or even tears over their few petty words. I try to tackle the reviews with a particular strategy that is pro-active, rather than making me feel victimized. I sort through the useful advice and find the opinionated rants (which I ignore thoroughly! I always try to see if these reviewers have tips that will aid the technical flow and content of whatever I am writing.

Unfortunately, it is their job to write something and sometimes it "anything" they can think of. Also, if all they can say was that the cover confused them, then that means they were grasping at straws to find something negative to say.

Don't let reviewers comments freak you out. Your fans seem to like the book. I bought "The Vampire Shrink" last night and read it in one night. Like a good tub of chocolate ice cream, I couldn't put it down. I look forward to reading more.

Thanks for a fun read!

6:12 PM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Dear Lily: Thanks for commenting. I'm sorry your paper was trashed. It feels rotten. And I'm glad you aren't going to let it slow you down. After I raised this question, some participants on an email loop kept the discussion going and they talked about the fact that the longer we do such public things, the tougher our skin becomes. I think that's probably true. Right now it's easy to get discouraged by negative opinions because we don't have as much "inner belief" to hold onto. At least, speaking for myself. I'm pretty isolated right now. Living alone and spending all my time either working with counseling clients (which is a one-way relationship) or writing alone in my computer room. It's easy to lose confidence and to seek tiny bits of encouragement to cling to. So, I appreciate your kind words about my book. And since I adore chocolate and relish the joy of having a carton to devour, I'm so glad my book inspired that comparison! You're a peach to write!

6:56 PM  
Blogger Falina said...


I actually just finished reading The Vampire Shrink and was about to review it on my blog, and came here to determine whether or not it was part of a series. To be honest, I did have some problems with it, but I'm not posting here to be harsh or critical. I just wanted to let you know that I think every negative reaction is more a reflection of the reader's preference than the author's talent. For example, in my review I mostly will be saying that I wish the novel was darker and more psychologically complex, but that's just a reflection of me, since I love the gothic and horror and like to push romance to its darkest limits. Everyone's looking for something different, so try not to take those reviews too personally :) Not all of us to review un-positively are mean-spirited, honest!

7:57 PM  

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