Rejection Slips And Bad Reviews Of Your Book? 4 Ways Of Coping

Posted at 23:59pm on 18th March 2009

There’s no such thing as bad press! So says the old adage. The idea is that a literary review for your work – regardless of how damning it may be – is, nevertheless, a step up from no review at all! That may be, but how, when you’ve already waded through an emotional ocean of rejection slips, do you now cope with a basinful of criticism?

Consider the following from someone I have never met but who had intimated that she might review my novel, A Painful Post Mortem, in her regular magazine column: “I have to admit that I just couldn’t get absorbed into the book. Sometimes the editor in me comes out when I’m reading, and I find it hard to silence those voices. I think this is what happened with your book.”

How, you may ask, did I react?

TAKING IT PERSONALLY

Not well, I have to admit. As some of you may be aware, I’ve had a lot on my plate, lately, because my parents have had health issues which have required a huge input from me, emotionally - and in terms of time and commitment. So the timing was bad. But that’s not all.

We, authors, tend to feel this sort of rejection personally. This book, we think – this creation that I have laboured to bring into the world – is my ‘baby’. And this person, this reviewer, is throwing it out of the cot and trampling all over it. There’s a feeling of outrage; of protectiveness; of wounded pride.

A SENSE OF FRUSTRATION

But there’s more to it than hurt feelings. There’s also an accompanying sense of helplessness. Because getting bad press from editors, agents, publishers or reviewers is almost certain to be in the form of a bald statement of rejection, since few of them have time to give a constructive critique. Where do you go from here? If an analysis had been included, you feel that you might then, at least, have had a chance either to rebut or to tackle what has been said. But is that, actually, going to achieve anything?

I remember the Daily Mail columnist, Melanie Phillips, writing a damning review of one of my books, years ago. It happened to be a true-life inspirational piece, and she had written sentences like “what does this woman expect?” in respect of the way I had dealt with a particularly traumatic set of circumstances. It was, in other words, a direct attack on me and the way in which I had conducted my life. Fair game, you may say, when I had put the material into the public domain.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH NEGATIVE COMMENTS?

So what am I to make of the following, received this week? "Mel Menzies - i've (sic)read your self-publicizing on the Telegraph, the Times, and just about anywhere where Myerson's book is mentioned... you're starting to look like a bit of a vulture (unlike Myerson). stop trying to profit from tragedy - the only "charidee" is for your pocket. grim state of affairs..."

This has clearly been written by a lady who has an axe to grind. (I say that with compassion, not condemnation). The comment was left on a forum, in response to my comment below:

"Julie Myerson's son is said to have described his mother's decision to write his story as 'obscene'. I, too, am a bestselling author, and my novel, A Painful Post Mortem, is the story of my daughter's 13 year heroin abuse during which we had to practice tough love. Five years after kicking her habit, she wanted me to write a book and I refused because, by then, she had a baby. But I did collaborate on a magazine article with her. Within weeks she was dead, victim of a spiked drink. I believe she was targeted by (would-be) dealers.

Can it ever be right for a mother to expose her child in this way? My book is available on my website and Amazon. And my motive? All proceeds are for charities benefiting children."

The whole exchange may be found on the London Time Out website. Suffice to say here that my aim in drawing parallels between my book / experience and Myerson’s was to spark some sensible debate on whether it can ever be considered appropriate for mothers like ourselves to write about our offspring. The question did not originate with me: it is a discussion which has been taken up by many newspaper columnists. I didn’t expect vitriol on this scale.

KEEPING A SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE

There are several responses which could be made by the recipient of this sort of attack:

  1. You retaliate, and give as good as you get.
  2. You ignore any bad reviews on your work.
  3. You defend yourself by justifying what you have done.
  4. You respond, graciously, to what must be perceived as the hurt feelings or outrage of another human being.

Option 1:

To my mind, Option 1 is not a valid course of action. As an author, I know it would be arrogant in the extreme if I were to expect everyone who reads my work to be of one mind with me.

Option 2:

This is probably the most mature response of all. And I have more to say about this, later.

Option 3:

I took option 3 with Melanie Phillips, writing a mitigating letter to explain the actions and decisions I had taken. In doing so, I avoided falling into the trap of condemning her (for condemning me) because she had never had to cope with the situation I had been in.

Option 4:

This is the response I shall be taking with the commenter above. I’ve chosen this course of action because some serious (and potentially libellous) observations have been made about me, and I do not want the charitable work I’m endeavouring to do to be called into disrepute. You may read my comment via the London Time Out link or below:

Hello Susan. I am truly sorry to have caused you offence, and can only assume that my comments have rubbed a sore spot in you. If that is so, you have my sympathy. Perhaps you, like me, have lost a child? Or perhaps you've had the torture of watching one self-destruct.
You say "I've read your self-publicizing on the Telegraph, the Times, and just about anywhere where Myerson's book is mentioned" Do you not think it natural that one author would relate to another's work - especially where two mothers' shared experience is concerned? But I take your point: I do want to publicise my book. There's little point in writing one if it is not to be publicised, don't you think?
I shall make no comment on your opinion of me "... you're starting to look like a bit of a vulture (unlike Myerson)" except to say that I am happy to report that it is not shared by all.
However, you do me - and more importantly the charities I support - immense disservice to suggest that I "profit" in any way from sales of my books, and that the only "charity" is "my pocket". On the contrary. Both charities' details are included on my website, and I invite you to contact them to ascertain that they have already benefited from the proceeds of book sales - and with the generosity of purchasers - will continue to do so.
The venture has actually cost me more than has been raised to date for the charities. ALL PROCEEDS ARE FOR TEARFUND AND CARE FOR THE FAMILY. I HAVE MADE NOTHING.
I do hope this will put your mind at rest. You may like to read the article I have posted on my blog on this subject.
Very best wishes to you, Mel Menzies

BELIEVING IN YOUR OWN SELF-WORTH

I’ve suggested that Option 2 is generally the best to take. That is not to say that it’s necessarily the easiest, emotionally. We none of us like to take criticism. There is a Fight or Flight mechanism in the human psyche which urges us either to retaliate or to run away and sink into a plethora of self-doubt and apathy. This is a destructive way of thinking.

It takes a great deal of courage to write and publish anything. You’re sticking your head above the proverbial parapet, and making yourself vulnerable to being shot down. If you are convinced that what you’re writing has something to say that is of value in addressing the human condition, then it is almost certain that someone, somewhere, will benefit from your courage. Why, then, should your take the word of someone whose own character flaws have led them to attack you, rather than believe in your own worth?

TRUSTING IN A GREATER GOOD

There are a couple of parables which makes this point: one about the unstinting search for a single lost sheep; the other about a tireless hunt for a lost coin. It takes only one person to benefit from what you have to say, to make your book worthwhile. And that’s what I’m holding onto. Although not the only person to have responded to my book in glowing terms, Lydia’s, received twelve weeks ago, is perhaps the most moving.

"I received this book as a birthday present after seeing it reviewed somewhere I can't now recall...sorry. Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed ...yes, enjoyed it. It has everything...humour, pain, characterisation, existential angst...the way you write about Faith and God is just incredible and has really helped me at a difficult time....I am pregnant and facing death from cancer...according to Dr..prognosis about a year...baby is 24 weeks. I have also just relativel returned from a week in Leeds with my fathers inquest. And, I worked for a long time with drug and alcohol abuse...so everything...I love the way you change the tense so seamlessly. I work now for CRUSE Bereavement Care and a Child Bereavement Charity and I would like to put you book on to our requred reading for a students if that would be OK. I have been out of hospital for 3 weeks...reading text has been hard but I have been gripped and I read it in 2 nights...yes, I was awake most of both but so worth it. I look forward to getting you other books"

I’ve just heard again from Lydia (whom I have never met) to say that baby Daniel has been born, naturally, at thirty-six weeks. Her courage, and my sense of privilege in having helped her, has moved me to tears. So rather than dwelling on the verbal abuse of one person with a problem, I’m going to keep the photographs of a glowing young mother and precious baby in mind. And if my book can help others in her plight – in addition to the two charities supported by sales of my book – then so much the better.

I hope and believe I have achieved what I set out to do. And I trust that I will continue to do so. Let me know if you've had similar experiences and how you've dealt with them. I'd love to hear from you.

Your Comments:

19th March 2009
at 3:03am

Hi Mel.

I have yet to experience rejection from a publishers as I expect
it, Not being a good writer nor your experience, however I have had
some photographs rejected and like you it cuts deep some times, but
you get to a point were you just put your head down and do better
next time as I think you may have done.

I read the few pages of your book, "A Painful Post
Mortem" as I my self have had experience with death of family
members and a very dear friend so I know how you were feeling, as I
read some of your pages it really hit home.

It brought back memories for me, some good and some bad.

The comment the woman made about you being a vulture was way of the
mark and cruel, What I read, was from the heart and with feelings
and I'm glad that you are more of a human being than others.
Take care.

19th March 2009
at 6:09pm

Thank you Randal, for your comments and kindness. As you say, if
you're knocked down, it's simply a question of picking
yourself up and starting again. Keep on keeping on and one day when
you're published you'll be facing the bad reviews. Now
isn't that something to look forward to? :)



It's all subjective - simply other people's opinions.
Some will love what you do. Other's won't. All power to
your pen!

24th June 2012
at 2:17pm
Well written Mel, outstanding attitude and sound practical advice. Its so easy to either respond angrily 'how dare she write that!' etc or to be so afraid of criticism one simply gives up and melts away to a quiet corner. The approach you outline is better by far.

I like Melanie Phillips and posted a positive review of her 'World Turned Upside Down' book on Amazon, but she is far from being above criticism herself when it comes to banging the war drum for Israel, and she was censured for her extremely aggressive treatment of interviewees on 'The Moral Maze'. When weighing criticism it is legitimate to consider the critic, what axes THEY have to grind, are they often this rude etc.

Long live.

Stephen
24th June 2012
at 2:48pm
Thank you Stephen. I have to say that both the responses you've outlined above - anger / melting away - are present when you first receive the bad review. And it's not easy to overcome it. But it worked for me.

I like Melanie Phillips, too, most of the time, especially on Question Time. However, she can, on occasion, be pretty brutal in what she says. And I don't agree with all her points of view.
24th June 2012
at 3:08pm
Was very interested in Melanie Philips's comment: yes, she can be both extremely sensible (when she writes) and extremely aggressive (when she is on radio, interviewing. There's no profit to be had in destroying peoplenand in public): she obviously has a problem (or more). I wouldn't dare have her anywhere near my creative work!
Mel Menzies
6th July 2012
at 4:45pm
It's true, she can be a little acerbic, Clare. But the secret, I believe, is to use a negative review to your advantage.

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