Giving feedback and the pain of rejection

stamp-895383_1920In addition to my writing, book reviewing and writers group activities, I review pieces of work for a couple of women who, for various reasons, are unable to join a writers group. One of them, a person new to the writing game, recently submitted a manuscript for a review with a private editing service. She was so upset by the feedback that she received that I thought it important to discuss feedback and rejection again.

I need to be upfront here and say that I didn’t see the actual response from the editor, so my reflections are based soley on the reactions of the receiver. The young woman was told that she needed to rethink her piece and maybe abandon the project. Needless to say she was devastated and began questioning whether she should write at all. I have personally read the material in question, and although it needs significant work, it is not a total write-off.

Feedback is about how you communicate – both the giving and receiving ends. Personally I’m grateful to receive any feedback. Even negative feedback – it gets me thinking about the work in question.

Giving feedback can be difficult. I have read a lot of dreadful material (most of it actually published/self published) and I know how hard it can be to remain neutral and not get annoyed about the time you may have wasted reading it. But you have to remember that someone has put their heart and soul into their writing and may genuinely believe that they have a best seller on their hands. Your feedback is essential but a gentle approach is more likely to have a positive impact. Things to remember when giving feedback/a rejection:

  • Learn a little about your author. How old are they? What experience do they have? What is their level of spoken and written English. Target your reply to suit the audience. Be clear and firm without being nasty and harsh.
  • Rather than saying “It’ll never sell”, “No one will want to read this”, try “Who is your intended audience?”, “What book is your story similar too?”, “What publishers put out similar books?”. Encourage the author to think about their work and potential readers.
  • If there are issues with the theme/story line, rather than saying “I have no idea what this is about” or “I can’t understand it. It’s dreadful”, try “I’m not really sure that I understood what you were trying to convey here.” Ask the author to explain what they are writing about. “What do you consider the main theme of the story?”.
  • Give constructive feedback, the hard truth needs to be told but keep it nice, and do refer the author to other texts and writing guides which may be helpful.

Things to remember when receiving feedback/a rejection:

  • Don’t lose your temper, throw out your work, write a rude email/letter in response, and/or through out the offending review.
  • Take a deep breath and put it away/out of sight for a couple of days.
  • When you go back to it read it carefully. Often when you do your initial reading all your see are the red marks and negative words.
  • Break it down into sections and really think about it. Why did he/she say that they didn’t think that character X was believable? Is this true? Why didn’t they find Joke 3 funny?
  • It’s very likely that there are some valid criticisms, questions and suggestions in the feedback. Don’t miss some really helpful advice because you’re upset by the style of communication.
  • Remember that you can use as much or as little of the feedback as you wish (unless its from the publisher in which case it’s put up or push off).
  • If in doubt get another opinion.

Don’t let a bad review, nasty rejection, no-feedback-standard rejection, or a total lack of any sort of response be the reason that you give up on your dream. Chalk it/them up to experience and get back to the writing desk.


Looking for more advice: I recently read an interesting article posted by Writers Victoria on Facebook  about why rejections are important. It is well worth a look: “Why you should aim for 100 rejections a year” by Kim Liao (Link here)


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