How to handle negative feedback

Previously, I started to discuss what you can do if you discover your book has turned into disaster for some reason and listed the five biggest disasters that can hit your book. Here they are again:

  1. The wrong message! You realise half way through your book that the whole (or at least a significant part) of your message, solution or method is flawed. Panic! What now?
  2. Someone stole my book! Someone much more famous, better connected (in business or marketing terms), funkier or more impressive publishes a book on exactly the same subject as you and even has the exact same title (or near enough). Aaarrgh!
  3. It’s all fallen apart! Your perfectly worked out book structure falls apart when you realise three chapters need to be 4000 words long and the other three are just 1000 words – and the other two chapters don’t have any content at all because you’ve covered it elsewhere. Eeek!
  4. We need your book NOW! You get an exciting email asking you to speak at a prestigious conference in TWO WEEKS’ TIME. Great! But, they ask you if you can bring your book along too as they want to sell copies IN VOLUME at the back of the room. The only problem is that you haven’t started writing it yet. Gulp! Do you accept?
  5. It’s awful, don’t publish it! You ask a couple of trusted contacts to give you feedback on your book just before you send it off to the copy editor (who you’ve booked for next week). Their feedback isn’t positive. In fact, it’s extremely negative. Your heart sinks. What do you do now?

All of the ‘disasters’ listed above are solvable. Agreed, they are challenging and they are scary but they can be overcome and even used to your advantage. Today, I’m going to deal with Disaster 3.

Disaster 5: Negative feedback

Sending your book out for feedback or comments is a brave act and reviewers of all kinds can sometimes forget the impact their words can have. However, getting feedback can also be enormously rewarding and encouraging so it is worth the risk. The feedback you get is often only as good as the feedback your request. Here are some checks you can do before you either send your book out for review or after you have got some comments back.

  1. Is the person you asked for feedback from sufficiently objective and qualified to make a comment about your work?
  2. What questions did you ask them to address and have they answered those questions? If you didn’t ask them for feedback around a specific area of your book, they may have just commented on whichever aspects they thought relevant and so their comments may be more about personal opinion than constructive feedback.
  3. Is the comment actually fair and helpful but you are feeling stung and so cannot appreciate its value? You may only realise this when you are feeling calmer and have processed your feelings.

Acknowledging the emotions of negative feedbackrock in pond feedback

Getting negative feedback at any point in your publishing journey can be difficult to take. Writing a book is a lonely and doubt-ridden activity so getting unconstructive or negative criticism can be hard to recover from.

The first thing you need to do when you read or hear feedback that makes you wince is to take a step back. Rather than reacting with rage and indignation, set aside the comments for a day or two, vent your feelings to someone who is going to give you that kind of space to be upset and then go back to it.

I know from my own experience that it is sometimes my own interpretation of what I have heard or read that makes it negative. When I go back to read – or listen to – the same comments that enraged and distressed me I often realise I have overreacted. Once you are sure you have not overreacted, you need to look at each point and decide whether it is a valid comment or not.

You don’t have to act on it

Deep down, I think we all know when we need to act on feedback and when we do not. You can ignore everything everyone says to you – you are under no obligation to listen to anyone unless what you are writing has the potential to cause harm in some way.

What we perceive as being negative feedback is often the most constructive and generative in moving us forward. Whether we hit against comments or realise that the words that hurt the most have the potential to improve our work the most we now in ourselves what we need to act upon and what to set aside. Our critics will never agree with us, so it is a personal judgement that we have to make.

You just know when it’s right

Some feedback is misjudged, written by people who are not experienced in writing or giving feedback in way that makes it actionable. Other comments are astute, well-presented and actionable. When feedback is well-considered, positive in its intent and delivered in a way that feels supportive it is easy to action. When you find yourself rushing back to your book to start implementing changes that feel exciting you know you have received great feedback.

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About The Author

Deborah Taylor

Deborah Taylor is a book-writing coach and publishing consultant. Her goal is to make publishing easy, fast and fun so all entrepreneurs from coaches and consultants to therapists and trainers can get a book out there that will launch their business. Deborah has 15 years' publishing experience gained with blue-chip publishing companies such as Hodder & Stoughton, BBC Books, Cassell and Pearson. She has extensive editorial experience working with a wide range of experts from chefs and gardeners to life coaches and careers consultants. Deborah's goal is to get your book published, and having achieved that with well over 100 books already, she is confident that she can help you publish yours too.

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