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Friday 3 July 2009


For a writer, there are sensible ways to take feedback and there are foolish ways to take feedback.

I won't add (much) to the vitriol hurled from and at two writers who got themselves into the news this week as examples of extreme(ly bad) ways to take negative criticism. Alain de B and Alice H will make up their own minds how to react to the feedback to their feedback to the feedback (aka reviews) to which they took such exception. Published writers must learn that some people will hate their books and must work out which negative crits they respect and which they think are rubbish. And how best to react. (Answer: not.)

But what of unpublished authors? What of the feedback that you get, if you're lucky, when you send your precious oeuvre to agent or editor asking for an honest opinion? I know, you don't really want an honest opinion, unless the opinion is "Brilliant! How much do you want for it?" But the fact that so many unpublished authors react unpleasantly to the more unwelcome honest opinions is partly what stops many agents/editors from giving any feedback other than "Sorry, I don't have room on my list." I know agents who've been told to rot in hell after saying that a piece of work wasn't up to scratch. Why should they put up with that when they're not paid and not likely to be paid if offered work that's crap?

Thing is, if you send your oeuvre to an expert, someone you plan to trust with your work during publication, you must accept his/her honest expert opinion when you get it. That doesn't mean you crumple into a heap and blindly make every change suggested if you don't fully believe or understand it, but it does mean that you consider closely what they say and accept that they know what they're talking about. Otherwise, why did you approach them, you deluded idiot? (Crabbit old bat is back.)

The author who does not listen properly to feedback from trustworthy sources (i.e. agents with a track record, publishers with a track record, writers with a relevant track record, and select readers who actually know what they're talking about, and NOT your relatives, friends, pets or even most members of your writing critique group unless they fall into the first category) is a fool and does not deserve to be published. Thing is, if a publisher happens to be taken in by your inferior writing and actually publishes it, readers will not be so forgiving: trust me. They will rip you to shreds on Amazon and your book will die horribly, messily and painfully. And you will be gutted and quite possibly throw a hissy fit. (In private, please.)

The aspiring author who, on the other hand, behaves like Jen Campbell, bravely and open-mindedly laying herself bare (not literally) and allowing herself to receive feedback in public from a host of people she has never met but has decided to trust on the basis that if they read this blog they must kind of slightly know what they're talking about, deserves publication and success.

The aspiring author who does all this and then generously gives me chocolate, just because I allowed her to be publicly judged, deserves to be published thrice-fold (or more) and then to win all the prizes going. Jen, thank you so much for the gorgeous Coco chocolate, pictured below - you honestly shouldn't have, but I'm very glad you did!

Vanessa's bookshop
now seems to be the depository of presents for me. In case any of you need to know, for any reason of a donatory nature, her shop can be found at 219 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh EH10, and delicious chocolatier Coco of Bruntsfield is conveniently close by. Vanessa is also opening a grown-up bookshop soon, and I am equally happy to receive chocolate or sparkly wine there too. I am sure Vanessa is quite delighted to look after things for me.

Jen, you're amazing, even without the chocolate - you are an example of how to take feedback properly, maturely and constructively. There's no reason why you should follow it all but I believe what you're doing is seeing your work through the eyes of others and you know much more clearly what you might do to make it gorgeously and perfectly publishable. When you get there, let me be the first to know and I will give you chocolate too.

I also take my hat off to others amongst you who have submitted work to the Submissions Spotlights, either for children or adults, and especially those who sent their work in even after seeing the intensity of the comments that Annie and Jen so wonderfully dealt with. Congrats to Annie too - her response to the feedback for her children's submission was also wonderful.

Meanwhile, I'll be doing another spotlight on July 13th or thereabouts, and I haven't completely decided which ones to pick so do keep your submissions coming. Please follow the same rules as before. I was really pleased with how it went - I learnt from it too.

Thank you all for being such excellently contributory blog readers. You are restoring my faith in unpublished authors: see, I confess that before I started this blog I thought most of you were completely hopeless nutcases and that, on top of that, if that were not enough, many of you were also deluded idiots. Nutcases and idiots among you are obviously keeping quiet, which is quite the best thing for you to do, letting the sane and potentially publishable have their voice and show good author behaviour. Having so many published authors, agents and editors reading this blog is also an enormous help - thanks, one and all.

I can't send you chocolate (otherwise, of course, I would) but I can show you Jen's chocolate and the lovely Coco bag.