How to Handle Criticism from an Editor

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How to handle criticismI can predict fairly quickly whether or not you’re going to succeed as a writer.

All I have to see is how you respond to criticism.

Every writer on the planet gets criticized. I do, and I’ve been at this for more than half a century.

If you think that makes it easy for me, you’re wrong. Sure, maybe the suggestions I get are minor compared to those an amateur or a beginner would get. But no one likes negative input.

The veterans, myself included, will counsel you to not take it personally.

We’ll say the editor is trying to help (and they are).

We’ll say they’re on your side (and they are).

We’ll say they want you to succeed (and they do), want the best end product (and they do).

The choicest gem? That they’re not criticizing you—they’re criticizing the writing.

Which is true, but even we know how ridiculous that sounds—and is—as soon as it comes out of our mouths.

Because at the same time we’re telling you to spill your guts onto every page. To write with passion. To write what you care about and bleed for.

It is you—and me—on that page. So, criticize my writing and you’re criticizing me!

But Here’s the Rub

We’re not nine years old anymore. We don’t get to stomp and yell and let the tears roll when we don’t get the praise we want.

There are two ways to handle criticism. One is unhealthy and will end your career before it starts.

The other can keep you sane and in the game.

The Two Ways to Handle Criticism

1. Respond defensively.

Writers present a page or two to me, assuring me they want my “honest opinion. Give me both barrels. I mean it. I can take it.”

But I can see in their eyes that what they really want—let’s face it, what we all want when we start—is to be discovered. We want someone on the inside, someone we respect, someone with connections, to discover us.

We want someone to say, “Where have you been? You’re good! This is good! Let me introduce you to my agent. See you on The Tonight Show.

I’m honest with people about their writing. I’ve learned over the years that there’s no value in sugarcoating things. I’m not mean. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t take the Simon Cowell/Piers Morgan approach.

I merely point out what I think works and what needs to be changed.

As soon as I offer anything other than praise, the defensive writer freezes. They try to hide it, but their body language says it all. The more I say, the less they move.

Despite their assurances that they wanted the unvarnished truth, this was clearly not what they wanted to hear, and they are no longer listening.

Loved ones told them their writing was great, and now the person they pinned their hopes on is telling them there’s more work ahead.

They weren’t seeking input or instruction, and certainly not criticism. They were seeking validation.

2. Devour feedback.

Writers sincerely eager to learn and grow and succeed (the ones likely to get published) are not afraid of criticism. Sure, it stings, but they’re leaning in, nodding, taking notes, asking questions.

Writers like that don’t even have to agree with everything. They ask for clarification. And often they say, “That makes sense. Yes, that didn’t feel right to me, so I wondered how to make that work. Oh, now I see it…”

I’d have to be naïve to think they aren’t disappointed that I wasn’t more thrilled with their work. But I always compliment them on their teachability and attitude, assuring them that this is what will carry them through the early stage of their career.

Syndicated radio talk show host Chris Fabry (Chris Fabry Live) is the epitome of a writer who began with the right attitude. He asked if I would teach him to write.

Sensing he was serious, I warned him it would be painful and that I would pull no punches. I would edit and rewrite his stuff until it started to make sense to him.

He convinced me he was serious and now admits it was painful. But anything worth doing is worth doing right and suffering for.

Chris wound up writing 34 of the Left Behind Kids books with me, 15 Red Rock Mysteries, and 5 Wormling Series books. He has since gone on to become an award-winning novelist in his own right.

Your Choice Should Be Obvious

Yes, it’s hard to get your writing back with marks all over it. If you must let your inner nine-year-old vent, give him 24 hours and no access to email.

In other words, resist the temptation to lash out at the editor. Fume and fuss and stomp and do whatever makes you feel better—in private.

And when you calm down, remind yourself that your editor has given you what you need to make your writing better.

Look at the fixes with a fresh eye the next morning and make the changes—even if you still disagree with them. Just see how the piece looks now.

Criticism can be your greatest ally. But defensiveness can end your career.

What will you do to improve your ability to take criticism? Tell me in the Comments below.

  • Imagine yourself naked, and be amazed that the only thing you’re hearing is about your writing. Good or bad, be glad, the attention is on your words, not your pubic hair. :D

  • Karen

    I recently had my first encounter with a literary agent. She sent me a two-page detailed critique of my ms. Some of her suggestions I had definitely “felt” as I was writing; a few I didn’t feel–at all. But, I leaned into advice you’ve given: The editor is ALWAYS right. So I dove in. And I discovered in the revision process, as I followed the agent’s advice, that suddenly I started to “feel” the changes–all of them–and they made my story stronger. So if I start to feel prideful or defensive, I will remember an agent or editor knows exponentially more than I do…and I will remember this first experience.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Karen. But I didn’t say the editor was always right. I said make the changes anyway, even if you disagree, and see how the piece looks now. Often you will agree eventually, but if you don’t you can always chat it through. But you earn that right but being a professional and trying all the fixes on for size. Most of them will be right in the end. :)

      • Karen

        My apologies for misquoting you. :) Still, it’s great advice either way.

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          No worries. Just clarifying. :)

  • Sandee Strunk

    Indeed, it is all in the way we perceive people, places and things. I like that you later used the word, defensive, because it is more accurate than the phrase, taking it personally. I can’t think of a word, phrase, event or circumstance that doesn’t contain both good or bad components. Likely someone will test me on this.

    But in regards to taking it personally, this can be a good thing as well as a less-productive thing. For example, if we didn’t take criticism personally, what would be the odds we’d not stew over the criticism? Some stewing is worth the effort. Stewing could drive someone to turn off the flame; but it can also make for a great soup.

    Perception wise, what if we sought out criticism in every aspect of our lives instead of hiding from it? There is reason to believe that a degree of desensitization would occur; and eventually, we would welcome criticism like we do our favorite aunt coming to visit.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good point, Sandee.

  • Daniel Holly

    Great advice. Thank you for addressing this most sensitive issue with honesty!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Daniel.

  • Beth Rayann Corder

    To improve my ability to swallow criticism…

    I will remember what it feels like when I have the flu, am running a fever, have body aches, chills, and a spitting headache and how it improves when I take my medicine and start doing better.
    I will also remember that I want my writing to improve.
    Smiles, BRC

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I feel a song coming on. :)

      • Beth Rayann Corder

        You do? Which song? Can you hum a few bars or download it?
        Smiles, BRC

        • A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…

          • Beth Rayann Corder

            P…e…r…f…e…c…t! Lol!

            Sugarcoated Criticism is much easier to swallow.

            (Okay…now that song is stuck in my head!)
            Smiles, BRC

          • Carven Hill-Stobbs

            Mary Poppins

  • Thank you, Jerry. Criticism hurts, but it is so worth it.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      :)

  • That’s great advice, Jerry. At this point in my life I want the truth- right between the eyes. I may not like it at the time, but that’s my problem. After a while I will think about it and probably agree. Too bad it took me so long to get to this point! Keep up the good work!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Marie. It took me only half a century myself. :)

  • Laurie Kehoe

    Too true. I asked five published authors to edit “A Dream of Dragons.” One taught writing for 25 years. They didn’t pull any punches. I saw lots of red and strike outs, but I am so grateful to each and every one of them because the suggestions they made helped to form the book into the best it could be. And I will do it again on each subsequent book because as much as it hurts to “kill your darlings” so to speak, the process of running a manuscript through the combing hands of those who succeeded before you is worth every minute of the revisions the task will create. And once I did what they suggested, each finished the process with praise for the end result.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Hear, hear!

  • If I’m getting feedback not in person but on the page, I like to give my inner nine-year-old a little time to have a tantrum. After that, the adult in me can sit down and see with clearer eyes what the editor is saying. It also doesn’t hurt to let the critique sit for a few days or a week and return to it.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I agree wholeheartedly.

  • D. Holcomb

    I’m in awe of editors. Good editors always make my work look better. “Please, have at it!” I like to say. Sure, knowing more work is ahead feels like pushing that refrigerator back up the mountain, but i’s all part of the rewriting process.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      All writing is rewriting. :)

  • Lucy

    Great post, Jerry! I think that dealing with criticism is the number one struggle for amateur writers of any age. I also believe that it’s especially hard to swallow criticism about our writing because it comes from deep within us. What we’ve written is like a piece of our heart that we’re hesitantly showing to the world. It hurts to have it picked apart, but it’s all part of growing. I confess to being pretty thin-skinned, and this article is just what I need. Thanks!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Lucy.

  • Rebecca Hricko

    Amen. Act like an adult and take the medicine, it’s only going to make you better. I have to tell myself this all the time!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Me too. :)

  • Kwame Owusu-Baafi

    It hurts, Jerry, but I need more of it. I have come to know that I cannot put out a readable scrip without someone tearing it apart like the engine of a Rolls Royce and helping me put it back together for an evening ride through the mountains. If only I can bear the cost…

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Exactly! Thanks.

  • Iola Goulton

    Absolutely agree. I see the same with indie authors who can’t handle negative or critical reviews. If anyone suggests anything about their book is less than perfect, they’re complaining about mean reviewers . . . even if the most cursory look shows the reviewer was right about the amateur cover and typos on the first page.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That’s one of the main reasons for going indie. Trad publishers tell the truth and put you through the wringer. But, oh, if you can make it through to the other side… :)

  • I like criticism that is constructive because that is how one learns. I no longer become upset and instead thank the person for their input. Now, back in 1997 I wrote a 265 page manuscript and sent it to a new age publisher thinking it was in that genre. A month later I got a handwritten letter back from the editor who said my manuscript would make a fantastic movie and the editor loved reading it. However, because it was not new age enough for their publishing company-he were passing on it and suggest I submit it to another publisher. Talk about the scream that scared the cats in my house. So what did I do? I shredded the manuscript in anger. Can we say stupid? It’s like the time when I was out rock hunting at age ten, found a fossil and threw it back down into the riverbed because I thought it was ugly. Oh what sorrows we cause when we let ego get in the way.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Yeah, don’t you hate learning your ms. would make a good movie? :)

      I once read a ms. from a guy and found it terrific. I immediately got back to him and asked if anyone else had seen it. He told me that another novelist, one I knew to be an extremely tough critic, had told him it was “publishable.”

      I said, “Are you kidding? That’s gold!”

      He said, “That didn’t sound very enthusiastic to me.”

      I said, “Send it to any publisher in New York with that guy’s note on it and wait for your check.”

      He did, and I was right.

  • Ashanda N. McCants

    I have been married for 10 years, have (almost) 7 children and my in laws (one sick with dementia) live in my home. I have learned (and am learning) throughout the years to receive criticism. It was tough in the beginning, but as I get older, I am learning that even though we might not always like the package in which something valuable comes, the value of what we receive does not diminish. This is a part of the Christian walk. I have a long way to go, but as I dive deeper into the world of writing, I hold tighter to these words from Frederick Douglas: Without struggle, there is no progress.

    By the way: Jerry, I appreciate your criticism, it is constructive. It is the same way in which I address others who ask me for my opinion. It’s called TOUGH LOVE.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      And I’m guessing, Ashanda, that you’re also learning that some of the input is helpful and some isn’t, and it’s up to you to decide which. It doesn’t pay to lash out at the critic or argue. You just say, thanks, and keep moving, applying what works and discarding what doesn’t.

      Someday you’ll be the authority, dispensing advice to a young mother or writer or whomever, and you’ll know to couch your advice in phrases like, “For your consideration…” “Just something to think about…” “If there’s any value in this…” “Feel free to take what works and leave what doesn’t…”

  • Heather Hemsley

    I’m like what you said. When someone says something “bad” about my writing, I freeze. I know their trying to help me accomplish my goal of finishing this book, but it really hurts!
    Thanks for writing this. It helps :)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Try to look at a writing coach the way you viewed whoever taught you to ride a two-wheeler. They weren’t saying, “You fell again! You’ll ever get this.” They were saying, “Try again! This time, do this…”

      • Heather Hemsley

        That’s a really good way to look at it! :) Thanks!

  • Kathleen Thackham

    I am ashamed to share this but a year ago, when writers in a critique group I was in red penned my story, I felt like they were discounting my life and the special meaning behind this part of my history. Soon I felt so intimated by them, I stopped going and stopped writing. I became a coward. I convinced myself I had no talent and I never wanted to write anyway. Where did that get me? A year of devaluing myself and pushing my dream so far down i started believing I wasn’t worthy of being a writer. Your blog is changing me. I’m dreaming again. In 2016 I am going to take your courses and I am going to work my little butt off. I want to start collecting rejection letters, I want shoe boxes of stories marked up with red pens because even something that may feel negative at first will be so much better than this horrible existence I’ve been living of lying to myself. I want to feel alive again and getting any kind of feedback will be exciting because that means I am finally writing and someone, somewhere has something of MINE to critique. Someone will know my name and they may think I am terrible but at least I would have made some sort of impact on them and I won’t be living in the shadow of fear anymore. God is using you Jerry and we are all richly blessed because you are answering the call. Thank you.

    • Hello, Kathleen. Your story made me think of another, similar one, about a talented violin player who stopped short of a possible brilliant career because of critics. Years after, he met that one professor who told him he didn’t believe `he had it in him` and told him that was when he decided to stop, when he understood he didn’t have real talent.

      The professor replied. “Oh, that’s too bad. I thought you had a true, real talent, but you needed to start an inner fire to develop it as it deserved. All my students have talent, some learn how to lit the fire.”

      • Kathleen Thackham

        Thank you so much for sharing this with me. It’s funny, my gut reaction would have been to encourage the violinist and tell him to not give up because someone needs his melodies and everyone’s interpretation of music is different, yet I ran away too. Maybe I’m finally starting my fire. 😍 Thank You.

        • I spent a whole year in a writers peer critique group before someone said “Hey, this is not too bad.”

          • Kathleen Thackham

            Really? Looks like I have another goal then. 365 days then I can hope for a positive critique 😁. Thank You for sharing.

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            Kathleen, I’m going to get you thinking positively if it kills me! :) Your experience doesn’t have to be like everyone else’s. If you’re going to take one of my Jumpstart courses, you’re going to shave lots of time of your learning curve, leapfrog over the usual mistakes, and hopefully you won’t have to wait a year before someone says, “Not bad.”

          • I believe a dedicated writing coach will help a writer faster than a group of peers. There can’t be the same attention and focus as there are too many voices to be heard.

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            I agree, but the economics of that aren’t always feasible. Word Weavers (Google them) have a great model for effective critique groups.

            I’ll be offering more personalized coaching late in January. Stay tuned. I also have a short list of critiquers I recommend.

          • Thanks, Jerry. Much appreciated.

          • Whitney

            I’m looking forward to this information. I would love to pay someone I could trust to read my writings and help me fix them! This is what I’m missing. I want to know when something I write is good and when it’s not and what I can do to make it better. Excited!

          • Laurie Kehoe

            I’d be very interested in that!

          • Kathleen Thackham

            Me too!, Waiting with bated breath. Bring on 2016 :)

          • Kathleen Thackham

            HAHA Jerry I am so incredibly positive when it comes to others. I believe in them, I encourage them, I counsel them and I change my life around for them but when it comes to me, well, you know what happens, I lose the plot.
            It would be a Christmas miracle if you could get me thinking positively about myself and my writing. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE that so much! It would be so freeing and such a huge transformation for me. I am going to do something I have never done before. I am going to trust you and this process. I trust less than a handful of people in my life, but I feel so good about this. I am going to let go and let God, and open myself up to new possibilities and work through the tears and inferior feelings and take your courses and transform my life. I can do this. I may need to hold on tight, you and your courses may be my lifeline for a while, but even if I white knuckle it I am not giving up on myself this time. Gods got this.

          • Beth Rayann Corder

            That’s why I’m taking this course Jerry!

            You do offer resources, tools and encouragement to get our writing going in a positive and productive direction.

            You have made me think,
            “If I do nothing today, I’ll have nothing to show for it tomorrow.”

            Avoiding the usual mistakes sounds like a win, win, for all of us Kathleen.
            Let’s stick with it and see what we have to show for it in 2016!

            Smiles, BRC

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            That’s one of the problems with peer groups. It’s often a mutual admiration society where everyone loves everything but no one has a clue why anything gets published, or it’s the opposite: everyone is jealous of everyone else and hates everything, but again, no one really knows how to fix anything.

            Writing critique groups need the right mix, which includes at least a few people who have been published, meaning they have also been rejected and critiqued and then succeeded and know a little about how the business works and what it takes to make it.

          • Kathleen Thackham

            How does one find a group that has the right mix Jerry? For someone like me, entering into a group with jealous people could be one thing that sends me back into my shell. Maybe I am naive but there is plenty of room for all of us to share our stories and dreams.

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            When you’re looking for a group, it’s fair to ask about the publishing history of those involved. You’re looking for a few who have succeeded. And it’s also fair to ask others if they feel affirmed and encouraged by those who have achieved.

          • Kathleen Thackham

            Thank you. Do you have any experience with the Willamette Writers or Oregon Christian Writers ?

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            No on the former, yes on the latter.Top notch.

          • Kathleen Thackham

            Thank You Jerry

      • Jerry B Jenkins

        Yes, too many coaches/teachers/gurus think that by challenging someone that way they can light a fire of enthusiasm in them. And there are some people motivated by being told they can’t do something. But in my opinion they are rare and a role model risks dousing someone’s dream by saying things like that.

        I’ve done a lot of sports coaching besides writing coaching, and I’ve found that the majority of athletes are much more motivated by positive reinforcement than negative. Sure, occasionally every athlete needs a kick in the rear when they’re dogging it, and they alway need honesty and forthrightness. But primarily they need to know that someone they respect believes in them.

        • Agreed. Besides, each of us is a different universe. Pre-manufactured approaches are bound to hurt some, help some others, and be so-so on the majority that remains.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      On the one hand I like the new attitude, Kathleen, but on the other, I’m determined to help you AVOID collecting rejection letters. I want to show you how to write queries and proposals that might result in responses that say, no, that isn’t something we’d be interested in (saving you a lot of writing time), but that’s just a business transaction–not a rejection letter. Then you try another market or three or ten. And someone says, yes, try that for us. And you follow their other directions and land a sale.

      Then, there might be a lot of back and forth and changes, and THAT’s where you’ll see the growth of learning from constructive criticism.

      • Kathleen Thackham

        Wow Jerry that would be wonderful. Thank you for your commitment to helping me. I am determined too. It all sounds so scary, writing proposal letters and queries but I am going to feel the fear and move through it. 2016 is going to be my year to come out of my shell and really believe I am a writer. Thank you!

    • Laurie Kehoe

      One thing that I’ve found in connecting with fellow authors is that we all go through that feeling. Kathleen, I would encourage you to keep writing. You never know whether what you write will touch someone somewhere and change that person’s life. If you need someone to help you through this journey, I’m here to hold you up. I know your name. Don’t let the dream die.

      • Kathleen Thackham

        Laurie, Thank you so much for the kind comment. That is most certainly my hope and prayer. I would be forever blessed if I knew that somehow, somewhere, someone’s life was a little better because of something I wrote. I would love the support, Thank you. I have a lot to learn but this is it for me. I may be crying my way through every word typed but I am feeling such encouragement here and I can not go back into my shell. I have to keep this dream alive. So nice to meet you. Have a great day!

        • Laurie Kehoe

          Hope I found the right you on FB and sent a request. That way I can give you my email if you need to send me anything and to get you connected to the other authors who hold each other up.

          • Kathleen Thackham

            Hi there, Yep, thats me :) I just accepted your friend request. Thank you so much. You are very sweet. Write to me and tell me your story. I’d love to hear it.

  • At a writer’s conference one publisher told me my poetry was at a higher level than my writing. I took a long time licking my wounds. You’d think it would have been easier since I did receive a positive on my poetry. Nope, I was focused on the negative. But I buckled down and kept at my non-poetic writing and I guess I pulled it up. I found as soon as I knew the errors I was making I could learn a different way, the right way.

    I would like to ask, what do you do when the criticism you receive is from readers and it is personal? You know starting off with sentences like, “Who do you think you are?”

    Would love to one day get a letter like the encouraging one you mentioned in this feed where you’re asked if anyone else has seen it. I bet they are still writing.

    For improving my ability to take criticism, I will remember that the person who is criticizing my work is not against me, just the writing.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good question, Anne. When criticism from readers is personal, it has ZERO to do with the writing itself. The fact is, when the question is the specific one you posed above, the answer is, “Apparently I’m the person you want to be,” but of course you can’t answer that way.

      People reveal their own insecurities and jealousies in their hurtful personal criticisms. One of the more common charges against Dr. LaHaye and me when the Left Behind novel series became so successful was that we had done it “for the money,” which was so far from the truth that it was laughable.

      My initial feeling was to lash back in defensive and anger, but I forced myself to wait and think and analyze, which allowed me to recognize that the critics were revealing their own motives. They so wished they had written such a materially successful series that they resented that someone else had. Eventually I developed a response that merely thanked the writer for caring enough to be forthright and asked that they continue to pray for us. No defending, no firing back, no assuring them that our intentions were pure and that we were being generous with our unexpected windfall.

      As for your ability to take legitimate criticism (about your writing), I would only adjust the semantics a bit: the person criticizing your work is not against you OR your writing–they’re FOR both. :)

      • That`s a perfect example of how to react when faced with personal attacks. Wait, refrain from in haste replies, then respond with a thank you for the caring message without going into any attempt of rebuking or rejecting points raised on the original libel.

      • You’re right Jerry, and I do see that criticism is for my good. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. I believe those who hit low in their criticisms have an issue themselves as you illustrated in your experience.

        Having dealt with negative people in my life, I think the correct response is one of grace. And thanking someone for reading and responding is fine. To react instead of responding helps no one.

        I do wish I was better at receiving what sometimes stings. Maybe in time.

  • Nicole M

    This is probably some of the best advice a writer can get. I admit my gut reaction is to get defensive, but I am learning to listen.I really want to improve! I also wind up on the other side, with other writers asking for my honest opinion. It is hard to give criticism that doesn’t offend. I do not want to be an editor! LOL. How do you present your criticism in the nicest way possible without watering it down?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Nicole. And I loved your question because it contained the answer. How do I present my criticism? In the nicest way possible without watering it down. :)

      • Nicole M

        Lol. Ok. I hear you. I think I also have to accept that some people are going to be upset no matter how nicely I phrase it. But that is no excuse for me to get lazy and be terse with them.

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Then there’s the evergreen criticism adage about the Oreo (or sandwich cookie) Method, where you sandwich the the the criticism between two softer messages, thus:

          1–A compliment on their willingness to expose their writing to input, or their purpose in writing as a ministry

          2–A helpful way it can be improved

          3–Something positive you found in the piece; if you criticized the dialogue, maybe you liked the opening

  • B. Gladstone

    Well, what I can say is thank God my momma taught me to be a lady…so even when I face of harsh criticism I, handle it with grace. As you say, the best thing is to step back and when you feel ready, which might be the next day or more, get back to it and don’t give up. We are bound to get better if we see the role of an editor as important and necessary for our success. Thank you Jerry for your unconditional support!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Well, of course, ‘harsh’ is in the eye of the beholder. If it is truly harsh, the editor or coach has no business being either. If it only seems harsh because the writer is used to being praised for everything and doesn’t recognize that real growth comes from straightforward critical input, then putting on some big kid pants and executing an attitude adjustment is in order. :)

  • For me criticism is like you’re taking my child and saying “yeah, he looks like you and that’s fine, but we’re going to make a few ‘tweaks'” and when I get the child back he looks like you(the editor) or someone else. This happened when I published thru Westbow Press “I Would Have Said Yes” about our journey with our son who is on the autism spectrum. The editor wanted to change part of the poem I had written. It would have changed the entire structure and meaning behind it, so I didn’t change it. (Poems are even more personal than other writing IMO) I did, however, change many of the things she pointed out and it made sense to do that.

    I think the worst thing I did for my confidence was go to a writers’ conference last summer. It was the first large one I had attended. From my observation, everyone there had the same thoughts I did… “I’ve got the perfect book and you HAVE to read it(or accept it if it was being pitched) Seeing 800 other women in one place with the same visions of grandeur made me realize: 1. This is just 800 Christian women writers in one of hundreds of Christian writers conferences. The chances of my book being “the one” are way more slim than I ever dreamed. 2. I don’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. 3. Everyone has a story. 4. Everyone thinks their story is the most amazing thing God has ever done in anyone’s life (besides Mary-mother of Jesus-of course) It’s more likely the most amazing thing God has done in your life and that’s great, but it just may not be book-worthy.
    Thanks for your post.
    Lisa

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I’m surprised that happened with a publisher who was charging you to be printed. With a traditional publisher, where they’re paying you, that’s one thing. But…

      Your writers’ conference story reminds me of the cartoon I saw with the Apostle Paul sitting in a New York Publisher’s office with a big stack of manuscript pages on the desk, and the editor is saying, “Let’s face it, friend, all you really have is here a collection of letters.”

      • ha…I love that. Actually, funny you mention Paul. The book I “pitched” (which was pitched out) was concerning Paul. Thanks again. I love that you actually read these and answer. Means a lot.

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          My last two novels were based on the life of Paul.

          http://amzn.to/1TQKNLI

          http://amzn.to/1QNBUTT

          • I read I, Saul last year after I had written my rough draft. I loved it. Really brought Paul to life…more human. I ordered the other novel for Kindle. I’ll look forward to reading over the holidays.

  • Cynthia A. Lovely

    I think most of us receive criticism best if it starts with positive feedback. When we build on that first, it is easier to hear where we need to improve in other areas. When we are editing for someone, surely there is something good in their writing – point it out, encourage them, then lead them through the rest of it : ) I try to focus on that for myself with critiques. I must have done something right somewhere!
    I remember as a fairly new writer I became part of a writers group. We ended up critiquing each other’s work. I wrote a short story and they spent a good half hour ripping apart my main character. Intense conversation. Disagreements. Discussion. The teacher let it go and I left feeling like they had ripped me to shreds. This was fiction, people! They didn’t have to like my MC but they also didn’t need to destroy her. After thinking about it and praying about returning to the class (never again!) I realized that I had struck a nerve with my MC. On the bright side: it generated an intense discussion, no one was bored with my writing, no one could stop talking about it. Hmm…
    I returned to the class, the teacher tracked me down and apologized for letting it get out of control and we all learned from it. I had a few writers conferences in my background at this time so I was able to fight my way through it. But if I had been a brand new writer…I would have given up. We must be so careful with our criticism and truly desire to help and not hinder others.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Yes, Cynthia, there are ways to do this and ways not to. Google ‘Word Weavers’ for a good model for critique groups. One no-no is just what you described, everyone jumping in and piling on.

  • Danise DiStasi

    Thank you so much for this post. I wholeheartedly agree! Years ago, I painstakingly wrote a book that an editor suggested I put aside-yes, the entire book…put aside. I was hurt at first but as she explained her reasons, I understood completely. Ten years later, I am so thankful she took a bold step in giving me that feedback. Since then I graciously accept editor’s notes because I have been helped tremendously along the way and my writing has improved. Thanks, Jerry!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That’s a tough one, Danise, but sometimes a book is totally practice.

  • Sharlene McCorkle

    I know I wish you could be my editor! Along with plenty others also with that wish I’m sure.
    I’ve heard you edit on a webinar and thought it wasn’t so bad. But can’t say what I was really expecting, but it did make sense. When I’ve applied all your teaching on webinars, online courses and tips online I have seen a breath of fresh air difference! I have my own opinioins but I’m willing to try what you have said.
    I edited out my first omniscient line. I want to have those but you say it’s not best. After I took that out, I said “that didn’t hurt too much”!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Sharlene. I’ll be offering more personalized coaching late in January. Stay tuned.

  • Elizabeth

    You are probably the kindest person I’ve ever seen criticizing the work of others, actually I don’t call what you do criticism but “pointing the way”. I recently read a work and was asked to give an opinion “I want to respond like Jerry” I mentally told myself, but realized that I don’t know how. Truly bc to point the way first one must unequivocally know the way and that takes great editing experience. I think it is invaluable what you do. To think that someone like me (and others for that matter :) could get a critique from Jerry Jenkins… If we had to pay, none of us would have the money that a writer like you would cost, if he decided to accept the task, which we know he wouldn’t. I truly believe that most of the students are extremely grateful to you. I, for one, learn even from the suggestions you make on the e-mails you receive and reply bc after all how good is editing if the editor miss out what needs to be corrected? I avidly read every one of them for that purpose and I do recognize that I need to develop a great deal of editing skills. I think people may joke around ( at least I do) bc they feel very comfortable being taught by you (how many famous writers do I know that would spend that kind of time with novices?) I know that I do joke around but I just hope you never see my writing’s flaws and let it go by bc that is the end of my learning. To be honest I truly understand what Lucy says bc this is the way I felt when I was younger, but after many failures, I must say, and this is the truth–even harsh criticism, which I have never ever seen you given to anyone–but I got one from a student with a mental handicap. It was about a poem that was published and he told me “this is too melodramatic. Why don’t you put it in the garbage?” and he said this in class but to be honest I thought to myself “I better read this again, may be he is right.” LOL…. I guess I am too old to care about the means to improve myself or my writing…I just want to do a good job and I am willing to follow someone’s lead (who said that one should lead or be led or get out of the way? that is the way I feel LOL). Heaven forbid we should stop telling the truth thinking by doing that we are helping others (as for me you don’t even need to be as kind as you are, you can give it to me straight: I love it and even the emails– help me too) Matter of fact, to me, what is so precious about your comments is that you give an explanation as well. God bless you for the good work you do on behalf of others (of course I am thinking…is the preposition ‘on’ the correct one? LOL)

  • Jim Toner

    Great post. One writer told me to put my piece aside, then go back to it the next day and pretend someone else wrote it. I know criticism is sometimes hard to take, but I appreciate the instructors who have shared with me the reality of the business. I will continue to write, but I know I will face some hard criticism. I’ve learned from it.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Jim. Good attitude.

  • Cheryl Johnston

    Being teachable is definitely a requirement of writing, especially if you hope your words will reach a wider audience. We should all view editors as helpers and guides because they want the same thing..a wider audience of readers and purchasers and sharers. Thanks for this post, Jerry. This one has my vote in the writetodone.com contest!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks so much, Cheryl.

  • Judy Peterman Blackburn

    What a great post. I certainly hope and want to be the one who can take criticism. I’ve had some of my writing looked over and try my best to take the advice given because it’s the only way to learn and be a better writer.
    I would like to take one of your courses sometime soon. I took a course back a lot of years now from Norm Rhorer. (Did you know him?) Nice gentleman and I learned a great deal from him.
    Thanks for a good learning post, something to take to heart and use. :)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Norm’s one of my dearest friends. In fact, I bought the Christian Writers Guild from him in 2001 and ran it for more than a decade. A real saint.

      Thanks for your kind comments.

      • Judy Peterman Blackburn

        Oh, I didn’t know you bought Christian Writers Guild. Neat. Yes, Norm is a great person. I got to meet him once in Seattle at one of his conferences. Wonderful experience. :)

  • Robert Murphy

    Great post, I think it could apply to just about every aspect of our lives. How a person responds to criticism says a lot about their character.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Agree, Robert.

    • Carven Hill-Stobbs

      That is so true. Criticism should stimulate self-reflection and translate into correction of weaknesses in our lives. We can even use destructive criticism to elevate ourselves, and disappoint the haters.

  • Gretchen Mure Rodriguez

    One of the main reasons I prefer to be traditionally published (over self-published) is to work with professionals and learn what makes a great writer. Recently, an agent pointed out some weak spots in my story – to fix them meant a huge re-write. However, I did it and LOVE the result. In my opinion we grow by the accepting the criticism, even though it isn’t fun to hear. Great article, Jerry! Thank you.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Couldn’t have said it better myself, Gretchen. And thanks for your kind comments.

  • Carven Hill-Stobbs

    As long as it is constructive criticism I am all for it. I am trying to constantly develop the Rhino in me. I grab hold of the criticism, and try my best to do better in my writing. I developed a new appreciation for writer when I did the Writing Essentials course with the guild. I am all about improving my craft and that calls for a thick skin.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That great, Carven. Good to hear from you.

      • Carven Hill-Stobbs

        I am most thankful that you are giving back to the Christian writing community such valuable knowledge. I do appreciate this forum, and all the comments that are posted. There is a lot of knowledge.

  • Frances Wilson

    Thanks Jerry. I am learning, and you have helped me to accept with more than my head, the fact that we learn more from crirticism than we do from praise, especially in writing. That’s a life long struggle with me – my lion in the way. It helps me to look before I leap. I realize I cannot recall what I say, so I must prepare well before I publish something.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That’s not a bad life lesson for any discipline, is it?

  • Glenda

    Mr. Jenkins-I am ready to get serious about writing! That you take the time to actually read what we write and care enough to tell us the truth is…just wow. Onward! :)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Glenda. :)

  • I think I’m pretty good at handling criticism. Most of my rants happen behind my computer screen — miles away from whoever my current editor is. :-) What really irks me is working under multiple editors who contradict each other. Do you have any advice on how to respond to differing opinions (from different sources, of course). Other than simply doing what each says, how does one wrap their brain around contradictions regarding simple things like punctuation or grammar?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good question, Nicole, and I think I do have some counsel for you.

      If the editorial input differs on substantive issues (other than nuts and bolts like punctuation and grammar), politely tell your main contact that you understand editing is subjective and that editors don’t always agree. So to aid you in your rewrites, it would help if they could confer and then communicate to you with one voice–coming to consensus where they disagree so you know what direction to take.

      On the grammar and punctuation issues, ask for either their style sheet–which should have all those details spelled out, or say that you will be consistent and leave it to them to make the manuscript conform to their house style at the next stage.

      The key, naturally, is to diplomatically express your willingness to be a team player.

      • Awesome reply, Jerry. This will be very helpful – especially the last line. ;)

  • Thank you, Jerry Jenkins, for validating what I keep telling the authors I work with, the majority of whom take editing with the view that it doesn’t denigrate their work but rather enhances it to make their message clearer. The main thing here is to ask yourself: Is this about you or is this about the book? If it’s about you, and your pouring your heart out there, then maintain it as a “stream-of-consciousness” and see what happens. However, if it’s about the book, and the craft of creating something that truly resonates with other readers (and hopefully sells), then why wouldn’t you want the best-possible version of your book? Let’s face it, publishing is a business. The reason why publishers insist on quality editing is because the book is expected to sell. Otherwise, of course, the self-publishing route is available.

  • Jennie McKinney Bradstreet

    This was a fantastic post! When I started in the Christian Writers Guild program, criticism was very difficult, but as I progressed I began to welcome it. My writing became cleaner, stronger and true to life. I am working with an editor right now and am truly excited to see his red marks all over my work. It makes me a better writer all around. I like to see what isn’t necessary, other ways to express my points and stronger descriptors. The only time I don’t like it, is when I’ve made a mistake that I know better – multiple POV, cliche, the words ‘than, that, something. My goal for this year is to study my editor’s marks and continue to learn!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Sounds like you’re right where you need to be, Jennie.

  • Glenda

    I will make criticism my greatest ally! After I cry like a nine-year old. :)

    • That’s what I do, Glenda, but I’m too old to cry like a nine-year-old. I cry more like a 12-year old.

  • J. Eliot Mason

    I’ll admit, I’m terrified that you’ll critique one of my stories in Jerry’s Guild. But I know that it would make my next story that much better. It’s the toughest thing ever but seeing improvement makes it all worth it.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      No worries. Watch Saturday and see how it’s done and how much you learn. And also, if I haven’t made this crystal clear before, if any part of your fear stems from embarrassment, I would NEVER reveal who wrote a piece I was critiquing.

      • J. Eliot Mason

        It’s not embarrassment. It’s just difficult to be at the early stages of a writing carreer. You know you have a long way to go but it can be difficult to be shown how far. If that makes any sense?

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Oh, sure, but remind yourself, you were bad at everything you were new at. Walking. Riding a bike. Penmanship. Any sport. I was a bad writer when I started. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. You’re in the right place. :)

          • J. Eliot Mason

            Of course you’re right. Thank you.

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            Just took a peek at your website. Did you know Stephen King and I were featured on the cover of Writer’s Digest together as sort of strange bedfellows? Might be able to Google it.

            Love the typewriter gift. I have a handful of those, also from my wife. We just celebrated our 45th and will spend a week in Iceland beginning Sunday. Can’t wait.

            Will you be able to catch Saturday’s training? I think you’ll like it.

          • J. Eliot Mason

            I actually read the Digest’s article, “an epic conversation on writing.” I loved it! It’s amazing what the two of you have in common. Congratulations on the anniversary. The two of you are brave to hit Iceland in January. I’m sure you’ll be able to find a hot spring or two. As far as the training, I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            Actually, Ive been following the weather in Iceland and the temperatures are the same as Colorado just now. Fairly mild. What really appeals? At that latitude (or would it be longitude?), the sun rises around 10 a.m. this time of the year. Forced to seep in. What’s the downside there?

  • Thanks for this post Jerry! I recently had some tough criticism come my way. And was even asked if I was from the U.S. by my editor. Needless to say, I held back realizing that he may have just been gauging my reaction. The way he put it though, sounded as if my entire article was changed. And my writing was worthless.

    After realizing I still had a gig when the conversation was over. I took a deep breathe, anchored myself in, and braved the waters of my newly edited article. Alas, when I looked. It barely changed. Is this just a way some editors shape their new writers? I feel as if, at least, my Native English shows in my writing somewhat. Thank you for this article. I needed it!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      There’s certainly no call for being cruel. The only thing I would have changed in your message above is correctly spelling ‘breath,’ which I’m sure was just a typo, and pointing out your mixed metaphor when mentioning you anchored yourself in before braving the waters. Don’t take an anchor into the water. :)

      • I appreciate the lesson here Jerry :). And, “welcome to the writing world” I guess. As to my ‘mixed metaphor.’ My perspective of “anchoring myself in”, to the water. Was a reference to not allowing myself to get swept away in any harsh criticism. To just stay strong, and keep writing.

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Oh, I knew what you meant, but I think you see what I mean too. :) Maybe “buckled myself in…”