Written by Sarah Yoon
Your hand shakes as you press send. In the blink of an eye, your query pops into an editor’s inbox. You stare at the screen, trying to fathom what you just did—resisting the desire to press refresh every five minutes until you get a response. The querying process can feel overwhelming and dramatic. You’re exposing your art, with its strengths and weaknesses, to judgment. It’s normal to get the jitters, but you’ve got to overcome them if you want to succeed.
Grow a thick skin
Some queries will hit and some will miss. Rejection is part of the writer’s life, so start growing a thick skin now. When people critique your work, don’t feel affronted. Someday when you’re a published novelist, a ton of readers will assume the role of the critic. Some of them won’t even know what they’re talking about, so ignore the blabbing and pay attention to the intelligent responses. Take a deep breath. Writers grow through critiques; taking such blows gracefully is a learned skill.
Join a critique group
Since taking criticism from strangers is difficult, ease into it through the safe environment of a writing group. Critique groups are to be found both online and in person. Though online seems like a safe option, meeting face to face is more valuable. You know exactly who you’re interacting with and true friendships can grow. Check with local universities or organizations that might have a few options for you. If a group isn’t readily available in your area, take the initiative to create your own. Email a few friends to ask if they’d be interested in hanging out over some manuscripts every now and then. Swapping queries or short stories will help you get comfortable with other people reading your work. It’s hard at first, but you’ll get used to it.
Keep improving your work
The key point of a critique group is to foster skill and confidence. Unless you’re a freelancer on retainer, you aren’t contractually bound to act on the advice, but by rule of thumb, listen to it. Weigh it. Consider it with an open mind, because your critique partners may have strengths that counteract your weaknesses. However, remember that fellow writers will naturally push their own style onto your writing. Sometimes this helps, sometimes it doesn’t, and being able to discern between the two is a skill in itself.
Once you decide that you don’t need advice and that you’ve reached the pinnacle of greatness, you’ve frozen your ability to learn. A humble heart will do you greater service than pride. Never reject critiques just because you don’t like them. You’re hurting yourself more than you know. So as your skin thickens and critiques stop stabbing under your ribcage, learn how to accept criticism and improve your work.
A large part of writing is engaging in a community of editors, publishers, and fellow writers who offer encouragement and guidance. A support system helps incredibly when you’re finding your footing in the publishing world. Don’t hesitate; don’t procrastinate. Research as much as you can, write as much as you can, and jump into the action. You can do it.
I leave you with these questions: How have you learned to deal with critique? How can creatives offer critique in a healthy and helpful way? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences below.
And so concludes the freelancing series by Sarah Yoon. If you missed the first installments, see part one, two, or three. Remember to keep an eye out for more articles by Sarah and other StoryForgers on both the business and the craft of storytelling!