our words are a part of our soul

We writers produce a product just like other marketable products out there. It’s just so much more personal, as the products we create, whether they be in the form of a book, article, short story, or poem, contain words that very often are a reflection of our spirit, our soul … our very being.

When a vacuum cleaner or car salesperson tries to make a sale and is unsuccessful, they may be disappointed, but I doubt they take it personally, as in essence, they did not create the product. They are serving as a sales or marketing agent of that product. I was going to insert the word “simply” into the previous sentence, but I know how difficult the art of selling is — with regard to any product. It is definitely not a simple task, as it has been said numerous times that it may take 5-7 interactions with a person before they will agree to buy your product.

feedback replenishes our dedication to the craft of writing

In my 20 years as a freelance writer and author, I have not yet developed a thick skin when it comes to the fact that not everyone I know will be interested in buying my book. It’s silly. I know. As I certainly have not bought all the books that my colleagues have written. And many, I have purchased, but not yet read after several years on my bookshelves. That, too, can be a touchy point for us writers. We’re extremely grateful when you buy our book, but we then anxiously await your feedback and reaction to the content of what we have written.

It’s just like cooking! I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a household in which members of the family sat around the table and no one complimented the cook/chef. I’m very fortunate in that regard, as my husband nearly always immediately states his pleasure in what he is tasting, and if there is a meal before him that he doesn’t comment on, it’s likely that he’s not that crazy about it. But when asked, he always provides honest feedback, and I appreciate that.

I think we writers feel the same way about our writing. If you like it, great! Tell us. If you don’t like it, don’t “get it,” or felt something should have been done differently, tell us. Most of us are not writing for ourselves. We’re writing for our audiences. We want to please you — without compromising our integrity or style.

This post was written to encourage writers to never abandon their commitment to writing and the pride they have for their work. But it was also written for everyone out there who has a friend or colleague who is a writer or published author with hope that you will better understand the anguish we go through. Please share the link as widely as you can.

 

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

38 Responses

  1. Irene Ternier Gordon says:

    Hi Doreen & all,
    As author of 8 books, I concur with your words re the importance of feedback and encouragement on what we write. However, encouragement is not always a matter of saying positive things about what we write. Doreen, you are a good example of this. You are very supportive of my writing and marketing initiatives. At the same time, you have freely admitted that the subject I write about — primarily Canadian fur trade history — is not one that interests you. As a result, I certainly don’t feel insulted if you don’t buy my books.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Irene. Yes, I think we can be supportive of one another’s efforts in many ways. It certainly doesn’t always have be in the form of a book sale. Making comments on one another’s blogs, coming out to events, RT’ing (for those who are on Twitter.) Giving feedback. All those activities help support the efforts of a writing friend.

      And with respect to book sales themselves, when the book of a friend doesn’t necessarily coincide with our own interests, I’ve always bought the book for someone else I know who might be interested as a gift. I definitely intend to purchase your latest book for a friend who has strong ties to Thunder Bay. I was stunned when a friend told me he wasn’t interested in my book because he doesn’t like chocolate. Surely he knows someone who does! That’s the kind of frustration I was expressing. Cheers, and best of luck with your book tour.

  2. I made a very good living in sales. But much to my own surprise, when it came to calling on book stores face-to-face, I was completely flummoxed. My book may be a product, but it was product that I produced from my very heart and soul. So I was confounded by NOT wanting to sound braggadocios. After all, it wasn’t a restaurant range that I could site statistics and values…it was a product that consisted of my words. Do I really stand there and say…”the best ever?” How could I and remain humble? I tied to be unemotional in my approach and realize that if a rejection came, that it wasn’t about me. But it’s damn hard. Great debate question.
    JACQUELINE GUM recently posted…Parenting… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

  3. Amanda Lerougetel says:

    An interesting post, Doreen. Giving feedback to a writer can be very tricky, especially if the writer’s ego is invested. I have sometimes had my head bitten off when offering a comment to a writer – that is not a happy experience! On the other hand, the most mature writers I know genuinely want feedback – as long as it’s offered with care and constructive improvement in mind. Readers don’t always know what the writer would like; I suppose the answer is to ASK the writer: May I offer you some feedback? Then go from there. As for selling one’s work: I write book and documentary reviews for HERIZONS magazine and am always nervous submitting my copy. Will the editor like my take on the book or film? Is my writing up to snuff. Will she edit the heck out of my piece. Etc. I guess all that is just ‘rejection’ by other names! And who among us wants to be – or have our work – rejected??!!

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Hi Amanda and thanks for your comment.

      I think rejection is part of any writer’s life. I’ve never taken a rejection or constructive criticism of my work personally. As long as the feedback comes with good intent (as in Toastmasters) it is well-received and most welcome — by me, anyway. I can’t speak for all writers, but I do feel that’s the case with most.

  4. satinka says:

    What a wonderful post, Doreen! Book promotion is indeed challenging. It doesn’t matter that I have been selling books my whole life. Religious books no less. 🙁 I didn’t do well in that department in the past, but maybe it was because my heart wasn’t really in it. I was selling books because I was TOLD that I had to for the sake of my everlasting welfare…Drudgery! *eye roll*
    Now that I’ve disclosed that old story and created a new life for myself, I’m more engaged and more successful, too, thankfully. The wounds of the past have been exposed and the opportunity to grow is before me. More and more I’m looking at the lessons of the past and feeling thankful that my present life is much more meaningful and rewarding as a result.
    That soul stuff is truly amazing! 🙂
    satinka recently posted…Abundance!My Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for your comment, Satinka. Yes, it’s really amazing how when we are selling/marketing something that we have personally created, the emotional component in the process is much more intense. I remember being at an arts and craft show recently in San Fran and saw the work of quite an amazing photographer on display. I really liked his work but as I was travelling by air, and we were at the beginning of a fairly long land journey, I really didn’t want to lug a piece of art along. Nor, did I have the additional funds to make a purchase. Yet, I knew I really liked his stuff, and I know that I often walk around for a bit and DO come back to the booth and make a purchase. I’d said to the fellow, “I love your stuff. I may be back, as we just got here and I want to walk around.” He cooly replied, “I won’t hold my breath.” I was rather shocked by his response, which did turn me off from ultimately returning and making a purchase from him, but I guess he’s heard that line so many times, he’s grown a thick (and rather curt) skin.
      WizardOfWords recently posted…our words are a part of our soulMy Profile

  5. Harry Hobbs says:

    Hi Doreen;

    Well said and perhaps your words should be required reading in every Writers Organization and Creative Writing Course out there.

    I welcome feedback and even if the reader didn’t like something I want to hear that. I’ve had readers who have had a negative reaction to my characters and worried that I might be offended if they said that. It was precisely the reaction I wanted.

    Again feedback is good especially when you are in the draft stage. I’m writing a story that is currently heading for a book and my fellwo writers in our Guild gave me very strong reaction that they thought I needed to take a different direction in this piece. They were right of course and the new piece is ready to submit and is much stronger and more what I truly wanted to say.

    Feedback from readers is important but again as writers we need to assess where the feedback is coming from and is it meant to help or as a detriment in someone’s personal agenda.
    I had a reader write to me saying I had misplaced a few commas and brackets and suggested poor grammar in some of my dialogue . to me his intent was clear – he was trying to show me he was smarter and a better editor than I- got to take that kind of stuff with a grain of salt!

    • WizardOfWords says:

      You’ve raised 2 excellent points, Harry.

      1) getting feedback from other writers is especially important in the fiction genre, as you are in the creation stage of writing, versus with non-fiction (which is what I write) where feedback is most welcome and important in the finished draft of a project.

      2) some people just like to nit-pick on things that don’t matter. Their feedback should, as you say, be taken with a grain of salt and we can’t let it hamper our creative spirit.

  6. Harry’s comment about typos of various kinds touched a responsive chord. There has been virtually nothing that I’ve written that I have been completely satisfied with. It’s the “coulda, shoulda, woulda” syndrome. And now that my first novel, “Marvin’s Novel,” is finally published–after umpteen re-writes– I find that I’m still able to torture myself obsessing about the things that I think I could have done better.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for your comment, David, and welcome to the blog!

      Agreed. We, as writers, are artists. Forever, engaged in the art of perfection and the advancement of our craft. But with every project, there comes a time we have to release it into the world, warts and all, hoping our audience will appreciate the work for the intent with which it was created.

      Enjoy the satisfaction of publishing your book and know that no matter what product or piece of art we create, it can always be better. 🙂
      WizardOfWords recently posted…our words are a part of our soulMy Profile

  7. Susan Cooper says:

    It is always so hard to really put ourselves out there for others to judge. When someone gives us recognition it really does help make us feel that our hard work is warranted. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted…Eyeball Pasta: RecipeMy Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      It’s so true, Susan. Every little bit of recognition seems to validate our work and efforts. Without feedback, it’s like throwing darts into the wind.

  8. This is a post that touches a nerve. We want feedback whether we’re authors or trainers or in another endeavor. Feedback is what makes us better. But it’s difficult to take sometimes. I just finished a three-session training program with a colleague and, while I didn’t see the evaluations, I was a little hurt when I learned we didn’t get all “outstanding” reviews because it was evident that the participants were getting a lot of of the training. Now that’s silly of me, I know. No one is perfect and you can’t expect everyone to love you and your work. So while we honestly ask for feedback we often don’t want to hear it.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…How Do You Reward Your Employees Who Serve as Brand Ambassadors?My Profile

  9. Overtime I’ve had some terrific mentors as a corporate trainer. I’ve been putting some of their wisdom into practice as I blog and write. I do have 5 or 6 books on Kindle/eBooks so plenty of practice for rejection going into my next book being published.

    Here is the heart of the advice from one high end speaker.

    Early years after workshops there would be that ONE person who gave me a 1 on a scale of 1 to 5, all others 5. I would be crushed. I was stuck on that on the day I spoke with him. He asked me, “So who has more of the depth and breadth of experiences to bring to the topic? And who do you think could communicate it any better?” My take away from his questions was to step back from the stained-glass window to get the full effect of the affect of sharing what I knew.

    Ahh. How beautiful it ALL is.
    Patricia Weber recently posted…Publisher And Author: Communication Toolkit for IntrovertsMy Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Interesting point, Pat. Thx for sharing.

      Yes, I think as Harry said, there will always be people out there who are meant to “test us.” I handled a similar situation myself recently, when someone wrote a letter to the editor in response to a positive story written about my chocolate book. Her letter was off topic, and not at all about the contents of my book as she hadn’t even read it! I wrote a very level-headed response back to the editor, and was grateful that the paper printed it, and that several of my readers noticed and sent me words of support.
      WizardOfWords recently posted…our words are a part of our soulMy Profile

  10. What a great discussion going on here! Here’s another angle…people who post starred reviews on Amazon and Goodreads or other places…I’ve noticed some people PRIDE themselves on giving 1-4 stars and never give the big 5. Then they take pride in pointing out how they were disappointed in one or more areas. Personally, here is the view that I’ve decided to take…I ONLY post 5 star reviews on books I like and want to support. If I can’t give it a 5-star review, then I don’t post anything. That’s because of a variety of reasons:
    1) If it’s a kid’s book I’m not a kid and so I just might not have liked it because I’m looking through the lens of an adult.
    2) I might have woken up grumpy and not liked any book I read that morning.
    3) I might have been in a rush and not been able to recognize the gem someone else might see.
    4) What makes me an expert of what is “not good”? I don’t want to make this my goal.

    Just food for thought as we go through all our social networking and give feedback that truly can produce an emotional response, as so many of you attest to.

    Thanks for sharing, Doreen!

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for the great comment, Nancy!

      I differ from your view of 5-star reviews. If I REALLY love a book, I’ll give it 5 stars. If I think the book is good and worth reading, I’ll give it 4 stars. I think a 4-star review is still excellent. Books are really subjective things and we can’t all feel equally supportive of any given project. But giving it 4-5 stars indicates that it’s a thumbs-up and a recommendation we’d like to share.

      I’d be interested in hearing what others think of this subject.
      WizardOfWords recently posted…our words are a part of our soulMy Profile

  11. Hi Doreen, thanks for sharing your honest view on this! It’s so great to open up your site here for such a great discussion.

    And I guess I forgot one important factor when I shared my thoughts earlier…being on the inside of the publishing house where a book is published, the publishers LOVE 5-starred reviews and they LOVE people who post 5-star reviews. For example, when I’ve gotten a 5-star review (and glowing words help, too) the publisher circulates that review to EVERYONE in its publishing house…including publicists, marketing, sales, editors, author, illustrator etc. etc. Often, too, when an upcoming book is coming out, the publisher even will send a free copy of their book to that same reviewer and ask them to give another glowing review for the new book, too.

    But for 4 star reviews, the publishers I’ve worked with never look twice. They’re not interested in those reviews it seems, even if the reviewer says they liked the book.

    So for people who want to gain name recognition as reviewers and also as potential authors with a publishing house, the 5-star review is the way to go.

    And personally, I hesitate to give less than a 5-star review because of my own frailties as a reader. What do I mean? I’ve sat in writing groups where we’ve reviewed books for each other. There have been a number of books I would have only given a 1 star to because I just didn’t like them. But then my friends share how they read the books to their kid and now it’s their favorite books ever and suddenly…wow! I see the books through new eyes and now I would have given it a 5-star review after all! So that’s why I’m hesitant to give anything I read less than a 5-star review. If I don’t like it, I just don’t post anything and move on to another book so that someone who loves it can give a 5-star review to it instead.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Very, very interesting, Nancy! Thx for sharing the review process from a publisher’s point of view. I didn’t know they only value 5-star reviews!I can see how that affects your take on this. Thx again for sharing your thoughts. That’s what I love about blogging. We’re all in this together!

  12. Hi Doreen
    I can so identify with your words. I have just received another glowing review of my latest book The Opening Act, a Canadian theatre history but one that was written to attract a wider audience than those who love theatre. I have been told it won’t sell much because it is about Canadian theatre history and you have to love theatre to enjoy it which is rubbish. And even so you do not know anyone interested in either theatre or the arts in general or those early post WWII years in Canada? I wish I could not care what reviews say but when you know the odds are against you ever making any money from a book (which means lots of people are reading it), reviews take on a greater significance. And how right you are about putting our soul into something. I certainly did, along with the 34 years from start to finish.
    Susan McNicoll recently posted…I Love ClimbingMy Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      WOW, Susan! Working on a project for 34 years is unfathomable to me. Congrats to you for completing such a incredible literary journey.

  13. Well said, Doreen. You speak for the writer in all of us. Fortunately, I published my book with no expectations of sales. There are simply too many books available and people’s tastes are too varied. That said, every sale touches me, and I want to reach out and give the buyer a hug. I believe all well-written books eventually find their audience. It takes hard work and patience to write them, and an equal amount of hard work and patience to earn sales.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Margaret, and welcome to the blog! We have some great discussions here.

      Hats off to you for having no expectations of sales for your books. I think very differently, as my books are my products. I absolutely love researching and writing them, but I do have to make a living off of them and the other writing that I do (in the form of articles, keynote speeches, etc.) Cheers to all the writers in the world and their varying motivations!
      WizardOfWords recently posted…our words are a part of our soulMy Profile

  14. Doreen, you really know what lurks in a writer’s heart! It’s so easy to get discouraged – slogging it out and doing rewrite after edit, and silencing our inner critic. So knowing what an objective third party feels can be invaluable, even if it’s negative. And I’ve never really wanted to be thick-skinned – I need to be able to care about my work, just learn to be realistic about expectations!
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  15. Wow, so many responses to this great post! And the point of my response is the same as I just felt. I too am a freelance writer but this is what I know. And here I will say this is very long winded but there’s a point.

    There were so many responses I couldn’t focus on reading more than a couple. We are inundated with written messages – e-mails, text messages, website information, online website courses. Verbal messages – networking, phone, choosing downtime to watch TV. Our lives are fast-paced. Instead of making life easier, as promised, technology has sped everything up tenfold. It is taking away more times from our already-busy lives.

    When we sit to eat we don’t always focus on what we’re eating or doing. We don’t always taste what goes into our mouths, and chew each bite 10 times. We are having a harder and harder time just focusing on the “now” instead of our “to do” list. Don’t worry, I’ll get to the point in a minute…

    Through my recent grief journey I am learning about Mindfulness. It’s very important concept because there is just too much on our minds at one time. we are thinking about after the meal, tonight, tomorrow, a week from today. Mindfulness trains you to focus on the moment. I have been learning meditation too. It makes you stop and breathe and focus on the “here and now.”

    THE POINT…So if people don’t respond it’s not that they don’t like what you’ve done. They may have read it but then moved to something else. Or as you say, Doreen, we buy a book from a colleague but don’t read it. That doesn’t meant the books wasn’t good. But it does mean so much more to a writer as we pour our hearts out into our words and want immediate feedback.

    Tell me:
    -My words inspired you.
    -You like (love) what I’ve written.
    -That revealing something very personal has touched you.

    But that doesn’t always happen. And so we have to develop a think skin (which likely won’t happen) or recognize that most of us have not had that moment of clarity. That today, this very minute, is all that matters.

    Thanks for a wonderful, thought-provoking post! And if you’ve read my full post, Congratulations! You were just living in the moment.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks so much, Suzanne, for taking the time to write a very heartfelt and thought-provoking response to my post. Your words and thoughts always mean much to me.

      You are SO right about how technology had sped up our lives and diffused our focus. I must say that sometimes, I rise from my computer after spending time on social media and feel like I’ve just gotten off a rollercoaster. It is truly overwhelming at times!

      I’m glad my post inspired a post of your own on your blog. I can’t wait to read it!
      WizardOfWords recently posted…our words are a part of our soulMy Profile

  16. O.K. My post is getting a spot in my blog. 🙂 Thanks for being so inspiring my good friend.

  17. Kathe L says:

    Reading and reviewing others’ books is such a subjective thing. With respect, Nancy, if I noticed that you only give 5-star reviews I would wonder about trusting your opinion. Everything can’t be equally good! I learned to read at the age of 3 (both parents were teachers, no TV in the house) and have read voraciously since then. I keep a list of all the books I read, with mini reviews. I often post an opinion on my FB page about a book I’ve recently read but I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinion. Same with my book club – sometimes we all love the book, often we don’t – but the best discussions are often about books we disagree on.

    I know it’s hard, Doreen, when people make unthinking comments or ignore your book. I think Suzanne has a point about not taking it personally. There is no way to know all the other things that may be going on in that person’s life. I think all comments are useful as long as they’re constructive. (Can’t believe the guy who doesn’t like chocolate, though!)

    As with so many other things, I believe that kindness should prevail. But honest opinions, expressed kindly, are also important.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      I so agree, Kathe. All comments and feedback are always welcome, as long as they’re given with good intentions and meant to be constructive. As Harry says, there are those who just like to be mean or “out there,” but fortunately, I haven’t encountered any of those yet with respect to my own writing.

      I’m surprised, though, that this post didn’t generate more discussion from writers and prospective readers alike with respect to expectations of making the sale. I’ve found that whole discussion on reviews and feedback most welcome and interesting, but also would have loved to hear more from writers about selling/not selling their books and from others who may have been in awkward positions regarding whether to buy a book just because they know the author.

  18. Doreen,
    You have no idea how often I’ve said to myself “It’s business. Don’t take it personal.” So, it’s not just authors who feel that way. Although, it must be even harder for an author. You must feel like your book is your baby.

    I always try to keep in mind that people are much more likely to complain than to give kudos. At the same time, there are a lot of negative people in this world and for some of them, criticizing someone else somehow makes them feel better. The key is to surround yourself with positive people. From your success, I’d say you do a good job of that! 🙂
    Sherryl Perry recently posted…Building Your Personal Brand OnlineMy Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Sherryl.

      Yes, indeed. I think we authors really do feel our books are a piece of ourselves — of our very being. Not the same as selling a “product.” So it really IS a lot more personal than selling in general, although, as you say … we really have to try hard NOT to take it personally when someone looks at our book and then doesn’t buy it.
      WizardOfWords recently posted…our words are a part of our soulMy Profile

  19. Pat Amsdn says:

    This is an interesting post. I sell ebooks so I haven’t had to go to individual bookstores and ‘sell’ them which I imagine is quite different. As one of the comments said even if you’ve been a salesperson before it’s not the same as selling your book.

    I’ve had some blog interviews and gone through the Free Par-Tay program which has resulted in thousands of people downloading my books. Some have loved them, some not so much. Reading some of the comments makes me realize that each reader is different and how people read is part of how they respond to your book. My chocolate book is told in third person ninety nine percent from the viewpoint of the heroine. Some have complained there were too many POVs and characters. I now have a NY agent interested in a thriller I’m working on. Thrillers often have multiple viewpoints and I don’t think these particular readers will like this style. That doesn’t make either the readers or myself wrong but it’s something I hadn’t really thought about before as a writer.

  20. Ken Atodahl says:

    I completely agree with you, Doreen. When it comes to our writing, it’s hard not to be sensitive.

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