An eager young author in Alabama, USA received news that made her heart sink: her book submission had been knocked back. But the editor offered some feedback: focus on the childhood of one of the characters.
Most budding authors would have continued plodding away on the same old manuscript, thinking someone else will surely recognise their genius, or even considered giving up writing and trying their hand at something different.
But this determined writer was different. She decided to act on the feedback. She worked for two and half years on the new version, at one point growing so frustrated that she threw the manuscript out the window into the snow. She later retrieved and finished it.
Listening to feedback – and acting on it – would change her destiny and that of book publishing for decades to come. The new book was immediately successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and it has become a classic of modern American literature, selling more than 40 million copies worldwide. The book was To Kill a Mockingbird and the author was Harper Lee.
Imagine if Harper Lee dismissed that vital piece of feedback? There is a belief that a peacock grows its beautiful feathers by eating thorns; what a powerful frame to use to view feedback.
But not all thorns are equal! Ask for feedback from people you respect and who are masters in your field. Remember, Harper Lee got this feedback from an established book editor. Ask the masters: what you should do differently?
Be totally present and mindful about receiving feedback. This is hard to do as our emotions boil up. Instead, practise being hyper-alert, write the feedback down as you are receiving it and don’t give in to your first impulse, which might be to make excuses, bluster and explain.
Another good strategy is to thank the person and say you will think about what they have said. And if it is valid, for god’s sake, do something about it!
How are you going to turn thorny feedback into beautiful feathers? Please comment – I love hearing from you.
PS: Just this week we saw a new chapter in publishing history when Harper Lee’s very first novel, (yes the VERY one that was rejected, more that fifty years ago) Go Set a Watchman, became one of the most anticipated publications in history, topping Amazon’s best-seller list for several weeks – even before the book hit the bookshelves on July 14.
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