Writers Need Thick Skin, Part 2: Dealing with Acceptance

As I noted in Part 1 of this topic, writers need a thick skin in order to handle the inevitable rejection that occurs as they submit their writing for publication.

Here, in Part 2, I want to discuss the entirely opposite reason that we need thick skin — dealing with the results of being accepted for publication: the inevitable reviews.

(The following is excerpted from my book Pathway to Publication, now available from Amazon.)

Be prepared for negative reviews

I’m going to burst your bubble, but only a little bit. I’m going to warn you about the perils of publication. Granted, this was your goal. But I want to make sure you’re prepared with a thick skin for the reviews of your book—maybe not in major publications, but everywhere that readers go. On blogs. On book reviewing websites. On Goodreads. On Amazon. And even when you write articles or blogs, be ready for folks to chime in wherever they can.


When your book is published, folks will read it and give their opinions. You may receive some five-star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. You may receive some one-star reviews. Some readers will say yours is one of the best books they’ve ever read. Others will say your book wasted their time, and they didn’t finish reading it.

Be ready for both types of reviews. Take them at face value, realizing that never has any book pleased everyone. It always amazes me—the vast variety of comments and how a book can resonate with some people and be completely disliked by others.

I’ve started going to the Goodreads site online every time I finish a book, first to put it on my virtual shelves to keep track of what I’ve read, then to settle in and look for one-star reviews. Sometimes I have to scroll a bit, and sometimes they are waiting for me on the first page. I want to understand what makes people dislike a book. Sometimes the reviews help me pinpoint a niggling concern I had as I was reading—something I couldn’t quite put into words. Other times, it seems that readers are looking for something to complain about.

Some authors say that you shouldn’t read your reviews at all, for those very reasons.

But, let’s face it. You will.

When you see these reviews, you can’t do anything. These aren’t critique readers or your editor commenting. You can’t make changes. These are readers of your published work putting their opinions out in the world for all to see.

Take everything in stride. Remember that you can’t please everyone. Don’t take the one-star reviews so deeply to heart that you decide never to write again because you’re a failure. But, at the same time, don’t take the five-star reviews so deeply to heart that you decide never to write again because you can’t possibly do another book that would be as good. And if you do get many five-star reviews, stay humble.

Reviews are reviews. When you get hit with a one-star review (and you most likely will), don’t engage, go to battle, or try to change their mind. They read it, they didn’t like it, end of story. Move on. Some people just won’t get what you were trying to say or do in your book.

The problem is that no matter how many encouraging four- or five-star reviews you may get, it is those one- or two-star reviews that will keep you up at night, doubting yourself.

To make yourself feel better, choose a couple of favorite books you’ve read recently (choose some that are fairly new—not a classic from the 1800s).

Go to Goodreads or Amazon. Type in the title, find the book, and read the reviews. Read some five-star reviews (yay! They agree with you!). Now read some one- or two-star reviews (boo! They hated the writing, the metaphors, the characters, the plot, whatever).

Now realize that if your favorite book has such a variety of reviews, surely you are in good company.

Your best defense is to keep marketing your book and engaging with the folks who liked it—they are your audience, and they surely know others who will also like the book. And don’t be ashamed to ask for a positive review from them.

But don’t ASK for trouble

Here is where I get concerned and want to offer a warning. What you don’t want to happen is for your book to get legitimate negative reviews. What I mean is don’t be in such a hurry to self-publish (for instance) that you don’t have your book edited or proofread. If reviewers comment on typos and poor writing, that’s on you. Another issue would be rushing a book to press without fact checking or consideration of truthfulness. Seems obvious, right? Well, here is my plea to be careful and not to count on your editors to catch everything.

I never really thought about this until I finished reading Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin. From the cover, it sounded like a lovely read about a man seeking to make a difference in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the late 1990s and early 2000s by building schools in remote villages. It topped The New York Times bestseller list for three years, so it must be good, right?

Well, not so much. It was an okay read. I didn’t love it, although I found it inspiring.

I finished the book, went to Goodreads to do my thing, and spent the rest of the afternoon reading review after review, which led me to article after article. The reviews, many of them glowing at first about the topic of the book (although many didn’t like the writing) turned negative after flaws and inconsistencies in the book began to be pointed out. Then in 2011, the 60 Minutes TV show did an exposé about parts of the book that had been allegedly fabricated, along with alleged mismanagement of funds by Mortensen’s nonprofit. Some articles and blogs vilified the book and the authors. Others pointed out the great work Mortensen had done in the region in spite of those lapses in judgment.

All that to say, sadly, the hard work of the book has given rise to questions and lawsuits. What was the motivation for the material that was not factual—such as the story of getting lost coming down from a failed attempt to summit K2 and crossing a bridge to a village (a bridge that did not exist at the time)? This story in the book’s opening provides the impetus for the remainder of the book. So, having that story’s facts on the first pages challenged called into question the rest of the book.

The author recounts another story of visiting Mother Teresa’s charity just after her death and his thoughts as he was able to sit quietly with her body. Problem is, the author says he was there in 2000, but Mother Teresa died in 1997 (not difficult to fact check). And none of the book’s editors caught it.

Mortensen said in interviews that various details had to be conflated to get the millions of original words down to the workable and publishable amount. Perhaps it was just faulty memory, or editing gone awry, or running stories together to keep the narrative moving. I don’t know. I just know that as I read beyond the whiny reviews by people who didn’t like the writing style and got to these very problematic issues that took down the author’s reputation, I felt terribly sad.

Be cautious with what you put into the world

This is merely a cautionary tale. In your rush to get your book out there, don’t skip the important steps because, trust me, you won’t get away with it. Don’t publish a book that hasn’t been vetted, edited, copyedited, fact-checked, and proofread. Make sure it is truthful and represents writing you’re proud of.

Then, when the inevitable nay-sayers don’t like your book, their reasons will be from their own particular tastes versus legitimate concerns. But in the process, you can stand behind your work with no apologies or backtracking.

The experience of getting published is like nothing else! But as you trek along the pathway to publication, take your time, be careful, do it right. Your moment at the mountaintop will be the better for it.

Copy taken from Linda K. Taylor, Pathway to Publication (Friendswood, TX: Bold Vision Books), March 24, 2023, pp. 211-215.

Pathway to Your Dreams

She’s leaving today.

My sister, that is. Today she leaves to begin on a dream that she’s been holding in her heart for over thirty years. She begins her thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail.

She has been planning this trip for the past couple of years. I first heard about it during a quiet late December evening in 2021 as we sat together chatting, keeping vigil over our dying mom. We held her hands and whispered, and Carol told me of this plan.

And now, the day has come. She and her husband (who will be accompanying her on portions of the trail) have donned their well-prepared backpacks and taken the first steps toward a decades-old dream.

My sister and brother-in-law at the first white blaze that marks the southern start of the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain, GA. Only 2,190 miles to go!

It was in some of those quiet conversations with Carol that a thought came to me: The kind of preparations and patience and planning required for such a trek for her to reach that dream are comparable to the kind of preparations and patience and planning required to get a book published.

I was in the beginning stages of writing my book about the process of publication. I was struggling for a hook, plagued by imposter syndrome. But her words ignited something in me.

And Pathway to Publication — the title, the plan, the hook, and eventually the cover design were born. (Thank you, Bold Vision Books for this perfect cover. Read more about the book on this page here on my site.)

When you get ready for a long hike, you don’t just put on your gym shoes and start walking. You need preparation, plans, accurate maps, and appropriate equipment. Likewise, when you step onto the pathway to publication, you can’t rush the process. The publishing world has its own language, processes, and gatekeepers. You need to take the time to develop a plan, create the required pieces, and understand each step along the way.

I wrote this book for the dreamers. Those of you out there who so much want to get published. You have a manuscript but you don’t know what to do next. What are the steps on the pathway to that dream of publication?

My book will help you get there.

My sister is making her dream a reality. I’m hoping to help you make your publication dream a reality.

The book can be purchased on Amazon here.

And, incidentally, if you’d like to follow along my sister’s journey, you can read her blog updates here at “The Trek.”

I’m here to help be your guide on this pathway. Please feel free to contact me! In addition, I’d love to speak to your writers groups or conference. Helping writers is what I do.

Let’s grab our gear and get started!

The Proofreading Process

You guys! I’m excited to tell you that my book, Pathway to Publication, could be available as soon as next month! (Stay tuned! Cover reveal soon!)

This past weekend, I’ve been working through the PDF of the typeset pages of my book to do a final proofread. The publisher kindly is allowing me to do so (since I’ve proofread hundreds of typeset books across my career and … well … definitely wanted to do it for my own). I have a system for proofreading and was eager to see how it played out.

I thought it might be helpful to you, my readers, to understand what the process looks like in checking the final look of book pages and doing a final proofread.

I love love love doing this part of any project. It’s like a treasure hunt making sure the pages are clean and looking for those errant and persistent typos.

So here we go:

On my first pass through the manuscript, I go page by page and do a visual check in several passes. I learned through difficult experience that my brain can’t handle trying to watch for all of the visual elements while also reading every word.

So I will go through the entire manuscript probably two or three times, focusing on different visual elements.

Visual scan of pages

I look down the right side of each page to make sure all paragraphs are justified right (meaning that the edge of the copy is straight). Most books have a straight right margin. If not, and they’re what is called “ragged right,” then I want to make sure that is consistent.

At the same time, I scan to see if the pages across each spread look even on the top and bottom.

Are the paragraph indents even? (Sometimes a random extra tab gets carried over from the Word document and shows up as a double tab on typeset pages.)

Running heads (or footers)

I go horizontally across each spread looking at the running heads (or footers). I’m checking to see if the wording is correct. Often a book will have the book title on the verso (left) page of a spread and the chapter title on the recto (right) side of the spread. I have often seen that the chapter title on the running head doesn’t match the actual chapter it’s in. (I even once copyedited a book where one of the words of the book’s title was missing from the running head on each verso page.)

I also look for “widows” and “orphans.” These are a single word or short line at the top or bottom of a page, or a subhead that’s hanging alone at the bottom of a page. These look awkward and unprofessional.

Chapter starts

I then go back to the beginning and check all of the chapter starts — the first pages of each chapter. Usually designers create an interior design that makes these pages different. The chapter number or title may start halfway down the page and there may be a drop cap on the first paragraph (a larger first letter).

There may also be a design element. (Look at the cool compass on the chapter starts of my book!) I check the first pages of each chapter for consistency. Sometimes the spacing is inconsistent or the drop cap is missing. (In the case below, I would like those two highlighted words, “or an,” moved to the next line so the lines are more even.)

Formatting of elements

I pull up my manuscript — the one I so carefully style tagged. You may not have style tagged, but you do know what level headings go where, what other elements require special formatting, etc.

I scan comparing my manuscript to the typeset pages to make sure the typesetter has differentiated and correctly rendered my levels of subheads. I make sure any box text (elements such as long quotations that should be indented) are done correctly. I check the bulleted text (sometimes bullets are on copy where they shouldn’t be and vice versa). You may have other elements, such as charts, diagrams, pictures. Make sure everything is where you want it and accompanying captions are correct.

Table of contents

I usually print out the pages of the Table of Contents (TOC) for cross checking as it makes less back and forth in the PDF. I always make sure the chapter title in the TOC matches the chapter title at the chapter start (I think every time I’ve proofread a book, I’ve found an error here). In Pathway to Publication, the editor asked me to make a detailed outline that put all my subheads in the TOC.

In my example below, I am marking places where my Level 2 heads need to be indented slightly under the Level 1 heads in the TOC.

Page numbers will be added on our next and final pass.

Now proofread!

Now you proofread every word. Every. Single. Word. Start with the title page (in the photo above I had to add the subtitle because — ahem — I hadn’t settled on one yet, so you can see my little highlight and comment), read every word on the copyright page, read every word slowly, look at every piece of punctuation, read every footnote, read every caption. At this point I make the page larger on my screen so I don’t strain my eyes.

Besides the spelling and punctuation, notice lines that look scrunched together or where the letters look too loose. This means the “kerning” is off and you can ask the typesetter to fix it if it looks awkward.

Sometimes lines may look to close to the lines above them. This is an issue with the “leading,” and again, you can ask your typesetter to check and adjust it.

Then you need to read every bit of the back matter. That bibliography? Check the formatting and that each element is included. Appendices, glossaries, indexes, oh my! This is where those of us who also love copyediting really strut our stuff!

And here’s the kicker. I will do all this and there will still be typos. Ughhh. Perhaps I’ll do a contest and we can all treasure hunt together.

Do you have any tips and tricks for doing proofreading?

Even Editors Need Editors

Here she is. All 332 pages of her. I told you about this book contract and, well, after some weeks of imposter syndrome and some constant worry about if I could actually write this book … well. Ta-da.

The working title is Pathway to Publication. I’m still trying on some subtitles, such as “A publishing professional turned college prof leads the way” or “guides you.” Not sure yet. But we have a little time to hone that part.

The writing process has not been easy. I look at these pages and honestly am astounded.

But it wasn’t done alone. It took a team of people to help me get to this point (and I’m not even at the publisher yet!).

A dear publishing friend helped me see beyond the “this has already been written a million times” dilemma to look instead at my personal perspective on this publishing process. She helped me see that I could write this from the college professor angle — so the book is shaped by the college classes I teach in Professional Writing and is very hands-on, including worksheets to help readers go from the theoretical to the practical. (Thank you, Kim.)

Another publishing friend recommended that I revise my website to focus on the teaching angle and build on that. (Thank you, Rhonda.)

My sister has been talking to me about preparations for her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail next year. The more she talked, the more I discovered a hook I could hang this book on — preparing for the months on the AT could be compared to preparing a book for publication. That metaphor helped me lay out the chapters. (Thank you, Carol.)

A former student who now has a business helping authors promote their books will help me create a pre-publication marketing strategy. (Thank you, Jori.)

A high schooler I met at our writers conference teen track, who is new to the publishing process, is reading some chapters to help me know if I’m answering her questions. (Thank you, Eliana.)

A current student and another writer friend are reading to see if I’m staying true to the content and my voice, writing clearly, and speaking in the right way to my target audience. (Thank you, Anna and Dave.)

And, finally, yet another student who has started his own freelance editing business just completed an astounding copyedit of the manuscript. He caught me in my wordiness and in my tics. He smoothed and refined and questioned and commented. And, as I taught him in editing class, he remembered to offer a few positive comments as well. And boy, did I need them! (Thank you, Kipp.)

And I’m thankful to the many publishing professionals I’ve learned from across my almost forty years in the industry. Their wisdom guided this book. I’ve added their titles to a recommended books list and quoted several of them throughout. Instead of feeling like “this is just another book on the same topic,” I simply feel humbled to add my voice to the many others who have a passion to help writers.

All of this to say, we writers need folks around us — some with publishing advice, some with writing advice, some with editorial skill, some with marketing skill, some acting as the target audience readers — to bring out the best in our manuscripts.

I still have a week to go with this pile of paper before it goes off to the publisher. That’s why I printed it. I always need to see it on physical paper to highlight and mark the final changes I need to make.

Then, of course, the editor at the publisher will tear it apart — but I already know that. I teach about this. (Thank you, Bold Vision Books.)

I’m ready. After all, even editors need editors.