When people criticize your work, they might as well be beating up one of your children. It's personal—very personal.
But you have to tolerate it as part of the writing process, without internalizing it as defeat. Even Aristotle understood criticism. He said it was "something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing."
If you want to publish, you cannot avoid disapproval and you should not ignore it. However, you should evaluate it with great care. It's not unusual for two critics to offer opposing opinions on the same piece of work. It's especially difficult when you're surrounded by a cacophony of disparate voices. Whom should you listen to?
Helpful advice should resonate. It should feel "right" for your manuscript, and when it's really good, it can even feel like a breakthrough or an epiphany.
Whether the criticism comes from an agent, editor or critique group, you need to pay attention when you're getting similar comments. But keep in mind that critics, even those in the publishing industry, are fallible. I used to believe that, with all their expertise, agents and editors should immediately spot a bestseller. After I sold my first novel, I was the only author with a group of agents in a hotel bar at a writers' conference. Intimidated and eager to learn, I kept my mouth shut (a test of patience for me). The topic of conversation was bestsellers, not the ones the agents had represented but those they had rejected and yet went on to become bestsellers.
If that tidbit doesn't encourage you to send out your book to as many agents as possible, check out the following:
Here are a few notable examples from the website:
* “'The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.' Perhaps the most misguided literary critique in history. With a further 15 rejections, there remained little hope her personal thoughts would see the light of day. Eventually, Doubleday brought the translation to the world, and The Diary of Anne Frank sold 25 million."
* "Three years of rejection letters are kept in a bag under her bed. The bag becomes so heavy that she is unable to lift it. But Meg Cabot does not dwell on the failure. Instead she keeps sending her manuscript out. It gets taken on and The Princess Diaries sells 15 million copies."
* “'It was rejected 60 times. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. Three weeks later we sold the book to Amy Einhorn Books.' Kathryn Stockett on the worldwide best-seller: The Help."
And here I thought they were overnight successes.