How To Handle Criticism From A Client

Receiving negative feedback from a customer can be such a difficult aspect of freelance writing, it can make someone want to quit. I know because I’ve been there.

You finish a large assignment, thousands upon thousands of words, and you’re excited to pass your work off to your client and see what he or she thinks about it. You did your best and felt like you covered the full scope of what was required. You’re ready to take on more work and in the back of your mind, you may even be smugly impressed with your writing skills.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, you get a dreaded negative response to your article. I had just finished some work for a blog owner when I got this email from him (this happened just a couple of months ago):

I’m not very happy with your article, to be honest. This sounds childish. I don’t feel like you put any love into it. It needs a more personal touch and as well as a more professional tone overall.

I was livid. Didn’t put any love into it? WTF?!, I seethed to myself. I had just spent the better part of three days writing a pillar post for his blog, doing endless research about an obscure company almost nobody had ever heard about and had cross-referenced every single point I made.

I immediately felt like cussing him out. I ALWAYS (try to) do a good job writing for clients and I put my sweat and tears into my work. I’m proud of what I do.

Fortunately, I’m kind of a pro at rejection and I never reply to an email when I’m angry. He wasn’t the first and certainly not the last to dislike a piece of writing I had slaved over. Instead, I took a good hour-long break before returning to his email and went over all his points in detail. He was correct by saying the article was slightly more informal than what I typically wrote, but my analysis of the company indicated the kind of tone I wrote in would work well for the niche he was concentrating on (wallstreetbets). After crafting a long reply that expressed the rationale behind everything I did, I sent it to him and we had a fruitful conversation after that about what he was really looking for.

Ultimately, I ended up getting more work from him for months and months, because at the end of it, he realized that I wasn’t just a cheap, two-bit content mill that didn’t give a damn about my clients after they paid me. We still have a good relationship to this day!

Criticism Doesn’t Mean You’re A Bad Writer

First of all, you should relax. Negative feedback, when appropriately used, makes people better writers, not worse. In my early years as a freelance writer in college, I reacted much too quickly and with too much vigor when my clients or editors would criticize one of my articles. You have to realize, not everyone is out to get you. Sometimes they can see your potential and believe that with a few improvements, you would really be in a class of your own.

Recently I sat on the other side of the table. I stood in as editor-in-chief of a large blog and did my utmost to post useful comments on articles by freelancers. I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of writers and go through their work.

On one occasion, one of the authors just hung up on the phone on me. He sounded more than a little bit indignant and actually dismissed all of my comments as nagging. Basically, he reacted exactly the same way I would have reacted when I was younger. It’s quite a pity because I thought he had a very unique style that could create peculiar and fascinating novels. He probably believes I simply don’t appreciate his work.

Your Client Might Have A Better View On Your Content Than You Do

Even after you have just submitted an article, you are still in the middle of the writing process. You are still thinking on a sentence level and are attached to certain words and paragraphs that you have worked hard on. Clients view the content more from a distance. They want to see how certain pieces fit in with the rest of the website. They care about their site; after all, they are spending their hard-earned money hiring writers that will make it grow. They want you to be as successful and you do. However, because of their unique vantage point, they probably see the big picture better than you do.

So don’t consider their comments as criticism, try to put yourself in their point of view.

Your Client Is Your First Reader. Respect Their Opinion

My ego gets in my way all the time. In my mind, I genuinely believe I am or can be one of the best writers on the planet when I really put my heart and soul into my work. Reality, to my complete and utter surprise, doesn’t always agree with me! Imagine my horror when I once got a comment from a client that my dry copy had almost put her to sleep.

If the client falls asleep while reading a paragraph, or does not understand a sentence, it is not their fault. Many readers will probably share their opinion. Go over your work and see how you can improve it.

If you dismiss such feedback as merely nagging remarks, you are, in fact, giving your readers the middle finger. That doesn’t help anyone.

You Are Not A Perfect Writer

I know this is going to be a hard pill to swallow, but nobody’s perfect. Not even me (gasp)! Sorry, Grammarly isn’t going to get rid of every badly constructed idea in your work. Sometimes your writing is just going to suck. It’s especially important during the moments when you are vulnerable to keep an open mind.

Every freelance writer I know would love to get a 5/5 star review from their client and go on to the next article; it feels great! In my humble experience, there will always be something you can do to improve a piece.

Use Creativity When Rewriting An Article

Do not dutifully accept all changes. You are the author of the content and it remains your responsibility to formulate your work as you see fit. Think carefully about the comments, have fun writing and come up with surprising solutions.

Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

Hey, bad content happens. Bad clients also appear that want to simply exploit your hard work. Sometimes, people like being mean for no reason at all or are having a bad day. None of this is a reflection of your true talent. Being a writer is like being part of a rare breed: we are difficult to fully understand. Sometimes words that sounded great in our heads are poorly translated onto paper. Just. Relax. Keep going, keep pushing, and enjoy the ride.

I hope that helped. Keep your chin up, champ!

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