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This is another motivational blog post. They won’t all be this way, but for right now, with everything going on in the world, I think we could all use a little more inspiration.
If you read my last blog post, you might’ve assumed I’ve become a sort of whiz kid at handling negative feedback, considering the enormous magnitude of rejections I received for my debut novel, Sweet Baby Mine.
Bu-u-u-u-t, you’d be wrong.
It’s still a problem.
Maybe even more so now then when I dealt with the literary agents, and here’s why.
Agents provide pretty nebulous criticism. You know the kind I’m talking about. They toss around comments like, “I couldn’t connect with the MC”, or “It’s not for me”, or “I’m not enthusiastic enough”, or “I don’t love it”. All of which, when you think about it, tends to spare your feelings.
Not so with readers, god love ‘em. If they don’t like your work, you’re going to hear about it. The reason? You’ve not only cost them a valuable financial interest when they purchased your book and didn’t like it, but you also deprived them of a valuable personal interest which was the priceless commodity of their time.
Trust me. I get it. I’ve felt the same way about many a book I’ve read over the past few years…
I just never thought the criticism would be directed at me.
Let’s be honest none of us go into this business (and publishing is a business) believing our work stinks. We think by the time we’ve completed our manuscript and presented it to the world, it’s good. Or we wouldn’t stick our necks out and do it.
But as they say, beauty is in the eyes of, well, you know the rest.
And while you think you’ve prepared yourself for the worst, you never really know how a reader will interpret your story and what they’re likely to say about it. I was told this prior to publishing, but I can honestly say now that it didn’t sink in. At. All. Because it’s a whole other thing when you see their comments (sometimes harsh, definitely uncharitable) in black and white. On a public page. They’re hard to ignore.
Anyway, I won’t lie, it hurts. It makes you feel bad about yourself, like you’re a bad writer. Like you can’t write. Like who in the hell ever told you that you could write? You throw yourself a pity party, swear off writing for good, and eat a (insert here whatever comfort food makes you the happiest—I usually go for chocolate anything).
Then, you get your shit together, brush it off, and get back to work.
For me, that meant brainstorming what about the book I could change? (I’m a problem solver—it’s all my early social work training.) What, if anything, besides rewriting the entire book (and I’d thought about it) could I improve? I was willing to do whatever it took to get it back on track and get me more of those positive reviews I’d expected.
I started with the blurb. Was it accurate? Or was I giving readers the wrong impression of the story? Had I written a blurb that built up their hopes that the story would venture into one direction when it actually journeyed into another? Or was it the tagline? Did it really capture their attention? It didn’t matter. I rewrote them both. Over and over. I honestly can’t tell you how many times. I even considered adding a subtitle. Did it need one? What about the price? Was it too high? Too low? Dear Lord, what the hell could I do to make this book right?
Many writers will tell you, they don’t even read their reviews. It screws too much with their heads. Me? I couldn’t stop myself. I sifted through them, categorized them into groups, then took notes. No, seriously, I did.
In the end, it wasn’t a bad exercise because I discovered something. I realized most readers had drilled down on the same thing: the epic marital dysfunction—the near constant fighting that went on for three-hundred pages.
Ok, I get it. It’s a lot, and some readers are gonna need a strong stomach to get through it.
I told myself it was fine. Readers misunderstood me. My stories were akin to Richard Yate's Revolutionary Road or Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, of which the latter was also considered to be controversial when it debuted. Critics even referred to Albee's work as a "marital armageddon" and used words like "implausible," "repetitive," and "flawed."
Some of the same words that were being used to describe SBM.
I was in good company.
It’s been a little over four months since I self-published SBM, and the reviews are still coming in—both good and bad—but I’ve learned a lot since June. Some of what I’ve written below may seem obvious, but when you’re in, it doesn’t feel that way. So, here goes:
I learned not everyone will like your story;
I learned it’s ok if they don’t;
I learned I made mistakes—it was my debut, and I’m still a novice and it’s ok not to be perfect right from the start;
I learned getting bad reviews doesn’t say anything about you as a person because that’s not where readers are directing their criticism, and if it is, it shouldn’t be. They don’t know you;
I learned I needed to get off it and move on and start writing Novel #2;
I learned some days I really shouldn’t read them, since some days I’m not ok, and it’s better to save the criticism for at time when my head is in a better space;
I learned bad press is better than no press (would you rather be ignored? I guess that’s a personal question. Me, not so much. I’m an only child…I’ll just leave it at that);
I learned controversy is a good thing because it allows for discourse and an exchange of ideas, and it is possible readers who don’t like my story now, may have a change of heart in the future and reconsider the story’s message which they wouldn’t have a chance to do if they never read it to begin with (which is why we write, right? We’re trying to change the world and all that—even just a tiny bit);
And, I learned I have to be me, and I have to write my stories—the stories I believe in and am passionate about no matter what anyone else thinks.
I’ve included a bit of good advice from someone who’s been there.
“…do not write to be liked. Write to be remembered.” Chuck Palahniuk, Consider This
Forget about being liked, he says. Or celebrated. Focus on being memorable.
I’ve decided to make this my new mantra.
So, I say, bad reviews be damned.
Let ‘em flow…