Be Brave and Keep Going

What profession besides writing can you think of that requires the kind of incredible bravery (or is it masochism?) that writers must muster every day of their writing lives? Okay, firemen, cops and fighter pilots. But besides them? I’m not even making the distinction between Indie and Trad writers for this one because one thing is true across the board for every writer and that is that it takes guts to write your heart out—reveal the depths of who you are and what you value—and then drag it up the flagpole and invite people to rate it. And while you’re hoisting your precious dearest baby up the flagpole, you can see out of the corner of your eye, a few people are already loading up their bows and cocking their guns. No matter how great you think it is or your editor has assured you it is, you know there are always going to be readers out there who won’t like it. And it doesn’t matter that it “wasn’t their cup of tea,” or that it wasn’t the genre they usually read, or that they admit your main character reminded them of their ex-husband in a nasty divorce—they’ll still come at you with both barrels loaded and one in the chamber.
And yet.
Knowing this—and there’s not a published writer out there who hasn’t felt the sting of a bad review—we still do it. We not only do it, we do it everyday, we do it like we can’t not do it, we do it like we’re being paid to do it.
Weird, huh?
What possible other passion could be so fraught with the possibility of humiliating rejection? I suppose actors might be one but since the days of slinging tomatoes and rotten fruit at the stage are over (at least, mostly) perhaps not. Even publishing a couple crappy reviews about a play or a gallery opening can’t compare with hundreds (or more) of average readers with an opinion. A newspaper reviewer may be negative but Average Joe who feels you wasted his $2.99 on your e-book can be personally hostile. We writers constantly work the online e-channels for marketing purposes (since that’s where our books live, on cyber shelves) and which makes them—and us—static targets for all kinds of  whack jobs who are easily distracted by a big-ass bullseye.
Who knew when you signed on to be disrespected by your family, belittled by your coworkers and pitied by any and everybody who knew you were writing a book that, on top of it all, you’d have to deal with hate mail from  Sri Lanka when you finally finished the damn thing? And then? You sat down and began the whole process all over again. In fact, you couldn’t stop yourself from sitting down and beginning it all over again. (Honestly, is there any other reason why we keep writing other than we can’t not?) Most of my writer friends accept the second-class citizenship status of a novelist in today’s world—especially a self-published one—and they accept the possibility of the public slings and arrows of annoyed, unhappy readers too. Their advice is: grow a thicker skin or stop reading your reviews. Of course, that means you have to stop reading the good ones, too, and while I don’t exactly live for the good ones, they definitely add a cherry on top of my day and I’d hate to create a hard and fast rule requiring me not to look at them. I think it makes more sense to read the reviews with an ear for learning something that might make your book better, or to detect if possibly the reader is a lunatic (all caps are often a give-away), but not to take it too seriously. The last thing you want to do is approach your keyboard for the next book afraid you’re about to write something someone won’t like. Trust me, that’s guaranteed. Let. It. Go. And of course, the absolute best advice I’ve heard about bad reviews however you process them emotionally: don’t respond. I don’t care if they misunderstood what you were doing in the book (you should have been clearer) or if they skipped over the bits that would’ve clarified the problem (you should’ve make it more interesting so they didn’t skip). Just let them have their say and hope to bury the review under fifty positive ones. It’s all you can do. Oh, yeah. And maybe have learned something. That’s always nice.

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11 thoughts on “Be Brave and Keep Going

  1. And now the other side of the story. It wasn’t that long ago, when there weren’t any e-books and self publishing was confined to people with large amounts of cash, larger bank accounts or xeroxed journals. Back when none of us would have been published. When you mailed your manuscript to one publisher after another, sometimes you’d get a note back, sometimes not. More times than not, you’d go to your mail box and find your manuscript beat up and smudged, still in it’s unopened original envelope, with return to sender scribbled across the front.
    Maybe once out of fifty tries, you’d get a note back that said “keep trying” but more usually the note would be a polite “we’re not interested at this time”. Us writers have it so much better now, everyone of us if we try, can get our work, good, bad, or blockbuster, Published and along with it we get a bunch of “That’s Greats”, “Love your Work”, and always those few “Dumb story”, “Dumb characters”. Some of us might produce a hit, break even, or even make a few bucks. How could life get any better? Today anyone can get published and get the candy kisses along with darts. Yesterday the chances of getting your manuscript read (unless the publisher was your uncle) was something like a hundred to one. We are lucky, we get to write, publish and get those cards and letters from family, friends and even some folks who read our stuff and thought it wasn’t that great. Tell you the truth, this has gotta be the best of times to be an author.

  2. You are so right! I’ve been trying to tell a friend and fellow author that we all get bad reviews and she can’t let them get to her.

  3. Fantastic post – and I’ve been reading a lot of them about the same thing lately, so I think it’s starting to be a seriously important subject to ponder if you plan to be a writer: how to deal with reviews. I used to read mine, but felt either giddy or destroyed whenever I did. Then I saw a documentary about Woody Allen and the sheer productivity and longevity of his career impressed me (although I’m not fond of all of his personal life choices, his professional life is inspirational). What really blew my doors off was that he never reads his reviews. By anyone. At any time. Never. And that made me decide that if I want a real career as a writer, I need to stop reading my reviews. People often say that you need the bad reviews to improve, but I think there are better and more constructive ways to improve skills and craft without subjecting yourself to your reviews. BTW – love what Jon said about the ability to self-publish these days and reach an audience. It is truly a new and wonderful world we writers enjoy today!

    • Thanks, Tara! Kristine Rusch wrote a relevant post last week that addresses the idea of revising a book after you’ve indie-published it based on reviewers’ comments. Basically, she advises, don’t. I have to admit to listening to negative reviews and, when they’re all saying the same thing, tweaking the book to address the problem. I agree: Jon is a v wise man and I always love hearing his “take” on writing and creativity.

  4. Thanks, but Jon’s not really so wise, just lived a while, done a bunch of stuff, and along the way found that life brings us the gifts we wish for at
    the moment we’re ready to accept them. short version from the movie THE POINT “You see what you want to see”

  5. Think there’s something we should talk about, there is no such thing as life without failure. Failure is what we get for trying. If you don’t try you’ll never fail. Of course the opposite is true, if you don’t try you’ll never do. There’s no magic in those words, it’s just the way of things. So I say this to you. Go for it and if you’re going to go for it (what ever it is) go for it BIG TIME. Better to have come up a tad short of Hemingway than to have died in a shuttered room on a mattress stuffed with lists of ideas, unfinished sentences and scribbled promises to start writing in earnest tomorrow.

  6. Thank you for the pep talk. I just released my book to a publisher. I know the day will come when someone will hate it, and your are right. If I learn something all the better. I am hoping to learn many things to keep me going 🙂

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