Three Steps Forward and Two Steps Back
Last week my husband and I were getting ready to go to a wedding. I wasn’t sure what dress to wear. The four that were piled up on the bed, strewn about as haphazardly as a pile of wind-swept leaves, were definitely out of the question. I love him for his patience, but if he told me I could wear a sack and still look beautiful one more time, I was going to cut him.
I finally settled on a black, organza, knee-length, gold-dotted strapless number. I felt pretty and, more importantly, comfortable – any dress that didn’t require Spanx was a winner in my book. My hair was awesome, my make-up pretty, but not overdone. When I was finally ready to go, I stepped into the living room where my husband was “patiently” waiting for me. His jaw literally dropped and I could hear the sharp gasp of breath as he took in my appearance. It was very clear that he liked what he saw. Despite the fact that I had liked what I’d seen just two minutes before that, I rejected his compliment, shooed it away, thinking in my head that “he’s just saying that because he has to.”
I’m sure we’ve all had moments like this – ones when we let the negativity and doubt out-weigh the positivity and faith.
Now let me paint a vastly different picture. You spend months slaving away at the keyboard, sacrificing time with your family and friends, questioning every single word you put on the screen, hoping and praying the characters whom you are trying to bring to life do your story justice – hell, even offering up virginal sacrifices to the God of Plotlines that your story line is a good one in the first place.
You struggle to find the perfect cover image – well as perfect as it’s going to get because, much to your dismay, the fictional characters whom you’ve created do not actually exist in real life and Photoshop can sometimes be more of a damaging tool than a helpful one.
You edit. You fucking edit your brains out. You print your manuscript and read it, red pen in hand, bleeding all over the paper. You send it to beta readers, weighing and incorporating their feedback. You go through multiple rounds of edits with your professional editor and then do a final read through on your e-reader just to catch any possible mistakes.
Then you get an email from a less-than-nice early reviewer that you used the word solider instead of soldier.
You fix it.
You order your proof and randomly flip to a page only to find a sentence with a missing word.
You hire another proofreader.
She finds a few other, albeit rather simple errors.
You fix them and walk away. Realizing it’s never going to be perfect, and that English degree you hold actually has to be worth something, you decide it’s pretty damn close.
You hold your breath and hit publish, sending your baby off into the vast wide world of readers.
It’s your 10th publication so you feel somewhat certain that you know what you’re doing.
The five star reviews come in. And the best part is that they’re not all just from people you know – bloggers who will love your work if you published a phone book or your grocery list, readers who will one-click you if your book was written on toilet paper. These amazingly beautiful reviews are written by people who took a chance on your book because they’d heard good things about it.
It worked. Your words. Your marketing strategy. The bonds you’ve built with readers and bloggers. It all worked and your book does better than all the other ones before it.
Amazing right? It is. It’s the literary equivalent of walking out of your room, a touch sweaty from the multiple outfit changes, and wiggling into those Spanx, to the sight and sound of a gaping-mouthed and speechless husband.
You are beautiful. He just testified to that.
You are talented. The sales and reviews are testaments to that.
Then the other shoe drops and you take two steps back.
Your writing is “godawful” and “so cheesy it’s like Velveeta.” How could you not know that first person present tense would be the least favorite tense of Goodreads Reviewer LuvThrdPrson. Or that a review named HatesFlashbacks would rake you over the coals for using a few flashbacks to show the reader important scenes that contributed to the development of the character rather than simply tell them about it.
And no, I’m not trying to stand on my soap box and cry that reviewers are mean, and no book is worth a one-star review (because God-forbid we take away the power of meanness). But what I am getting at is that it sucks. And it’s really difficult to recover from.
I’ve read books that aren’t my cup of tea. Yes, I’ve talked about them with my friends. But I have never spent hours on a review pointing out all the things I hated so fervently about said books, searching for and using the most perfect eye-rolling gif ever created so that I could accurately convey the monstrosity that is this “terrible attempt at a book.”
The truth is if you want to be an author, you need to have a thick skin. There are some reviews that require armor. There’s no easy way to deal with them, and once you – **GASP** – respond to a mean comment and try to defend yourself, you’re attacked, hung out to dry, after being tarred and feathered, of course.
If creating a book is draining, becoming aware of the insulting comments that were written with the sole intent to harm the author’s self-esteem is can only be described as excruciating.
I’m not writing this directed at any one reviewer in particular. Nor am I trying to say that you don’t have a right to your opinion. Not everyone will love everything I write. But there’s this saying that I’ve taken to lately, I guess sort of as an affirmation – as a motivator to keep on taking three steps forward even when the two steps back are inevitable:
There’s a reader for every book and a book for every reader.
Go find yours and leave the others alone.
You know, the funny thing about reviews? Often times the negative reviews help other readers. I love it when I read 1 and 2 star reviews and they detail what they didn’t like about a book and, lucky me, those things are EXACTLY what I love!! I’m sure that for the writer it’s painful to read that someone hated your ‘baby’ so much that they actually documented their distain for it but look at it this way, they had strong enough feelings about your creation that they took the time (sometimes a LOT of time) to write a review which also means that they will not likely forget your book.