An interesting thing happens when you write a book. You spend weeks, months, maybe even years, pouring out your thoughts on to paper, watching your word count slowly drift upwards. You dig out things from your imagination, create brand new people, describe thrilling (and sometimes mundane) events, design cultures, and build entire WORLDS. And you scribble them down, sometimes with a ravenous appetite for creation and sometimes with the slow intensity of a surgeon wielding a scalpel. And when you finish and see the words “THE END” on your paper, you know it’s not really the end.
Because then there are edits, and edits sometimes take as long to do as writing the entire first draft. And those edits are usually followed by more edits, more revisions, more chopping and adding and mulling over details, from the minute to the enormous. You pass it off to other people to read, and then they give you more things to fix, more ways to improve. And so you launch into another round, or two, or three, or fifty. And this feels like it could go on forever.
Sometimes, you shove your work-in-progress into a metaphorical (or literal) drawer, annoyed with the whole process and with yourself, because you just can’t figure out the right words or plot line. Your people aren’t *real* enough, your descriptions not quite what they should be, your plot-line is too cliche. You let it percolate in that drawer, move on to other projects or avoid writing anything altogether. But eventually you get your manuscript back out and dive back in, because your story needs to be told.
But when it really is finished, who is going to read it?
Whether you self-publish or find yourself a publisher (which in and of itself is a whole other round of nail-biting and gnashing of teeth), you make the choice to turn over your imagination and skills and deepest thoughts to a reading public who, all things considered, will consume it like everything else on the market. And then they will pick your book, your baby, to pieces. Some will love it. Some will hate it. Some will be indifferent to it. They’ll applaud it and encourage others to buy it, or they’ll dismiss it and never speak a word about it. Or maybe they’ll even post scathing reviews of your work on the internet for the rest of the world to see.
We all do that, don’t we? Review books, movies, music, clothes, lifestyles? We all have opinions and we often voice them.
But what happens when you’re on the negative end of one of those reviews? I’ve reviewed books negatively before. I’ve disparaged the work of another author before without a second thought. And then I found myself on the receiving end of those seemingly random one-star reviews. Ouch.
It’s hard not to internalize those criticisms of our books as criticisms of ourselves, our humanity. I do this, despite knowing better. It’s one of those quirks of my INFJ personality, I suppose, to see a critique of something I’ve created as a critique of myself, my imagination, and my skills, and then to be discouraged by it. We’d all be foolish to say that we – at any point – reach a cruising altitude of perfection with our art, whether we are writers or musicians or painters. We are only humans, after all, and we are all trying to “human” the best way we know how. It’s unreasonable to expect only positive reviews of our creations, and it’s damaging to think so highly of our creations that we feel victimized when we receive a negative review.
I know many authors who refuse to read negative reviews of their work. I’m not sure I could ever be that person. I’m too curious to know what the problem is, where I failed in telling my story, and where I can improve on future stories.
And that is the crux of it.
Where can I, where can we improve as authors and creators? While we ALL want to be considered masters at what we do, we aren’t. Personally, I’m not even close. But I’m trying, and I will continue trying to hone my skills as a writer. After all, practice makes perfect, right?
If you have published a book through a top press, indie press, or self-publishing platform, you’ve still done something that few people have. You’ve written a whole freaking BOOK. Not only that, but you’ve even convinced other people to give up their precious time to read your book and to PAY you for the privilege of doing so! That’s amazing!
Do yourself a favor and learn from those reviews, both positive and negative. You will never, ever, ever please every single one of your readers, so don’t expect to do so. Have a clear target audience, know your genre (and read other books in your genre), and then shoot for the moon. And if you come up short this time, figure out why, fix what needs to be fixed in your next story, and fire again. Eventually you’ll get there, right?