I started writing my first book almost precisely a year ago. Since then, very few people have read my work. My critique partner. My agent. My editor. Judges in a handful of contests. A few trusted friends and family members.
That’s about it.
I’ll be honest. Even among those few people, not everyone has liked my work. My mother, who loves me very much, doesn’t really like my writing. Too much sex, I think. And I received enormously varying scores and feedback in the contests I entered. Some judges adored my voice and gave me perfect scores. Another assigned me 42 points out of 100, urged me to consider family values in my writing, and noted that my heroine (who had a master’s degree—as I do, incidentally) was much too educated to enjoy or, God forbid, make dick jokes.
(NOTE: I am inordinately fond of dick jokes. I hope this doesn’t mean I have to return my graduate degree.)
The support of everyone else has counterbalanced that criticism, though, and so I’ve largely continued to write in a state of blissful unconcern about the outside world and its opinions concerning my work.
But in December, my first book gets published. Anyone could potentially read it. Including people I don’t actually know.
As the weeks go by and my publication date draws nearer, this is an increasingly terrifying prospect.
People have such different tastes in books. What if my agent and editor are the exceptions and everyone else hates my work? What if readers start downloading my book and barrage Amazon with one-star reviews? Even worse, what if people I know and respect—people whom I consider friends—read it and are disappointed that the potential they saw in me wasn’t realized?
No matter how much my friends and family reassure me that I’m not an imposter, that readers will find and enjoy my work, that I have some modicum of writing ability, these fears never entirely disappear. No amount of hugs or compliments can defeat my anxiety.
What does: Recommending my favorite romances to other people.
The actual process of reading those wonderful stories doesn’t help. In fact, it makes me kind of angry. I’ll be rolling through a book, absolutely loving it, marveling at the glorious characterization or immersive worldbuilding or perfect word choice or blistering (in a good way) sex scenes, and I’ll get seriously pissed. Because it’s not fair. Why can’t I write like that? Why are these authors so goddamn good?
I adore those uber-talented authors, but I kind of hate them at the same time. Because of sheer, writerly jealousy.
But then I’ll recommend my favorite authors to my romance-reading book club. Or to friends. Or to family. And you know what?
A good chunk of time, those readers hate the exact same books I adored. The same books that made me twitchy with envy.
My book club found one recent recommendation too “dark” and “weird.” They considered another one “too much work to read.” A major reviewer gave a novella I found (nearly) perfect a B-, and the comments below the review complained that the hero and heroine were unlikeable.
This. This makes me feel better. Not because of schadenfreude. I genuinely want my book club members, friends, and family to enjoy the stories I recommend, both because I actually like my friends and because I want to support amazing authors.
No, the reason those negative reactions comforted me was this.
If some people hate (or barely tolerate) the books I love—the books I’d consider among the best in our genre—that means negative reviews of my own stories aren’t necessarily the entire truth. That means I might still have talent and find loyal readers, even if not everyone likes my work.
That means I don’t have to fear negative reviews. I’ll get them. But so will authors whose storytelling ability is—to me, at least—awe-inspiring.
That means I don’t have to be perfect. Not everyone has to like me. Not everyone will like me, no matter how talented I am or am not.
And those realizations make the prospect of offering my words to the world a lot less scary.
P.S. On the other hand, if all my reviews are negative, maybe I’ll want to look into renewing my teaching certification. 🙂
6 thoughts on “Worries of a Newbie Author: The Terror and Comfort of Divergent Reading Tastes”
If your blog writing skills and Facebook musings are anything to judge by your books will be fantastic. I love some really lame books and barely tolerate some “classics.” So you are absolutely right, just because some people may not like your style doesn’t diminish your talent and more importantly the pleasure and satisfaction you get from the process.
I appreciate your encouragement. You’re exactly right: No matter what happens once my books go on sale, I’ve loved the process of writing them. That joy won’t disappear just because I sell six copies and they’re all one-star reviews. 🙂
And thank you for the praise. I’m not sure I’ve earned it yet, but I hope I’ll justify your faith in my writing come December.
Brilliant post, Ms. Dade. I’m among the select few who have had the pleasure of reading your pre-published work, and I’m confident that readers will love your work as much as I do. Writers who judge contests don’t choose to read a specific entry, so a negative reaction to your work in that context says little about your talent. That low score had everything to do with your voice not matching the judge’s expectations of the genre. With you, readers should expect the unexpected, and in my mind, that characteristic of your writing will garner you many loyal fans.
In an effort to reduce your anxiety, or to help you associate the possibility of a negative review with a positive outcome, I make the following pledge: if you receive a negative review, I will purchase your favorite brownie from Wegmans and personally deliver it to you. (Please allow up to one week after the review is posted for fulfillment of this promise.) I doubt I’ll have to deliver on this promise, but maybe it’ll make the waiting game easier to bear.
Your biased but honest CP
BRING ON THE ONE-STAR REVIEWS! ::starts drooling in anticipation of either an Original Killer Brownie or a Salted Caramel Brownie::
In all seriousness: I love you. You’re the best CP ever. And I’d say that even if you didn’t promise me hand-delivered brownies.
(I have to admit, however, that the offer doesn’t hurt your case.)
This seems like a good approach. I hope it insulates you from feeling those critiques too deeply. After two years of reviewing I still find myself amazed how differently two people can see the same book. So much depends on our biases, mood & expectations.
Good luck, and I look forward to reading your dick-joke loving heroine.
I have a secret to confess: Pretty much all my heroines love dick jokes.
Well, maybe not the one for whom I wrote a synopsis yesterday. They embarrass her. (But I think she secretly enjoys them anyway. Because how could she not?)
It occurs to me that I probably should have been clearer concerning reviews and reviewers in this post. I know that my worries are not and SHOULD not be the concern of reviewers, at least on a professional level. As far as I’m concerned, their job is to evaluate authors’ work honestly for the sake of potential readers, with complete disregard for what those authors may think or feel. I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I can’t handle some—or even many—negative reviews, I should have chosen a different job.
And now that my CP has promised brownies for one-star reviews, I’m especially excited for people to hate my writing. 🙂