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. 🙂