Writing can be a lonely and discouraging experience at times. Those inescapable dark days when we feel like we’ll never amount to anything and can’t write worth a damn (even though we know it’s our lying, double-crossing internal doubter talking), or when someone, even kindly, manages in word or action to dismiss or diminish what we’re working so hard to accomplish.
These are the not-so-fun moments, the lows and valleys of the process. When it’s hard to feel excited or inspired, and the creative juices just aren’t flowing. When we’re pretty sure we won’t write anything worthwhile again, along with the debilitating suspicion that we’ve never done so in the first place.
And then there are days like today, which make all the darkest times worthwhile.
This morning I logged onto my Amazon Author Central profile, since it had been a while since I looked at any new reviews. I was checking to see if anyone had reviewed my latest book, released in August. I also checked on my book sales; as an indie author, I’m responsible for my own numbers and promotions.
When I check reviews, I always brace a little bit. I’ve learned not to take the negative reviews to heart; sometimes the criticism doesn’t really make sense, and often it seems like the reader probably shouldn’t have tried my books in the first place. I truly don’t expect that everyone will like them. (It frankly surprises me that they bothered to read all the way to the end, because I always give up on books I’m not enjoying.) It’s not the best feeling to see a 1-star review dragging down the average, even if the guy writing it mostly disliked the fact that it had too much “girly” stuff. But I manage to stay pretty philosophical about it.
“From my close observation of writers… they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.”
― Isaac Asimov
The last time I logged on some months ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see three highly positive 5-star reviews for my second to last release, book 10 in the series. It was such a thrill, I immediately emailed my mom about it and ran around telling my office buddies. Not just one, but three! It’s always so gratifying to hear that a reader enjoyed my work—exciting, gratifying, humbling, encouraging, all in one happy instant. My dearest wish is that people will find entertainment and pleasure in reading my stories, so it’s an incredibly great feeling when they do.
(A note on reader reviews: I know a lot of authors preach review avoidance, because good ones are “crack” and you want more, bad ones are demoralizing, or whatever reasons they believe are the truth. I personally don’t crave more good reviews when I get one, and I don’t shrivel at bad reviews. I’ve found some to be quite helpful. But every author can make their own calls about that; the quote at the end says it all.)
Today when I logged on, I had the joy and pleasure of seeing five new positive reviews. Best of all, one was from someone I know and respect (who was under no obligation to praise the book), and one was a thoughtful, well-written 5-star review of my favorite and, to date, most poorly reviewed 6th novel. The reviewer explained why she liked it, gave some helpful feedback for me about labeling and genres, discussed a few things that could have been done differently but worked anyway, and ended by saying she’d like to read more of my work. She even said she couldn’t understand why it received negative ratings, she’d enjoyed it so much.
This is the highest, purest praise I could hope for. When my mom texted to say how much she loved my 11th book—not that she hadn’t liked the others, but this one she raved about, even in its draft state—I cried a little out of pure happiness and gratitude.
For better or worse, I pour all of myself into my stories. Not because I hope or believe they’ll ever be bestsellers or win awards, but because I want to create the best experience possible for anyone who happens to read one. Hearing genuinely positive feedback from readers is a tangible validation of the work I put into writing, giving me fresh inspiration to continue. I don’t need other people’s validation to write, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate and value it when they generously give it to me.
I want to say one big, encompassing THANK YOU to everyone who has ever told me they enjoyed one of my books, whether you read this post or not. Every single one of you, I thank you with my whole heart. Know that your words have encouraged me, stayed with me, and continue to inspire me. My next book, whatever it’s about and whenever it comes into being, will be dedicated to YOU.
Wishing you and your loved ones very happy holidays and a bright and peaceful 2017, full of the very best kinds of days.
“If you make art, people will talk about it. Some of the things they say will be nice, some won’t. You’ll already have made that art, and when they’re talking about the last thing you did, you should already be making the next thing.
If bad reviews (of whatever kind) upset you, just don’t read them. It’s not like you’ve signed an agreement with the person buying the book to exchange your book for their opinion.
Do whatever you have to do to keep making art. I know people who love bad reviews, because it means they’ve made something happen and made people talk; I know people who have never read any of their reviews. It’s their call. You get on with making art.”
― Neil Gaiman