What is Success in Writing?
For so many years, the end goal of my writing was to land an agent, sign with a publisher, and have my fully-legitimized book thrust out into the world with the approval stamp of the publishing house on its spine. After that, I imagined myself throwing confetti in the air and basking in the joy of post-publishing glory. In this idealized vision, publication equaled success. I never thought much about what came after publication. For some reason, the reviews that would follow–both good and bad–didn’t factor into my daydream.
Well, fast-forward a few years. I landed (and fired) my agent. I signed a three-book deal with Bookouture, who recently released Two Widows, the first of three stand-alone suspense novels. My second suspense novel, She Lies Alone, is coming out in less than two weeks. These stories–the ones I spent literally years of my life crafting, writing, and revising–are now out there for people to read and review. It’s exciting, yes. It’s also terrifying.
I’m happy to say that Two Widows has been very well-received by the suspense-reading community. Still, like almost every book, it has garnered occasional one and two-star reviews. As much as the reviews praising my book have injected me with a sense of euphoria (especially the ones that say they would give it MORE than five stars if they could!), the mean reviews hurt equally as much. These critical people do not hesitate to share how much they HATED my book. Some negative reviews are easier to disregard–for example, those written in one extremely long run-on sentence with no punctuation and brimming with misspelled words, or those that state incorrect facts, demonstrating that the reader has zero reading comprehension, or those that are hateful toward gay people and offended that my main character reconciles with her gay son and admits she’d been wrong to blindly follow a few bullies in her small town church. As authors, it is difficult to not be able to respond to these. But we can’t.
The advance Netgalley reviews for She Lies Alone are starting to show up on Goodreads. The first three people who read it left FIVE-STAR reviews. Woo-hoo! (I must have really found the pinnacle of success with this second book.) Then a few four star reviews followed. (I’ll take a four-star review any day.) The last five reviews have been 3 stars. (Can you feel my energy deflating?) Reading some of these new comments about my book being “average” and “predictable” feels like something akin to emotional abuse, to someone berating my child in front of me. I went from having a wonderful day to wanting to jump off the nearest bridge. (Did I mention I’m a highly sensitive person?)
Apparently, some readers are disappointed that the cover doesn’t match the story. I’m wondering why these people didn’t bother to read the back cover blurb. Others are disappointed that my book is not a true “thriller.” That’s correct, She Lies Alone is a novel of psychological suspense, just as it says in the subtitle! Maybe you can see why I’m frustrated…
How to Cope
For my fellow writers who are finding the thrill of publication tarnished by negative reviews, here are some things I’ve found that help:
- Look up a few of your all-time favorite books on Amazon or Goodreads. See how members of the general population left average and bad reviews the book that you so loved. You know they aren’t right. Now apply the same logic to YOUR book.
- Remind yourself (as my editor often reminds me) that no book is going to please everyone. It has literally never been done.
- Look for constructive criticism and use it to make your next book better. As much as I hate to say it, when several people are saying the same thing over and over again, there’s a good chance they might be on to something.
- Don’t read the reviews. Okay, I had to say it, but no one believes that is going to happen.
- Remember why you write. I write because there is a story within me that needs to be told. I write because I enjoy being creative. I write because I’m good at it. This passion of telling mysterious and suspenseful stories is for me, not to please some twenty-two-old woman with a permafrown who lives in a crappy apartment building in the middle of Arkansas and who’s initials are K. M. and who I’ve never met and probably wouldn’t like if I did meet her. (Too specific?)
Don’t Dwell. Keep Writing.
While easier said than done, I’m striving to let negative reviews roll off my back. I’m going to appreciate and gain energy from the positive feedback. My third book has just been sent to my editor to prepare for the line edits, and that is where my focus needs to be, not on books that I’ve already written, re-written, revised, and edited. I’ve already poured my heart and soul into those books and they can’t be changed now. I like my books. Actually, that’s not true. I love my books. And for a writer, maybe that’s the true mark of success.