Last week, I blogged here about being a tad sensitive to comments I’d gotten from reader. In a nutshell, she not only hated my book but complained that it was full of grammar and punctuation errors. It didn’t bother me that she hated the book, but her criticism of my grammar and punctuation lit my hair on fire.
This week I’m sort of still talking about the same thing, only this time the focus is on the reader not liking my book. We authors all have two things in common: huge egos (otherwise, how could we honestly think something we’d written is worthy of being available to read — and for money — all over the world?) and huge insecurities (omg, what made me think that piece of disjointed crap should ever see the light of day?). We are (usually) our own biggest cheerleaders and our own toughest critics.
Writing a manuscript is intensely personal. No matter how hard we try, there’s not an author out there who doesn’t put some part of her self into each and every book, so when the criticism comes, it can feel personal. One of the first things newbies have to learn about the business is not to take it personally.
Writing and reading are subjective. Every person brings his/her own beliefs, education, abilities, understandings and preferences to every book they write/read. If we have a smidgen of talent, other people will eventually find our books and look forward to every one of them. If we have ginormous luck, it will be a whole lot of people and we’ll make bestseller lists and lots of money and live comfortably live after.
(Yeah, I just said that luck is more important than talent in selling, in making bestseller lists and in making a living from this business.)
Back before I sold my first book, I was a voracious reader. There were books I loved, books that weren’t anything special but filled a few hours for me, and books that made me do the proverbial toss-against-the-wall and say, “I can do better than that.” Back then I was reading strictly for character, plot, emotion — things that made me happy when I closed the book.
Then I sold my first book, and it became a brand-new ballgame. After going through line-edits and copy-edits and page proofs, I realized that there was a whole new job for me: learning what the editors were looking at. Why did they cut this scene? Why did they put a comma there and take out one there? Why did this work for them when that didn’t?
I not only studied my own manuscripts; I began to study the books I was reading for pleasure. After all, they were already published by a major publishers, many by my own.
And that was pretty much the end to my carefree life of reading for pleasure. It’s so hard for me to read a book now without wanting to grab a red pen and start correcting mistakes, writing notes in the margins, attaching Post-Its to the pages. I have to consciously turn off my internal editor and say, “I’m reading for fun; it’s not critique; it’s not work.”
After I reached that point, though, I was no longer satisifed with just any book I picked up. I was reading for technique, for craft, in addition to storytelling. And I found that a lot of big authors are strong in storytelling but weak in technique and craft.
I can list fifty bestselling authors today whose books I won’t read. Maybe it’s subject matter. (I hate vampires and demons.) Maybe it’s a craft problem. (I hate head-hopping, where you only spend a few paragraphs or pages in one character’s head and then, without warning, you’re in a different character’s head.) I hate kitchen-sink plotting (where the author throws in everything but the kitchen sink). I just don’t like the types of characters some big-name authors tend to write.
But, like I said, it’s all subjective. We’re different. We like different foods and clothes and music and cars and people, so it stands to reason that we’ll like different books. The reader who wrongly criticized my grammar and punctutation is entitled to dislike my book (and with the grammar/punctuation rules changing fairly regularly and from publisher to publisher, she’s entitled to think I did it wrong. I didn’t, but she’s allowed to think so.)
Seriously, I’ve received enough rejections, bad reviews and critical reader letters that they don’t bother me much. As another author pointed out to me long, long ago, all that negative stuff is just one person’s opinion.
And everyone’s entitled to their opinion.