This is a thank you post, so I’m going to say that first.
To everyone who has ever left me a good Amazon review, who has ever emailed or messaged me to say how much they loved my work. Even if “all” you’ve done is purchase a book of mine or read it under Kindle Unlimited so I could see the pages flying by—those pages are uncontrovertible proof that someone was hooked enough to keep turning them, and you have no idea how valuable that is to me. How necessary.
I’m talking to my mom and my aunt, of course, my wife and friends and family, but I’m especially talking to the folks I’ve never met in person. The Marcia Sommerkamps and Elinor Bragas and Gwen Peters of the world. The people who will never see this post because they don’t follow me on FB or read my blog, but have reached out to make sure I knew how much they liked my stuff regardless. Thank you. This business is constantly punching me in the gut. You give me the power to keep my feet.
So what’s with the sudden outpouring of gratitude?
Critics, of course.
I got my review back from Publisher’s Weekly on ALEX. My first novel, my bestselling novel, my baby, the one I’m proudest of because it’s had the most “success.” The one that more than a thousand readers have gushed over publicly, the one that has moved so many to tears and literally left them thinking about it for years.
Yeah. PW was unimpressed. “Lack of suspense.” “The buildup of suspense is overwrought.” “Predictable twists.” “It is established too early that ghosts dictate the course of the plot.” (That one is particularly brutal to me, since I as the author never made a final decision whether the “ghosts” in the book were real and never intended to communicate one. Apparently PW thought it was pretty obvious that this was a vanilla ghost story from the word go, and were way too smart of all my tapdancing shenanigans.)
So I opened my email this morning and got hit with this particular gut punch. Good morning.
My immediate reaction: devastation, of course. These are the REAL reviewers. These are the PROS. If they say my book sucks they must know what they’re talking about.
But . . .
Because of you, I can hardly even write those words with a straight face. I *know* people loved the book. They’ve *told* me.
Leading in to my second reaction: smug superiority. So the traditional publishing industry hates my work—that’s not a surprise. I knew that yesterday. I’m self-published and they hate that. All these efforts to give out reviews to the little people are obviously just a ploy to put us in our place and remind us that THEY decide who lives and who dies. I don’t have to listen to them. I don’t have to give a rat’s ass about them. I have my own reviewers who like me. So there.
But . . .
It passes. I don’t want to be that guy. Stars help me if I become *that guy*. I never want to deny criticism on face just because of its source (with certain exceptions; some sources prove their unworthiness, but this isn’t that). I want to be open to legitimate critiques, no matter how they sting. And I agree with some of it—predictable twists? Sure, some people saw the twists coming. Professional reviewers are the most likely to see those, aren’t they? It’s hard to bullshit a bullshitter. “Suspense is overwrought” and “lack of suspense” sort of seem to contradict each other . . . but I know what they’re driving at: the book sags a bit in the middle. Enough people have told me this that I believe them.
But . . .
Try as I might, I just can’t be super-cool, above-the-fray guy. I pour my heart and soul into this stuff. I leave myself wide open—that’s what artists do. We beg people to shiv us in the stomach all day long.
So the reeling starts. You know, the self-pitying, self-destructive thoughts. Maybe I could just take a day off to recoup. Maybe I should go home and rethink my life—
—and it bumps into this weird bedrock. “No. People like my stuff.” The same thought as before, but in a different form. Not a scream of defiance, not a petulant denial . . . just a fact. People like my stuff. I’m not making it up. Shit, I know some of their *names*.
It doesn’t mean PW is wrong. It doesn’t mean I should never get criticized. It doesn’t mean I’m some tragic, hipster writing god, doomed by the artist’s curse to roam the earth with my genius unrecognized for all my life.
It just means I’ve got readers. I’ve got people who are picking up what I’m putting down—even if PW isn’t. And isn’t that the whole goddamn ballgame?
So thank you. *THANK YOU*. You saved my psyche today.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go write my ass off.