Thursday, April 19, 2012

Really, authors?

A year ago, I stumbled on Goodreads, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorite websites: a social media site where I can not only discuss books, but interact with authors and maybe even win some ARCs?  Yes, please!  Let's face it, Goodreads is like a dream come true for rabid bookworms like me.  Thanks to Goodreads, I stumbled on some excellent reviewers, like Kat Kennedy, Stephanie Sinclair, and Wendy Darling.  Though I've read many of the same books as these reviewers, I don't always have the same opinion as them.  However, I love reading their reviews for one big reason: they make some outstanding points.

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz in the book world about authors laying the smackdown on reviewers.  When I first heard about it, I couldn't really believe it was real.  I mean, why would an author be crazy enough to attack someone who took the time to read their book?  Fascinated, I surfed book blogs, Goodreads, and author blogs, reading things that frankly amazed the crap out of me.

As an aspiring author, I understand that sick feeling you get whenever someone takes your baby, reads it, and tells you what they think about it.  I kid you not, I feel pretty sick to my stomach whenever I bring an excerpt to my writing group, or when I get an e-mail from a friend or family member with comments about one of my manuscripts.  It's not easy to hear others criticize something into which you've poured so much of your heart and soul.  This is why for YEARS I refused to let anyone read what I wrote.  When I finally made the decision to start giving people my work, I accepted the fact that not everyone would like it, and that they might say things that would hurt my feeling.  I dread this.  I was an absolute wreck before I read my reviews from ABNA this year.  I was convinced the reviewers hated my excerpt and had ripped it apart, and I had the tissues ready when I finally worked up the courage to read them.

So, yeah, I get it.  Wouldn't it be awesome if every last word I wrote was a stroke of pure genius over which my every reader could not help but fawn?  Yep, it would be.  But that's not reality, folks.  Reality is a world full of people with varied tastes, interests, and opinions.  This means that some of them will love what you write and others will hate it.  With a passion.  That absolutely does NOT give you the right to rip them apart for expressing their opinion about your work, even if they're snarky and tear it to shreds and say means things about it.  As long as they're not personally attacking you, they can say whatever they like about your work, and you need to just suck it up.  If it bothers you, don't read the reviews.  Just stay in your happy place, where you're sure everyone loves your book as much as you do.  But you won't improve if you do that, and I really hope no author publishes with the thought, "I'm completely cool with mediocrity."

Years ago, I started writing a truly epic fanfic.  I'm not gonna lie: I lapped up the positive feedback.  Ego stroking FTW!  But you know which review stuck out the most, which review I still think about to this day, even though it was written years ago?  The one where I was told that my character was just too good to be true.  Boy that stung, and my first reaction was to get defensive and to insist that the reviewer was wrong.  I clung to my self-righteousness and left the work as it was.

But you know what?  I was wrong.  I see that now.  Maybe my character is okay and maybe not, but that's really neither here nor there.  The fact of the matter is, I could have thought about the comment and then gone back and read my fanfic to see if there was something to it.  I could have found some flaws and decided how I would improve upon them later.  In short, I could have used this feedback to help me improve my work.

I am now in the process of editing a manuscript that I will indie pub via Kindle Direct Publishing and possibly, later, Smashwords, if the book does well on Amazon.  I am really excited at the thought of people reading this manuscript.  It took me seven years to write it, and I'm now in something like the fifth round of revisions to it.  It's a story that is near and dear to my heart, a manuscript that I have loved ever since I first started writing it.  But it's flawed.  I've changed it quite substantially, especially over the past month.  This is because I've been reading tons of reviews of other books and thinking, "Could these criticisms apply to my manuscript?"  If the answer is yes, I try to do something about it.

At the end of the day, I know that I will not be able to please everyone who reads my book, and that's okay.  But changing my book in an attempt to avoid some of the pitfalls other authors have stumbled into does not degrade the integrity of my work.  It does not make me a sellout.  It makes my work better, stronger.  It makes me challenge myself to try to rise above mediocrity, to move out of my comfort zone and into the arena.  It's scary as hell.  And I am grateful for it, because it will make me grow.

Once I publish, I'll set up a Goodreads author page.  And I make this promise to anyone who reads and reviews my book: If you criticize my work, I will not flame you.  I may cry, I may wallow in self-pity for a while, I may go through a period of feeling like my book is terrible, and I may think you're the meanest person in the universe.  But I will pick myself up, dust myself off, and try to do better next time.  And I will have you to thank for that.

And if you love it, I'll give you cupcakes.*

*The does not constitute an actual promise to give reviewers cupcakes.