Taking It Personally
Right now I’m reading a book by Holly Lisle about making a living as a writer. Obviously she speaks from the traditional publishing side of the pond, but I still like to hear what other people have to say about making a living as a novelist. Because it’s, quite frankly, a quirky (and wonderful) way to make a living. And it fascinates me that there is a whole group of people who make their living in this way… making shit up. Or… as Lawrence Block said: “Telling Lies For Fun and Profit”.
Oh… and let me digress for a minute before I get into this post… she starts out talking about how the chain bookstores only order what they sell, and an author’s sell-through percentage remains fairly constant, but bookstores don’t order based on sell-through percentage, but actual sales. So for example… if you have 70% sell through, and they originally order 10 books per store, then they will re-order 7 books per store, because of your sell through. But then, your sell-through stays at 70% and the next time instead of ordering 7 books per store, they order 5. And so on.
Basically she was explaining that this is one of the reasons authors on the midlist end up in a death spiral. That makes me wonder why anybody traditionally publishes. I mean, I always knew it was bad. I always knew that there were a million and one reasons contracts don’t get renewed and that it’s a lot of pressure to make those “numbers” when there is so much competition for people’s attention and money these days. And few authors are able to keep their entire backlist in print, which makes publishing a series an exercise in insanity. I just had no idea that the system of the big bookstore chains was pretty much BUILT to screw authors over. And I wonder why few people seem to be discussing this.
This makes it even more baffling to me why everybody isn’t self-publishing… why there is still a line to get into the gates of traditional publishing. It seems like a big ball of OMGWTFBBQ. And really, who needs that? To be clear, I don’t “hate” publishers or traditional publishing. I don’t hope it dies. (Actually I hope it survives and thrives, and I’ll talk about why maybe in another post.) But just going from the angle of “self-interest”, I truly don’t understand how traditional publishing is in the self-interest of most authors. Maybe it is. Maybe I just am not getting something. Maybe it’s over my head, but it confuses the hell out of me, to be honest.
So anyway, that was me digressing… but what I really wanted to talk about is taking reviews personally. A lot of professional writers, when giving advice to newer writers… and Ms. Lisle is no exception, talk about how you will take bad reviews personally and they will hurt your feelings and how those reviews hurt their feelings. And I’m just confused.
I wonder if this is something some pros tell newer writers so newer writers don’t feel so bad that they feel bad. I wonder how anyone can make it through this business without developing either a thicker skin or some level of apathy toward it all. I don’t recall a single negative review ever hurting my feelings. And I’m not saying that to sound “tough”. I just really don’t get it. I’ve never had a review make me cry.
Most of the time I don’t read reviews period, because they aren’t for me. Reviews are written by readers for readers, and sometimes I think when an author sticks their nose in and eavesdrops on readers’ thoughts, then maybe that’s just what they get. Not everything people say about your work behind your back (even if behind your back is publicly on an Amazon review) is going to be nice or something you particularly care to hear about. Nor is it something you are obligated to hear about.
But on the few times where I do get bored and read reviews, more likely than not, a negative review will merely annoy me. If it’s a fair-minded review, I’m pretty much neutral about it. That’s their opinion and that’s okay. Nobody likes everything. A lot of people don’t like that I don’t write more graphic sex in my books. Okie dokie. Go read someone who does.
Some people don’t like the temporary harem aspect of Save My Soul. I get that. That’s cool. Go read a different author if you don’t like it. People are all different. I don’t expect everybody to like everything I write. I hope to entertain the people my books are intended for. And if someone isn’t a part of my intended audience and they bitch and whine about it, well, that seems like more of a problem with them than with me or my writing. So, for that reason, I’ve never felt the need to cry about it.
The times when reviews annoy me are when it’s pretty clear the reader didn’t comprehend what they read because their review is saying stuff happened that didn’t even happen, or is attributing bizarre viewpoints to characters that just aren’t there, or in very rare cases, to me. A reviewer once decided that I personally, me, Zoe Winters, hate vegetarians and vegans and take “every possible opportunity” to take pot shots at them in my writing. (Actually, this was so bizarre it made me laugh. It was too weird to annoy me.)
It always baffles me the people who don’t know the difference in fiction and real life. When I’m writing, I’m writing from the POV of my characters. Some of my characters are hardcore carnivores. Some of them drink human blood. So among those particular species, yes… there is a general distaste for those among their species who behave like vegetarians/vegans. But *I* have no personal feelings one way or the other about vegetarians or vegans. Eat whatever the hell you want. What do I care?
So anyway… I’m digressing again… the point I’m *trying* to get to is… you really have to put up a wall. I understand that writers are supposed to be sensitive sorts and blah blah blah. And on some level, we are. I think it takes a certain level of sensitivity to be able to write about the human condition in a way anyone can relate to.
But I also think, that in order to do what we do, we have to put up whatever walls are necessary to keep doing what we’re doing. For me, the wall I have to put up is staying away from Internet debate because it drains my energy and ability to be creative… which is sort of bad for a writer of fiction. It also makes me literally loathe humanity, which isn’t a good place to be in if you’re writing anything but the most emo and wrist-slitting of genres.
Sometimes for me that wall means being careful about the line between fans and friends and not letting just anybody get too close to me, because I’ve been burned by people who have later just flipped out on me like a ninja for one bizarre reason or another. And that DOES hurt, because it’s someone who I thought liked me who was harboring all sorts of weirdass rage I didn’t know about until their switch got flipped and they hurled it all at me. So I’ve had to be careful in regards to that.
Sometimes it means just not reading reviews or any random commentary anyone has to say about me anywhere.
But really… if you take every review personally and every random thing someone says about you on the Internet personally, you’re going to have a hard road here. I can’t count the number of times people have taken me out of context or misquoted me. One person recently said that I preferred Lulu to CreateSpace, when really I prefer Lightning Source and would never work with Lulu. You just have to let this stuff roll off, because the more public your image/name becomes, the less control you have over what people say about you or your work. And you can’t be running all over the place putting out imaginary fires all the time.
Again, more of why I spend more time in the bat cave and on my own spaces. Call me wacky and insane, but I really just want to be around people who like me. If you don’t like me, go the fuck away. And it’s not that I have some type of mental condition. ALL human beings prefer to be around those who like them and just completely avoid those who do not. There is nothing wrong with that. I think for some reason we want to apply a whole new and bizarre way of feeling/thinking/behaving that doesn’t fit with human nature at all when we’re dealing with writers and other creative/public types.
I’m really not sure why we aren’t supposed to be human, but meh. And it *is* human to have feelings about stuff when people say something bad either about you or your work. That’s natural. But at the same time, I think it’s important to come to a point where you draw very clear lines over who you are giving your mental real estate to. Random strangers on the Internet do not DESERVE to rile you up. There should be an understanding that your husband or best friend or mother is a totally different class of person from some random boob on the Internet you don’t know and who doesn’t really know you.
Be good to your fans and roll your eyes at your haters. Because people who don’t like you do not deserve your time, energy, mental real estate, and certainly not your hurt feelings.