Once upon a time I wrote a book called Ella Eris and the Pirates of Redemption. I wrote this book because I got fed up with reading bad stories and thinking “I can do better than this.” I spent nearly a year of my life writing and rewriting and polishing that baby until it gleamed.
Finally when I thought it was done I sent it off to the publishers and waited for the money to start rolling in. But to my shock and dismay what started rolling in instead were form letters saying, “Thank you for your submission but your story does not fit our needs at this time, etc.”
As you can imagine I was crushed. Luckily, not crushed so badly that I didn’t keep writing, but those rejections were all stinging blows to my young writer’s ego. Still, I entertained myself with the notion that perhaps the agents hadn’t given my work a far shake, maybe they hadn’t really even read it.
So a few years later when I stumbled upon that wonderful digital repository of books called manybooks.net, I thought to myself, “Aha, here is a chance for me to show to myself and the world that my story does indeed have merit.” I uploaded my book and waited for the rave reviews to come rolling in.
Only when the reviews came rolling in, they weren’t raving at all. Instead they were critical. They talked about spelling errors and misplaced commas and a whole host of terrible things. I couldn’t believe it. I had spent long hours editing that book, reading and rereading, scouring my work for errors, doing my best to make it as perfect as I could.
But clearly none of that meant anything. The reviewers had had their say. So I changed course. I thought that since I hadn’t experienced success with my work that maybe it was the type of book I had written that had caused me all the trouble. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out to write fantasy. So I turned my attention to other kinds of fiction, and swore I’d never give fantasy another backwards glance again.
Until today that is. Today I exchanged a series of emails with a friend and through the course of the conversation I mentioned my book and how badly it had been reviewed on manybooks. My friend took a look at the reviews and wrote back with a strange message. “They’re not actually all that bad.”
But I knew different. I had read them for myself. They were written by people who hated my work, and now by extension they hated me too. People who would sooner see me drop off the face of the earth than see me write another book like that one. At least that was how I remembered it. But I started to wonder. Could it be true? Could the reviews that I thought were hateful and humiliating actually have something good to say? I had been avoiding visiting that book’s page for months, but now I steeled myself for the worst and went to have a look.
And my friend was right. The reviews weren’t as bad as I thought. True, they had complaints, and they did mention some spelling and punctuation errors, but on the other hand, one of the reviewers said she had read through my book in three straight hours in spite of those problems. If that isn’t a compliment I don’t know what is.
And it was then that I realized how stupid I had been (this happens to me on average about twice a day). I had looked at what the critics had to say and only focussed on the negative parts of the reviews. I assumed that what they were telling me was that my book was terrible. But in reality the message was, “This book needs some more work.”
Why couldn’t I see it at the time? I think part of the problem was that I had invested so much time into the book already that I had come to believe that there were no further changes I could make. If it wasn’t good enough by then, I thought it would never be good enough. But the truth is, I got fatigued with the whole project and gave up on it before it was really done.
So what do I do about it? I go back and make it right. I’ve had five years of writing and editing experience since I finished Ella Eris and the Pirates of Redemption, and while I’m still not published yet, I’ve come a long way in my journey as a writer. Maybe, just maybe, I can apply what I’ve learned to my first book and make it into something worth noticing. It’s worth a shot at any rate.
What does any of this have to do with you dear reader? Just this. Criticism can be hard to take. You will invest months and possibly years of your time into your baby story, and when you finally release it out into the world someone will say something negative about.
This will happen to you. The only way to avoid it, is to hoard all your work in a safe and never let it see a unfamiliar pair of eyes. And when it does happen it will hurt. It will feel like they’re attacking you personally, or that they’re saying you’re a terrible writer.
But maybe they’re just trying to help. Maybe they’re saying, “This story was okay, but here’s how it could have been better.”
At that point you can take one look at the negatives and lock yourself in a room with a box of tissues and a bucket of ice cream, or you can come to grips with the idea that maybe your baby wasn’t quite as perfect as you hoped. So perk yourself up, put on your ego armor and take another look at the criticism in a new light. At first it might look like the end of the world, but in reality it may be the start of a whole new one.
The unnamed, but oh-so-helpful friend in today’s post was Manon Eileen, who has wonderfully helpful blog about psychology and how to do it right in fiction. On the menu today is a discussion of Multiple Personality Disorders. Go and check it out.