It’s summertime, and I’m childproofing the house for little visitors who are flying in from far away. (Children. Not aliens. That’s another blog post.) So, while I pick up everything off the floor, here’s a post I wrote a few years ago, about meeting the folks who read your books.
Dear aspiring writers:
Get ready. When your novel, or memoir, or political exposé is published, you’ll get reactions from readers. From readers, that is, who are not your mother. So you need to prepare yourself for the range of responses your work will garner. I’m here to shatter a few myths and misconceptions.
1. Everybody will love you. Love you!
Many years ago, an acquaintance was offered a publishing contract. The author, in an understandable state of euphoria, told me, “Now nobody can ever say bad things about my writing again. I’m published.”
Sorry, no. Publication provides an unbeatable rebuke to people who doubted you could get published. But it opens you up to entire wondrous new worlds of criticism. I mean, have you ever actually looked at Amazon reviews?
2. You can’t please all the people all the time.
Have you written a vivid, deeply-felt novel, told with brio, courage, and a distinctive voice? Somebody’s going to hate it. The more distinctive your novel, the more certain it becomes that some readers will revolt against it. That’s life. The alternative — to back down and write inoffensive mush — is no solution at all. Be bold.
And get ready.
3. Readers will tell you:
- Your characters swear too much. (“If my grandchildren used words like the hit man in your novel, I would wash their mouths out.”)
- There are too many weapons in your novel.
- The heroine in your novel does not use enough weapons. (“She needs to get strapped. Big time.” Even if your heroine is a pacifist.)
- There are similes in your novel.
- You don’t know what you’re talking about. You can be a trial lawyer who writes a legal thriller, and a reader or reviewer will say you’ve clearly never stepped inside a courtroom. You can write about your hometown, and somebody will claim that you’ve never set foot in the place. You can vet the science in your novel with a physicist and the medicine with a practicing physician, and be told that everything you’ve written is patently absurd. You can transcribe conversations verbatim, and someone will tell you it’s impossible that anyone would say such a thing (“Nobody would ever be rude to a disabled person. After all, normal people feel so sorry for the poor things.”).
- You can’t write.
- You can’t tell a story, unlike James Patterson.
- Your characters are insufficiently religious. Or they have the wrong religion. Or you have the wrong religion.
- Your books are filth. They have too much sex. Or they need more sex.
- You’re a woman.
- You’re a man.
- You’re obviously a man, hiding behind a woman’s pen name.
So what should you do?
4. Don’t worry, be happy.
Remember your goal. Picture it. You’ve finished a book. It’s published. People are buying and reading it. Keep writing. Keep rubbing yourself with sandpaper, to develop that thick skin. Write back to readers who are polite. Ignore those who are plain mean and hurtful. Never enter into flame wars with reviewers. Never. Rise above it. Keep working on your craft, so your next project will be even more sparkling and suspenseful.
Smile. You’re a writer.
And once in a while, blog about it.
Oh — and never, ever, put a dog in jeopardy and leave its fate hanging at the end of a novel. You’ll get hate mail, and it will be deserved.