I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!
Three Star Reviews, Silent Rejection and The Search For An Audience
July 21, 2017
I intend to start blogging here regularly again (as was originally intended) and I figured I’d start with the sort of post I may need to check back in on from time to time for encouragement and hopefully it speaks to other writers as well.
I don’t know if there’s an original source for this quote but I’ve seen several authors use the phrase “The only thing worse than writing is not writing” and anyone who feels the unmistakable drive to write and create knows this to be very true. Writing in and of itself is often taxing and exhausting and sometimes even boring and tedious, but the only thing worse than all of that is not staying disciplined, not getting your ideas on paper (no matter how slowly they may want to drip out) and ignoring the call you feel to be a writer.
To avoid that misery, we push through, right? But that doesn’t change the fact that writing is still all those miserable things that it is and, if you’re like me, it’s hard to be patient after all that work. You’ve put in so many hours, agonized over every detail, pored over countless edits and now you are ready. You are ready for validation. For people to discover all this hard work you’ve disappeared into for months or years and hopefully like it.
I’m not saying that you need it to be the best-selling book of all time and earn you a six-figure movie deal or anything, but you’ve poured yourself into the thing, it’d be nice if people read it, right? You just want the writing to find an audience it connects with and to have the opportunity to be on the other end of that author/reader relationship you’ve shared with so many of your favorites through the years. You’ve worked so hard and tirelessly and, as mentioned, writing is miserable sometimes, you NEED this validation to keep going. And you need it NOW.
At least that’s how I feel sometimes. When I’m brainstorming ideas or sitting in front of the laptop trying to bring characters to life or make a story work, it’s not exactly motivating when I remember that the last thing I wrote didn’t exactly take off. Or the thing before that. Or….well, you get the picture.
I don’t say this for sympathy or pity, this is kind of what’s to be expected unless you catch a lucky break right away or walk into some other unusual set of circumstances. I don’t necessarily want to read something by someone I’ve never heard of so why should anyone want to take a chance on an indie author like me? We’re all busy and there are a lot of books competing with summer blockbusters and a new Netflix series every weekend so I get it. Logically, I’m willing to pay my dues and keep pushing forward until that break comes, until I find the audience I’m meant to connect with. But emotionally and even creatively, it can be a struggle. A bit of a burden to keep putting in hours and hours of work, forcing myself to focus and stay disciplined even when it’s hard, especially when I know there’s a chance it might not go anywhere. This might not be the one.
Then, of course, there are the people that do read your work and you never know what the response is going to be. If you’re like me, still new, still only very slowly gaining readers, every reaction matters. Anytime someone reviews or comments on your book, the impact is about a billion times more significant than, say, if it’s just one review among thousands posted below a best-seller.
For my first novel, Deny, I remember getting my first one-star review (although most of the feedback has been really positive) and I remember feeling pretty good shrugging it off because this person was just very clearly not the intended audience. It didn’t feel amazing, but it didn’t hurt that bad. What’s been worse is any time I get a 3 star review. It feels like a person just being nice, giving me an unenthusiastic pat on the head but really feel entirely indifferent about the whole thing. It’s such a boring, passionless response, I can’t help but be a little depressed by them. I probably feel even worse when I have a good week among Kindle Unlimited readers and I’ll see that tons of pages are being read, presumably multiple people are reading my books and then….no one leaves a review.
What’s kind of hilarious is that I’m not one to usually leave reviews (although now that I’ve ever experienced for myself how helpful or hurtful they can be, I’m trying to change that) but I immediately internalize a non-review as a dismissal of the book. They didn’t like it. Or really, they didn’t care enough about it to barely have an opinion. I mean, again, kind of a preposterous conclusion because I have loved many books that I never left a review for but as a starving author in desperate need of validation….yeah, it kind of feels that way.
I wish the validation came right away. Not just for my sake for the sake of every author that feels like giving up every day (or already has). But I once read it explained like this: basically, one day something you write will connect with an audience and it’s gonna feel amazing and, as a result, several of them will go back and read stuff you’ve written in the past. The stuff that never took off. That felt almost like a waste of time at a certain point. The stuff you were never validated for.
And I know, I know, we write for the love of art and we write because we have stories burning inside of us that we just have to tell, but it’s also not wrong to admit there’s another need: the need to have people read those stories. To care about them and engage with them. The circle may be small now but I’m grateful to everyone who’s ever read anything I’ve written and cared enough to tell me what they enjoyed about it, those little bits of encouragement do help keep some gas in the tank.
But on days when it feels like it’s not enough, I try to remember that the best way to have my writing discovered is to keep writing. Keep writing and writing until finally something clicks and lands where it’s supposed to. This is mainly just a chance for me to say to other authors, yeah, it does feel like crap sometimes but that thing inside of you that’s driving you to begin with, you’re never gonna experience it if you give up now.