Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Preparing for the Harshest Critiques of All

Maven Jacqueline BarbourSo, what could be worse than a critique from a contest judge or other reader who trashes your manuscript and makes you consider tossing the whole thing in the Microsoft Windows Recycle Bin? A review of your published book, of course!

How could that possibly be worse, you ask? After all, if it's published, that means someone somewhere loved it enough to take a chance on it in the first place. Isn't the fact that you got published validation enough for you? What more proof do you need?

Well, here's why I think it could be worse: it's too late to fix it! At least with a critique from a judge or beta reader, you have an opportunity to correct whatever she found wrong with your story (assuming you don't decide her advice is all wet, of course). But if you get a poor review of your published book and think, "Hey, Mrs. LaughAMinute has a point: my heroine really is too stupid to live and there's a plot hole the size of the Grand Canyon in the first chapter," there's nothing you can do it about it. The thing's already printed and done; there's no going back.

Much as every unpublished author wants to make that leap to being published, to being read, that milestone brings with it a different kind of vulnerability. Before you get published, you worry about whether you're good enough to get published. After you get published, you worry whether you're good enough to stay that way. Is my work really worth $4.50 (or whatever the cover price is) for people to read? Will they feel they got their money's worth or cheated? Will they love me or hate me?

Writing is very personal (or is it for me, at any rate). While my characters and stories aren't about me or my life, they are very much mine. They come from my head and my heart and I'm invested in them. In some fundamental sense, if you don't like my book, maybe it means you don't like me.

Now, I realize that this is rationally untrue! Even if you buy my book and decide it's a complete wallbanger and a rip-off, you probably won't come and toilet paper my house for revenge. (I'm not telling you where I live, anyway, so even if you were considering it...) You might not even hold it against me when my next book comes out. Maybe you'll think the crummy book of mine you read was a fluke and I'm really not as a bad as all that. Even authors whose books I typically love are capable of producing books I don't particularly like, so I'm certainly a firm believer in not assuming a writer is a hack based on one bad book. And even the divine La Nora has a book that's panned now and then, right?

Maven Jacqueline BarbourStill, I've been mulling my fear of reviews since about a week after I sold my Jackie Barbosa-branded erotic novella, Carnally Ever After, to Cobblestone Press. For the first week or so, I walked on air. Then, reality hit me! People are going to be reading my story. People I don't know. People I haven't conversed with in email or sat around a table drinking with at the RWA National conference or otherwise interacted with. And now that I have release date, August 17 (yes, just ten short days from now!), I'm doing my best to prepare myself for the inevitable moment when someone says, "Your story sucks."

Now, since I know the Mavens will give me a dope slap if I don't point this out, there is an excerpt from Carnally Ever After in this month's Cobblestone Quarterly newsletter. I didn't know Deanna was going to put it in there until after she'd done so and after Emma Petersen (a fellow Cobblestone author but apparently not a plant, LOL) launched a thread on the Romance Divas Forum gushing over how much she loved it and couldn't wait for the release. This was followed by several more very kind comments by other people (most of whom I've never met) who read the excerpt and liked it, too.

Needless to say, I basked in the glow like the complete hedonist that I am, doing my best Sally Fields imitation ("You like me, you really like me!"). It felt wonderful.

But I still worry about how I'll react to people who don't like it. Mostly because if they don't, there's nothing I can do about it. I'm an inveterate fixer. If something's wrong, I want to make it better. It's just my nature. But Carnally Ever After is already as good as it's ever going to be. It's done now and there's no going back. (And I truly never thought those words would be as terrifying as they actually are!)

If you want to be published, if you want to be read, you have to make the leap of faith and show your stuff to everyone and anyone who wants to look. It's exhilarating and a little scary. As I said on my own blog the other day, it's a bit like getting naked with a guy you really, really like for the first time. It could have a fantastic payoff, but it could also be devastating. (I wasn't going to repeat that particular analogy, but Leigh said she liked it and it does seem very apt.)

That said, I think it's worth the risk! (And I'll let you know for sure in about, oh, three weeks.)

YOUR TURN: If your work has been published, how did you react to poor reviews when you got them? If you haven't been published yet, have you thought at all about what it will be like, both good and bad?

P.S. Posting extra early because I have a fever and I'm going to bed!


Tessa Dare said...

First, that excerpt IS awesome, and the fact that you're getting such great buzz already doesn't surprise me in the least! Add me to the list of impatient readers!

Second, I also live in fear of the day AAR or SB or even Harriet Klausner reviews one of my books! I know that my Regency lite style is not for everyone, and inevitably some readers won't like my story or my characters or my writing. Easy to say, but I'm sure it's a whole different thing to experience. Intrepid you gets to be the scout, bringing back tales from the front!

Go Jackie!

lacey kaye said...

Isn't it, Tessa? Fabulousness we expected--other people thinking so, too, is just icing on the cake.

And you have nothing to worry about. Ok, maybe a little something to worry about. Just human nature--we all do. You can't please everyone all the time, damn them :-)

ERiCA said...

Like Tessa, I do think about future reviews. When I thought I'd write Regency-set historicals and nothing else, my biggest fear was walking that line between historical accuracy (for the extremely vocal Regency buffs) and general entertainment value (for the non-buffs who are looking for a good story and don't know the difference between a clavicle and a curricle.)

I haven't given up on Regencies, per se, but lately I've been writing wacky paranormals. Making up all of my world-building details (rather than researching them from history books) has opened a new can of worms. What if someone thinks the stuff that comes from my imagination is... well... stupid?

Or simply not funny (since they're allegedly romantic comedies)?

Although it will no doubt crush me like a grape in a wine press (ewww) when that day comes, I've decided there's no accounting for taste (mine or the reviewer's *g) and all I can do is write the best books I can.

Bill Clark said...

As usual, I learn something every day when I tune in to these pages. Today I learned two things: that Jacq is an about-to-be-published author (Go, Jacq!!), and that a curricle is not just another name for a clavicle.

Thankfully, none of my books has ever been panned. To the contrary, all I get is requests for more. But I would never let a bad review disconcert me, since I write to please myself. As Lacey says, if other people like it, too, that's just icing on the cake.

Besides, even a bad review can create buzz, Jacq, as people react to it pro or con. Bottom line (says Bill, ever the optimist), there's no such thing as a bad review. So not to worry.

Gillian said...

Well, I just popped over to your site and read the excerpt and it is delicious! You paint a very vivid picture--I'd be really proud of that. And I hope you've planned a decadent release party for yourself :)

Darcy Burke said...

I'm a people pleaser. I'm fine with people not liking my stuff, but I'd rather they keep it to themselves, LOL. But you're right, Bill, bad reviews are still press and is there bad press? Guess only Britney and Lindsay know for sure...

Writer & Cat said...

I haven't gotten a poor review yet, or not one that I'd consider poor. But then, I haven't published much yet either. Give me time!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Unpublished, so no reviews for me yet. I think I'll worry about that when the time comes. I have thought about it a bit. Right now I'm taking the relaxed attitude - as long as people buy my books, I don't care if they hate them.

Jacqueline Barbour said...

Finally getting around to responding to all your kind, wonderful comments. Sadly, the cold that felled me early last night is still hanging on, and I've been feverish and achy all day. Summer colds, where you're getting the chills in 85+ degree weather, are the worst, IMO!

Tessa--I'm glad you liked the excerpt so much! And given the raves I'm hearing from various quarters about GOTH and the bit of GOB I've seen, I'm pretty sure you won't be getting too many poor reviews :).

Lacey--you know I'll always find something to worry about. It's in my nature!

Erica--grape in a wine press. Bwa!

Bill--of course there's such a thing as bad publicity. Just ask Lindsey and Britney. (Oh wait, Darcy said that!)

Gillian--so happy you liked what you read so far. I have to admit, I'm pretty proud of that story. I think sometimes I worry I'll never write anything else near as good. And although I don't have plans for a decadent release party, I expect to be doing the Cobblestone Author's blog and chat on the release date.

Jody--you know I LURVE your stories, so you won't get a bad review from me, that's for sure!

B.E.--I think the fact that people will be paying for the privilege to read my story is precisely what makes me so nervous. I want to give my readers a good time for their hard-earned money!

Okay, all for now. Goin' back to bed!

Santa said...

Dang! Sorry I missed you but am SO psyched for you!! Major congrats on being one of the first out there!!

Mazel Tov and all that!

Tessa Dare said...

Feel better, Jacq!
Somehow I missed that under-the-weather part when I commented last night.

Isabel said...

Jacq, I hope you feel better soon! :)


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