Monday, December 3, 2012

My Stupid Book

By Dan Haring

Writing a book is a little bit like having a child.

I can't really comment on whether or not it's like actually giving birth, since I'm not equipped to make that comparison. And as hard as writing a book is, after watching my wife go through four pregnancies and c-sections, I'd say writing a book is, in fact, very tame. (p.s. My wife is amazing)

But, being a father, I think I'm qualified to make the case of books as children. You spend hours agonizing over decisions and choices and tiny little things that might have huge repercussions. You stay up late with them, you clean up their messes, you strive to make them the best they can be.

Sometimes they reward you for it and you experience emotional highs like never before.

Sometimes they throw up on you at two in the morning.

But at the end of the day, they're your creation, and you love them.

Your parents and family and friends will adore them too. They'll see past whatever flaws they might have and praise the good. At least they should. You need to have that support system, both as a parent and an author. But then things get trickier, because at some point, you send them out into the world, hoping that you've prepared them as well as you can for what's to come.

And here's the hard part. Your kids and your book are going to be judged.

They're going to be judged on how well they perform, how well they can exist in the outside world, and so on and so forth. And those judgements are going to be a reflection of you, of your skills, of your abilities, of how well you did your job.

I've heard authors say they never read reviews. While it might be noble to refrain from reading them, it's not really for me. When a movie I've worked on comes out, I religiously check Rotten Tomatoes to find out what people think. I don't read all the reviews, but enough to get an idea of what worked and what didn't. The same with my book.

Criticism is good, to a certain degree. Not only does it keep you humble and grounded, it can help reveal problems with what you've created that can be avoided in the future. No one has ever written a perfect book, or raised a perfect child, and having the flaws pointed out can help in your next endeavor.

When my book came out, the reviews were generally pretty good. Like I said, family and friends were very supportive. And people I didn't even know seemed to respond well to it also.

Then one day, I got my first one star review on Goodreads. Since it's short, I'll quote it here:

"Probably the stupidest book I have ever read. Just stupid."

I went through a lot of different emotions when I got that review. I was mad, annoyed, frustrated, hurt, and many other adjectives. I considered responding to the review, then figured it would be a bad idea. After I'd cooled off a bit, I decided to just write a short note saying something along the lines of "Thanks for reading. Sorry you didn't enjoy it." But when I clicked to make a comment, Goodreads showed this warning:

"Goodreads has found that it is not in an author's best interest to engage with someone over a negative review. Please think twice before commenting on this review."

Fair enough. I decided to simply hit the "like" button on the review and leave it at that.

As time has passed and I've thought about it more, I'm glad I didn't say anything to the reviewer. I'm also glad I "liked" the review. For those reasons listed above, I'm actually thankful for the criticism. Not only does it compel me to work harder on my next book, it serves as a reminder that not everyone is going to love my work, no matter how good I think it is. And really, that's fine. It's just a book, and I'm glad the person took the time to read it.

That's all we as authors and parents can really ask for. Give our creations a chance. Let them show you what they can do. Hopefully you'll find something of redeeming value in them. If not, we'll simply move on. No harm, no foul.

But fair warning:  If you ever call my kid stupid I might punch you in the face :)


Jamie Manning said...

Beautifully put, Dan. And I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who became obsessive over reviews! Now I really don't pay them any attention, but when my book first came out, I was a fanatic about checking! lol Perhaps the most difficult lesson to learn about writing (and maybe parenting?) is that not everyone will like your creation--and that's okay. Great post!

Jordan Dane said...

OMG, great post. Love it. But you're a better person than I would've been to actually LIKE it. No way, dude.

Criticism has to have some foundation and something real for you to improve upon. "Stupid" does not qualify, if that's all they wrote. NYT bestseller, Joe Finder, once said that not everyone will "get you." He figured about 20%. Knowing Joe, he probably calc'd that percentage by his negative reviews on Amazon or B&N. There have also been some classic cases of very well known and beloved authors and their books being slammed by critics. The International Thriller Writers have an event where they read aloud some of their worst reviews and have a good laugh over them.

But striving for your best work is never a waste of time. Do it for you. And yes, learn from criticism that matters to you. I read reviews for newly released books, but then find that I can't keep up with much after I'm on to the next contract. I take what nuggets I can find that can help me, then move on.

I wish people would understand how crushing it can be to be judged so harshly, especially when we should know how difficult it is to not only write a book, but get it published by a house who has invested in the project. Bottom line is that YOU earned the recognition by putting in the sweat hours to perfect your craft to be picked up by a publisher or worked through crit partners and freelance editors to shine your indie book for publication. This takes time and money. Books are a few bucks to buy & read, but they represent someone's lifelong passion or can be their livelihood.

Imagine if EVERYONE had people looking over their shoulder as they worked their day jobs and criticising everything they did AND posted that online. That would be amazing, right?

Dan Haring said...

Thanks guys! You're definitely not alone Jamie :) I agree, the review wasn't very helpful. But like you said, Jordan, some people just won't get your stuff. Every book has its haters. I'd never compare myself to J.K. Rowling, but knowing people hated the Harry Potter series helps me not put too much stock into it.

You gave some great advice too, Jordan. And it would probably be a very different world if everyone was judged like that. It's hard to separate yourself from you work, but it kinda has to be done. And we can always go watch Ratatouille too :)