As my next book is about to begin promotion, I thought I’d reflect a little on the journey so far. I’m sure that those of you who aren’t writers will think: what does this have to do with me? Well, in life all roads usually diverge at some point, so hear me out. Maybe you’ll find something useful.
First, let me give you some background so you can get a little feel for what I’m trying to say.
My first book—Gone For You, was picked up for a huge feature in December. And by huge, I mean the book was downloaded 60,000 times.
That’s great, right?
Well, it was for me. The feature gave me an enormous platform to launch the follow up book, Fall With Me. My newsletter sign ups alone jumped by six thousand subscribers.
But, back to the story.
Since I’m OCD, I check the stats on my reviews daily. Not because I want to see the great things people say about me (totally lying here, I LOVE to see the great things people say), but because I want to see what worked and what didn’t, from a reader’s perspective.
You see, when you release a book, you actively seek bloggers to write reviews. Honest reviews. There is no trickery here. But my promotion company doesn’t ask a blogger to review my rockstar romance novel if they only read sci-fi. Why would they? But when you’re running a free promotion, you can’t control who picks up the book. Or what they will say about it.
Yesterday I got a few reviews. But two in particular stood out.
One review was a five star that started by saying, “I love that this book was written entirely from the male POV.”
Because right under that was another review, a three star, that stated, “Because this book was written from the Hero’s perspective, I couldn’t connect with the female lead. I prefer a dual POV.”
I’m paraphrasing on both of these, but you get the gist.
This is when I began to question which of these reviews was “right.”
In truth, the answer is both.
Because art (and I’m not saying I’m an artist. I have a hard time comparing my work to art when there are so many great works of art out there) is subjective.
Not just the written word, but ALL art.
Personally, I don’t like abstract paintings. I just can’t feel what the artist is trying to convey. All I see is a bunch of shapes and colors that make my eyes hurt. Also, and please don’t judge, I don’t like opera. I can appreciate the beautiful voices, the passion in the songs, but I will never LOVE it.
So here’s where we get to the meat and potatoes of this post.
After I wrote my first book, I relied on advice from experts. If you want to improve, you have to. Because you can’t be objective about your own work.
But what I realized is: neither can they. I don’t care who they are—how much more experience they have with story—people bring their own biases into their critiques. The good ones will put aside that bias in favor of helping the author create an authentic story.
I’m not talking about whether you’ve modified the right clause, or used a word incorrectly. That is not subjective.
In most cases.
See? Even there I used a disclaimer. Let me give you an example. Technically, you can’t “peer up at someone through your lashes.” I mean, physically that is not possible. But a number of bestselling authors use that phrase. And if and expert tells you that you can’t put that little nuance in your book, then they’re not being objective and allowing you to use creative license to shape your voice as an author.
For months now, I’ve been critiquing the work of other writers. (Hey, they asked me. I’m not out there with a sandwich board drumming up work.) And the main thing I’ve learned is that I have to step back and allow the author to write their own story. Obviously, I know a little something about writing—about what makes a story flow. But I don’t let my personal bias get in the way.
If the manuscript itself doesn’t work, is full of plot holes, lacks tension, and is confusing—then I say that. Straight out.
Other than that, I leave the writing to the writer. And their line editor, because honey, that ain’t me. See what I did there? I used the word “ain’t” to make a point. Even now my spellchecker is screaming at me: “that’s not right!” Technically, it may not be. But every story has a flavor, and if you’re working with someone that has a strict diet that doesn’t include your seasoning—get the hell out.
I’m finishing the fourth—yes I said FOURTH, draft of a novel that I originally wrote as a dual POV. In my gut I knew it was a dual POV. And the reason I had to write the damn thing four times is because I was encouraged to write it from a single perspective.
And it nearly destroyed me. Phrases like, “you’re going to ruin your career,” tumbled around in my head. But instead of taking it with a grain of salt, I let it fester. That’s the downside to being a Type “A” personality; I don’t let things go. Make no mistake, that drive has always served me well. Along with an extremely long memory.
So while I may be down, I’m never out. I don’t quit. Or move onto the next shiny thing.
I’m a writer. It’s what I do.
I don’t talk about writing (unless you ask me). Or preach about what I think makes a great story at the expense of my own writing.
Not that I’m knocking it. If that’s part of your process, you go on with your bad self.
Everyone has their own way of doing things. Mine is simple: I do the work (writing), then I look for other people who do the work (editors, proofreaders, marketers) and we figure it out.
The best advice I’ve ever received, albeit a little later than I would’ve liked, is: “Stay in your own f***ing lane. And make sure that everyone else does as well.”
What does that mean?
Again, it’s subjective. But here’s my take: on any project, we all have a job to do. And since I’m the writer, leave that part to me. If you have a nugget you wish to impart to make the story better, by all means share it. But if you start speaking in absolutes, (you can’t do this or that) I will absolutely shut you down.
All that being said, and let me be clear on this, I’m not advocating going it alone. Ever.
You need strong editors, maybe some beta readers or critique partners, marketers, and if you’re like me, a personal assistant to help keep everyone in their own lane.
My PA, Jess, is a wizard at keeping the balls in the air and keeping others out of my way. Because, honestly, she knows what will happen if someone swerves into my lane. They’ll get run over. That’s the downside of being singularly focused. It’s not always a positive trait. But it works for me.
Here’s one last thought, from someone who should know.
Stephen King said: “I’m convinced that FEAR is at the root of most bad writing.”
Fear manifests itself in different ways. Some people are so afraid to fail, they hold onto some ideal of perfection that doesn’t exist. In my opinion you can talk all day about the craft, but unless you do the work, it’s meaningless chatter. And it’s not just about writing the book and finding your team. You have to aggressively promote your work. And that’s scary. Because you may not succeed by some peoples standards. Notice I said nothing about failure. It’s impossible to truly fail unless you fail to try.
So yeah, I may only have four hundred and fifty ratings on Goodreads for my first book, and a hundred or so for the follow-up, (so far, it’s early yet), but that’s more than if I would’ve published the work and let it sit there.
So really, any critique I received that got in my head—I wouldn’t trade the experience. Diamonds are formed under pressure, and if that spurs me on to accomplish my goal, then it’s ALL GOOD.
Anyway, look out for my latest book—Missing From Me (Sixth Street Bands #3) coming this summer. You won’t have to search far. I will be marketing that baby hard core. Believe that.
Because I have no fear.
Resolve trumps fear and silences the voices of those who hide behind the pursuit of perfection. Because we all know—there is nothing perfect in this world.