YOUR BOOK IS PUBLISHED NOW! (AND PEOPLE HATE IT); OR, ON BAD REVIEWS
By: James Wolanyk
Greetings, lovely people. It has been a fair while since I’ve posted anything here, largely because of working full time as a teacher (aka soaking up Winter Break in all its glory), but also because of general holiday food comas. At this hour I am composing my posts at a rate of four words per minute; the doctors assure me I will eventually move out of my Cheesecake Inebriation Phase (CIP).
That business aside, I wanted to touch on a topic that many writers may not consider when they’re knee-deep in the mud and guts of the writing trenches, expending both their time and energy on a project that may never see the light of (published) day. That topic is, on a philosophical level, something that speaks to the very nature of happiness, of fulfillment, of seeking and craving in all its forms. But that’s heavy territory, and while we may wander there someday, I’d prefer to boil it down to a microcosm for this blog:
People are going to HATE your book.
I don’t just mean that they’ll shrug and put it down, perhaps shelving it as DNF on Goodreads if they’re feeling ferocious. I mean they will hate it, despise it, wish misery upon it and its kin. Media reviews often bring out the most vicious elements in a person’s arsenal of linguistic devastation, and those who frequent Amazon, Goodreads, and IMDB will find a cornucopia of examples to demonstrate this point.
As many of you know, my debut fantasy novel, SCRIBES, is set to drop a month from today. It will be the culmination of nearly three years of writing, rewriting, editing, missing sleep, querying, doubting, loathing, calling, e-mailing, wishing, begging. I got a wonderful agent (Lindsay Mealing!), a hell of a lot of experience, and a keen sense of patience out of it. That being said, the entire process has been a reminder that joy and excitement are temporary states, and that we as writers need to remember to slug on through the peaks and valleys of the journey, never becoming too attached to the elevation.
But more pertinent to today’s topic is the fact that the readers of your book will not know anything about the process of creating this work. They will not judge your book based upon the effort or love that you invested in it; after all, there are plenty of McWriters who churn out 5-10 new novels every year (often with the help of ghost writers), largely using recycled plot lines and cliches to truck their way into the Best Seller list. This isn’t to knock those writers—this is simply to state that the background work of composing and preparing your book is not relevant to the reader.
And because of that, your book will get shredded.
Yes, many people will praise your book and offer it full stars and tell their friends about it, but many, many others will take their time to eviscerate your book simply because they can. It’s their right, after all. Everybody has reasons and preferences when judging a book, and I have no authority to sway them, nor do I want it.
The reviews you remember, of course, are not the praising sort. They’re the soul-ripping, face-melting, one-star disembowelings.
As of the time of this post, my book has received a motley assortment of reviews on Goodreads. I must admit that SCRIBES is not a book for everybody. It’s a bit of a genre orphan, in some ways. I never wrote the book with an audience in mind, and I don’t regret that. But here’s the cliffnotes story of its birth, for you, the wonderful readers:
SCRIBES was conceived as a capstone project in my university, largely written in the apprenticeship (for lack of a better term) of Andre Dubus III, who you may know as the author of The House of Sand and Fog. It was written in equal parts during months of pure, ecstatic happiness, months of dealing with my first break-up, and months of moving to new countries and reshaping my entire life. It was a time when ideas and guiding principles were in flux, perhaps free-fall, and the book served as something of an anchor for rebuilding my path in life. Acquiring my agent was a wild process that deserves its own post, but rest assured, it was yet another explosion of emotions.
With that in mind, the book is a reflection of myself, of all the things that are important and worth sharing in my mind:
Occasional moments of depressing nuance straight from literary fiction; graphic, unsettling violence; elements of spirituality; the power and tenacity of the human spirit.
Whatever reviews the book receives are more than fine by me. If the ultimate goal of any art is to communicate something, to make somebody feel something when they engage with your work, then I’d say getting them to leave a review, any review at all, is a triumph. As long as the book reached inside and sparked something, what’s there to complain about?
To make it short and sweet, you (and every other writer) have a worldview and a philosophy worth sharing with the world. I urge everybody to look beyond the fear or disappointment of critical reviews, and to devote all of your energy into conveying your message as skillfully, earnestly, and deeply as possible.
Love and peace, my friend