Being an indie author is hard. Having your work critiqued is harder.
The world of MM fiction and the broader scope of LGBT content is slowly on the rise but still considered a niche genre. Most of us in this business, who frequent these blogs, are independent authors. And said blogs are run by independent reviewers, editors, and passionate fans of the genre, creating an interesting dynamic in our bubble of a community.
You see, most of us (authors) are friends with our reviewers. We’re friends with the people who run the blogs, and the editors who helped bring our story to life, and the artists, the fans, fellow authors, etc. And I don’t mean this as a negative, but whether we’re willing to admit it or not, there is a certain…bias surrounding this genre.
It doesn’t mean anyone sets out to behave unprofessionally—it just means that we’ve developed closer bonds to our peers than we would if we were a name on the bottom of a page sending our work off to the publishing house. Being an independent author means selling yourself as well as your product, and its hard not to make connections with people when you’re repeatedly throwing yourself out there.
So maybe—just maybe (and I don’t wish to insult anyone here, but I think we all know this can happen from time to time) some authors have gotten used to having their praises sang. And maybe they deserve it. Hell, writing is extremely difficult and I think we all deserve a bucket of fried stuff after finishing our novels… However, we have to remember that its often our friends, or friends of friends, that are giving us the glowing reviews. Do they truly believe we’ve achieved something magnificent? Are they as in love with the story as they claim? Have they overlooked what others might drag through the mud because of our personal relationship? We’ll never know, and perhaps they don’t know themselves, seeing as friendships can cloud judgement.
I’m not saying this happens knowingly. I’m not saying anyone is being untruthful. I’m not saying that reviewers and authors aren’t doing their absolute best to bring more quality content into this growing genre. I’m simply saying that my very presence on this blog shows you that I, an author, have made a meaningful connection to people who I would otherwise not know if I were to send my work off to a big publishing house.
But for all that buildup, this article isn’t about the professionalism of the indie-author world. No, this article is about what happens when those indie-authors finally get reviewed by someone outside of their inner-circle. When they send their story off to a blog run by people that don’t know them.
As I mentioned before—we sell ourselves as well as our work. That means we’re very active on social media, trying to keep our foot in the door and our connections to those we know (be it fans, bloggers, reviewers, editors, artists, etc) alive. It also means that we may rant in a Facebook post when we have a bad day, or talk about our mental health, or tell crude jokes we’d usually reserve for our close friends because it just came to us while we were at the keyboard.
We have the world at our fingertips every hour of every day, and like most creative types, we’re a slave to our passions. Temperamental. Neurotic. Running on nothing but guilt for having not finished our latest drafts and an inhumane amount of caffeine, the likes of which no mortal should ever consume.
So, what happens when our slightly pampered and sheltered selves receive bad feedback? What happens when we—independent authors with hundreds/thousands of followers who rely on reviews to make a living—are frustrated and looking for a place to vent that anger?
What happens is something exclusive to the indie-market. What happens is something that would be considered unprofessional in any other field.
What happens is that we complain.
And it doesn’t just end with bad reviews on blogs. Countless times I have seen (and have even participated—more on that in a moment) authors get riled up and post massive rants rebuking the negative reviews. Essentially, reviewing the review, and making sure they tear every sentence apart with an excuse for their grammar, for their plot, for their characters’ behavior in that one scene. And I get it—I really, truly get how hurtful it can be to pour your heart into something only to get it thrown back in your face.
But it’s wrong, and we all know it.
No matter how justified we feel in the moment to correct the review, to tell them that their complaints are invalid, or that our grammar was perfect and they clearly don’t understand what they’re talking about, we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t indulge them—not only because it makes us look petty, but because it makes an already somewhat bias workplace harder to work in.
One time I received a review that complained about a plot point, stating that this particular twist in my story came out of nowhere and ruined the entire book for that person. Now, it is my belief that I carefully and subtlety built up to this twist in a way that would have readers going “ohhhh” by the time it happened, but clearly that reader didn’t get it, and I can’t be angry at them for that. No matter how much I want to shake them and underline several paragraphs in the book for them.
But I did let it get to me in the moment. I’ve let many reviews get to me, and I’ve complained to my friends about them, and they’ve reassured me that it’s fine, and life goes on. But in that moment…it was the sharpest sting I’ve ever felt. It was personal—even though it wasn’t.
And I think that’s the keyword here—personal. Our stories aren’t being handled by a big company, but by us personally. Our reviewers, and readers, and editors, and artists are all a part of our personal lives. We work from home, giving our blood, sweat and tears up in our personal space.
Everything about being an independent author is personal, so it’s hard to not feel like your very character is being assassinated when someone reviews you poorly.
It’s just too personal.
The circumstances in which we get these bad reviews may also play on the imposter syndrome most authors suffer, because if you have 9/10 glowing reviews, the 9 of which came from people you know, then that 1 bad review by a stranger is going to outweigh the rest. It’s going to have you doubting yourself and every good review you’ve ever received. And, unfortunately, there’s no remedying that. It’s a by-product of who we are, what we do, and how we do it.
But we need to find a better way to handle it.
The truth is that no one owes you praise. Not everyone is going to love your book. Not every reviewer is going to sit down and spend a few hours contemplating how their review would make you feel or impact your sales—that’s not what they’re here for. And I believe it falls on you (and me), the author, to manage your emotions when you get negative feedback.
Remember that not everyone is going to enjoy your bittersweet ending. Not everyone is going to want another boss-overpowering-his-employee storyline. Not everyone likes to read third person, and not everyone likes first, either. Some people look for grotesque violence, while others run at the mention of small cut. And some people won’t tackle anything that resembles the harsh realities of our indifferent universe, whereas others seek out the “grittiness” of it all.
You have to deal with it. You have to accept it. You have to look at the review that you’ve undoubtedly sought out (because you know if you didn’t want to see a negative review, then you shouldn’t be looking at all) and you have to laugh off the ones that “Just don’t get it.” You have to smile when the review says you fucked up a spelling when it’s their understanding of the word that’s fucked.
By all means, complain to your friends and seek out comfort in privacy. PM your bestie, ask someone who gave you a good review some specifics if you’re really looking to indulge your ego, but don’t make it public. Don’t post a status. Don’t announce that this particular bad review sent you spiraling into a depressive state. It damages the genre, the reviewers, the readers. And for what? So you can feel better at the expense of honesty? You’re better than that. We’re all better than that.
I think the most important thing is you have to believe in yourself. In your art. In your ability to create something worth reading. You must’ve had some of that confidence when you hit publish, and you need to maintain it throughout the entire process.
If you can’t do that…maybe this line of work isn’t for you.
But I think you can.