Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Validate My Parking

Writers crave validation.

It's built into our psyches. We believe our words are good enough to put down on paper, and then we have the narcissism to think that others will not only enjoy our words, but pay for the privilege to read them.

Because of that, we tend to get attached to what we write. These words are our babies, and criticism is hard to bear. We take it personally.

This is silly. Everyone has an opinion, and all opinions are valid. Yes, if your writing failed a reader, it's your fault. But your job isn't to enthrall every reader. Your job is simply to enthrall more than you fail.

The fact is, you'll fail some readers. Lots of them.

You'll get bad reviews. You'll get angry emails. You'll get snotty comments. Some will be aimed at your writing. Some will be aimed at you personally.

This is a good thing.

Not because these comments are correct---though if enough people say the same thing, you should really start to listen. But because getting feedback, good or bad, means you're reaching people.

The bigger you get, the more negative feedback you can expect.

So how do you deal with people who don't like you?

If you want to be a grown-up, you should ignore them. I've never seen anything good come out of engaging a critic. Once you begin to defend yourself--or even worse, attack--you've pretty much lost some face.

What Peter says about Paul shows more about Peter than about Paul.

As for how you should feel, well, you should act like a grown up there as well. Sticks and stones. Unless someone is burning a cross outside on your front lawn, you really can't take negative people seriously.

You shouldn't take positive people seriously, either. But you can say "thanks" to those who offer kind words. If you're really grounded, you can thank the naysayers too.

But JA, isn't validation the reason we become writers in the first place? Didn't you read your opening sentence?

Yes. But get your ego boost from your royalty check, not from reviewers, critics, fans, blogs, awards, peers, and message boards.

Then who are the people you should listen to?

That's easy. Turn on your cell phone. Look at your contact list. Those are the important people in your life. Take praise and criticism from them. Everyone else is window dressing.

Some people won't like you. Get used to it. If you can't, don't be a writer.

You're a pompous, egotistical, self-important know-it-all.

Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading. :)


JA Konrath said...

I'll also add that it isn't wise to invite anyone into your house who doesn't have the good sense to wipe their feet first.

Unknown said...

Good points.

If a person wants any kind of public notariety, have thick skin and let the poisonous people just roll off.

The royalty check means your doing something right.

JA Konrath said...

I like poisonous people. They're fun.

But not when they take away from the point of this blog, which is publishing, not flame wars.

I'm not sure why certain folks get a kick out of being antagonistic. I'm also not sure why folks think they are truly anonymous.

Anyone with a www.statcounter.com account can check IP addresses of the last few dozen people who have visited a site.

For example, in the last few hours people have visited here from Maine, Massachusetts, the UK, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Mephis, Texas, and Fayetteville, Arkansas, among other places.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to match up flaming posts with IP addys. All one needs to do is compare times between visits and posts. Pretty easy to do. Even if they create new accounts.

Again, not that I care. But it's better to stick to publishing topics than devolve into name calling... ;)

Unknown said...

Anyone with a www.statcounter.com account can check IP addresses of the last few dozen people who have visited a site.

Ah-Ha! So not only do you write about crime ... you actually do a bit of forensics yourself...Hmmm. Getting real here!

In actuality, that could be a good post discussion...
"What part does real life experience play in writing good fiction?"

Bobby Mangahas said...

Joe, I think your last bit about people wiping their feet before coming in is very sound advice. You never know what they've stepped in before coming over to trample all over your floors.

By the way, I'm looking forward to hopefully meeting you at Bouchercon this year. Perhaps I can buy you a beer just for keeping me so entertained with your books and this blog.

Anonymous said...

This is important for me to remember right now, about taking only so much to heart.

I'm having an issue with trying to complete a novel without a circle of reading writers. I just don't know any, and the few people I used to bounce material off -- from college or what have you -- have gone their own ways. I'm the only one I know still doing this.

I'm writing in the dark now. It is seriously hard to stay committed.

Every couple/few months I'm able to place something short, which is nice, and I have begun to see a paycheck for my fiction, also a bonus... but when I hit a brick wall, or have an off day, or just get fed up -- all frequent occurrences -- I feel the lack of comrades something fierce.

Ego pretty much checked at the door. I don't know why I'm doing this anymore. It's certainly not for attention. I even sort of hate it.

As for the people in my contacts list, few of them think my writing is any sort of useful. My own my parents think it's nothing but some sort of hobby, with about as much prospect.

JA Konrath said...

Jennifer, I suggest attending a few writing conferences, meeting some fellow writers.

You also might try some of the writing forum links I listed in the sidebar.

Much success to you...

Unknown said...

I had that same issue in the past. You need an outlet to bounce things off. An audience.

A couple years ago I was really active on a website called Gather.com. It's a a gigantic social network for writers and readers. I found a lot of good criticism there for my first bit of stuff. The comments and editorial advice I got there was crucial in learning writing craft.

Now I just write the stories and podcast the audio versions of it and see what people think...but that doesn't help with the writing process really...although it does with the editing.

That's my idea. Joe's probably got some good resources like those too.

hope I'm not stepping on your toes by giving suggestions on your blog Joe.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Joe.

How should one go about choosing a conference to attend, though? And how do you find them in the first place? I know nothing about conferences. For some reason, I thought you had to be invited to participate.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Basil. I've seen a number of sites for writers like the one you mentioned, but I haven't had much luck in those places.

I think I will try the links here, in the side column...

Bobby Mangahas said...

Jennifer, there are many different writing conferences. Some of the larger ones include Thrillerfest and Bouchercon. You can get info on these by Googling them. Here's a link to a list of various writers conferences you can check out: http://writing.shawguides.com

Kay Bratt said...

I started visiting your site over a year ago when I lived in China and was working on my memoir of my time working in the Chinese orphanage.

Now I am back home (after 5 years away) and because I queried a few agents and was turned down, I self-published my book. I know what you are thinking....oh no...poor thing..

Not at all. My book has been live on Amazon for 21 days and this morning was #1 ranked in my Amazon categor and #269 in ALL Amazon Books. After only 21 days!

This is my question and I think I would benefit from your knowledge, on the writers forum I visit, one poster says I should pursue an agent--which I did today and she asked me to submit a partial-- but the other vehemently says because of my current numbers, I should skip the publisher/agent and go straight for the publicist. Let me add I don't have thousands of dollars lying around to pay a publicist.

If you were in my shoes--- okay, my flip flops at the moment---what would you do? My book has opened up a lot of controversy about China and is good timing, obviously.

One very overwhelmed writer.

JA Konrath said...

Jennifer, the only conferences I'm familiar with are genre; mystery, thriller, horror. I could recommend some of those if you write in those styles, but I'm pretty useless otherwise.

Kay, that's cool about Amazon. You might want to take a picture of your ranking for proof later on (ctrl+PrintScreen).

I'd think agents would be interested. Check out www.aar-online.org for a list of reputable agents. Email a few, get their responses.

If your sales are strong enough, and you're making a profit, it could be a wise idea to find a publicist and get some radio and TV spots. It's a hot topic, your book is a bestseller, and I'd think publicity can only help you sell more books.

If it were me, I'd figure out:

1. How much I invested in self publishing.

2. How many books I have to sell to make a profit.

3. Decide if it makes more sense to find an agent and a publisher (which will cut the price of your book to about $15, and you'll profit about $1.75 a copy) or stick with printing them yourself.

Are you carried by Ingram and Baker & Taylor and on the shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble?

Kay Bratt said...


No, they are not in bookstores. Only on Amazon.com and Target.com.

I am already making a profit after the second week. The service I used was CreateSpace, owned by Amazon and free. I make a lot more than 1.75 per book but then have the issue of no time for marketing and no money for a publicist.


Kay Bratt said...

Ummm...oops...bad manners...

THANK YOU for your advice.


Jude Hardin said...

...get your ego boost from your royalty check, not from reviewers, critics, fans, blogs, awards, peers, and message boards.

What about those of us who don't have contracts yet? We need some sort of validation just to keep trying.

Jude Hardin said...


I just noticed comment moderation has been enabled. I know you've had some troll/spam problems lately, but it's really hard to get any interaction going with the comment moderation on.

Anonymous said...

Your timing on this post is impeccable. HEX BREAKER, my novella, releases on Friday, and I've been tying myself in knots about the potential response instead of enjoying the ride.

On an intellectual level, I completely agree with everything you've said, and that's how I've always tried to handle it; the emotions, however, sometimes get in the way.

Thanks for the reality check.

JA Konrath said...

Kay, do you own the rights to your book, or does CreatSpace have the rights and gives you royalties?

I'm guessing (and this is only a big guess) that you're selling several dozen books a day on Amazon. Have you made enough to spend a few grand on a publicist? If so, you might want to do that, continue to ride this out, and let agents and publishers approach you when you sell over 5000 copies.

Jude, one bad apple spoils the bunch. As for validation, if friends and family won't cut it, join a writing group.

Devon, some people are going to dislike your book, give you bad reviews, and even email you saying you suck. Screw 'em. Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, critique.

JA Konrath said...

Looking forward to that beer, R.J. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, RJ!

& thanks again, Joe. I fall into fantasy & science fiction categories pretty equally...

Kay Bratt said...


I own the rights.

IF the agent I re-queried wants me...are you saying I should wait?

And wow! Publicists are expensive! Does anyone know one that would take me for peanuts? Ha ha.


Anonymous said...

My motto: If everybody who reads your work likes it, you've got bad distribution and you're not reaching enough people.

MJ said...

Thanks for advice. This is great advice for newbie writers like me.

JA Konrath said...

Personally, if I sold 2000 copies of a CreateSpace book, and profited $4 per copy (assuming you're somewhere in that area), that's enough money to hire a great publicist and really get the word out about your book, which will lead to more sales.

If the numbers are less than that, I'd consider finding a regular publisher, to reach a wider audience through bookstores. Or you can wait until you sell in larger numbers, in which case publishers will probably seek you out.

But it's all up to you, and you should talk to an agent in either case. Can't hurt.

First you need to establish what your goals are. Money? Lots of readers? Getting on NPR?

Then figure out if you can reach those goals solo, or if you need a publicist or agent or editor to reach them.

Don't pay any agents or publishers. And don't hire any publicists without a referal.

But these are all good problems to have. :)

Kay Bratt said...


That sounds like very good advice. I have a partial out and I am going to see what that agent says---then try to make a decision on which way to turn.

Thank you very much for taking the time to share some wisdom.


Lisa Abeyta said...

Thanks so much for your post, but I can say that since I didn't actually have to pay to read the words...

I actually laughed out loud at your first paragraph. It's so true.

My best solution for people who cannot bear criticism of their writing or take too much stock in praise? Work for a curmudgeon editor who uses a lot of cuss words, yells, and never accepts anything the first time because his theory is that you can always do better.

After that, you just don't care either way. You're happy when there is NO response to your writing, because it means you might actually get paid without a rewrite.

Can't tell you how shocked I was to find out my first editor was one of the toughest. Since then, I've learned to be very grateful for the nice editors.

Jude Hardin said...

Lisa: I think it's those tough editors who help us take our writing to the next level. I hope I get a ruthless curmudeon like that.

Some writers probably think that little or no editing means their work must be superb. In reality it's probably because their publisher has become complacent, or flat out just doesn't give a damn.

Anonymous said...

I don't know you, so for all I know you are a pompous, egotistical know-it-all. However, you don't seem to be. Personally, I think your blog's great, and I think it's good of you to go to all the trouble of keeping it. I've found it informative and helpful. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

"What Peter says about Paul shows more about Peter than about Paul."

So true. Years ago I was writing movie reviews for a very small bimonthly paper. After I wrote a scathing review of a movie, the editor received a complaining letter from a reader. I thought briefly about responding to the attack then decided to shrug it off. Meanwhile, the editor was so thrilled to have had any response to an article he said he'd take anything I wrote.

Shortly thereafter a different reviewer gave a negative review to a book. The author protested that the reviewer had a bias. Attacks went back and forth resulting in the newspaper shutting down and other nastiness. Long, unsavory story short, both the reviewer and the author looked bad.

I always look at a response to my work as a positive thing, whether that response is positive or negative. At least it moved the reader. Better than leaving them apathetic.