Saturday, September 03, 2011

Not Caring

One of the greatest skills you can acquire as an author is a thick skin.

Once you unleash a story onto the world, it no longer belongs to you. When it was in your head, and on your computer during the writing/rewriting process, it was a personal, private thing. But the moment your words go out into the world, they are subject to the opinion of strangers. What was once personal is now public.

Do yourself a huge favor, and don't listen to the public.

This goes for more than your literary endeavors. If you blog, or speak in public, or tweet on Twitter, you are a Public Figure.

That means some people aren't going to like you.

And you shouldn't care.

You shouldn't care about people liking you, either. Praise is like candy. It tastes good, but it isn't good for us.

The opinions of strangers, good or bad, should have no power over you.

Now, I'm not saying that your should live in a vacuum, oblivious to how you effect the world. In order to be a good writer, and a good person, it is important to have trusted allies pressure-check you.

These allies include family, close friends, and your agent, assuming you have a good relationship with your agent.

These are the people whose opinions do matter. You trust them, because they know you and your writing.

But anything outside of your inner circle should best be ignored.

Getting angry with reviews, or critics, or anonymous trolls, is a waste of energy, and serves no purpose.

Getting an inflated sense of worth because strangers praise you is one of the shallowest, emptiest ego boosts around.

In all cases, it is better not to care.

If you're lucky enough to be read, you will attract detractors and sycophants. You will be ridiculed, celebrated, roasted, venerated, criticized, analyzed, and talked about.

You have no control over what people say about you.

You have full control over how you react to what people say about you.

Not caring doesn't come naturally. In order to truly not care, you need to be confident, self-aware, and mentally healthy. You need to be deliberate. You need to understand your effect on others. You need to understand your needs, and how they're met.

The world is filled with a wide variety of people. But only a few of them should really matter to you. The rest are just white noise. They can amuse. But don't give them more power than that.

One of the greatest journeys in life is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit.

But don't take my word for it. My opinion shouldn't matter to you at all.


Bev Morley said...

Hey Joe.

Another great post! And absolutely spot on! I'm sure I'm not just speaking for myself when I say this, but, as a writer, I really don't have time to care!!

Bev x

Kate Evangelista said...

It's a one day at a time for me. There are good days. There are great days. And then there are days when I wake up and think, "What the hell am I doing?"

Unknown said...

Agreed. And not caring what people think is especially important if what you write is unusual or nichey in any way. A lot of people are quick to question and dismiss those writers who don't write what's conventional, or what's currently mega-popular. If I had a nickel for every time I've been told I should drop the oddball fantasy and just write some nice children's books instead ... Well, I could buy myself some coffee, probably.

Anonymous said...

Great post - totally agree. You're so right. I think I have definately stopped caring in the past couple of months. It's all so subjective.

That might have something to do with the new job writing copy and having so many opinions. I know I can write, but all these opinions start you questioning yourself. It's good to have that person who you can touch base with and that more often or not is family.

Gabriela Miranda said...

That the art! Working on it! Tks dude!

Romana Grimm said...

Hey Joe,

Thanks for the great post!

I agree that writers shouldn't care too much about public opinion. They have stories to tell, and more often than not strangers have opinions about their work that might differ greatly from the writer's ideas. Fanfiction is wonderful and I love it to death, but as a writer of originals it's important not to let others influence you ... too much.

As for the personal peace and growth, yes, that too is very important. An inflated ego is not cute and I know enough people who let compliments go to their big heads. It's nice to hear that people love your story, and it stings if they don't, but the really important thing is to remember that they judge your story, not your person. And that brings us back to rule #1: Don't Write Crap :-)



Anonymous said...

This may be your best blog entry ever.

It shocked me to discover how much ignorant reviews got under my skin.

I didn't take them personal because 1) These people didn't know me
2) These peeps really didn't *get* what I was doing.

But ignorant poor reviews drove me crazy.

A good well-reasoned review that just happened to not like my story didn't bug me.

It was an eye-opening counter-intuitive emotional experience.

It hasn't stop me from writing but I'll bet a lot of do.

Whenever someone posts that they just put their book up on Kindle yesterday and *only* have 2 sales I wonder if that arrogance will survive the first scathing reviews? Or is that the type of hubris you need to not be bothered by air-heads?

As for getting *puffed-up* by compliments, that is something I haven't had to deal with but the onslaught of suck-ups that infest this blog must be a challenge.

I am glad to hear you make a conscious effort not to let it sway you. At least you're trying...

Keep fighting the good fight.

Anonymous Troll aka Sharktopus


Anonymous said...

While I agree that you shouldn't care personally or even creatively, I do think you should care as a marketer of your work. When people don't like your work, if it's good, it has to be because it just wasn't for them. You haven't refined your message enough to let people know who you're aiming for.

Most of the world agrees George R R Martin is amazing, but his work just isn't for me. But he's marketed himself well enough that I didn't buy the book thinking it was something I would enjoy only to end up horribly disappointed. I think that disconnect of expectations is what triggers justified angry reviews.

Marketing-you should care so you can improve your product description.

Christine Rains said...

Great post! It's hard not to care sometimes, but you've got to carry on.

Jude Hardin said...

I don't know. I'm not sure utter apathy toward the public is the best way to construct a writing career. We write with a certain audience in mind, and if a good portion of that audience is unhappy with the product then the product has failed.

There is no secret. Write good books, with good descriptions, good formatting, and good cover art, sell them cheap, and keep at it until you get lucky.

Getting lucky means striking a chord with a whole bunch of readers. Their opinions matter.

We should have thick skins, yes, and take criticism constructively rather than personally, but that's not exactly the same thing as not caring.

Unknown said...

So true. Critics are everywhere, so write what you love and craft it well.

Ellen Fisher said...

"I'm not sure utter apathy toward the public is the best way to construct a writing career. We write with a certain audience in mind, and if a good portion of that audience is unhappy with the product then the product has failed."

I think I'm with Jude on this one. Some bad reviews are to be expected. But a lot of bad reviews may mean there's something wrong with the product. I think it's a good idea to read through bad reviews and see if they have any valid criticism to offer. If they do, a writer may be able to learn something from them.

However, this is not the same thing as obsessing over bad reviews, responding angrily to them, or posting snarky things about them. Letting a review get under your skin and really bother you is pointless, I agree. There is, after all, nothing you can do about it.

Similarly, if my public persona is ticking a lot of people off, I might want to adjust that before I alienate readers (unless it's my intention to tick people off, of course). But if some people simply do not like me, there's not much to be done about that, and it's best ignored.

Darlene Underdahl said...

Happy Labor Day weekend and good writing.

Dave said...

Perhaps I'm reading too much into the post, but I understood Joe's point to be that we should not "care" on an emotional level. That way lies notorious author meltdowns or excessive arrogance. I agree with Jude and Ellen that we should be aware of criticism because often we can learn from it, but I didn't read Joe's post as excluding that. Just my take. Everyone have an awesome weekend.

Anonymous said...

you are a genius konrath, you saw e books coming before the i pad, kindle and the laptop were 30-40 years ahead of the game and forcast the demise of the big 6.

Epertase said...

Great post. My first 1 star review devastated me. My first 2 star review with a horrible write-up felt like someone kicked me in the gut. But, as that pain wears off, I'm able to look around and learn for myself exactly what you said here. I think it is common for a first time author to go through this whole learning curve and by the second book they learn what you've just described. At least that is what I'm finding.

Ken Hansen said...

Bah... humbug! ;)

Mai Kaku said...

I disagree. I think that we as writers should take the opinions of our readers in consideration. Be they anonymous, nameless, or well-known critics, I think their (well thought out, not spur of the moment) opinions matter. These are people who pay to read our books. They took the time to read the book, and more time to express an opinion. I would appreciate anything my readers say, be it negative or positive. I think that to ignore any criticism whatsoever would inhibit one's growth as a writer. Perhaps we can discover the flaws in our writing by taking time to acknowledge the critics. That being said, yes, there are trolls. There are people who will say something cruel for the sake of being cruel. These are the people we should ignore.(E.g., "This book suks it's a waste of time reading" is not to be taken seriously ,while "I think the plot progresses too slowly and the characters could use some more development" is an honest critique.) It is pretty simple to weed out those people from the people who have an honest critique. There is a difference between not being able to take criticism and having a thick skin. As writers, we write because we have a story to tell, and we want people to read that story, no matter how many or how few. It wouldn't be plausible to completely ignore the people we are writing for.

Erica Sloane - Author said...

Thanks for the reminder, Joe. It's difficult not to respond to positive emails, though. I want to be nice, but at the same time I don't want to get caught up in some overblown fantasy that I'm some kind of bigshot.

I wish there were some way to hide reviews on Amazon, B/N, ARe/OmniLit, etc. Of course you could always unhide them, but having them hidden would be the equivalent of asking "Are you sure you want to see these?"

Romana Grimm said...

As writers, we write because we have a story to tell, and we want people to read that story, no matter how many or how few. It wouldn't be plausible to completely ignore the people we are writing for.

Amanda, I don't think he meant constructive criticism. Joe stated above that his inner circle views his work and helps with working the kinks out and I guess that he knows lots of people who really know what they're doing.

What every writer should be aware of is meaningless flattery or unfounded hate-mail because both are not helpful. Such opinions very rarely hold any real value and can really hurt. Not caring simply saves us a great deal of heartache ... which means more time for writing. *g*

For me, the essence of his post is this: Take pride in your work, get help from people you trust and whose opinion you value. Then get the opinions of independent test readers and edit some more. But when the book appears on Amazon or Smashwords or wherever, take a back seat and see what happens. If your friends, colleagues and employees did a thorough job and you killed all the little mistakes that could bring your book down, the only thing people can judge is whether they like the story or not, and that's completely subjective.

As for your public persona ... well, we're on our own there, aren't we? Rule #9 comes to mind: Don't Be A Jerk. :-)

Anonymous said...

I agree about ignoring the negatives and not letting the positives change you, but rave reviews make my day. I love hearing from readers that one of my characters is her "favorite fictional character ever".

Money is nice, but feeling the love? Priceless.

Anonymous said...

Spend some time telemarketing or cold-calling.

Door knocking got me to thick skin status faster than anything else. After people literally slam the door in your face a hundred times it no longer affects you.

Doing it for a political campaign will get you there even faster. I've been called a "baby killer!" and worse, yes, to my face.

Any criticism of my writing is mild, in comparison.

Rick Wilson said...

Fight the good fight indeed, and it wouldn't hurt to learn the difference in "affect" and "effect".

Mary Stella said...

That's why I don't care that you think I'm a p*s*y for drinking frangelico. :-)

I strive for balance in what I take in from reviews and other reader comments. I ignore the person who picks up my book at a booksigning, finds out it's a romance, and throws it as if it contaminated her skin.

I at least consider thoughtful comments from readers.

Romana Grimm said...

@josephrobertlewis: Alright, agreed :-)

Adam Pepper said...

I'm ok with the thick skin part, but dont underestimate the value of a sycophant or two.

Hiroko said...

Well said! It's a good thing I already have a personality that proclaims, "I don't care what other people think!" Authors can get tossed around by the opinions of their readers if they don't keep a level head (and probably just "write for themselves").

JA Konrath said...

but the onslaught of suck-ups that infest this blog must be a challenge.

I don't see an onslaught of suck-ups. I'm right a lot, so people tend to agree with me.

But there's no need for me to thank people for agreeing with me, and I don't acknowledge praise with more than a polite "thank you."

JA Konrath said...

I agree with Jude and Ellen that we should be aware of criticism because often we can learn from it, but I didn't read Joe's post as excluding that.

It is possible to accept criticism rationally and not emotionally. That's fine.

But writing to try to please everyone is a one-way trip to unhappyland.

I do what Stephen King does, and write to please myself, and my wife. If she likes it, it's a good bet a wider audience will as well.

But reading your reviews written by the masses, trying to glean bits of info on how to be more commercial--bad idea. Then it isn't your voice anymore.

That said, if fifty people tell you the same thing, you should pay attention. There are a few writers (Laurell K. Hamilton, Janet Evanovich, Anne Rice, Patricia Cornwell) who have been getting poorer and poorer reviews over the last decade. It wouldn't hurt them to look at why their readership is annoyed.

Sean Thomas Fisher said...

So true! But at least they're talking. It's like my granddaddy always said - "Good or bad, it's better to be talked about, than not be talked about at all." But then again, he thought aliens were spying on him, so...

Anonymous said...

Pffft! Like I give a shit what you say, Joe.

-David McAfee

JVRC said...

I agree and I disagree.

I agree that a thick skin is absolutely necessary in this industry. And taking reviews as gospel is going to cross your eyes every time. You can't take them seriously, ever! Reviews are so subjective; they are literally nothing more than someone's opinion "in print." You can't please everyone and to take reviews so seriously to the point that you try, you are going to tie yourself up in knots and ruin any hope of writing a good story ever again.

However, having said that I also disagree--to a point. I think at this point in your career, you can tell when a review is constructive and when it's not. I know that I can read a few sentences into a review and know if the reviewer is going to spout off on the "suckosity" of the book with nothing more than the "it sucked, I hated it" mentality and nothing more. But then, there are also intelligent reviewers that will tell you WHY they weren't pleased with something and those reviews I read. And I listen to them because maybe, there's a grain of truth in it. Maybe there was something I needed to learn, a way I could have improved. And we're always learning, always improving our craft.

So, in the spirit of what you've said, I wholeheartedly agree. But, I think the "intelligent" reviewers should also be listened to, learned from.

Jeff Carlson said...

Sometimes the haters are fun!

A few years ago, a woman who hated my first novel fed the book to her dog, took pictures of the dog shredding it, then sent me an email with the jpgs attached. That took EFFORT, man!

Her complaint? She said she liked the concept, but that the book was "written in a grocery-store thriller style." Aha ha ha.

For pete's sake, the cover of Plague Year says "The next breath you take will kill you," and the title is on fire. It's very obviously not deep literature.

Harder to do with an e-book, of course. ;)

Angela Brown said...

Hmmm...this brings to mind the Stephenie Meyers effect. Her Twilight series has a cult following that is loyal, almost to a fault, yet her writing is torn to shreds and the question, "How the hell did this get so big?" gets tossed around. Yet with every negative review, every negative word, there's no denying her commercial success. Her reaction has been wonderful. None of that "I hate you haters!". She's dealt with it well and smiling all the way to the bank.

Jon Olson said...

True enough. You can tell a writer's "age" -- age in writing years -- by how he or she takes criticism, constructive or not. When you can sort the useful from the not, then you've grown up.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone
The Ride Home

Stella Baker said...

@Jeff. I see a marketing plan for Plague Year here. Some shelf space in the grocery store, next to the Alpo. ;-)

Loved your story and hope that my first book gets creative, "fun" haters! (OK, I'm still working on growing the thick skin; I really hope everyone loves it but that if someone hates it they at least feed it to the dog and send me photos!)

katy leen said...

Great post. I don't think it's realistic for any writer to expect everyone to like his/her books. Any more than it's realistic for any one person to expect to be liked by all other people. That would be excluding the concept of individuality. Writing should have personality.

If I can brighten someone's day with my writing--anyone--then I consider myself lucky for the opportunity.

That said, there was a great line from a tv show that went something like this: "Sometimes, life is just a pale imitation of high school." With respect to insecurity and need for acceptance, I'm not sure writers are any less likely to fall into that trap than anyone else:)

William Kendall said...

Excellent post, and I agree.

I remember a writer earlier in the year who went into full meltdown in her blog pages because she didn't have thick enough skin over a bad review or two. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Great advice and not always easy to follow. I've learned to grow that thick skin as a teacher and it serves me well as a writer.


As my Italian grandmother used to say, "Never argue with a fool. People won't know the difference."

This "Not Caring" post is so timely. I just got lambasted on my own blog by some drive-by shooter, of course, under the guise of "Anonymous." My first reaction was to blast back, but then my grandma's admonition entered my head. And now Joe's wise advice. Well said.

Walter Golden said...

We want people to enjoy what we write. However some will and some won’t. But if we are human, we still want them to.
That being said, we should realize that no matter what we do, we will have a substantial number of people who have neither the time nor the inclination to read, or like, what we write.

Rob Cornell said...

Strangely, Dean Wesley Smith recently posted a similar article as part of his Killing the Sacred Cows series.

Basically, when you come to the keyboard, you have to stay true to your own voice. Block the outside noise.

And the word verification is "tunces" like the driving cat. (SNL reference)

JD Rhoades said...

Depends on the review. A reasonable, well-written review that calmly says "this book doesn't work and here's why" may be a sign you did something wrong, especially if the same flaw is pointed out by multiple reviewers.
But yay-hoos who write those "This book suxxx and the auther must have bin on crack when he wrote it" can, I think, be ignored.
The second kind gets my back up...the first makes me miserable for days. Fortunately, the first kind is very rare, especially on the Internet.

WiseMóna said...

This is one of your loveliest pieces. You are right, of course. I do not really care what you think about my writing. I have a nice little army of friends and family to keep heckling me. Right now, all I care about is how I can wrangle my husband to make me another Blackberry Mojito....blackberries are in season, after all.
You are always educating us Joe. Thank you.

Unknown said...

I have noticed reviews for even best selling authors that have a series of books with the same characters get many negative reviews. I'm thinking, why did they keep buying her books? Obviously she didn't care because she keeps writing them and people are still buying them.

Michelle Muto said...

Great post. Spot on. Some days, I can do it. Other days, I'm still learning. Thanks for the refresher.

Barbara Morgenroth said...

I don't want Amazon/KDP or a troll to dictate content to me and that's what happened to me this week.
People can hate my books, give me 1 star reviews, they can get all the refunds they want but why should they be able to cross the line and tell me what to write/what words to choose?
Isn't this how we were mistreated in legacy publishing?

Daniel R. Marvello said...

I had to add this line to my Word document of favorite quotes (I have several of yours in there, Joe):

"One of the greatest journeys in life is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit."

Hear, hear.

The way I see it, we learn our craft to the best of our ability, we write the best book we can, and we get feedback from people we trust to make it better. After all that, the book is what it is.

The opinions of the public are only going to determine the book's commercial success, not its value to me as the author. They sure as hell aren't going to determine what I write next or how I write it. That would truly be selling out.

Do I want to get rich off my writing? Sure, but if money is the only thing that makes my book valuable to me, I might as well go back to my day job right now.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I get it - we're not supposed to care what people say about our own books, but doesn't your whole "cream will rise" thing depend on us caring what people say about other people's books? So do reviews mean something or not?

JA Konrath said...

So do reviews mean something or not?

Reviews help sell books. That doesn't mean you should be emotionally effected by them.

If you write good books, you'll eventually find an audience. That doesn't mean you need to hear their praise.

Sarah said...

A truly rough lesson to learn. After quite a few scathing one star reviews, I had to learn the thick-skin lesson. I think, though, that there is much to be learned from supporters and detractors alike. I've used the feedback I received from my readers to improve my writing. So I think maybe, care when it helps you get better and don't care when it doesnt? Lizzy Ford

Anonymous said...

I wish I knew the secret to thicker skin. PW just punched my next book straight in the face and I'll tell you, it stings.

JA Konrath said...

PW just punched my next book straight in the face and I'll tell you, it stings.

Uh oh. Now the bookstores won't buy it.

Wait... what bookstores? Are there any left?

Trust me, you'll live to see PW fold. And it'll be sooner than you expect.

Virginia Llorca said...

Wish I'd read this about an hour ago. Would have saved many many ugly words. (which see) Well, I'm over it anyway. Thanks for reinforcement.

Robert W. Walker said...

Recently, a facebook friend said of me, "Rob, you must have bull-elephant skin for all the shit you let roll off your back." She was so right. I agree with everything Joe says here, and over time most authors who stick around and do well develop thick skin. Comes natural for a teacher like me anyhow. But there is one opinion I treasure and that's Joe's.

rob walker

Robert W. Walker (Rob) said...

PS -- PW has always, always SUCKED. Most of their reviewers come off like spoiled children, like people who wish they could write but since they can't, they slam the writings of others, but they do it via such things as an extended metaphor or cutsey thread they pull throughout their little essay at your expense. Asshats, really.

rob walker again

Iain Edward Henn said...

Excellent post, I should know I grew up with a thin skin and wish I knew 30 years ago what I know today. Developing a thick skin is part of the process of writing and putting it out there.

Incidentally, I know of a composer who received criticism for something they were doing several years ago and shied away from their dream. Imagine if Grisham had done that when his first book was rejected 30 times. Imagine if Rowling had done that. We would never have heard of them.

Melissa Douthit said...

"One of the greatest journeys in life is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit."

Hahahaha! I hope you don't mind Joe if I put this as a favorite quote on my blog and goodreads! I love it!

My 2 cents: I do listen to those readers who actually care about my story and me as an author. Their input and feedback is very helpful to me as I grow as a writer. And I can tell the difference between someone who cares and someone who is just a hater, who wants to slam anyone the can find just for fun. The haters, I totally ignore.

Thanks for your great posts! They are very helpful to newbies!

asrai said...

I got upset with some authors a few days ago for this reason. Haha.

If you don't want people to critize your writing, don't put it out for the general public. If you choose to ignore this fact, read reviews at your own peril.

My favorite one ever was someone who complained about a lot of little things in my novel and told me she could help me edit it. For a fee of course.

Brandon M Lindsay said...

I absolutely agree with this. I think it's important not only to write like you don't care, but to live your life that way. You can't let the opinions of others sway you from who you want to be, much less what you want to write. I would listen to my line editor, though.

Shelby Cross said...

A few months ago, someone bought each of my stories on Amazon and returned them, every single one, in a 24-hour period. I was pissed off. These stories are .99 cents each. To return one, I could understand, if the buyer didn't realize what kind of books they are (BDSM erotica). But to buy them all, and then return them all? Then my husband said, look at it this way: it's probably some kid who wanted to read your stuff but didn't have the few bucks to buy them, or he thought by returning them, the purchases wouldn't show up on his parents' credit card bill. He made me realize being a writer means rolling with the punches sometimes, and putting whatever spin on things it takes to keep the blood pressure down. (I hope that kid enjoyed my stories.)

Jeff Carlson said...

@Stella. Hee hee. "Loved by dogs all over the world!" Now THAT is guerrilla marketing... ;)

Julia Crane said...

Thanks for posting this it's a good reminder.

Alastair Mayer said...

Heh. PW called my first story "trite". I was just happy they spelled my name right.

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between opinion and wisdom, sir.

What you have said is wisdom.

Summer Grey

Anonymous said...

You have no control over what people say about you.

You have full control over how you react to what people say about you.

Powerful words. Truth here.

Even though you're on the surfboard and you miscalculate certain waves, you still have to ride them in. You may fall, but you can swim and you can get back up and learn to ride the waves better. Some may seem insurmountable, but they aren't.

Assholes can be tidal, but plow through...

Thanks Joe,


Anonymous said...

What utter nonsense, if you don’t care what your readers think or what a critic thinks then why release the book for public viewing?

In fact why even post on here with your opinions because the blogger does not care, all you who agreed with this why have you posted on here because you don’t care either. If no one cares then why write, go and get a 9-5 job in an office, but you won’t and rightly so because people like your work.

For my part I do care, I care a lot that an author gets a thumbs up for a good job and a bundle of cash, I do care when an author doesn’t get the recognition they deserve. When I do a bad job some needs to tell me so I do it better next time around.

“Getting an inflated sense of worth because stranger’s praise you is one of the shallowest, emptiest ego boosts around”. I cannot even begin to understand that comment.

The guy on the street “Hey what a crap job you have made of this blog”, you “I don’t care”
The guy on the street “Hey good work on your blog”, you “I don’t care”

Surly that’s the actions of a teenager?

Anonymous said...

This turned out to be a very timely reminder both for myself and a couple of my writer friends. We've all received some rather ... interesting reviews on our work. Growing thick skin isn't an easy thing to do, though it is a trick I've learned over the years. It's just applying it to the writer side of me, too. :-)

Thanks for the post, Joe.

Archangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Archangel said...

@Alastair: PW doesnt require 'reviewers' to sign their 'reviews' with their names as we know. Some say the PW 'wanna-be-twee' effort fails because booksellers have no idea if the reviewer was a drive-by student from the local college, a reader reviews 'only' to get free books for writing 500 words or less, or a seasoned and thoughtful person.

I'd humbly offer to you this , for levity sake... levity IS a form of sanity you know. Levity is also one way to grow skin. Twenty years ago my first book was reviewed at said mag, by, I think, a graduate student who was mimicking his/her fave professor's ideas... sort of having lots of 'thinks' without ever having 'thought them', if you know what I mean.. this was the last sentence of the review: 'Hortatory, ecstatic, and ultimately irritating.' "It stings," you are correct, like alcohol on road rash. And yes, I had to look up the word 'hortatory' ... lol.

But/ and, a dear elderly friend suggested I put that sentence on T-shirts and sell them at book signings. I did. People loved wearing the last line of the review on their person, (with the name of my new book just underneath) and we sold out of t-shirts and books, also, at every stop for months on end. I was able to start a little 'save back' for a grandchild for their hopefully someday college. Seriously.

As my dad from the Old Country used to say (my relatives could never quite get the hang of proverbs in English)... 'join 'em and beat 'em up.' (If you cant beat them, join them.) For us immigrant family people it aint making lemonaide out of lemons, its taking the merde dropped on your head, letting it fall to the ground, and thereby sowing a whole field of flowers that benefits you and yours... as YOU see it.

hang in there. you're in good company. Seriously.

If as Joe predicts pw goes down, there will be many well known and not yet well known writers who will not grieve. There have been for some times, and it seems more are added nearly weekly... some beautiful and reliable online review-centrals that actually connect readers to books, instead of inferring readers need to be told what to read according to one 'reviewer's' opinion.

Just my .02

I.J.Parker said...

Well, if it makes you feel better to bash PW, that's OK with me, but PW has been very good to me. In fact, a number of professional reviewers have been very good to me. I treasure those reviews. My readers who write to me and post reviews on Amazon have also been good to me. I'm grateful.
But I do get the occasional pissed-off reader. And their comments hurt even when they're based on something irrelevant (like the price of the book set by the publisher).

kathleenshoop said...

This is a timely post. Thanks for the advice and thanks to all who've shared their stinging review tales. It's a mad, mad, mad world and it's nice to know I'm not alone in it!

JA Konrath said...

if you don’t care what your readers think or what a critic thinks then why release the book for public viewing?

To make a living doing what I love. Duh.

When I do a bad job some needs to tell me so I do it better next time around.

Your comment is poorly thought-out and entirely misses the point. Do a better job next time around.

I cannot even begin to understand that comment.

I'll try to spoon feed it to you: The opinions of strangers aren't to be taken to heart, ever.

Now if you agree with me, my patronizing "spoon fed" comment shouldn't bother you. If it does bother you, I'd suggest developing a thicker skin, because life is too short to worry about what I think of you.

Make sense?

JA Konrath said...

Well, if it makes you feel better to bash PW, that's OK with me, but PW has been very good to me.

Think about this comment for a moment.

So a periodical that purports itself to help the publishing industry but actually winds up hurting thousands (tens of thousands?) of authors is OK as long as it hasn't yet hurt you?

That's like driving around in a car that explodes on impact, but saying, "I'm not listening to that government recall. Sure, others have blown up, but I haven't yet. This car has been good to me."

PW, and Kirkus, supposedly hold themselves to high journalistic standards, yet I can point to dozens of suspect, or flat-out wrong, things they've published. They're in bed with the Big 6, and the shred of credibility they still had left is gone now that they're soliciting self-pubbed authors for reviews.

They will perish, and not be missed.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I tell my writer friends all the time, "Reviews are for readers, not writers."

JD Rhoades said...

@Archangel: I love that. It's sort of like what SF writer John Scalzi does with his one star reviews: post them. Own them. Have a laugh at your own expense, then move on.

JD Rhoades said...

@I.J. Sellers: I've had good PW reviews, I've had bad PW reviews. Neither one made a bit of difference in sales or in how I was treated by my publisher. Same with Kirkus. Same with Amazon reviews.

They're a momentary caress or kick to the ego, but in the long run, PW reviews have never mattered to me.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Most pro writers I know who have written more than a couple of books write because they love to write, not because they want their thoughts to be read by others. Most of them are also far more critical about their own writing than any reviewer could possibly be.

The publishing business is not glamorous. It's a meat grinder. If you're looking for an ego boost, don't be a writer. If you love to write, feel compelled to write, then grow a thick skin.

You'll need it.

jesse said...

This is good advice, but too easy to forget once the praise starts pouring.

Walter Knight said...

Some people flat out lie in their reviews because of their political agenda. Those people should be called out because they are attempting censorship.

Julie Kramer said...

I love your line: Praise is like candy. It tastes good, but it isn't good for us.
This is a good reminder.

Paul Dillon said...

So true - and eloquently said.

puravida said...

Great post! It's something we all have to remember when we put our product out there. It's not ours anymore, and you can't make everyone happy. I'll remember your words and keep myself focused on the writing.

Happier Than A Billionaire

Michelle Zink said...

I love. this. post.

Kim Mullican said...

I have been following your blog for awhile. I don't tend to comment because you have a whole pile to sift through already, and I'm painfully aware of how little free time there is in a day.

But this is the best advice... well almost as good as "Keep writing until you get lucky."

Thanks for continuing to toss us these gems!

F. Lewis Miller said...

Great advice! Take constructive criticism when it is offered and if it actually is constructive, and ignore the negative. The only time I take anyones words seriously about my work is if i can recieve value from them.

Stephen Leather said...

You are so right. There is no point at all in interacting with anyone who has posted a bad review. But sometimes I just can't help myself. There are some idiots out there and while you are right they are best ignored, sometimes it just feels so good to tell someone what a moron they are. They won't accept it, of course, no one will ever admit to themselves that they are a moron, but it does, for a brief moment, make me feel better..... Constructive feedback is whole different ballgame and I for one am always grateful if someone points out a typo or a plot mistake. So grateful that I'll usually send them a signed book. But morons don't post constructive criticism. And what they really hate is when someone criticizes their review. On the occasions I've done so it's usually followed by a bleating 'how dare you criticize me"? They can give it but they can't take it. That's the mark of a moron....

MT Nickerson said...

Joe Hill Tweeted a link a couple weeks ago. It is intended for readers, but it applies for anyone engaged in internet interactions.

I laughed until I realized how close I've come in the past to 'dickfinity'.

candynicks said...

Amen to everything.

I.J.Parker said...

Sorry, Joe, on the issue of PW I do not agree with you. As long as benefits (book sales) accrue to authors, all reviewers are helpful. I'm with J.D. Rhoades on the situation. It's the publishers who hurt us, not the reviewers.
As for their being in bed with publishers: why are they giving some books bad reviews? Or are you saying that publishers pay for reviews? For that we need some proof.

Dr. Debra Holland said...

Not caring what strangers think is an important lesson for life, not just for writers. :)

After 4 months and a couple of days of being self-published, I'm still learning detachment. The 5 star reviews do mean a lot to me, so much so that I wish I could personally thank those readers. The couple of 2 star ones did sting for a couple of days, but mostly because I was afraid they'd impact sales. They did impact sales slightly, until more positive reviews poured in, and sales bounced and kept going up.

I've had fan mail that has deeply touched me. I think that it's fine to enjoy those because all have praised the books and relayed their experience of reading them. Those haven't been about me. Those emails make my day, and in my return emails, I tell the readers that.

I've written negative reviews on Amazon. Not many. Just when I've been bugged about poor story telling and want to warn readers and/or convey specifics to the author that he or she can use to improve their writing. If it's an author I know personally, I try to send them an email. Each time the author has thanked me for the information.

The great thing about self-publishing is that the book isn't set in stone. You can fix typos, awkward sentences, flesh something out, etc and put a new version of the book back up.

Unknown said...

Most obviously, I am still learning this! Takes time...but slowly, I'm getting used to sharing my work with the world.

Sama said...

I really enjoyed your article, and yes I did find it amusing, not that I give a shit....or do I?

Keep up the good work!

Ric 'The Turtle' Ryan said...

I think we are riding the same wave.

Marie Simas said...

As long as benefits (book sales) accrue to authors, all reviewers are helpful.

PW is a rag. They heavily promote predatory vanity presses like Authorhouse.

They also have quite a few "Pay-to-Play" advertising programs that are designed to squeeze self-published authors for more money.

They've also quoted Joe out of context numerous times.

PW sucks ass.

Ruth Ann Nordin said...

It's funny how many people are missing the key here: listen to people you TRUST.

Romana Grimm said...

@Ruth: Thank you! I've wondered about the ongoing discussion as well.

Mari Stroud said...

Great post. I can't say that I've never had a tantrum about a bad review, but I do it offline and with people who are already my friends and have an interest in liking me even through my ugly moments. Then I circle back and see if the poor review has any merit to it.

I don't think that anyone can ever truly not care, but being able to construct a convincing facade of not caring is invaluable.

Anonymous said...

Why bother with this novel thing? You'd make more money charging people to read your blog. ;)

Unknown said...

Expecting a newbie writer/author to have skin as thick as a seasoned vet is ridiculous. I understand your point and I agree, but it's not realistic.

amberargyle said...

I had to get to the point where I was sick of reviews before I stopped reading them.

I didn't understand that before I became a published author.

But here's the truth: every book is for every person. I don't expect everyone to love my book, and I don't want anything other than honest reviews. BUT I've come to the point where I can't read them anymore. I've talked to other authors, and most of them are adamant that you don't read your reviews. I can see why.

The honest truth? I need positivity in my life. I need encouragement and people in my corner rubbing my shoulders and shooting water in my mouth so it can run down the front of my shirt. I need cheerleaders. And part of writing reviews (for some) is about criticising. That's important for many readers in deciding whether or not to buy a book, but it's crippling for writers (kinda like having one too many alpha readers after the fact).

I don't want to hurt any one's feelings here. But you have to preserve a positive aura.

Anonymous said...

Great reminder! When ugly 50-year old actor Sean Penn broke up with one of the most beautiful women in the world Scarlett Johansson, I joked on FB that "maybe his performance in Milk wasn't as great as we all once thought."

That prompted a bunch of PC idiots to "boycott" my work because they thought I was "making fun of gays". Which is idiotic...especially if anyone's ever seen La Cage Aux Folles which is nothing but a running joke on misconceptions about a person's sexuality. Still, the moral high ground folks thought I was making fun of gays or people who might be gay....notice that Sean Penn is NOT gay never seems to ring their bell.

Those folks can screw themselves. I'm not going to self edit my humor or apologize for making a joke based on one idiotic group (not all homosexual friends and family have backed me up) trying to threaten me.

Anonymous said...


not "not"!

James Scott Bell said...

I was fortunate, in my basketball playing days, to go to the great John Wooden's camp. He was a coach who grew mature adults as well as skilled players. He once said, “You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

That's similar to what Kipling said about triumph and disaster, that you must "treat those two imposters just the same."

That's truly the only constructive way to deal with reviews. As for bad ones, and unfair ones, continuing to write well is the unbeatable reaction.

Holdin' Holden said...

I agree 100%, when I started writing, it seemed ALL I got was crapped on for my opinions from people who just didn't "get me", it even lead to the authorities being called on me. I had to learn to ignore it, even laugh at it- and now i've even written a book about my experiences in blogging ( which i'm self publishing soon.
Everyone's a critic!

Robin Sullivan said...

I think what you are saying may be "good for some" as they internalize criticism to hard and it can have devistating results.

For me...I'm all about one thing... "Passion". I'm passionate about my husband's writing. I'm passionate about the author's I've brought on to Ridan, and I'm passionate about my crusade to help authors make a living wage from doing what they love to do.

Passion cannot coexist with "not caring" - it is the antithesis of that. Sure it can cause some scaring but my skin is thick and I'm willing to defend my beliefs even when it hurts. So for me...I'm going to respectfully ignore "your opinion" on this.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

JA Konrath said...

Passion cannot coexist with "not caring" - it is the antithesis of that.

What an odd, and 100% incorrect, thing to say.

You simply won't find a more passionate person about writing, or about the book revolution, than I am.

But the amount of work I put in, and how much I care about that work, is within my control.

The opinions of strangers have nothing to do with passion. I'll still write, and still do this blog, no matter how big or small my audience was, or how much they loved or hated it.

If you believe otherwise it doesn't make you passionate. It makes you reactionary. Which isn't a good way to run a career.

Adriana said...

Your blog is so complete and very revealing!
I'm a non-U.S. but I find your experience the most important and motivating! In my country it's almost impossible to get published if you're not a long established writer. But after I started reading your blog I decided to give my writing a shot. Just like you said... I don't care how hard it is, I don't care about the fact I will have to face many difficulties.
It's all about writing the best you can!

Alexa said...

"If you believe otherwise it doesn't make you passionate. It makes you reactionary. Which isn't a good way to run a career."

Joe, over the past year, I observed the complete melt-down, or deterioration if you will, of a reactionary indie author, from attacking reviewers and disparaging twitter followers to recent more-than-a-little disturbing blog posts, on a blog of which I am no longer a follower, too out there for me.

As a casual observer, I learned that passion and distancing oneself from negativity and over-abundant fan praise is one thing, obsession and reactionarism is another.

Awesome post!

Todd Trumpet said...

I'm reminded of a famous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

I would actually broaden this to the following:

"It is impossible to give offense, only to take it."

In either case, you're right, Joe, it's an ideal to aspire to.

A difficult ideal, BTW.

Still working on it,


Marcus Blakeston said...

The main thing to remember is not to argue with the reviewer. Someone did that a few months ago and got hundreds of 1 star reviews on Amazon as a result.

Someone on a forum called me an anti-skinhead a while ago. It was obvious to me they hadn't read past the first chapter, or were getting me mixed up with one of the characters, but there's no point trying to change someone's opinion once they've made it. Though I did read through it again to see if maybe they had a point.

Carl Ingalls said...

If “not caring” is the only way in which you can avoid feeling hurt, then it’s probably your best choice.

An even better choice is to find a way to stop feeling hurt, while still caring.

There is too much “not caring” in the world. Feeling hurt is not a good enough reason to make it worse.

Carl Ingalls

W. Dean said...

Let me suggest some historical context about reviewers and critics, because a constant theme here is the writer’s ambiguous relationship with his critics. I don’t know if it’s consolation to the thin skinned, but it provides useful perspective.

Traditional, high-brow literary critics were (and are still) not gatekeepers of taste: they don’t tell anyone what and what not to read. Good books are interesting or innovative books that were worth discussing among literate people. The literati ask how it compares to previous works, whether it speaks to the contemporary world and so on. But literary critics don’t pan books, even if they attack them. Nor does it matter because everyone reads the talked-about book anyway.

The best comparison with this world is fan sites where fans of a particular author debate the merits of the latest installment of the series, what will happen next, etc. One might say that high- and low-brow have a lot in common when it comes to how they relate to the books they read.

The more recent incarnation is the middle-brow book critic. Genre fiction and popular magazines emerged about the same time in the late nineteenth-century. It was natural for popular literary magazines to imitate the format of their high-brow forebears by reviewing books.

But there was a snag. Since editors had (usually) taken care of basic problems with genre fiction books, there isn’t a lot to debate about them (even with something like sci-fi). All you can really do is summarize the plot and compare it to other books in the same genre.

That’s when someone hit on the idea of the book critic as consumer advocate. Middle-brow critics drew on their university backgrounds to make themselves into protectors of their audiences from bad books and inform them about good ones. It was also a perfect niche market for magazines and their critics (film and music critics represent an expansion of the same role). If you could become a standard for what was good and bad in genre fiction, after all, your gatekeeper status would make you required reading.

The average Amazon or internet critic is aping the middle-brow critic. He always justifies his negative review by claiming that he has a duty to warn unwary purchasers; he mistakes his taste in the genre for expertise, because he’s internalized the way of the middle-brow critic. The same goes for positive reviews: the vast majority are simply statements of personal taste that testify to nothing beyond a happy customer.

When you put reviews in historical perspective, I have to agree with Konrath that a thick skin is a better investment.

Alison E. Bruce said...

Not that you'll care, but that's a good blog and I only wish I read it when I was 21. Scratch that, at 21 I wouldn't have listened anyway.

Listening now.

Melodie Campbell said...

Brilliant post, printed it out, going to shove it in my face every time I get miffed with a reviewer! Thanks, Joe.

Archangel said...

w. dean speaks about middle, low, high brows. It seems an odd caste system entirely divisive in many ways. I recently read a hyper critic who apologized for his 'attacks' on others in his earlier years. I listen when Steve (King) tells about assault to spirit by those who seem to have self-anointed as culture warriors who have never been to war. I listen to VS Naipaul who says no one can understand his work who does not understand his life. I tend, to listen to the writers and their awarenesses about their work, to weigh those hard-won hills, rather than those who have never climbed them. Just my .02

L. David Hesler said...

The ability to "not care" is essential in any creative endeavor. The road to success is filled with rejection and opposition. The moment you let it change your mindset, you risk failure.

Great post, Joe. Always an inspiration. And this time, it kind of relates to my most recent blog post.

Chris said...

"They can amuse. But don't give them more power than that."

Absolutely. A writer shouldn't get into the trap of thinking they're bringing joy to the masses. Write what you'd want to read. Be happy that you have the chance to be creative. Forget the rest.

Adam Pepper said...

Some things are easier said than done. The other day, I got a 1 star anonymous hit and run review on GoodReads. Today I got a five star, "Amazon Verified Purchase" review. Guess which one felt better?

W. Dean said...


Divisions are by definition divisive, though I suppose you meant it in the moral sense of causing people to be divided. One would think words would be less prone to injure after Konrath’s exhortation, but I digress…

The real question is not whether the castes are “odd” or “divisive,” but whether using them helps explain something. It does. Once we understand where the negative reviews come from, we can weight their significance for us. As I suggested, most people think they’re doing a public service in writing negatives reviews (they mistake their own taste for good and bad writing in a genre), not that they’re trashing someone else’s work for their own satisfaction.

When you can see it in this light, you can have a thick skin because you understand someone else’s actions as folly rather than malice. And that’s the sort of skin that doesn’t break down in paroxysms of rage when the pressure tops out. It also gives a writer a way to respond.

Nana said...

OMG!! How did I not run into this blog before!! What a great bit of advice, Joe! I'm with you ... I really don't give a rip!! :)


W. Dean said...

I have a challenge for the thick-skinned. I uploaded a letter I sent to Amazon on my blog today, asking them to drop the star-ratings on reviews for fiction books (dream on, I know, but every revolution starts somewhere). I’ve always hated these starred reviews for the reasons outlined there.

Now I know some writers will be ambivalent, because they like the five-star side of the sword, even as they complain about the one-starred edge. But you can’t have it both ways; and it would be better for all if the star-ratings went altogether from fiction and films.

So it’s time for writers to put their thick-skinned money where their mouths are and follow me to the Bastille. Once enough people make the same, pointed complaint the stars will go. It’s all a matter of numbers.

Join the revolution.

Robin Sullivan said...

Passion cannot coexist with "not caring" - it is the antithesis of that.

What an odd, and 100% incorrect, thing to say.

You simply won't find a more passionate person about writing, or about the book revolution, than I am.

But the amount of work I put in, and how much I care about that work, is within my control.

The opinions of strangers have nothing to do with passion. I'll still write, and still do this blog, no matter how big or small my audience was, or how much they loved or hated it.

If you believe otherwise it doesn't make you passionate. It makes you reactionary. Which isn't a good way to run a career.

Yes you are passionate about writing and the ebook revolution - so you "care". My assertion that passion and caring go together is not refuted.

What you somehow attributed to me is concern for what others think and changing your writing because of that - which would indeed be reactionary and not something I mentioned to do anwhere in my post.

My point was simply this...grow a thick skin - you'll need it but don't lose your passion in the process.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Selena Kitt said...

Hortatory, ecstatic, and ultimately irritating...


Someone wanted to get their money's worth out of their "word of the day" toilet paper, huh?

I love that you made t-shirts. I woulda bought one! ;)

Jude Hardin said...

Just got this email from a total stranger:

I have read about 35-40 novels a year for the last 30 years. I try to read as many new authors as possible in the hopes of finding the new great ones. I think that you may be one of them. I just got done reading Pocket-47 having started it this morning. Congratulations on an outstanding piece of work that was intriguing with a great character. I hope we get to read more.

I obviously struck a chord with this guy, and I'll freely admit that his letter made my day.

And it's not about an ego boost. I don't suddenly think I'm "one of the great ones." It's about the fact that I accomplished, with this one person anyway, what I set out to accomplish. And isn't that what we live for?

JA Konrath said...

It's about the fact that I accomplished, with this one person anyway, what I set out to accomplish. And isn't that what we live for?

Actually, no. Living for approval, especially the approval of strangers, is a shallow and empty way to live.

We love compliments. Especially from those people we care about.

But another person's opinion of you, or your work, shouldn't matter.

I get several "I love you" emails a day, and several "Thank you" emails as well.

I'm humbled by it. But these don't make my day, nor are they true justification for the work I've done.

I spent twelve years getting rejected. According to the Big 6, those books were "bad."

Now I'm selling a few hundred of those same books per day, and getting reviews and email saying they're "good."

So are they good or bad? What am I supposed to believe?

I don't take either the rejection, or the praise, to heart. That could drive someone nuts.

Instead, I believe what I feel, and what I'm told by my inner circle.

Fame, and fans, as well as haters and critics, are all tangential forms of communication that operate on the fringe of interpersonal relations. In reality, there is no relationship between an actress and someone who watches her on TV, or a reader and the author of her favorite book. The relationship is imaginary.

If that fan attempts make a real connection through fan mail, or stalking, it is a cathexis (I dislike Freud but agree with him on this one.) Fan mail is a nice gesture, but true ego boosts should be gained through personal accomplishment and the opinions of trusted peers, not strangers.

Jude Hardin said...

Instead, I believe what I feel, and what I'm told by my inner circle.

But can you, or your inner circle, ever be completely objective about your work?

Now I'm selling a few hundred of those same books per day, and getting reviews and email saying they're "good."

So your livelihood, in essence, depends on the opinions of strangers, as does every other entertainer who does what s/he does for a living.

Anonymous said...

I had a period when I didn't care about anybody's opinion but my own. And it was very liberating, so I kept that up for a long time. Until I got friends who told me that my tendency to not give a fcuk hindered my personal growth. You see, for personal growth you need 'reflection', where someone can show you how others perceive you. That way you can see if the way you want to be perceived truly is the way you are perceived.
I still don't care what strangers think, but I do pay heed to the comments of those who mean well, like my friends and selected family members. And my wife, of course.

Chip Anderson said...

"I collect stuff." day we might see you on Hoarders.

Anonymous said...

I'm in this small, competitive genre where it's like a Mean Girls Club and if you don't write in a certain formulaic way they try to purge you from the "club" by totally ignoring you for awards, reviews, etc.

It used to bother me. Now I embrace it. Fine. Ignore me. Funny how I keep outselling most of them.

I used to look at my reviews. Now all I care about are my sales numbers.

J. Nathan said...

Some useful advice. Something not said often enough too, I might add.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I'd like to post a comment to your article, but I don't think you'd care, I certainly don't. ; )
Very profound as always...loved it.

tess gerritsen said...

Wiser words were never spoken. Too bad this advice is easier said than done!

Alisha said...

Another excellent post, Joe. I can say that not giving a shit feels real good. In fact, for me, it just feels like the natural evolution of a seasoned writer. The not give a shit phase is the trophy given at the end of the published author's bootcamp. And it is a trophy I carry proudly. No sense in caring either way..good or bad...we are in the public eye. As the old saying goes, "Shit happens." Shit being public opinion of any kind. This is part of the game, folks. Suck it up and don't think another thought about it. Then go write.

D.S. White said...

I love this post! I started out that way, but somewhere along the line I began to care and I didn't even realize it, until I got a new review on my book which reaffirmed why I wrote it in the first place. So I sat down and re-read my book and remembered how "freaking amazing" a writer I

So, no more will I allow any outsiders to influence my output or vision. I'm going to hug my dreams to my chest and forge forward.

This post of yours is confirmation of that resolve.


DV Berkom said...

Joe, this is one of the best posts I've read on your blog.

Jaz said...

Thanks, Joe. Your post really spoke to me at a critical time in my publishing career, and I appreciate its timeliness. That being said, I know that I shouldn't care what you said, but good advice comes in all forms. So I don't care that I'm not supposed to care. Instead, I'll have a care to follow your advice. Much appreciated, Joe!

Respectfully Not Caring,
Jaz Primo
aka "Nobody of Consequence That You Should Care About"

LK Watts said...

I found this post absolutely brilliant. You shouldn't let the thoughts of just one individual influence you to the point where you believe them one 100%. After all, it's just the thoughts of one person. But if you keep receiving negative reviews and they all say the same thing you may have to review your work then.

Crystal said...

Thank you for so well expressing it, Joe :o) including the essential balance of being aware that it's not purely about not caring, but about caring about the individuals who also care in their turn.