Therese (Walsh) here. Please welcome today’s guest, Therese Fowler. Therese’s third novel, Exposure, about the dangers of teen “sexting,” releases today by Ballantine Books. Said Eleanor Brown, New York Times bestselling author of The Weird Sisters:
Complex, gripping, and rich with emotion, Fowler’s 21st-century Romeo and Juliet beautifully blends ripped-from-the-headlines drama with honest and carefully drawn examinations of family, loyalty, honesty, and the power of love.
Therese holds a BA in sociology and an MFA in creative writing from North Carolina State University, where she also taught undergraduate creative writing before leaving to write fiction full-time. Her work is published in nine languages and is sold world-wide. I’m thrilled she’s with us today to discuss something we don’t talk about often enough: why authors need a thick skin, long after they land their first book deal. Enjoy.
The View from Here
Back when I was masochistic in a different way than I am now, I used to have a blog. I launched it in late ’06, right after getting my first book deal, when I discovered that the prevailing advice on the web was that ALL NEW AUTHORS MUST CREATE A WEB PRESENCE FOR THEMSELVES. Really, it came across just like that, in all caps.
I had a website built immediately, and even then I felt a little guilty for not having done it sooner. Yes, my debut novel, Souvenir, wouldn’t be released until early ’08, but it would have been ideal to begin building an audience even farther in advance. Or so the advice went. For the record, I now believe that’s rarely, if ever, true for fiction writers.
Along with the site, I launched the blog. A lot of what I posted was writing advice; I have an MFA and some creative-writing teaching experience, and was glad to share what I knew with whoever might find it useful. Periodically I would blog about “the view from here,” sharing my pre-pub (and later post-pub) journey with the twelve and then twenty and then maybe two hundred regular visitors my blog accumulated. I was naively open with my thoughts on how thrilling the journey was, squeeing about things like meeting Big Literary Personalities and being treated like one myself on occasion.
At first I wasn’t aware of blog trolls and lurkers and didn’t imagine that the message I thought I was sending—Hey, it happened to me, it could happen to you, too!—might be received as anything different. I didn’t know that the literary community was peppered with angry, jealous types who were all too willing to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet and certain trade publications and do their damnedest to kill buzz if and when they got the chance.
I learned the hard way. A few times, trolls left comments on my posts that really shook me up. I got a few strange, snarky emails. One trade publication panned my debut, really eviscerated it, at the very same time another gave it a starred review. At the time I thought, How can this be? First of all, the book just can’t be that bad or no one would publish it here, let alone in the ten other countries it had sold to. I thought, Aren’t the reviewers pros? (No, they aren’t. Some are fabulous and fair, some are the opposite, and you don’t know who’ll get your book.) And I quickly saw that Amazon automatically features only one of those publications. One anonymous reviewer’s word becomes THE most visible assessment for months ahead of release, and no early reader reviews can be posted ahead of publication.
To be clear: I’m not whining about a poor review. I’m a professional and can deal just fine with genuine critical feedback. I’m telling you about how a review can be demonstrably wrong and yet still stand as if it were authoritative. I’m facing this issue again with my new book, Exposure. The book got a wonderful pre-pub reception from media (USA Today ran the first of the features last week), and there are two dozen early-reader raves on Goodreads that contradict that one “official” review, but readers can’t see media coverage that hasn’t run yet, and most don’t go to Goodreads when they’re looking to maybe pre-order your book.
Does this situation make me crazy? Of course it does, especially during the pre-pub stage, when writers feel like their pale bellies are exposed for all waiting scalpels. I wonder sometimes who’s hiding behind those comments and emails and reviews. I wonder what it is about my books, or about me, that provokes these things—or whether it’s about me at all. But that, my friends, is the lay of the land.
So the view from here, on the day my third novel gets released into the wild—er, the world—is very different from the one before me in late 2006. Back then I was nervous but eager. Today, I feel as if I’m standing upright in a field during a thunderstorm and can’t run for cover. It’s exhilarating and scary all at once.
This is the nature of the beast we affectionately call “publication.” The first half of that word is “public,” meaning available to any and every literate soul out there. If you make or allow your work to be made public, you invite every kind of attention and every kind of opinion—and the more widely your work is read or talked about, the more kinds of attention it will accrue. As Chris Daughtry sings, “be careful what you wish for, ‘cause you just might get it all…and then some you don’t want.”
Write the best book you can (that should go without saying), but while you’re at it, rub on some skin-thickening cream to help you through querying, and then editing, and then reviews. Hope for glowing reports when the book goes out. Hope for raves. They do happen. But be prepared for snark, for sneers, for ugliness, for criticisms of you along with your book, because those can happen too, even to nice people whose books are good. If you doubt this, go read the one-star reviews of your favorite books and those of the most enduring classics. They’re salve to the wounded writer’s soul.
If the picture I paint doesn’t look as sunny as you’d like, I want you to know that in spite of the frustrations and insecurities, in spite of all the other publishing-world issues we read about here on WU and elsewhere, I love my job, and I am grateful every single day. Anything that’s worth having requires effort and fortitude, belief and perseverance. If you can’t give those to your writing, find something else to do. But if you can, and you do, remember that there is always room for another good book—and I’ll be looking forward to reading and recommending yours.
Thanks, Therese, for an honest look at the ups and downs of publishing, and best of luck with Exposure–whose *good* reviews and press have made the best of impressions on me. Readers, you can learn more about Therese and her novel on her website, and by following her on Twitter and Facebook. Write on!
Photo courtesy Flickr’s madmarv00