There comes a point for every writer, published or not, when you have to let others read your book. It’s a scary moment, because however hard you’ve worked, however much you love your beloved manuscript, there are never any guarantees that your reader will love it, too. In many ways it’s worse before you’re published and you have to rely on family and friends for feedback–family and friends who love you, but may very well just not care especially for the kind of books you write. Haven’t we all had that experience of a friend or family member saying, “I finished your book.” And then there’s that agonizing moment of silence when you wait for them to say something–anything–about what they thought of it.
So how do you handle it? How do you let your precious manuscript go out into the world knowing that any and all responses from ‘I love it’ to ‘I hate it’ to ‘you need a complete re-write of *fill in the blank*’ are on the table?
I’ve been thinking about that question this month, especially, since my second book, Dark Moon of Avalon, releases Sept 14. Other writers may have different answers, but here are mine:
When I’m still in the writing/revision stage, I try to remember that my first loyalty is to the story I’m telling, not to my own feelings. Of course I wish I could rap three times on the keyboard and have a perfect book simply pour through my fingertips. But I can’t. I do the absolute best I can by my story–but secondary readers and their opinions are absolutely invaluable, too. Not every secondary opinion will be one you agree with–and I think ultimately you have to trust your own instincts about what’s right for your story. Because it is your story, at the end of the day. But at the same time, another pair of eyes on your manuscript can help you spot holes or weak spots, underline what needs to be clarified, or take you in completely new directions in terms of character development. If you are committed to giving your utmost effort to do the best you can by your story, you can incorporate others’ opinions to make it the very strongest story it can be.
And then comes stage 2, when you’ve got a finished book and it’s time to see it published and released into the world. Now, I consider myself so, so lucky to have gotten books published and it’s absolutely fantastic to have my stories read by people around the world–thousands of people who I would never in a million years have connected to otherwise. But there is an element of scariness to it, too. When you have a book out there, you give people permission to say anything about it they like. And not everyone is going to love your story, they’re just not. Bad reviews happen. So how do you handle it?
I think the answer is in many ways the same–you have to keep reminding yourself that your highest loyalty is to the story you’ve told. I think of it this way: my own personal duty to the story was to write it down the best way I knew how. But that’s only half of the story’s journey. Because here’s the thing: words, no matter how much I agonize over them, are dead on the page. Only in a reader’s imagination will my story ever get the chance to live and breathe. And if my highest loyalty is to the story? Good, bad and indifferent reviews and all, of course I want my story to have its chance at life.
What about you? How do you handle reader responses, both good and bad?