One of the joys of eating cheesecake and swilling tea up here in the NAF granny flat is that you get to tell of life on the other side of the publishing coin. As Keven pointed out in a recent post, being published may not be what you expect and it is our job to prepare you for when you get that magical letter/email/phonecall. Personally, I’m still enjoying the buzz. It’s been almost a year and I still get a kick out of seeing my book out there. I agree with Keven that being published isn’t quite what I expected but I wouldn’t want to go back for anything. I remember seeing a documentary about lottery winners. They all said that winning the lottery brings its own set of problems. When asked if they would rather not have won, they all gave a wry smile and said no thanks. So, while being published may bring its own set of problems for a writer, it’s definitely worth the hard work it takes to get there.
Which leads me nicely to the topic of my post: reader reviews. I used the word “dilemma”, but that is probably too strong a word. However, it’s the best I can come up with to describe my current attitude towards reviews of Alpha Redemption. The reason I use this particular word is because I am having some mixed emotions when it comes to how people perceive what I’ve written. I thought it was just me, but apparently not. Just recently I came across another author discussing the same topic. A veteran, multi-published writer advised to take every review, good and bad, with a pinch of salt. They themselves had adopted the strategy of actually ignoring reviews completely, which suggests they can have a very profound effect indeed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I love reading reviews. It’s one of the best parts about being published. I love it almost as much as I love cheesecake. Okay, so that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point. During the eleven months since Alpha hit the virtual bookstalls, I’ve probably checked for reviews about ten million times. Okay, so that’s another exaggeration. Nine million is closer to the truth. The reason I checked so many times? I really want to know what people think.
I used to laugh a mocking little laugh when I read about authors checking their reviews every five minutes, but now I understand. As a new author I crave feedback. I want to know if the story works, if the characters are believable, if the premise is interesting. I want to know if all of that effort was worth while because, when you take away everything else, there’s no point writing if nobody will ever read what you’ve written.
I like to think I write for God, but He knows my story before I even type the first word. He knows how it’s going to end and how people will receive it. He knows where all my typos are going to be and how many times I am going to “tell” when I should really “show”. So, writing for God is, like everything we do for Him, really an act of obedience, sacrifice, and worship. I’m writing for God but, since He’s already read it, I’m actually really “writing” (as in “putting it on paper”) for my readers (both of you–you know who you are). And reviews let me know if I’ve won their trust or disappointed them.
So, what’s the problem, you ask? What’s the dilemma? The problem is that, while reviews are really really useful and desirable (and up to now way, way better than I ever expected), I have found that they can also be something of an obstacle. Last week I started the sequel to Alpha Redemption, called Alpha Revelation. I’ve got the story in my head and just have to work out the details. I wrote the first chapter last week and discovered that I had lost much of the joy of writing, because I was worrying too much. I was worrying that I wouldn’t be able to meet the expectations of those who liked the first story, and that I wouldn’t be able to gain the trust of those who didn’t like it so much.
When I think of the reviews Alpha has received so far, I find myself slightly torn. For example, most people liked the flashbacks but others weren’t so keen. Some people loved the ending, but there were those who had doubts. So what do I do? Do I go for the interesting ending or the less interesting, but safer, one? Do I use flashbacks, or keep the story unbroken? Do I go for hard sci-fi or stick with the softer variety? To be honest, I have no idea. And it’s cramping my ability to tell my story the way I want to tell it. I keep thinking of the tale of the man and his young son taking their donkey to the market, constantly being reprimanded by passers-by for doing something wrong. One person says the man should ride the donkey. Another says the boy should ride. Another says they should spare the poor donkey and walk. Yet another person says they should both ride the donkey. The moral of the story is that you can’t please everyone.
So what do I do? If God knows my story before I tell it, then surely the best option would be to forget the reviews (at least for now), trust in Him, stop trying to please everyone, and write my story the way God already knows it is going to be written. Just as He knows that eventually I am going to come to my senses and have an epiphany and stop fretting about what people are going to say in the next round of reviews. Assuming the book is good enough for publication of course… But that’s another worry for later (I keep my worries alphabetized in a filing cabinet for just such an emergency).
Right now I feel better. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just had an epiphany and need to write a few hundred words before the end of the day. For the next few weeks I’m going to follow the advice of that veteran writer and forget the reviews for Alpha Redemption and focus on my sequel. I think it’s going to be an interesting story, but then I’m biased. See you on the other side.