Wednesday, December 3, 2014

ISWG: Submission Anxiety, Mushy Brain, & Reading Reviews



Founder: Alex J. Cavanaugh

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. {This has been taken from the IWSG site, where a full list of participants can be found}


Beth: Being on sub has a tendency to beat even the most positive person down. I’m trying incredibly hard to overcome the disappointment each time an editor passes on my manuscript. I try to plow through with current works despite going on multiple rounds of sub with a finished project my agent and I are passionate about. Lately, when I sit down to tackle some work on my WIP, I find that I just stare at the screen and worry: Am I good enough? What if my on-sub book amounts to nothing? What’s to say this new project won’t sell? All these what-ifs are detrimental to my writing and my psyche. And the worst part is that with all the time spent worrying and trying to predict a future that may or may not come, I could have written twelve novels! (Don’t worry—I’m writing through the insecurities! I hit 60,000 words this month on my WIP! Now to make them make sense…)


Kimberly: Grunge Gods and Graveyards has been out in the wild for six months and sales are down to a trickle. You'd think that would make me all insecure, but honestly I was prepared for this. What I'm struggling with is trying to finish my other writing projects. After my third child was born in May, my ability to sit and focus is also down to a trickle. I can't seem to get anything done. It's taken me a few months to draft a 30K-word novella. I'm still drafting a YA ghost story mystery after an entire year. I started an outline for a historical mystery that may not get drafted for another year. And I have a great idea for a series I want to get moving on. That's the thing: I have all these ideas but my ability to work consistently has stalled. Because I have three kids and my brain is mush. By the time the kids are in bed, I'm useless and only interested in browsing Etsy. It's my own damn fault. I'm well aware of it and yet...I'm just so tired. But if I want to be a writer, I have to write. Obviously.


Carrie: Before publishing my first novel, I spent 17 years in corporate industry. One of the primary beliefs at our company was the importance of customer feedback. It was viewed as critical information that helped us improve our products and service. Customer feedback was also a critical element in the performance review process. Basically, I’m programmed to care about what people think.

I’ve read several posts/articles that recommend writers NOT read reviews from readers. Well, it’s a little hard for me to reverse 17 years of programming. So yes, I read reviews. And let me tell you, it makes things very difficult.

One of my primary insecurities in general is the feeling of not being good enough. In the corporate world, I could usually tell what kind of performance feedback I was going to receive. I mean, I worked closely with the people over the year and it was easy to know which were satisfied with my performance and which felt I needed some improvement. Customer feedback on a process for which I was responsible wasn’t personal, so it was easy to absorb.

Book reviews are very personal. It’s all me in the words between the covers. It’s hard to detach myself from the comments and look at them objectively. If someone doesn’t like one of my novels, I feel as if I’ve let them down. They took a chance with my book, in some cases paid money, and in all cases invested part of their valuable personal time. I want to respect that and give them an entertaining story to enjoy.

I’ve been genuinely surprised by the positive feedback I’ve received on my first novel, Kingston’s Project. Not because I don’t think that my book is good, but because the feedback has been so consistent. I had expected to have a few more people who didn’t like it by now. I know not everyone will like every book—it’s just not possible. It’s been so rewarding to see the positive response to this novel. So where’s the insecurity coming from?

Well, that would be on my second novel, Kingston’s Promise, which is the sequel to the first. So far, the feedback has reached both ends of the spectrum. I’ve had some readers tell me that they loved the sequel more than the first. On the flip side, some readers who had loved and raved about the first book expressed their disappointment in the second. The feedback is not consistent and that has been difficult for me.

I know all the logic that says poor reviews are OK and might actually be a good thing, but the heart is having a hard time. It’s taken a lot of effort to ignore my 17 years of training that’s telling me the feedback means I need to change something. I had to stop writing my third novel for a bit, just so I could recalibrate my emotions. I didn’t want it to affect what I was writing or how I was writing it. As I said, in the corporate world feedback is used to make changes! I’m continuously fighting to pull myself back to the logical side of the equation, as well as focus on the positive comments. Since I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop reading reviews, I’m hoping to figure out a way to take the personal emotions out of it. I’d like to be able to use reader reviews to see if there is genuine criticism I can use to improve my writing, but I don’t want to let it completely change what and how I write—or worse, stop me from writing all together.

If anyone has a quick and effective way to reprogram 17 years of learning, please let me know!



38 comments:

  1. Carrie - if it makes you feel any better, Carrie Mesrobian read every single review of her debut novel. And it sucked hard, but for her she felt the only way to break that idea that reviews mattered was to just read everything.
    I don't know if that will work for you (and when my book comes out next year i'm sure i'll be reading some reviews, too) but maybe it's worth a shot?

    Great post guys! It's so interesting to see what everyone worries about and how we're all different but also pretty much the same

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    1. Thanks Sarah! Since I can't seem to stop paying attention to them, hopefully this strategy will work for me too.

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  2. Beth: Congratulations on 60k!! That's great! And when publishers get you down, remember that you at least have an agent! Some are still on-query (is that a term? lol).

    Kimberly: Gorgeous cover, by the way. Stop beating yourself up! 3 kids is a lot to juggle (how old are they?), so adding writing on top of that is going to be a feat. Just take your time, and maybe write out a schedule of your day to see if there is now a better time to try to write. If you have 3 kids and are trying to write once they go to bed, don't YOU want to go to bed?? lol

    Carrie: LOOK. AWAY. FROM the REVIEWS. Writing, just like reading, is subjective. I read reviews for books I READ and get mad at the people who disliked the books if I loved them. A lot of readers are looking for something different, and a lot of readers are looking for something they're used to. See the problem there? You're not going to please everyone. So put your book out there, and then pretend like it was a homework project or something. lol

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    1. thank you! :) yes I am super grateful and proud on where I am in this crazy biz!

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    2. I do, I do want to go to bed. My kids are nearly 5, 2.5 and 7 months old. Yup.

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    3. Very good point, Debra, and thanks for the reminder. I don't resent any reader for their thoughts on my book, and I agree that it's all subjective. I just want to stop my personal reaction to them. I do need to look away. Maybe I can start by only looking at them every other day... and then drop down to two times a week... Or maybe I can put a post-it on my computer that reads, "Debra says, 'LOOK AWAY!!'" That might help :-)

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  3. I try and stay away from the reviews. But it's like a highway accident, I can't help but look. I've been fortunate to have mostly positive reviews, but one person's glaring negative review but me in a tailspin so I'm doing my best to not read them.

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    1. Yes - I agree completely! Maybe we could read each other's reviews and only pass along the ones we think are worth reading ;-) Although, it is like an accident and I fear nothing short of Internet failure would keep me away.

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    2. When you're down about reviews, read the bad reviews of your favorite book. One of my most favorite books has some scathing one-star reviews.

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  4. wow this was a way more therapeutic post than I thought it would be lol. Glad to know we're all having insecurities, together. I know we'll sail past them though!

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    1. I agree, Beth! As I read the parts from you and Kimberly I felt they applied to me as well! We will find a way to get through.

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  5. Beth, grats on winning your non-official NaNoWriMo! 60K is great.
    Kimberly, I totally feel you on the kid-induced brain mush. I only have two, but they take their toll.
    Carrie, I like to look at reviews as a potential improvement opportunity. I try to step back and wonder, is this something that affects everyone, or just a personal dislike on behalf of the reader. I have no idea how to reprogram yourself, but I wish you the best and send encouragement your way.

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    1. thanks! I can't wait till it forms into something cohesive lol :)

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    2. Thanks Loni! The engineer in me wants to find the potential improvement opportunity too, but this writing experience is so new to me and I'm not used to having such a personal connection to my work. In my corporate world, while I took pride in my work it was usually done as a part of a team. I could more easily detach from the personal aspect. I'll keep trying!

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  6. Beth - Congratulations on your progress. It seems you are staying productive during the dreaded submission process, which is hard to do. Thank you so much for commenting on my blog. I wish you the best with your writing and submissions.

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  7. Just think of reviews as evidence people are reading your work. I didn't think I'd read mine but I'm like, "ooh someone must've read awfully carefully to hate on me."

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  8. Beth - I think we all worry about the same things. But, we have to keep moving forward. The right one will come along for you.

    Kimberly - 3 kids and trying to find time to write can not be easy. I'm sure you will find yourself a little block of time just for yourself and your writing.

    Carrie - Wow. That does sound like a hard thing to do. Just remember you're writing for yourself first, everyone else second.

    Heather

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  9. I haven't published anything yet, but I'm sure I'll have my upheavals about reviews when the time comes. Just think how you'll be well on your way to not caring about them anymore while I'll be tearing my hair out!

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  10. Thanks for finding me. You've a new follower here.

    I find that it helps when I consider the source the the review/criticism. Check out what they've written. Often people who are overly critical aren't best-sellers themselves and somehow inflate their own egos by attempting to deflate others. Then people I trust will have words of assurance, and I get back to work.

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    1. thanks so much for checking us out, Robyn! :)

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  11. Many celebrities say that they don't read reviews because some like you, some don't. It is so subjective. You need to write what your heart is telling you to write and celebrate the success within yourself and your core group of supporters.
    Play off the Page

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  12. Many celebrities say that they don't read reviews because some like you, some don't. It is so subjective. You need to write what your heart is telling you to write and celebrate the success within yourself and your core group of supporters.
    Play off the Page

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  13. Beth - it's all in the timing and clicking with the right agent/editor - very similar to finding your soulmate. very difficult and disheartening, but dont give up, it'll happen!

    Kimberly - i have three distractions as well! not to mention the day job and household drudgery - it all needs our attention and we have to put off our rewarding passion until we get our chores done and there isn't much brain power left... my solution, i squeeze in writing during the day here and there during breaks, waiting for things or kids or laundry to finish, it's not as good as sitting down for a good chunk of time, but it's great for writing scenes or developing characters or outlining a new story. not to mention, my house isnt the neatest...

    carrie - reviews are a necessary evil in this biz. as long as the good outweigh the bad in the long run, we have to get as many as we can! and the good ones are the ones who will tell others and build up the fan base! thats who we aim to please.

    nice talking with you guys!

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    1. so true, tara--it seriously does remind me of the perfect marriage or job--it's about clicking with the right person who "gets" you!

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  14. Thanks for visiting my blog. Beth - I'm submitting at the moment. I was rejected on the grounds my story was 'unrelentlessly bleak' which has put me in a bit of a tailspin.

    Kimberly - I take years to draft a novella without the excuse of having a little person to distract me!!

    Carrie - I always read my reviews. I've spent 20 years submitting short stories and novellas, and getting some interesting rejection letters (back in the day, when rejection letters were personalised), so reviews aren't any different to me. My favourite one recently was a girl stating 'I don't know what the heck I just read' :-)

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  15. Reviews are really hard to mage. On one hand you feel so excited to get positive reviews, it's exhilarating! Then, there are the bad reviews and you feel like you want to kill yourself, skin the MF who wrote it, and cry. All at the same time. But it's all part of the writing life. I'd say, try to make contact with your positive reviewers (a simple thank you goes a long way) and DO NOT engage with your critics. I repeat DO NOT ENGAGE. Nothing good will come out of it. Just concentrate on the positive and keep moving forward.

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  16. Beth, I did the whole querying thing this year. It's a never-ending roller coaster. You've just got to keep on putting yourself out there. Kimberly, most of the time I'm too tired after a long day with a preschooler too. Who knew someone so little could take so much energy?! Carrie, I read my reads as well. Yes, the bad ones can be depressing, but I want to know. I can't stop myself from wanting to know. The good ones make up for it, though. :)

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    1. yes it's exhausting! Once I got my agent I thought those days were over but sub is basically querying 2.0!

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  17. Thanks everyone for all the great comments and reminders. I also just saw this post on the HONY Facebook page - the timing of it was perfect and it matches the inspiration/attitude of many of these comments. :-)

    https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork/photos/a.102107073196735.4429.102099916530784/827102654030503/?type=1&theater

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  18. I can relate to each of your posts. Beth, I have never tried traditional publishing because I'm so impatient. A small publisher released four of my novels and I decided to try self-publishing for my 5th, and I love it. Kimberley, I don't have kids but I have a busy professional career and I haven't been writing much either. Carrie, no way in hell could I avoid reading reviews. I have a private Facebook group with other authors where we vent about particularly painful ones, and over the years my skin has thickened, but still it's tough. On the other side, glowing reviews are wonderful to read!

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    1. I'd thought about self pubbing but I'm such a nervous nelly and need to constantly run things by my agent! But I can see how it could be amazing in so many ways! Particularly since the trad route is SO PAINSTAKINGLY SLOW lol

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  19. These were all interesting posts. It's kind of scary knowing that getting an agent (which is so hard) is still one step on a long and uncertain path to publication. As for kids, yeah. I've got two and I can't imagine being productive after they've gone to bed. By then, they've sucked every bit of energy out of me. I can only write while they're in school, and I know I'm darned lucky to be home to do that. I've only had one review (on a short story), but luckily it was positive. I go and visit it sometimes. ;)

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    1. yes! Signing with my agent was one of the biggest highs of my life, and I'm so grateful to have her in my corner, but the waiting never ends and it's def not a guarantee to a sale! Gotta keep writing always! :)

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  20. It's so interesting to read such different perspectives on things all in one post. I found myself nodding along a whole lot! It's always nice to know that I'm not alone in these things! :)

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    1. this is the best thing about the writing community--the realization that we really are all in this together! :)

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