Before I began writing this blog, my advice to aspiring writers was simple if curt: quit now. My feeling was if the poor soul seeking guidance ignored me, then they shared my curse, and it didn’t matter what I said anyone. That’s the mark of a true writer, like a pentagram on the palm of a werewolf: Stubborn determination.
Without that quality, you won’t need anyone to tell you to give up. You just won’t be able to handle the rejection, and you’ll (wisely) seek employment and fulfillment in a more lucrative field.
Given the challenges all writers face in an industry that is increasingly crowded and competitive, itself existing in an world of people who simply do not like to read, the odds against success as an author, whether their subject is fiction or non-fiction, are frankly overwhelming and, if carefully considered in advance, probably dispiriting to the point of declaring premature defeat.
So like I said: quit now while you’re ahead. You probably have better chances of becoming a rock star or sports idol than a famous author.
And yes, there are many examples of famous authors and popular books that endured tons of rejection before finally achieving success. But that's the point I'm making. They didn't let rejection stop them.
Of course, there are also stories of authors who struggled all their lives and died totally obscure, only to achieve success posthumously (Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and John Kennedy Toole spring to mind).
But by far the most common case, the one you never read about? Authors who never "make it" at all. Ever.
Still reading this? Good for you. Though you have my sympathies.
Let's say you’ve already written a book, and are ready to shop it around. The possibilities seem endless. After all, your book is superior to most, right? At least you think so. The challenge is just convincing enough suckers, excuse me, strangers to turn a profit on your investment in yourself, both artistically and financially.
You upload it and it’s on the market. You start promoting it like crazy, over all your many social media platforms. Friends share your Facebook posts. Some indie sites review it. And then…
The backlash. Some negative comments on Amazon ruin your day, then your night, since you can’t sleep wondering where you went wrong.
Those reviews on those websites? Mostly negative. Even your friends stop sharing your posts once they’ve actually read the book.
Where did you go wrong?
Well, for one thing: you published. Even when I told you not to, you did it anyway. Sharing your work with the public is always going to be a dice roll, because in many, if not most cases, not everyone, maybe hardly anyone, is going to share your enthusiasm for your own work. Does that mean it sucks?
Not necessarily. No opinions are definitive. All feedback is subjective. The exceptions, of course, would be criticism of technical mistakes, like typos and formatting issues. Bad grammar and sloppy syntax, not to mention poor storytelling, also leaves you wide open for justifiable barbs.
So first, cover those bases. Don’t put out a hastily composed product. Always present what you believe is your best work. If you have enough faith in its integrity and quality - as idiosyncratic, unusual or unconventional as it may be - someone out there (ideally not related to you) is going to connect with it. Maybe not a lot of people, not enough to let you quit your day job anyway, but the sincerity of their appreciation will be its own reward, as a source of inspiration, and even validation.
But what about the haters? Don’t their voices count when assessing the worth of your own hard work?
Yes and no. First, you have to separate constructive criticism from random hostility. Many people abuse the freedom of the Internet to launch unprovoked attacks on vulnerable targets, like your fragile ego, simply for the sake of making themselves feel superior.
This type of cyber-bullying is rampant on the Web, and you’d do best to avoid it when possible, but in any case, always, always ignore it. Like the saying goes, consider the source.
Contextualize the critique. Don’t let a single one-star review on your Amazon product page ruin your day. Instead, look at all the four- and five-star reviews that more than balance it out.
But if your book has predominantly one-star reviews, you may need to consider the fact that it does indeed suck.
Which means what?
Either delete the file like it never existed, literally writing it off as experience, or simply write a better book next time, absorbing the reactions as objectively as possible, and learning from your own mistakes. This is called on-the-job training, and it’s always more painful for an artist that pours his or her heart into their work than for someone who is emotionally detached from their occupation, merely learning the ropes so they can earn a paycheck.
Bottom line: be your own worst critic. Then the comments of others will either resonate with your own brutally frank self-analysis, or else, surprise!, you’ll realize you were being way too hard on yourself.
Rejection and bad reviews are not signs of failure. It is natural for you to get depressed. But honestly, the best way to deal with poor press is not reaction, but a call to action.
If you believe in your own talent, that’s all you need to pick yourself up and keep going. Eventually, your skills will match your ambition, as you hone your craft via trial and error in a sometimes insensitive but always edifying public arena.
So filter out the merely bitter from the sincerely supportive amongst your audience, and keep writing.
That’s what I said. Forget what I said earlier. Never quit. It’s too late now, anyway. Because you're a real writer. And ultimately, you only need to prove that to yourself.
How do you deal with rejection as a writer?
PHOTO: CELESTINE CHUA