Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thickening Your Skin

I'm down to about 20 more pages to revise, but this is the part where I pretty much have to throw out what I have and come up with something new, so it's not going to be a quick and easy revision. I think I know what I need to do, but I suspect I'll find out when I get there.

After taking a bit of a holiday break, the writing posts are back. I had a reader question about what comes next after self-publishing a book. I'm publishing through my agent's platform, so I haven't really dealt with the logistics of submitting books to sales venues, etc., but one thing that comes to mind after a lot of Internet observation that I think self-published authors need to do is grow a thick skin.

This is important for traditionally published authors, as well, but the process of becoming published -- submitting work to agents and publishers, going through the editorial revision and copy edit phases -- tends to thicken one's skin a bit. By the time a book is published, you've probably already heard most of the criticism you're likely to get, so any reviews will only echo rejections or editorial suggestions. With a traditionally published work that's available in bookstores, your audience isn't limited to those who are active online. And most professional book review venues are still closed to self-published work, so a self-published book is more likely to be reviewed by amateur reviewers, for better or worse. It's far too easy for a self-published author to sabotage her own career by reacting the wrong way to a review and having a meltdown that goes viral.

Get used to the fact that not everyone will love your book. No matter how careful you are about editing, there will be some flaw that people will point out and pounce upon -- and they may or may not be correct about that flaw. Some people will miss the point entirely. Some people will blame your book for not being what they wanted it to be. Some people will give you a negative review based on the price or format. And you have to be very, very careful about responding to any of this. If you know you're going to have a strong emotional reaction to every review, don't set up a Google alert, go searching for reviews or read Amazon reviews. If you need a few good review quotes for promotion, get someone else to do the search for you. If there's something you absolutely must correct, like inaccurate information, do so in an e-mail to the reviewer, not in a public blog comment, and put what you write aside for a day to review before sending.

From what I've read in online discussions, it seems like most readers and reviewers would prefer that authors stay out of discussions in reviews of their books, even to say good things. Participation in other discussions is fine, as is responding to non-review discussions relating to your books. But it seems to totally stifle the discussion around a review the moment the author shows up and inserts herself into the conversation, and you really, really want people actively discussing your book. A negative or angry response will trigger a flame war and vows to never buy any of your books, ever, but even a "thank you for the review" tends to shut down the conversation entirely. There's not really any point in arguing with a review unless it contains a factual error like release date or available formats. You're not going to change anyone's mind. You're just going to make them mad.

Don't get your friends or family to gang up on negative reviewers, either, and don't create a fake identity for yourself so that you can disagree with reviews in stealth mode. It's painfully obvious when this is going on, you'll get busted, and then you'll look even worse. This is business, not junior high.

This is why I generally recommend that people at least try the traditional publishing route before publishing for themselves. That tends to thicken the skin and give you a more realistic impression of your place in the publishing sphere. Without that professional feedback, it's too easy to maintain the fantasy that your work is too brilliant for the old-school publishers to recognize, and then the moment someone bursts your bubble you have a meltdown. It is possible that your book is too different to be published traditionally but is still brilliant, but it's dangerous to buy into your own hype so deeply that hearing opposing viewpoints enrages you.

Having a good book, good editing, good cover art, good distribution and good publicity won't help if you have a public hissy fit that makes the core e-book audience shun you and warn others away.

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