It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. The nice reason it’s been a while is that I’ve been busy writing the third and final draft of something like a sequel to The Lamiastriga that is currently named Second Skin. As far as I’m concerned it will be the final name, courtesy of a friend who should be an editor but isn’t. The not so nice reason it’s been a while is that I’ve also been busy worrying if my writing is any good.
I think most of those who write or do anything else using their imagination and hands at some point worry about whether they’re any good. I also think most of the time this worry is kind of vague. It’s there but it’s not stabbing you in the brain. And then you publish a book and the real horror ride begins.
I have no way of knowing how many books I’ve sold until the end of the year when I’ll get my royalty statement. This period of time (The Lamiastriga came out on May 30) is long enough to accommodate all the horror scenarios I can come up with, though in this case, admittedly, there are just two. Two but worth two dozen.
Horror scenario 1 is that nobody besides a couple of friends and a couple of extremely curious people bought the book.
Horror scenario 2 is that all the people who bought it hated it.
These are classical horror scenarios for first-time published writers, I guess. I’m sure there are writers confident enough to not let these scenarios overwhelm them but, sadly, I’m not one of them. I am having the dubious pleasure of finding out yet again what an abyss lies between reason and irrational anxiety.
Reason says there are millions of books out there and it is naive to expect one more to make a huge splash, so huge that it would become a topic of conversation anywhere in the first three months since its publication.
Reason also says the likelihood of that one book making a splash ever is minuscule in that ocean of books. Splashes and bestsellers are strictly dream territory, reason says. And that’s fine… until anxiety kicks the door open, plops at the bar and orders a beer.
Anxiety says people who buy books like they buy food would buy all the other books they see but not the one I wrote. Because it’s horrible. It wasn’t worth publishing. It wasn’t worth writing. What was I even thinking?
Of course, there are reviews like this one that provide some anxiety relief but then it returns stronger than ever, grinning and pretend-whispering that this review is from a friend and friend reviews don’t count because what else would a real friend say to a neurotic, insecure writer? Of course they’ll be supportive.
And then there are the missing reviews. I know for a fact a nice lady, a friend of that friend from above, bought The Lamiastriga only because of that review. And then silence followed. A brief visit from reason noted people are busy and cannot first, read a book in a day if they don’t have the time or inclination and second, they are under no obligation to write a review of it.
Then reason’s visit extends because it has more to say: while people are under no obligation to read a book, like it and write a review, people who really like a book usually want to share their enthusiasm with others. The obvious conclusion: everyone who read the book hated it but they’re too polite to say it.
After all, I don’t write reviews on books I didn’t like unless there was something I really, really hated and had to share it with the world. I also don’t write reviews on books I enjoyed reading unless I really, really enjoyed reading them but this fact is negligible because reason and anxiety have now become one.
Now, a psychologist might find it appropriate at this point to start talking about the pitfalls of the need for external validation and the futility of it along with other things healthy humans are not supposed to pay attention to if they want to stay healthy. At which point I would politely ask them to take their expertise elsewhere.
Self-consciousness, insecurity, and anxiety are not a choice. Doing something about them is a choice and I am trying to do something about them, which is think about something else and do something else, that is, write. Which smacks of masochism because, of course, those horror scenarios are there for everything I write. Yet with manuscripts there’s a bonus scenario: nobody will want to publish it. That’s right, a writer’s life is so much fun even if you’re not Insert-name-of-favourite-bestselling-author!
It’s all about feedback. Feedback is not like news where no means good. No feedback is bad feedback. It means if you read my book you hated it. Thanks for being nice enough to not share this hate with others but some say even negative reviews are helpful. They could interest people in reading the book and seeing for themselves how bad it is. I don’t have an opinion on the issue because I lack the information to have one. But I appreciate all feedback even the negative one I got for The Lamiastriga from two beta-readers.
The thing is, like most people, I have just about enough common sense to understand that not everyone would like what I write. It’s impossible. It’s unnecessary. I don’t like everything I read. I don’t like whole genres other people are madly in love with. That’s fine. If we were all the same the world would be a boring place. Is this enough to make anxiety shut its mouth and exit the premises? Of course not.
I keep going on hope and the rational argument that just as it’s impossible for everyone to like a book it’s impossible for everyone to hate it. That argument fuels the hope. I can’t complain, really, even though that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last 800 words unless you count them as a lame self-promotion attempt. I assure you, it’s just me whining. Whining helps.
I have three manuscripts right now. Two are early ones with lots of work yet to be done, and Second Skin is maturing, awaiting the editing and proofing stage, after which querying begins. Incidentally, querying will coincide with the arrival of my first royalty statement. I’m prepared for the worst, which is a dozen (or fewer) copies of The Lamiastriga sold and a “No, thank you” from the publisher on Second Skin. I know this happens. It happens a lot more often than I thought. Even big publishers lose money on most of the books they publish. I’ve made my peace with this brutal reality… kind of.
Most people who write either want to sell millions of books or win critical acclaim, or both. I don’t really care about critical acclaim. I’m one of those who want to sell millions of books and I actually feel pretty good about being honest about it. Why else write if not in hopes to have as many people as possible read what you write? Select audiences? Keep these.
Give me the urban fantasy reading masses who don’t care about genre hierarchy (seriously, is there anything more ridiculous than the idea of a genre hierarchy?). These are my people. These are the people I want to impress. These are the people whose day I desperately hope to ruin the way I allegedly ruined my friend’s. I really don’t have anything to go on but hope so I’ll just keep going on that. I’ll also keep writing even if my readership never goes beyond a dozen. When all’s said and done, I write because I can’t not write, now that I’ve got a taste of the whole process. Yes, including editing.