Not long ago, I got a great email from a writer who wanted to know what it was like having three books out–more specifically, they wanted to know if it was difficult to put myself out there for the world to judge and how I cope with it. This has been on my mind a little because Fall for Anything is O-U-T now (you should buy it!) and there’s no going back from that, unless I build a time machine or make a deal with the devil and I’d like to think I’d build a time machine for far nobler purposes than to unpublish a book and strike a deal with the devil for much less nobler purposes than to unpublish a book, which is my convoluted and dramatic way of saying I would not do either of these things but I thought I would blog a little about the topic.

I get a little consumed by reader response a couple months before and after one of my books is released, not going to lie. Fall for Anything is in that tender stage where I want everyone to like it. I’ve gone through this with all of my books. Of course you want people to like what you’re putting out there–I think that’s a very natural and human thing to want–but as The Rolling Stones say…







I think most writers realize that the moment you start submitting your work, you are going to get well acquainted with rejection. There is the good kind–I like this, but…–but there’s also the not-so-great kind that feels like a direct and very personal commentary on what you have created: no, I don’t like this. How could it feel like anything else?

When I decided I’d write with the eye of hopefully getting published, the first thing I did was prepare myself for People Not Liking My Work and the word ‘no.’ Every writer knows this and knows it well–want agent? Want book deal? You’re going to hear the word no in your quest for both–a lot. And yes is never guaranteed.

(Sometimes no is even delivered by a stabby knife that stabs you directly in the heart stabbingly and you just have to try not to bleed all over the furniture while you send your next query and sometimes you’ve just barely stopped bleeding when the next no comes and you’re like HOW AM I STILL ALIVE? HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?)

What got me through the query stage was reminding myself that fiction is subjective. When Cracked Up to Be sold to St. Martin’s, I immediately started Phase 2 of this line of thinking, which means I thought the same thing but much harder and consequently gave myself forehead wrinkles and headaches. By the time December 23rd, 2008 rolled around–Cracked Up to Be’s release date–I thought I was totally ready for whatever people had to say about Parker Fadley and her bitchy disposition.

Ha ha ha!

I don’t think you can ever truly be prepared to have your work out there, whether people ultimately end up loving it or hating it. Even if you do your absolute best to ignore the stuff people say about yer stuff, it’s hard to be unaware of the fact that people are out there, saying stuff about yer stuff. It’s a nearly impossible concept to wrap your head around. For me, it was much easier to understand in theory, but experiencing it was something else ENTIRELY.

So Cracked Up to Be hopped off the presses and promptly ran face first into one of The Worst Reviews I’ve Ever Received (So Far) and I immediately forgot all of my own advice. The funny thing is, I even had an inkling this review was coming and tried to steel myself for it–fiction is subjective! It is subjectivvve!–but this review took my breath away with its utter loathing of my writing.

The first thing I did was email it to my agent to make sure I wasn’t overreacting. What if it was one of those reviews that was actually not so much mean as it was critically even-handed and I was just too close to my book and not seeing that? My agent and I quickly established this wasn’t the case. That settled, I stepped back from the computer and thought, there! It wasn’t just me! So that’s it! My first really terrible review and I survived!

And then I got REALLY upset!

How to describe it–I kind of felt like I’d shown up at a prom full of a bunch of strangers with my dress tucked into my pantyhose and also I am wearing really, really ugly underwear in this nightmare. I felt very naked and looked at and the people who were looking at me hated what they were seeing and I didn’t even know them!





On the flipside, the good reviews were similarly overwhelming. Some Girls Are was not finished (edit for clarification: the first draft of the book was finished, but it was so rough, it was completely overhauled–imagine almost writing an entirely new book–and I hadn’t finished yet) at the time of Cracked Up to Be’s release–in fact, it was going through some insanely tough revisions I wasn’t sure I’d get through–and every time I got pinged by a positive review, the only thing I could think was: How do I top that? How can I not disappoint this person with my next book? How can I find whoever coined the term ‘sophomore slump’ and kill them?

That’s a really humbling feeling. It’s good to be humbled. But like I said, it’s also a bit overwhelming. After I had My Moment and then My Moment (Extended Version) and then My Moment (Remix) and then My Moment (Extended Version Remix) I did a lot of thinking. I’m a person who Likes Things A Certain Way (read: control freak) and I was quickly learning that I could not control what other people thought of my work. That was quite the personal epiphany.

So was I going to let a bad review be the worst thing that ever happened to me? Well, no. Would I let the expectations surrounding a positive review paralyze my writing? Absolutely not–I have a lot more stories I wanna tell. And then came the mental smackdown: like Jen Trynin said and which I like to remind myself of a lot: “No one deserves anything.”

No one deserves anything, let alone a book deal. I didn’t want to spit in the face of the hard work and luck involved in getting my own or the hard work of people who are in the process of pursuing one. I decided I needed to learn the fine art of compartmentalizing (or ‘sucking it up’ as the Canadians call it).

But how does a writer do that? How do they cope? Well… I don’t know. I don’t like speaking for all writers!

So I can only tell you what this one did.

I am three books into my writing career (hopefully there will be more) and I’ve received my share of reader response–both good and bad. I have been called irresponsible. I’ve received emails that praise my first book in one paragraph and ask me why my second was so terribly written in the next. But I’ve also been told Parker’s story inspired someone to get help. I’ve been told Regina’s enabled a reader to speak up about their own bullying. Someone told me my books made them realize they wanted to write. That’s crazy–but good crazy. In three books, I have learned to view all responses as positive ones–even the negative ones. If you’ve written a book that causes people to react, that’s a very good thing. It’s something I’ve learned not to take lightly.

But I also can’t let any response get in the way of my writing and I think at the end of the day it’s important to write a book YOU, as its creator, love and believe in above all else, because other people’s praise and criticism will only take you so far. You will likely never believe your best review and it’s way too easy to talk yourself into believing your worst. It can also be a dangerous thing to get completely caught up in positive responses and dismiss all your critics as haters…







… But to have the certainty of your own feelings behind what you’ve done is a very important and very powerful thing. Like they say: you can’t please everyone, so you might as well please yourself. And as I am very fond of saying, the moment I stop writing for me is the moment I stop writing for you.

Ani Difranco has this great song called Tamburitza Lingua. It is pretty depressing but it ends on this great (albeit sad) note: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three two one and kerplooey, you’re done, you’re done for, you’re done for good now tell me did you do did you do all you could? Uhm, like I said, depressing–but worth thinking about in terms of writing. Did you write the story you wanted to? Did you say everything that was in your heart? If you answered ‘yes’ to both of these questions, realize how amazing that is, objectively. It’s a gift and you should take it seriously.

Finally, I could never overstate the importance of WORKING ON SOMETHING NEW. When you’re fully invested in a new story, you’re detaching, on some level, from the last one. Allowing yourself distance from your previous work makes the response it gets feel like not so much of a ‘hit.’

But it’s still intimidating to be judged. Of course it’s scary. And even more comforting: it’s inevitable. NO MATTER WHAT YOU ARE DOING. And in spite of all I’ve written here, as I said–I’m currently in a tender stage of Fall for Anything’s release, where I want everyone to like it. I still have My Moments and their Extended Versions and their Remixes over some of the feedback I get. But I know now it will pass and I try to remember the only thing you can do is let the chips fall where they may and then turn your attention forward.

You HAVE to, or at least I do, because above all, I firmly believe that once a book is released, it’s not mine anymore. I’ve had my time with those characters and now it is over. Such a big part of putting your work out there is letting it go. And I think in this particular case, letting go is just something you have to learn over and over again but that you maybe hopefully get better at the more and more you do it.

Lest you become this Duffy song.





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39 Responses to How to Deal: Writing for Public Consumption

  1. Linda G. says:

    Excellent post, bb. :) I want you to remind me of it if/when my agent ever sells my stupid book, and I start freaking out about what readers are going to think of it.

  2. courtney says:

    I am SURE I will be reminding you of that WHEN it sells. :)

  3. Scott Tracey says:

    A fabu post as always, C.

    The haters gonna hate eagle is now my favorite image. Thank you!

  4. courtney says:

    You know when I posted that I thought I BET SCOTT WILL APPRECIATE THIS EAGLE. The only thing he could appreciate more is a Mean Girls gif but alas I had none. :(

  5. You were inspiring people to write long before you had a book published :)

  6. courtney says:

    Brian, :) :) :) x a million. :)

  7. kelly j says:

    awesome post.

    “If you’ve written a book that causes people to react, that’s a very good thing. It’s something I’ve learned not to take lightly.”

    THAT!

  8. Brilliant and true and something we all need to hear and remind ourselves.

  9. courtney says:

    Daisy, I am reminding myself of it a lot lately. :)

  10. Jane Dudeney says:

    Fabulous post ;-) Now to say it to myself OVER AND OVER AGAIN! I still struggle letting anyone but me read what I write…

  11. Maine Character says:

    Really well said, and it especially helps to know it’s not something you ever really put behind you, but which you have to work on again and again.

    It also reminded me of this line from Mark Twain, who had even Louisa May Alcott writing about how irresponsible it was for him to write about Huck Finn.

    “We can secure other people’s approval if we do right and try hard, but our own is worth a hundred of it, and no way has been found of securing that.”

  12. Absolutely. Wonderful, wonderful post. As wonderfully written as your books.

    It IS about letting go, I’m sure. Same thing when I went on sub. Letting it go. Until you need get your edit letter, that is! Then you’ve gotta take those reigns back and hope the horse let’s you mount! :P

    Glad to hear you plan on sticking around. Me likey mucho much. ;)

    DK

  13. Starrynite says:

    I loved Parker Fadley. And then I LOVED Regina Afton.

    I’ve still got about a week and a half til the UK release of FFA but I’m fairly sure I’ll live Eddie too. And the reason I’m sure of that is because they were imperfect. Which made them real. There were times when I thought Regina (not so much Parker) was a ginormous bitch. But I still understood why she did what she did. YOU made me understand why she did those things. And whilst I might be the type of person who 1) empathises with m

  14. Starrynite says:

    Agg, stoopid iPhone sending half a message. To continue…

    …most people and 2) is quite eager to understand someone’s (even a character’s) MOTIVATION for doing something, I still believe it was you who made that clear.

    I love both your books that Ive read so far and can’t wait to read the next because I know you won ‘t give me an easy ride as a reader. But that’s what I like.

    I’d like to think I can consider you a friend (albeit one I have never met IRL – until you do a London book tour and then I am SO your official tour guide!!!!) but I also consider you a writer who makes me think and challenges my perceptions, even though I am – sadly – out of your YA target audience.

    Courtney, you rock. Xxx

  15. tammara says:

    I wish critics, whether amateur or professional, would take some responsibility before they put their OPINION out there for the world. I review stuff on Goodreads, and I had an epiphany about writing reviews not long ago. I decided I didn’t like writing a bad one. Even if some books seem to NEED a “oh man, this stinks” warning label, I realized that my opinion is just that. Such books go from “currently reading” to not there, because someone put a lot of work and bits of their soul in that thing, and maybe other readers will like it, and there’s just no reason for me to hate on it.

    This is a great post, and since it’s timely for me personally, it’s even better. :)

    (All of that said, I LOVE all three of your books. Each one is wonderful, unique, emotionally complicated, and never boring. In short — everything I could possibly ask of a novel. Thank you for your perseverance!)

  16. Carol says:

    I remember when my first book was pubbed–a million million years ago. I was so excited. This was in the days of no email (I don’t think), no blogs, no comments from just anyone. My editor sent me that first review (which happened to be okay) and I thought, “What a crappy deal. Finally I get my book sold and now I have to listen to others talk about if I’ve screwed up or not.” I felt betrayed.

    All these years later, I still have a hard time when people think I’ve not done a good job. And I have to remind myself that I always try to write the best book I can. It’s not like I try to screw up. “Sheesh, lady. My goal when I was writing this book was to bug YOU.”

    So you write your heart. You put the best words down. You be true to who you are as a writer. And people will hate your work or love it or think it’s just so so, right? ‘Cause we can’t please them all.

    But hopefully we get better and better.

  17. Mike Jung says:

    Excellent advice, Courtney, but of course I expect no less from you. You hear me? ALL YOUR ADVICE HAS TO BE THIS GREAT FROM NOW–oh wait, I’m being evil. Excellent advice, Courtney. Seriously! I hope I’ll be able to keep it in mind when it’s my turn.

  18. courtney says:

    Jane: Aw! Find one reader you can trust implicitly and maybe give them a peek? It’s not easy, I know!

    Maine Character: thank you! And I LOVE that quote from Mark Twain. That’s fantastic.

    Dawn: Thank you. :) And hah! Yes, totally! Perfectly said–I’m looking forward to getting back ont that horse very soon. :)

    starrynite: awww! Thank you thank you so much. Well I HOPE you love Eddie but if you don’t, that’s ok too. ;) This is such a nice comment. And I’d like to think I can consider you a friend too. :) Cheers to you. YOU rock.

    tammara: thank YOU for reading and writing. & I think you raise an interesting point too–it’s important to know what kind of reader you are and how you want to review.

    Carol: So well said… and yes!!! “Sheesh, lady. My goal when I was writing this book was to bug YOU.” I’ve had that reaction too!!! It is pretty neat and overwhelming how such a personal experience (writing a book) can become such a personal experience for someone else. It is difficult to put yourself out there… but I’m glad especially, that you do it. I love your books.

    Mike: AGGGH greaaaat. SIGH. This is why I usually strive for mediocrity–I mean. Wait. PS: I CAN’T WAIT until you have to keep this in mind because that means your book will be out and I will be holding it. Mwahahahaah!

  19. Lisa Schroeder says:

    Well said, Courtney. I love this interview between Cynthia Leitich Smith and Sara Zarr, where Sara touched on the subject of reviews.

    http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2009/10/author-interview-sara-zarr-on-once-was.html

    My favorite quote: “Can you separate your identity as a writer from your popularity as a writer? Because they are not the same thing. If you allow your writing to get tangled up in your popularity, you’re going to make your writing life a lot harder on yourself than it needs to be, and you could wear down before you’ve really done all you want to do with your writing.”

    I think every writer has to figure out what works best for him/her.

  20. courtney says:

    Oooh! Lisa that interview is fantastic. Thanks for pointing it out. And I definitely agree–I know authors who don’t want to know and I totally get that, and authors who have every google alert imagineable set-up for themselves and I get that too. Like you said–it’s what works best for you.

  21. Dawn says:

    (Sometimes no is even delivered by a stabby knife that stabs you directly in the heart stabbingly and you just have to try not to bleed all over the furniture while you send your next query and sometimes you’ve just barely stopped bleeding when the next no comes and you’re like HOW AM I STILL ALIVE? HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?)

    And yet, you have proven that even though haters might hate (or stabbers be Stabby McStab), you can *still* write great books that make you proud and hold your head up high.

    You done good, gal! Awesome, in fact. :-D

  22. Oh. oh, my. I just bookmarked this for future use. and the haters eagle made me DIE. it was so awesome!

  23. courtney says:

    Dawn: Awww, thank you, Dawn. :)

    Elissa: Hope it comes in handy! And isn’t that image GREAT? I found it on a funny macro site and it made me lulz 4evah!

  24. notemily says:

    Hee, I like this post, and its visual/audio aids.

    Your books didn’t so much inspire me to become a writer (wanted that since day one) as remind me why I wanted to write, and write for teens, in the first place. It’s the voice you write in that does it, I think, because sometimes it’s very close to my own writing voice or what I wish it could be, so it makes me think “hey, maybe I could be good at this.” Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson does the same thing no matter how many times I read it.

    NOW IF ONLY I COULD CHANNEL THOSE THINGS INTO ACTUAL SELF-DISCIPLINE AND WRITING HABITS. I got a taste of what it would be like during NaNoWriMo and it was glorious, but then I started to doubt myself and everything fell apart. I just need blinders that don’t allow me to second-guess my own story while I’m writing it, I suppose. Because if I go down that road, then it never gets finished.

  25. \V/

    p.s. I tried to say JUST the above, but your website said my comment was too short and I should ‘try again’. SO MUCH FOR MINIMALISM, COURTNEY. ;P

  26. Alyssa says:

    I just finished FFA and totally lived it. Is it weird of me to say that I cried in this one, TOO? I loved Eddie as much as Parker and Regina and I found Her grief made her so very realistic. No bad reviews coming from me!
    P.S. Milo is fantastic.

  27. Lisa Asanuma says:

    I have to say, I haven’t had a chance to read your books yet (I very much want to!) but I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and I really enjoy it. This post has been particularly inspiring… I’m nowhere near published yet, but I’m just anticipating those gut-wrenching reviews, if and when I get there. I DO agree that anything that causes a reaction is a good thing. Reactions mean people are thinking about your book—which means you made people think, and that’s always good.

  28. All Adither says:

    I love this post. And you have the best character names.

  29. courtney says:

    notemily: aw, thanks. :) also: omggg developing writing as a discipline is hard, truefax, but there’s no reason you can’t do it (and it sounds like you were which is awesome). self doubt is SO HARD though, I understand. and it’s easy to get derailed by it. I wish I could bottle and sell a cure because then I would be a millionaire.

    Emily: IT’S BECAUSE MY BLOG CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF YOU.

    Alyssa: thank you so so so much! That means a lot to me. And Milo. ;) I am really thrilled you liked it.

    Lisa: thanks for reading the blog and commenting! The anticipation of it all can be the worst–sometimes worse than the actual thing itself. I think it’s good to start prepping for the possibility–even though, like I said, I am not sure anyone can be entirely prepared for it!

    All Adither: Thank you so much on both counts. :)

  30. Donna says:

    Wonderful post! It makes being a published author (already such a scary thought) even scarier. But if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.

    Right?

  31. Melanie says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing your feelings with us Courtney. It sounds like a very intense process to go through. I don’t really look forward to that emotional roller coaster, but if I don’t go through it, then it means I haven’t been published, so… I’m sure every writer goes through this (well, maybe after a certain number of published books it gets a little easier, but who knows).

    Just wanted to let you know that Fall For Anything is the very first book I downloaded on my brand new iPad. Started reading last night and I love it. Good luck and congrats with it’s success and with all your future endeavors. Happy Holidays and a very Happy and successful New Year!

    Mel

  32. Ariel says:

    Wow. This is wonderful and so needed! I have bookmarked it to come back to, and I’m sure I will be…many times. I’m just an infant in the querying process (10 submissions, 6 rejects) and I’ve found myself having to face the judgement. I’ve realized it’s just a choice. How I deal with it is just a choice, but I must constantly remind myself of that. Thank you so much. It’s great to know I’m not alone!

  33. Kirstin says:

    You are so smart . . . but I knew that already. Go, you! And thanks for all the good reminders. Hater Eagle is the best. Swiping it right now.

  34. courtney says:

    Donna: Here’s hoping. :) (And thank you!)

    Melanie: Thanks for reading! It is a pretty intense process but it’s very survivable so at least there is that. And thank you so much for reading Fall for Anything! (I hope it looked good on the iPad!). I’m thrilled you liked it!

    Ariel: Thank you so much! I’m glad you got something of it. And you’re definitely not alone! Good luck with querying!

    Kirstin: Aww thank you. And HEE! Isn’t he awesome?! Swipe away!

  35. Melanie says:

    Hey Courtney

    Just wanted to let you know that I finished reading FFA last night and WOW. Just friggin’ Wow! Your most beautiful work yet. Hope you don’t mind me saying :-) I think we can never get enough of people complimenting our work, so there you go. I swear if anyone has anything bad to say about this book, then they are just the kind of person who need to find something bad to say about anything and everything. Best of luck to you. Look forward to your next published work!!!

  36. courtney says:

    Melanie,

    Thank you so, so much! This comment means so much to me and I’m so thrilled you enjoyed it. I hope you like the next one just as well. :) (Pressure’s on!) But seriously–you made my day!
    Thank you!

  37. Excellent post and lots to think about in the future. Thanks! <3<3<3

    p.s. Started reading FFA – so far I love it!

  38. courtney says:

    Stephanie, thank you for reading it! And yaay!