I recently received this email from an author who’s just had her first book published:
“This is an unnerving time for me.Â Reviews (some positive, some negative, some mixed) and reader and bookseller comments are coming at me on all sides.Â All of this conspires to create a sense of vulnerability.Â Just navigating it tends to make one thin-skinned.”
Oh honey, I know just what you mean.
Non-writers probably think that having your book go on sale means you bask in glory while rave reviews pour in and adoring fans greet you at every bookstore.Â They think it’s all champagne andÂ triumph.Â
What it really feels like is a nervous breakdown.
The anticipation ofÂ your book’s release is so much better.Â In the months before reality cruelly whaps you in the face, you can still daydream about starred reviews and bestseller lists and excited calls from your editor informing you that your sales are through the roof.Â I’ve experienced that high with every one of my books, those heady weeks when all things are possible, when you love being a writer because the work is done and now you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Then the daydreams start to crack and crumble away.Â Maybe it starts with a bad review in PW.Â (And I’ve had more than a few of those.)Â Then some cranky anonymous reader posts a one-star review on Amazon.Â Hey, it’s fun to throw stones at naked and vulnerable authors, becauseÂ they can’tÂ fight back.Â They just curl up into little balls and whimper.Â Then you hear from your editor that “it’s just a slow week in all the bookstores” or “maybe we should have gone with a different cover”.Â Or even worse, she stops calling you at all, because she just doesn’t want to talk to a suicidal author.Â
Oh yes, I know what all this is like because I’ve been there, done that.Â And no, it never gets easier to take.Â All it gets is more predictable.Â I allow myself the happy daydreams, but I know full well that the chances are they’ll come to nothing and I’ll end up on book tourÂ lying depressed on some hotel bed, staring up at the ceilingÂ and wondering if there isn’t some other occupation I could beÂ successful at because the writing thing is clearly not working out.Â It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or you’re 12 books into your career, you will probably experience thisÂ gnawing, existential doubt about your ability as a writer.Â Â And it’s no wonder you’re feeling this way, because there areÂ too many critics eager to tell you your writingÂ sucks.Â
And maybe for a day or a week or, God forbid, for the rest of your life, you believe them.
Whenever I hearÂ complaints aboutÂ “arrogant authors”, I’m surprised because I don’t know how any author could stillÂ be arrogant after having one’s ego repeatedly ripped to shreds by the critics and the marketplace.Â Perhaps the arrogant authors are young literary darlings who’veÂ heard only praise.Â The rest of us know it’s a rough and tumble out there, and no matter how many battle scars we may have, the thrust of theÂ critic’s sword still hurts.Â
If you’re a new author, this probably isn’t very encouraging to hear. ButÂ it’s got to be a comfort knowing that you’re not the onlyÂ depressed writer staring at the ceiling.