Okay, was that a bit harsh? Those golden words you’ve agonized over, the subtle humour, the precise phrases, the edgy ideas that were going to excite and challenge and leave readers begging for more—nothing but a product? Say what?
I remember one writer who lovingly passed her manuscript to me as though handing her baby to a construction worker straddling a girder on what will eventually become the twentieth floor of a new skyscraper. At the time, I wasn’t sure if she would actually leave it with me or if she would wait until the last second, then pull it out of my hands and take it back home with her.
Of course, in a way, it was her baby. Her first novel, it represented hours of creative genius, hard work, amazement, pride, and not a few tears.
The difference is that few people would ever look at your baby and exclaim, “Ugh! This is terrible!” and drop it. But people are more than willing to say that and more about your writing. And that is why my friend was so hesitant to give me her first novel. She knew I might tell her she couldn’t write. Couldn’t even begin to write. Might just as well take up knitting and not waste any more of her time or mine….
Fortunately, I didn’t say any of those things, and, in fact, I recently read her publisher’s advance reading copy of the book.
Ah, publishers….Let’s say that, like my friend, you finally, in some way and at some time, find a publisher. Now you can relax and bask in the glory of having a book.
When your book is published, there will be many more people who are happy to tell you what they think of it.
Your friends and family are probably going to be nice, although you can’t assume that. (You also can’t actually assume your friends and family will ever buy a copy of your book, but that’s another topic. Let’s assume some of them do—or you willingly or unwillingly give them copies.) Aunt Bertha may fall asleep reading it—and laughingly tell that story to everyone she knows. Your mother may be upset that you bragged about that incident she’d rather everyone forgot. Your grade four Sunday school teacher may be horrified that you were able to write the gory scene on page 172.
And some people you know of them will look you in the eye and say, “I read your book.” And stop there. And you want to encourage them to go further. The word “And…?” sits on the tip of your tongue. But you keep it inside. You’re afraid to say it because maybe they’ll tell you what they really thought of the book, and of course, it will never be good. And then you wonder if they feel you should be giving them a prize for actually getting through the book.
And then there are the total strangers who read it and decide to let you know about the typo on page one or the incorrect details on page 83 or the completely impossible plot twist on page 350 (yes, the climax.). Of course, you want to know these things. You need to know them. But after all that editing, you can’t believe there are still problems. And you wonder if the editor might be to blame. But then you go back to your original copy and—there it is. Sigh.
And, finally, you have the reviewers. They say any review is better than no review, and I guess it’s true, but—that doesn’t mean a bad review doesn’t hurt. And a review where the reviewer clearly had no idea why you wrote the book or what you were attempting to do really hurts.
However there is good news. You can be glad all this doesn’t happen in front of millions of readers on a program like American Idol with Simon Cowell as the reviewer.