I promise I’m not a closet narcissist

12/07/12

I’ve come to the conclusion that being an author is very damaging to the soul. It’s like being a neurotic parent with a child on the first day of school. The moment anyone comments on it, you take it totally to heart and analyse every letter of it. I’ve become a closet narcissist. I couldn’t figure out how to set up Google alerts on my phone for the review sites that don’t notify you when a review is posted, so every now and then I just google my book. I check up on Goodreads and Amazon and whenever anyone posts anything less than a four star review I take it totally to heart and agonise over what they could possibly be thinking that they didn’t like my baby, my creation. It really, really hurts. Especially when they’ve levelled a criticism that you feel is totally unjustified.

At the end of the day I respect everyone’s right to have an opinion. I can accept that in asking people to judge your book, that’s exactly what they’ll do: judge it. Doesn’t stop it hurting. I was prepared to take a couple of knocks on my route to being established as an author but I really, genuinely hadn’t anticipated the downer that would take me on.

The majority of my readers have been great, reassuring me that they love my books. The truth is that the vast majority of reviews have been great or excellent. It shouldn’t matter that it’s not for everyone. You can’t please everyone all of the time because we are different. We are all unique and individual creations with myriad likes and dislikes that are totally unique to each person. I’m sure there are books I’ve hated that others have adored.

When I looked up how to deal with a bad review (because googling is my answer to everything), I was directed to pick my favourite books and go look at them on Amazon to see how many 1 star reviews they had. It genuinely shocked me to see how many there were. The Time Travelers’ Wife for instance…I adored that book. I read it cover to cover twice in a row without a break in between. I loved it. It has (currently) 92 one star reviews and 63 two star reviews. I found that astonishing. They say that only 1 in every 1000 readers leaves a review so extrapolating (in an ENTIRELY unscientific manner) one could speculate that there are in fact 155000 people out there that really didn’t enjoy that book. Makes my one or two seem paltry huh?

Upon further investigation I’ve come to the conclusion that vampires, particularly, are a marmite kind of concept when it comes to books written about them. Twilight currently has 173 two star or less reviews (120 of which are 1 star). I didn’t find a single vampire book that didn’t have at least 4 or 5 one star reviews, but in truth most of them don’t have many reviews at all.  Even the BDB series has its fair share of below average reviews and we all know how much of a Brother addict I am. Or should that be adhict? Ahdict?

Believe it or not, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has 34 one star reviews. Yup, there are somewhere between 34 and 34000 people out there that DON’T LIKE HARRY POTTER. *Shakes head in disbelief*.  Just to amuse myself I looked up 50 Shades of Grey. It’s been at the top of the bestseller lists for what seems like months and has made its author fabulously wealthy. Incredibly, it has only a 3 star rating overall and 743 of those were 1 star reviews, with a further 167 two star reviews. That was an eye opener. Approximately half of its readers didn’t think much of it and it still manages to stay at the top of the ratings. Astonishing.

All these facts and figures dissipated my hurt somewhat but, in the end, what actually put a smile on my face was trying to imagine re-writing the book according to the comments in the bad review.

In the new version Tristan is a really sweet, quiet and totally unassuming guy. Who just happens to be an executioner. I guess stranger things have happened. Perhaps I’ll give him a puppy, something cute like a miniature dachshund. Or a golden retriever. God forbid a vampire is actually disturbing. They’re supposed to be cute and sparkly and moody in an emo teenager way. Maybe I should make him a librarian instead? This stereotype has to extend to the other males of his line. They all have to be sweet and entirely inoffensive, altruistic and giving. Jury is still out on the sparkly, although the English weather would probably play ball with that one. We so rarely see the sunshine. Perhaps I could move it to Scotland?

Oceana has to be a teenager so I’m guessing she was a little too dim to go to university and somehow ended up working for the Police through luck. Guess that makes her a stereotypical dumb blonde. That would make sense given that, when Oliver demands a certain payment for services rendered, in the new book she goes running straight to the police. To tell them that she asked someone to do something ILLEGAL in relation to stealing information from vampires, but isn’t happy about the price. In this alternate universe, when that fails miserably because, oh yeah, she got arrested and/or sectioned, she decides to ask Tristan to kill Oliver. I’m not sure exactly how he manages to do this in a sweet, non-creepy way but hey, this is not my idea here. I’m sure it would somehow figure itself out. Of course that leaves them without the information that they so desperately need and a lot of people end up dead. Slight fail there. But hey, girls don’t have to do unpleasant things in this new book.

In said new book I have to stop and explain ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. I can’t mention a retrovirus without having to give the whole back story about the molecular biology of it in layman’s terms, preferably with diagrams and flow charts. Every (non-creepy) vampire has to have an entirely sweet and saccharine life history detailing the last three or four thousand years. A copy of Tristan’s job description and an example of his average day would probably go down well too. Wake up, drink some (preferably ‘vegetarian’) blood (which of course has been produced in an entirely sanitised and inoffensive manner), go do some (non-stalkerish) surveillance, perhaps kill someone (in an entirely cute and non-creepy manner), then home to the cute puppy and sweet relationship with his woman who does no wrong. Oh, and they never EVER have sex. Because that’s just icky. They can’t even joke in a mildly suggestive manner.

Then, once the entire book has been written, and despite the fact that it’s written by a British woman and set in England, I have to go back and change all the spellings to American ones and make sure there are at least 6 commas in every sentence. How could I possibly expect anyone to read proper grammatical constructs when they’re used to information that comes in 140 character chunks?

By the time I got to this point I couldn’t even take myself seriously. There was a lot of sniggering going on. I know it’s not attractive but it was the only appropriate response to the narrative running through my head. Perhaps the odd gigglesnort was thrown in for good measure, but mostly there was sniggering.

In the end, I don’t know what goes through peoples’ heads when they read my book. I’d like to think it sweeps them away into an alternate reality, the way that I get swept away when I read, and I’d love to think that they adore my characters. I just have to learn to accept that, somewhere along the line, I’m going to encounter people that either just don’t get it or totally miss the point. It is, in places, a dark and twisted read and that’s bound to make people uncomfortable. If you’re used to the Disney version of sweetness and light, I can see that it might frighten you to find these things fascinating in a car crash kind of way. It’s the literary equivalent of being told that Santa doesn’t exist.

It was a useful lesson to learn. Hopefully my skin is a little thicker now that I have defence mechanisms in place. Maybe next time it happens, and there is bound to be a next time, I won’t take it quite so to heart.

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2 thoughts on “I promise I’m not a closet narcissist

  1. The narcissism that is so prevalent in reviews and on fan pages is a bit on the heavy side. I am dumbfounded on how 50 SOG shot through the roof. It was a struggle to finish but I have gained many great favorite authors from my search to find authors that had more talent and were virtually unknown. That is exactly how I found you! Whatever EL James and Stephanie Meyer was blessed with to become a cult obsession, I wish on you. Your writing is far more superior. I often ponder what the exacts are to extract the winning formula. Clearly it isn’t always brilliance. ❤

    • It’s mostly luck and who you know. In E L James’ case, it had been published online as fanfiction so she already had upwards of 150,000 fans. That kind of instant uptake was bound to get her noticed. A lot of it is to do with being in the right place at the right time. There’s also a certain amount of persistence required. I read somewhere that good writing speaks for itself. If that’s the case, I think Summer Loving might be the beginning of my journey 🙂 With 12000 downloads, I’m hoping word of mouth will spread if my writing is good enough. I just need to keep writing, keep putting it out there, and eventually, hopefully, I’ll sell enough to do it full time. That’s the dream!

      On the whole, the book bloggers I have spoken too have been lovely. They’ve been genuinely delighted to get sent a copy. Interestingly, Summer Loving is the one book I haven’t done any marketing for. In its own small way, that makes its success much sweeter. Although it makes me question the value of time-intensive self-promotion, I think it’s something I’ll continue to do because it’s a great way to meet likeminded people 🙂

      Thank you for your kind wish. Some day, when I’ve achieved my dreams, it’ll be fun to look back at the journey and all the people that walked along it with me!

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