Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Myth of the Bulletproof Author, Or: Why It’s Good to Slip Out of Your Emotional Armor Now and Then

Anyone who writes professionally – paid or unpaid, author or blogger, blogger or reviewer – knows the journey is often an emotional rollercoaster as well as a creative and even financial one.

You’re up, you’re down; people love what you write, they hate what you write. Sales boom, then bust; subscribers flock to your site, then leave in droves.

For YA authors, especially, the journey can be even more frustrating because so many sets of eyes follow every piece you write. You finish a book, your crit group reads it and comments, your friends and family have their say, your agent (if you’re so lucky) reads it and comments, your publisher, then your editor, then reviewers – and more reviewers, and more reviewers.

One day I can read two five-star reviews, get a nice letter from my editor, watch my sales soar and walk around thinking I’m actually getting somewhere. The next, three two-star reviews pop up, each nastier than the next, I’ll get more edits on something I thought was already done and even they seem nasty, sales flat-line or plummet and, bam, just like that – back to Loserville.

As ePubbed authors, especially, every review counts because it’s challenging enough to get them in the first place. The good ones help exponentially; the bad ones hurt even worse.

Okay, okay, so I’m not telling you anything new.

But what I’m gaining with every personal, snitty, subjective, personal review or comment or tweet or share is more than a thick skin, it’s a kind of “creative armor.” A thick skin implies you’re always wearing it, always in control of your emotions, always positive and bulletproof.

But armor, I think, is more appropriate because you can take it on or off; you don’t wear it all the time. Every time I buck up and say, “I’m not going to let another review/comment/insult hurt me,” I enjoy a few good hours, maybe even a few good days, of seemingly bulletproof confidence. But sure enough something will happen to bring me back to squares and leave me full of self-doubt all over again.

So I try to put the armor back on, and stay confident longer this time. Ultimately, I suppose, the goal is to wear the armor almost always and avoid the slings and arrows of negativity that are so easy to hurl in our wired world.

But it would feel unnatural to me to stay confident all the time. For me, anyway, self-doubt and anxiety – while not always pleasant – are part of what it means to be a writer, especially a YA author. It helps me stay humble and grounded and, most of all, a little bit of an outsider.

Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE five-star reviews, good royalty checks and lots of Google alerts. But I often need those dings and slings and 1-star reviews to remind me why I write YA in the first place; to observe and share with and celebrate the insecurity and alienation and anxiety of being a teenager.

I guess my point is it’s important to stay on your toes and keep an open mind about who you are as a writer and where you are on that endless journey. Every time I think I’ve “made it” or “learned enough” or “gotten somewhere,” a review or comment or some type of feedback – good, bad or accurate – will remind me that there’s plenty more to learn.

It’s not fun, but it’s usually true and that’s all right by me. How about you?

Yours in YA,



Seleste said...

I figure the moment we really and truly believe we know it all in this business is when we become our weakest. I know a few authors who are so freaking bullet-proof that they think they can do no wrong, and in the end have failed the very people who supported them on their way up.

On the one hand, they're up, so--YAY! But who's to say the people holding them there are going to bother to catch them when they fall?

I'd much rather keep learning and keeping letting the bad reviews and negative comments sting. I'm human, not a superhero. Hell, if I was a superhero, I'd have to choose between saving the world and writing. That would suck.

Great post, Rusty!

Julie Particka

Anonymous said...

Totally agree, Julie! My biggest, dumbest, most foolish, most regrettable moments are always when I'm feeling my most superior/bulletproof! Thanks for the comment...

Anonymous said...

Insecurity is my forte, so I'm constantly struggling to put that heavy web of angst aside to feel good about my writing. It's the opposite, I think, of what you're describing. I crawl out, feel a little uncomfortable celebrating some success, and then pull the web back over me. Very much enjoyed the post. Writing, like nearly everything we do, has so much more to do with grey than black or white, eh?

Anonymous said...

So much "grey," Ciar! I was just thinking yesterday how so many of my A, B, C, 1, 2, 3 assumptions about writing/promoting were mostly completely wrong and yet the new things I discovered as part of the publication/promotion process were actually more rewarding, so... you're absolutely right! Thanks for commenting...

Rebecca Royce said...

You just described my situation exactly.

Kimber An said...

Good one, Rusty!

I think being a book reviewer for four years really helped. It taught me that Marion Zimmer Bradley was right. The book you write isn't necessarily the same one the reader will read. It's because each reader comes to the story with their own set of life experiences and personality. So, when I get a negative, I just flip over and look at all my positives and shrug it off. I remember once I got a one or two star review and immediately thereafter I got two or three FOUR and FIVE star reviews on the same story! It's crazy, but we're all unique and life would be boring otherwise.

Christle Gray said...

This is so spot on, Rusty! If there's one thing I've learned in this business, it's that there's always more to learn. Great post!

J.A. Campbell said...

I always appreciate constructive criticism.

My armor isn't really thick enough, but I pretend it is and keep on chasing this dream of being a full time author.

Thanks Rusty!

Anonymous said...

GREAT comments all, gang! Kimber An, that happens to me all the time (thankfully). There seems no rhyme or reason to it, but generally on the same day/in the same week I'll always get a lousy review -- one recently said "worst book of the year!!!" I kid you not -- followed by a couple really glowing things. So weird, but... like you've all reiterated, you just have to smile and keep on going.

Glad we're all in this together,


Cassandra said...

Read that and thanks Rusty. Great write!