This week I have been very involved in work on my novel, so I haven’t been updating the blog much. Even today, we’re taking a break from the DLWS curriculum to talk about something else that came up for me recently.
One of the reasons that I have been so focused on my novel, is because of a meeting I had recently with some folks called The Book Doctors. I participated in Nanowrimo this year (National Write a Novel in a Month) and the folks at The Book Doctors offered a promotion, whereby if you purchased their book, The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published, they would include a free 20 minute consultation with one of the authors. I jumped on board, and ended up getting a ton of encouragement from the person I spoke to.
After our meeting, I was sent a nice followup email, and I received a request to purchase and review the author’s personal work on Amazon. I wasn’t sure exactly what to think. Being a new author, unaccustomed to the wider world of serious publishing, I was suspicious, and a little worried. My biggest fear was being made a fool of; to believe in my wide-eyed way that someone who know publishing thinks my work is worth reading, when in reality I’m just being sold a line.
However, I didn’t feel that I could turn down the request. So I went and I purchased the author’s latest book. And you know what? I liked it. I genuinely did. I had great fun with its dark comedy, and I found that I looked forward to pooping because I got to read it more (yes, I do confine certain literary works to dominion of the porcelain palace).
But I also had some objections and concerns. It was funny, but treated some serious issues in a way I found disrespectful, not to me, but to others I know how struggled with those issues. It relied on stereotypes which aren’t accurate, and as a rhetorician, I know that these sort of crass representations reinforce those stereotypes in way that can be socially harmful. Basically, there were good things and bad things about the novel. And there were a few issues of craft which could have been improved upon.
When I finally finished the book, after a long night with bad fish left me stranded in the throne room longer than I anticipated, I went to write the review which the author had requested.
Immediate anxiety set in. What sort of review should I write? Had this been a “wink-wink nudge-nudge” exchange, wherein the author expected a glowing five star review? If I gave my real opinions, would it hurt my big shot at getting published? Was this even my big shot at getting published?
In that dark night, whether it was true or not, I gave in to my fears. I, who publish writing lessons centered around the value of honest critique, fudged my own reviews. Now, do I know if the author really wanted this? No, and in fact, I doubt in the light of day that he did. I think he was genuinely interested in my opinion.
But I was scared. I think, more than anything, the specter of publication has proved to me how desperately deep my dreams of being a real author descend. They exist deep in the very most fragile core of my being, and the fear of losing that shot was enough to convince me to do anything to keep the dream alive.
I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true, mind you. The things I liked, I really did like. I just didn’t raise any concerns. I didn’t express my opinions fully. And when I woke up the morning after, I felt dirty.
Of course, I discovered quite happily that Amazon allows editing of reviews, and so I did. I included at least some of my concerns in my revision. I felt better.
But I will never forget what I wrote that night. Fixing it in the morning doesn’t change the fact that I submitted the first review which wasn’t completely honest. I think sometimes, we as authors don’t like to share how vulnerable validation makes us feel. We all know how to react to criticism. We don’t take it personally, we move forward and fix what we can, and we let the haters fade into the background noise of life.
But validation? Oh, that is infinitely more difficult to wrestle with. It can paralyze you. It can drive you crazy. It can steal your integrity.
But I think talking about it helps. So there is my confession. For the fleeting possibility of introductions to a few agents, I twisted myself into a ridiculous psychological pretzel (when I probably wasn’t even expected to in the first place!) and convinced myself to sacrifice my integrity.
What are some of your confessions? Have you ever struggled with the rush of validation? Leave me your stories in the comments below!
PS: If you are curious, the book I reviewed is Mort Morte by David Henry Sterry. It is actually a really fun read, and despite my criticisms, I would recommend it highly as an excellent example of what happens when an author sits down and says to him/herself, “How much fun can I have on this page?”
PPS: The book which Mr. Sterry co-authored, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published is ALSO an excellent read, and I have found myself going back to it time and again for little tidbits and encouragement.