I’ve been feeling a little down about things of late. The writing, that is – everything else is okay. It’s genuinely difficult to be a writer in the age of social media. There’s so much buzzing around, but it’s places like Goodreads and Amazon that make things particularly tough when you’re trying to simply think quietly about your next book.
I used to hope I would one day start to cope with bad reviews. I think I have in terms of blog or magazine reviews, but it’s places such as Goodreads and Amazon that really can generate a negative state of mind for a writer. Those one-star clicks, which people make so dismissively, stay visible. They’ll be there as long as the Internet is around. Blog reviews tumble down the google rankings, and magazines end up being recycled. But those review sites linger.
When I first wrote Nights of Villjamur, I wanted to write something vaguely experimental, a mix of aesthetics, a gay lead character, prose which had contrasts, made modern day references and so on. When I was 26, or however old I was when writing it, I used to think that was a pretty rebellious thing to believe. But then you see people have a bad reaction to it – even if it’s just reading 10 pages and giving it a one-star review without any thought to the act. And you know what? That hurts. It sucks. And my reaction to it has barely improved over the years. I think I was bitten by the hype, too, so whenever people read the book now they’re always ‘disappointed’. Do I regret those youthful urges? I probably do actually, judging by people’s varied reaction to it.
I can’t say what that has done to my writing recently. Perhaps it’s made me not want to be so experimental. In the age of commercial fiction, telling a good story really is the most important thing. Telling an easily accessible one is even better. It’s hard to ignore that fact.
I’m not saying these review sites are bad at all, just that it’s remarkably difficult to maintain a creative vision when you start reading such comments, and you read them because you care about your creativity. You start to compare yourself to other authors, which as Sam Sykes points out, is not a good door to open. And that can really get in the way of doing your job.
I didn’t really mean to just write a simple moan. I’ve tried to make sure the blog stays away from such territory, but I feel better for putting this out there. Hopefully a few other writers might share these sentiments.
Normal service will resume.
Well, I’m about halfway through Nights of Villjamur and (unless it goes horribly wrong from here on in) it will get a decent review from me. And I *like* the risks and modern day references.
Maybe just don’t read your reviews?
Ha, thanks James. Well, it’s tough – I think for those of us who are online all the time, it’s difficult not to really. Especially if you care what people think about your work.
I completely sympathise dude, and I find that the twitter and FB stuff adds to the lows because (as someone else put it) ‘You’re getting everyone else’s highlight reel when you can see your own cutting room floor.
Only thing I would say though? The hype was there for a reason, it was generated by readers who were enthused about the books and who (as far as I can tell) are becoming even more so as the series goes on. And if you’re feeling less experimental, it’s not showing. Transformations (which is as far as I’ve read) was certainly no less progressive than it’s predecessors. I can only exhort you onwards, because those kinds of stories really are worth writing as well as you do.
You’ve got to moan every now and then. Beyond that, though, you’ve got to write what you’re going to write. I mean, you can say you want to write something easily accessible, but that’s not really up to you, is it? You can try, of course. You can sit down and write “Mark Charan Newton’s Bikini Vampire Summer” and see if it goes anywhere.
But I kind of doubt you’re capable of it (no offense). More than trying to compromise the experiment, it’s more about seeing how you can make the experiment appeal to more people.
Beyond that, though, it takes time to build an audience. The people that leap straight to the top tend to slide right back down. This is the price of easy accessibility.
Thanks, Tom. I love that phrase about the cutting room floor. I guess part of it is just internet culture – just glancing at LoveFilm reviews yields pretty much the same kind of responses as for book reviews. Perhaps because books are – for the most part – a solo mission, it hurts a little more.
“It’s more about seeing how you can make the experiment appeal to more people” – I suspect you’re right there. At least, that’s a very appropriate way to sum up how I’m thinking about the new stuff.
You’re a wise man, Sykes.
We all feel this way, Mark — I mean, writers do. I daresay it’s scant consolation, but we all do: no matter how apparently successful (by whatever external metric you care to use) we appear to the world. Nil desperandum, and don’t give up. Those last three words are the crucial ones, by the way.
Thanks, Adam – I really do appreciate those words.
I think it was Patrick Rothfuss who said something along the lines of – no matter how many good reviews you get, the one bad one will sit like a turd in the middle of your cereal. You can try and ignore it, even eat around it, but it’s always there staring at you.
I know some authors read all reviews, good and bad, and take away something positive from them. Others avoid all reviews so that they don’t buy into the hype of believing they’re brilliant or the worst in the world. You’ve just got to try and find what works for you, and I realise it’s going to be difficult to avoid everything as you spend a lot of time online.
Sometimes writing such things down can really help. Rather than have the thought rattling around and around in your head, get it out, commit it to paper and then file it away. It can sometimes take the sting out of it.
Thanks, Steve. You know, it’s not so much the one bad review that gets me, is those aggregate sites. That books can be reduced to averages just… well, doesn’t seem right to me, I guess!
You know how much I love your books. Sorry this is bumming you out. I have read really good advice here that you should listen to. I know it’s easier said then done but try not to let those reviews get to you. Just wanted to say I believe in you.
Thanks for the kind words, Mark.
Mark – you’re the man! To hell with critics. Critics are just non-doers. You’re a ‘doer’. How many people out there can sit back and talk about how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ books are? Now compare than number (whatever you think it may be) to how many people out there actually don’t say anything but write books. I’m writing my first book now and I follow people like you because you give me inspiration and motivation. Stay positive, man. You just keep being you; what other people think of you is none of your business. You’re the man.
Hey Levi, thanks for stopping by and for the encouragement! You should hire yourself out to motivate other writers! 🙂
I’m sorry this is dragging you down. You’ve got to write what you want to write, but you also have to put food on your family, so to speak. It’s a tough balancing act for any writer or would be writer.
I’m a reader in the us and an often blog reader, but rarely commenter. I just wanted to say I’ve immensely enjoyed the different and refreshing viewpoint you’ve brought to your work. It certainly has brightened my world and I’m grateful for it.
Although I use Goodreads (not Amazon though as it won’t let me post because I’ve never bought anything there), I understand how annoying it must be to have people rate something you worked hard on with a few seconds thought and without necessarily even finishing it. I’ve noticed that the ratings for many of my favourite books average far lower than other (mostly what I’d consider to be pretty ‘safe’ and not particularly ambitious) works.
Unfortunately, there are always people who are going to 1 star a book just because it contains one or more element they dislike. Also, people who hate something seem much more likely to be vocal about it than those who like something.
However, I’d say that those less highly rated books have had a much greater positive impact upon me than almost any of the super popular ones. I’m sure I’m not the only one like this either.I know that doesn’t really help commercially unless I happen to buy a couple of hundred copies of your book or I’m secretly a blockbuster movie producer about to offer you a million dollar film deal (sadly not the case). Still, it might count for something.
Also, I’m no bestselling author but when I spend too much time looking at other people’s Twitter or Facebook feeds I always end up feeling like everyone else has either just finished a novel, sold something, secured a book deal, is at a convention, cured some deadly disease, or has otherwise just won some kind of very prolific award titled ‘The Much More Successful and Productive Than Michelle Prize’. I think the only people who don’t feel that way have either developed the skill of blocking it out or are very, very confident in general.
And now my moaning comment is almost the length of your initial post. 😛
Thanks for the lengthy comment, Michelle!
I know what you mean about liking books that aren’t that well-liked by others on Amazon etc, and generally I think I’m the same, too. M. John Harrison doesn’t get great reviews there, but I think he’s a wonderful writer. Even DH Lawrence has terrible reviews, but I’ve enjoyed his prose in the past.
I’ll be interested to see how our attitudes to online culture change over the next few years.
I’m not sure how much a comment from a stranger will help, but I’ve found your work incredibly inspiring. Seeing someone who is willfully experimenting and pushing the boundaries has encouraged me to do the same. If I ever finish this bloody novel and if it ever gets published, you would certainly be classed as an “influence”, alongside the great China Mieville, Alan Campbell, Richard Morgan, and a few others who showed me that modern fantasy can be more than the bland norm. So thank you.
As for the one star reviewers? Fuck ’em.
Thanks, Brian – I hadn’t hoped to turn this into a moan-fest, but I appreciate the kind words. I hope all goes well with your own work, too.
Hi Mark. If you need to laugh at some of the ridiculous things Amazon
reviewers say, I recommend spending some time at http://leasthelpful.com
– genuinely funny/odd/disturbing (the site’s captions crack me up,
Ha, thanks for that – much appreciated!
Every time I check out ‘Light’ reviews on goodreads I feel genuinely depressed.
But, anyway: you’re stuff’s great. But experimental is maybe a tough market within fantasy, especially–certainly there’s a subdemographic that really appreciates it, but I’ve noticed most people kneejerk react to stuff that operates outside certain trends/modes/conventions.
For a guy struggling to finish his own fantasy novel, it’s something I think about lot–trying to find the perfect balance between unique and marketable, meaningful and commercial.
Thanks ever so much!
Thanks for the kind comment. I know what you mean about Light – and it certainly is depressing that more people don’t appreciate books like that. I get the idea that the fantasy genre is in may ways more conservative than I think, yet in others can be pretty open-minded.
This is fairly uncanny – if I were to post about this,