Over the weekend I received an unnecessarily brutal review for Angst on Amazon. I’ve got a pretty thick skin after so many years, and there are enough people who enjoy my books that I can roll with the occasional bad review. But this one stung. Maybe it was bad timing. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood to be kicked, but this review really felt like the reader wanted to make me feel bad.
I went back to reread it for this blog post. I wanted to see if I could glean anything constructive from it. (Nope.) I was, however, rewarded for going back. To my surprise, some kind soul had just posted a five star review to both Amazon and Goodreads. (Thank you Mr. Clark, your timing couldn’t have been better.)
I do get that not everyone is going to like my writing. I actually worked hard over the last several years to undersell my books at conventions. If someone stopped by the booth I would ask what they liked to read. If they said Science Fiction or Dark Fantasy – I would discourage them from purchasing Angst. If they were still interested, I’d then let them know my books aren’t life changing, they’re fun.
It seems tedious but this exercise accomplished a lot. Not only did I end up with readers who were more likely to enjoy my books, there was a greater chance they would come back for more. This also left the door open for people interested in my writing if I were to ever tackle another genre. I don’t enjoy selling something to people that they don’t want or need. It’s not easy to do this online.
I recently finished Stephen King’s On Writing : A Memoir Of The Craft. I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially creative types. Sure, there is writing advice – great writing advice – but that advice is wrapped around stories about how King got to where he is today. I laughed at some of his stories about growing up; many of them sounded like something my dad would share. I also learned some things about King I hadn’t expected.
There was one piece of advice King shared that I found to be incredibly validating. After completing an early draft of a novel, I share with my wife and a group of close friends. People who I know will be critical without being unkind.
Many writers disagree with this, and I’ve had authors argue with me about it during panels at conventions. They believe you should seek unbiased opinions for that first draft. Go to a writer’s group so they can rake your story over the coals and make you feel shitty.
The thing is, I don’t write for other writers. Most of them post judgy reviews of Angst as if they were expecting To Kill A Mockingbird. (I certainly don’t watch a movie like The Hulk and expect Breakfast at Tiffany’s.)
King refers to the Ideal Reader (IR) as the people you actually write for. King’s initial IR is his wife, who he dotes on throughout the book. I’ve always thought my IR are people who enjoy my company and get my sense of humor. It may sound a little ego-centric, but if you like to read fantasy, and you like me, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy my writing. Since it’s harder to vet readers and find my IRs online, I have a plan.
Moving forward, if you are interested in reading my books, please come to Kansas City first. Let’s meet for a few hours and talk over drinks, I’m sure I’ll share a story or two. If we get along, you’ll probably enjoy my books. (Please consider leaving a review if you do.) If you are mortally offended by my presence, please move along to whatever makes you happy. It’ll be better for both of us.