As a regular on a certain forum (I don’t want to mention which one for fear of unduly hurting another author – you’ll understand why very soon), I recently stumbled across a thread at first devoted to mocking a specific indie author’s book, then expanding to bashing self-published books in general and targeting specific other authors. All of this contributed to some very confused feelings on my part. I admit with some shame to having participated in such threads about musicians and filmmakers before, but being on the other side this time made me realize just how much of it comes across as sour grapes, especially from certain writers in the thread that acted like they were above such writing.
So I learned a valuable lesson about being mean-spirited, and I’ll talk some about that some day, but my main focus lie more in the criticisms themselves. Sure, the book could have used some work. Sure, it’s the kind of thing that in the old days likely would have either been more polished or fallen by the wayside in the writer’s pursuit of something that would be picked up in the traditional publishing model. But here’s the thing: the woman has talent. Most of the issues that got nitpicked were issues that I think a lot of us end up struggling with in our formative years: liberal use of adverbs, flowery adjectives, not really thinking through some of the plot contrivances to the end, and some wonky sentence structure. In short, all things that can be taught or learned through trial and error. The biggest difference, of course, is that her shortcomings have gone on display for the whole world, rather than being stored in a trunk somewhere.
This is where I really am of two minds. As mean-spirited as some of the comments may have been (and believe me, they were), they could have provided valuable feedback for her. In some ways, it’s the criticism that some of us hope for, giving her a lot of things to specifically target in our works. On the other hand, again, so much of it was mean-spirited that you hope it doesn’t discourage her long-term. Some people literally said that she didn’t have any talent and that she should pursue other works, which isn’t fair at all – she had some great ideas, she just needed some work.
What this comes down to, for me, is whether the mean comments warrant the helpful feedback. If I were in her shoes, I’m not sure how I would feel. I know that I would try to take the good from the bad, but it would be very hard not to feel discouraged. Self-publishing is already a tough road, with lots of encouragement to quite along the way. Something like that could feel devastating if you weren’t already very set in wanting to write, no matter what. I hope that she continues to soldier on, though, and grows from the experience.
That brings me to another issue: the lack of respect that so many self-publishers receive. I mean, I get it. If you haven’t been in touch with the publishing industry in the last few years, I can see how the self-pubbed route seems like the easy road out, the last refuge of those who have no talent and want to push out what they can in the name of vanity. To be fair, some work is exactly that. But I think that someone who goes with that attitude also misses out on some great work that is coming out of the indie publishing scene.
It’s cliché, but yes, haters gonna hate. There will always be someone waiting to tear you (or your overall approach) down. In my down moments, I dwell on that fact and feel like I’m obviously just not good enough, and it’s best for everyone involved if I just back away. Thankfully, those moods don’t last for long, and I’m soon back to writing and doing what I do best. It’s easy to tell others to do the same – to keep their chin up and don’t let the dark days last for long, so I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’d just like to say that we’re all on different phases of this journey, and the only real “competition” we face is from within. A big percentage of becoming successful at anything is beating back those voices and realizing that you have worth. That’s what we all need sometimes, and I thank God that there are other writers out there in my dark times, who offer a pat on the back and a few words to keep going.
So what I would say to that woman is to hang in there, even if the haters are circling. Ignore their judgments of your overall skill and sooner or later, they’ll lose interest. When they’re gone, you’ll be left with the nuggets of good information to pick up and improve your craft. That is where the real iron of our souls is forged.