We are thin-skinned and bleed profusely when you cut our work to shreds. Some of us handle that with grace and dignity, and others go ballistic and make an uncomfortable situation worse.
Now we come to a problem affecting a friend who lives far way from me–authors undercutting authors. She has left her writing group and will not be going back because one new member is harsh and unfair in the way they critique this author’s work–under the arrogant pretense of “just telling the truth.”
The new member is published, an indie, and seems to be selling a fair amount of books. She was invited to join a group of authors who are not not yet published, but who all hope to be. Each member is in various stages of courting agents and editors. An editor for a respected mid-sized press has shown interest in my friend’s manuscript. The new member started out friendly enough, but began by making belittling remarks about the way the group had been doing things, implying they were just playing at being authors. Then, suddenly feeling inferior and hoping to be more “legitimate,” the group allowed her to take charge. Things went downhill from there, with the new queen-bee as the center of attention.
Now I don’t know if my friend will ever write again. I do know she won’t join another group, which is sad, because MOST groups are not like that. Yes, they dig deep, and work on structural issues, but they don’t phrase their comments in a deliberately cruel manner. She knew her work wasn’t ready for publication, but she didn’t know it was “crap.”
And it isn’t crap.
I hate that she has put aside the makings of what could someday be a great novel, all because a person she respected as an author belittled her attempts in such a way that she is now afraid to share that most intimate part of her soul–her creativity.
But this is a problem that affects authors of all stations, not just indies and hopefuls. People feel its acceptable to say the most disparaging things, especially if an author has become successful, as if that author’s success negatively affects their own chances. And they seem to to take it beyond criticizing their work–they get personal about it.
Indie authors need to help each other advance, not tear each other down. The world is full of readers, so there is room for everyone, and if we ridicule each other and make disparaging, mocking remarks about the quality of others’ work just because we don’t care for their style of writing, shame on us. There is an ocean of difference between badly crafted work, and work that is written in a style you don’t care for. I read many things written in a style I don’t care for, but if it is well-crafted and written with some attention to the aspects that make a good tale, I will give it a decent review, and I refuse say negative things about the author who wrote it, no matter how popular it may be to do so.
Successful author bashing has become an acceptable topic at parties due in part, I think, to the fact that with the rise of ebooks and Amazon’s eagerness for buyer reviews, any reader can become a critic, regardless of the quality of their “review.” This is both good and bad, because you do sometimes get a real-world view of what readers think of a book. But conversely an illiterate review that gives only one star and just says (in misspelled words) that they hated it and didn’t read the book doesn’t help help anyone.
Trolling and internet bullying has become an addiction for some people, and it’s apparent that their anonymity gives them a sense of power. To be able to destroy a person with a few well-chosen words–they see themselves as king-breakers, and they like that.
Even mega-successful authors like George R.R. Martin deal with an avalanche of poison and angst from trolls–I hope that what he deals with is not typical of what successful authors must endure, although Stephanie Meyer, E.L. James, and J.K. Rowling have all endured this sort of spew. Of course George’s TV series is the source of most of his grief, but still–these people show so little respect for a kind, decent man who sincerely cares about his craft and whose work has provided them with countless hours of entertainment.
All that aside, NO author, no matter how famous, crafts perfect work that resonates with every reader, every time. We sometimes hit a pure note with one particular piece, but we will spend the rest of our writing lives trying to live up to the potential that piece had, with varying degrees of success. And when we were writing that story, perhaps it didn’t go the way the reader thought it should, and someone had to die.
That happens all the time, because the READER DOES NOT WRITE THE BOOK. Readers who want to write the book badly enough become authors and DO it, instead of whining about it.
So we authors try to develop a thick skin and continue doing what we do. We keep learning. We keep working on the craft, and we never stop striving to be just a little better with our next short story or novel. And if, when you are in a writing group and another author makes cutting remarks in regard to your writing style, ask yourself why they feel that your style deserves harsh criticism. Don’t feel badly about walking away from that group before it gets to the level that my friend experienced, even if you like a few of the people who remain–because you won’t gain anything by staying around for more humiliation.
Or maybe you need to go solo for a while.
That is cold comfort if someone you once respected has trashed your work and humiliated you, I know. But keep learning and keep writing. Rise above the naysayers and don’t let them steal the joy you have in your craft.