Let’s not beat around the bush here. Rejection is soul-crushing. It’s especially bad when you feel like you were rejected because you’re just not good enough, rather than because you’re not a good commercial fit.
When I was looking for an agent for Eddie’s Bastard, I sent out no less than eighty different query letters to eighty different literary agents. I heard no from seventy-nine of them. What kept me going was the realization that I only needed to hear yes once. It didn’t matter to me that so many people didn’t see the value in my book. I knew there had to be one person out there who did. It just remained to find that person. Eventually, I did, not without a little bit of luck.
But–and this is very important–I have always noticed that the harder I work, the luckier I get.
Although self-publishing via the internet has removed much of our exposure to professional rejection, ironically it has exposed us a thousand times more to criticism from every pretentious yutz who fancies himself a literary critic. The internet gives everyone a platform, and while that portends good things for the state of free speech in our society, it doesn’t do much to raise the bar of public discourse. As Winston Churchill said, “The greatest argument against democracy is a conversation with the average voter.” We might adapt that by saying that the greatest argument against the democratization of literature is the comment board of the average Amazon page.
Let’s be clear about one thing: there is a difference between book reviews and reader comments. Book reviews are written by professionals who were hired to provide their expert opinion. They must adhere to strict standards, and they must fulfill a large number of particular tasks in each review, such as giving a sense of the writer’s general style, talking about their other works, how this book compares to those other works, how it compares to other books in the same genre, how it fits into our culture as a whole, and, finally, whether it’s likely to please fans of this writer or whether it’s worth checking out if written by someone new. They should also try not to be completely subjective, but instead should have the wisdom to tell the difference between a negative personal reaction and a reaction that is not likely to be shared by a wide range of people. And, finally, they must accomplish all this while writing to a high standard–not just jotting down whatever nonsense pops into their head.
Reader comments are required to fulfill none of these criteria; they can be about absolutely anything, and typically are.
This is a double-edged sword. If reader comments about a book are all positive, great. It doesn’t even matter so much to the writer what they say. All that matters is those four or five glowing yellow stars. But if the comments are negative, it’s usually not in a consctructive fashion, the way well-informed criticism can be. We can often get the sense that the reader’s reaction was entirely subjective, that they were not able to see beyond their own tastes and perceptions to form an educated opinion about the book. All they might say is, “I thought this book was going to have sexy aliens, and it didn’t, so it sucks.” That’s not a review. That’s a comment. And you should feel free to ignore it.
There is really no other way to say it: if you want to be a known writer, you’re going to have to develop a thick skin. This is, of course, far easier said than done. Writers are by their very nature a sensitive breed. That’s one of the things that makes us writers in the first place.
Kowalski’s latest work, THE BEST POLISH RESTAURANT IN BUFFALO is now underway due to fans’ crowd funding. HTTPS://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1754449570/the-best-polish-restaurant-in-buffalo-help-publish/
Learn more about William Kowalski at https://www.williamkowalski.com
Read the first article in this series: The Business of Publishing.