reiteration of lessons learned

Originally posted January 19, 2012, but it is worth repeating (although it’s now been 3 1/2 years since I was first published):

Here’s something for other writers and an inside view of the writer’s world for non-writers…

I want to share some things I’ve learned in the 2 1/2 years since I first became a published author (as well as some things I’ve noticed as a reader). Yes, it’s been that long. I’ve actually been writing for 19 1/2 years now, more than half my life! I’d like to think I’ve improved, but that’s up to readers to decide. At least, I keep trying to get better.

Anyway, I’ve had a lot of time to mature and hone my craft, with the help of editors, writing workshops, and critique buddies.  I’ve also had considerable time wading the waters of publication, riding the waves and sinking in the undercurrents. I can tell you what I’ve learned, but like anything in life, you won’t truly understand unless you experience them yourself:

1. Negative reviews happen. Get over it. I remember getting my first negative review and feeling like a the bug on the windshield. I went onto a writer’s area of a forum I was active in at the time and asked for advice. The comments I love most said that negative reviews meant I had made it. My writing was reaching a wider audience, which is what I wanted. (Be careful what you wish for!) Along with reaching more readers, a work will sometimes be picked up by the wrong person; It’s a risk. We all have our own opinions, based on our unique upbringing, religious beliefs, education, personalities, etc. which color our view of the world. You can’t change that. You can’t please all the people all the time. Live with it and move on. Good reviews will happen too. Also, readers like to see negative reviews along with glowing reviews, because then they know that real people are leaving reviews. The last bit of good advice was to curl up with a quart of your favorite ice cream and throw a pity party, then get up and keep writing. (I LOVE ice cream!)

Along those lines, I used to skim reviews, as all newbie authors do, fretful about what readers thought of my work.  The thing to remember about reviews is that they are NOT for you but for READERS. Reviews are there to express opinions for other readers to consider before reading a book, not to boost or tear down author egos.

I hardly pay attention to reviews any more, unless someone points them out to me.

2. In line with #1, never respond to reviews. As an author, you’ll have a strong desire to criticize reviewers who don’t seem to “get” your work or to defend yourself against naysayers. Squash it.  It only reflects poorly on you if you do. I’ve seen what happens to authors who react publicly and am grateful I never fell into that rut.

3. Be professional…ALWAYS. Not only does this apply with #2, but also in other ways. I know, I know. Everywhere, people use the word “professional”. What does it mean? It means handling yourself with tact. Yes, people will make attempts to get you ruffled, but you can’t let them. I put in my time in customer service and one thing has stuck out in my mind: when someone is upset, let them blow their steam, then the first words out of your mouth better be an apology, whether you/your company are at fault or not. No, the customer is not always right, but they want to feel that way. Besides, a lot of times, those rants have nothing to do with you personally. That person probably had a bad day (I’ll grant that some people seem to only want to see the negative in everything–the chronic complainers–but you still need to handle it the same way).

I’ve also known for a long time that the best way to end an argument is not to argue. Say nothing or as little as possible. That cuts off the fuel of the other person’s argument. I have to remind myself ALL the time. I’m a talker in real life; it runs in the family. I consciously have to tell myself to shut up. It is so hard, especially when you do want to argue, but zip the mouth and let the argument fade. Think happy thoughts and move on. Don’t dwell on the bad things. Try to frame things in a positive way.

Apologize. Compliment others. Be supportive. Provide suggestions (when appropriate). It all comes down to handling things with tact and diplomacy.

Being professional is difficult, but you can do it with practice. No one is perfect; it’s a lifelong learning process.

4. Participate as a member on a forum/blog, not as a salesperson. One of the things we all hate are the “buy my book” posts. The majority of readers (myself included) are more likely to try books by people we like personally, especially when they share other interests with us. The book pusher is an instant turn off. I blacklist them automatically, because they’re no better than flies swarming at a picnic–annoying.

5. Sales are affected by forces you can’t control, but you can control what you write. Just keep writing and quit worrying about sales. Do what you’re passionate about, what lured you into this profession in the first place–WRITE!

6. RESPECT YOUR FANS. That means treating readers like people. Respond to every single letter from fans. Each of those is special. Someone took the time to tell you how much your writing meant to them. Make them feel just as special with a personal response thanking them. These are the people who are building your career. If you can’t appreciate even the smallest show of support, you will never be happy. I love each and every one and can’t express how much they mean to me.

Also, keep those letters, not only because they’re each special, but you’ll need a way to boost your ego when you feel worthless as a writer, and that does happen quite frequently. Those comments telling you that someone somewhere appreciates what you do are more valuable than all the money you might earn from sales. Each one is a gold piece in your pot at the end of the rainbow, brightening it a little more. Sometimes you need that reflection to brighten your day.

These are just a few things I’ve learned from doing or observing in my time since my first book was published. Take my advice: Be the kind of person you would like to know.

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