Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Exhaustion. . .

I just finished, as of today, a month of promotion for my most recent book, Make Me Yours, and I have to say, I'm exhausted. Can I get back to writing now? Please. Pretty pleeeeease.

I didn't go to RWA national this year; I had too much to do and-- I confess-- I thought I could use the $2,000 better elsewhere. Like most of America I'm making more careful money decisions these days, and trying to make the most of each promotional opportuniy and each promotional dollar. So I did a lot of on-line interviews, blogs, a couple of talks to groups, stock signings, and participated in Ask the Author sessions that lasted weeks. . . for RT and the Cherry Forum's Book Discussion. We did a couple of viral e-blasts, produced a pod cast for Harlequin, and I did a couple of print interviews-- that unfortunately won't show up until the book is officially off the shelves. It may not sound like a lot, but each event took days of planning and execution, appointment making, driving, meeting, dressing, speech-writing, e-mail or blog checking. . . my poor ms sat untouched for three weeks!!

I'm used to spreading promo out over three or four months prior to, during, and just after release. This "series" kind of promotion where everything is focused more closely around the release month is very intense and totally new to me. So, I'm mentally exhausted and trying to find the creative sparks to continue to write.

And of course, with every round of "meet the public" I find myself wondering why it's so important that we romance/women's fiction writers put ourselves out there with our books and make ourselves so accessible.
The short answer is: that's our industry. The romance genre has grown and developed differently than the other publishing venues. A lot of it has grown on the backs of relationships between readers and writers, between authors and un-published writers, and between industry professionals and writers-- both published and not-yet-published. There are good aspects to it -- the sales, the camaradie, the good energy, the feelings of community and belonging. . . and of course the opportunity to garner reader reaction.

As a writer, most of the time I feel like a comedian playing to an empty house. It's hard to gauge reaction without seeing and meeting our readers. And no matter how many reviews you get that say you've written a good book, there's nothing like seeing the delight or excitement in a reader's face to make your day. Week. Month. Year.

However, there is another side to such interactions. . . one that writers whisper or groan about at conferences-- usually behind locked hotel room doors, for fear of alienating someone, anyone.

The plain truth is: there are readers who are far from complimentary, gracious, or even sane. There are readers who assume a deeper intimacy with a writer than is healthy (MISERy anyone?) and begin to track and follow a writer. Stalking potential is one reason that most writers use PO boxes for mail and have more than one e-mail address.

There are those readers who, no matter how friendly or generous or well-intentioned a writer is, become disappointed or jealous or feel deprived of the attention they're due and go to extremes. . . posting scathing critiques of books on sales outlets, slandering authors to other writers and in writer groups, posting hateful comments on author web sites or blogs. It's the equivalent of throwing temper tantrums in public. . . "Look at me, look at me-- I hate you!" A few show enough style and wit to make their venom publicly palatable and bring out the ugly and atavistic in others. . . these are the ones who build a reputation for being "cool" or "bitchy". . . and spend a great deal of energy tearing down other writers for fun and attention. (I have only one name in mind as I write this, but if you think I'm talking about you, here, then I probably am.)

I am a working writer with stories to tell and a life to live. I have had a child nearly die, a beloved husband die, lost two in-laws and two parents. . . all within a space of ten years. Through it all I kept writing. I am not saying this to curry sympathy; I'm simply stating the facts of my life. A number of my writer friends (including ones on this blog!) have gone though similar and even worse trials during similar periods. . . and they continued to produce books and honor the expectations of their publishers and readers.

It isn't easy, writing, when the very heart has been ripped from you or when you're so exhausted you can't see straight from caregiving. And yet many writers do it again and again. Yes, there are writers who lead charmed lives and who never seem to have troubles-- at least very few. But over time, the ups and downs of life catch up with us all.

There are times when writers simply can't be sociable or generous or gracious. . . and don't feel like broadcasting the details of their lives in explanation or apology. Frankly, we don't owe readers that. They have no right to demand explanations or excuses from us for their expectations. And when they do demand it-- we have to draw the line and step back from it-- refuse to play blame games or be hurt by their inappropriate reactions.

What we do owe readers is the best damned read we can produce. We cannot be responsible for the mood they are in when they pick up our books.

Half of a great read is the stuff a reader brings to the story-- images from the reader's own world that she supplies to furnish and upholster the story. If a reader is angry, distraught, skeptical, or bitter when they pick up our books, they're going to find a less than satisfying story. No way to avoid it. Remember "willing suspension of disbelief"? If a reader is determined to keep one foot outside that suspension of disbelief, there is nothing we as writers can do about it. There hasn't been a book or story published, anywhere, ever, that can't be torn apart by a cold, analytical approach that refuses to suspend disbelief and welcome the writer's voice. Shakespeare included. You can always find something to criticize in a book.

If a reader is not in the mood to be entertained, she won't be. Count on it.

So, there's my rant. I had intended to mention that one woman from someplace who posted nasty things on my own web site and went from on-line store to on-line store posting virulent slams about how terrible my book was and what a fraud I was. But honestly, I've forgotten her name and most of the details. And I can't tell you how pleased I am to realize that. Her problem is. . . her problem.

In writing the best book I could write, I have honored my sole contract with my readers. I've tried to be friendly and accessible and to share my thinking and my process with those who are interested. I've tried to be welcoming and helpful and supportive of my fellow blogmates here and of our wonderful readers and contributors. But I'm not perfect. If someone feels a great need to point that out, for their own purposes, that's their problem. . . not mine.

And here's the proof: some of the biggest names in the business are infamous for being awful to their fans and wretched to their peers. Yet, they sell like mad. And some of the sweetest, warmest, most evolved and compassionate people you'll ever meet. . . sell pitfully few books.

It makes sense when you think about it. How many of the 100,000 people who buy a book can possibly have met and been influenced by the writer's warmth and personality?

It's really all about the books themeselves, folks.

And right now. . . I need a nap.

Got a reaction to my relatively civilized rant? Let's hear it! Feel free. . .


Kylie said...

A very thought provoking post, Betina. Like you, I've spent an unbelievable amount of time recently on promotion. In today's economic climate, with publishers doing less and less to promote books, it falls upon the author to do her own promotion. The process is time consuming and costly. I feel your exhaustion!

It's also costly in the amount of time it takes us away from our real job--writing. And I worry about that, having spent most of this summer traveling, editing and doing promo, what it has cost me in terms of page production.

I'm always pleasantly surprised at the RWA Literacy signing at the amount of readers who stop by, and the kind words they share about the books. I had one thank me for writing my books because she didn't think authors heard that enough.

Comments like that make an author's day and are cherished for long after.

And also like you I've had my share of cranks, and they usually like to spread their venom anonymously. Posting to internet bulletin boards or blogs where their names are somewhat shielded, or posting reviews on book sites where they can choose alternate identities. I try to consider the source. I realize my books aren't going to appeal to all, that readers have individual preferences just as I do. And I have no problem with people stating what they didn't like about my book. I'm hyper critical of my own work and sometimes I even agree with their comments, or at least see where they're coming from. (With the exception of the recent Publishers Weekly review that had four incorrect statements and made we wonder if they'd even read the book!)

But the bottom line is, I try to write the best book I can within the parameters I'm given. I've learned to accept that every book won't work for every reader, but it's always surprising that the ones that garner the most criticism also receive opposite glowing reviews, meaning they are drawing strong responses from people. I juggle my time for teaching, visiting my family, volunteering locally, writing, doing promo, offering critiques to aspiring authors and sharing what I know with those trying to break into the business.

I can't afford to waste time worrying about pleasing everyone or giving more. My dh insists I save enough time and energy back to focus on him too. And through it all we write, hoping that will be enough.

When it is, the feeling of exhaustion is at least accompanied by a sense of accomplishment.

Michele Hauf said...

Great post, Betina! You've said what we all think.

I think most readers realize that the occasional kind word to an author can really go far. And if not, I must say that an "I really liked you book" means the world to me. I don't NEED to hear, but when it's just casually mentioned, man, does that feel good.

And vice versa, all writers know that what they write is not going to appeal to everyone. Some readers will even hate the darned thing. That's fine. But do they realize that their vitriolic reviews online do actually hurt us? A bad review can be well written, explaining the reviewer's reason the story didn't appeal to them. But some are just out there to shout to the world how pissed they are that this book didn't make their day, and they take such pride in announcing it in the least constructive manner, that well... Ugg. Did they take one moment, before writing that review, to think that the author probably spent a lot of time constructing that story, that it was slaved over and much angst and perhaps even joy came from the creative process? We put our hearts in each book. We do not come into place of business and comment on how terrible your work is.

I'd better stop. Authors are a part of the entertainment business. It is one of the most rewarding, satisfying businesses I can imagine, but it's also nasty, bitchy and downright wicked at times, too. :-)

Kathryn Magendie said...

I guess I should steel myself for all of this to come - so far, I have been very lucky. Out of all my reviews, only two have been "lukewarm" and so far, no one has been disrespectful or stalky - but then again, I am just getting started and have only one book published (so far!) and TG came out in April - I'm a newbie at this.

One thing that has bothered me are the requests to read material. Though I want to help and support writers, there is simply no time to read everyone who asks me to, so I'll have to say no to everyone.

This is a thoughtful and though-producing post. Do you mind if I link to it?

Venus Vaughn said...

A sort response because I'm too addled for a long one:

Hear, hear!
Enjoy your nap.

Helen Brenna said...

Betina, hear, hear from me, too!

I have no problem with people not liking my books. It's a given and I understand it. I can't write all things for all people. But I'm still amazed that even with my thick skin, one nasty comment from a reader or reviewer can wipe out ten compliments.

And something else I'd like to add. With the advent of the Internet, have we lost some of our good manners? Why is it we'll type things that we'd never say to someone face to face?

Helen Brenna said...

And the focus of promotion around release date? Since I'm only published in series, I have no comparisons, but I agree - exhausting. As publishers do less and less, more and more falls on authors. And, let's face it, many of us are not extroverts which makes the promotion all the more difficult.

Cindy Gerard said...

Great post, Betina. Thanks for expressing what we, collectively, want to say but could never have stated so well.
I love my readers and I love it when my readers let me know they love my work. I even appreciate it when I hear from readers who were less than 'enthralled' with a book or aspects of that book and go on to explain why. As you stated, we put ourselves out there and by doing so are to expect criticism. The BUT comes in when, as you said, readers take their bad moods out on us, or when their expectations are unreasonable.
When someone posts a bad review or rants on a blog, I often wonder how they would feel if we were to observe them at their job - which is their livelihood, just like our books are our livelihood - and then report on the net for everyone see that they didn't have a stellar day of production where their employer was certain to read it.
But, having said this, I do understand that writers are open to much more scrutiny by virtue of the very media in which we work.
Still regardless of the 'bad' stuff, all the good stuff makes up for it.
So thanks to all of you who let us know you love the books we write. We know you spent hard earned money on them. And for those who don't like them, yeah, we feel bad about that and if you feel you have to tell the world how much it sucked, so be it. It would be good, sometimes, though, if you considered that just like you, we have lives that need tending, illnesses that slow us down, family emergencies and losses that you can be darn sure, we struggle with the same as you.

lois greiman said...

We're all with you, Betina. Been there. Carry the Mace. But by and large readers are good people. In fact, I've long thought that everyone in every career should get fan mail. You know? Like the guy who packs peaches. Someone should write a quick note saying how nicely peach number 38 was packed. Cuz there's nothing like a written tribute to our efforts. It really can make my year.

Debra Dixon said...

Kat-- Link away !

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- Oh, man! This is so timely. J. A. Konrath just did a blog that touches on this.


He covers the various negative people authors have to deal with (writers, readers reviewers) and what his response to each of these types is.

His approach is so reasonable and yet he honest nails these types on their bad behavior. Including himself.

ForestJane said...

Interesting post. And as always, I’m full of questions:

If you mail someone an advance reader copy (free book) then do you expect that person to do an only-positive review? Does it make a difference if the reviewer went out and bought the book? Do you feel they have more autonomy?

Publicity – would you rather have no buzz about the book (Google search returns only your personal site) and as a corollary, Amazon showing NO user reviews… or would you rather have a range of reviews that show someone’s buying it and reading it? When Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code came out, he got almost more bad reviews than positive, do you think the controversy helped sell more copies of the book? Take a look at his reviews now, thousands of them, and pretty evenly balanced between 1 and 5 stars. Mostly because he told his story so well, people had a difficult time telling fact from fiction.

If the book comes out in paperback only, with an ephemeral shelf life, do you think it gets different types of reviews than one that comes out in hardback first? What about the ones that Nora Roberts does in paperback only because she thinks if it's a trilogy, people won't wait that long for the next parts of the story?

And finally, does it make a difference to you if the reviewers don’t like what the characters did, as opposed to your writing? Charlaine Harris had an interesting post on her site, after fans on her bulletin board didn’t like the behavior of her characters and the direction she took the story – she reminded them that it wasn’t real. It was HER setting, her stories, and she would write it the way she wanted. :p

Debra Dixon said...

Here's an email I JUST GOT in response to a standard rejection. Nothing was said about the book. We wished them luck placing the book elsewhere.

"Your loss, he's very talented and you've just missed the boat."

I assume the chick writing was replying for her dad/brother/husband/sun and had no clue that this is a business.

I'm glad I wasn't in the room with her. She'd have punched me probably!

Betina Krahn said...

Well, I'm back for the evening and I guess I hit a nerve with this one. Thanks to everyone who took time and energy to respond!

Kylie, I soooo hear you on the pulls and demands on our time and our hearts. And still we WANT to please our readers, want to give them a ripping great read!

Michele, a few good words will indeed make our days. But like all other venues of entertainment there's competition and there's subjectivity in any bit of criticism. I remember a bookseller who confessed that she had adored reading a romance by a big name author when she had the flu. She picked it up later to enjoy again and was flummoxed to find it almost unreadable. She laughed, saying that she was keeping it for the next time she had the flu! lol. Sometimes we're just in the mood for a story-- or not in the mood for it.

Kathryn, feel free to link away! And congratulations on your good reviews-- cherish them and tape them up on the wall where you write!

Venus, thanks. I can feel myself yawning.

Helen, you're so right that one nasty jibe can make us forget and ten wonderful postive comments. I've been in this business 20 years and I still sting when I read a nasty review. Criticism I can handle-- even try to learn from. But reviewers with "put downs" as part of their agenda are a whole other story. Poor things. I have considered unleashing Aniteb on them, but she takes no prisoners. I don't want to be responsible.

Cindy, yeah-- "reviewing" people in their regular jobs the way writers are reviewed. Very provocative notion. I have to deal with insurance companies every day. . . I'd LOVE to be able to give them my impressions of their customer service!!!

LOL, Lois! Carry the Mace! Hey, I like the way you think-- sending thank yous and fan mail to the people who make our lives pleasant or at least easier.

Deb, I'm heading over to Konrath's blog! Great minds. . .

Forest Jane. . . I've mailed out a few books in my time and I can say: I don't expect only glowing reviews, but neither do I expect the book to be trashed. I'm not greatly offended if it's criticised in a balanced way, with some thought and insight. What I hate is unfair or mocking criticism that is often passed off as humor.

Secondly, I think the old saw about any publicity being good publicity is nonsense. There isn't a writer published who would LOVE seeing her/his book trashed in a national spotlight or very public forum. This isn't politics, after all. Or Hollywood.

Thirdly, yes, it does make a difference to me if the reviewer is savvy enough to separate the character's actions or the book's theme from the quality of the writing. I think reviewers who can make such discinctions are basically saying, "I'm just not the reader for this kind of story or set of characters or tone." And that's fair. Reviewers need to be self-aware enough to point out when their own preferences and prejudices influence their judgment unfairly.

Deb-- lol-- you're a stonger woman than I am. It's hard to turn off the creative, emotional side of us and see the process as just business, especially when you're starting out and hoping against hope for "the call."

Kylie said...

Speaking for myself, I always put more faith in a review that's evenly written. Maybe it's the teacher in me, but I can't imagine writing only negative things about a book. When I read a review like that, I always figure the reviewer had an ax to grind. Few books are all good or all bad. When the reviewer can't find one good thing to say, I tend to dismiss them. If they focus on things that didn't work for them but don't talk about the writing at all, I feel like they've left a major part out.

If we expected only good reviews, LOL, we certainly wouldn't be the writing business for long! Didn't take long to develop a thick skin.

Betina Krahn said...

Kylie, it's only taken me 20 years to develop some perspective on this. I think I'm a later bloomer in the "thick skin" department. lol.

And on the day after-- whew! I got started and just went for it. I guess I'd been waiting a while to say some of that!