Inviting Critics to the Arena

I may not refer directly to information presented in Brenรฉ Brown’s 99U presentation but you may find it interesting anyway.

Not pizza
A food analogy. Always a good place to start:

Join Me for Pizza

Imagine I invited you over for my amazing homemade pizza. Everything from scratch. You are, of course, delighted.

You’ve mentioned my pizza to a couple friends and wonder if they might come along. I’m feeling expansive, so why not?

By 4:30 Saturday, it’s a disaster. The sauce isn’t thick enough. The toppings aren’t grilled properly. The crust doesn’t rise enough.

Which of these options makes the most sense to you?

  1. Throw it away and start again from scratch. You’ll wait.
  2. Call you up and cancel. Maybe I’ll try again someday. (Maybe not. It’s a lot of work and after this debacle, it’s all a bit much.)
  3. Serve it with a smile, knowing you’ll enjoy it far more than I feel it deserves and that if you have feedback, it’ll be well-intentioned and honest, but kind and thoughtful.

I’m going to proceed under the assumption you chose the last option. (If you chose another option, please please share your reasons in the comments. I would find it enormously helpful.)

Once More, With Money

What if you paid money for that pizza?

The assumption is that if you pay for something you expect a certain level of quality.

This is true.

And the level of quality is determined far more by the expectations set than by the fact that you paid or even how much you paid. A quick burger* on Main Street at Disneyland will cost three times as much as one down at the local burger joint, but do you expect it to be measurably better?

A burger at a gastropub raises your expectations (again, despite the price, high or low.)

If you order ground sirloin on a toasted brioche with aioli and radish sprouts, it’s got some livin’ up to do.

The exchange of money for a product sets certain expectations—but these are a baseline, a meeting-the-threshold, not Michelin-star expectations.

Yet Again, With Personality

That brioche burger? Some folks won’t see it as any better than the one down at the local burger joint (I don’t mean a mega-chain, but the one-off run by a family that’s lived in town forever.)

Others know the difference, even appreciate it, but they can enjoy the pub burger and the fancy shmancy equally, depending on circumstances.

Not everyone demands the finest quality burger every time they eat. In fact, most don’t.

Burgers = Books

I hope you saw that coming.

Every book I write is better than the last. Some, I know, are local-burger-joint quality. A few are gastropub level. I aspire to brioche and aioli because I really care what I serve you. Not there yet, I don’t think, but it’s always on my radar.

I know you, though. You’ll love the personal touches I put on that ground sirloin brioche and aioli when I serve it, but in the meantime, you just love burgers books so much that regardless of whether they’re 99ยข or $12 you’re just glad you get to sit at my table once in a while.

That’s why I love you, dear reader; that’s why, because you’re my tribe.

Thank you.

*Yeah, I started with pizza and switched to burgers. Moving from the specific to the general or something like that.

16 thoughts on “Inviting Critics to the Arena

  1. Nice!
    Give me some pizza burgers!
    You’re right, Joel. Since we don’t make the stuff, just consume it, we may not even notice some of those lower quality aspects. We’re not the expert, you are. That’s why we consume it from you instead of make it ourselves.

    Keep on cookin’ up them burgers!

    (Or pizza or books or whatever you’re cooking ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Cheryl ( says

    I’d choose option 1 provided that while I was waiting for pizza attempt #2 we were hanging out and chatting while that baby was in the works. If I had to sit in a closet while waiting, I might take option 3. That part about “you’ll wait” is sometimes well worth the wait 10 times over when you know that what is coming is gonna rock your world. Waiting for something amazing isn’t a bad thing. I’ve had your pizza and have read your books. Waiting for amazing is better than accepting just OK.

  3. Yes, indeed. I think, though I’m inviting engagement here, not issuing a dictum, that it’s a matter of degree.

    If the pizza is noticeably meh, it shouldn’t be served.

    But what if it’s better than the one you loved last time, and I’m the only one who notices the flaws? This, I think, might be mostly in my head, the fear that my offering is less than perfect.

  4. Cheryl again, who seems to have broken the internet:

    If you care (which you do), I think you will always see flaws, real or imagined. We are in agreement about the engagement part, I just stated it less clearly. ๐Ÿ™‚ The quality of time while waiting for pizza #2 is far more important to me than the quantity of time spent. For me as a reader and a fan, the time spent engaging with YOU, while you rework that pizza/burger/book, is the key.

  5. Excellent. Next round: if you are happy with the quality of the pizza, and I’m the only one who sees the flaws (not true, see my note below) then does it need to be reworked? You’re already pleased. You see no shortcomings. Yes, when I serve you a better pizza next week, you’ll know it’s better, but tonight, you believe this pizza is the right stuff.

    Do I rework it even if I know you’ll be delighted, pleased as punch, see no flaws?

    Note: yes, others see the flaws, because they run professional pizzerias, they have decades of experience, they make their entire living selling pizza, and they play the game at a level I won’t reach for years, or decades, or never.

  6. Cheryl again:

    As for reworking it even if I see no flaws, I think the answer for you is: “it depends.” For me, I just rewrote my first book entirely for me. My readers were happy; I was not. It wasn’t the best I could do once I learned more about the craft. I wanted my name stamped on something that was better than my first offering. If I take this thing to agents or in a book festival, I want it to be better than it was before. That and someone I highly respect suggested I rewrite it to make it the best I could make it.
    Remember that guy? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    So for you, what are you looking to do with your new product? If you are looking to land a best selling pizza, start over. If it is just for dinner for you, maybe run with what you get.

  7. Now, sir, This — is clever.

    Yer burnin’ it up, Joel. (…not your burgers, certainly, I would never say that.)

    Talk soon!

  8. Joel — so I’m reading this again and with my memory, it could just as well be the very first time ๐Ÿ˜‰ — by the way, I think that’s pretty darn funny about the burgers, considering it came up (spontaneously) in recent email discussions. Anyway, I haven’t much to say this go-round, at least of any philosophical substance, as I’m preoccupied by a couple of other points:

    1) this incredibly put-together funhouse of a website! It’s wondrous, it’s magical. It is.

    2) my focus on the picture right at the top. I love a good burger, veggie or otherwise (if I can get myself to do it). And pizza merely speaks for itself, I need say nothing. KG and I have been experimenting with making your basic margarita pizza (with premade raw dough from Whole Foods…) and have had 2 Great results and 2 total flops. I’m into science right now.

    See? I’ve got nothing more intelligent to say, so meet you at the next post.

  9. Oh, that was intelligent enough.

    We used to buy ready-made dough until I figured out how easy it was to make. Pressing it into shape is the only real work and you do that whether you make it yourself or not.

    For the record:

    1/2 C boiling water with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar

    When those dissolve, add 1/2 C room temp water. Your water is now the perfect temperature for yeast.

    Toss in 3 tsp yeast. Stir if you like.

    Dump in a bunch of flour. Truly, unbleached white makes the best crust, but experiment with portions of wheat if you like. Maybe later though.

    Anyway, about a cup or cup and a half of flour. Stir it with a big ol’ wooden spoon. When it’s a single sticky mass, more wet than dry, dump in the same amount of flour and muscle it around until it’s a single not sticky mass. Scrape, push, drag, whatever.

    Flour your clean counter. Dump the dough on. Fold and squish, turn, fold and squish, until it’s almost dry to the touch, but absolutely NOT sticky. It’s amazing how much flour one cup of water will moisten.

    Start pressing it out, shaping it like you do the store bought dough ball. Thin is better. We always use a baking stone, but a metal cookie sheet works fine.

    Top with my homemade sauce, tomatoes, kalamata olives, pineapple, red bell pepper, and goat cheese.

    Bake in a preheated oven at the hottest temperature your oven has (ours, oddly enough, is 545ยบ) for 8 or 9 minutes, maybe 11 or 12, but the edges of the crust should just be browning.

    Let it cool 10 minutes or you’ll burn yourself on the sauce.

  10. WOW!!!!! Hot dang! ๐Ÿ™‚ I printed this out and I’ll make KG do the kneading, haaaa. Really, thanks, this is fantastic, Joel. [thumb’s-up emoticon x 3]

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