Reserving Seats for the Critics

Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography, Boise, IDContinuing from yesterday:

Much is affected by the fact that I do not aspire to fame, and I don’t need my books to make my living for me.

Would I reject fame or fortune if they wandered into the corral? Not at all. I’m leaving the gate open in case they decide to wander by.

Vast difference between “fine if it happens” and relentless pursuit. I know the effort of book marketing; our primary business provides social media marketing services for authors, as in, we do it for a living. With a whole team and a slew of tools.

My family’s livelihood does not depend on my books. It never will. That’s built into my present work plan.

If someone exchanges money for my books, I want them to be happy with the perceived value. If not, I’m delighted to give their money back, which means, yes, I lose money, because Amazon sure ain’t refunding their part. This does not mean I need to preemptively charge less (or nothing at all) if I realize my books aren’t perfect. Critics don’t set the value of my books, readers do.

In Brené Brown’s 99U talk she describes how to address the critics, real and imagined: note their presence in the arena, recognize that they’ve got an opinion, and then ignore it.

They are not responsible for determining the value of your art.

You are.

As Brown says, we have to tell the critics “I see you, I hear you . . . but I’m not interested in your feedback.”

There are people who know more about writing than I do. People who know more about selling books, about the publishing industry.

Here’s what they don’t know: my values.

They don’t know what drives me. They don’t know why I make the choices I make. They don’t share my perspective, which severely limits the benefit of their advice to me. (Not intrinsically; their advice probably has massive benefit to folks who share their values.)

If they don’t know me, they cannot advise. It’s that simple.

The same applies to potential readers. If they don’t believe what I believe, to some significant extent, they’re not my tribe, not my fans, and their opinion has no benefit, no bearing on the direction I should take with my art.

So, the question, dear reader: casting your mind back over my last few books (A Long, Hard Look, A Still, Small Voice, That She Is Made of Truth, Into the Fog) do you think they should have stayed in the oven a little longer, or were they ready when I served them? I know you love me, but I need the truth: we both know I will continue to get better, but so far, has it been good enough?

8 thoughts on “Reserving Seats for the Critics

  1. From Cheryl, who still can’t seem to post her own comments here (curse you, broken internet!)

    Into the Fog was worth the wait. Three years of maybe not patient waiting, but it was a great sequel and I very much look forward to the next one. And I’m dying to get my grubby mitts on Jake Calcutta. Luv Sci Fi so I can’t wait to see what you whip up for this one.

    I think I read A Still Small Voice and That She is Made of Truth before you formally released them. A Still Small Voice had a few things I thought were plot weak points that I told you about. I haven’t read the final version, so I can’t speak to any changes that happened in a later draft. That She is Made of Truth, I saw a great start to a new kind of mystery series for you.

    The only thing I found of issue, and we emailed about this, was that Jesse was too similar to Phil with dress, habits, personality traits, etc. Web is a completely different character from Phil. Phil and Jesse were too similar for me, and I kept thinking I was reading another Phil adventure.

    Now, A Long Hard Look, you wrote that thing on the fly, a chapter a day posted online. No editing or wailing and gnashing of teeth with revisions. You wrote and posted it online. Freaking great stuff to be pantsed out online in its original form.

  2. How could I be less than thrilled with that? Thanks, as always, Cheryl.

    (Note: the final versions of those books used much of Cheryl’s feedback and are much better as a result.)

  3. Joel, I’ve read a lot of your work, and think that your efforts with all the important aspects of fiction—character, conflict, story arc, language—have improved with each release. And no, though indeed you possibly could have improved on some of those aspects in the earlier works, I don’t think it’s significant to your body of work that you released them when you did.

    You are the best steward of your work (and know best when it cries to be born), and even if there was some impatience to get something out, that doesn’t mean the result is something not to be proud of. I think of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, something he worked on and off of for seven years, released with an oddball ending of Tom Sawyer’s machinations, when the work stood better without it. Yet it is a masterpiece. (And I’m on the verge of releasing a book I worked on for seven years too—maybe I should put Tom Sawyer in at the end.)

    Anyway, keep writing and build the body of work—all the other issues will sort themselves out in the history books.

  4. Your opinion carries weight, my good man. I appreciate honesty without brutality.

    Regarding your book: perhaps there’s a cycle to be had. Include Huck in your book, and when Twain writes his next book, he’ll have Tom end up with your characters. (I’m pointlessly reminded of Leon Russell mentioning Paul McCartney in If the Shoe Fits on Carney and then Paul McCartney mentioning Jimmy Page in Rock Show on Venus and Mars and I always thought Jimmy Page should either mention Leon, to close the circle, or someone else, to extend the chain.)

  5. This is very good news. Keep us posted. (Also, maybe upgrade from Thunderbird to Mad Dog, eh? Is that an upgrade?)

  6. I enjoyed each of these books just as they were, so yes, I guess for me, they were ready to be served!

    I also like everything you’ve said about the critics here, and I think it doesn’t apply just to writing… They don’t know my perspective, so their advice can never be as meaningful as they probably mean it to be.

  7. True, this applies to anyone making art, even to anyone who ever hears advice: know the source, and know yourself.

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