Y’all may treat authors like it’s a big honor to meet us but believe me, we’re in awe of you too. It’s amazing to know you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. This sort of thing means the world to us.
Sadly, yes, this is based on a real conversation I had with someone who believes “nobody” actually reads science fiction. Apparently I don’t know my market and there’s not really anyone reading the hundreds of magazines that accept stories like mine. Not to mention that “everyone” doesn’t exactly relate to romance, thanks.
What’s surprising is how often people who don’t know much about publishing markets are willing to unload stunning wisdom about how they work, and how consistently they think anyone who doesn’t believe them is “in denial” or “refusing to listen to criticism.”
I did not apply your “criticism” because you were completely wrong about who I’m writing for, not because I can’t handle feedback. Thanks.
Every couple of weeks or so there’s some new train wreck featuring an author who couldn’t handle a bad review unloading all over a reviewer. Maybe it sounds like common sense, but authors aren’t supposed to reply to reviews. Even good ones! No! Don’t respond! Don’t engage!
“Why shouldn’t we?” you may ask. Well, partly because reviewers need to feel free to be honest about their opinions, and if you reply to reviews then future reviewers may not want to review at all if they think they’re being watched. Also, it’s just part of being professional; there are some cases in which I might thank a reviewer (like, if we’d had previous contact, or they were an online friend, or they contacted me personally to discuss the book and invited interaction with me), but I would never initiate contact with a customer who is reviewing the book for other members of my audience, not for me.
And it should go without saying, but you should never argue with a reviewer or sic your friends on them in the comments. Getting unfair, snotty, pointless, opinionated reviews that stab you in the soul is indeed part of publishing a book, and though there are certain instances where you can request removal of reviews if they include ad hominem attacks, unmarked spoilers, personal information reveals, or harassment, it’s better to just leave them alone. Having some less flattering reviews actually makes your book look good; it removes the potential for readers to think all your reviewers are fake.
And if your reviewers really are being unfair, that usually shows in the words they choose. As of this writing, my book has a single one-star review on Amazon in which the reviewer claims that I didn’t cover a certain subject AT ALL ANYWHERE while admitting he only read a small portion of the book, and spews various “gotcha” fact-check claims that are based on misconceptions my book would have corrected if he had read it. People can draw their own conclusions from that–and from the two dozen five-star reviews.
I’ve learned plenty of interesting things about how people are reacting to my book while reading reviews, and I’m grateful for it when they’re not 100% sweetness and light. You should be excited if someone’s willing to think about your book in depth and offer up some gently critical thoughts on it, even if it’s too late to apply them to this book if it’s already published. Still, remember reviews aren’t really for you. They’re for other readers. And they have every right to say they didn’t like your book.
I’m kinda disgusted to inform you this is an Actual Thing People are Saying. White is “normal”; anything else is obviously forced diversity, a political statement, or bowing to political correctness. White is viewed as the default for everyone, and if a character is not white, there should be a reason. Well, I disagree. (While attempting to laugh and cry at the same time.)
This is not to say that characters of color in novels should be presented as neutral themselves. “Color-blind” narratives don’t actually help. Making a cast “diverse” by writing them exactly like you would write a white character but giving them “ethnic”-sounding names and darker skin does not accurately reflect the experience of a person of color. Their color IS seen even if some of us white people pretend it doesn’t matter (or that THEY are the problem if they notice and are affected by racism or discrimination).
It should just be handled as a not-neutral, not-invisible part of their character, and while background characters can certainly be incidentally any color without comment, a realistic character will move through the world with an experience that reflects their race. That is also true if they are white. (And they may be able, in a world that DOES treat them like it’s fine to consider themselves the default, to “ignore” race in a way no one else can, while saying the REAL racists are the ones who claim there are still problems.)
This phenomenon also extends to LGBTQ characters, non-male characters, characters with disabilities and illnesses, and characters from non-majority culture or religions. The “OMG THE PC OVERLORDS ARE COMING TO TAKE OUR FREE SPEECH” crowd sees all of these deviations from “the norm” as attempts to force diversity where it doesn’t belong, in the name of creating an unrealistic, hippy-dippy, artificially diversified picture of humanity. But in reality, THE WORLD ACTUALLY IS DIVERSE, and the “mainstream” voices that drowned out the marginalized ones are actually the ones at fault for making this political.
I cannot speak for my friends of color, but I have certainly heard them tell me they’re sick of not having their own narratives in mainstream fiction–that they’re tired of being tokenized or fetishized while being relegated to having their works marketed to “certain audiences” should they dare to put themselves at the center of their stories (while “white” stories are marketed to everyone and presented as if they actually are neutral).
I can speak from a female perspective and a queer perspective, though. I am quite irritated that “adding a woman” to the cast is seen the way it is (usually acceptable only as a love interest, taken as a “feminist statement” if she is not designed to be “gotten” by a male character). Stories about girls and women are chick-lit, women’s fiction, “for girls”–even if they’re primarily mysteries, adventures, SF/fantasies, or thrillers.
I am quite irritated that if a story has a queer protagonist with a queer experience it’s whisked away to a queer section so we can just talk to ourselves, while if there’s a queer background character it’s usually comedic or strategically placed, and if there’s more than one queer in a story that’s supposed to be mainstream then we’re just pushing the gay agenda on people.
And don’t even get me started on disability, which is almost always either an opportunity for someone else to learn from the “inspiration” the disabled person provides OR an opportunity for the disabled person to find a cure or get rehabilitated as the center of their character arc.
My biracial character in the story referenced in the comic–who is one of three love interest guys, and the other two are black, while the protagonist girls are white–does not have a “reason” to be biracial, nor do the protagonists have a “reason” to develop an interest in more than one person of color except that they happened to be there and that’s who they were. The character’s race is not irrelevant to him as a person, and they do discuss it occasionally in the story, but it is not the center of a story arc and it does not singularly define him.
Basically, if you asked me why my love interest is biracial but you didn’t ask me why my protagonist is white, I think you have some assumptions to unpack.
Here, have a couple cute doodles of characters from the book.
Woohoo! Issue 50, so we have another long comic!
So, yeah, when I was a teenager I seem to have had a habit of making my characters kinda look like me, though they were always reasonably different from me when it came to their desires and personalities. But as I drifted away from modeling their looks on my own, I found that some people were determined to see them as “me,” no matter what I did.
While it’s frustrating that some people insist on considering similarities as evidence that characters are self-inserts, I don’t really see a reason to deliberately create characters who are nothing like me just to answer and fight this misconception. We tell stories about people who are sometimes kinda like us. That’s all right for authors to do, though they can be boring for others if the stories we write are nothing but idealized versions of ourselves or wish-fulfillment fantasies.
We DO put ourselves into our characters. But at least in my case, that does not mean those characters “are” me, nor do their characteristics manifest identically to the way those same characteristics might manifest for me.
Long story short: writers, there’s no need to attempt to excise every particle of yourself from your characters in the name of avoiding the self-insert, and readers . . . just remember things aren’t necessarily what they seem.
Sometimes it sounds like a cop-out, I guess, but . . . reading books IS research. You need to be a reader to be a writer. You need to remember why you write. You need to connect with stories that inspire in you the kinds of feelings you want to inspire in your audience. And you need to pay attention to how they do it and draw your own conclusions rather than expecting instruction divorced from context to teach you everything you need to know.
Publishing resources, instructional writing, and feedback on your work are absolutely priceless, and those are often needed to get your stuff out there too. But if you just keep trying and you don’t seem to be getting closer to your publishing goal, you do have to remember that sometimes it isn’t just about persistence and study. Sometimes it is about your material not being ready.
Look at your heroes and see how they did it. You might be surprised how much they can teach you just by doing it again in front of you when you’re ready to listen.
I’m really sad to say this is based on several real conversations I’ve had, and it just blows my mind. I’ve had several grown people condescendingly tell me fantasy is childish and mythical creatures aren’t actually ever in books written for adults. In reality–say these people who know nothing about fantasy because they don’t read it–the presence of imaginary creatures actively MAKES the story juvenile, and adults who read these things are both Not Really Adults and Not Very Plentiful.
I’m not even kidding when I say I’ve been told that I don’t know my audience. Because I actually think adults who would read about fairies exist in droves.
I’ve seen the hundreds of thousands of reviews and excited discussions about fantastical stories, guys. Most of the buzz comes from grown-ups.
Also, it kind of irks me that as soon as I say I write about fairies, people immediately default to regarding my work as for kids. There’s nothing wrong with writing for kids or young adults, but it’s just so frustrating for me that I discuss the subject of my work and my conversation partner switches to “oh that’s so cute, I bet my kid would like it.”
Your kid would not. Like. This. Unless they like nightmares.
Wait until they’re at least a little older until they pick up my stuff. It leans creepy. The fairies I write about aren’t all sweetness and light. . . .
My irritation with this phenomenon has three main points:
1. Just because I’m a writer doesn’t mean I am excited about any opportunity to write something, especially if I have to collaborate with someone else. I do not play well with others when it comes to creativity.
2. Your idea? Probably isn’t as awesome as you think. I’m sure some of these folks have ideas that aren’t terrible, but nearly everyone I’ve spoken to who is convinced of the amazingness of their concept does not have a particularly original or mind-blowing idea.
3. IDEAS ARE THE EASY PART. I personally am not lacking in ideas anyway, but execution is pretty much the entire battle when it comes to writing a good book. Even if I did like your idea and want to work with you, doing your grunt work is not appealing. If you’re looking for a ghostwriter and a place to sell your idea for cash, there’s a time and a place for that, but it certainly doesn’t involve me. . . .
So this is partially a true story.
The true part: This has happened to me now and then. I realize I don’t really know what a character looks like; I make a doodle of them that doesn’t really come out how I planned; I nevertheless start imagining them the way they came out of my pen, and from then on I just go with it when I’m inserting descriptions in the story.
The false part: The specific characters I included in the comic actually did pretty much come out how I planned. :X
These guys are from my new short story “Aquarius” and I think they’re pretty damn cute. Here’s the finished drawing.