One day you decided you were going to write a book. You came up with a story, changed it, fought with it and after a long struggle you finally reached the words “The End”.
Then you realized it was only the beginning. You edited it over and over again. You got feedback from beta readers. You got a proofreader and a professional editor. You got a cover designer. You wrote promotional copy. You found early reviewers. One day you released your story out into the world in eager anticipation for the world’s reaction.
This essay is about responding to that reaction.
Of course, I’m using “the world” as a dramatic device. In the vast majority of cases only a miniscule segment of the world’s population will have any knowledge or interest in your book, even if you sell a million copies. Out of seven billion people on the planet, only a select few will notice your book. But their reaction can be magnified out of all proportion depending on how you deal with it.
Their Four Responses
People will either love, hate, forget or ignore your story. These responses are based on a variety of factors, only some of which will be in your control. A reader might love your story because it reminds her of some aspect of her own life. She might hate it for the same reason. While you can’t predict how an individual reader or a group of readers will respond to your work, there are a few things you should keep in mind when these responses come.
If people love your story and tell you about it in reviews, emails and social media posts, take the time to thank them for their reaction. Fans are extremely valuable to an independent author (See Champions, Tastemakers and True Fans). Creating a personal connection with each of them is the best way to build a base of support that will buy your next book. It also helps to have another story available for them to read, because once a reader finds an author and characters they love, they will look for more stories. Keep writing.
If people hate your story and tell you about it, you need, as much as possible, to not see the attacks on your story as attacks on you. As writers we are mentally and emotionally connected to our work. It is difficult to see a distinction between ‘this story sucks’ and ‘this writer sucks’. (See Learning to Love the Bad Review) But there is no point in getting into an online war of words with a bad reviewer. You won’t be able to change his mind about your book and you’ll probably alienate other people who see your defensive reaction. More importantly, focusing on a negative review will take energy away from efforts you could be putting into your next book.
If people forget your story, it is likely that they never bothered to react to it one way or another. There isn’t much you can do with this group except write the next story and try to bring them back as a repeat reader. A silent repeat reader, or even a one-time reader, isn’t as good as a vocal fan, but it still worth having them in your corner.
If people ignore your story you might feel lost. You won’t know if there is some technical problem that prevents people from buying it or some problem with your pricing, your cover, your description or some other factor that you can’t think of. You might start to feel isolated, as if the entire effort to put out a story was a complete waste of time. What’s the point of releasing a book if no one is going to read it?
Just remember that selling your work is not always a direct reflection on the quality of your work. People can’t decide a story is bad if they’ve never read it. It is impossible to read it if they ignore it or have never heard of it. You might need to change your sales and marketing strategy. You might need to improve your sales copy and cover design. You might learn lessons that you can apply to your next book. But under no circumstances should you stop writing. A successful writer isn’t just defined by sales (See How Do You Define a Successful Writer?) and the book that is ignored today can find a new audience when your next book comes out.
Your One Response
No matter how the public reacts to your work, you need to keep writing. It does you no good to be controlled by the fleeting moods and attitudes of your readers. You can be aware of them. You can respond to them in a polite and professional manner. You can take them into account in your future marketing plans. But the only way to fail as a writer is to stop writing. Public reaction, positive or negative, can’t stop you unless you give into it.