Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Biggest Fear About Being Published

I harbor many irrational fears. As New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane puts it, "Sometimes the brain is a dungeon." Just ask my husband about the phase I went through in college when I became convinced that a cinder block was going to hit me on the head (thrown off a dorm balcony during spring cleaning, of course).

Here's the thing: I'm not scared people will hate my book. (I hope they don't, but if they do, I can accept that. Everyone has different taste in stories. It's really okay.)

No. What frightens me are the people who will dislike what they think has occurred in my book, rather than what has actually occurred. The Misinterpreters, I'll call them.

A friend of mine wrote a project a few years back, in which the words "[FirstName] Effing [LastName]" showed up as a tribute to a celebrity. (You know, like when you think someone's "effing awesome.") This phrase was used on a few occasions, within a larger context of showing that the author had idolized the celebrity and wished to emulate her. Well, an early reviewer claimed that the words, "Eff You, [First Name, Last Name]" were used, and lambasted my friend for being crude and disrespectful toward the celebrity. In short, the reviewer had not only missed the point, he or she had gotten it backwards, and then reviewed the wrong information.

What's frustrating is that there's no recourse in those situations. It's not a matter of opinion or taste, it's a matter of being factually incorrect, but pointing this out risks looking defensive or whiny.

So now you know all about my fear.

Writers: What are your publishing fears?

Reviewers: If you were to misremember or misinterpret something, would you want to be corrected (not by the author, but perhaps by other readers)? Or would you consider that a breach of the reader/reviewer code?

18 comments:

  1. It's weird. People will misunderstand and see things you didn't intend, but strangely enough I think it's okay (except in your friend's example -- that's rough).

    The book becomes bigger than just what you create. People will also bring their own background and ideas to a story and will read through those lenses. Sometimes what they see will be surprising and feel wrong, but somehow (at least for me, so far), it's still okay.

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  2. Thanks for your insight, Caroline! I love the idea of the book meaning different things to different people, and I'd be thrilled if something I wrote inspired any kind of discussion (or even argument). I know once something's published it doesn't belong to me anymore, and that's really exciting, too. Hopefully this particular fear of mine won't pan out, but if it does, that's par for the course, eh?

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  3. I think this is something that comes with the territory, but the phenomenon is definitely magnified in this world where all opinions are public and easily accessible. When it was only pro reviewers "reviewing" your book, there was an expectation of journalistic standards -- the reviewer who misquoted a line would be print a correction. That's not the case when it comes to blogs and amazon reviews.

    I've published eight books, and I've yet to have one where that sort of thing doesn't happen. With my very first book back in 2006, before the proliferation of bookblogs or Goodreads, a "top" amazon reviewer misread a pro review of my book and mistakenly came to the conclusion that my heroine was ACTUALLY INCONTINENT.

    Fun times.

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    1. Oh nooooooooo Diana!

      I guess we just have to laugh, right?

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  4. Personally, my biggest fear is utter apathy. Love it, hate it, whatever...but at least let it evoke SOMETHING. If a book is published and nobody reads it, does it make a sound? :) That's what would get me...if nobody says anything at all.

    Happy thoughts, right?

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  5. Hm, that's a good question.

    ...and Diana makes a good point in that these days we're flooded with opinions via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. Social media makes dealing with The Misinterpreters much more difficult.

    So, to answer the question I think my biggest fear in publishing my first novel is that no one would care about it. I have this image of someone walking into a bookstore, picking it up, looking at it, mumbling, "Meh, I'll pass." and then heading towards the Anna Maxted section for a book that they know they can depend on to be interesting and witty.

    Ugh...I shudder just thinking about it!

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  6. Shoot. Michael and Paula, you've trumped mine. That would be the worst: no response whatsoever. Joining you in shudder-dom.

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  7. A great post, Sarah!

    I'm going to go with the apathy response, too. I think I'd rather see people upset by my writing than no comments at all.

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    1. Thanks, Cat. And yes. Apathy is terrifying!

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  8. Sarah, I would have a million fears! Some of them valid, some of them not so much. But boy, I'd sure love the opportunity for that fear :)

    Your book will be loved, and I'm sure it'll be very clear for most people!

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    1. Thanks, Julie! I do in fact have a million fears, hahaha. If you're "lucky" I'll share some more with you later on ;) And I'm certain you'll be joining me in publishing-fear-ville soon!

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  9. It's funny...I had/have a million fears and neurotic that I am, I think I probably replayed every scenario that could possibly happen regarding reviews in my mind already. Some of them have happened so far, and some have not. But I've discovered that, usually, when it happens in real life, it's really not as bad as what I had played out in my mind! That old adage about fear of the thing being worse than the thing itself is really ringing true.

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    1. But I've discovered that, usually, when it happens in real life, it's really not as bad as what I had played out in my mind!

      SO TRUE, and also, what's actually going to happen will be something that never occurred to me.

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  10. Sometimes life acts like a bad game of "telephone." I'd be scared of people thinking I was making fun of them in a book instead of just celebrating their quirks.

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    1. Sometimes life acts like a bad game of "telephone."

      Yes, the "hearsay" fear is also a good one.

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  11. My perspective is perhaps a bit biased in responding to this post: My daughter was, in fact, hit on the head by the ceiling of her college dorm room, which fell on her in big clumps, bruising her face and wrecking her laptop. She is, nevertheless, alive and well and living in Manhattan.

    Here's the thing: Your irrational fear is not irrational. Somewhere out there, there is a reader (maybe more than one) who is going to egregiously not get what's going on in your book, misinterpret like crazy, hate the book, or say "Feh, so what?" about it.

    The irrational fear is that this is going to a) destroy you or b) sink your book.

    More likely, you will say "Oh shit!" or if you are a more wholesome, clean-living person than I am, "Gosh darn!" and then you will be okay.

    Unless, of course, the person who doesn't get it and says so online is someone you know, in which case you (read "I") will be homicidal.

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    1. My daughter was, in fact, hit on the head by the ceiling of her college dorm room, which fell on her in big clumps, bruising her face and wrecking her laptop.

      I KNEW IT WAS A POSSIBILITY!

      Thanks for validating my (non-)irrationality and also assuring me that even if these things happen, it's going to be okay.

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  12. I guess my fear is common, but it is the 'could I have done more before I send it out' fear.

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