The great thing about being an independent author is that you side-step the usual interminable rejections by agents and publishers, and put your work out there for the world to see and buy.
No longer constrained by the cautious taste of editors, the prejudices of marketing departments, or the carping of reviewers who don’t ‘get’ your work, you can go direct to the public and let them be the judges.
But every silver lining has a cloud.
If you’re not careful, you could find you’ve exchanged the traditional forms of rejection and criticism for others that can be just as painful (and costly)…
Yes, you no longer need to live in fear of the sound of your manuscript thudding onto the doormat, or the emails that begin “Thank you so much for letting me consider your work…”. You run the show, so you decide whether your work is worthy of publication.
But what happens once you press the magic ‘publish’ button?
Do hordes of eager readers show up on launch day, buy your book and return shortly to shower it with 5 star reviews?
Maybe. Or maybe not…
Maybe it’s kind of quiet, the first day. And the day after that. A few sales trickle in, then peter out.
You try sending your book to review sites, only to meet with polite ‘no thank you’s (“I thought I was done with those…”) or silence.
You run some ads, or post on your blog, or announce the book to your mailing list – and still nothing, or next to nothing.
It feels like you’re doing everything you can to put your book in front of the audience, but no one is buying. Try as you might, it’s hard not to feel the sting of rejection.
Then you log in to check your meagre sales totals, and you see an entry in the column marked ‘refunds’. Your book cost less than a latte, but someone bought it and was so disappointed they asked for a refund. Ouch!
It looks as though Rejection is rising, vampire-like, from its grave. So what can you do to drive a stake through its heart and send it back underground?
‘Comparisons are odious’
Wherever you are on the ladder of indie success, its easy to depress yourself by comparing your numbers with someone else’s.
If you’re just starting out, you can look at your friends who are selling hundreds of books a month, and wonder how they do it.
If you’re on the ‘hundreds’ rung, you can look enviously at the ones making thousands of sales a month.
And the view may look fine from the ‘thousands’ rung – until you look at the superstars shifting millions, and feel like a mediocrity by comparison.
So stop comparing yourself with others.
Focus on where you are now, and how you can move a little further up the ladder. If you must compare, compare this month’s performance with last month’s. If there’s improvement, even a little, that’s a cause for celebration. If you get 3 or 4 months’ improvement in a row, that starts to look like a trend…
As J A Konrath says, “ebooks are forever” – that’s a long time to learn your marketing skills and help your books find their audience.
Remember, marketing is an art, so don’t expect to learn it overnight. Commit to the task, and make the most of advice from smart people like Joanna Penn, David Gaughran, Catherine Ryan Howard, Guy Kawasaki, JA Konrath, Mark Coker — and, of course, this blog.
You knew I was going to say this didn’t you? 🙂
The best antidote to anxiety over the fate of one book is to write more books.
Not only will the books start to sell each other – I don’t know about you, but when I find an author I like, I tend to read more of their stuff – but when sales of one title dip, another may well be on the rise. So long term, more good books = more sales.
And writing will make you feel better today. It will keep you centred in what you know, and know you do well. No matter how erratic your sales, you’ll get a sense of tangible progress by writing every day and seeing your word count increase steadily.
Coping with criticism
Indie publishing can be a two-edged sword: you can get your work to market instantly, but critics often vent their first reactions instantly too.
I once published a podcast and someone left an angry comment beginning “I’m only halfway through listening and felt I had to say…”
Few things strike fear into the heart of an indie writer like the dreaded one-star review. Not only does it feel awful, but there’s research evidence that it harms sales. Two Yale researchers investigated the effect of online book reviews, and concluded that the negative impact on sales of one-star reviews is greater than the positive impact of five-star reviews.
So what can you do to ward off the criticism?
Inoculate your book against criticism – get an editor
You knew I was going to say this as well, didn’t you?
Everybody tells you you need an editor, for a reason – it will make your book better. A good editor will ‘inoculate’ your book against criticism by spotting the flaws you can’t see and helping you fix them. Far better to get your most incisive criticism from a sympathetic professional before publication than from amateur reviewers afterwards!
Now, you may be supremely confident in your writing ability… in which case you definitely need an editor! 🙂
Or you may feel you ‘can’t afford it’. But if you ask me, you can’t afford not to have an editor – emotionally, artistically or financially.
Imagine how you’d feel if you spent months writing a book, only to watch it get trashed in the Amazon reviews and never sell more than a handful of copies. Can you really afford that?
I’d been blogging for seven years by the time I wrote my first book. I’d also written a string of shorter ebooks, as well as articles in national magazines and newspapers, and reams of academic essays. I’d also won prizes in national writing competitions. So I was reasonably confident in my abilities as a writer. And by the time I’d finished the first draft of Resilience, I knew I had the basis of a solid book.
Which is exactly why I hired a pro to help me make it the best it could be. Gary Smailes gave me a fresh perspective on the book, helping me build on the good bits, fill in the gaps, and add some valuable new chapters.
Now, the finished book isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than the first draft. So it’s less likely to attract negative criticism, and even when it does, I know I’ve done my best to put out the best book I can.
OK that’s before publication, what about afterwards?
Let’s assume you can handle the 5-star reviews or and the gushing emails from fans – what about the 1-star reviews, and the snarky comments on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook?
Watch out for your Inner Critic!
Don’t let your Inner Critic make the criticism worse by chiming in and amplifying it. Learn to recognise the voice of your Inner Critic, so that you can distinguish it from the external criticism, and deal with the latter on its own terms.
Who do they think they are?
Before you get into a funk about criticism, check where it’s coming from. Here’s a ‘hierarchy’ of critics to help you decide how much weight to give their words:
- Anonymous — If someone isn’t prepared to put their name to their words, I have a hard time taking them seriously. So should you.
- Real name — If someone leaves their real name, they are at least prepared to own up to their opinion. And they are generally more reasoned and polite.
- A name linked to a social profile — This gives you more of a sense of who they are, and how well-informed their judgment is likely to be.
- A name linked to a blog or website — Now you can see a sample of their writing! This can make you feel a whole lot better. 😉
- A fellow author — Someone who should know their craft, and be in a position to give you a valuable critique. If they aren’t feeling too competitive!
- An expert — Such as a writer you admire, an editor, agent or other type of expert. Again, they should be able to give you an insightful critique, and it’s worth weighing their words carefully.
What kind of criticism is it?
The word ‘criticism’ covers a multitude of meanings and sins, so it’s worth knowing what you consider genuinely constructive (i.e. worth listening to).
Here’s how I do it:
- Perspective — the critic makes their own viewpoint clear, without claiming to be all-knowing.
- Specific — the criteria are clearly spelled out, so you know what the judgment is based on.
- Examples — the critic backs up their judgment with specific examples.
- Respectful — the critic doesn't pass judgment on you as a writer, only on the work in front of them.
If the criticism meets these criteria, it’s worth asking yourself whether you agree with the critic, and if so, what you can learn from the criticism and do differently in future.
- Lack of perspective — the critic speaks as though he or she is the ultimate authority.
- Vague — the work is dismissed in general terms (‘awful,’ ‘terrible,’ ‘no good’) without specifying what criteria the judgment is based on.
- No examples — the critic fails to back up their judgment with specific examples.
- Disrespectful — the critic is rude, aggressive, or otherwise insensitive.
It’s up to you whether you give destructive criticism the time of day. You may well decide to ignore it. Or if you have a thicker skin, and you like to learn from all kinds of experiences, you could ask yourself:
Does this person have a point – even if they aren’t expressing it very well?
If so, what can I learn from it?
Don’t give these people the time of day. As we used to say at school, “They’re only after attention” – so why give it to them?
If it’s seriously nasty or threatening, you may want to contact the site owner to get it taken down, and in extreme cases, report it to the police. Plenty of trolls are finding to their cost that online anonymity ain’t what it used to be.
How do you deal with rejection and criticism?
Which of the ideas in this article resonate most strongly for you?
How do you handle rejection and criticism as an indie author?