I’ll bet every writer feels the same way, when that first novel is finally out there, and s/he waits with a great amount of trepidation, what will the comments be? What will people say about it? The notice goes out, okay all you Friends and Family, I’ve been talking about it for a couple of years now, it’s ready for prime time. And they tell you, I just ordered your book, or I’m going to order your book but couldn’t find it on Amazon, or I looked for your book in the store but couldn’t find it, and so you answer each one, because after all, it’s important for as many people to get their hands on it as possible.
(Never mind that Amazon’s search engine won’t find the book unless the title is typed in exactly, “Whatever” is one word not two, and “Lily” is with one L not two, and if you mess up, you won’t find it. That’s not good. I’m betting if you screwed up one of John Grisham’s titles, it would probably come up anyway. But that’s another story.)
The first two weeks are the hardest, although occasionally someone will tell you that they are reading it, and they really like it, or once in awhile they’ll say, “I can’t put it down.” That’s good. But still, no one has reached the end yet, so maybe they can’t put it down now, but it gets boring in the end, or maybe the end is just, well, dumb.
I gave a proof copy to my daughter-in-law. She likes cozy mysteries, and has a job, and a five-year-old, and a house to take care of. She doesn’t get much time to read she said. She texted me six days later to tell me she’d been hooked from the first, that she thought it was really, really good. To say her comments were important to me, and very, very gratifying, would be an understatement. I was stunned. I hadn’t expected it.
And then I got an email from a high school friend, who ordered the book and it arrived in time for him to take on a trip to Europe and he read it on the plane, and while he was there, and on the trip back. He wrote to me when he got home and told me he absolutely loved it, that the characters were great, and he used lots of exclamation points. I could tell he meant it, he wouldn’t have had to be that complimentary, and I had only seen him once in twenty years. He wouldn’t have had to say anything, but he did. That was a turning point for me. Two people liked it, and one was a guy. I was on my way.
And a few of my friends, women, started to tell me they really liked it too, and I noticed some were very moved by the story. But still, some of the comments were more like “Good job, I liked it”. I went to a week long gathering with six friends, and they all liked it, but I knew some liked it more than others.
One of my best friends said it was the best book she’d ever read. Although she may have actually said “it was maybe the best book I’ve ever read” or “one of the best books I’ve ever read”. I’ll have to go back and check that voicemail, which I kept.
Another close friend of mine ordered it, immediately after it came out. And to this day, not one word has been said between us, about it. To me, this means she probably started to read it, didn’t care for it, and gave up on it. Or maybe she read the whole thing through, gritting her teeth the whole time, and still didn’t care for it, or disliked it a lot, or actually thought it sucked, but couldn’t say that.
I talk about it with my husband sometimes, my writerly insecurities, and one day he said, you know, not everyone has to like your book for it to be a success. And I thought about that, and how right he was.
My close friend, above, the one who has yet to say anything, is a Stephen King fan, a lover of Dean Koontz. She likes action movies, science fiction. We can hardly find a movie to talk about that we both like, although we did both like Fargo and Pulp Fiction. She likes musicals. I dislike musicals. She loves the TV show Glee. So I tried to watch Glee. You Glee-watchers will know the plot better than I, but I watched a segment about the cute cheerleader, who is pregnant and everyone thinks it’s one guy’s baby, but it’s really another guy’s baby. Apparently the Glee cheerleaders are doing more in their spare time than practicing their back flips. The guy-who-everyone-thought-was-the-father, while at the cheerleader’s house, and at the dinner table with her parents, breaks into song, “You’re Havin’ My Baby”.
Is it any wonder, then, that perhaps she couldn’t be as enthusiastic as some of the other readers, who might be more inclined to favor the genre in which I write? She just doesn’t have the guts to say it. Your book… well, it sucked. For me anyway.
I’ve read reviews of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Most liked it. Some did not. We all know how successful that book has been. Oprah liked it, that’s enough. The reviewers who didn’t like it probably gave rave reviews to the Twilight series.
The President’s approval rating will fluctuate between 40% and say, 60%, although that’s on the high end. There are 40% of people out there who will never approve of the President no matter how good a job he does. If he found every single American a job, and stopped global warming, and secured the borders, and reduced the deficit to the point where we had a surplus, and didn’t raise taxes, and wore a flag pin every day, and even learned how to bowl better, 40% of the population still would not approve.
So the moral of the story is: Not everyone likes the same stuff. And it’s a good thing we don’t.
I’d love some comments!