Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It Is What They Is


So? Whaddaya think of this Peanuts strip?

If you saw it in the newspaper, would you eagerly await the next installment of what happens between Linus and his blanket-hating grandma? Or would you think it was a waste of ink and paper?

Maybe you didn’t like it because you thought comic strips were supposed to make you laugh and this strip didn’t even make you chuckle. Or maybe you did chuckle, but the four panels also spoke to you on a personal level deeper than a punchline.

Maybe you’ve never liked Peanuts so you began reading this one expecting not to like it, and you were right…again. Or maybe this wasn’t your favorite Peanuts strip, but it reminded you of your childhood so you clipped it out and hung it on the fridge.

Personally, I love Peanuts. I love the way it’s drawn. I love the sometimes gentle, sometimes brutal, sometimes joyful, sometimes heartbreaking humor. I love the choice of words. I just love it!

But I also understand why some people don’t love it.

So here’s where I’m going to help some of you authors who’ve asked me for advice on how to deal with “stumbling across” negative things said about your book online. Even though many people love your book, the words of those who don’t are tearing you up inside.

After Thirteen Reasons Why came out, it took me a looooong time to get comfortable with the idea that not everyone was going to appreciate my book the way I thought it should be appreciated. One person may call it “quite possibly the best book I have ever read” and someone else may call it “a waste of my time.” One person may claim the book made her “treat people better and have more respect for myself” while someone else thinks it contains “no moral value whatsoever.” One person may say her “heart goes out” to Hannah while another person owns a heart which “could not feel any empathy towards her.”

Your part of the author/reader conversation ended the moment you turned in your edits. From then on, the only thing that will change about your story will be the people reading it. Their prejudices, their life experiences, and their understanding of the world will frame every single page they read. Every word! As they read each line of your story, that line essentially disappears from your book and moves into their head. (Scary, I know.) Your brain may have written the story, but their brain is going to interpret it based on however their brain is wired at the moment.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

When you create a piece of art (a book, a painting, a song), not even one person will grasp exactly what you were trying to say. Art is way too personal for that. But when someone really doesn’t grasp what you were trying to say, well, that wasn’t really the person you created it for in the first place. And those people are out there. And they are going to judge your creation. You don’t have to like that fact, but you’ll be much happier if you get comfortable with it. Trust me!

Good reviews and good press are like security blankets. We shouldn’t really need those pieces of cloth to feel secure. The art is done. It is what it is. It is what everyone else thinks it is. Yes, it’s fine and wonderful to cuddle up with a security blanket sometimes. But this is a yin and yang world. The blanket-haters need to be out there, too. For some reason, taking your blanket makes them feel like they accomplished something.

But they didn’t. You did.

17 comments:

Bethany Wiggins said...

One thing I have learned in my quest to publication is you HAVE to have a thick skin. Because even the people who love your stuff can find something bad to say about it.

David LaRochelle said...

Excellent words of wisdom, Jay. It's a gut-wrenching feeling reading a comment online from someone who hated your book, and suddenly you've forgotten about all the other people who did enjoy it. But you're absolutely correct: some people love Peanuts, and some people don't (though I can't understand why not) - with so many tastes in the world, how can we expect everyone to like our books?

Molly O'Neill said...

Jay, I'm sending every writer I know over here to read this post! Lots of wisdom here, especially in the age of the social web, where everyone seems to not just have an opinion, but also the desire to share it loudly. Thanks for taking the time to articulate the part of the experience that writers should focus on.

Ghost Girl said...

From then on, the only thing that will change about your story will be the people reading it. Their prejudices, their life experiences, and their understanding of the world will frame every single page they read. Every word! As they read each line of your story, that line essentially disappears from your book and moves into their head.

Perfect! So very right. At that moment, it is not about the book you've written, it's about the book they've read...filtered through the life they've led. (sorry about the inane rhyme--unintentional). And your book has done its job. For good or ill, it is now a part of the reader's hard wiring, enmeshed with all the things that came before he read your book.

Thanks, Jay!

Kate said...

Thanks for writing this one. Very helpful.

I can appreciate needing to have a thick skin, but that's easier said than done...many writers are great precisely because they are sensitive and empathetic. It's not simple task to turn that characteristic on and off. Perhaps a good skill to acquire over time.

I like Jay's approach. Accept that no one's work is accessible to everyone, and keep going.

deborahfreedman said...

I love the way you put this, Jay - the strip says it all.

But it does upset me a little bit that there may actually be people out there who don't love Peanuts?

cyn said...

Thank you, Jay. I spent the morning mulling over the mean-spirited, negative reviews I'd gotten instead of writing. I needed to be reminded of this. Off to write!

Vonna said...

Thanks, Jay. When hurtful comments strike, I will remember this post.

SWK said...

Here, here! A great, helpful post. In the end, the important thing is that you have told the story you wanted to tell. The rest is up to the universe anyway. And, when the chips are down, there's always PEANUTS :)

Jay Asher said...

I'm glad you all got something out of this post. That makes me happy!!!

I can't imagine how sad I'd be if you gave this post a negative review...

Barrie said...

"Your part of the author/reader conversation ended the moment you turned in your edits." I'm hanging onto this thought. Thank you.

Wendy Wahman said...

Thank you Jay. I'm going to keep this in my "Do not Despair" folder.
With a starred review!
Wendy

CATHY PETTER said...

Thanks for the post, Jay. Just so you know, I'm a big fan. Your book meant a lot to me. But who cares, really. I find for myself, that it works much better not to pay too much attention to other people's opinions unless I've asked for feedback. Just gets me off my game. And the online world is crazy that way - so many opinions. People feel so free to tell it all. I try to walk the fine line of knowing what is out there, book wise and people wise, while not paying too much attention to it. It helps me stay focused on my work.

Ruth A. said...

Good review bad review as an author at the end of the day you got someone to not only read your book but that someone cared enough to write a review and as long as they didn't point out the major plot hole in your novel that no one told you about, it sounds like an excellent day to me.

Laura Ludwig Hamor said...

Great post!

Do you have SNOOPY's Guide to a Writing Life ? It has all the answers!

Remilda Graystone said...

This was a great way to put it, and while I was more uncomfortable with the idea that someone could veer completely away from what my book's message is, I found comfort in you saying that it probably wasn't the person I'd created it for in the first place. That sounds about right to me.

Thanks for the post. It was enlightening.

Claire Dawn said...

That is an amazing analogy! Thank you!