October 24th, 2014

I Am Not My Book

Kennedy Ryan

photo credit: Celeste via photopin cc

photo credit: Celeste via photopin cc

I have always considered myself a pretty confident person. My parents instilled several things in me early on:

  • Impossible is just the beginning.
  • Consider it negotiable.
  • You can partner with people for success, but never allow them to hold your success hostage, or expect them to make you successful.

And this next one was bedrock. Don’t allow other people’s opinions to change the way you feel about yourself.

That lesson especially served me well growing up. Peer pressure for me – almost non-existent. I didn’t look to my peers to define, approve or affirm me. That made me a little bit of a sore thumb in high school, but again – not really caring. It made me bold and in many ways, insulated my sense of self.

So you can see how I didn’t anticipate reviews, good or bad, to really affect me that much when my debut novel released this summer. Leading up to the release, I talked to several writers who spoke of near-depression upon reading bad reviews.

Really?

I could sympathize, but I didn’t actually relate.

I would soon.

When I read my first truly negative review, it shook me. Not the review itself, but how much it mattered to me. I coached myself through it. Reminded myself that everyone won’t like every book. Had a few close friends talk me off the ledge. But something still shifted inside of me. Some place in my confidence no one had really touched before.

That first week, I noticed my mood rise and fall with the stars my book received. My husband couldn’t believe it. He reminded me of who I was. Of how I had always processed the opinions of others, but there was no denying that those reviews affected me. So much so that I soon found the good reviews hard to believe. Why would anyone give me 5 stars? Did they feel sorry for me? Maybe they weren’t “discriminating” readers. The truly discriminating readers would hate my book.

I’ll never forget a friend called me saying she hadn’t been able to put my book down. She had actually canceled an appointment and turned off her phone to finish it uninterrupted. After five minutes of me trying to convince her that she hadn’t really enjoyed my book, but had read it through the friend filter, she finally said something that landed with me.

“When did you start thinking the bad has to be true, and the good must be a lie?”

When did I? At what point had I lost that strong sense of self? Started doubting my talent? Started doubting myself?

Her question recalibrated something; reminded me of the lessons my parents had instilled so early on. As much as I love this book, I am not this book. It is an extension of me; of my way with words and the craft I am continually honing. But it is not me. A negative review is not an attack on my character or a denigration of me as a person. It is one reader who didn’t like what I wrote. And that is fine.

I have deliberately created space between myself and this thing that I made because I have no control over people’s opinions about it. What can I control? Myself. The kind of person I am. What do I want that to be? Kind. Generous. Gracious. Loyal. Thoughtful.

I am not measured in stars.

I am a loving, faithful wife. I am a warrior mother who would do anything for my child. I am a philanthropist who extends myself on the behalf of others. I am a good friend. Until a blogger or a reviewer or a reader attacks that, it’s not personal.

I just released book two, LOVING YOU ALWAYS, and I cling to that epiphany. I fully anticipate having to remind myself of these truths when there are fewer stars than I’d like to see at the end of a review, but it’s okay.

And it’s not personal.

About Kennedy

JustTina

Kennedy Ryan writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She always give her characters their happily ever after, but loves to make them work for it! It’s a long road to love, so sit back and enjoy the ride.  In an alternative universe and under her government issue name, Tina Dula, she is a wife to the love of her life, mom to a special, beautiful son, and a friend to those living with autism through her foundation Myles-A-Part, serving Georgia families.

Her writings on Autism have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and she has been featured on the Montel Williams Show, NPR, Headline News and others. Ryan is donating a portion of her proceeds to her own foundation and to her charitable partner, Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).

Her interview series MOMMIES DO THE MOST AMAZING THINGS is featured each month in Brooke Burke’s online magazine Modern Mom.

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Out now: Book 1: WHEN YOU ARE MINE

41 comments to I Am Not My Book

  • I LOVE this post, Kennedy – thanks for sharing something so personal and scary with us – I’m sure everyone who reads this can relate. Whether it’s reviews, or rejections, or critiques, it’s hard.

    So funny. I’m the opposite! I had no self-esteem, growing up, and have had to work hard to cobble it together. But what’s weird is, I’m not that way about my writing. Crits don’t hurt, and as long as a review doesn’t say that the pages of my book belong on the bottom of a birdcage, it doesn’t effect me.

    ‘I am not measured in stars.’ Love that.

    Thanks so much for blogging with us!

  • Such a timely message. ‘I am not measured in stars’ should be a motto embroidered and hung in every author’s workspace. Sometimes I think I am dragging my feet over the release of my first novel for this reason: fear of rejection, people writing savage reviews. I have seen the wind go out of my author friends’ sails after bad posts and few stars. And after all, who are these people to judge? What does it really mean? You don’t even know if you would respect their opinion if you met them. Thanks!

  • Really good advice love they way you handle the reviews.

  • Laura, thank you, first for having me and for your sweet words. I love that you are so unaffected by reviews and critiques. I’ll be having feathers from your cap!

    And Irtrovi and Rosie, thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed. 🙂

  • I have the privilege of knowing Kennedy from the Georgia RWA chapter. Kennedy, you are always so caring and positive and I admire you. I hear ya on the reviews but we both know what is really important… Those special children in our lives. Much success with your latest.

    • Debbie, you sweetheart. You’re one of those people who is always an encouragement. Thank you, honey. Yes, our special kids! Much success to you, too, in every endeavor! Always. 🙂

  • Holly Robinson

    This is such a great post, Kennedy, and it came at a great time for me. I’m writing my fourth novel for Penguin at the moment, and every day I find myself saying, Oh, God, this is HORRIBLE, it will NEVER WORK, etc. Partly this is due to various reviewers (yep, I read mine, especially for my debut novel–the worst ones were brief, comments like “meh”). Never mind that my husband kept pointing out that I had many more 5- and 4-star reviews than bad ones. Like you, at first I focused on those bad ones even though I knew, like you, that not everyone is going to like every book. My skin is thicker now, but those crises in confidence never really go away, no matter how many books you publish. I love your self talk at the end of this post. We’d all do well to write something up like that about ourselves and post it in a prominent place!

    • Holly, thank God for husbands who give us perspective, huh? 🙂 Yeah, for my debut in June, I was reading all the reviews! I don’t as much this time around. Skin is definitely thicker and a lot more runs off my back more quickly! Glad to be growing. Best of luck with #4! 🙂

  • We always remember the bad reviews (and for some reason mentally skim over the good to glowing ones.) I know I do it. My boss once told me I had the classic overachiever tell tale, constantly asking what I could have done better or how I could improve. “You were the kid in high school who wanted to know why you got the A- instead of the A, right?” she asked me. She NAILED it! I realized I was still thinking like the over eager teen girl who just wanted to get it right. (Whatever “it” was.) Part of my growing up and becoming more mature was realizing I couldn’t be perfect at everything and all things to everybody. Like you, I’ve learned to accept now that my books can’t be the best book everyone’s ever read either. 🙂 But its not the end of the world.

    Thanks for your honest post.

  • My new mantra; I am not my book which will replace I have a life not a book. My book is not yet in print but hopefully soon. I think I will need many good voices circling me.
    Thanks for this post

  • Your friend really nailed it, Kennedy – “When did you start thinking the bad has to be true, and the good must be a lie?” I have often found myself in a place where I question the veracity of the five star reviews and side with the 2s & 3s. I remind myself of Meg Cabot’s comment: “You’re not a hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” Then I try to find the kernel in the negative reviews I can learn from.

    • Carol, she DID nail it! And she was so surprised b/c I am such glass half full kinda girl. She reminded me of something really important, and I was so grateful! And at the end of the day, that 2 star review is true to that person. That 5 star is true to that person. It’s so subjective, I need to know what is true TO ME, and hold onto that. I can’t hang my confidence on some that varies so widely! LOL

  • Some of my published friends never read reviews of their novels, unless they hear through the grapevine that they’ve a received a 5 star one!

    Of course, quite a lot of bad reviews are written by jealous people who are writing failures and/or haven’t got anything better to do than tear others’ work to pieces.

    I love what your friend said to you. It’s a quote worth pinning up on the wall.

  • Sarah, I know! Some folks just say don’t read reviews at all, but I do like hearing the feedback. I have readers tweeting me and messaging me on Facebook in real “read” time, and I really enjoy that. I don’t want to be insulated from people’s response as much as to be able to keep it in perspective. I love engaging with readers so much. Funny story. One reviewer I had become friends with before my book came out, wasn’t wild about the debut. She gave it like 3.5 stars. I was so glad she didn’t allow our relationship to affect her review. And we had a great dialogue about what didn’t work for her. I really learned something b/c she is so smart, and her feedback was incredibly constructive. She actually offered to start beta reading for me. And I love her feedback b/c it pushes me. You kind of have to be able to see the validity of someone’s push back and not take it personally to harvest out of it what you can use. I’m so glad she and I were able to do that b/c I KNOW book 3 in my series is better for her involvement in the beta process.

  • Hi NYTVV sister!
    I feel so sad that you got sucked into the pit of bad reviews. But you are so strong.
    I would have to be one of those people that didn’t read, didn’t look at reviews, or I’d be a big soggy puddle on the ground.
    So glad you have awesome friends to talk you off the ledge.
    “I am not this book.” spoke volumes to me.
    Evolving, growing, changing each day. That’s what I have to remind myself.
    Thanks so much for sharing your scary times.

  • Suzanne, honey! Hey! Yeah, thank God for my husband and friends who know me better than I know myself sometimes to remind me of who I actually am. Certainly not someone who would allow myself to feel minimized by a bad review! The emotional learning curve for me with my debut was almost as steep as all the other stuff! I think I have both hands on the wheel now! Hahaha! So good to hear from you, sweet lady. Thanks for popping in and piping up. 🙂

  • Great post!

    I’m a big believer in turning a lemon into lemonade. When a “reviewer” cursed me out in every sentence (really bad language btw), I emailed Goodreads. Their answer: We don’t want to censure reviewers. So I turned that lemon of a review into my best ice-breaker when I give presentations. I tell folks about The Worst Review on the Planet and confess I’m “Proud to own it.” Gets a laugh every single time.

    Cheers!

  • Cindy Cotter

    Stars don’t necessarily measure anything useful anyway. I reviewed a friend’s book on Goodreads. It was brilliant in many ways, and I said so, but it was rife with awful grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors, sometimes several to a page. I was furious at him for not having taken better care of a book that deserved loving attention. I gave it three stars. Three stars in no way captured what I thought of that book. I also reviewed Gone Girl. I thought it was extremely well-written with the only real objective difficulties being some implausible plot turns and a conclusion that dragged. But Goodreads asks if you liked the book, not if it was good, and I hated the claustrophobic, creepy feel of being locked for so long in the heads of two completely unappealing nut jobs. I cringe when I remember it. I gave it one star, which, by the Goodreads definition, means “I didn’t like it.” If they’d asked me whether it was a good book, I would have given it four stars.

    • Cindy, you have more sticktoativeness (sp?) than I do. I didn’t like the people in Gone Girl and bailed after a couple of chapters. If Tony Soprano had jumped out from behind a bush and submachinegunned them both I wouldn’t have cared. But it is well-written. I got a laugh out of your comment.

  • Kennedy, your post is so timely and I thank you from the bottom of my heart! I AM NOT MEASURED IN STARS! My self-worth as a writer and as a person is not measured by the reviews of my debut novel. Thank you so much for writing such an honest and heart-wrenching piece. *hugs* 🙂

  • Thank you! I appreciate your words. Thanks to your parents, too, for giving you a solid base on which to write.

  • Kennedy – This post touched hearts. Including mine. Thank you for sharing the process you went through to put those stars in perspective.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience, Kennedy. Writing is such a personal thing, so exposing it to strangers makes us vulnerable in a way that other art forms do not. I used to be a performing musician and never took it personally when people didn’t like my music. We all have different tastes. When a show was not going over well with the audience, I could change the style up a bit to suit the crowd or just not care and turn up the amps. Writing is naked and silent.

    Not that it’s on the same level as what you experienced (or achieved), but a while back I posted a serialized story on my blog, and I’d say the response was 75% positive and 25% not so much (no one flat-out slammed it, but I think that’s because they knew their email addresses would show up on my administration page!). Naturally, my confidence in other areas of life does not carry over to my fiction writing. I viewed the positive comments as well-meaning but artificial and negative comments as honest. I didn’t go so far as to talk people out of liking it like you did to your friend (!!!). By the end I felt safely huddled in the corner with the naysayers. “Yeah, can you believe that Baker has the nerve to call himself a writer?”

    On the other hand, you can look at it this way: Any moron can write a review. Let’s see them try to write a novel!

  • Insightful and encouraging post, Kennedy. I’ve been in a slump for nearly nine months. Jeepers! What am I waiting for? The gestation window for baby elephants?

    Nope. No. ENOUGH!

    It’s time to get back to the business of writing.

    Yes. I’ve know this for months, but it takes compelling posts like yours to remind me where I came from and where I want to be. Thanks!

    BONUS! The wonders of The Internet, I was able to bebop to The Amazon and snag a copy of LOVING YOU ALWAYS for my reading pleasure.

    Great post.

    • Gestation window for baby elephants! Brilliant! LOL! I am so glad my post could be a spur for you. Now it’s time to ride. 🙂 I hope you enjoy Loving You Always. Warning: It picks up where book 1, WHEN YOU ARE MINE, leaves off. So…you have to read that one first or you won’t know what planet you’re on! Sorry! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • My gosh, Gloria, get with it Girl! Have missed seeing you! Maybe NaNo to jump start you?

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    Thank you for blogging with us, Kennedy! What a fabulous post!!!

    “When did you start thinking the bad has to be true, and the good must be a lie?” <-- This. So very this! I fall into this a lot. Interestingly enough, I don't take rejections personally. Who knows how I'll react when I'm in a position to have reviews.But somehow it's always easier to take the negative than accept the positive.

  • Orly, thanks for having me. I never have taken criticism personally either, so I was shocked when I was shaken by less-than-glowing reviews. Just questioning the things I had always known about MYSELF. Things no one had ever had to tell me. Than goodness for folks who can provide perspectivv! 🙂

  • Insightful post. When I published my debut, I quickly found myself saying “I” when what I meant was “my book.” I’ve been forcing myself to stop using that language. A book is a product.

  • Great post, Kennedy. I especially related in a backwards sort of way to your phone call from your friend. My goddaughter read the first Surf City Mystery and wrote me about it, saying very nice things that I immediately discounted. Then she said, “I thought I would like the book because my godfather wrote it, but that didn’t matter. I couldn’t put it down.” It’s like she knew I couldn’t accept the praise from her. I remind myself of that every time i get a good comment and think, “Oh, well, it’s because . . . ” Thanks again!

  • lorispielman

    Such a great post, Kennedy! Thank you for this great reminder that we are not our book. Congratulations and much success to you!

  • karenmcfarland

    I love the title of you new book, “Loving you Always” Kennedy. And thank you for sharing your fears and publishing experience. Congrats and best wishes for success! 🙂

  • Brianna Soloski

    I love this. I think regardless of what’s been instilled in us or how thick we think our skin is, there are always going to be things we’re unprepared for. For you, it was the rating of your book. Sure, you could have sloughed it off and it seems like you did, but for a brief moment, it bugged you. That makes you human. I’m not able to slough things off so easily and it’s hard.

    • Brianna, it definitely took me by surprise. Publishing my novel was the realization of a life-long dream. And I was passionate about every aspect of it. It goes to reason that at some level I would feel very personal about it, but I wasn’t prepared for how it affected me. My hubby and my friend only let me get away with it for about a week, though! LOL! But it IS hard, you’re right. And for some folks, it’s better not to read the reviews, honestly. I just chose to process it so that I could see how folks were responding to the work, which I really enjoy. 🙂

  • I have no idea how I will feel about reviews, Kennedy. But I’m glad I read this post before I get them.

    Thanks for posting with us at Writers In The Storm! I just read an excerpt from your first book at Margie Lawson’s immersion class and it rocked. 🙂

  • This is a fantastic observation and something I very much needed to read as I prepare myself emotionally for NaNoWriMo. Thank you for sharing just the right truths at just the right time 🙂

  • Kennedy … a belated nod to you and the commenters above. I agree with your response to one of the comments that each person reacts in their own way, and your 5 may be my 3 or 2. My dismay comes because so many reviewers just give a ranking and or a précis .. without giving any information as to the perspective they bring to the book … so neither the 5 or the 2 is helpful to the author or to future readers. I would far rather have a thoughtful 3 than an empty 5.