Turning Whine into Gold
This month I’ve been seeing a lot on social media about the benefit of positivity. It is the simplest and most immediate cure for whining!
A positive attitude will keep you in problem-solving gear and
win you many champions in the publishing business.
In this great interview between Porter Anderson and my friend and NYT bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, Jonathan says, “more doors will open if you go into the business with happiness and joy and optimism.”
No truer words, my friends.
As storytellers we get to play God. We can make good and bad things happen, and have it all come out the way we want it to in the end. But real life is less ordered. It requires us to deal with circumstances beyond our control. To surrender. Reframe. This skill set will help you leave despair behind and turn toward optimism and hope.
Dealing with it
If you have truly been wronged, it is important to note your emotional reaction—after all, we can’t have people walking all over us all the time. Best not get stuck there, though.
Harsh, angry words, especially when used to embellish a diatribe on public record about how you’ve been wronged—an f-ing agent rejected you, your book was orphaned when your f-ing editor retired, you lost your super publicist when she f-ing decided to switch lines of work, a major review is a f-ing personal vendetta—tend to whip you into a decidedly unhelpful, self-justified frenzy.
If you love to ride the downward spiral, I suggest you do so off-line. Your fury will damage your friends if they engage with it, and will stall all forward movement in your writing and your career until you get over it.
Instead, after you note your anger, let it go as soon as possible so you can surrender to your new circumstances.
If we think of change in terms of loss—even if all we’ve lost is our expectation of how something will go—we adapt by moving through the stages of grief. If denial is the first (tweet: “Oh no! It can’t be true—my editor is going into the restaurant business?!”), accepting your circumstances allows healing (tweet: “Best wishes to Dream Publicist as she opens NY Sushi—if she can gussy up raw fish like she did my raw words, can’t wait to try some!”). During the intermediate grieving stages of anger, bargaining, and depression, consider staying off-line—and the sooner you can push through them in private, the better.
Whether or not you want to accept it, reality is, the agent doesn’t want you, this book may not get published without an in-house advocate, your publicist is gone, that bad review won’t get unpublished. Invectives and self-pity won’t change that. If you still need to tweet, do so in a way that helps you reach for positivity: “No publishing news today. There’s been a plot twist. Researching Plan B—stay tuned!”
Once you’ve fully surrendered, you’ll free up energy to reframe.
The trick to reframing a situation requires that you embrace paradox: you must think of yourself both as the hero of your own small story and as a pawn who must surrender to a much larger one.
The orphaned book. If no one else in the house (or the industry) believes in the book, was it really all that marketable? A book needs staunch advocates to make it in the business; without this it will not get the send-off it deserves. The pawn must surrender, because the only thing worse than no publishing record is a poor publishing record. Your inner hero can decide whether to re-submit elsewhere, self-publish—or, heartened by getting this close—set it aside to write the next.
The lost publicist. “I’m screwed,” you think—but are you? As a pawn, even though you loved everything your last publicist did, you’ve got to let her go. But your inner hero has already learned her techniques, and could teach them to someone new if need be. What if the next publicist, with a different way of thinking, comes up with alternate approaches that help your work reach a wider audience?
The bad review. The pawn cringes as he reads—then the hero laughs. He knows that many books that rise to popular success have been scorned by critics (Twilight, anyone? Da Vinci Code?). And clearly you must not have seen this video, in which Brad Meltzer turns the bad reviews of his The Book of Lies into a YouTube trailer with almost 20K hits.
If you doubt that Brad’s creative approach was effective, check out all the comments beneath the video on YouTube! And we have to believe Brad felt a whole lot better after taking on this creative project than if he had simply stewed in self-righteous anger.
When your life in publishing hits a pothole, deal with it, surrender, and re-frame. You’ll be happier, and you’ll find a lot more people willing to help you reach your goals.
After all: do you want to lead a life you love, or one you only whine about?
If you want to practice: share an example of a speed bump you hit in your writing life, requiring that your inner pawn surrender even as your inner hero found a way to turn it into a positive.
Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy, due May 2015. Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Although a member of The Liars Club, she swears that everything in this bio is true.
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OMG, Kathryn, Brad Meltzer is brilliant! That trailer made me want to read the book - and if that isn't brilliant, I don't know what is!
Thank you for yet another thought-provoking blog. Especially poignant on a Monday, as we launch into our writing week.
I got one of those 'Are you kidding me?' reviews.
It happened on HUGE book blog site that everyone knows. She stated she liked the book, BUT. One word out of 85,000 ruined the whole thing for her. She went on a many paragraph rant, until the whole book boiled down to that one word. A currently politically incorrect word that the heroine used to describe herself, even though I explained in the text she was using it in the literal sense of the word, and went on to define it. Nope - still not okay to utter that word.
Apparently there are totally banned words in the English language that no one told me about.
At first I was devastated. Until I read in the comments that some people were going to read the book because of this woman's rant.
My advice is - take the long view. In a few months, whatever it is that seems so critical now won't matter. Focus on that, and it will help you get through the time between.
I received a bad review. I was boiling mad! No...I never said my book was a self-help book. I'm sorry you thought it would be. I'm sorry you thought it was necessary to vent about it on my comments. I sulked for awhile, then let it go. Sometimes that's not so easy to do.
Laura: wow. On the upside, you've learned the banned word, lol. But despite the case your reviewer made, one word is not a book, one book is not a career, and one review does not a collective opinion make. That must have been so hard to read!
The relevant example here is the reviewer's. Rants rarely work to gain us respect in our field, and that reviewer's integrity took a nosedive that day. My guess is those who saw it will not be allowing that reviewer to be a tastemaker in their reading lives.
Elle that must have been maddening that your reader so grossly misinterpreted the intent of your book! Clearly that type of lazy reader was not your ideal market. But thank goodness weave in a society where we can voice our opinions and agree to disagree. But I hear you--when a judgment befalls you that was made using mistaken parameters, it can leave you scratching your head.
Thanks for sharing this. I know they say you have to develop thick skin in this business, but after all, we are humans and we can be wounded. Your words help us all.
Thanks for your comment, Karen. I hope I was clear that our emotional response is natural and important to note, but that hopping on social media while that feeling is raw isn't the best thing. Arguments that are sane and rational can be made effectively on social media. But when I post starts "I am so pissed!" I usually skip it.
Love this, Kathryn. And I'm with Laura: I can't wait to pick up Brad's much maligned book to see for myself. My daughter used to ask me why there were so many kinds of churches. Why, I told her, each appeals to a different group, much as you choose one style of clothing and your friend another. Different tastes, different attitudes, different ways of picturing the world--on in that case, different ways of worship.
We're certainly going to have those who don't like our writing or the story or us--and that hurts--but then there will be those who do. And thank God for them!
Great comparison, Normandie.
And as Kathryn said, "there's room for us all!"
Normandie that's a good comparison with churches, made most clear to me when traveling through southern Illinois while researching my first novel. A different denomination every 500 feet it seemed, in buildings no larger than many homes. Apparently these neighbors could not agree on a blessed thing.
Thank goodness for this disparity in taste in publishing, too. There's room for us all!
Love this, Kathryn. I'm reblogging it to my site. After reading Meltzer's reviews, I guess I can let go of the review that called dialogue in my novel, "Stilted. Lame." Ha! I laugh!
Thanks for the signal boost, Carol! I just heard Erika Roebuck speak last night and she read several examples of scathing reviews that were written about works we now consider classics. No one is immune. Welcome to the great lineage of maligned authors!
Thanks Florence! Unfortunately this is a lesson many of us learn the hard way. As for the vid: the hard-of-hearing grandma part is the BEST!
Great post, Kathryn.
Absolutely love the suggestion of posting a "plot twist to life" comment instead of a rant. Friends will approach you privately to find out what's happening. The rest of the social media world can go about their biz knowing that you're handling things professionally and with a sense of humor.
Yes! Exactly Orly. There's a reason you are a leader—so presidential!
Great post, Kathryn. In whatever business you are staying positive maybe be tough to pull off, but always better than going off on someone. I'm frequently amazed by what people post on FB. I've taken down some because I just didn't want to have all their negativity empact me. It's like muddy water being thrown all over you. Yuck! I'll share this.
Thanks for sharing the post, Marsha! I have had to unfriend some people to protect my well being from their vitriol—love the muddy water image.
🙂 Glad you liked the muddy water image. It just popped into my mind, but I thought, "Margie would be proud." LOL Wish more of those would "pop" into my mind. Now to find a place in my WIP to use it.
Kathryn, you are a saint for sharing, particularly the video. I have a book that is just starting its journey to editors & agents. When I was still writing on the first draft, one of my writing teachers said, "You can't write this book. You can't say those things. No publisher will ever publish it. I won't allow you to do this. I won't allow it!"
I've written the book -- banned even before it was written 😉 And the sequel is dancing through my mind.
Those negative words from an instructor struck somewhere deep inside me, until I saw Brad's video. Now I see the humor in them. If I can't find a publisher & self publish, I'm thinking I'll use her words as a review!
I have to remember why I'm writing. Someone sent me a quote attributed to Arthur Polotnik that sums it up: "You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke."
Oh my, Carlene: banned before publication? You go, girl! Lovely quote, thanks for sharing it.
Banned before publication ... awesome! I'm standing with Kathryn cheering you on!
What a wonderful video!! He has the perfect attitude. Thanks for the blog posting and for sharing the video.
Glad the video is entertaining—and bringing meaning to—a new generation of viewers! Hey Brad Meltzer: wondering why your views are going up? 😉
I'm an advocate for modelling oneself after successful people. People who stick around in the entertainment business (for that's what publishing is) are graceful and "above the fray." I call it The Tom Hanks rule. The guy has been around for 30+ years in an industry that is notoriously fickle, despite being in his share of flops. Why? Because he conveys a likeable, engaging, positive demeanor. Your audience wants to like you. Make it easy.
I love everything you say here, Eric, especially the Tom Hanks Rule! And this: "Your audience wants to like you. Make it easy."
Love the Tom Hanks Rule! Perfect!!
"Tom Hanks rule" I'm saving that one, Eric - thanks!
No problem! I came up with that for an arts-and-entertainment site I wrote for ages ago (probably in response to bad celebrity behavior that was ruining a career at the time). The days of romanticizing the cranky recluse novelist are long over.
Kathryn, more wisdom from your kind-hearted self. Yes, this is a good lesson to learn no matter where we are in the publishing business.
Now, as for that trailer. OMG ... I want to buy that book. It was a hoot with his grandma like the icing on a birthday cake 🙂
More than once, I have allowed my emotions to play a crucial role in making decisions. Not a good idea. It creates negativity and closes doors you will want to open later. Hard lesson to learn. And being the cock-eyed nut that I am, I decided to be quiet, learn from my mistake and go about my business ... 'cause my real intent is to make people smile 🙂
I'm still new around these parts and don't have any stories to share, but I totally agree with the thought behind this post. Some of the things I've seen authors say on social media makes my jaw drop. I'm a staunch believer in putting your best professional face forward--tell your friends in private what a big meanie poopyhead someone is, but keep off your Twitter and Facebook. You never know who might be watching--perhaps your next possible reader, who will make a decision whether or not to buy your book based on how you behaved yourself in public.
Exactly, Megan. I know everyone has bad days, but we should share with a best friend—and while FB is always there to listen with its ever-ready "How are you feeling?", it is not your best friend. I have actually stopped following authors whose books I liked because of their consistent whining on social media. And that can't help but affect my purchasing and retweeting decisions going forward.
Completely agree! I can't begin to count the number of times I've told that stupid FB "How are you feeling?" line exactly what I was feeling - key word "told," never typed. 🙂
And I've done the same thing, Kathryn. I've been influenced to read - or not in some cases - books based an author based on their social media interactions.
I think folk don't realize how they sound on social media. They're so hungry for attention that they forget they're on a party line instead of just speaking to a best friend. At least that's how it seems to me, and I always want to pick up the phone extension to suggest those thoughts would be better voiced in private. Or not at all. (Of course, you young things may not remember party lines. My grandmother was on one when I was a girl--she always spoke very carefully when calling someone.)
I read one post in which the woman said she wanted to be "real" and so wasn't going to talk about how happy and upbeat she felt. She'd decided to tell the "truth." Truth is a fine thing, but I'm not sure she realized she was plastering her words across a billboard for those who didn't know her and couldn't relate to her issues. And what were they likely to remember if they saw her name on a book? Not her happy moments, certainly.
Thank you, Kathryn, for an excellent post. I am SO emotional and sensitive, so criticism is like a knife to the heart for me. I'm adopting deal with it, surrender and reframe. I also work hard at accepting perceived negative changes (a fact a of life these days) by quoting the saying "Change comes bearing gifts." And I'm finding it does!
Change comes bearing gifts—love it! And of course you can't possibly recognize them as gifts right away, because you are unfamiliar with them. Thanks Barb!
Thanks for sharing this, Carol! I totally agree with this article...but I have also found that in addition to TRYING to be more positive, laughter always gets me back on track. Recently, I've been exercising to comics and comediennes the likes of Jonathan Winters, Jerry Seinfeld, etc....I can't believe the difference it makes mentally!
I'm glad you've found what works for you, Sarah, and I'm sure the suggestion would work for many. I think learning how to rebalance our inner gyroscope it's one of the most personal and important explorations we make in our lives, and we owe it to all the others we interact with to figure it out.
Sarah, I love that laughter works for you. My husband is my own personal medicine man: he can always make me laugh at myself, which is invariably healing when I start to take myself (or what others think) too seriously.
Funny enough, bad reviews really don't bother me -in fact, they make me chuckle. For instance, one reviewer wrote "I hate this book (sorry, Donna Galanti, if you are reading this, but I do.)" I mean, how can that not make you laugh?
I know that I wrote the book I loved and I'm happy to have many more good reviews than bad. And I also know that a book is such a personal experience and we all bring our own experience to reading it - which means every single person will have a different reaction to it: good or bad. What I DO try to do is find best-fit reviewers which means finding those folks who may like my book based on their tastes. I wrote a post on how to do that here: http://www.straightfromtheauthorsmouth.blogspot.com/2014/08/straight-from-mouth-of-hidden-element.html
Good luck getting good reviews and laughing off the bad ones!
Hi Donna, I read your post and you have some good advice there. Your chances of a great review by any reader are also increased if title, cover, back jacket copy, and opening all situate your project recognizably within your genre and therefore beckon just the right reader to it. Still, not everyone will appreciate what you've done. This is as it should be in the land of the free!
This is so relevant and awesome! I totally agree with you to be positive about the writing journey. If you're tweeting good stuff about the journey, people will be more excited for the book coming out.
I want to say, though, that anger on social media can be a good thing sometimes, just not in regards to your writing. I'm involved with groups who are upset about racism, sexism, and homophobia in literature. We say angry things about the lack of diversity and representation. It's something that our followers appreciate about us: that we're publicly upset and are working for change. I do post positive stuff ("___ book has great representation of ___!") but sometimes you need to voice the crap that goes on too.
Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for your comment. I think there is a wonderful place for activism on social media. But while an immediate angry response may temporarily inflame, I do believe a reasoned response has more power to influence. Our emotions tell us a boundary has been crossed; our intellect adds the logic and context that can shut down objection.
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[…] for the soul-rot caused by blame. I covered the first steps to take beyond emotional reaction last month, so we could deal with our anger before spewing it all over social media. But when met with an […]