January 12, 2015

Your Baby Isn’t Ugly: Advice for the Self-Published Author

By Vivian Winslow

Writing is one of the most creative and passionate endeavors in the human experience. As authors, we write because of that powerful and all-consuming desire to share our story. It can be a painstaking and lengthy process.  In the end, our manuscripts are our babies, the culmination of hard work that came from the depths of our hearts and souls.

The feeling we get when we write is reward in and of itself. Yet, it’s also a natural part of an author’s desire to want others to like and appreciate her work. Indeed, we don’t write books just to save them as files on our computers or to store them away somewhere in a pile of unfinished, unpublished works. At some point they need to be read by others, or we’ve only partly fulfilled our desires.

However, with putting your work out there—whether through self- or traditional publishing—comes the painful discovery that not everyone is going to think your baby is beautiful. In fact, contrary to social norms, a reviewer gets to tell you just how ugly she finds your baby.  The truth is no matter how much you try to prepare yourself, that first negative review hurts terribly, the second one, perhaps even more because it means the first wasn’t an anomaly. Suddenly, you can’t help but question your book or even if you were really meant to write it at all.  Negative reviews can not only imperil the potential commercial success of your book, but also send you into a full-blown existential crisis.

The harsh reality is that not everyone will like what you’ve written. It’s a given. Even bestselling authors receive their fair share of 1-star reviews.  But their careers can take a few hits. For the first-time, self-published author, negative reviews can mean the difference between finding success and having one’s book languish in the ether.  Indeed, evidence has shown that negative reviews hurt sales more than positive ones help sales. 

While receiving negative reviews may seem like the end of the world, there’s an opportunity to turn them to one’s advantage.  The self-published author must strike a balance between taking pride in her work—and knowing that, no matter what, her baby is not ugly—and acknowledging the negative reviews and using them to figure out what went wrong with the story or what can be improved.

Look carefully at your reviews. Is there a common thread among them? Is editing an issue? Were your characters too unlikable or the story too hard for readers to get into? These are common complaints in negative reviews.  You don’t always need to listen, but if there were common criticisms, then it would probably serve you to revisit your writing and consider these issues for your next manuscript.

I’m not advocating pandering to an audience. Rather, if you use the reviews as a form of constructive criticism, they can serve to make you a better writer.

Humility is key in this business. Take pride in your work because your baby isn’t ugly, but accept that not everyone will agree. Find that balance while remaining true to the passion that made you write the story in the first place, and you may find that you’ve discovered a way to make it as a published writer.
Vivian Winslow was born and raised in Southern California. Before becoming a writer, she made a career out of moving around the world every couple of years thanks to her husband's job. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and two elementary school age children, and is grateful to finally have a place to call home for more than two years. New York is the perfect city to indulge her love of shopping, the arts and especially food. If she's not at home writing or running around the city with her kids, you'll most likely find her indulging in pizza on the Lower East Side or having a cocktail at her favorite bar in Alphabet City. That said, she's still a California girl at heart and would gladly trade in her heels for a pair of flip-flops to catch a sunset on the beach. You can connect with Vivian on Facebook

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