Every so often, I veer off the pet-focus path to make a point about something else about which I feel passionate. Oftentimes, that means plugging an independent artist like Christopher R. Mihm and his upcoming B-movie, “Attack of the Moon Zombies.” (Premiering May 25 at the Heights Theater and starring moi in the role of Administrator Ripley.)
This time, however, I want to talk (OK, rant) a bit about my own independent artist’s journey. I self-published my book “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss” in 2009 and have been blessed to receive much literary acknowledgment, including three major awards—including having it be named “Book of the Year in the Self-Help Category” by Premier Book Awards, and wonderful feedback from readers on four continents but, despite this and my daily marketing efforts, I am still a couple of thousand dollars away from paying off my initial investment.
I wrote what follow below in response to an editorial included in the current Reader Views newsletter regarding authors’ expectations of reviewers, as well as in response to a recent news article about an overnight success story I allude to in this piece. I find it frustrating that we only hear of people who either fail miserably or achieve wealth and fame unaccountably easily. What about those of us who persevere, despite having been born under an impatient star, trying to get noticed in a business in which 98% of independently published books released each year will sell fewer than 350 copies over their lifetimes? (Thank goodness, I’m well past that threshold.)
I readily acknowledge there’s no glamor in the story of someone who plugs away, diligently marketing to anyone who will listen, who, despite objectively knowing what he or she has created is valid and worthwhile, never seems to be able to break through the glass ceiling to bestseller status. To all of us who devote our whole selves to nonpaying or underpaying artistic endeavors simply because our souls offer us no other choice, I say, we’re the ones who deserve a bit of recognition once in a while. It takes no particular courage or fortitude to suddenly be handed success. We workhorses shouldn’t be made to feel inferior because Oprah hasn’t slated our work to be one of her book club picks…yet, anyway.
But then again, there are those whose personal estimation of the quality of their efforts just might exceed what professional standards dictate necessary to even be in the running. In those cases, it may be wrong to blame the reviewer, society, etc. As an editor as well as an author, I’ve seen both sides of this issue, and this is what I had to say about the topic. — Sid
In response to the current Reader Views’ newsletter:
All new authors need and deserve a dose of reality. I agree that a great many writers hold fast to the fairy tale of instant success and endless royalty checks. They cite an article they read of an author who self-published an ebook, sold copies for $2 apiece and made a million dollars as if it were the norm. Like those “I lost 42 dress sizes in three months” diet ads, such stories should come with the disclaimer, “Results extraordinary. Your results will vary.”
What’s more, any time you submit your work for a review, be it by an earnest lay-reader or a seasoned so-called “pro,” you are vulnerable to the possibility of receiving a less-than-flattering review. Yes, opinions are subjective and a reviewer you’re paired with could be prejudiced somehow or simply having a bad day when your manuscript crosses his or her desk, but often what is submitted has previously only been complimented by well-meaning friends and family members who couldn’t offer objective criticism for fear of making you feel bad. Because you’ve only received accolades, you come crashing down when someone deigns to find any fault whatsoever with your work.
Developing a thick skin and realizing this “biz” is relentless in its ability to devour egos are vital BEFORE one leaps into the fray. I am award-winning author (one of which was the 2010 Reviewers Choice award from Reader Views, thank you very much!—though, ironically, my non-contest-judging Reader Views reviewer gave me one of my only four-star reviews, among dozens of five-star reviews from other sources—not to whine at all, just to show how subjective the process is).
I am also an editor with 20+ years’ experience, and part of my job is to not waste authors’ time and money by giving them false praise and/or hope. I encourage what I believe are their strengths but do not hesitate to point out weaknesses and make suggestions of how to improve those areas. Many times, I’ve had to turn away authors, pointing out that their books are just not at a level of quality at which it will pay to hire a professional for a final edit. (I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve received books from authors who demonstrated no awareness of what a complete, non-run-on sentence looks like or even how to spell CAT, and yet they’re convinced they’re ready for the New York Times Bestseller List.)
Understanding how tight money can be—I’m a starving artist myself—I advise them that they’d be much better off going to a low- or no-cost option like a community ed writing group for lots of people’s feedback as they rework their manuscript before shelling out hundreds of dollars to someone like me. I know I’m being cruel to be kind. I cannot in good conscience cash their checks until I know they have a fighting chance to compete in the marketplace. It’s my reputation on the line as a “pro.” (There’s that word again.)