The stories we write are part of us. Like children, we nurture them and raise them. We identify with them. Then we push them out into the world and hope that they make a good name for us.
This, I’m sure, is why some reviewers refuse to rate books that they can’t give at least 4 stars to (out of 5). They don’t want to break hearts. When one reviewer gave one of my books a half-hearted 3-star review, with comments on how my characters made no sense, I became convinced that she simply didn’t “get” it. Now, years later, I think she actually got it more than I had thought—rather I needed to dig deeper into my characters. Even so, I never got over that review.
One fellow indie author refused to read one of my books and blocked me from following her on Twitter, after I had been having trouble getting into the characters of one her books and mentioned it publicly. Seriously, though, those events could have been coincidences. Maybe she truly just decided while reading my book that she couldn’t get into my characters, as I often had trouble getting into hers. And maybe she blocked me on Twitter by accident. (I never asked her about it, instead merely subscribing to her Twitter feed via RSS, which is what I preferred anyhow.) Whether or not she intended anything, the point is that she could have, and we would never question her motives. Because after all, I sullied her characters, her work, her baby, which she had probably poured her soul into.
Yeah, I did do that. I know, because I’ve been there. I know how it feels.
Then last week, I was watching Jef Gazley’s “Parenting” lecture—a good video to borrow from Netflix, though not worth $70 for your own copy. In this talk, he mentioned mothers and fathers who worry about whether they’re “good” parents, seeing their children as reflections on themselves. If you notice their kid act up, even if it’s normal, age-appropriate, as kids are wont to do, the parents take it personally. To them, their kid’s bad behavior is not an issue for the child to deal with, but rather an indication of their ineffectiveness as parents.
Jef then compares these parents to the grandparents, who have already proven themselves and so take their role much less seriously. They might have been awful parents themselves, in their day. But they’re calm about it now; they don’t freak out when the grandkids go whack.
When it comes to reviews, I think we have to learn to be grandparents of our work, not parents. We have nothing to prove. If the story fails to capture a reader, that’s a problem between the story and the reader, something they’ll have to work on themselves, and no reflection on us.
Is that level of distance possible? I have no idea. I keep flip-flopping between, “Yes, it should be,” and “No way, it isn’t.”
Regardless of which side of that coin you end up on…