When a Writer Becomes a Target
Once you’re a published author, you’re going to have a target on your back. You will offer up your words to strangers, and not everyone will like what you write. You’ll be naked and vulnerable in front of the world. You’ll make mistakes, you may offend people. And you may not feel safe.
They will write things publicly about you, on their blogs, on your blog, on book review sites, or on Amazon. One of my friends recently received this review online: “I couldn’t even finish this book… Confusing and in my humble opinion, pointless.” Ouch.
Everyone has a right to their opinion. In fact, diversity of opinions is something that makes book publishing so dynamic and interesting. But sometimes those opinions hit us like flaming arrows.
I’ve had this happen numerous times on the blog. I’ll write something with which some folks disagree, or something that gets peoples’ hackles up. I may be intending to float an idea and solicit input, spur thinking or spark conversation. Whether I succeed or fail is completely up to the reader.
And that’s the point. Your intent doesn’t matter to readers. What matters is what they perceive as your intent, and whether they like what you’ve written, period. If they don’t, their response can be brutal.
Anyone in the “public eye” – and if you have any online presence, that means you – is a target for criticism. People can and will say anything they want. They will misinterpret what you’ve written, they will assign motives, and they’ll make judgments about you as a human being.
So what can we do about this? Here are three things.
(1) Don’t engage with those who criticize you.
There are few good exceptions to this guideline. I’ve rarely seen an author’s public response to criticism turn out well. Your attempts to engage in a conversation with your detractors won’t likely do any more than add fuel to the fire. Let people say what they will.
(2) Listen and learn.
Sometimes there’s helpful criticism wrapped in a harshly worded comment or critique. It’s possible that your interpretation of someone’s apparently hurtful intent may be wrong, too. If the comment is simply mean-spirited or self-serving, let it bounce off, but don’t be so Teflon-coated that even helpful advice can’t get through.
(3) Be careful with your own words.
As you offer your criticism to other writers, bloggers, agents or anyone else in cyberspace, think before you hit “send.” Treat others as you’d like to be treated. Offer grace. Offer constructive criticism intended to build up rather than harsh judgment intended to tear down. Remember there is a real live person behind the written words. If you have a particularly scathing piece of feedback, send it in private (via email?) rather than airing it in public. You may discover you’re reading the person’s motives all wrong and she might (gasp) thank you for pointing out how they could have been misread. You could even find a new friend.
Regardless of who you are or how kindhearted your intent, if you’re a writer in pursuit of publication, eventually you’re going to be judged.
Carry a shield. And treat other authors as if they don’t.