Once I published my book I began to panic. Chase, my inner critic, came back with vengeance. My family and friends were buying my book, but aside from working with editors, I hadn’t gotten any feedback. I was terrified by the possibility that I had released a really bad book into the world and there was no way to take it back now.
At first, I decided I could wait out the anxiety. That seemed like the best course of action. Ten minutes later Chase had me on the internet looking for a solution to my sudden fear that I had done something unbelievably stupid—published a bad book. I don’t even know what a bad book is, but Chase assured me that it is a thing and I didn’t want to be responsible for one.
Chase and I sat imaginary shoulder to shoulder trying to discover some way to assure ourselves that it was going to be alright. We looked at professional book reviews. That seemed like the thing we wanted, people who read books and give feedback. We dug further and discovered it isn’t so easy to get a professional editorial book review for an independently published novel. Most editorial reviews are done for the top five publishing houses and the resources left over are divided among smaller publishing houses and independent publishers. It is a significant amount of work to apply for these reviews with no expectation of feedback.
I saw a way to solve my problem, so I was able to shake off Chase and regain control. Moving back into the driver’s seat I decided that I wasn’t going to spend hours sending out submissions with a hope for a return someday. I saw another option for editorial reviews offered to the self-published—the paid review. For a fee, anywhere between $50-500, an editorial review service will guarantee writing a review within two- and twelve-weeks, depending on the agency. This is what I decided I needed. I was willing to pay for a spot in the queue to get an opinion from a professional reader. Finally, I could find out definitively if I had written a bad book. I paid for two reviews, then impatiently waited.
As I mentioned, I submitted my book for an editorial review after my friends and family began to read my book. My actions, out of order, meant that I wouldn’t have a professional opinion before I started to hear from my loved ones. But I hoped that I would get a mix of both around the same amount of time. Besides, I had heard lots of friends and family never actually read the books of their loved ones. It was going to be fine.
Two weeks later, my mother called. That’s right, the first person who gave me a review of my novel was my mother. Now you might be thinking, that’s great, a nice review. Forget it. My mom prides herself on being candid, honest, and to the point. She doesn’t spend much time gushing and she doesn’t read spy novels. Imagine my relief when she said it was good and she read it in two days. That call was magical for me. I could not believe that I got such high praise from one of the people in my life who I know doesn’t give out compliments easily. I relaxed a bit.
Then another friend called and shared similar insights as my mom. Two good reviews. Now I could take a deep breath and accept that I had done the thing, and I had done it well. I had published a good first novel and not a bad book.
That’s when I got the review from one of the editorial groups, Self Publishing Review. That review was positively glowing. Who does this happen to? I had three positive data points, including one that had absolutely no vested interest in flattering me. For the whole day, I was ecstatic. I had the information I wanted, the validation that filled me up, and the additional knowledge from all three on how to grow as a novelist. It felt amazing!
So what now? I did the thing I set out to do and it was good. There will be other reviews and opinions and not all of them will be so positive. Will these first few encounters be enough to bolster me through the rough parts? I don’t know. Having spent some time sitting with these emotional ups and downs it occurs to me the reviews aren’t actually the thing I need, though they are great. I am suspicious that my problem was never about writing a bad book but instead fearing rejection through my book.
I wrote Boardroom M about a woman who is not heterosexual and has thoughts and behaviors that go against the norms established by society. Some of the situations, organizations, and characters represent the bizarre norms that I do not understand in media and culture. I put out a book that is my personal response to the conflict I feel regarding what is held up as normal and what I believe should be held up as normal. Writing and publishing a book about that conflict is at the core a deeply defiant act for me.
I wonder if a part of me expects some sort of social punishment for using my imagination to publicly push back against what I see in my experience of the United States. Getting praise for pushing back in such a public way is an unusual experience for me given I have had so many subtle slap downs over the years when I tried to directly confront what I felt were wrongs against myself or others. Perhaps that is the nature of art, visualizing and confronting the monsters that are too difficult to address in action. Even this experience has shown me that dreaming about change can be rewarded, even as enacting change is stopped, or moves at a snail’s pace.
I’m sure I am over-generalizing, a bit. Rarely is anything cut and dry. But it does have me wondering about the nagging feelings of insecurity. I think it is more than trying something new. I do believe there is an element of confronting the things that scare and concern me in life and in the internalized messages I am fighting against. As I think about this in my own life, I’d like to encourage you to lean into your fears and work where things feel uncomfortable to you. Maybe you will find encouragement when and where you least expected it. If there is energy in it for you, then I hope you are curious about it and I hope you can get to better places in yourself. I know that is what I am attempting to do.