Amongst other things, I teach self defense. One of the central concepts of effective self defense is attacking your attacker. Instead of trying to defend against an opponent and run the risk of being put on the back foot (thus overwhelmed and beaten), it is better to go on the offense and attack back straight away.
The best defense is a good offense.
When it comes to defending oneself against attacks in the writing world, we can use the same principle to defend ourselves.
I am not, of course, advocating that you get physical with people who dislike your work (although it can be tempting to throttle some people). What I am suggesting is that you get proactive when it comes to dealing with negativity surrounding you or your work.
We are going to be looking at ways to defend ourselves in three different areas:
- How to deal with the fact that no one cares about you or your work.
- How to deal with negative reviews of your work.
- How to deal with your own inner-critic.
The above can be hazardous to your mental health, and can end up affecting you and your work in a negative way if you don’t learn how to deal with them properly.
In self defense terms, you need to learn how to put these bad guys down so they don’t get back up again. They can’t be killed, but they can be made powerless to affect you anymore.
How To Deal With The Fact That No One Cares About You Or Your Work
Despite the fact that you may have a following as an indie author, the fact remains that the majority of people could care less about what you do and the books you put out.
But that’s okay. As a writer, you shouldn’t be trying to please everyone.
In fact, you should stop writing to be read and adored by hordes of people. Real writers shouldn’t give a shit what people think of their work.
Let me rephrase that: Real writers shouldn’t write to please other people.
Who are you trying to please anyway? People you’ve never met, never will meet and whom you nothing about? How are you supposed to please such a faceless entity?
You can’t. So stop trying. No likes a sycophant anyway.
Think of all the writers you most admire. Do you really think those writers are worried that most of the world could care less about them and their work?
They don’t. But they write anyway. If some people end up caring about what you do, then great, that’s a nice bonus, but making people care shouldn’t be a high priority for a writer.
The main priority for a writer should be producing the best, most authentic work they can.
Ironically, once you do that, more people begin to take notice. More people begin to care about what you do.
I didn’t find success as a writer until I stopped caring what people thought of my writing. When I started writing for myself, when I started writing authentically, people sat up and took notice. It’s one reason why I was able to get my non-fiction books to the top of the charts in a crowded niche.
I stopped trying to people please and allowed my authentic writing voice to come through.
It can be depressing to realize that most people don’t care about what you do. As writers, we want to be read as widely as possible. Some writers even want to be venerated and adored by lots of people.
Those aren’t reasons to write. Those are just nice side-benefits to writing authentically.
So when you sit down to write, don’t stress yourself out trying to please an audience. Forget about other people.
Write to please yourself.
As soon as you do that, I guarantee your writing will improve. People will see that you aren’t trying to please anybody; they will see that you are writing from a place of authenticity. They will respect you and your writing more.
Next time you get depressed because you think no one is taking any notice, first ask yourself why that is. Is it because you are trying to please too many people at once? Are you coming across as someone who is afraid to write authentically for fear of being criticized or disliked?
Block other people out when you write and write only for yourself.
Be the best writer you can be, not for other people, but for yourself.
Do that and you will find a readership. In the meantime, inure yourself to the fact that people don’t care.
How To Deal With Negative Reviews Of Your Work
Ah yes, negative criticisms. Put yourself out there for long enough and you are sure to attract negative criticism in some shape or form eventually, either through bad reviews of your books or personal attacks on you as a writer.
I’m not going to lie. Bad reviews can hurt, and in more ways than one. I recently received a bad review of one of my books. What was actually said in the review I could care less about. What hurt the most was the fact that the review was responsible for damaging my sales on that particular book. The book went from riding high in the charts to dropping way, way down, along with sales that have yet to recover. Ouch.
Reviews obviously matter when it comes to the sale of your books. In general, the more positive reviews you have, the better your book will sell.
That’s not to say you should worry too much about them, even if every review you get is negative.
You have to ask yourself: Why am I writing in the first place?
Going back to what we said earlier, you should be writing to please yourself and no one else. I personally think writers receive bad reviews when they try to write to please others instead of themselves. Readers aren’t stupid. They can tell when a writer is trying too hard to please and it leaves a sour taste in their mouths. It’s what motivates them to call the writer out on their bullshit by leaving a negative review.
So the best defense for you as a writer against bad reviews is to write more authentically and stop writing to the market or trying please too much. When you do that, readers will be less inclined to think negatively about your work.
Even if a reader doesn’t like what you wrote, they will at least respect you enough as a writer to say that they disliked your material but it was nonetheless authentic and well written. It just wasn’t for them.
Not all negative reviews can be harmful anyway. It is better for a book’s sales to have a good mix of reviews. If every review is glowing and positive, people will view this with suspicion, thinking that the writer got friends and family to leave so many positive reviews.
A few negative reviews in the mix makes your book appear more genuine, which can have a positive impact on sales.
Some reviews are completely uncalled for though. You know the ones I’m talking about. The one star reviews consisting of a line or two of unfounded vitriol, or the reviews that slag of the author for some reason. There are ways to deal with such reviews.
If you think a review is abusive or unfair, you can report it to Amazon and they might remove it for you. I’ve done this twice and both times Amazon took down the offending review.
You can also vote down bad reviews so they appear further down the listings. The bad review of one of my books that I mentioned earlier was the first review people saw when they scrolled down. I didn’t notice it for a couple of days, but by then it was too late. The damage had been down and the book’s rankings had dropped severely. I still voted it down though, in the hope that rankings would recover.
If reading your own reviews affects you that much and makes you feel like giving up as a writer, simply stop reading them. There is no rule that says you have to read every review you get. In fact, you probably shouldn’t.
As a writer, it is your job to put stuff out there for people to read. What those people think of your work shouldn’t really affect who you are as a writer. There isn’t much you can do about people’s reactions to your work anyway.
One thing you can do is have someone else read the reviews for you. I know of a few authors who do this. They get someone to read all their reviews and have that person take notes on the good points and also suggestions from reviewers on what might be improved. This way, you end up with a critique of sorts, something you can use to improve your work without having to go through the potential agony of reading all the reviews yourself.
As a writer you are going to get criticized. It’s part of the game, so get used to it. Develop a thick skin and keep on writing. That’s all you can and should do.
If criticism affects you that much, then maybe you shouldn’t be writing.
(This is the point where you prove to me you are a real writer by telling me to fuck off before you head off to write J)
How To Deal With Your Inner Critic
More often than not, the biggest obstacle to our success is ourselves. For a writer, that usually equates to having to deal with the inner critic at every turn—that other person inside of us that does nothing but criticize and try to drag us down into the pits of despair. I could write a whole article on this alone, but for now I’ll go over some points to help you silence that annoying inner voice.
The thing to remember about the inner critic is that it feeds off doubt, uncertainty and insecurity. If you allow those feelings to be present within you all the time, the voice of the inner-critic will become very loud and drown out the positive voices, which will end up affecting your behavior in a negative way. It may even stop you from writing and that’s not something we want to happen.
A writer needs to write. You can’t write well with a negative Nancy piping away in your ear. You have to find a way to subdue that voice.
One of the best ways that I have found to quiet my inner-critic is to simply write. Yes, that’s right, the more you write the less of an influence your inner-critic will have.
It’s about being professional. Professional writers sit down every day to write, no matter what. They don’t allow anything to get in the way of that, especially their inner-critic. They just ignore that voice until they can barely hear it anymore.
The more you can show yourself to be a professional, the less impact that inner voice will have on you.
Just by sitting down to write every day, you are showing your inner-critic that it doesn’t matter what it says. Your inner-critic can ramble on about how crap your writing is, about how you are wasting your time and why you should be doing something else, but you won’t listen because you are too busy writing.
In the beginning, when you first start writing, that voice will be loud and you will feel like you have to listen to it. You will even feel that it has a point, that maybe you aren’t quite as good as you think you are.
At this stage, you must do your best to ignore this voice, as hard as that can be, especially when you are just learning the craft of writing and making many mistakes. Your inner critic will pick up on those mistakes and try to use them as proof to show that you are wasting your time.
Be strong. Counter the negative with the positive. Tell yourself its okay to make mistakes, that failure means progress. Fail forward.
Most of all, keep writing.
Never stop writing.
Eventually, that inner-critic will all but shut up. It will see how serious you are about your writing. It will notice your professionalism when you sit down to write every day. It will soon realize that nothing will sway you from writing, that no matter what, you keep going.
The inner-critic can’t deal with that level of commitment and professionalism. It will soon back off and leave you alone.
Think of it as a test. Your inner-critic is like a Navy Seal instructor during Hell Week. They are there to try and grind you down, to try and break you, to see how tough and committed you are, how strong you are. The second you ring that bell, the second give in, you’re done. You’ve all but admitted you don’t have what it takes to last the distance and stay tough under pressure.
It’s up to you to stay tough until the pressure eases, which it will, eventually, if you want to succeed badly enough.
Stay focused. Remain strong. Keep writing.
That’s what real writers do.
Fuck everyone else.