As you read this, I am officially less than two months from the release of my debut novel. Yes, that’s lovely and I’m proud of myself and so forth, but it’s also terrifying. Because in two months, anyone with an Internet connection will be able to purchase a copy of A Dangerous Invitation, and evaluate it to their heart’s content. In light of all the reactions to the third book in the Divergent series this week, Allegiant, I’m keeping my head high and trying to remind myself that the relationship between readers and writers is weird, made even weirder by social media and the instant accessibility of everything. I’m not really sure how to process fame like author Veronica Roth has, or that intense level of fandom.
While I highly doubt A Dangerous Invitation will suddenly launch itself into a crazy battle about the characters like what Roth is at the center of, the reviews will inevitably come. Some will be fabulous—they’ll say things like I appealed to a deep part of them, or that my hero and heroine’s emotional journeys struck a nerve. They’ll like my brand of angsty grit, and they’ll be as excited as I am about being able to blow things up and still have it be historically accurate. They’ll champion my combined romantic suspense and historical romance efforts. I firmly believe that every story has an audience (you might have to dig a hole to China and sell it under to subterranean people who call themselves the Whirligigs, but an audience exists), so I have no doubt that inevitably ADI will reach an encouraging audience.
But for as much as I believe in the power of positive thinking, I’m also highly, highly aware that not everyone will love my book. I am, as I’m sure I’ve said before on this blog, the very definition of a niche writer. It’s one of the reasons I decided to self-publish in the first place—there just aren’t many books out there in the current market that combine the elements I do. Comparisons can be made to Deb Marlowe’s Half Moon House series, Delilah Marvelle’s the Rumor series, and Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, but it’s still different (as really, every book is, if you think about it). My niche may be awesome for creating a specialized market, as I’ll fill a hole for people wanting nontraditional historical romance, but it also ends up being very bad. Because there are certain people who will read my books and go “What is this?! Why is there so much blood? Why are people so unhappy? Where’s the dukes? The debutantes? Why does everyone have a dialect? Oh my God, is that a frank description of prostitution?! This is awful. BURN THIS BOOK AND EVERYTHING ASSOCIATED WITH IT.” Okay, so maybe they won’t say all that, but there’s always a possibility. Currently, while completing some of the deepest, hardest edits I’ve ever done on a book, I’m saying this right now anyhow.
Writing, as my dear friend and blog sister Amy Pfaff likes to tell me at every turn in the road, is a subjective business. She writes what is lovingly termed as “wallpaper” regency romance, where it’s light and fluffy and comical. I am happiest when I’m in the middle of a book because the emotional stakes have been set up, and I can up the suspense with either an explosion (see, noted desire to blow things up without harming real people) or something equally awful. My critique partner Emma Locke—who is awesome, by the way, and you should check out her Naughty Girls series—tells me I have a talent for torturing my characters. For some writers (and readers) that doesn’t work.
Readers looking for a fun, breezy read will most likely throw my book against the wall while shrieking obscenities. At this juncture, I’m pretty cool with that because hey, I like obscenities too, and not every book works for me. But when I start to see those reviews trickling in that tear apart my baby, I imagine I’m going to feel different. Hell, I didn’t even process it well when beta readers got back to me with corrections. (WHAT?! You mean I’m not the first writer to ever write a perfect first draft?!) There might be crying. Let’s face it: that’s how I process. Other blog sister Jessica Grey, who is equally wise, informed me that crying is quite normal in the writing game. You get it out of your system, you grieve the fact that not everyone in the world thinks you are the next Shakespeare, and you move on.
That’s the key thing to remember, I think. Yes, writing is a joy and it’s wonderful and oh my goodness, you get to create whole worlds with just the power of your mind. Go you! But for me at least, given that I’ve now quit my day job (see this post for how I’m adjusting to this brand new world), I’ve got to keep producing if I want to eat. Given my intense love for food and the fact that I married a chef, my grocery bill is not negotiable. This is a business. My career now is writing. I can’t waste months on end huddled in a little ball bemoaning the fact that I’m not going to reach every single lover of historical romance. Nor can I allow the success of the positive reviews I do receive go to my head. I must remain staid in my determination to continue on as an artist, true to my vision and what I want for this series.
Ultimately, I’ve got to put the intense fear behind me. People are going to react in weird, visceral way to this book. Maybe they’ll like my anti-heroine, who shoots first and asks questions later. Maybe they’ll loathe her because she isn’t your typical Mary Sue. Maybe they’ll think my hero is weak because he’s trying to overcome an alcohol addiction. Or maybe, just maybe, it’ll help them through their own tough time. I don’t know—and I probably won’t ever know. Human beings are strange, capricious creatures. They often react in odd, odd ways that I certainly can’t predict. They like things I don’t understand (Fifty Shades the musical, anyone?) and hate things I love (NBC, I’m looking at you for cancelling Chuck. You pain me).
I am just one person. All I can really control is the product I put out into the world. So as I enter the final stages of my content edits now, I take into consideration the opinions of my handful of beta readers from various backgrounds. I look at my story from every angle, and I try and remember all these pithy things I’m saying here when I want to cry about how people don’t think my “baby” is perfect. I make the changes my copyeditor recommends. Because really in the end, my obligation to you as a reader is that I produce a good story. It’ll have taken seven drafts by the time ADI reaches you, but I know in the end it’s the best damn book I could have produced.
And that, my dear Teatime readers, is the most important thing.
Without further ado, please see Strongbad and Trogdor the Burninator. You’re welcome.