This post was brewing in my mind since long. But I was not ready to publish this before. This is my story. The story of my shame. Of my insecurities. Of my friends. Of my hours of darkness.
But I guess every debut writer goes through such a phase. This is a post which had to be written. I hope some of you might find it helpful in your moment of confusion.
It requires immense courage for a writer to put his/her work out there for the world to read. We never know how the readers who are going to pay money and buy our book are going to react.
In July 2013, I started working on my book. I completed writing it in mid-2014. I had spent hours writing, re-writing and editing my manuscript. I had done so by setting apart dedicated hours to writing every day. Then, I sent it to a professional beta reader, did the corrections suggested, sent it again to trusted group of school friends to beta read. The response from everywhere was positive. So I decided to go ahead and approach publishers. I got rejected by a few, some wanted me to wait. Eventually, my book was published by Write India publishers.
On the day of the release, like any other writer I was tense. But luckily for me, my book clicked. It debuted on Amazon at #19 position. Thanks to the many wonderful friends I had on the social media and the small group of dedicated readers that I had on my blog. I got rave reviews. Especially from my blogger friends. Most of them bought the book and did not ask me for free copies to review. Wasn’t I one lucky writer? I was.
My book was released on June 3, 2015. It is going to be a year almost now. The majority of the til now have been positive, especially the blog reviews. I thought maybe the bloggers were kind to me because I was a fellow blogger. Many assured me that it wasn’t the case. It was because I had written a good book and I deserved all the praise that was showered upon me. I was happy beyond my dreams. Pumped up with enthusiasm, I promised myself to continue on the path as a writer. My book also continued to climb the chart.
I started writing my second novel in July 2015. I was writing the last chapter of my second book in Feb 2016 when it happened. I received my first detailed critical review. It was from a blogger with whom I had interacted a few times on Facebook. She had won my book as part of a giveaway. It should not have surprised me the way it did as she had already rated my book on Goodreads before writing the detailed review.
I went to check the faults that she had found in my book. It appeared like a detailed review. But it was clearly one which was meant to project the mistakes than talk about the story or writing in general. What hurt me more was that many bloggers whom I had met at a blogger meet had commented on it ridiculing the book’s concept and storyline. I was devastated.
I cried a whole night. My husband was confused as to why I was crying. I told him I was not going to write anything anymore. He told me it is part of the game. It happens to the best. My writer and blogger friends who had seen the review also told me the same. Wherever I turned on social media, I was seeing the review being shared. “This is the end of my book and my writing career,” I told myself. The days that followed just made me more miserable. The last chapter of my book remained unfinished. I couldn’t write. I was full of shame. I was facing writer’s block for the first time.
It was not the review which affected me, but the lack of support from my blogger friends that hurt me more. Most of them were ‘friends’ on social media with me. Most of them had not even read my book and were commenting how pathetic it was.
But the worst was yet to come. At the end of February, another review came. This was written by another blogger whom I considered as a good friend. We used to chat on Whatsapp and she was also part of the anthology which I co-edited and co-created. She had even come to my book release function and bought my book there. Her review was harsh. It felt to me more like a personal attack than a book review. Most of the comments on this one were from the same set of bloggers whom I had met. Some of these bloggers I admired. Some, I considered as friends. Some were contemplating a bonfire where they would burn books like mine. Mostly the discussion was about pathetic ‘Indian Writers’ of whom I was now a part. I was completely broken. I was blocked. I couldn’t pen a word.
I decided to quit social media. All through this a few friends stood by me. One chatted with me all through night consoling me. Some others emailed me.They told me they could clearly understand it as they had faced the same at one or the other point in their career. One of them shared the following video by famous author Ravi Subramanian where he describes a similar experience.
So, public shaming of an author in the form of a book review was not new. It seemed to be a practice especially when it was an Indian writer. Unfortunately, it came like an out of the blue punch to my stomach for me.
What was different in my case was that it came from someone whom I considered as a friend. If I was in her place, I would not have trashed her book publicly. I would tell her in private what I didn’t like in the book or what was wrong. I would never publicly shame her with something like what she wrote. A blog is, after all, a public platform. We can ignore such reviews easily if it came from a stranger. But it is hard when a friend stabs at your back. It is also hard when fellow bloggers join the shame-game.
Many advised me to chuck these people out of my social media list. I hesitated initially but I did that. I unfriended and even blocked all of them for a while.
I was still on the verge of depression. I stopped checking my emails and social media accounts.I was obsessing over the reviews and also about the comments. Writing was as dear to me as life and suddenly I was not able to write anymore. It was suffocating.
March is also the month of loss for me. I had lost my father during March years ago. They say our loved ones become our guardian angels once they leave. One day when I was forcing myself to complete my household chores, one memory of my father came to me and it saved me entirely. I felt the love he surrounded me with. I drew courage from the lessons he had shared with me while alive. I began to share those lessons with my Facebook friends through daily posts. My writer’s block vanished and words started to flow easily again. I got back to my manuscript and finished the first draft of it by the first week of April.
Now I don’t read reviews of my book anymore, good or bad. Reviews are always opinions of the reader, never fact. And every reader reads a different book as they visualize it differently. I am not obliged to read such reviews which are written with the intention to hurt. I promised myself not to go digging for criticism. For constructive criticism, I have friends and editors whose wisdom and kindness I trust.
I hope writers/ aspiring writers will find this rant to be of use. I chanced upon one good piece of writing about dealing with critics written by Elizabeth Gilbert. Go ahead and read it if you need further assurance as to why writers should stay away from negative criticism.