Thursday, June 19, 2008

Me and Sally Field

I like to think of myself as a strong, independent woman, confident in my abilities, aware of my limitations. So how come I'm reduced to a sniveling wuss when it comes to my fiction writing?

I write nonfiction books for a living. I've got 10 books to my credit, two will be published this year. Unlike mysteries, you almost never write the entire nonfiction book before you have a contract. Yes, you have to do enough research to make the case to an editor that that you have a unique idea that will appeal to a large segment of the book-buying public, but generally you haven't spent the better part of a year or more finishing your life's work—only to have it rejected.

I never take it personally if a nonfiction book proposal is rejected. I might be disappointed, but I don't immediately launch into a weeping rendition of the "I'm never going to work in this town again" blues. I, Ms. Rationality, am able to discuss in modulated tones how the market for this topic has changed; or conversely it's been done to death (even if I could have done it better); or the editor wouldn't have the good sense to recognize a great idea if he were on the Titanic and being offered a life preserver. In other words, it's not me that is being rejected, but instead it's a bad concept or maybe just bad timing. As Michael Corleone would say, "it's not personal, it's business."

But my fiction? Whether it's a short story or a novel, I crave feedback and unless I hear the equivalent of a marching band playing the Hallelujah chorus, I'm crushed. When I read a favorable review, I break into my best Sally Field impersonation, announcing to the world "you like me, you really like me."

Conversely, even a minor criticism or less-than-enthusiastic comment, and I'm ready to turn in my Mystery Writers of America membership card in abject humiliation. As my mother, the original Evelyn, would say, OY!

I'm amazed at the authors who insist that they never read reviews – the good ones or the bad. I'm impressed by their self-confidence and self-restraint. Not only do I read the reviews, but I parse each sentence and search for intonation and nuance.

Do you think this need for outside validation is because I'm still relatively new at the fiction game? Does Mary Higgins Clark still worry when she publishes a new book? Did Agatha Christie care what the reviewers said?

Tell me the truth. Is this an affliction of a newbie or do all writers need public confirmation of their work? Is it "this too shall pass" or "learn to live with it; it goes with the territory?"

Evelyn David

1 comment:

  1. Evelyn: You know me well enough to know how I take less-than-positive usually involves taking to my bed for the day. But we've talked about this before; we don't like everything we read, nor should we have to. It's all subjective. I just wish, as I'm sure you do, that some reviewers were a little less personal or vitriolic in presenting their negative opinions. Or is it just that I'm taking the reviews that way? We'll never know. But suffice it to say, you're not alone, you're completely normal, and take it from me--you've got more talent in your pinkie than many out there. There. It's said. Maggie