Writing and Publishing

You Are Allowed To Disappoint People.

Should authors read reviews of their books? OH BOY. Let’s talk about this for a sec.

One of my best friends is currently reading Mammoth. “You know,” she said the other day, her tone hesitant, “this one’s a lot better than Spookygirl.”

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I kid. She’s right.

I like to think I’ve learned a lot in the years since Spookygirl. I love that book, I do, but its road to publication was unusual (winning the ABNA) and it might have benefited from the extra steps attached to more traditional publication methods. A savvy agent would have called me out on certain details before the book even got near an editor, and I might have been a bit surer about whether I should leave some plotlines open (since I originally envisioned the story as a trilogy or series) or tie up everything neatly.

I was anxious and curious and new to publishing, and I read every Spookygirl review I could find. So many were wonderful! What surprised me, however, was how constructive a lot of the more negative reviews were. I learned so much about relying too much on stereotypes. About the risk of populating too much of a story with throwaway supporting characters. About when to dig deeper. I really did listen, and I’m grateful to readers who took a moment to explain why they didn’t like the book instead of just hitting that one-star rating.

(IMPORTANT: I’m not saying you should tag authors in your negative reviews! I’m not saying you should send authors your criticism. No, nononono. That’s kind of cruel, and some readers seem to delight in it. Don’t do that. But know that some of us do appreciate your honesty, even when it’s critical.)

I thought a lot about whether I should do the same with Mammoth reviews. After all, I used the lessons I learned from Spookygirl reviews when I wrote and revised Mammoth. Shouldn’t I want to keep learning?

Erm, hold up. That’s where my therapist would stop me and call me out on using “should” language. Shoulds are tricky. They seem so sensible, but they’re a great way to load yourself down with pressure and expectation and anxiety.

Mammoth is a deeply personal story. I put a lot of myself into Natalie and her struggle to love and accept herself. The book deals with sensitive topics like weight and self-image, and there’s no one right way to tackle those things. There’s no universal experience when it comes to being fat. Some readers will identify with Natalie’s path. Others won’t. I fully expect criticism from those whose experiences have differed from Nat’s, who wanted something else from the story, and that criticism is valid. But at some point I’ll have to draw a line and protect my own anxious, scattered brain a bit, along with my heart, which is so thoroughly invested in making sure Mammoth’s fashion-blogger-science-geek realizes just how awesome she is.

They say that you can’t please everyone. To a people pleaser like me, that just sounds like a challenge.

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Nah. I’m tossing that saying aside and going with “You’re allowed to disappoint people” instead. Every book out there (and every movie and every show and every song and and and) disappoints someone. If you’re preoccupied with that, you won’t be able to create your best, strongest, bravest work. You’ll risk diluting your brilliance into something bland. You don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that, either.

The disappointment will be out there, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you have to go digging for it.

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Learning to dig at Waco Mammoth National Monument (then Waco Mammoth Site), 2013.

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