Successful writers have no right to complain

I’m taking a few hits on the blogosphere from people who say that I shouldn’t be airing my frustrations online.  They find it unseemly for me to mention bad reviews or nasty reader letters because successful writers should be immune to having our feelings hurt.  We should be above it all.  We should gaze down, untouched and bemused, like the gods on Mount Olympus, chuckling at the idiocies of mere mortals.

But I’ve been trying to tell you the truth: that no writer, no matter how successful she is, is ever above it all.  That’s the point of this blog: to tell you what infuriates writers at every level, whether they’ve sold their first book or they’re on to their twentieth.  To tell you that some frustrations never go away.  This is what it means to be a writer. If you think that getting your first book published or signing a 5-book deal or hitting the bestseller list means you’ve lost your right to experience doubts, insecurities, or any other normal human emotions, then I suggest you go away. You don’t want to read this blog.

When I started this blog a few years ago, I thought it might be useful as a promotional tool.  I’d been reading the blogs of other writers, and was often inspired to pick up their books, so I thought: why not give it a whirl myself? I might sell a few books.

But over time my blog stopped being about promotion and became instead a writer’s confessional. If I got frustrated, I blogged.  If I got angry, I blogged.  If something funny or stupid happened in the writing or publishing world, I blogged.  

And then I discovered that writers everywhere were tuning in.  They’d email me to say that yes, they were frustrated by the same things.  They were struggling with the same issues.  Some of these writers are new to the biz, and some are multi-published New York Times bestsellers.  My public whining, unseemly as it may be, turns out to be a group whine. We writers are engaged in a wonderful, demanding, maddening profession, and most of us don’t ever want to give it up.  Yet it’s an insecure profession.  It requires us to sit down at our desks and create something out of nothing.  It makes us send our precious babies out into the big world where they’re not always treated kindly.  

I suspect that writers in general are a sensitive lot.  We have to be sensitive, just to write convincingly about human beings.  How can you write about emotions if you yourself don’t have any?  But many of us are also thin-skinned and prone to self-doubt, no matter how we try to deny it. 

If you’re not a writer, try to imagine what it’s like to have your work subjected to public scrutiny and criticism. Imagine that it took you a year to complete that work.  Imagine that anyone in the world can now write something nasty about your latest effort, and those comments are viewable online by the whole world.  Imagine that your project manager decides to let you go because, despite the fact he and the rest of the company think you did a great job, the company lost money on you.

And then imagine that for all that heartache, you got paid under $10,000 for a year’s worth of work.  Yep, that’s what many authors get paid.

Writers love their jobs.  But sometimes, they deserve to whine.

21 replies
  1. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    I don’t think it’s unseemly for you to complain on your own blog about anything, and your honesty is appreciated. As an unpublished author, I’m stunned there is no time on the horizon of success where you simply handle negative reviews and comments with a ‘you didn’t like it, too bad’. 🙂

  2. bob k
    bob k says:

    I agree with BernardL – it’s your blog…people don’t have to read if they don’t like it. And it shows your faithful readers that you do care about the quality of your work and aren’t just cranking them out to cash in (as if we could think a YEAR wait is cranking them out! :0 )

    And writing about your frustrations is a fantastic way to get them out of your system…although I think another session shooting targets with your son might also be effective (always worked for me).

  3. Wolfe
    Wolfe says:

    I worked as a copywriter in advertising for years and developed a rhino hide about having my writing criticized. But, when a reader gave me a bad review that was just mean spirited on Amazon,it stung.
    And I think that the more successful you are, the more people feel justified in being mean and nasty in their reviews. Maybe people think that if you’re successful you’re making tons of money and somehow that makes it all right to blast you?
    I wonder if those reviewers would be willing to give a writer that nasty review to his or her face.

  4. Craig
    Craig says:

    Tess, I check your blog almost daily. I don’t recall having ever heard you whine. Did I miss something?

  5. SandraRuttan
    SandraRuttan says:

    “And I think that the more successful you are, the more people feel justified in being mean and nasty in their reviews. Maybe people think that if you’re successful you’re making tons of money and somehow that makes it all right to blast you?”

    I think Wolfe hit the nail on the head, there. It seems that the consensus is, once someone’s considered “successful” they need to be taken down a peg or two, kept humble. And so people go on bashing bandwagons.

    I think you have a great blog, one I don’t drop by nearly enough, and I appreciate the honesty. I find it oddly reassuring, and I suspect you understand why.

  6. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    it’s nice to find a writer who communicates with their readers without necessarily having it all be about potential dollar signs-so if you’re that willing to take the time for a back and forth on your blog and to answer e mails you are certainly entitled to be honest regarding the way you feel about certain things without being accused of whining-would that all authors would be so forthcoming-one of my all time favorite writers is a virtual hermit-he almost never gives an interview and has never contributed a word to the voluminous site dedicated to his writing-maybe that’s his style-to remain aloof-i’ll buy his next book for sure-i’ve read all the others-each author is, after all,a person with unique attitudes and thoughts(like the rest of us)-your openess,tess shouldn’t necessarily insulate you from those who would disagree on a point,but that doesn’t include running you down for making yourself accesible-and although i entertain no thoughts of being a writer it seems you give the equivalent of a college course on the nuts and bolts of the writer’s trade(told by a practitioner rather than a theorist)-how many bestselling authors do that?

  7. struggler
    struggler says:

    Personally I like your ‘personal’ approach, Tess, and I’ve never regarded anything you have expressed as whining, moaning or whatever else you have been accused of. I’ve just considered you honest and a human being just like the rest of us. And besides, you can write whatever you (bleep) like on your own blog!

  8. dustinhood
    dustinhood says:

    I totally agree with you on this one, Tess. I enjoy seeing how a author’s day actually goes. I like how you don’t sugar-coat your answers. Keep on blogging whatever you want to, after all, it is your blog. I’ve learned a lot just from reading your blogs.Take for example your last blog, I didn’t know there was three different types of editors. I always thought it was only one. I didn’t know that, and now thanks to you, I do.


  9. Idleopendescent
    Idleopendescent says:

    On bad reviews, the ones which say less about the book but with clever word usage – To me it’s equivalent to writing the essay after having read the inside flap or back cover. Ironically it could be a familiar condition for which they blandly attack and a review which is of the copy and paste variety straight from the horoscope section.

    Is a crappy review/response c/w critical thinking more acceptable than a crappy one with less substance? I have read more than a few reviews of books which haven’t had the desired effect, too. It all gets used when I need to shellac something. Online versions I find less informative, not always though. But then, it’s not my book being harpooned as it hits the sea and I can only imagine.

    I have read reviews which strongly illustrate appeal to a book – held by that reader. One involving Colin Wilson’s ‘Outsider’ comes to mind. How much really reflects the author, and in the twofold sense? Similar to IQ testing, how much does the tester interfere with the process and the target population? I intend this in the best tone; isn’t feeling a “good” review, whether author or reader, like finding a good book, like mattress hunting? It’s as blog worthy in my opinion and as individual.

  10. May
    May says:

    Hear Hear! The reason why I read your blog is for the Human aspect. I’ll take the good with the bad. It’s life. Makes us all relate better to each other I think.

  11. JD Rhoades
    JD Rhoades says:

    Like struggler says, it’s your blog, you can write what you damn well please, and if anyone doesn’t like it, tell them to FOAD. Or send them to me and I’ll tell them. I’m good at that.

    Non illegitimi carborundum, Tess. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

  12. spyscribbler
    spyscribbler says:

    I honestly have absolutely no problem with the whining. I, um, spewed a bit of a vent the other day. You don’t even whine, LOL. You are beautifully honest. I love realness in people.

    But the blogosphere? What really gets me are the endless admonitions and lectures to not expect to make a living from writing, to not expect to get published, to expect to get screwed over by your publisher. Surprisingly, this usually comes from authors who ARE making a living at it, which I find bizarre. Aside from the first sale stories, people saying anything good about the business are rare, lately.

    I’ve been feeling quite discouraged from it, this weekend. It’ll pass.

  13. naomi
    naomi says:

    I’m working at getting published. I know it’s not going to be an easy road and reading your blog, and the blogs of other open and honest authors, helps me to set my own expectations. I want to know the good, the bad and the ugly.

    And I think you have every right to whine or rant or celebrate. It’s your blog, your life and your experiences. I admire you for being honest in such a public forum. I think it takes class and guts. Thank you.

  14. Felicia Donovan
    Felicia Donovan says:

    “It makes us send our precious babies out into the big world where they’re not always treated kindly.”

    Bingo, Tess. We conceive of a story idea and watch it grow. We labor over it for months and finally send it off into the big, scary world where it gets judged by others and will forever be associated with us. I’ve given birth to nine-pounders that wasn’t nearly as painful.

  15. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    There are thousands of people who don’t like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do.
    –James Patterson

    Just know you’re among friends here, Tess.

    Whenever you take a hateful hit from a reviewer, or reader, or even another writer, just remember all of us who wholeheartedly support you and your work. We are, by far, the majority.

    And, of course you’re allowed to vent here. It’s your party, so cry if you want to.

    I appreciate knowing even someone at the highest level of the profession still feels the frustration of this business sometimes.

    Anyone who thinks a lot of dough will somehow cause a person to stop feeling is either not being honest, or just plain stupid. It’s usually a sign of jealousy, from people who have not–and probably will not–achieve any measurable degree of success themselves.

  16. Josephine Damian
    Josephine Damian says:

    Tess, I say don’t let the bastards get you down whether it’s negative fan mail or people complaining because you talked about it.

    Your insights into the realities of the pub biz and an author’s life are a huge help to all of us.

  17. drosdelnoch
    drosdelnoch says:

    What you need to remember is that we, the readers of blog happen to love this type of thing, its not only good to expell those feelings but also allows those frustrates want to be authors the chance to not only sypathise but also to relate. Yep we’re not successful but its great to see that established authors suffer a lot of the same problems we do.

    Theres nothing wrong about letting those feelings out, its youre medium and as such you probably find it easier to write it than to talk about it. Thats how it works for me, if I have a problem I write a little about it and then read it back to my other half, I find it works a lot better as orally I cant put the feelings out. It may seem daft but it works for me.

    After all if you can’t write about your own feelings it wouldnt show your human side as to those of us who love to read authors are our “film stars” those we expect never get thier feelings hurt or ever have bad things said, to hear about the problems is a big help, it not only aids your karma but the rest of us can put our POV forward so that you can see if we can aid in the solution.

    Anyway what I think Im trying to say is just have fun Tess and when you hit the UK if you need a pal to tour, give me a yell, I’ll be available and I’ll definitely be in Manchester (or Lancaster). If need be bring your fiddle, I’ll bring the guitar and we’ll jam the night away. LOL

  18. clare
    clare says:

    Everyone deserves a whine.

    You slave over a book; research it, pour yourself into it time, stress, missed meals… then it’s published and someone who has never been through the process writes to complain.

    I was impressed that you approached it as a topic rather than simply ranted.

  19. Otter7
    Otter7 says:

    Each of us has a right to express his or her struggle. And I am impressed with your candor.
    It is, though, hard for me to appreciate some of the seeming drama when it is obvious you have a highly successful career and a comfortable life. I am not saying you shouldn’t be feeling the frustration or insecurity. I just am surprised at the seeming intensity of your discomfort over a situation that you are more in command of than many, many other writers who have yet to achieve your level of recognition and success.
    That very success, I imagine, creates a distance between yourself and those who aspire to be in your shoes. If you consider things from the perspective of those who are less successful, perhaps you can understand
    how some of your complaints might sound.

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