The Sound of Silence

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I recently had the pleasure of spending time with a group of aspiring writers who had gathered to discuss the ins and outs of self-publishing, and the conversation really made me take a deep look inside myself. We chatted about finding story ideas, “Pantsers” vs. “Plotters,” self-publishing vs. traditional, and so much more.  But the number one topic that everyone kept coming back to was Reviews.

They talked about some of the terms that I see tossed about in different writers’ forums: spite reviews, review trolls, and one-star “bullies,” to name just a few. Listening to them, I got this crazy mental picture of new books being covered in bacon grease and tossed into a wading pool full of piranhas. These writers have allowed their fear of bad reviews to paralyze them; some of them are afraid to take the next step because they have convinced themselves that doing so will place them in the crosshairs of some maniacal Bad Review Ninja Squad out to destroy them.

Later, I sat down and really examined my own feelings and fears about feedback on my work.  I only have three books out there. So far, I’ve been very lucky that all gotten a few decent reviews, other than a one-star from a fellow who felt that the dialogue in one book was like was reading a Q&A article rather than a novel.  Ouch.  But . . . I am more careful with my dialogue now, so it was a productive experience.  Dude made a valid point.

There’s a lot of negativity out there for writers to deal with.  Rejection letters, bad reviews, sales rankings that can plummet by thousands of points after just a few days without sales.  I am slowly building up a thick skin and learning to accept that these things are part of the package deal that comes with putting my words out there for the world to see. Every day, I get a little bit better at smothering my insecurities.

But there’s one thing that still gets under my ever-thickening skin.

Silence.

Like any new author, I tend to check my statistics obsessively.  I know exactly when I sell a book, and in which market.  I know which blog posts get the most hits, which categories get the most traffic. And when I get a “like” or a comment on my blog from someone I look up to, I do an impromptu happy-dance that sometimes makes my six year-old ask if I need to use the potty.

But I start pacing the floor over . . . nothing.

Logically, I understand that most readers do not leave reviews.  I can be logical about it and accept the fact that most authors never hear a word from the majority of the people who read their books. To paraphrase one side of a common argument among self-published writers on Amazon: Reviews are for other readers, not for the writers.

Unfortunately for me, my insecurities don’t listen to logic.  My self-doubts thrive on the absence of feedback, good or bad.  It’s not that I need heaps of praise; my self-worth is not dependent on hearing strangers sing my praises.  It’s just that selling a handful of books and hearing nothing feels like a verdict of, “meh, I read it. So, what’s for lunch?”

So I’d like to hear from some of the other, more experienced writers out there. I know the first bit of advice is to start working on the next book.  I’m already half-way there, with a secret baby, an ex-soldier, and a brutal Michigan winter. But beyond that, how do you interpret the silence? How do you deal with the nagging self-doubts that come with it?

How do you deal with the worry that your book is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it?

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