Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

No One Cares

And No One Will Notice…

I constantly get comments and questions from writers worrying about putting out a book that someone might hate, or that might have a mistake in it, or whatever other excuse they can think of to not take a chance and put a book out on the market.

All based on fear.

All excuses.

This sort of continues the last post about always wanting to go back and fix something you put out earlier. You think someone might care if you did that to your book, that someone might notice.

Or even more stupid, they might notice that you didn’t fix it. Gadzooks!!!

This area, among other areas, I call “The author problem.” The author is so close to their own career that they think everyone else on the planet is following everything they do.

Nothing is farther from the truth. No one (not even family) is following what you are doing that closely, and no one outside your family (and sometimes not even them) care at all.

I would say this belief (that the entire world is paying attention) comes out of ego, but I honestly don’t think that is completely the case. Sure, ego is a part of it, but mostly it is a lack of understanding of basic human nature.

A given. Every long-term experienced writer writes a book that doesn’t live up to previous books to some readers, but not all readers. Often that is a recent book and beginning writers almost always assume the writer got lazy or something.

Nope. Normally it is the experienced writer trying something new that annoyed a number of regular readers, or did something different (god forbid) and thus is an inferior book to those readers who wanted the exact same book as they read before from that author. While to the writer it is their best book.

So early writers might think everyone on the planet is paying attention to their work like they pay a bit of attention to a few bestsellers. That might be where a sliver of this problem comes from.

But the truth is that early writers have no career, no following, no real fans. Sure, they might have a few hundred or even a few thousand on a mailing list, and make decent sales, but trust me, those readers have other things to do than follow every detail of your career. If they pretend to follow any writer, it is their favorite mega-bestseller.

The only person who cares and compares books from one to the next in your career is you. No one else cares.

Let me repeat that: No one else cares.

And that should be the most freeing thing that you can realize, if you let it sink in.

That realization allows you to write the books you want to write and have fun. Allows you to not worry about having every word perfect, but instead just the best you can do at that moment.

It allows you to not think about fixing old books just because you learned something.

No one cares.

Now, one more side point. When you wrote a book and got it out, it was the best you could do at the time. Some readers paid good money for it and many liked it and bought more books from you.

So you go learn something and now YOU CAN SEE WHAT WAS WRONG. Before, those same words looked fine to you, but now you can see “the problem.” Oh, no…

But no one else can see. And no one cares that you have learned something you add to future books that wasn’t in older books.

Only you know. Only you care.

And one additional thing.

NEVER PUT DOWN YOUR OWN WORK. Especially older books.

Some reader might think your older book is the best thing they ever read and the last thing they want is to be insulted by you putting down their tastes in books.

Keep your mouth shut, keep learning, write the next book, and get it out. Repeat.

And if you really do realize no one cares but you, the freedom in your writing is amazing.

Go have fun.



    • dwsmith

      Thanks, guy. Just a glitch that got fixed after a couple hours (before I got out of bed). But crashed the entire thing. Thanks for letting us know.

  • Linda Maye Adams

    Bob Meyer told me about the same thing. I don’t outline, and I was trying to fix a very frustrating problem with my writing (running way too short and structure). Much of the writing advice I’d run into had been extremely unfriendly to writers. It operates on the assumption “You’re doing everything wrong.” Everyone acts like a schoolteacher to correct the flaws in your writing. Even writing magazines have always played into this with articles like “10 Things You’re Doing to Keep Yourself From Getting Published.” A lot of is designed to sound helpful and positive and is shockingly negative at the same time. When you get that negativity over and over, it’s starts bleeding into your own writing. I had to leave writing communities because of this and am glad I did. I don’t miss the nastiness.

    Also a funny story for anyone worried about that typo getting you rejected. I was doing a short story for an anthology. I really wanted to get it in before the deadline and it was the last day of the call. I was also really, really sick. I had to think about two sentences of description of something and brain was working. I put a placeholder in, like ADD DESCRIPTION OF X. I even made it really obvious. Paragraph return before, paragraph return after. I expected to circle back on my cycling and deal with it, but when I got to the end, being sick won and I didn’t do the final pass. I emailed it to the editor. About two days later I remembered the placeholder. Most writers would have run into a panic to the magazine, withdrawn the story, and sent it in again, fearing rejection because of that placeholder. Since it occurred about two pages before the end, if the editor read that far, I’d get a comment on it and I’d laugh about it. I mean, it was the cold. I just wasn’t at my best, and my routines were messed up because of it. If they didn’t get past the first page, I’d get a form rejection. I got a form rejection. I removed the place holder, added the sentence or two description, and sent it off again.

  • Gretchen Rix

    “And that should be the most freeing thing that you can realize, if you let it sink in.”

    I realized that a couple of years ago. You are absolutely right. Write what you want the best you can, publish it, and be proud of your work.

  • Lee Dennis

    [grin] In the best case, a few decades from now, PhD dissertations will be written about “patterns of development in [your name here]’s oeuvre.”

    • dwsmith

      And that is the best case by a long ways. I think the case that most of us can hope and work for is that our heirs will keep our work in print and making money for the life of the copyrights.

  • Mike Southern

    A quote from the late Ethel Barrett: “We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.”

  • Cynthia Gilbert

    I read about a psychological condition recently called imaginary audience and it’s basically what it sounds like. People convince themselves that unnamed persons are watching their every move, reading their every tweet or FB post, judging every effort and so on.

    Really, though, your imaginary audience is nothing more than a gathering of straw persons (with whom you are possibly arguing in your head) that have no sensory apparati at all. That’s how I imagine it, at any rate, and it has been helpful.

    • dwsmith

      The real key on helping this is not write for other writers, especially newer writers who are lost in the sentences and couldn’t see a story if it bit them. Write for readers.

  • Ranveig

    Slightly off topic, but what do you do if your first reader hates a story? Will that have any effect on whether or not it sees the light of day? Do you publish it anyway?

    • dwsmith

      Of course I do. Why would I care about one opinion, even if that opinion is my wife’s opinion and she is one of the best Hugo Award Winning editors to hit sf/fantasy? She and I disagree about stories all the time. Anyone who has been to the anthology workshop will tell you that.

      When you base your own belief system and your own career and writing on the opinions of ANYONE ELSE, you are doomed.

      Trust your own voice, grow a backbone and believe in your own work.

      • Maree

        How do you find a balance between believing in your own work and being willing to learn?

        I’ve learned better than to listen to any old Bob or Mary in a writing group giving critique because they want to feel important. But hey I’ve taken some classes from you and you’ve told me that what I turned in wasn’t acceptable and to try again and I listened and did it. You liked the new scene much better. I learned from doing it over. And you taught me how to do it.

        I swear I’ve heard Kris being interviewed talking about how she wrote a story and you told her it sucked and she wrote it again while mentally cussing at you and the rewrite ended up winning awards.

        I guess the question is where is the balance? How do you stay open to learning if you’re going with the flow?

        • dwsmith

          Maree, ah, the misconception that you learn by being critiqued by others. Nope, deadly and destructive and you never learn a thing. You learn by listening, reading, going to conferences and listening, taking workshops, and then applying what you have learned to your future work. Study other writers work that you loved.

          But having your own work torn apart is just foolishness.

          And yes, in a workshop environment, you learn like in the depth workshop. I often have someone do something over. That is 400 words. Now you should take what you learned there and write stories and novels and keep learning, but don’t let anyone critique your novels or stories. And for heaven’s sake, NEVER READ REVIEWS, FOLKS!!

          And yes, Kris wrote a 3,000 word story called A Gallery of His Dreams. I read it and flat didn’t understand what happened and told her that. I didn’t tell her how to fix it, I just said I was too stupid to understand what she had written. She got mad at me, and went and wrote a brand new story (didn’t rewrite, never looked at the shorter story) called A Gallery of His Dreams for stupid people like me. I think it was about 20,000 words. Seems that stupid people like me like to understand what a story means and thus the new story with the same idea won a ton of awards and was published in Asimov’s and the Axolotl series.

          So learn in classroom settings, at conferences, by reading writers work you love, and so on. But never on letting anyone tear apart your own work. That you defend.

          • Mary Kennedy

            But you’ve said (in several lectures) that when you first started applying Heinlein’s rules and writing a story a week, you’d take your story to the group AFTER you’d already mailed the story, then possibly apply what they said to the NEXT story.

            You’ve also mentioned that you and Nina Kiriki Hoffman added the “5 senses” challenge” because you guys were tired of “people saying your stories were thin”, and that this practice made a world of difference to your writing.

            In these instances, it seems that critiques were pretty helpful.

          • dwsmith

            Looking for an excuse to have your own work torn apart, huh, Mary. (grin) Let me simply say this about my experiences with critiques from peer workshops. First off, I have watched more thousands of writers vanish under the weight of critiques or listening to reviews than I can ever imagine. Not counting the millions of writers that university departments have destroyed over the decades. Or writers listening to bad agents or even worse, bad editors. Dreams killed by people who do not know what they are talking about. Why chance that?

            Second, I got lucky because I have an attitude of not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks of me. That comes from my really bad family life growing up and the pressure I had to sustain in the first decade plus of this because I was tending bar instead of using my degrees to be a “professional” and thus never get to writing. (I was a 38 year old male tending bar and living in shitty, tiny apartment, and I had three years of law school and a masters degree in architecture. The pressure from family and friends to not be a failure was intense beyond words.)

            So, being stupid, I thought I could learn by listening to others talk about my stories. I was wrong (and because of my attitude I survived) and all I am trying to do is try to save others. Workshops are social places to gather and learn business or give yourself deadlines which I used mine for. But if you can’t deal with other people’s opinions of a finished story, stay away. (Note, I also listened to others about rewriting and lost seven years down that hole. I learned and just trying to save others from same bad roads is all.)

            If you flat do not care what someone else thinks of your work, then be my guest. Have your work torn apart by people who know nothing of fiction. Feel free. It is head shaking stupid and dull.

            And realize there is a sliding scale on this as well. I am talking about peer workshops and reviewers.

            But if you can get someone like me (40 years of studying fiction and hundreds of published novels) to read your story, you will discover I only read it as a reader and never tell you how to rewrite it past a minor comment or two. (exercises in a class are another matter) Or if you can get a David Farland to work on your story, or a Lee Childs or a Patterson or a Roberts or an Anderson or or, then they might be worth listening to. But 99% of the time you can’t. No one can outside of a unique situation. And even then all of us respect your voice and your craft.

            So the answer is to avoid situations where you present a complete story to a peer workshop and invite in feedback. Deadly. And even more deadly if you try to “fix” your story from that kind of advice. You can’t avoid having someone review your work but you can avoid reading it. The moment you lose months and months of writing time to reading a stupid review, you will understand.

        • Linda Maye Adams

          Critique doesn’t really tell you what to learn. All it does is give you someone’s opinion–which may not necessarily be right craft-wise, or what you intended for the story.

          Years ago, I cowrote a thriller set during the Civil War. Cowriter had dreams of a published writer helping us getting a foot in the door, so he asked a friend who had written a romance novel to read it. He was shocked when she gave back two pages of very negative comments. Her kindest comment was “Your prose is clean.” I looked at the comments and my first reaction was “She hated the book.”

          I was pretty sure what happened was that she didn’t know why she hated the book, so she spent the two pages nitpicking dumb things.
          Cowriter later discovered she was vehemently anti-gun. Page 70 was when the main character pulled a gun on someone else. Her comments came from a place that had nothing at all to do with the book.

          Think about that. Most writers would have gotten that 2 page critique and immediately started revising to fix the story for essentially an imaginary problem. Other writers would have tossed the story as unworkable. That’s a whole lot of weight given to someone who didn’t even know why she didn’t like the story.

          To answer the final question, it’s the wrong question. It makes it sound like an either/or. You pick what you want to learn because it something that sounds cool and you want to play with it while you write. And it’s really hard because sometimes you know there’s a lot to learn and you want to learn it all now. The reality is that it’s not going to happen like that. One skill tends to lead to another, and you might have to stay practicing one for a long time. I struggled so much to get setting in that I spent over a year just rewiring my brain (from all the bad writing advice that says not to use description). I couldn’t take any other craft courses until I did that rewiring because I needed to focus so much on that. Then one day I was bored with setting as a skill and I started looking at other things. Listen to what your creative brain is telling you. It’ll tell you what it wants to learn.

    • Linda Maye Adams

      My father just read one of my books, a space opera (bought by my brother as a gift). His comment was that it was “too complicated.” He wanted it to be more like the mysteries he was reading (yeah, apples and monkeys). I told him that was just personal taste, because it really it was. I can easily think of spec fiction books with very complex stories. But I also knew when my brother sent the book that my father wouldn’t like it. And the reason my brother got the book for him? He loved it! He thought it was just like Star Trek. He even offered to pay for a cover if it could get books out faster.

      Everyone’s got different opinions. The only opinion for a book you write that counts is yours.

  • Prasenjeet Kumar

    Slightly off the topic. Are a few sales here and a few there enough to generate word of mouth? I know of a young writer who has written 13 novels and a few scripts and he has talked about his books in fifty different towns usually targeting college students.

    His books are popular in India. Personally I don’t enjoy going to fifty different towns and talking about my book. But then I worry. I’m not sure whether just following the regular publishing schedule (i.e. writing your next book. Currently I’m working on my tenth novel) and using some marketing techniques like Amazon Ads is enough to generate word of mouth and build momentum in the long run?

    • dwsmith

      It is if your blurbs are good, your covers hit the genre, and you are regular, as well as do a web site so fans can find more of your work. And do back matter correctly by telling readers where they can find more books instead of begging for reviews. You know, all basics. And keep working to learn to tell better stories. It happens.

  • Michèle Laframboise

    On the topic of old nagging mistakes: I have this problem with my “hard” science fiction series: in book 4, I would add one fun detail, then find out later that it contradict book 1 or 2. Or I discover that the cool physics theory propelling the ship has been disproved after the publication.

    My reaction: Aaaaaaaaaargh!

    (Generally it is a detail about the current state of sciences, but often about a lovable character’s background)

    • Raymund Eich

      Bonjour Michèle,

      In my younger days, I listened to some Hard SF Hemingways with the attitude that if you get the physics wrong when you write SF, you’re playing tennis with the net down. But that’s their hangup. Write the stories you want. You might lose a few hard core hard SF readers, but many other readers, even ones who know that faster-than-light travel or time travel are impossible (to the best of current knowledge), will not care and will enjoy the story.

      Compare Larry Niven’s story “The Coldest Place,” set on the dark side of non-rotating Mercury, written before and published after Mercury was observed to rotate, to Roger Zelazny’s “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth,” set on an ocean-covered Venus and written at a time when everyone knew Venus lacked water and had a hot, sulfurous atmosphere.

      And who says the physics theory really has been disproved? 😉

  • J. D. Brink

    On the issue of every writer thinking that everyone is scrutinizing everything they write:
    It reminds me of teenagers. I don’t mean that to be in anyway insulting or insinuating immaturity, but really, like teenagers.
    Every 15 year old in the class thinks that everyone watched them walk into the room and sit down and thinks they all noticed and commented to themselves about every little imperfection that they themselves are obsessing over. This is impossible, of course, because every other kid in class was too busy thinking the exact same insecure thoughts about themselves!
    We all know every detail about our books and torture ourselves over every line, word choice, and turn of page. For the reader, it’s one word of 80,000, one page out of 300. They’re too busy reading it in-story to care about the little things as much as we do.

  • Danielle Williams

    Thanks–this and the “Special Stories” post came just as I’m self-publishing a short story I had hanging around from college–in order to both follow Heinlein’s 4th rule and to get another point in the Publishing Race.
    I was a little uneasy about the idea, but these two blogs appearing just now just confirm that I’m making the right decision, and not to fuss over it.
    Well, off to submit the files!