One summer between college semesters, I wrote a book. I had only written several full-length novels before this, so it was not a publish-worthy book by any means. But I was proud of it. And after passing it around to a few friends who were genuinely interested in reading it (and did so — bless them!), I handed the book off to my mom.
She read it (bless her!) and gave it back to me. Of course I asked her what she thought of it, and because I was old enough at that point to handle the truth, she gave me her honest opinion.
“It’s not that I didn’t like it,” she said. “It was just too dark for me. Not my kind of book. But I’m proud of you.”
Aw. Thanks Mom.
This was the first — and certainly not the last — time I learned the difference between a poorly written story and a story that simply cannot cater to every imaginable audience.
As we’re writing, it’s not uncommon to imagine how a handful of different people might react to our words. We are, after all, writing with an audience in mind, and like to think we’re weaving a story together that is going to capture as many hearts as, for example, a book about an 11-year-old British wizard who goes to a secret school to learn magic.
But the truth is, while there very well may be people who fall in love with a particular story you write, there are probably going to be an equal number of people who just can’t resonate with the characters or the message or your writing style.
My mom thought Queen Bee was too dark. That was her personal opinion and she honestly shared that with me. Someone else who found my book in their hands at some point along the way absolutely loved it, possibly because the style of writing lined up with other stories they were interested in.
When my mom reads, she does so to escape. She likes happy stories and lighthearted prose. A “dark” book is never going to fully satisfy her, even if it’s written by her own daughter. I wasn’t offended by her opinion then and I’m not now. Because it’s her opinion and has nothing to do with my ability (or lack thereof) to write a book.
Just because someone does not “like” or “connect with” your story does not mean it was not a good story. I think many of us immediately jump to that conclusion when we hear about negative reviews or comments or someone doesn’t have great things to say about our work.
Put simply, there are a lot of people out there who just aren’t going to like what you write. The problem is that many of these people don’t know how to communicate or even recognize the difference between not liking something and something of poor quality. They just lump it all together and call it a “bad book.” Because they didn’t have a good experience, people often go straight to labeling something as terrible for everyone, which is a personal pet peeve I’m not going to let myself start ranting about right now.
Therefore, we have to constantly remind ourselves not to take every reaction to something we publish too seriously. It’s possible that someone calling your writing “bad” really means they just did not enjoy it, and those are usually two very different things.
Of course, it’s also possible your writing is actually bad. But you really have to weigh the ratio of good vs. bad feedback here. If one person says it’s bad, and 299 people are saying it’s good, are you really going to go along with the one person going negative?
Your goal as a writer should never be to write something that caters to everyone’s preferences, because this is an impossible feat. Different people like to read different things. A particular menu item at a restaurant is not created for everyone to enjoy. It is there to satisfy those who enjoy the tastes, textures, and other elements it offers. There will be people that prefer not to order it. That does not make it a bad dish.
Instead, you should always write a story you know will connect with and matter to SOMEONE, because it connects with and matters to YOU. In this world, if something you write improves the life of one person, well, isn’t that more than enough?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.
12 thoughts on “Not Everyone Will Like Your Story — That Doesn’t Mean It’s a Bad Story”
I loved this because I completely agree with you. Too often people give up on their dream because they hand it to their best friends who don’t insta-love it. There are billions of books out their because everyone likes different things. Great post and go your mum for her honesty! ❤️
Not everyone will like your story. I loved the last paragraph. I have told myself the same thing, that should even one person love and remember something from one of my stories, as I have remembered and treasure the words of writers who have touched me, it would be immensly rewarding. Friends say they loved my stories, I hope they are not simply being kind. They rarely offer to explain just why or what they enjoyed however. Others point out typos or,to me,obvious proof errors, a misplaced comma or two, in a several hundred thousand word count mss without commenting on the content of the story. Very peevish. As you say, we cannot appeal to everyone any more than all fiction writers appeal to us. Interesting discussion, thanks.
Reblogged this on Ann Writes Inspiration and commented:
Yes, I totally agree.
Very, very true. And sometimes it’s as simple as the day folks read it. Maybe they’re having a bad day or life hasn’t dealt them the cards to understand.
I had one editor that told me he remembered reading the story years before, and hated it at the time. I’d resubmitted it, he read it again, and loved it. But it wasn’t what they were looking for, and so they didn’t pick it up
It’s so hard, sometimes, to separate your work from your worth. We often forget that when someone is rejecting our work, most of the time it’s because it doesn’t fit with what they want in one way or another, and probably has nothing to do with “us.” I always say editors, for example, are probably rejecting your work, not you personally.
Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
Check out this post from the Novelty Revisions blog that reminds us: Not Everyone Will Like Your Story — That Doesn’t Mean It’s a Bad Story
Reblogged this on Stevie Turner and commented:
Absolutely correct. What is awful to one person can be great to another. We writers cannot ever hope to please all readers all the time.
Reblogged this on Just Can't Help Writing and commented:
I kinda needed this. Maybe you will, too.
Couldn’t agree more :)
Reblogged this on anita dawes and jaye marie.
Never play your music or send your books/stories to friends or family. Even if they have a clue. Unless the friend is an artistic collaborator. My wife has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric. You’d think that would be useful.
Beta readers who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth, editors who know the difference between style choices and grammar and when to leave content alone and fix your capped/uncapped pronouns, usually a job best left to a hungry grad student who doesn’t want $2k for the task if you can self edit your content into something readable.
What you have to say falls right into Meyers/Briggs. A given percentage of readers are guaranteed not to like your story or your style. Given that as empirical there’s no reason to sweat it. Unless “That really sucked” is unanimous, and then maybe it’s time to head back to the woodshed. But even then, where would we be without visionaries?
Great piece. I don’t know about others, but I’m all too keen to dwell on the 1 negative review or bad experience, than focus on the good ones. I must keep this in mind more often.