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.