Opinion vs fact
I’m about to let loose with opinions here. Not fact, just my opinion. Okay, some of the personal stuff is fact, but the rest is just Karen Ranney’s opinion. Have you ever noticed that a lot of the brouhaha on the Internet is mostly opinion? Very few facts are involved in most of the stories you read. But everybody has an opinion.
When I first began writing, I took a leap of faith. I took all my 401K money, all my savings, and I quit my very well paying job. I gave myself a year to be a published author. Nowadays, that wouldn’t be a big deal. Back in 1990 it was laughable.
I wrote a book, Above All Others. A new agent had a blurb in RWR (the magazine for Romance Writers of America) and I called her. Would she be interested in reading my book? She would.
My six years of hell
So began my six years of pure, unadulterated hell. Hell, I tell ya. Shudder.
The agent made me change Above All Others 27 times. Keep in mind this is back in the day before email submissions. We’re talking either snail mail or FedEx. My first agent had been an editor at Kensington. I don’t know if she was practicing on me as one of her first clients. I do know she’s no longer an agent, so make of that what you will. Oh, she still gets paid on my books. Sigh.
She was brutal in her assessment of me.
- Change your subplots. You evidently don’t know what a subplot is.
- Change your style of writing. You overwrite.
- Your manuscript reminded me of XXX’s. Your manuscript suffers for the comparison.
And more. Much, much more.
To this day I’m super sensitive to people issuing blanket statements to me. “You always…” “You never…” My first response is to rear back. My second is to go radio silent.
With every single correction and critique, I was given a choice. Do I continue on, or do I throw in the towel? I sucked it up. I learned. I changed. I learned some more. She sent out the first book and we didn’t get any nibbles. By the time Above All Others was finished to HER satisfaction, I hated that book with a purple passion. I despised every page of it. I have not gone back and reformatted that book, although it probably needs it. I hate it that much.
And I’m letting it all hang out right now. I’ve never told the whole story – publicly or privately – until today.
The beginning of the end
I was going through about the 23rd edit on that book – and we’re talking full edits – when all of a sudden I got the idea for Tapestry. This book, I decided, was going to be mine. She wasn’t going to change it. Nor did I allow her to. We suffered through two more books together. The coup de grace came when she insisted I change things in the third book. When the book got to my editor (Kensington had bought the first three books by that time) my editor wanted me to change it back to the original version. I decided I was not going to allow the agent to do any more edits.
But here’s what happened. When I say she was brutal, I do mean brutal. I can’t tell you how many times I sat on the edge of my bed and sobbed. I was a basket case every single time I got the manuscript back with more red scrawls and post it notes. I told myself I couldn’t possibly be a writer. I couldn’t possibly have any talent. What was I thinking, nearly bankrupting myself on the silly notion that I could write a book. Was I nuts?
A callus on my psyche
That kind of abuse is like any repetitive movement. It grows calluses. After a while, the abuse didn’t hurt all that much. I just kind of rolled my eyes and mentally said, okay, okay, you’re on a tear. I’m going to ignore you until I absolutely must handle you.
The same thing happened with my editor from HarperCollins/Avon. Up until that point, at Kensington, I really wasn’t edited. In Tapestry, I changed two words, but that’s the extent of the editing job I got. But HarperCollins/Avon was a brand-new situation. I wrote my first book for them and got a seven page diatribe about what was wrong with it in return. I was absolutely stunned. Up until that point I didn’t realize that was what editors do. I thought editors did what they did at Kensington. They simply said, “Oh, here’s the book. Let’s typeset it and publish it.”
Not only did Avon send me seven pages, and I remember every single page of that first critique at Avon, but they called me. The big muckety muck publisher told me they wanted me to change my whole way of writing. Picture this, if you will, a 110,000 word manuscript. Perfect in every way (LOL) and they wanted me to change the point of view of every single character. In other words, no more than one point of view per scene. Up until that point and I think you can find it in all my early books, I mixed the POV within scenes.
I stared at that manuscript for probably a whole day, absolutely overwhelmed by the task before me. Oh, did I mention, they needed it in a month? Oh, did I also mention that after the first year I had to find a job because my year of Becoming a Writer was over? Actually, my first book for Avon was published about seven years after I decided I was going to be a writer. I consider those early books for Kensington practice. Not only in writing, but in being a human being.
Let me explain. By being forced to choose, to reevaluate, to rededicate myself to my goal, I was also forced to defend my decision to be a writer to myself. That first agent made me stronger. Nearly going bankrupt and running out of money after the first year made me stronger too. I will never regret stepping out on faith and doing something that scary. I’m glad I did it. I’m also glad I learned so many lessons about myself.
- Did I want to be a writer? Yes.
- How much did I want to be a writer? Enough to put up with your stuff.
- Are you sure? Yes, dammit, I’m sure.
Now for the reason that I’ve given you my life story, or at least six years of it: there’s been a lot of disturbance in the Force lately about reviews and authors and badly behaving authors and bully reviewers and etc., etc. I have opinions on everything. I’m going to share them with you as long as you realize they are my opinions, based on my life story. They have no bearing on anyone else. Nor am I dictating behavior to anyone else. Karen Ranney speaks only for Karen Ranney – I love talking about myself in the third person periodically.
An eye opening experience
See, I told you this would take long.
We’ve already discussed my six year career as a writer up until this point.
Going over to HarperCollins/Avon was an eye-opening experience for me. At the same time, all of a sudden I was getting a huge amount of attention. Tapestry had already sold about 250,000 copies over three years. But for the first time, I was hitting the USA Today bestseller list.
Also – this was 1997 – the Internet became important as far as reaching readers, reviews, and promoting your career.
The first time I got a bad review, it hurt my feelings. It probably didn’t hurt them as badly had I not had the Agent from Hell. Right around this time, I changed agents. Unfortunately, I didn’t improve my lot in life all that much. My second agent was one of those “agents to the stars”, if you’ll pardon my sarcasm. She, up until the day I fired her, insisted on telling me about her famous clients every time we spoke on the phone. Every.single.time. I was regaled with stories about XXX and YYY and AAA wanting to go into a mystery career. The coup de grace was the day when she called me “just a romance writer”. I’m sorry? Blink. Blink. You didn’t just say that to me, did you? The only blessing was she didn’t edit me. I went into the relationship knowing that I didn’t want another agent/editor. (I am currently without an agent and that’s the way I want to stay. I have an IP attorney and I handle all my own foreign sales.)
The foxhole analogy
About this time I came up with an analogy about a foxhole. I still think it applies. The more visible you are, the more potshots people are going to take at you. Only because it’s human nature. Picture a World War I soldier sitting in a foxhole. He can hear the bullets overhead, but is relatively safe where he is. The minute he leaves that foxhole, he’s a target.
Same thing with being a writer who starts to have a readership. Some people are going to write bad reviews because you’re never going to please anyone. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it probably 10,000 more times: a reader brings as much to a book as a writer. If you hate a subject that’s a subplot in one of my books, you’ll hate the book. I can almost guarantee it. Maybe you don’t like the name Carol. Maybe your ex-husband’s name is Douglas. Or something I’ve written triggers something in you. Bottom line, I am never going to write a book that will please every single reader.
You know what? That’s okay.
So, when I get a bad review, most of the time I can blow it off. I recognize different strokes for different folks, etc. If the review turns into a personal attack, I can handle that too. Remember the Agent from Hell?
I have never been insulted for so long and had to pay 15% for it.
So when I read about authors being bullied, I don’t say anything. I read as much as I possibly can until I come to a decision. I do that with most things. I’ve learned that the first story you get is rarely the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
My opinion: I believe that a lot of people are super sensitive. Then again, they haven’t had the benefit of the Agent from Hell. That woman put calluses on my psyche.
I also think there are roaming bands of bully reviewers but not that many of them. What happens on the Internet – and this is my opinion still, – is a result of “like minds”.
Let me explain what I mean.
No Debby Downers
I try to surround myself with positive people. I have a friend – I had a friend – who was Debbie Downer. If I told her I had won the lottery, she would have complained about the taxes that had to be paid first. There was nothing good about life to Debbie Downer. I finally had to separate myself from her because after a little while in her presence, I found myself looking at life the very same way. After an hour with an Englishwoman, you’d think I was English. Same thing regardless of the nationality. I think I’m a natural mimic in that way. I also tend to assimilate the moods of people around me which was why I was always the cheerleader when I worked in the corporate world. I couldn’t bear being around Debbie Downers all day long. I would’ve been suicidal. Consequently, I took it upon myself to try to elevate the mood.
On the Internet when people of like minds congregate together they create this interactive relationship. You see it on blogs all the time. They feed off each other. It’s like being in a circle and tossing a word across the circle and having someone respond to it and then tossing the word back. You have created this synergistic response. God forbid this circle of people latch onto a victim. They’d be like wolves.
And the very worst thing you can do when you’re an injured fawn in a circle of wolves is reveal you’ve been wounded.
Get back in the foxhole
Karen Ranney Rules for the Internet:
- Do not read reviews.
- If you must read reviews, don’t tell anyone.
- If you must tell anyone, don’t admit your feelings were hurt.
- If you must admit your feelings were hurt, do not exchange bullets with the opposing forces.
- Don’t thank anyone for a review. Don’t comment. Don’t do anything.
- Retreat to the foxhole.
Remember the Agent from Hell? She taught me more than anybody else in my professional life that if I wanted to be a writer, I had to suck it up.
Karen Ranney’s opinion on Readers:
- You have the right to write anything you want in a review. Reviews can sometimes reveal more about the reviewer than the book, however.
- Try not to indulge in personal attacks.
- If an author is foolish enough to engage, refuse.
Sucking it up
When writers comment on any review anywhere, I cringe. I wince for them. A tiny little voice in the back of my mind goes: how bad do you want to be a writer?
How much do I want to be a writer? My answer remains the same as it was all those years ago: with all my heart.
- Enough to grow calluses where they will do the most good.
- Enough to keep working, even on those days where the words just won’t flow.
- Enough to put one foot in front of the other and keep on trucking.
- Enough to ignore the naysayers and the critics and listen only to that still, small voice within me.
- Enough to learn from my mistakes.
- Enough to value my readers as the jewels they are.