As anyone who knows me reasonably well will be aware, I write a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, and a lot of stuff in between. It varies, but until I started working on a trade magazine last year, around half my time (not including the time I spend researching, marketing, and submitting) was spent on articles for various magazines or websites on everything from Chinese media censoreship to chili pepper farming, or movie or book reviews or something, and the rest was spent writing short stories and novellas. Novels, not so much, because they take years and I don’t find the pay-off so satisfying, either emotionally or financially.
I’ve always found non-fiction both more profitable and easier to write. There’s a science to it. You get the green light from the commissioning editor, do the research, find an angle, familiarize yourself with the house style, and away you go. You become a small cog in a big machine, and all you have to do is your job. Your work appears under the masthead of whatever publication you are writing for, and most of the time readers don’t even know, or care, who actually wrote it. Your name is out there, and you are still eligible for criticism, but it’s not front and centre. It’s kinda like parading yourself around in front of a bunch of strangers wearing a uniform. This uniform is something people are familiar with, and used to. They have expectations of how someone wearing it should act, and how you should walk. If anyone has an issue with you, they’ll take it to your boss and you’ll probably never have to deal with it.
Fiction, though, is a whole different ball game. Unless you write under a pseudonym, you are right there, front and centre. It’s your choice, but really you HAVE no choice. Self-promotion is everything, and there is nowhere to hide. Even if your fiction is published in a magazine, anthology or journal, its usually the names of the contributors prospective readers look for and whatever the publication is called becomes secondary. There is nothing to hide your modesty. That uniform has been removed and there you are in all your pale, quivering glory, stark bollock naked and waiting for people to throw tomatoes at you.
Some people like being in this state; vulnerable, exposed, there for the world to not only see, but judge and critique. Which is fine. Each to their own and all that. Most of us, however, are not so comfortable with it and we wish there was another way. But there isn’t. Every time we put our work out there, we effectively strip off and lay ourselves open for criticism. Not only that, we even bend over and invite a multitude of total strangers to shaft us and then walk away giggling to themselves.
Now, some people might love that naked body on display. Whether it’s male, female, fat, thin, black, white, whatever. But there may be some elements you, as an audience, might find less attractive. Maybe you’d like slimmer thighs, or fatter thighs. Maybe you dig tattoos and body art, maybe you don’t. Who knows? One of the greatest aspects of being human is that we don’t all like the same things. Life would be pretty damn boring if we did. Most rational people acknowledge that nobody is perfect and accept each other, warts and all.
But a small minority will be put off by the paleness of our skin, our wobbly bits, that weird mole on our left thigh, or even just by the fact that you’re naked. It’s easy for these people to make their disapproval known. We even egg them on. “Whaddya think? Tell me! Write it down and post it in a public forum to ensure that as many people as possible know how hard you think I suck!”
By that, I mean there’s a good chance they might take one fleeting glance at our exposed flabby bits then run off to leave a bad review on Amazon or Goodreads, or they might pause and take a real long, detailed look, and THEN run off and leave a bad review on Amazon or Goodreads.
We can all accept criticism. Or at least, we should be able to. It comes with the territory, and it’s all part of being a creative. Not everyone is going to like everything we do. We take the rough with the smooth and don’t expect blanket praise.
Still, some empathy would be nice. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were out there, naked, being ruthlessly judged by faceless critics who fire their wounding shots then duck back down behind the parapet where it’s nice and safe? I often wonder about these people who hide behind fake names and leave a trail of one and two star reviews in their wake. Does tearing people down make them feel better about themselves? Does it fill some void in their lives? Do they think they are doing some kind of public service?
Be honest, by all means. Tell us what you think. What you really think. But next time you leave someone a bad review, or even worse, drop a one-star rating without even explaining why, spare a thought for the amount of work that has gone into the book you just shat on. The time, the energy, the hope the writer has invested. It might not be to your liking, their naked body might be so damn ugly it makes you throw up in your mouth a little, but at least they have the balls to risk everything and put themselves out there. That alone has to be worth more than one star.
If you really want to see me naked, you can do so HERE.