The Bad review taunted me. Hours and hours of hard work, of fighting with the images in my head, of putting down words despite my own self-consciousness. Hundreds of dollars on a cover, thousands of pep-talks. Chocolates by the fistful (I’m a stress eater) and wine to soothe my nerves.
All for what? Apparently one single star.
A few years ago, when my debut thriller got picked up by Avon Books/Harpercollins, I thought it was finally my time. I thought all of the tears over bad reviews, rejections, bad book sales, and empty book signings would be over. When that debut hit the USA Today Bestseller’s list, I thought for sure my hard work had finally paid off and I would reap success. I could finally tuck away that self-doubt that had been my nemesis for years, the voice always huskily whispering to me that I wasn’t enough.
But here’s the thing, dear writer—the self-doubt never dies. It’s always gnawing on you from within. Sure, hitting a list or scoring a sought-after publishing deal might squash it for a while. But it’s always waiting for the right moment—another rejection, a bad review, or a bad sales month. Then, it rears its ugly head once more and you realize the harsh truth. No matter what you do, self-doubt will always find a way back in. More often than not, the imposter syndrome and the feeling of not being good enough will worm its way into your brain at the exact moment you feel like quitting it all anyway.
Thus, after my third and fourth thriller manuscripts were flat out rejected, my self-doubt and imposter syndrome crept back in. I thought for sure I was done. I felt like a one-hit wonder, a washed up, terrible writer. I let the self-doubt monster within convince me of what all writers perhaps fear the most—I wasn’t a good writer after all.
This funk went on for several months until finally, thanks to my husband and a long look inside, I told myself to get back up. I was a writer. I had a voice I needed to share and stories to tell. I was meant to keep writing.
Thus, I flung myself into the world of self-publishing. I decided I would stand confidently and be my own supporter. I would skip all the gatekeepers in the publishing world. I had learned enough to spread my words and to tell the stories I wanted to tell. I wouldn’t cave to pressures to write the norm. I would write my stories that stepped out of genres and out of the confines of the publishing world. I would stand tall and proud in my words. So I did just that—I self-published those rejected manuscripts and put them out into the world.
And it’s had its ups for sure. I’ve won an award on my first self-published book. I’ve gotten enough positive reviews to keep the self-doubt monster from preying on me. I’ve been able to stand steady in my boots. I’ve even convinced myself that this was the writing path for me all along, that maybe my own journey would inspire others to stop depending on publishers to feel successful.
Tonight, though, the monster reared its ugly head out of nowhere. As my latest self-published book has just hit Netgalley, I’ve been staring and waiting to see what others think. Perhaps this is the problem—I have not yet gained the confidence in myself to ignore what others think and to only hear my own voice. I am still looking for validation. Because as I sit here staring at my first review on Netgalley, it’s a one-star review. And as I study the scathing words and the knocks on my writing, I’d like to say it doesn’t matter. I’d like to tell you dear writer, that I’m going to ignore it, shake it off. That I don’t care what others think of my book, let alone one person. That would all be a lie, though.
So I’m going to tell you the truth.
It hurts. It stings. It sucks.
And the self-doubt monster is now consuming all those lists I’ve hit, those achievements I’ve had, those successes. It’s gobbling them up one by pretty one and spitting out the remnants of a writing career I was once proud of. It’s convincing me with its confident stance that I am a failure, a nobody, that I never really was that good.
It hurts like hell because, like so many writers, I’ve felt called to this. I’ve always wanted this. I’ve hung the past six years on this impossible dream. I’ve listened to the podcasts and written the positive sticky notes to tell myself to just keep going. I’ve talked the talk of finding confidence and celebrating your achievements and never backing down.
Yet that one review has slaughtered all my faith and has made me truly feel like just quitting, like it was all for nothing. That’s the truth of how I’m feeling. I am devastated. I feel like a loser, like an absolute terrible writer.
Why write this, then? Why spread my morose feelings of quitting and failure?
Because I think so many times in the writing world, the loneliest part of it all is feeling like you’re the only one struggling. It’s bad marketing to talk about failures and bad reviews, we’re told. People don’t want to hear about your struggles.
That’s probably true. But when, as writers, we stop talking about the hard times, the problem is that we set a dangerous precedent for our peers—we make them feel like everything should be perfectly rosy for them, too. We convince them that no one else is crying over a review or feeling like a failure or wondering if they even are talented at all. We make them feel even more alone than any scathing review could.
So tonight, as I wiped away tears and the painful sting of failure, I write this with one hope: That somewhere out there, another writer who is suffering, too, will find peace in knowing they are not the only one. I hope that by sharing these raw feelings someone out there can understand that list or no list, published or not, we all face hardships in our self-confidence as writers. We all get rejected and bad reviews. We all think about quitting. We all, in short, feel like shit because someone hates our work.
But then, because we are writers to our core, we get back up. We put pen to paper again. We let our voice sing on the page once more, even at the great risk of having others critique us harshly again. Because, even in the middle of feeling like a failure or like quitting, we know that there are worse things than failing—and that’s to silence our writing voices forever.
So I carry on—sub-par writing, clunky verbiage, forgettable characters, and all.
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USA TODAY Bestselling Thriller author with Avon Books (HarperCollins), The Widow Next Door, The Diary of a Serial Killer's Daughter, and other creepy thriller books