I’m sure you’ve heard by now that M. Leighton has felt compelled to pull her book Until I Break from publication. I read her blog post about her decision which, I’m sure, was quite agonizing for her. She wanted to explain to readers that writing is not just about the money—it’s about telling a story, a story that needs to be told, and not everyone is going to like that story.
I agree with her 100%. Sometimes even we as writers get frustrated and angry with characters, but if we try to push them to do things they don’t want to do, the story feels like a lie. It’s fake and unreal, and you can tell—both as a writer and as a reader. Some readers don’t understand that…that book characters are very much like real people. Sometimes, as writers, we are merely the transcriptionists. We are merely telling the story of people who are already alive in our heads. And I think we, as writers, simply have to ignore the readers who scream how much they hate or don’t understand a particular character or storyline. They’re the ones who don’t get it. WE’RE NOT WRITING FOR THEM. Again, though, I respect and understand Michelle’s decision. I just wish she’d change her mind and stand her ground and ignore the folks giving her a bad time. That is the last I will say about it, though, because it’s her decision.
It got me to thinking about the situation, however. No matter how good I think one of my books is or how many readers love it, I have always received a few negative reviews. There’s no getting around it. You will never make everyone happy…and you will always have readers who misunderstand. That’s life, and I think it’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an author. Sure, you hear growing up that “you can’t make everyone happy,” but it’s another thing entirely to understand it, live it, and accept it. It helped me to see how many of my favorite rock bands persevered when misunderstood. I’m reminded of the time when I was a teenager—my favorite band Judas Priest (perhaps you’ve heard of them? ) released an album called Turbo Lover. It was still Judas Priest—screaming guitars, screaming Halford, lovely heavy metal, and I loved it!—but there was some synthesizer, some different stuff going on, and even my pop friends liked it. All of a sudden, metalheads all over were in an uproar. JP had sold out, they said. It sucked. It was the end of metal.
No, it wasn’t.
JP had wanted to try something different. And know what? I GOT IT. Did I want a steady diet of Turbo Lover? Hell, no, and JP didn’t provide it either. But I respected that they wanted to try something different. You will always have your naysayers, but you know as well as I do that nothing ever stays the same. And, really, (in the case of JP), if you wanted more Defenders of the Faith (kick ass album, by the way), put that cassette in your boom box and crank it. Don’t buy Turbo Lover if you don’t want it. But respect that they as artists wanted to try something different. If you love them, you need to realize that they needed to go there.
It’s the same as a writer. You have these characters, these situations, these lives in your head. You have to write them down, see how they play out. You endure the torment with the characters. You laugh with them; you cry with them; you live their lives in that microcosm in your brain. Sometimes their lives are not what you’d originally thought they would be, but you write it down anyway. Sometimes they’re naïve and gullible and will p*ss your readers off (think Val in Bullet). Sometimes they’re damaged and seem sleazy (think Ethan). Sometimes they’re cocky, conceited, and self-centered (think Riley in Tangled Web), but they’re actually sensitive and sweet when you see them from the inside (the other side of Riley in Everything But). They are just like real people. Do YOU like everyone you have ever met? If you tell me yes, I believe you’re either a liar or shallow. But just because readers don’t like those characters or their story, why do they feel justified crucifying an author for telling the story in her head? Why not instead just realize that it’s not their cup of tea and go read something that is? The author didn’t set out just to make them angry or upset…so those vitriolic readers need to stop making it so god***ned personal.
Sorry. I think I feel better now. And I support you, Michelle, no matter your decision, and I’m glad you didn’t flinch when you told Sam and Alec’s story.
P.S. I’m not sure yet, but I think this may have hit close to home because I’ve had several readers already angry with me about Fake based on the teaser. I’m tellin’ ya, folks…I just write it down. The story’s already there inside my head, and sorry if you don’t like it. Again–nothing personal.