Advice to new writers: don’t worry too much about reader reactions that don’t seem to be connected to what you were actually trying to do.
What do I mean by that? Well, say you produce a yellow square and put it out in the world and the reactions are like, “Oh my goodness! As yellow squares go, this is a lovely yellow square! Look at that gorgeous shade of yellow! Look at those four even sides! What a success this yellow square is!”
In the meantime, you’re at work on your next project, and because it doesn’t interest you to do the same thing over and over, this time you’re creating a green triangle. You work really hard. When you can see that it has become a lovely green triangle, you put it out in the world.
The reactions you start to receive are along the lines of, “Oh NO! This is the WORST YELLOW SQUARE EVER! This writer tried to produce another yellow square but the result was failure.”
People will confuse their expectations with your intentions and with the quality of your work. This will happen. So you need to keep hold of what your own expectations/goals were. And there will always be people who know how to judge a book for what it is, not what they were hoping it would be; comfort yourself with those responses. There will also be people who, despite expressing disappointment that you went in a different direction (which is a perfectly fair reaction!), will know better than to assume you missed your mark — people who won’t conflate their disappointment with your failure — people who are conscious of what they themselves are bringing to a reading. These responses can be comforting, too.
In the end — and I mean this 100% — what matters is what you think of your book. Don’t get me wrong, this can change based on the intelligent commentary of others. Speaking personally, criticism by others has absolutely helped me to see my own books more clearly, in all their flaws. But don’t forget that some of the people who express reactions to your books will actually be judging a green triangle as if it is a failed attempt at a yellow square. Those criticisms hurt, but they’re not actually relevant to your process. It’s safe to let them go.
By the way, when I showed this post to a few friends, one of them asked me if it was spurred by a criticism she’s seen about Bitterblue, namely, that it fails as a romance. It wasn’t. I don’t think I could get worked up enough about criticism of my own books to write a blog post about it (plus, I think it’s kind of tacky when authors do that). No, what spurred this post was a dreadful review I read of a wonderful book by someone else, a review that was completely off the mark and seemed to reveal a lot more about the reviewer than it did about the book. But I suppose this blog post could have been about Bitterblue. I would have to agree that it fails as a romance. Here are some other things it fails as: Historical fiction. True crime. Poetry. Time travel. Cook book. Instruction manual for flying a helicopter. Seriously, it’s like the worst helicopter instruction manual EVER.
Confident that I’ve beaten my point into the ground, I’ll stop now 🙂