A Little Pat on the Back

A little pat on the back. That’s all most of us need to get us through the day.

Writers are no different. We just need a little pat on the back every now and then.

Bad reviews, negative comments, and rejection letters can really add up. It can be hard to keep going on, putting yourself out there, making yourself a target for criticisms. I try not to focus on the bad things. But it can be hard. I’ve had a couple of one or two star reviews, along with comments that made me wonder if they were really talking about my book, because the words didn’t seem to fit. Kind of like repeatedly using the word “wet” when talking about the lunar surface. You might find a way to say it once that makes sense, like “it’s not wet”, but if you keep saying that, it makes me think we are talking about different things.

So I do my best to ignore those and move on.

But it takes a lot of good things said to a writer to erase the hurt caused by even one bad. Even a bad one that makes no sense that you eventually have to put out of your mind as not really related to you. Those still hurt. 

So when I get a good one, I hold on to it. I treasure it. I cherish it. 

And I want to share a couple with you. One publically, the others edited to protect the innocent, as I didn’t want to seek their permission to put these up, or embarrass them if I did.  (Or myself if they said no!)

I moved back to Colorado in 2010 and started trying to get published. It took over a year to get my first story published. It took another year for the next one. It took over three years to publish something that someone actually went out of their way to compliment. 

That someone was Aaron Micheal Ritchey. (He doesn’t know this. If you tell him quickly, you may be the first to do so.) He said, “Sam Knight left me feeling satisfied.” He gave me permission to quote him on that. I asked him moments after the words came out of his mouth. You know, after I stopped laughing. He didn’t realize I was Sam Knight when he told me that. That was how we met. The story was Captain SamJack’s Terror Emporium.

Now, I’m not going to say I was on the verge of giving up writing at that point, but I will say it recharged some seriously low batteries somewhere deep in my soul.

It took nearly another year before such another “feel good” came my way. I submitted a story and didn’t really expect much from it. I mean, I really liked the story, but, you know, that didn’t mean anyone else would, and I had fallen into a routine of not expecting compliments. I don’t fish for them, and I don’t much care for when I see other people fishing. Which means it had been a while since I had received one. Then I got the acceptance e-mail. (Names and content have been edited to protect the innocent.)

“Are you kidding me?  For years I get an endless stream of (X kind of) stories or stories about the (Y thing), or stories about the (X thing with the Y thing). And just about each time I think “Why can’t anyone ever send me a story about (Z)? Why? Why?”  Then, low and behold, on the last day of submissions, is a story about (Z). Wow.  A contract will be forthcoming.” 
 
I have proudly shown this e-mail to many people. If you are the one who wrote it, and you still recognize it after my edits, I just want to say thank you. Your enthusiastic acceptance has kept me plugging along many a night. 
 
In 2014, again nearly a year later, I and a story of mine were mentioned by name in a Publisher’s Weekly starred review of an anthology. This, I thought, was pretty darn cool. Most of us writers do. (A “starred review” means Publisher’s Weekly is telling people “Hey! Check this one out!”)

This also carried me on for quite a while. Just about hurt myself patting myself on the back over it. Not really. But seriously, it helps. Going for long stretches without positive reinforcement is rough, especially when you can’t seem to buy a review. (Not that I would, but you know what I mean. Or maybe you don’t. See footnote at end of this.)

Getting an opportunity to co-author with Kevin J. Anderson was another such moment. If he thought I was good enough to work with, well… I must be! Right?

Right? I dunno. Maybe. It’s hard to keep up the excitement of one event over an extended period of time. Life seeps in the cracks and slows us down.

A “meh” review here, a nasty comment there, and a writer quickly falls into the dumps.

But then Kevin asked me to co-author with him a second time. That’s some serious positive affirmation there. I hold that as near and dear as the others on this list.

But that too, fades. Until I really think about it. But like all types of things, it always comes down to a “what have you done for me lately” type of thing. (Not you, Kevin, I mean in general, but you know, if you’re looking…) And then us writers start to feel sad again. It’s been a long time since someone was excited about something we wrote and it’s hard for us to keep up our positive attitudes.  

So what inspired me to write this? In the last week, I’ve received not one, but two of those precious moments. 

One was regarding the self-editing book I just put out, Blood From Your Own Pen. (I don’t have a page up for it yet, but you can read a little about it here: http://samknight.com/?m=201704&paged=2 )  I’ve taken a little heat for self-publishing it. I’ve been criticized for my cover. Normal things. Things I am used to. Things that slowly eat at me even when I know they shouldn’t.

But then I got this message:

“On our submission guidelines page, I want to put a link to this book and make it a requirement to read before they submit anything”

I have to admit, that made my day. My entire week even. That erased any doubt in my mind that I had wasted my time putting that book together. 

The other note I received was regarding a story submission I sent in. Part of the response was: “Okay, that was freaking brilliant … I’ll get edits and a contract to you within the next couple of weeks. Thank you!”

“freaking brilliant”  

I had to savor that phrase for a little while. 

Those last two wonderful comments, freely given to me, unsolicited, by two wonderful people have erased any bad thoughts from one and two star reviews. The nasty or irrelevant comments. The self-doubt. The loneliness of a clicking keyboard when I am feeling insecure. 

Admittedly I know this feeling will fade. It always does. The negatives will come again, but for just a moment, I am feeling loved. I am feeling like maybe I’m not just spinning my wheels, like I will get where I want to be. 

So here is the Moral Of The Story:

If you are an author, find those golden moments and hold on to them. Put them in a safe place where you can pull them out and hold them in the light so you can see the pretty sparkles when you need to. We all get compliments like these, we just don’t all hold on to them and treasure them like we should. They will carry us through.

If you like an author, leave reviews. Tell other people to leave reviews. Tell the author you like their stuff. Ask them to write more. You never know if your comment will be the one that comes at just the right moment to keep them strong, to keep them going on. To keep them writing something you love.  If an author gives you a treasure you will always cherish, you can easily give the same back with a quick letter, a quick e-mail, blog post, review, or even just a kind word in person.

And if you’ve done that for someone, on their behalf I thank you. Those really are precious. It’s quite possible someone you think doesn’t even remember meeting you has words that you spoke to them tucked away close to their heart forever.

 

 

Footnote:

Sock puppetry is when an author pretends to be someone else and then leaves reviews on their own works. Why would they do this? To drum up business, to get people interested in their stuff. Some even hire places to leave reviews. You know the same way some people pay to get “likes” on Facebook or “follows” on Twitter. Why? It drums up business. But it’s not really honest and can get you in a lot of trouble with places like Amazon if you get caught.

Why would people risk getting caught? Because it is so darn hard to get anyone to leave you a review. Some of us can’t even get family members to leave reviews. You can give away hundreds of free books to people who promise they will leave reviews and few, if any, will.