What does the world think of my book?
It’s a challenging thing to put one’s own work out into the world – especially content as personal and autobiographical as mine.
On one level there’s the thinking that “these poems and artworks are me: my private thoughts, my experiences, my wounds broken open for all to witness.” This is an observation-only level that does not need commentary to validate it.
On another level there’s the wondering of “how does my work stack up against all the other works that are published?” This is the level of comparison: my book is just one in a sea of books which are published (traditionally published, self-published, published online; in various formats including print, eBook and audiobooks …) and rated by readers from all walks of life, some who share the experiences I describe and some who don’t. This is the level that an author must (learn to) be at peace with, because things may be stated that are not (initially) agreed with, leaving an author thinking their product has not been recognised in its entirety or that some part of it (its elements, its message) may have been missed.
In birthing work in the public sphere an author is opening themselves up to be critiqued. The whole point of publishing is to do that. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not scary – or more accurately, terrifying – especially as a self-published author who does not have the backing of a traditional publishing house to provide reassurance, through the very act of commissioning the work, that the product is a worthwhile product and will succeed in a contemporary literary market.
Self-publishing is an interesting journey: on the one hand it allows people like me to get my work out, in ways I couldn’t do without its machinations; on the other hand there can be little quality control and a self-published product can range from woefully awful to absolutely wonderful, with a myriad of individualised judgements along this opinion continuum.
Every author publishes to succeed: reviews and awards assist in this space. I have not yet been successful in being shortlisted (and every omission chips my confidence), but that won’t stop me from trying by entering awards as they come up (“you’ve gotta be in it to win it”). I just need to manage my self-talk as I go. I am now embarking on critical reviews (which I didn’t do with my first book because I lacked confidence), and sometimes I need to sit with the commentary awhile so that I can separate the public product from the private me who wrote and drew it: they are different entities.
Personal feedback is often different to public feedback, coming from a different space: this makes neither less valid than the other, it’s merely different. As someone who writes critical reviews about other people’s love-projects it seems only fair that I open myself up to the same process. Readers’ personal feedback about my books has been uplifting, giving me the conviction to keep going when I begin to doubt myself: when my inner critic looms large and wonders why I bother to keep going in what can feel like an enormous uphill battle against adversity.