I remember the first time that I received a bad review. I wanted to find that person and punch them in the face. It hurt my feelings to think that somebody didn’t like my work. I sat there in my arrogance knowing good and damn well I was the best that ever did it. Truth was… I wasn’t.
Another writer knocked me off my high horse by telling me to read the bad reviews of some of the greats: Terry McMillan, Zane, Nicolas Sparks, and hell even Shakespeare. It was her way of saying what makes you think you are any better than them. I appreciate her for that because I needed it. As I sat there reading all the horrible reviews to so many books that I enjoyed growing up, I realized that being an author was much like being in a relationship: The 80/20 rule applies. I had to place myself in the shoes of the reader and realize that in any book there was room for improvement. You will only get 80% of what you need. The other 20% is your imagination.
My favorite bad review was under the Twilight Series written by Stephanie Meyer. The review compared Jacob to a pedophile. I can be a bit twisted so that gave me a good chuckle because, in reality, it was truth. I was a diehard #teamJacob fan and that one reviewer made me realize that everybody doesn’t enjoy the same flavors. It’s all about perspective.
As an author, I forgot that I was once simply just a reader and before I opened a book there was a certain expectation. I forgot that my readers would have that same expectation.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a difference in a bad review and straight up disrespect. Bad reviews critique your work and leave you with something to grow from as a writer. Blatant disrespect is someone wanting to run your book over with a car (I’ve had a review like that and from it I learned nothing). But as a professional, you have to learn to remain silent or do as I tell you and don’t read reviews at all. I can guarantee you J.K. Rowling isn’t sitting online looking to see who disliked her work this week.
Going back to comparing writing to being in a relationship, we must learn to focus on the people who do love us and our brand. Those are the people that you write for because they will love you no matter what.
Seven years I’ve been doing this and still, GIRL is my most talked about title. I was twenty-two when I first wrote that book. Young, reckless, lost, heartbroken, and so many other things. GIRL was a diary for me. It allowed me to create people in an alternate world who reminded me of people in my reality. I could tell the secrets of the people that crossed me and not get into trouble for it. I know that some writers say to write about things you don’t know about, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do at the time. I wanted to write something that represented who I was in my life at that moment. And who I was, was someone who was completely out of control.
I lived in a one bedroom, shotgun, duplex when I wrote GIRL. I literally had about three or four pieces of furniture and I used my stove to heat up my home in the winter. To me, life was good. My rent was $625.00 and my only utility was lights. I swear that house was held together with hot glue and paper clips but it was my space. I had a regular nine to five that gave me nights, weekends, and holidays off. Somehow between drinking too much, caring for the wrong woman, and a house full of friends, I found time to sit in the middle of my floor and write a book. I’ve been writing for a long time, but I’d never actually got to the end of anything. I just needed to get to the end. The very first character that I wrote was Snapps in the D in Drama. She was a compilation of the women I’d dated up-to-date. I’d actually written her story before I’d came up with a title for the book.
GIRL was supposed to be a traditional novel: 50,000 words and all that jazz, but I just could not get that much out in one character. There were too many voices in my head. I remember saying to myself, “I never finish anything.” I quit all the sports I played even though I was good at them, I quit on relationships, and I quit on projects that I always started. I just wanted to get one thing done. GIRL was it. I literally had a conversation with myself saying that the only way to get to the end was to not have an ending at all. If you have the original copy of GIRL, then you know that it had thirteen stories and each one ended with a cliffhanger. I called myself the Queen of cliffhangers. I wanted people to want more.
The title was born when I asked myself what did all the stories have in common. They had girls in common. Girls because I didn't see myself as a woman yet.
If I skate back a bit further, GIRL was never an idea at all. I started penning my life story on Myspace in my blog. I wanted to talk about it, to share it, to get it out of my head after all I’d been through. I had no idea that I’d build a following. People started coming at me left and right when I didn’t have a new part to my story posted. They wanted a book, a finished one. At that point, I knew that I was not ready. My life wasn’t over, so why was I writing my life story. The ending wouldn’t be good enough for me. At that moment, I turned strictly to fiction.
After I completed GIRL, I started shopping around for a publisher. I met a poet at a bar one night and she told me about a Publishing company that she and her husband owned. She gave me her information and told me to look her up and when I was ready to publish to contact her. In my first spare moment, I searched her on the web and what I saw was impressive. They promoted their artist well and even toured different countries. I wanted that to be me. I did submit my work, but I declined publishing with them because they wanted money upfront. I wasn’t that confident in my skills, nor was I wise enough to realize that investing in myself was the best thing that I could do in my life. I just didn't see myself forking over my $11.00 an hour for something that might fail.
I wasn’t sad about my decision, but I didn’t aggressively seek an alternate route either. The number one question I get is how I became a writer. I always answer the exact same way: “I didn’t choose writing, it chose me.” Everything that I chose to do in life lead me directly to my first publication. Hence the photo on the cover o myself and one of my good friends and sister (Thanks Reesie). My short story collection was collecting dust on a hard drive until a random promoter inboxed me on Myspace and told me that I should self-publish my book and allow him to throw me a release party. He’d read my work and loved it. The universe was not going to let me sit on my destiny. I asked him how to go about taking an independent route and he simply replied lulu.com. Within weeks, I published my first book. It was unedited, horribly formatted, missing a copyright page, and only ninety-one pages long, but it was mine. I’d never been more proud of myself. Before Publishing I dabbled in modeling and because of that short-lived career choice, I had the perfect cover.
Even though I hate that book now (lol) after extensive editing and formatting, it’s still my baby. It’s my best seller and the reason anybody knows my name. It’s the book that got me recognized in public and created a network of people who encouraged me to keep doing what I love. I even appreciate the bad reviews (which took me years). I’ve seen my growth from then until now. GIRL: A Story for Every Les Being.