After spending years writing in obscurity, receiving dozens, if not hundreds of rejections from editors, the day may come when you finally get a publisher to say yes to you. Even after the publisher has said yes, and you’ve signed the contract, there is still a long process of satisfying the editors, with many back and forth emails, complaints and requests for changes.
Then, at long last—perhaps six to eighteen months after the book has been accepted for publication—the glorious day arrives that the book appears in bookstores around the country. The publisher’s checks have cleared, and so everything is wonderful, right? Surely, you’ve reached the millennial kingdom and are living happily ever after.
Is to laugh. The difficulty of getting published merely prepares you for the difficulty of being published. In the first place, nobody will notice you’ve got a book out unless you tell them, since it’s not exactly front page news. And those you tell will react with a vagueness that makes you wonder whether they actually comprehend the difficult thing that you’ve accomplished. Most will respond to your accomplishment as they would to an announcement that you’ve successfully baked a muffin.
And only one or two of all the people you know will actually go out and buy a copy of your book.
Then, there are the book reviews.
The first ones that you’ll run across will be the ones that appear on Amazon.com, where anyone who has purchased a book can comment upon it. If your mom has a computer, you know you’ll get at least one five star review.
Some of the reviews on Amazon will be from people to whom the publisher sent free copies of your book with a request that they review it. And most of those will make mention of that fact in the review with these words: “Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] : ‘Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.’”
Words that warm the cockles of your heart.
Unsurprisingly, most of the reviews from people who got free copies of your book from the publisher will turn out to be positive—even glowing.
But not every reviewer will love your book. Some will hate it. The dreaded one star review on Amazon, where a reader complains that your book is so bad that you must be a heretic and devil worshipper can be survived only after having experienced years of rejection. That’s why getting a book published in the first place is such a vale of tears. When you torched those thousands of rejection letters in that bonfire that required permits from the county fire marshal and an environmental impact statement from the EPA, it served a vital purpose beyond providing fuel for the local power plant. Those decades of harsh rejection stiffened your spine, inflamed your resolve, and built up incredible, manly calluses on your heart.
An ordinary person who was not an author would be reduced to a fetal position for several days after reading “To me the book smacked of false teaching. The only thing I did like was the cover design artwork. I will not be giving this book away or even putting it in the church library or any other library. It will be thrown into the trash.” Perhaps a non-author would need some time in a safe padded room, followed by years of counseling, in order to recover even a partial semblance of a normal life.
But having lost all my self-esteem decades ago, such reviews now elicit only slightly crazed laughter. After all, criticizing a book on Amazon is easy; anyone with a computer and internet connection can do it. Writing a book and getting it published by a major publisher—that’s not quite so easy. Fifty years from now, people may still be reading my book (you’d be surprised at some of the old books you can still find for a dime in obscure used bookstores). The critics words, whether good or bad, not so much. As Kipling wrote in his famous poem, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same/... If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,/... Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,/...And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”