As I finish up edits on my screenplay, "The Ace of Spades," I find myself at a spot many authors do: asking the question, "Where to next?" Try another screenplay? Write another book? Abandon all efforts at creative endeavors entirely and give up on being an author? I think there are likely very authors who don't at some point ask themselves a variation of these questions.
As authors, we can take multiple approaches to content creation. Are we writing for ourselves, the literary equivalent of whispering stories to ourselves at night under the blanket? Are we writing for a library, trying to fill holes in topics or genres? Are we writing with the express (and almost scientific) goal of pleasing readers? These approaches generate individual Venn diagrams, because normally, there's some degree of overlap between them. Rarely do authors write with just one goal in mind. But our primary driver is important, because it shapes how we conceptualize stories and how we execute them.
(And fanfiction, by the way, offers a few additional possible goals. Writing as a game, for example. Can we immitate the style or voice that someone else has pioneered? Or we righting a wrong. Can we write a scene that should have been on screen--for example, a happy ending or a date that never happened?)
As I've written before, whenever I submit my manuscripts to publishers, my primary goal is to fill gaps. I grew up in a world with very little lesbian (or queer female, or sapphic, if you prefer) representation. I want libraries with lesbian knights, mages, archaeologists, and demon bounty hunters. And while I still believe in that goal, as we close out 2023, hundreds and soon thousands of books are being published a year with queer female protagonists. The world has changed, and we are all, universally, better for it. But what does that mean for my Venn diagam?
I enjoy writing books. I've written stories and other things since probably before I could even write full sentences. And like any author, I hope that readers enjoy reading my books. But as I enter my first real lull period since starting this journey as a "published author," I have to ask myself: is it worth writing more books? Should I stop and find a new hobby? The truth is, after six books, the negative reviews weigh so much more heavily than the positive ones. It's hard to be motivated when one reader's joy is lost beneath five ARC reviewers' disappointment. In that type of situation, it's hard to believe the book is having the positive impact I had hoped for. Instead, it seems like the book is mostly a waste of time for readers, who could be spending that time reading something better.
Regardless of what a few people may say, it's fair for authors to be depressed by bad reviews. We're human, after all. We dedicate hundreds of hours of our lives to a project and hope that it will be well received. When it's not...it sucks. Because it means we failed to meet our own goals for the project. It's no different from a sculptor feeling sad that their statue is panned, or a singer trudging home after being booed in a bar. Disappointment is a universal human sentiment. And building on that, it's fair for an author to use that emotion to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of further effort in that direction. "Suck it up, Buttercup," doesn't apply here. Didn't Marie Kondo teach us that if we hugged something and it didn't bring us joy, we should discard it?
I worry that in writing about my considerations for the future, some reviewers will take it as license to degrade my experience. "If you can't take criticism, you shouldn't be an author." Or, "Don't whine about bad reviews. It's bad form." Of course, both statements are true to some degree. But not in their entirety, and definitely not when uttered without compassion. So perhaps a better statement would be, "Be an author until you feel the negatives of the experience outweigh the positives. And when that happens, walk away with dignity." So I don't know what I'll do. 2024 is 366 days of possibility (leap year!). But if I don't write more books, I will be at peace with the fact that even if my books didn't reach many people, at least they did reach a few who genuinely enjoyed them.