“But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself” — Garden Party, Rick Nelson
One of the things you learn early on in the fiction game is that you need to lose your ego, because it’s going to be tromped on. You have to learn to take criticism with equanimity, because you’re going to take a lot of abuse. Sometimes the criticism is constructive. In fact, I cut more than 10,000 words from WITH ARTISTIC LICENSE after beta readers all complained about the same thing (belaboring the protagonist’s daily grind at the office). Sometimes a story takes you in a direction the reader doesn’t want to go. TIME MANAGEMENT, A NOVEL, got rave reviews from most readers, but a few objected to the story taking a left turn (essentially changing genres) at the one quarter mark. It was planned, and most readers found that the most compelling aspect of the book. But it wasn’t for everyone. Similarly, I’ve had some wildly enthusiastic and flattering 5-star reviews for EVELYN MARSH. It also received a 1-star review that read as follows: “Offensive. Didn’t make it to chapter five. Used God’s name as a curse word. Returned.” Yes, indeed, one of my characters muttered a goddamn. It’s good she didn’t get beyond chapter five, because there are a couple of fucks in there too, not too mention some sexual content I’m sure she would have found offensive. C’est la vie. I’m not disturbed by her taking offense; I’m amused. But I did click on her name beside the review to see what else she’d reviewed. It turns out she mostly reads books on Christian scripture, which begs the question as to why she would choose a psychological suspense novel for reading material. The point is, no matter what you write, you can’t please everyone. Another reader strongly objected to the trope of the hunky pool boy, and another to Evelyn’s upper middle class lifestyle (“Who cares about rich people?”). Evelyn is who she is. Take her or leave her.
I can only write what is presented to me by the muse, or my subconscious, or the creative ether — whatever it is that sparks the imagination. It’s why I haven’t repeated a genre yet. I can’t please everyone, so I have to please myself. Nonetheless, I’m not here to break new ground, to expand the form, or break the rules. I’ll leave that to someone else. Because to me the purpose of literature is to communicate and entertain. If your prose is formless, or you try writing without punctuation, or write stream-of-consciousness novels with no story behind it, there’s a slim chance of holding a reader’s interest to the last page. There are rare exceptions, and they’re notable for it. In the old days (pre 2010 or so) that manuscript would have been rejected and end up in the bottom drawer of the writer’s desk, where it would languish until the writer’s heirs threw it in the dustbin. Today any writer, talented or not, can self-publish a novel and put it up on Amazon. There is no agent, or editor, publishing house, or literary critic to prevent it. The gatekeepers have all left the building. The final arbiter of a work’s worth is you the reader. If I write a decent book, I’ll have a chance at finding readers. If I disappoint them, I’ll lose readers. Simple as that. The publishing world has become very democratic.