I was browsing Twitter yesterday, and came across a post from someone I really admire. They were complaining about romance arcs in mystery novels, and vice-versa. I looked at my fresh new fragile baby of a first novel, which has both mystery and romance arcs, and winced. The rest of the conversation was a series of complaints that tore at every trope and element of my writing, and of books I enjoy reading. It was pretty devastating, since I haven’t quite developed the thick skin of authorship yet.
But then my partner gave me some words that completely shifted how I look at writing. “Even if you make the New York Times Bestseller list and sell millions of copies, more people will always dislike your book than will like it.”
Just to be clear, this wasn’t him downing my book in particular, which he thinks is the bee’s knees. It was a general statistical statement. People have very specific likes and dislikes. Not everybody reads. Some people only read one genre, or are very particular about which books they like. Some people will dislike your main character. Some people will think your ending stinks. Some people will hate your book because their pastor or co-worker find something offensive in it. Some people will hate on your books for the sole fact that it is popular. It is impossible that everyone will like it.
This isn’t meant to be depressing. It’s meant to be liberating. It’s a careful balancing act to decide whether to include something in your book that people find objectionable. If you’re looking to please everyone, you will inevitably fail. This is not meant to excuse racism, misogynism, or other bigotry that turns away readers en masse. But the bottom line is that you can’t actually write the mythical perfect book your anxiety tells you you need to write. You only need to write the book you want to read.