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August 4, 2011

How Do You React When Strangers Read Your Work?

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I have a strange confession for you all: It freaks me out when strangers read my work.

I’m not talking about how I’m surprised that any of you read my blog.  I mean, I am still surprised by that, but we talk on Twitter, we comment on each other’s blogs, we Google Friend Connect each other, and I feel a sense of connection to most of you.

No, I’m talking about real strangers.  People I know nothing about.  Questions like “How did they find me?” enter my thoughts, making me sound a tad paranoid.

When I’m published, I’ll have lots of strangers reading my work (assuming I’m successful at all).  Heck, I’ll need strangers to do so if I want to sell loads of books. Published authors talk about how it’s odd when they see a stranger reading their book in the wild, so I don’t think I’m completely crazy to feel this way.  *smile*

Two recent events triggered this thought.  One, my posts analyzing the plot and characters of the Green Lantern movie went viral this week among the comic book crowd.  I had as much traffic yesterday as I usually do over a full week.

At first I considered it an interesting quirk to my site statistics, but then it dawned on me that those visitors had no idea who I was.  How bizarre of an impression would someone have of me if they read only those posts?  Concerned, I double checked that those posts didn’t out me as a serial killer or anything.  (Rational, my brain is not.  *shrug*)

The second event prompting this worry happened when a good online friend volunteered to beta read my latest work-in-progress (WIP) once it’s complete.  Great!  Except this beta reader is male, and my latest WIP is paranormal romance rather than urban fantasy.  In other words, it’s a kissing book.  *snicker*  When I remembered some of the more, um, explicit scenes in the story, I wondered if I would die of embarrassment if he read them.

Many romance authors struggle with this “what will my mother think?” issue.  Forget that.  I’m more likely to worry about “what will my dad think?” when it comes to my romance-heavy stories.  He reads thrillers and history books, and has no basis for what’s normal in romances.

Writers have an interesting dilemma.  We get so comfortable in our secure world of online friends and fellow writers that we almost imagine them in front of us as we tell our stories in our blog posts and books.  That technique can help us find our genuine voice, the one we use in real life as we talk to our friends.

But that mode can also throw us for a loop when strangers read our work.  If we have a preconceived idea of who our readers are, when someone outside our target audience finds us, we wonder if our message will still resonate with them.  We might even worry that we were too comfortable in sharing information.

So we walk a tightrope.  We can’t think about those non-target-market readers while we’re writing.  If we do, we risk strangling our voice.  Yet to break out, our work must have the potential to appeal beyond our intended readers.  How do we balance that?

All I know is, no matter what, I cannot think of my dad while I’m writing.

How do you react when strangers read your work (blog posts/books/whatever)?  Do you imagine yourself telling a story to someone while you write?  Do you ever worry what your readers will think about you because of your work?  Have you ever had problems with your voice because of that concern?  What unusual readers have you had that surprised you?

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90 Comments on "How Do You React When Strangers Read Your Work?"

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Ava Jae

I used to feel this way every time I got a new follower on Twitter. I know it’s not quite the same thing, but I’d look at them and wonder how they found me (especially so when they weren’t following any of my current followers).

As for strangers reading my work…it hasn’t happened yet, but the thought makes me nervous, so you’re not alone. I’m a perfectionist, so I mostly worry that people will read it and find a million and two errors or weak plot points or think it’s ridiculous or something horrible like that (GAH! Insecurities!). It’s a big part of the reason I hesitate to jump into self-publishing. What if what I put out there isn’t good enough? It’s a question many of us face, I think. Or maybe not. I don’t know.

Anyway, regardless I don’t think about it at all when I’m writing. It becomes more of a focus while I’m editing. But before then, I ignore the possibility.

So don’t worry! You’re definitely not alone (or insane, as I see you’ve tagged this post). At the very least there’s me. 🙂

Dean K Miller

There are no strangers, just friends we haven’t met yet.

Michelle Mason

I think I’m more concerned about people I know reading my work because then whether they like it or not might affect how they view me. That’s one reason I could never write romance. I love to read it, but the most I’m going to write is a pretty chaste scene. Of course, I’m writing middle grade so that works.

As for strangers reading it, I’m sure I’ll think about that more when I get closer to being published. I used to be afraid to let anyone read my work, but when I started taking it seriously, I felt excited and challenged when critique partners or industry professionals gave me feedback. After all, the whole point is for strangers to read it, right?

Great post!

Raelyn Barclay

Your posts are always thought provoking 🙂

Like Dean said, “There are no strangers, just friends we haven’t met yet.” I enjoy meeting new people on Twitter, FB, and my blog. I think I’ll get a thrill seeing someone reading something of mine “in the wild.”

I’m a perfectionist and want to put out the best work I can. So I’m plagued with, “What if what I put out there isn’t good enough?” Strangers haven’t read my work yet and I’m a little nervous just getting closer to putting it out to critique partners, who I hope won’t be complete strangers 🙂

I have to say worrying about my mother or father reading my work hasn’t occurred to me, perhaps because we talk about everything. It would have been a different story ten years ago though.

Excellent post Jami!

Sarah Pearson

The only way I can write is by imagining that nobody will ever read my work. Of course, nobody has yet, but you get the idea 🙂

Cherie

I am actually more worried about people who knew me reading my work as opposed to strangers reading it. The opinions of strangers don’t hold much weight with me; after all, if they hated it, they don’t know me as me-the-person-behind-the-writing. It’s nothing personal. And I can live with that since we all know we can’t please everyone.

But. The notion of my immediate family and friends reading my work and realizing for the first time that they didn’t know me very well after all (I like to write fantasy with a dark bent). I worry that they would start thinking, “Who is this person? I thought I knew her.” It’s psycho, I know. But their opinions hold more weight because I have a relationship with them. If that makes sense. 🙂

Amber

I am far less scared of strangers than people I know. I can handle the idea of some random judging me based on some words they read.

People who know me (or think they know me) reading my work makes me a little queasy.

Diane Henders

I’m not the least concerned about strangers reading my work. But I start to get squirmy when I think about my business colleagues reading it.

I’ve had my own business for 8 years, and I’ve developed a lot of business contacts. None of them have ever heard me say anything worse than “crap”. My books are, um, unrestrained. Not quite sure how they’ll react to the ripe language and sex.

I think I’ll include a warning label when I mention my books to them.

Paul Anthony Shortt

I have no idea how I’ll react to strangers reading my book. I get nervous whenever anyone reads my work for the first time. As times goes on and they see what my style is like, I get more comfortable, but that edge of insecurity and excitement never leaves.

And like you, I can’t think about my parents when writing. It just doesn’t happen!

Lisa Gail Green

Umm, it’s NERVE WRACKING for sure. But also exciting! I always wonder what people I do know think of me when they read my stuff. Like ‘wow that was in her head?’ LOL. But it’s part of the deal, so I guess that’s it!

Kristin Nador
Kristin Nador

I think I’ll always be a bit nervous when I think of others reading my work, whether they are strangers or friends and family. Every time I share something I’ve written, I feel a little bit stronger, because even though I know I have something I want to speak and share with the world, my natural inclination is withdrawal.

I am curing myself of this strange duality by sharing short stories in critique groups. Not too long ago, I wrote a short story and shared it with the group, prefacing it that it was supposed to be ‘a funny little story’. It was a story about trying to save a wounded duckling. A woman piped up and said, “Excuse me, but I don’t find this humorous, in fact, I find this offensive.”I bit my tongue, took the criticism and lived through it. I know that even though it may feel uncomfortable to put your stuff out there, if you want to be a writer, that’s what you have to be willing to do.

David Dean
David Dean

Hey Jaime. I was the one that actually posted your Green Lantern blog on reddit.com yesterday. Here’s the link: http://www.reddit.com/r/comicbooks/comments/j73cj/the_green_lantern_movie_how_not_to_plot_a_story/

It was also pretty fresh since the sequel was announced yesterday.

It’s a clunky title, but you have to do that to get their attention sometimes. The subreddit gets 5000-10000 hits a day.

Honestly, I don’t know how I found you. I put you in my RSS feed because I like what I saw. I may have just googled tips on writing or something.

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

I suspect I’ve developed a pretty thick skin. My mom’s a pshrink, and has a tendency to psychoanalyze when she shouldn’t. Were I to worry about what she thought about my every decision and thought, I’d go crazy.

Still, I’ve not yet put my writing out in front of random strangers.
The first person to read it was my partner, of course. The second set of people, a collection of successful urban fantasy/fantasy authors.

Needless to say, I was nervous. But I survived, so I’m pretty confident I’ll survive when I get my stuff out in front of the general public, and I will, dammit.

Oh, and getting up on stage and bellydancing in front of random folk has also thickened my skin.

Brooke Johnson

It bothered me once upon a time, but I got over it. Most of that was “what if they steal my ideas!?” but I soon realized that was just stupid.

In fact, I just shared my first five pages and my query/pitch for my wip over on my blog, as well as in the WriteOnCon forums. It really just doesn’t bother me anymore. Truthfully, I think it’s cool that people I don’t know have an interest in what I have to say or in my writing. I’m not shouting to the wind. 😉

Lani Wendt Young

I am Samoan and in our culture, no one is an individual.(well not really anyway.) We are representatives/pieces of a whole that includes: our parents, siblings, extended family, village…and the families and villages of our parents…and so on. This can have a paralyzing effect on my writing IF I LET IT. I can get caught up in freaking out abt how my work will make my parents look, my family etc and end up not writing anything at all. I was stuck in that quagmire for a long time. BLogging has really helped to shake me loose. And whn my first book was published a year ago, I couldnt bear to look strangers in the eye, in case they hated my book and also hated me as a result. Now, Im reconciled that – I will never please everyone with my writing. (esp not everyone in my family. Heck, my father had 23 siblings so i have a VERY large extended family.) Whats important is that I love what im doing. And hopefully, there will b readers out there who love it too.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc
My mom reads all of my stuff even before publication, so that’s a given. And I’m not too worried about her reading my sex scenes. My dad though…yikes, I was really nervous. I had initially told him not to read my book. But he’s a big reader (not romance mind u but everything else he can get his hands on) and he insisted that he was going to read his eldest daughter’s first publication. And that’s exactly what he did. And he loved it! So it really wasn’t so bad. Granted, I wasn’t there with him while he flipped through the love scene (thank GOD for that) but it wasn’t so weird. And I’m proud of the story so it’s all good. I’ve also had the complete stranger thing happen too. I was in a church waiting for my daughter’s choir to sing, got there early and barely anyone was sitting in the pews, and low and behold, the woman sitting infront of me had a Nook and was reading my book…MY BOOK!! It was amazing. And she said she was almost finished and loved it. Plus, she asked when my next was coming out, so it was doubly cool. (forgive me if I already told you this story…I just can’t help re-telling it. It makes me sooo happy:) I’m so thrilled to hear you had so much traffic on your blog, Jami. That just goes to show ya that you’ve got some great things to say and people wanna… Read more »
Melinda Collins

I’m the opposite of this. I worry more about what my husband, mother, father…GRANDMOTHER will think when/if they read my writing. LOL I can handle a stranger reading my work, but I do still have those questions running through my head about ‘How did they find me?’ or ‘Since they don’t know me, will it hit home for them like it did for me and my best friend?’.

There’s definitely a fine line there when we’re writing. We can’t think about who’s going to read it and what they’re going to think. When I’m writing the first draft of a new story, I always keep telling myself that it’s for my eyes *only*. That way, I’m keeping my husband, family and friends out of my brain so I can pull the best work and voice possible out of myself during that critical creation process.

Another great post, Jami!!! :o)

David

I know how that feels. Mainly I feel really nervous in the sense of “is it good enough?” I’m hypercritical of my work and am always second-guessing myself. It’s an ongoing struggle while I write. So when someone completely new, who’s never read anything of mine, reads my work…I can feel my heart pounding in my throat.
Also, the “what will my mother think” mindset…well, you’re totally correct. You have to completely abandon all sense of holding yourself back in consideration of a certain audience. I grew up having a strong respect for my parents in that I would never – and still don’t – swear around them (the major ones, of course). But in my writing I try to capture realistic dialog where appropriate, which entails swearing.
If I thought “what would my parents think” every time I were writing, it’d stifle that desire to make characters genuine. Admittedly, I do not get nervous about a first-time reader misinterpreting my work or it not fitting into their preferred genre…more that I’m nervous they won’t think it’s industry-skill-level in quality.
Good post.

Kerry Meacham
Kerry Meacham

LOL – when you DM’ed me, I didn’t know what to think Jami. I’m like, “What the hell did she say?” No worries. I think it’s hilarious that you would get nervous about me reading a “hot” scene. I was embarrassed when you read my work, but that was because I knew it wasn’t anywhere close to publish ready. I don’t get nervous about “what” I write, but I do get nervous about “how” I write it. I’m a grammar goober (opposite of a grammar Nazi), so I know I’m constantly doing thing incorrectly. I am reading the books you recommended on grammar and trying to improve on my craft.

I will make one exception on my nervousness regarding the “what” I write, and that’s if my mother reads something with bad language. She’ll stop flat in a book if it has bad language, so I’m not sure how I’m going to get around that one.

Anyway, no worries on the romance scenes Jami. I’m still your beta buddy. 😉

Kerry

Stacy Green

I actually do okay when strangers read my work. I get tied up in knots when members of my family or close friends read it. I waffled for a while about advertising my blog on my FB page because I was afraid of their reaction, but I finally sucked it up and started posting.

Susan Sipal

Such an interesting question, Jami. I think I worry more about the people I know reading my work than strangers, and in that sense can sometimes curtail what I’m writing because of that worry.

It IS always interesting to me to see what a stranger thinks, though. And I learn so much about POV from their responses, because someone else will see it so totally different than another or than from me. I’ll put myself into their perspective, see what they mean, and learn a lot about how important POV is. 🙂

Murphy

Hi Jami!

I write for me and have no problem with anyone reading my stuff. I’m not sure that’s a good thing though, because you do grow-up fast when you put yourself out there.

Murphy

J. M. Dow
J. M. Dow

For me, it’s more “what will my grandparents think.” They totally support me, but….ha ha.

Darcy Peal
Darcy Peal

I know that by the time wy WIP is finally finished it will have been edited, rewritten, reworked etc. so that the final product will indeed be something that many people will enjoy.
I know very well that some people will hate it, others will point out mistakes, and some will call it garbage but since I have done my very best there will be more that like it than don’t.
Yes I have confidence in myself, probably because some of my previous works have been published and I know what to expect–to a small degree anyways.

Let the strangers in!
I Welcome them.

Sonia Lal

The idea of strangers reading my work is nerve wrecking. I went through that the first time I posted a flash on my blog. I still do everytime, but it is a lot better now. My family – I worry so much about their reaction that none of then even know about the blog. And there is nothing offensive on the blog, where the wip might be (my mc has some serious issues)

Irene Vernardis
Irene Vernardis

So, I’m a stranger huh? Okkkkkkkk. Not going to let you know of my weirdnesses again…:P

Now, about a man reading something we write: I’m very interested in seeing what men think about my writing. I’ve asked male friends of mine to read chapters or stories to have their opinion. Why? Because my rationale is simple: if a man likes it then definitely at least ten women will like it too, for that. No, it’s not a sexist statement. It has to do with nature and brain function which is different between the two sexes.

So, romance genre targets women readers, because generally this genre is liked by women, the same as action is liked by men. It doesn’t mean that men are not or can not be romantic. After all, for each scene the male counterpart is needed, otherwise there is no scene! :D.
But, in general, men are not interested in reading romance. Consequently, if a man likes a romance book, which normally he would not like to read, then it’s a solid confirmation that it is good.

What better to have than confirmation from the opposite side which is already prejudiced against it?

And there is another thing, men think differently than women and vice versa. It’s the balancing way of nature and universe. Both sides are needed to have a whole. So, both opinions are needed for something to tend towards perfection.
😀

Gene Lempp

I will admit that it makes me nervous to have my work read by strangers. Sometimes even by friends (guess that gives me a newbie point but I’m okay with it). It isn’t a worry about what the reader will think about me, however. It is matter of “is this ready to be read”. I always hear the old Ernest and Julio Gallo commercials in my head when it comes to that moment: “We will serve no wine before its time” (insert book, manuscript).

By the way, the “how did this person find me” question is one I ask all the time, especially when it comes to Twitter followers.

Great post, Jami 🙂

Eleanor Gwyn - Jones
Eleanor Gwyn - Jones

I’ve performed on stage, but never experienced stage fright like I do when reading my own work. It’s far more personal than spouting Shakespeare. It’s Invasive. The audience aren’t just judging the words and images created, but they are analyzing what this says about you, the writer!
Or maybe I’m just a smidgen paranoid.
This week on my blogette I uploaded the first chapter of my second novel, BigamE. I sat on the private Youtube and malingered for days, unsure if I should really make it public or not. I was frightened silly, not because the story is not up to snuff, not because I lack the dramatic vocal gymastics of Renee Zellweger, but because this was my psyche laid bare and defenseless.
I can tell my readers that the Brit heroine is not me until I am blue in the face, they still attribute her thoughts and feelings to me.
Maybe I’ll just have to make my next protagonist a rugged Brazilian army renegade fighting a highly-evolved species of invisible, land-living killer Pirahna. That might do it!

Eleanor Gwyn - Jones
Eleanor Gwyn - Jones

And by ‘gymastics’ that’s just the less-highly-evolved English version–so we use ‘u’s, but this Brit, apparently, misses ‘n’s!

Carradee

I’ve been getting the “Wait, what?” reaction, myself, with some fans I never expected to pick up: adult guys. I write YA-intended fantasy with female narrators who are… not quite right. (But then, I believe nobody is entirely “right” upstairs, but that’s another topic.)

I mean, one of my books has purple fire on the cover, and it’s still getting guy readers and fans. I put a call out on Twitter for a beta for a (sweet) paranormal romance short I’d written, and a guy answered.

I honestly find it confusing, because it’s not the demographic I’ve expected to reach. Am I targeting the wrong market, somewhere? Or do I just have wider appeal than I realize?

J. M. Dow
J. M. Dow

I like characters. I don’t care about age, race, gender, I just want to care about them. I want to watch them grow, change, and become better from their adventures–whether that adventure is the wrong boyfriend, a demon invasion, or the wrong demonic boyfriend. 😀

Maureen Johnson argues that there aren’t “guy” or “girl” stories, simply stories. I tend to agree with her.

And now I’ll have to check out your books. 🙂

Mary Kate Leahy
Mary Kate Leahy

I actually don’t freak out over the idea of strangers reading my work, but I do freak out a bit when friends or family read it. I want to know everything they thought,and get really detailed feedback, which isn’t their role. I’ve struggled to get rid of that, and I have gotten a lot better about not bothering friends who are reading my work. Really interesting post topic 🙂

Michele Shaw

I get nervous when ANYONE reads my work, friend or stranger. I just try not to think about it and wait for whatever may come. I tend to brace for the worst, thinking it will be that or bad, or if I’m lucky, better:)

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[…] How Do You React When Strangers Read Your Work?, Jami Gold talks about the dilemma writers face when gaining a new […]

Annette Gendler

Jami – I must say it freaks me out when people I know read my work, not family members, I’m used to that and I usually have my husband and my daughter proofread my work, and I love when strangers comment on my work, but when a good friend of my husband’s approaches me about my writing, that’s when I get embarrassed!

Joe H
Joe H

I’m not published yet and don’t tweet or facebook much, so that’s not much cause for concern, but every time I’d turn in any work at school, whether they were essays, stories, or poems, I prayed that my teachers thought they were as good as I thought they were. Mostly because I believe myself to be pretty humble, but also I think that I do have some talent, so I’m mostly looking for some confirmation that I’m not deluding myself into believing I’m not some talentless egotistical jerk. lol

Kyla

Actually, strangers reading my work has never bothered me much. I started posting my work online anonymously at the age of 13. It always excited me when they read my work and left comments or reviews. I didn’t worry what they thought, because I doubted I’d ever meet a single one of those people outside the virtual world (and even if we did meet, it was doubtful we’d recognize each other).

But people I know, people I’m sitting in front of, watching them read my work with excruciating slowness, THAT never fails to make me squirm in my seat with terror.

I love my parents, but if I saw them reading my work, I’d probably run the other way. Of course, I’d run back a few minutes later to yell questions of what they thought. Strangers on the other hand…well, who cares? They don’t know me from Adam (or should I say Eve?), and can do no damage beyond the internet.

Great article, and I hope you have a great day! Happy writing!

Jenny Hansen

I totally feel the same way, Jami, kinda even for the people I know. My girlfriend begged me to put a very personal poem I’d written for my mother’s funeral on the program for HER mom’s service. I could not bring myself to include my name. How silly is that??

Joseph Devon

I’ve never had anything go especially viral, but I do get random strangers emailing me about my books. It starts to normalize after awhile. Sort of. 90% of the time I’m aware that someone who I’ll never meet is out there reading my work and forming opinions on it and I’m okay with that. Then 10% of the time I freak-out entirely when this thought occurs and die of shame at all the sentences that my brain remembers as being embarrassingly written.
I’m not sure much changes over time but those percentages. 🙂

Okelly
Okelly

great topic, Me personally I get tense. I sometimes explore aspects of characters or life that do not necessarily reflect my own view. I like to explore the possible changes or outcomes in a given situation. instead of sticking with what would be considered acceptable in everyday life.

There are times I do hold back because of what the reader might think. like the short story I wrote about a serial killer, that was very disturbing. but to be honest until last year I rarely let anyone read the things I had written.

then I got inspired and wrote a seven hundred page story, and talked myself into posting it online. since then, well lots of strangers have read it LOL and I still worry they might think Im a freak or a have a tiny car stuffed with floppy shoe wearing thugs in the garage.

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