Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Universal Acclaim . . . Is That Too Much To Ask?

by Stephanie Black

On her blog today, Miss Snark posted this week’s “Marketing Minute” from marketing consultant Marcia Yudkin. Yudkin said the following:

“Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, which he understandably calls "the best job in the world," once set out to find a cartoon that nearly everyone who had any sense of humor would find funny.

He sent what he thought was his own very best cartoon to 2,000 men and women, asking them to rate it from 1 (completely unfunny) to 10 (extremely funny). About 80% rated Mankoff's cartoon 7 or above, which delighted him. Yet some respondents gave it a 1.

Mankoff threw up his hands, calling this item "the most highly rated cartoon for funniness that I ever did, or (sob) will probably ever do."

His survey has implications for your marketing efforts.

Whatever target market you're aiming at, its members differ from one another, having diverse personalities, varying educational and cultural backgrounds, diverging tastes or lifestyles and disparate values. Therefore, they won't all interpret what you present to them in the same way.

It's foolhardy to aim at universal praise or acceptance. So long as you have enthusiastic advocates, ignore those who think you're incredibly off the mark.”

Miss Snark, with her Snarkly wisdom, adds, “The same goes for novels of course.”

Yudkin’s message reminds me of what Kerry discussed in her blog last week regarding a negative reader review of one of her books (posted alongside half a dozen wonderful reviews, to keep this in perspective). I’ve read this particular book and thought it was absolutely brilliant. Incredibly creative, delightfully written, clever, funny, witty, touching, profound, exciting and a host of other good things. My daughter is currently reading it for, oh, maybe the fourth time. We adore this book. But Mankoff’s experience with his cartoon and Kerry’s with her book illustrate an inescapable fact of life for those of us who put our creative endeavors on the market. No matter what we create or how well we create it, someone out there isn’t going to like it.

This fact makes me quake in my Payless sandals.

I can say breezy things like “I know not everyone is going to like my book and that’s fine.” And on an intellectual level, I might even believe this, but in the secret depths of my writer’s heart, I don’t think it’s fine at all. I think it darn well stinks that some people are not only going to dislike my writing but are going to say so. Can’t I be universally loved?


And if I can manage an inkling of objectivity, I’ll realize that I don’t exactly offer the universal love that I want to other books that I read. I’m currently reading a suspense novel by a bestselling author. His books fly off the shelves. Readers love him. I enjoy the suspense he creates, but his writing style makes me want to poke my eyes out with an editorial pencil. Does that mean I’m nuts for disliking his style or that his fans are nuts for liking it? No. We’re just different people with different tastes and what bothers me doesn’t even register on the radar screen for most readers.

Criticism is part of the package when you become a professional writer. I hope someday I’ll be able to take it in stride, but barring a breakthrough in Tristi’s rhino cream, I think I’ll always wince and cringe when I run across someone who doesn't think my books are the bee’s knees. So why do I write if I’m such a wimp?

Because I love writing. And the joy of creating a story, seeing that story in print and hearing back from readers who do love it is worth the risk of a few zings from people who don’t.


At 8/23/2006 4:49 PM, Blogger Mean Aunt said...

True, and the more a writer writes the worse it gets--"I liked the first one but the third one was really mediocre" when of course you eagerly snap up the next one.

At 8/23/2006 5:41 PM, Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

You wear payless shoes!!!! The horror of it.

Oh wait, so do I.

At 8/23/2006 7:37 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

I've got some awesome Payless sandals at the moment, my evil HR friend. Very comfortable. The last pair died a premature death, but hey, at least I didn't paymuch for them.

Good point, Mean Aunt. If you're Mary Higgins Clark, a jillion people will buy and read your book, but out of those jillion are going to be a host of people who'll tell you how bad it was or how they liked your earlier stuff but this book is blech.

I read an article in Writer's Digest on the dangers of self-Googling and felt better to learn that even an NY Times bestselling author feels badly when she comes across negative comments about her work. I guess no matter how many books you've sold, it still stings!

At 8/23/2006 9:20 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

You are right on the money, Stephanie. It's hard to keep the criticism in perspective. I had one person (count that, one) tell me that they didn't like my first novel. It was a shock to my poor little system. That was three years ago, and it still hurts. Never mind the fact that everyone else I have ever spoken to loved it; I still remember what that one man looked like.

I like Payless too. :)

At 8/24/2006 10:58 AM, Blogger Keith Fisher said...

I must admit that I have graduated from Payless sandals. I recieved a gift from Penny's I think, but I wear sandals all the time. Don't you hate when the straps pull away from the sole? but you're right they're cheap. As for the rest of what you wrote . . . I . . . Loved it! (you thought I was going to say something else didn't you?)
Hang in there and remember the duck who lets the cold water run off it's back.
(Easy for me to say huh?)

At 8/24/2006 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What? Not everybody is going to love my book?

*keels over dead*

Say it ain't so, Stephanie, say it ain't so!


At 8/24/2006 11:54 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

When you try to write a book no one will hate, you are creating the equivalent of cafeteria food. So bland that it can't offend anyone—or inspire them. But how many people "love" cafeteria food? Tolerate it? Sure. Like it? Maybe. But almost no one loves bland food.

Don't worry about how many people hated (or even disliked) your book. For the most part they won’t tell you anyway. Focus on how many people loved your book.

I'd happily take 50% loved 50% loathed. Someone who loves your book (which in Rob’s case is probably family) will follow you through your writing career. They will recommend you to others. They will wait eagerly for your next book. And even the haters can be fun. Imagine that you overhear a conversation where one reader hated a book and the other adored it. Wouldn’t you want to check out the book just to see what could inspire two such extremes?

Okay, I’ll admit it Rob. I read The Counterfeit this week. And loved it. We cpuldn’t be related could we?

At 8/24/2006 5:52 PM, Anonymous kerry blair said...

Well, if anybody ever DOES write a book that is universally acclaimed, Stephanie, I'm willing to bet it will be you!

At 8/26/2006 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for quoting from my Marketing Minute newsletter. The link (which you omitted) is: .

Best wishes,
Marcia Yudkin

At 8/27/2006 12:54 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Marcia, thank you. I've fixed my blog to include the link to your website. My sincere apologies for neglecting to include the link in the first place.


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