1. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Reviews, critiques, and the Slough of Despond

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Catrin Lewis, Apr 6, 2016.

    Not other people's reviews and critiques, mine.

    I've downloaded the Kindle for PC app and I'm exploring the brave new world of freebie loss-leader novels from Amazon.com. This should make me happy, right?

    It doesn't. It has me depressed out of my mind.

    In the first place, all these books I'm reading don't sound anything like mine. But they're published and people are reading them. Which must mean that mine is a pile of childish crap.

    In the second place, when I'm reading these novels I can't turn off the inner Writing Teacher voice. The authors in question are getting predominantly 4- and 5-star reviews, and my mind is going, "Well, okay, the plot's not bad, but oh, gosh, look at these continuity errors here, and see that convenient use of coincidence there, and oh, gosh, what a garbled sentence; I have no idea what the antecedent is, and look at all the commas missing over here, and oh, wow, the author is Telling, not Showing . . . " and so on and so on, world without end, amen. I can't stop thinking, "Golly, Ms. Author, you should've found yourself at least three more beta readers and a darn good editor before you exhibited this thing in public."

    And meanwhile, as I said, other people, who don't have the disadvantage of having read a boatload of writers' blogs and how-to books, are merrily gobbling these novels up.

    Maybe the novels I'm reading are good. Or at least, good enough. So does anyone know how to shut that stupid Writer's Craft voice off and just enjoy reading for a change? It's depressing as heck.
     
  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I know exactly what you mean!

    It first hit me when I realized it's common to compare your work to this author or that one.
    And I turn up completely blank.
    I could compare it to Terry Goodkind but I feel that's a stretch (not a lie, I just don't overly see the connection myself. His style is very... different from mine)

    So, I have no idea who would actually read my book or where it really fits.
    I'd say it's more of an adventure piece than fantasy. I'd say it appeals to the general fantasy readers but most likely 16-28 males. I'd say it's character driven like a Game of Thrones but has more elements of Sword of Truth in the way it evolves.
    And thinking that makes me wonder if I even remotely know what I'm saying. It feels like snobby words you use to sound smart.

    My story is about a kid learning to grow up. Anyone who likes a good story and some light fantasy will enjoy it.
    But apparently, saying that isn't good.
     
  3. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, gosh. I didn't even think about comparables. I guess that's what it comes down to, isn't it? I'm writing romantic suspense; the novels I've downloaded are romantic suspense . . . but . . . but . . .
     
  4. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    We are either writing a very original and niche subgenre OR we just suck.

    I choose to believe I write outside the box.
     
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  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    ....why would it mean that? I didn't think that you had started submitting yours to publishers? And are these novels traditionally published or self-published?

    Eh...is there any way to find out how many paid sales these books are getting? I don't trust reviews, especially in the self-published world.

    Why would you want to force yourself to read books that you don't like? Why would you confine yourself to books that no one is paying money for? Huh?
     
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  6. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    If they're free they're probably self-published and most of the reviews will be from the author's family and friends.

    That's not a given, of course, but I definitely wouldn't let this upset you!
     
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  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another way to look at this:

    I recently bought a Hostess snack cake. It was even sweeter and flatter in flavor than I remembered. It was pretty dreadful. But lots and lots of people happily buy and eat Hostess snack cakes.

    Imagine that someone wants to be a top-level pastry chef, or even just a fairly good bakery cook, or even a home cook who makes fairly nice cookies. Should the fact that extremely low-end pastries like Hostess snack cakes successfully sell, even though they're inferior, make that person abandon that ambition?

    The world has room for an infinite number of grades of quality. The fact that your ambition is above the lowest grade should be a good, not a bad, thing.

    But, you might ask, what if I don't sell as well as they do, even though I think I'm higher quality? Well, that home cook's cookies are better than a Hostess snack cake, but they're not all of identical size and shape, and they're not in a package with a fancy corporate logo, and they don't have the weight of a food conglomerate behind them. Those cookies will have to find their own path to an audience. The mere fact of their superior eating quality isn't going to find their audience for them.
     
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  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    If you're talking about self publishing there is a lot of discrepancy about what's good and what's just a 'fun' read. I know of a self published author who had their story beta read and critiqued twice and still it wasn't really ready for self-publishing. The characters sounded too young for their age. There were plot holes and continuity errors and the line of events was off but the author said they would clear up those minor issues. They got a dynamite cover, posted it and put it on free for one week. The readers downloaded so many copies that it put the book in the top ten for it's category and the author got a bundle of reviews. The next week when it was posted for sale it sold quite a few copies before slowing down. In the end the author had almost 50 % positive reviews. With a small percentage of really negative reviews. Even though the negative reviews pointed out very serious issues. Not the occasional typos but actual story problems that the writer hadn't cleared up. When the sequel came out there was hardly any reviews and less sales.

    Just goes to show you the average reader is going to be more forgiving with our stories ( as long as they're interesting ) than ourselves or fellow writers. The odds are in our favor. But it also goes to show you if you mess with your reputation you might not recover from it.

    I pick something so good my inner editor gets stunned into silence. My recent pick - Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You're not wrong that it is depressing sometimes and it leaves you feeling like you've put on a pair of un-take-off-able glasses that leave things with a crystal clarity for which you weren't ready and starts to disturb.

    Let me give a different example:

    I'm participating in the Romance Readers read DUNE thread. I'm not a romance reader. I'm a Sci-Fi boy. DUNE is pretty much the Bible to me. Literally. Like, as a kid, I made up pretend prana bindu rituals and exercises. I thought of Guild Navigators as near-ascended demigods. I bought into this book hook, line, and sinker. Herbert was often questioned/accused as to his intention of starting a cult with this book. An actual cult. I was living evidence of why people might have thought this.

    I'm reading it now with the group and with a very different eye and the book, the very seminal work of Science Fiction, the book that is to Sci-Fi boys of my generation what LotR is to Fantasy boys of the same generation, has flaws. In fact, the start of the story is a little weak and inconsistent. And it hurts a little to read it this way. It hurts to know that the way I thought of this book for the last 35 years is a feeling I probably will never feel again.

    But it also shows me that even a legendary book can have flaws. Even Melville can slip up for a couple of paragraphs in Moby Dick and drop out if 1st person POV. Moby freakin' Dick. If someone got that book for a beta read today here in the forum, I am sure the beta reader would let him know, hey, right here in this chapter you goofed and slipped out of POV. Can't do that. Fix it.
     
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  10. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Isn't that the curse of the writer?
    We love stories but have a harder time appreciating them because we're trained to see flaws.
    Probably better never to reread a book again.
     
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  11. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    I think this forum has many outstanding writers. I do not include myself among them yet, still have a lot to learn. I think it is more of a confidence problem here. There are some exceptional stories I have read in the workshop, but many seem never to see the finish line because we are so hard on ourselves. I have done a few beta reads that blew my mind they were so good. But the authors always want to tweak something. Little do they know that their original draft was probably better than most of the Indie crap on Amazon.
    Wreybies says it best, all books have flaws if you look hard enough. I loved Stephan King when I was a teenager. Now, not so much.
    Those authors just have more confidence in themselves to put it out there. They know they are not perfect and never will be. Our strive for perfection will be the end of most of us.
    My advice is to keep reading. It sounds to me like you are almost talking yourself into being ready to publish.
     
  12. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Part of what's bringing me down is that last summer I corresponded with one of these writers, having "met" her on the beta readers' forum on GoodReads. She offered to beta read my WIP once she got finished indie-publishing the third book in her series. I've taken her up on it, and, having found that the first book in her series is free (blast! I hate being too poor to buy whatever books I want!), I downloaded it and hoped I could respond with a four- or five-star review.

    But I can't. And seeing all the high-star reviews her book got, it worries me that my sense of what's good is overdeveloped or distorted or just plain invalid--- at least in our current culture.

    The author has agreed to take a look at my novel. She hasn't given me any feedback on it, not yet, but I'm hoping for something soon. What do I do if she asks me to review her on Amazon? I can't say her novel is great if I honestly think it's not!

    But why do I want her input, if her own writing isn't that good? Well, what I read was her first-ever novel. Maybe her work has improved since then. But even if not, I've learned that even writers who miss glaring errors in their own works can pick up on flaws in other people's. And that's what I want my beta readers to do.

    But since even mediocre writers are capable of noticing problems in books they read, how can I be sure I'm not just another hack who's doing the same? Maybe here am I, picking all these holes in other people's work, and mine is just as bad.

    (No. I refuse to believe that. Sorry. It may be bad, but not in the same way. Not at all. No, no, no.)
     
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  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I hate the thought that in order to get an agent everybody has to compare their book to somebody else's — and it's even worse. It's supposed to be another book THAT agent has represented. I am willing to bet that 50 years ago, that approach wasn't universal at all.

    I think it's horrible, and I feel for @A.M.P. in this regard. Here he's worked his tail off writing an original book he believes in, and now he has to try to tag it with somebody else's? Just ...no.

    It's such a crapshoot. They try to tell you that in order to get published your book has to be error-free (not just SPAG errors, but all the other writer mistakes have to be absent) and perfect before they'll look at it. And then you see published stuff out there (by traditional publishers) that is mistake-ridden and not well written at all. How DOES that happen, eh?

    Rigorous editing on the part of a ...wait for it ...editor ...seems to be a thing of the past.
     
  14. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't trust the reviews of self-published books. There are lots of ethical authors out there who don't game the system, but there are lots of authors who game the CRAP out if it. Hard to tell which is which from a distance.

    Don't be impressed because a book is "published" if it's self-published. Similarly, don't be discouraged because it's published. Being self-published does not mean the book has passed any sort of a bar.

    That said?

    There are loads of published books, both self-published and from publishers, that I don't like. The vast majority of them. Authors don't need to write a book that everyone likes, they just need to write a book that 10-20K people like, or at least are willing to pay for. (That's enough to be a mid-list author in most genres, I'd say.)

    Figure out what your book has to offer and who would want to accept that offer. Figure out the best way to get your book to those people. Tada! Done! (No, neither step is easy. But both are possible.)
     
  15. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    The hope that I can become a published author comes from my own reading of modern fiction. I may just be a cynical old bald man, but recently I have put down more books than I have read , mostly because of how dull they can be, but also because of how badly written published work can be nowadays.
     
  16. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is another of your "agents and traditional publishers are terrible" ideas that just isn't based on reality. You don't need to have a comparable book in order to get an agent interested in your book. Maybe some agents like it, I don't know. But it certainly isn't "universal" today. I have no idea what things were like 50 years ago.

    ETA: And in terms your "supposed to be" another book represented by that agent - that doesn't make any sense to me. Most agents (and editors) I've been in contact with consciously try to make sure they have diversity on their lists - they don't want their authors in competition with each other. If an agent has found a rich market, sure, s/he might look for more books in a similar vein, but as a universal thing? No. I really don't think this is accurate.
     
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  17. LostThePlot
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    Please don't take this as an insult; it's not and it applies to me and you and everyone else equally.

    *deep breath*

    Writers are narcissists.

    You have to be. You can't manage to put in the work it takes to write, edit and finalize a book; far less go through the long, painful process of getting it published unless you believe in yourself and your story. There's no writer in the world who's ever gone to meet with a publisher believing their book is bad and doesn't deserve it. Writers almost by definition have to believe that they can write well, they can create a compelling, interesting, unique world and that (to some degree) everyone else is a fucking hack who wouldn't know literature if dropped on them from a plane.

    And it's totally ok to believe that. You need that. You need to have faith in yourself in the face of everyone who doesn't. That's what will spur you to keep on writing, even in total obscurity, to keep approaching agents even when you hear nothing but negative things and to have bad reviews not feel personal. If you don't believe your writing is great then why are you still writing? If your writing isn't even interesting to you then no-one else is going to be interested.

    I'll say it again - It's ok to believe in yourself; it's ok to have an almost irrational degree of belief in your writing and your stories.

    So don't get too introspective about who here is the hack. If your writing feels good to you, trust that. Given enough picking you can make anything seem facile and flat and amateurish. Trust your gut.

    In a wider sense I think every writer in the known world is absolutely certain that the whole industry is dominated by complete trash. This is true of every industry. Have you ever met anyone who's a huge Two And A Half Men fan? But that was the biggest show on TV for almost ten years. And it's crap. But people tune it. In the literary world, well there are a lot of writers who, because of their style or their genre or the prevailing fashion, end up published because they are a safe bet who well sell a few books of the back of (say) George R R Martin's career.

    This has nothing to do with the virtues of their writing. They are in the right place at the right time and more power to them. Maybe they did sit down and think about what publishers want to see, maybe they were writing fantasy all along but someone was in the market to buy a fantasy book and that manuscript was right there waiting. Are these books bad? Sure, some are. Some are awful. Some really popular books are horrible. Have you ever read Twilight? But they don't rock the boat. There's a clearly defined audience, a clear demand for them and they are easily publicized.

    So there's crappy books being published, people making whole careers when their writing would get a D in a tenth grade English course. And it is depressing. My writing is so damn good why are these hacks getting published and not me? Oh because I write about heroin addiction and self harm in positive terms, weird sex, incest, incestual weird sex and every character I've ever written is a broken mess of a person. Right. That's why. The quality of my writing isn't my problem.

    You may well be pushing the boundaries of taste and decency as much as I am, but even if you aren't; if you're even just writing unique takes on proven formulas then you are sitting squarely in the realm of 'not a safe bet'. That doesn't mean you won't make it but first you have to convince someone to give your a chance, to take the time to realize how good your story is. They are out there. There's agents looking for unique, interesting books; for anything that's not another bland forgettable bestseller who's destiny is to flood charity shops in a years time. They are out there.

    So have faith. And keep looking.

    Don't worry about anyone else's ability or career. Worry about your writing. If you are good have faith that you will make it.
     
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  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I have to agree with Bay there - I didn't comp myself or my book to any others in my query and it didn't seem to harm my request rate. I've also heard of people being rejected because their book sounded too similar to another on the agent's list.
     
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  19. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I got to agree with Bay too. Somewhere on my PC I have a spreadsheet of every agency I could feasibly pitch my work to and I've never once seen them ask you to compare your book to something they already handle. There's odd ones who ask for a genre comparison or for the names of some writers you feel are comparable but nothing more specific. There's some bloody stupid stuff that agents ask for; for biographies and thematic/conceptual synopses but nothing quite so draconian.

    Aside from anything else; I absolutely would not trust an agent who is saying 'If you want to pitch to me buy a bunch of my previous books'. Maybe that's just the cynic in me but seriously; no agencies with people I've heard of even take open submissions. Are agents seriously suggesting that I should get on amazon and order books at random until I find something similar? Even before I've made it out of the slush pile?

    It's demanding (and heart rending) enough to send off submissions just with stuff I've already prepped. To add to that researching and reading a bunch of books that I'd never have looked at other wise? I have a job man. I'm not doing that crap just for the privilege of sitting in the slush pile.
     
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  20. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why do you "have to" and "got to" agree with poor ol' Bay?!? I think you should phrase it as "get to"!

    "I get to agree with wise, knowledgeable, brilliant BayView! Yay for me, what a lucky day!"

    :)
     
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  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I have to disagree with this though (yin and yang and all that?)

    Most writers I've met are far from narcissists and far from confident in themselves. From what I've seen, and personally experienced, the insecurity is never-ending.

    Haven't finished a project? Then you're not a real writer.
    Finished but haven't got an agent? You're not good enough.
    Got an agent but haven't sold yet? You're not good enough. (I'm here and, trust me, I still believe it's a fluke and my agents--two of 'em--are both mistaken about the quality of my work. I feel like a fraud.)
    Sold but not published yet? You're not good enough.
    Published and got a review under 5*? You're not good enough.
    Critically acclaimed but not a bestseller? You're not good enough.
    Bestseller but critics weren't enthused? You're not good enough.
    Got a critically acclaimed bestseller? Bet the next one won't live up to it.

    I belong to a discussion group for authors who are submitting to publishers. Some of us with debut novels, some of us with 5+ previous novels, all of which have sold well. None of us feel confident when sending our novels out. NONE. We all expect the publisher to come back with a rejection saying we're not good enough.

    It never ends.
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2016
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  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    As much as I like agreeing with you I dislike disagreeing with Jannert because I think you're both wise. :D
     
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  23. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Oh writers are given to being overly self critical too; but in the end just by pitching a book to an agent you're saying 'I think I deserve money for this'. You're saying 'I am a better writer than the last guy you looked at'. Plenty of writers struggle with self-confidence especially in today's market place but if you don't think you can write worth a damn you wouldn't aspire to be a writer.

    Maybe narcissist isn't quite the right word but it's the best that fits. All writers believe that they and they alone are the one who knows what a good book actually is.
     
  24. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I still disagree. Most of us think we're the only ones silly enough to think our books are good.
     
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  25. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    It's just putting the same feeling into slightly self-deprecating terms.

    I certainly feel like I'm the only person screwed up in the specific way to enjoy my books; but I still think they're good books, I still think they are well written. Maybe I'm the only person who does. Maybe that's part of a very specific mental disorder previously unknown to medical science but I do still believe that. I believe my books are good. You believe yours are. We both lack the industry validation to start saying unequivocal things like 'I am objectively a great writer' but when our inevitable (naturally) five star reviews start to show up we're going to feel vindicated.

    It won't be a surprise to find out other people like our work.
     

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