If the Baby is Ugly….

You know that thing you do, that thing where you justify the reactions others have to your work?

I wrote a book once. Well, actually I wrote several books. None of them sold very well, and I took to saying “It is because my genius is not knowable.”

Have you ever said that? Really, now. You know you have. Maybe not in those words, and maybe not aloud, but you know what I’m talking about. People just don’t get it.

You know what that is? It’s the use of self-affirmation to ease the pain of what you perceive as different from what you expected. We practice this technique quite a bit, but some of where it starts is with the dissonance we feel when what we say may not be what we really mean.

Cognitive dissonance, defined, is “an internal state that results when individuals notice inconsistency between two or more attitudes or between their attitudes and their behavior.”

In English, man!

In simple terms, it’s that slightly uncomfortable feeling you get when the baby is ugly but you say “He’s soooooo cute!”

uglybabyIf the baby is ugly, the baby is ugly. Why do we say it’s not? Because the parents are friends and we don’t want to upset them? Yes, that’s probably the motivation behind the lie.

It’s the same with reviews, you know.

Think about that for a moment: Why say “This book is the greatest ever written!!!!1!” when you know the writing is horrible, the story doesn’t go anywhere, and you would rather watch paint dry than read another chapter?

You know why.

It’s cognitive dissonance and what you’re saying right now (“They are writer friends and I want to help”) is self-affirmation. You’re saying something to cover your butt, to make yourself feel better for leaving that five-star review on Amazon for a book that should be one (or fewer stars).

Who are you helping with that?

Are you disillusioning the writer or are you making yourself feel better by “helping” someone else out who is an independent like you?

If the baby is ugly….

Bruce Blake, who might be known to some here (*wink*), once edited a manuscript of mine. It had errors. There were problems and inconsistencies and “farthers” where there should have been “furthers.” Between his edits and Scott Bury’s (who might also be known to some here (*wink*)) were kind enough to say “you know, this baby is ugly.”

You know what I did with that knowledge? I edited my manuscript, breathed a little, and still published it. The book sold little, and in my head I thought “it is because my genius is not knowable.” So while there was honesty in the reviews, I still thought what others had to say was off the mark and practiced self-affirmation when I should have practiced rewriting draft 52 (or 53…I lost count).

So what is needed in our industry? What is needed, I think, is a bit of honesty. If a manuscript sucks, regardless of how many other published manuscripts an author has or the size of their publishing house, the writer needs to know their baby is ugly.

I wrote a two-star review of a David Morrell book once. It felt good. I didn’t lie.

Will he care? He’s Rambo. Of course not.

But if an up-and-coming writer really wants to improve, if they really want to give the baby plastic surgery so-to-speak, they need to know the truth and we (as readers and writers and reviewers) need to be able to tell them that truth.

Cognitive dissonance is a thing. Self-affirmation is what helps ease the discomfort.

In the words of Bob Newhart: “Stop it.

If the baby is ugly….


Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes. He is the author of A Difficult Mirror, Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang.

He also gets up before 4am to milk (words, not cows).

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3 comments on “If the Baby is Ugly….

  1. Pingback: Put It On The Shelf | Guild Of Dreams

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