Say NO to Negativity

by | April 6, 2021 | General | 7 comments

 By Ashley Lister

 As I’ve probably mentioned (ad infinitum and ad nauseum) I’ve started self-publishing some horror fiction. It’s been an interesting journey and I’ve humble-bragged a lot on here about lots of what’s happened.

One of the things I haven’t mentioned is how I talked about this to a work colleague. I was asked what I’d be doing in the pandemic and I explained how I’d self-published some of the novels where rights had returned to me, I’d published a collection of original poetry, an original novel and begun a series of novellas.

“The rights had returned to you?” the colleague (we’ll call her Karen) asked.

“Yes. They’d been previously published by other companies but the rights had returned to me so-“

Karen cut me off. “Oh. I thought you’d done something impressive at first, but that’s nothing special, is it?”

“Well,” I thought. “Until I started talking with you, I thought it was pretty fucking special.”

As a matter of fact, I still think it’s quite special. Book covers, content formatting, promo, sales listings, building an author’s website, organising reviews and blog tours, are not small chores. Trying to do any of those tasks to a professional standard is an onerous task. Trying to do all of them involves a steep learning curve and can be overwhelming. And trying to do any of it when people are suggesting your efforts are ‘nothing special’ makes the task much harder work than it needs to be.

I’m mentioning this here because, as writers, we have to face a lot of negativity. It’s not just the one star reviews which spout shit like ‘I’m giving this one star because I can’t give it zero’. And it’s not the pretentious twats who say ‘I would only ever give five stars to Shakespeare, but this one is OK.’ We also have to deal with the hostile passive-aggression that comes from people saying, ‘Oh! You’re a writer. Are you a famous one like J K Rowling or E L James? You must be loaded.’

‘What the fuck are you, Karen? A receptionist at the clap clinic? A disenfranchised administrator who finds it easier to piss on other people’s dreams rather than to pursue your own?’
Writing isn’t easy. Having the self-belief to think your words are worth the attention of others can fuel crippling anxiety. But never let your faith in yourself be weakened by the careless words of someone thoughtless.

There are ways to deal with this. Being resilient is good. Using positive affirmations helps. Hanging with supportive colleagues is always a bonus, as is replenishing your internal energy by being creative. However, if all else fails, you need to get into an online meeting with your personal Karen, find an excuse to turn off your camera and microphone (I can’t stress how important that point is), and then vent your spleen on their image, calling them every expletive and vitriolic name you can imagine. Trust me, as a form of cathartic expression, it’s a good way to bring balance to your personal universe.

Ashley Lister

Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his second title published under his own name: Swingers: Female Confidential by Ashley Lister (Virgin Books; ISBN: 0753513439) Ashley’s non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica. Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto. He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    It’s easy to say, well, screw her… but that doesn’t stop that sort of ridiculous comment from hurting.

    I was really impressed when I saw your media kit for Fearless. Extremely professional.

    Keep up the good work, and don’t listen to the party poopers.

    • Ashley Lister

      Thanks Lisabet 🙂

      You’re right that the comments still hurt but, when you put them in perspective, it can be empowering to think ‘well, I survived that, so I can probably survive worse.’


  2. Tim Smith

    Ashley, I feel your pain from having been there myself. Some people automatically assume when you say “I’m a published author” that you’re with a big name house and on the NYT list. As you pointed put, we all had to go through a submission process, sign a contract, work with an editor and cover designer, sweat over the details, etc. before we could call ourselves “published.” Some of the comments you cited come from folks who couldn’t do what you do. Remember that.

    • Ashley Lister

      Thanks Tim

      As you and Lisabet pointed out, these comments do wear people down. On the plus side: there are one hell of a lot of supportive members of the writing community.


  3. Rose

    I’d say your colleague wasn’t just being negative; she was being downright rude.  It’s rude to dismiss anyone’s sincere efforts in any job they do.  Anyone who works at anything, does so because they have to and/or want to, and either way, if they have a modicum of integrity, they’ll do their best. You do your best and for what it’s worth, I think that what you do is pretty damned fine.

    To be honest, your colleague doesn’t sound like much of a colleague worth counting. She’s right up there with those who think in terms of so-and-so being “only” this or “just” a that. e.g. “He’s only a mechanic,” “She’s just a secretary.”

    Somewhere along the line, I started dismissing dismissive people. There’s no point in trying to explain anything about your accomplishments to dismissive people, because in their world, it’s only ever all about them. And, yes, to be honest, it used to hurt and put me on the defensive, when people like that would make dismissive comments, until I started questioning why I even cared what they thought, because I honestly didn’t care about *them.* Goodness knows why I cared about what people, about whom I didn’t actually care, thought. It was back when I wanted everyone to like me, before I accepted the truth that not everyone would like me. And not only that they wouldn’t like me, but that, for some perverse reason (weakness, insecurity, meanness) they might find it necessary, for their own self- aggrandisement, to dismiss me and my efforts. Who needs unkind people like that in their lives?

    On the other hand, I haven’t met, nor do I hang with, too many people who would actually be rude enough to make comments like the one your colleague made. I’m not much print published (one flasher and two stories in anthologies), but I’m truly proud of what I’ve done and anyone, to whom I’ve mentioned it, has thought it cool. And, more than anything else that counts in my life, my late husband was proud of my accomplishments. I did care about his opinion and his opinion of me was high indeed. It carried way more weight with me than everyone else’s opinions combined.

    Somewhere else, along the line, I realized the personal value of living by the words of Teddy Roosevelt in his “The Man In The Arena” speech, at the Sorbonne on April 23, 1910. Again, my late husband, kept those words, typed on a small piece of paper, in his wallet to be with him all the time. He had that piece of paper with him when I met him and had it on him the day he died, but even before his death, I adopted them as a credo, as well.

    Ashley, you are one of those people in the arena. You strive, you dare greatly, you do the deeds, and I am 100% certain that you have the admiration of all the people in your life, who truly mean something to you. Don’t let the critics, whose only purpose is to criticize that which they have, themselves, never done, detract from your own opinion of all you have accomplished and continue to accomplish.


    • Ashley Lister


      Thank you. I hadn’t seen the Teddy Roosevelt speech before but I can see why it had such an impact. Guess what I’m printing out to stick above my desk 🙂

      With love,


  4. Donna George Storey

    Hi Ash,
    The story of your recent brush with such nastiness reminded me of my own encounters with Literary-Know-Nothing Karens and Kens. Your Karen is stunningly ignorant on so many levels. You are a master storyteller, who grabs the reader from the first sentence with your intelligence and humor. You inspired me as a beginning erotica writer in terms of the richness one can bring to “genre” fiction. It’s obvious your Karen hasn’t read your work and knows nothing about the publishing business except the popular lies and myths, the equivalent of still believing the earth is flat. Your Karen thought she was taking the upper hand but she was showing all of us how ill-informed and insecure she is. I’d like to say I’m less sensitive to such encounters, but a few months ago I found myself in a situation where my chosen genre was deemed to render me unacceptable by a new friend and that hurt a lot, even though I understood the limitations of my ex-friend’s point of view. But that’s all the more reason we have to keep on doing what we love and keep supporting each other! Thanks for sharing the story, a reminder to us all how much hard work and courage it takes to be a writer. Donna

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