Inviting Critics to the Arena

I may not refer directly to information presented in Brené Brown’s 99U presentation but you may find it interesting anyway.

Not pizza
A food analogy. Always a good place to start:

Join Me for Pizza

Imagine I invited you over for my amazing homemade pizza. Everything from scratch. You are, of course, delighted.

You’ve mentioned my pizza to a couple friends and wonder if they might come along. I’m feeling expansive, so why not?

By 4:30 Saturday, it’s a disaster. The sauce isn’t thick enough. The toppings aren’t grilled properly. The crust doesn’t rise enough.

Which of these options makes the most sense to you?

  1. Throw it away and start again from scratch. You’ll wait.
  2. Call you up and cancel. Maybe I’ll try again someday. (Maybe not. It’s a lot of work and after this debacle, it’s all a bit much.)
  3. Serve it with a smile, knowing you’ll enjoy it far more than I feel it deserves and that if you have feedback, it’ll be well-intentioned and honest, but kind and thoughtful.

I’m going to proceed under the assumption you chose the last option. (If you chose another option, please please share your reasons in the comments. I would find it enormously helpful.)

Once More, With Money

What if you paid money for that pizza?

The assumption is that if you pay for something you expect a certain level of quality.

This is true.

And the level of quality is determined far more by the expectations set than by the fact that you paid or even how much you paid. A quick burger* on Main Street at Disneyland will cost three times as much as one down at the local burger joint, but do you expect it to be measurably better?

A burger at a gastropub raises your expectations (again, despite the price, high or low.)

If you order ground sirloin on a toasted brioche with aioli and radish sprouts, it’s got some livin’ up to do.

The exchange of money for a product sets certain expectations—but these are a baseline, a meeting-the-threshold, not Michelin-star expectations.

Yet Again, With Personality

That brioche burger? Some folks won’t see it as any better than the one down at the local burger joint (I don’t mean a mega-chain, but the one-off run by a family that’s lived in town forever.)

Others know the difference, even appreciate it, but they can enjoy the pub burger and the fancy shmancy equally, depending on circumstances.

Not everyone demands the finest quality burger every time they eat. In fact, most don’t.

Burgers = Books

I hope you saw that coming.

Every book I write is better than the last. Some, I know, are local-burger-joint quality. A few are gastropub level. I aspire to brioche and aioli because I really care what I serve you. Not there yet, I don’t think, but it’s always on my radar.

I know you, though. You’ll love the personal touches I put on that ground sirloin brioche and aioli when I serve it, but in the meantime, you just love burgers books so much that regardless of whether they’re 99¢ or $12 you’re just glad you get to sit at my table once in a while.

That’s why I love you, dear reader; that’s why, because you’re my tribe.

Thank you.

*Yeah, I started with pizza and switched to burgers. Moving from the specific to the general or something like that.

13 thoughts on “Inviting Critics to the Arena

  1. Nice!
    Give me some pizza burgers!
    You’re right, Joel. Since we don’t make the stuff, just consume it, we may not even notice some of those lower quality aspects. We’re not the expert, you are. That’s why we consume it from you instead of make it ourselves.

    Keep on cookin’ up them burgers!

    (Or pizza or books or whatever you’re cooking ;)

  2. Cheryl (http://burntmountainbooks.com/) says

    I’d choose option 1 provided that while I was waiting for pizza attempt #2 we were hanging out and chatting while that baby was in the works. If I had to sit in a closet while waiting, I might take option 3. That part about “you’ll wait” is sometimes well worth the wait 10 times over when you know that what is coming is gonna rock your world. Waiting for something amazing isn’t a bad thing. I’ve had your pizza and have read your books. Waiting for amazing is better than accepting just OK.

    1. Yes, indeed. I think, though I’m inviting engagement here, not issuing a dictum, that it’s a matter of degree.

      If the pizza is noticeably meh, it shouldn’t be served.

      But what if it’s better than the one you loved last time, and I’m the only one who notices the flaws? This, I think, might be mostly in my head, the fear that my offering is less than perfect.

      1. Cheryl again, who seems to have broken the internet:

        If you care (which you do), I think you will always see flaws, real or imagined. We are in agreement about the engagement part, I just stated it less clearly. :) The quality of time while waiting for pizza #2 is far more important to me than the quantity of time spent. For me as a reader and a fan, the time spent engaging with YOU, while you rework that pizza/burger/book, is the key.

        1. Excellent. Next round: if you are happy with the quality of the pizza, and I’m the only one who sees the flaws (not true, see my note below) then does it need to be reworked? You’re already pleased. You see no shortcomings. Yes, when I serve you a better pizza next week, you’ll know it’s better, but tonight, you believe this pizza is the right stuff.

          Do I rework it even if I know you’ll be delighted, pleased as punch, see no flaws?

          Note: yes, others see the flaws, because they run professional pizzerias, they have decades of experience, they make their entire living selling pizza, and they play the game at a level I won’t reach for years, or decades, or never.

          1. Cheryl again:

            As for reworking it even if I see no flaws, I think the answer for you is: “it depends.” For me, I just rewrote my first book entirely for me. My readers were happy; I was not. It wasn’t the best I could do once I learned more about the craft. I wanted my name stamped on something that was better than my first offering. If I take this thing to agents or in a book festival, I want it to be better than it was before. That and someone I highly respect suggested I rewrite it to make it the best I could make it.
            Remember that guy? ;)

            So for you, what are you looking to do with your new product? If you are looking to land a best selling pizza, start over. If it is just for dinner for you, maybe run with what you get.

  3. Now, sir, This — is clever.

    Yer burnin’ it up, Joel. (…not your burgers, certainly, I would never say that.)

    Talk soon!

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