Hello, dear readers, and welcome to this week's Writer's Wednesday post! I have a post I think will really help authors struggling with the age-old (not really) question: how do I respond, if I respond at all, to negative reviews?
But first, here's a link to the new Crimson Sterling post for today, one guaranteed to make your jaw drop, and get you thinking: E-Book Pricing ~ Don't Undersell Yourself! Also, today is the book birthday of Burn, the second in the Exe Lore series, so pop by for links to grab your copy!
And now, onto the post!
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We've all had one of those days: we wake up, perhaps get some writing done, sit down to answer e-mails, check on our book stats, and...we see it.
The dreaded negative review -- or, perhaps worse, the dreaded negative, nasty review that so many authors seem to get.
We can't believe that this has happened to us. We want to read it, but we don't -- and then we do anyway. We see those nasty words as a personal attack, like someone is punching us in the face, and we get angry, and we may cry, and we may need to take a run or grab the nearest pillow and hit something with it. We can't believe that this person could be so cruel, could misunderstand our masterpiece so much. We can't believe that they hate us to the degree that they do, that they shun everything we are as an author. We can't--
I could go on, but I don't need to, not really. We all know what it feels like to get bad reviews, and if you don't know already, you're bound to find out (I personally look at it as a rite of passage, myself).
My first bad review criticized the (few) spelling errors in the book, and some of the character traits I chose (to note: I went and fixed the errors after that). When I first read it I felt like that person was tearing me down, and I was angry -- of course I was. It really did seem like they didn't understand my story at all.
How do you deal with negative reviews?
My advice is to use the Golden Rule -- not the official, but my own. Many people quote it, it's on books, and shirts, and has many spoofs. There are quite a few forms of it, but the original is simple, and profound, and works for anything in life:
Keep calm and carry on.
Any time I am frustrated, or angry, or ashamed, or saddened, or when my Depression sets in more nastily than usual, I repeat this to myself, and it helps. When you have problems, all you can do is: keep calm and carry on.
Here's a secret that isn't terribly secret, but that most people seem to forget: not everyone is going to like you. Chances are, quite a few people don't like you already -- as a person, as an artist, as a writer, as a parent, as a spouse, as a sibling, as whatever other professional you may be. Not everyone is going to like you; that is just the way life is.
If we look at this directly, it sounds disheartening. You want people to like you, and you want people to like your stories; there isn't anything wrong with that. But, if we look at this truth from another angle, it really is very inspiring: not everyone is going to like you, but if everyone liked everything, then we would all be the same, and wouldn't that be boring?
The reason why we have so many genres in writing is because people have different tastes, and this is a good thing. Imagine there was only Romance, because everyone liked the same thing, and that was it -- there would be no Science-Fiction, no Fantasy, no Westerns, no Mystery or Crime novels, no Paranormal or even Non-Fiction. It would be boring. Not that Romance is bad, but if it were the only thing, we would be missing out.
Not everyone is going to like you, and that is okay -- and the truth is, most of the time it isn't personal, when it comes to books, merely the reader's strong feelings about the subject, or a sense of giddiness at having the power to tear someone down (I mentioned bullying last week, in regards to this, and I'll mention it again; it's wrong). But, you like your story, don't you? And chances are, you have readers who like it, too. If you focus on them, then keeping calm and carrying on doesn't seem so difficult when you get bad reviews.
Jim Henson is quoted as saying:
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye."
I believe that this is true, in a sense. I don't think violence is a good idea, and I don't agree with being nasty back to someone who is nasty to you, because that doesn't solve anything. I do, however, think that confronting the root problem you are having -- your doubts in yourself, not the ugly review, or the reviewer -- is a good idea. Look your insecurities, which always make themselves known, more than normal, when you're challenged, in the face, and then give it to them -- give your insecurities a black eye, because the part of you that doubts is that stupid, misinformed beholder that has no place in your creativity.
Carrying on doesn't mean confronting the person, though. I don't think it's ever a good idea to confront a reviewer, because at the end of the day, their opinion really doesn't matter, let's be honest. Are they going to sway the readers who like you? Probably not. Are they going to sway new people from reading your story? Maybe, but if those new, potential readers are swayed by the negative things your reviewer said, they probably have the same likes as that person, and you don't want them reading your stuff anyway then, now do you? Why do you want a reader who is probably not going to like your writing, when you can have a reader who will? Why does it matter if someone doesn't like it, so long as someone else does? -- So long as you, the author, do, because you're the most important part in all of this, the person who has to sit down and write those words, day after day, hour after hour, week after week, and month after month. Writing, as I said last post, begins and ends with you.
But, they insulted your ability! So what? But, they insulted the direction of your story! So what? But, they called you an idiot! So what? But, they called you sexist, or racist, or they didn't like your character's outlandish name! That's unfortunate, but it's not the end. The thing about people having different opinions is that they are going to think well, differently, and will therefore have different opinions as to what is acceptable and what is not, and therefore what is offensive and what is not. So long as you are being as responsible as you can with your writing, and are being true to your beliefs, you should stand firm. You cannot please everybody, and even if you were to be the most politically correct that you could, someone would still dislike you, or get angry.
The bottom line is: you can't control other people's actions, but you can control your own, so act like an adult, and make decisions that you will be proud of yourself for afterwards.
I don't really read reviews anymore because, as I have said, they are terribly distracting for me. This is a personality, (literal) mental issue, not because I don't care. I am extremely grateful that my readers leave reviews, because that helps other readers to discover my work; they are extremely helpful to me in that way. But, I have made a decision as to how I can and cannot operate efficiently. If you legitimately don't feel like reading reviews helps you as an author, then don't read them, but only if it's what helps you, not because you don't want to hear the constructive criticism (I get plenty of that from my overly-analytic BETAs) -- let your readers know that you are grateful, and don't feel shy to ask for reviews, because they really do help, but don't stress yourself. I can assume that a reader who rated my work 3 stars or more liked it, and that is all I need to know. I will also read and reply to e-mails from readers, because that's a bit more personal.
But, if you like to read reviews, and it doesn't distract you, then by all means, read them. However, make sure to keep to your vision when getting advice; take what you can use, not everything -- don't try to make everyone like you. And still, be sure to respond to your readers. Treat them like people, and they will respect you more, because you are showing them respect.
But when it comes to negative things, especially nasty negative things that are only, in my opinion, a form of bullying, not constructive criticism, just remember the golden rule:
Keep calm and carry on -- and be proud of yourself for being the bigger person.