This one is for the writers. What do you do when you get a bad review? Statistically, it’s bound to happen. You can’t please everybody, but that doesn’t make it any less painful when it happens.
Sticks and Stones
I haven’t had that many reviews at all, so when I get a bad one, it cuts deep. On the one hand, I appreciate feedback in any form because feedback, even in review form, has the potential to help me become a better writer. If it’s specific, if it offers an alternative or a suggestion, or if it explains why this particular style or plot point or whatever didn’t work for them, that’s going to help me pick up on it the next time I write and I can try to avoid it. A bad review still stings, but it stings less if I get an explanation rather than just a complaint.
In truth, I really shouldn’t read reviews of my stuff. I suffer from horrible self-esteem issues at times and some pretty unpleasant anxiety issues, especially when it comes to my work or my writing, so I lose it even when someone is being constructive or putting it gently. I recover more quickly and look at the criticism more objectively if, in fact, it seems that the person was only trying to help and if they offer any helpful information about my writing. But if I can’t find that one nugget of suggestion for improvement or constructive critique, I can go from feeling normal to maybe-I-should-stop-writing/publishing-altogether in a matter of minutes.
I don’t know if readers realize that many “small scale” authors, especially self-published ones like me, read most of our reviews. We want to know what people thought. We don’t have a team of marketing experts who will continue to sell the book and spin the reviews for us in spite of a few bad ones. I don’t know if it would make a difference to a blogger/reviewer/Amazon user if they knew the author would actually be reading their review, perhaps even writing to them about it – whether they’d perhaps choose to be a little less caustic (probably not) – but I’d like to think it might.
The Catch 22
Writers desperately crave feedback, but more than that, they crave approval. But we don’t want just any feedback, we want positive feedback. We know the book may not be perfect, but if you can gloss over the errors and talk more about all the stuff you loved about it, that would be great.
I’m especially terrible at getting feedback because I have that desire-to-please complex like an eager little puppy. Most of my life, that hasn’t been much of a problem. I figured out how to do good work in order to get good feedback, first at school, and then in the workplace. But, those things didn’t matter as much – I wasn’t writing an essay for myself or putting together that spreadsheet because it meant something to me, it was a job. That’s it. I got graded on one and paid for the other.
With my writing, it’s something I actually care about. It’s something I spent weeks, months, and in some cases, years, working on. It’s a part of me. Telling me my writing sucks is like putting me down for watching too many movies. It’s so close, so personal, and so meaningful to me (there’s a reason this blog has “filmophile” in the title) that it feels initially like an attack on me. It takes me some time to reestablish that distance between me, the writer, and my story, the writing.
How do I deal with a bad review?
Badly. I don’t lash out directly at the reviewer – I’m aware they’re entitled to their opinion – but internally, a bad review can cause me to seriously reevaluate my life choices, my writing style, and everything that led up to allowing someone else to read my book – not only read it, but post their thoughts about it on the internet for the world to see.
But, in spite of how much it sucks to get a bad review, it would take an extremely bad review – and an extensive one at that – to make me feel like I should stop writing altogether. I love writing too much to stop. Though it would be fairly easy to stop publishing… Pull an old-school move and buy up all the copies of my books out there and burn them. [Sidenote: does anyone know which American author did this with one of their books? I feel like I have a memory of the story, but not the name…]
Isn’t it strange how a complete stranger
can make you feel like a complete failure?
Writers: how do you handle bad reviews?
Readers: do you ever think about the author’s reaction when you write a review?
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