By David E. Sharp
Writing is a long journey, agreed? From the first rubbish drafts of a manuscript to the complete overhauls, the helpful but sometimes painful critiques, the line edits, the additional line edits, the queries, the rejections, the acceptance, all the way to final publication, it’s a lot of work.
But it was worth it! You have put your beloved creation into the world for others to read and enjoy. All is left is to bask in the warm glow of adoring readers everywhere. And hopefully, some basking will take place. But far more guaranteed is that somebody is going to dislike it. Somebody may even go so far as to hate it. And some days, those negative reviews will pop up with no warning to darken your day.
Have you been here?
Let me offer you some encouragement from my experience as a writer and a librarian.
Not everyone will enjoy your writing. But you didn’t write it for everyone.
Part of my job is directing readers to books they may enjoy. You don’t do this for long before you realize that books never come as one-size-fits-all. People enjoy books for different reasons. We call these “appeal factors.” Even within a single genre, tone can be atmospheric, humorous, disturbing, whimsical, or many other things. Characters can be authentic, exaggerated, witty, introspective, or relatable.
Sometimes when we say, “I didn’t like it,” we mean, “It didn’t hit the right appeal factors for me.” It has been much easier for me to let go of a negative review when I can tell the reviewer isn’t in my audience base. Sure, maybe they’re mean about it. But a mismatch isn’t a testament to your quality as a writer. Let it go and move on.
Opinions are as diverse as the people who have them. Some people may see something as a flaw in your writing that other readers regard as a strength. I’ve had reviews speak very highly of my humorous tongue-in-cheek tone, and others say it feels like I wasn’t taking anything seriously. Who is more important to please? The answer: You are. You’re the one putting hours of work into this thing. If the work is what you set out to write, don’t worry if readers aren’t on the same page.
Pushing the Views
People can be divisive. Some reviewers will only give high ratings to books that pair well with their personal ideals, political views, or individual grievances. And (disclaimer) we should strive to write in such a way that is not derogatory toward people groups and treats our subjects with proper respect (end disclaimer). However, I have seen many bad reviews for good books that seem to involve a reviewer pushing a personal envelope. Stamp those bad vibes “Return to Sender,” and move on.
When They’re Right, They’re Right
Of course, not every negative review is going to be wrong. Sometimes, you may receive criticism you believe may be accurate. What then? In this case, I always use my 24-hour rule. I consider the criticism to be 100% true for 24 hours and see where that takes me. If I uncover a blind spot, kudos to me! I am a better writer already. If I cannot take the advice and make it work for my story, I gave it my best, and I am free to dismiss it. Either way, it’s time to move on.
Nobody Doesn’t Get Bad Reviews.
“A bad review – or several— is, of course, one of the unavoidable pitfalls of being published.Some authors cry. Others get drunk. Most get mad. A few take it in stride, or at least, pretend to. After all, it’s our book someone just skewered. In the end even a bad review is still a review. It means someone cared enough to take the time to say: Hey, this sucks . . . buy a DVD instead. So, how did I deal with bad reviews? How else? I cry. I get mad. I pretend not to care. Then I pour myself a glass of wine and call a friend to complain.”― C.W. Gortner
Every book gets terrible reviews. One of the most highly recommended books in recent years at my library has been All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It won the Carnegie Medal for Fiction and the Pulitzer. It has been raved about by readers all over the world. It also has 858 one-star reviews on Amazon at the time of this writing.
Need some therapy? Look up some of your favorite books. Read the worst reviews you can find. What do they say about these books you love? Whatever it is, does it make you love your favorite books any less? Now get that pen out and do your thing!