December 28, 2014

Talking Shop: When Reviews Sting

This post was originally written for and appeared in the Writer's Online Network Newsletter. Please check out Writer's Online Network Here.

It is inevitable. No matter how skilled a writer you are, you are one day going to run into the dreaded Bad Review. A public bashing. The "lone star". There's no way around it: it will happen. When it does, it's bound to sting.

I recently signed into Goodreads and noticed the dreaded 1-star rating from a reader who had just finished my vampire romance, Lotus Petals. Seeing that one lonely star hanging beside my beautiful book cover hurt bad enough, but even worse, the reader had left no review.  I panicked. There was gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair, rending of my clothes and then small, sad sniffles in the dark.
Okay, so maybe it wasn't quite that dramatic, but believe me, it did induce a bit of a frenzy for a few hours. Frantic thoughts of Why? What did I do wrong? Why didn't she like it? tumbled through my head, utterly useless of course because without an actual review, there was no way I could ever know what motivated my reader to give my book only one poor star. As long as we're being brutally honest, I have to admit I even avoided Goodreads for a few days, hiding from that star.
What I've learned about reviews over the years, especially bad reviews, is that they're really not all bad. They hurt, of course, especially when that book is your baby, as Lotus Petals is for me.  Put it in perspective, though: look up one of your absolute favorite books. I chose Jim Butcher's Proven Guilty, and then, just for kicks, I followed it with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Guess what?  They both have 1- and 2-star reviews, right along with all those bloody thousands of 4- and 5-star reviews.
So what do you do when someone brands you with that terrible single star? Or worse yet, lambast you with cruel words and call your talent into question?
First, take a moment to reassure yourself, again, that every author has a little pile of rejection letters and bad reviews in their desk drawer, no matter who they are (Stephen King talks about his collection in his book, On Writing). Consider your book truly initiated into the world of readership.
Second, do take a second to read the review and reflect on whether your reviewer has made any valid points regarding your work. This isn't to say you have to take every harsh word to heart, or start bashing yourself for missing a plot point or falling flat with one of your characters. Good writers, though, must be open to self-examination, and if a reader has found fault with your work you may find some of it is valid—and, that you can grow from it.
Let's say for example your critic is pointing out a lack of character growth. Take a moment to decide if this is really true. Be open to the idea that perhaps this is an area where you can learn and grow. If you decide perhaps your critic has a point, take it as a "point to grow on".
There's a wonderful phrase. "Points to grow on". Not an irreparable error; just something to help you learn.

Once you've given the review one good look and considered whether or not it has any real merits (not all reviews will), dump it.  Wash your hands of it: never look at it again. If you find that difficult to do, tell yourself this: there's nothing more you can get out of it. The best thing for you to do with any bad review is to use it and kick it to the curb. It's not like a person: you absolutely have permission to take it home for the night without buying it breakfast the next morning.
Then get back to basking in the glow of the reviews that truly love you.
Write on, my lovelies!

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