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Monday, October 3, 2011

Learning to Cope with Bad Reviews

One thing that is an inevitability for a published author are reviews, both good and bad. It's something that comes with the territory of having your work out there for the world to see. But that knowledge doesn't necessarily make it any easier when you come across a 1 or 2-star review of your work.

Even when we're unpublished, we deal with harsh criticisms of our work. Our critique partners might rake us over the coals, or the agents and editors who are prone to provide feedback might tear us a brand new butt hole, and certainly we've all received contest feedback from the _______ police (feel free to insert words like grammar, history, plot, etc…) And many times those criticisms have the ability to affect our lives in such a profound way that we toss our manuscripts and our dreams of publication aside to wallow in self pity with bottles of wine and boxes of chocolates. Then, after we've binged and wallowed, the majority of us shake it off and get back to work, more determined than ever to show the bastards who tore us down just what we're made of.

But there's something different about the private battle of "Am I good enough" that we wage while we watch Beaches and the very public battle of reviews that the entire world can see. Reviews that have the ability to not only affect your state, but also your bottom line. And somehow, the fact that it's both personal and business puts a whole new spin on how we handle the criticism.

So how should you handle the criticism? Well, there's no right or wrong answer. We all have different personalities, different levels of tolerance, some have the incredible ability to look at nasty reviews and shrug them off completely, while others look at them and want to take a flying leap from the nearest bridge.

Since the Wetherby Brides hit virtual shelves back in February, I've had quite a few negative reviews come down the pike, and I've tried many strategies in regards to coping…

1) I read every review start to finish, with shaking hands and that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, thinking that if I read the reviews I would eventually be desensitized and not feel the sting anymore. I will tell you right now, this does not work. It only made me doubt myself - made me want to crawl under a rock and never, ever write another word - and it made me embarrassed! I use my real name on my books, and the thought that my friends and family could see what these people had to say about my work made me feel even worse.

2) I had Eric read the reviews and paraphrase for me. This worked pretty well for a while. It was much easier to hear that someone had issues with my plot or my characters coming from my diplomatic husband. He rephrased everything so that it didn't sting, and I didn't have to read the nasty tone of the reviewer…and trust me, the tone can be very nasty! The problem here is that curiosity got the better of me sometimes, and I'd end up reading the review anyway.

3) I stopped obsessing. This took a while, and it took a lot of willpower. But I finally got a grip and realized there was nothing I could do about the reviews that people left for my books. We can't control what other people say, only how we react to it. It's unreasonable to think that every single person who reads our books is going to love, love, love them like we want them to. I know I don't love every book I read. And there are books I adore that have garnered one-star reviews from other readers (insane readers, if you ask me!)

I asked a couple of my published friends to chime in on the topic as well, and this is what they had to say…

The ever-insightful Claudia Dain says simply, "Don't read reviews. They will only mess with your head."

Rose Gordon came up with a plan, knowing that reading a bad review had a "crippling power" over her. She now chooses one day a month to read all her reviews - Saturdays after the kids go to bed, so she can "watch a movie with my husband afterward to take my mind off anything I might not like." She also reads them with a notebook and pen in case she reads anything useful. "Most times, the paper stays blank though," she says.

But Rose's biggest piece of advice is this… "[Don't] comment on reviews, good or bad. It does happen sometimes where your fans will comment and there's nothing you can do about that. But you can control yourself, and no matter what you say, even if you're right, you'll end up looking bad. Just stay away from reviews."

I think the thing we all agree on is that the only thing we can really do is remain focused on our goals. As a published author, and one who wants to continue to write and publish works, I don't have time to waste on a few random reviewers. My time is much better spent researching and writing the next book, and reading reviews that I know will ruin my muse is simply self-sabatoge.

So what about you? Whether you're published or unpublished, you probably know what it's like to have your work torn apart. Do you have coping mechanisms or advice to share?


  1. I would love to be able to remind everyone that their mother likely taught them that if they didn't have anything nice to say then don't say it. But that isn't realistic. Sadly, when people do give advice they're very likely going to be nasty about it because for some reason he internet gives them the right to say anything they want. And it's sad. Because we all know most of them wouldn't say those things face to face. Oh no, very rarely does anyone really say what they feel in the "real world."

    I think all of this is great advice, Jerrica. And something to think about. I rarely give 2 or 3 star reviews and never have given a 1 star review. And if I do feel like it can be said it in a way that doesn't tear down the author. There's no need to rip someone apart while doing it. You can give criticism without any sting. It takes practice but it works better. Haven't you ever heard the saying "you can win more with honey rather than vinegar."

    Great blog!

  2. I've had a few bad reviews for my books and novellas, but fortunately, they were balanced out by other reviewers who absolutely loved the same book or story.

    My coping stragedy is to read them once, then forget about them. I don't allow them to affect my current writing.

  3. I'm not at that stage of the game. But I think my strategy would be to take a shot of vodka before and after reading. Or just skip the reading all together and have a girls' night out.

    Avoidance is a good strategy,right?! ;)

  4. Well, it's hard, whether it's a critique or a review, to have your work torn up. I even had a hard time, in the beginning, when a great review had one minor issue.

    My suggestion is to try not to take it personally. Instead, try to look at it like the person is trying to help you. Not always easy, but far better than letting yourself get all upset about it.

  5. Suzie, I agree!! I want to remind everyone of the Golden Rule, but like you said, it's not realistic. Sometimes people feel they have to "warn" other readers. lol.

    Susan, that's a great attitude to take. I always try to remind myself of the good reviews I have and the many, many people who have enjoyed my books.

    Marquita, that advice is way better than mine! Vodka cures everything!! Why didn't *I* think of that?!?! LOL!

    April, that's a great idea - always assume positive intent ;)

  6. I'm not published yet, but of course there are the contest judges. I read the good reviews first then take the rest with grain of salt. You can't please everyone.


  7. I go at reviews like an Olympic gymnastics or ice skating score. Toss the ones and the fives. Seriously, fives should only go to the absolute best book you've ever read or it becomes meaningless. And ones...really? There was no plot, no characterization, no emotion, nothing redeeming at all about it? Even in this day where anyone who can type can publish a book, there are not as many "one" books out there as the Amazon review system would have you think.

    I look for common themes in the comments. Too short doesn't mean not enough pages, it means not enough story. If the commenter is able to remember editing errors, is it possible your plot wasn't engrossing enough? And "nothing new", ouch! So, next time plot your story and sit back and think about where you can twist it for that unexpected zing that leaves the reader wanting more, but in a good way.

    No author and no book will please every reader, every time. But you can use negative feedback to improve your writing. Don't take every individual comment to heart, but do consider if a lot of readers are saying the same thing, maybe there's something you can work on.

  8. Very true, Ella!

    Well said, Aileen!! I love your method of throwing out the 1s and 5s…though, I'm inclined to keep the 5s, myself. lol.

  9. Always hard, for all in the arts (and beyond!), but the only way I've found to cope with it successfully is to remind myself CONSTANTLY that, once I've put it out there (whether it be a song, a book, a work of fine art, or any other product or service anyone creates and/or provides to others in this world), it has left my area of control and has been RELEASED into "the wild." What happens to it beyond the act of creation is not relevant to my current situation. As Jerrica said, once a work is done, it's time to move on to the creation of the next one, not dwell on the merits of the last one. That is for OTHERS to do, and they will (oh, they will!!!) -- but it is very simply none of our business anymore, really, since we can have no control over how others react to our work. (Unless they say something so awful that a lawsuit is in order -- but that's another topic. :-)

    I'm so impressed by all of you who are brave enough to publish books, BTW -- it certainly DOES take courage! Battle on, ladies! :-)

  10. Aw, thanks, Mezzo! You're a fabulous cheerleader. And I love the thought of our work being "released into the wild." We have to let it go and move on with the creative process!

  11. Great topic, Jerrica.

    I'll be there soon enough with the reviews, and I'm not sure how it will be for me. I know I've been irked by judges comments in the past, but I've usually dealt with it by making a joke and moving on.

    A review stating you don't like a book is one thing, but some of the ones I've read are more like a personal attack on the author. I think the negative reviewer gets something out of leaving nasty comments, which means the review is more a reflection on who he or she is than a representation of the work. I never look at a person who enjoys tearing down others and think, "Wow! That person must have a fulfilling life."

  12. I haven't had to deal with any of this yet, but I can imagine, knowing how I feel about a "red marker" critique, that it is going to be hard to stomach the bad reviews. I think remembering that you can't please everyone, and learning to shake it off, is the only thing to do. :)