Even when we're unpublished, we deal with harsh criticisms of our work.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?