Bad Reviews Are the Best: From a Writer’s Viewpoint

ID-1005754Every writer receives bad reviews, and every writer dreads them. We are a sensitive lot who pour out our innermost thoughts onto the page for public display, but sometimes, instead of receiving the accolades we dreamed about and think we deserve for our hard work, it feels like we’re attending our own Old West public hanging. Understandably, many writers become defensive, vent themselves in public forums hoping for some stroking from colleagues, and even diss the reviewers, who are, incidentally, their bread and butter.

But consider, inside every seemingly bad circumstance is the seed of success. You know, law of opposition and all that. Think of those bad reviews as your diamond polishers. They are not just something to accept and be tolerated. You need those reviewers’ opinions, and I mean desperately.

Now let me clarify. I’m not talking about the review from the high school kid who was forced to read the book for his English class and screams in all caps, “THIS IS THE WORST BOOK EVER! DO NOT READ THIS. RUN AS FAR AWAY AS YOU CAN!!!” ….useless… Then there’s always the Amazon buyer who gives a book one star because the binding broke after only opening the book three times, or (here’s my favorite) the seller shipped the wrong book. The buyer wanted a vampire romance and they were sent a cookbook. (Hey, they both had an apple on the cover.) No, I’m not talking about those reviews. So let’s cancel those out and get to the meaty reviews.

If we can get over ourselves for one second, those reviews have something to tell us. Maybe those reviewers aren’t professional writers. Maybe they don’t know the terminology, BUT, they are the people you’re writing for, the ones you want to inform, provoke thought in, entertain, become groupies. They know what they like. Pay attention to them, especially if more than one of them say similar things. Did a character not ring true for them? Were parts of the book slow and boring for them? Maybe those are things you can study and improve on in your next book.

Here’s a common statement made by writers: “They didn’t get what I was trying to say. They didn’t understand my vision.” Well, that’s why you’re a writer. Learn to express your vision clearly and in an original, unique way. You won’t be standing over the reader’s shoulder, or for that matter, agents and editors’ shoulders, to explain things. It has to be on the paper.

Stay focused on your goal. We all want to be the best we can be, right? Well, the only way that can happen is to find out what needs to be improved upon, and your mother or your best friend are not the ones who can best help you there. They are needed for your cheering section, and by all means, enjoy them as such. But don’t be afraid to take the harsh criticism from others, even if they may sound unkind. Let them bear the burden of their meanness; that has nothing to do with you. Get them back by stealing knowledge they didn’t even know they were giving you.

So the next time you receive a bad, maybe embarrassing review, go ahead and give yourself a few minutes, or even a day, to vent. Complain, yell profanities, throw things, whatever your style is, then get down to business and see if there’s something useful you can glean from it. In the end, if you decide the reviewer really is from another planet and completely off track (and that does happen too), then great. It’s your prerogative as the author to establish your style. Do remember, too, that you can’t please everyone. All of us have read books that weren’t our personal favorites. It’s okay.

It’s just all about perfecting our storytelling craft so that those who are on the same page as us will find our work powerful and memorable. Someone told me once, “We can’t all be J.K. Rowling.” I say, why not? Oh, maybe we won’t reach billionaire status, but we certainly can expect to be as good of a writer if we work hard and strive to learn.

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