When Reviews Sting

November 20, 2017

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 signed into Goodreads shortly after the release of my first novel, Lotus Petals, and noticed the dreaded 1-star rating from a reader who had just finished the book. Seeing that one lonely star hanging beside my beautiful book cover hurt bad enough, but even worse, the reader had left no actual 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 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 (best of the series!).

 

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 I do when someone brands me with that terrible single star? Or worse yet, lambasts me with cruel words and calls my talent into question?

 

First, I always take a moment to reassure myself, 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). I consider a sign my book truly has been initiated into the world of readership.

 

Second, I do take a second to read the review and reflect on whether my reviewer has made any valid point. This isn't to say I have to take every harsh word to heart, or start bashing myself for missing a plot point or falling flat with one of my 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. So I feel the need to at least be open to the idea that perhaps my reviewer has touched on an area where I can learn and grow. If I decide my critic has a point, I 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 me learn.

 

Finally, once I've given the review one good look and considered whether or not it has any real merits (not all reviews will), I dump it.  Wash my hands of it. Never look at it again. There's nothing more I can get out of it. The best thing to do with any bad review is to use it and then kick it to the curb. It's not like a person: I absolutely have permission to take it home for the night without buying it breakfast the next morning.

 

Then I get back to basking in the glow of all the things I love about the craft -- the writing, the readers, the characters, and the fantastic words and worlds I have at my fingertips.

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