Laughter is the best medicine but it may take a while and some distance after you read a nasty or awful or even a mildly critical review of your brainchild….your Baby….the one you watched being produced over nine months, and this after you oversaw the creation for some two years or more previous, and your Baby is now in the world on wobbly legs, and it is getting hard knocks and bottles and knives thrown at it. Whataya gonna do? Who you gonna call? I sometimes call Joe Konrath, a writer friend, and he calms me down, and I do the same for him. That helps. A comfort group. Friends, family….they all come to the funeral.
I have been maligned and have had some of the most awful reviews on record alongside of the most glowing blush-inducing reviews of my career written about the same book—same characters, setting, same story—but opposing (re)views. What can a writer do about bad reviews? Look the other way? Read them and try desperately to figure out the thinking that is so opposite to one’s own view? Get angry? Get upset? Get over it? Get even? Get drunk? Get to the container of ice cream in the freezer?
It’s been my experience that none of the above works. What do we do when we hear some Senator say from Minnesota speak of a clear and present danger and a clear and present NEED for a clear and present Witch Hunt that needs be done in the House of Representatives and the Senate to weed out “socialists”? Do we ponder what we might do with such “socialists” and perhaps hang them on the nearest American flagpole? OR do we ignore it and go on with our lives and trust that such Witch Hunt Mentality and McCarthyistic thinking no longer attracts or attaches to the human psyche the way a rhinovirus attaches to our noses? We can only pray or put it in our books as I am doing with my current work in progress – Children of Salem (intrigue and love in the time of Witch Trials circa 1692).
But let us return to that tricky question for a new writer we began with: this question of what to do with a bad review aside from the obvious—or a review that seems to be critical of someone else’s book because the review sounds as if this person has read another book altogether, and s/he has gotten yours confused with the other, and then the question comes up about the reviewer’s state of mind and the amount of meds he or she is on, and so it goes. And sometimes one can read between the lines and realize that the reviewer has a personal bone to pick with this author, which has nothing to do with the quality of the work. Sometimes it becomes obvious the person who penned this review is a jealous back-biting neophyte unpublished author herself! Truth be told, the same can be said of some rejection letters that come out of editorial houses.
Ever wonder why so many rejection letters are so cold and calculated to say as little as possible and most often nothing? These are in fact more professional than some rejection letters I have had over the years. Most competent editors are a lot more cautious of offending authors, and they are also typically “burned” earlier by some author that they did find something in the work they call praiseworthy. They are then inundated with questions or more of the same from the author. So they have developed form responses to “protect” themselves from all contingencies. To some degree reviewers are even more insulated from “responses” or “attacks” or counter-attacks from authors who may very well have good reason to be upset with something a reviewer says—which may be an inaccuracy that will be sitting there on Amazon.com forever. Again nothing author Rob Walker, you, or your friends can do about it. It just is.
For things that are “Just Is” in this world, there really are no helpful steps to take and brooding over a review—any review—is both counter-productive and living under a negative cloud, expending negative energy, as my son would say. It hurts only me…or in your case, you. The person who lets a review get under her skin or stuck in his craw.
In the end, in the larger scheme of things, a bad review is not so bad as no review—and frankly, I have had readers who have written to me that they HAD to read this or that title after having read this horrid, putrid review that dragged me through the mud and stomped me into a hole because the book was that bad, one saying “Read any other book on the planet before wasting your time with this bleep_______bleep.” The reader always ends with, “But I LOVED your book, man! Keep on writing!” To that I say, do you recall how horrible the critics were to Stephen Spielberg in his early years? Now that I am sixty and have written a few books, I think I know better what I am doing today than I did in 1979.
When Dickens wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls” – okay if it wasn’t Dickens – whoever wrote the line, s/he had to be writing about a book review. I am on pins and needles right now as ARC’s for DEAD ON have gone forth, not to mention several hastily got up homemade galleys to some who needed it six months in advance. I am certain I will get the full “arc” of opinions: The good, the bad, and the ugly but the name of the game is to GET REVIEWED these days as everyone with “half a mind” to write a book nowadays HAS! The swamp waters out there have become extremely crowded and getting serious reviewers to pay serious attention to one’s baby has only gotten harder and more difficult since my first book came into publishing-being in 1979.
But final word on reviews is that you can’t STEW over them, and you can’t wallow in them, and you can’t look back or pity yourself for the poor or even vicious review. Your final fall back plan it not to kick the reviewer but to protect your own psyche. Never take any review – even the most glowing too seriously as in the end when you begin to believe your own press you might begin to sound like a certain Senator from Minnesota.
Cheers and Happy Reading
www.robertwalkerboks.com - what ever happened to your dreams of an online course you missed taking with Stephen King before he left teaching? Why not take Write to Sell online with Robert W. Walker (who knows more than King and Kipling and Twain).
--For a peek at Children of Salem, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with query line COS.
--For an ebook ARC of Dead ON go to www.robertwalkerbooks.com